Freedom’s What You Make It

Kage Baker liked to drift slowly into the new year. Ideally, the resumption of spinning – round the Earth’s axis, round the sun, round whatever business was top of the list to be seen to – could be made gradually, with dignity and ponderous grace: like an ocean liner coming into dock, she used to say.

What the world generally imposes on us, though, is more like a Carnival Cruise – that modern successor to slavers and plague ships – careening onto some reef in its death throes. That first week or two back at a desk job is notorious for disasters and catastrophes, as the amount of crap your co-workers hid in their bottom drawers ripens, decays and becomes obvious … Kage hated the the first part of January. And unless you are among that happy crew of ne’er-do-wells who leaves their garbage for after the New Year, I bet most of you, Dear Readers, do as well.

Despite all the insecurities and terrors of being self-employed – especially as a writer, the gods save us all – the freedom from the deathly cycles of the office was Paradise for Kage. It took her a few tries to make working from home work completely; there were some years when she still had to march into what she called the pink-collar ghetto at least part time. But freedom became hers for longer and longer periods of time. She achieved her goal years before retirement age, which was what she had planned; she could make her living from her desk, looking out the window at the sea.

Her ultimate goal was to make both our livings doing that. She came damned close, too. Another year of health and her inhuman pace of writing, and I too could have stayed at home as Kage’s own office staff. That was our plan, anyway. And with the way the American economy has been behaving these last 20 years, it wasn’t the worst retirement plan I’ve heard. It almost worked.

Kage, not too surprisingly, was cleverer than Congress.

When she became aware that her last New Year was coming – the last horizon over which to march out of the winter dark into light – she set about making sure the plan would work for me in her absence. She sent me home to Los Angeles, where Kimberly could keep an eye on me. She drilled me night and day on story ideas, told me where to find her notes: what she could remember of them, anyway; I’m still finding take out Chinese menus and old green pages torn from legal pads in various boxes, on which Ermenwyr or Joseph cavort in unlikely heroism  … she made me haul out my own writing, laid away 30 years and more, to renew my interest. Or at least to frighten me into improving it.

“You can write,” she told me fiercely. “And you will. I order it.”

Kage never took No for an answer. I never found a way to say it to her, either.

So, here I am. Another New Year has passed, in a slowing blur of coloured lights and mirrors: the dark heart of winter has frozen Time in place for a while right now, and it’s very slowly resuming its gyre. Which is just the way Kage liked it.

It will be 4 years since her death at the end of this month. Things aren’t going quite as I expected. This year has been the hardest yet for me, just when I thought I was getting better. It turns out that looking round with a suddenly clear head, I am appalled and staggering with the blow of her loss.

Hell of a way to run things, I fear. I think, though, that if I am sliding backwards from time to time, it’s only 11 inches for every foot I advance. That’s progress. Sort of.

And hey – I’m freer than I’ve ever been; and if creativity is slower for me than for Kage with her mind like a chest of sky rockets. that’s just the way it goes. The ideas continue. The writing goes on. I’m already booked into one Con for this year, and the newest books continue to get good reviews and sales. I’ve been in my pajamas since Christmas Eve, and I can stay in them until 12th Night tomorrow if I want to. (And I will. They’re new blue polar fleece, with snowflakes on. Ubercool.)

I’m making my living, working from my desk and looking out the window at the mountains. I’m surviving.

Slowly.