Kage Baker used to say that a real writer could write through anything. She really believed it, too, apparently never remembering the times she accused me of turning the pages of my books too loudly. Or why I took up knitting with wooden needles (aluminum needles click to0 much). Or how she would turn and glare at Harry, when he fluffed out all his feathers with a noise like yards of tearing silk – Harry would glare right back, and then usually meow for half an hour. So that didn’t go too well.
She could be forgiven for forgetting these things, because she really did write through nearly anything. She preferred silence or carefully chosen soundtracks; but if she had to, she could write through family parties, domestic disputes downstairs, intermittent gunfire and construction noises. When Pismo Beach was building a new boardwalk, our days were punctuated with the sound of a crane ramming entire telephone poles into the sand for use as pilings – an enormous WHUMP! every 5 or 10 minutes, 8 hours a day, for a year. The house shivered, vases fell of shelves and tiles off the roof – but Kage typed on, resolutely ignoring it.
She had an inhuman focus. Once she engaged it, it took a powerful and deliberate act of will to disturb her. Which was why she was so often in a semi-daze, unaware of the time, the company, whether or not she had eaten that day … and she did it deliberately. When she was a teenager, it was how she survived the world (which eats a lot of teenagers …); Kage could go right into another universe, building it around her with a keyboard or a pen, and be untouched by a hostile world.
It was always how she dealt with pain and misfortune, from worries over money to worries about why her periods had come back in her mid-50’s. I wish her iron control had slipped a bit on that last one – I might have had as much as 6 months more to find her treatment – but it was her habit of many years to deal with fear by writing. I’m not surprised she did it. I just resent it, even now. Bad enough she grumped when I read aloud some especially droll tidbit from Steven Jay Gould – but then she had to go get distracted and die.
But even Kage liked to be surrounded by special landscapes. While she could write exquisite prose while stage managing an outdoor venue filled with African dancers and Morris men, it was so much nicer and easier when she was instead able to set up under an oak tree in green, fragrant quietude. She arranged her desk and its immediate environs to enclose her with sensory delights, so a deep breath or a swallow or a glance around would reveal vistas of beauty.
It was why her desk was set up by the front room window that looked out over the roofs to the Pacific. It was why roses were planted below those windows, so the summer wind filled the living room with perfume. It was why her desk was made of oak, that she could run her hands over while she composed; why it was covered with small treasures – shells, beach glass, plastic crabs, miniature cannons – for her to handle while she thought.
And it’s why she took writing weekends. Well, we took them, of course. My job was to drive us to wherever had been selected as a short-term hermitage, and try to remember not to turn pages so loudly. (Man, would my Kindle have been a godsend then!)Kage would set up looking through the window at whatever gorgeous view she had selected, and write whole other worlds up around herself like rose-covered trellises.
I took my fixations along, of course – knitting. Books. Crossword puzzles. I taught myself how to purl and then how to knit cables on a long weekend in a nearly deserted motel north of San Simeon, while Kage wrote Lewis through “Hellfire At Twilight.” I completed my first sock in the room where I am sitting now, staring out at the sea through the old oak casement windows of the Green Gable Inn. I understand exactly why Kage chose this place as the ultimate writing weekend destination – the room is a hymn of comfort and delight, and I think I could happily live here forever, writing.
I’ve brought both my Kindle and my knitting, but I have mostly been pounding away on the Buke. The sight and sound of the Pacific – literally across the street! – has been like draughts of whiskey and water to me. I’ve been snacking on See’s licorice kindly brought by my friend, Neassa, who came up from Santa Rosa to keep vigil with me here – though she has temporarily set aside her own writing, in order to hand-stitch sequined green trim on pair after pair of black costume pants … she sings with Sounds of Sonoma, a ladies’ choral group, and handles a lot of their costuming as well. Between sequined trousers, she adds rows to a Dr. Who scarf for a niece, and eats molasses chips.
So it’s a proper writing weekend. One of us is writing and one of us is sewing, and we share things out from our Bukes and IPads and phones for general amusement. And while i don’t have Kage’s adamantine focus, I am forging resolutely ahead.
And I don’t mind the snap of the molasses chips, either. So there’s that going well.