Kage Baker was adamant that every writer needed access to an utterly inviolable space.
If you were lucky enough to have a spare room, or a livable attic, or a tree house, or a disused camper shell in the backyard – or even just a good lock – then you could isolate yourself at need to write. Most writers work out some arrangement with their compassionate families; that’s why you see so many authors thanking their wives and children in the dedication. Those families were kind enough to neither harass their resident writer, nor murder them for their misanthropic tendencies while involved in world building.
But it’s hard. Especially the access part, which doesn’t rely exclusively on your family’s willingness to let you monopolize the dining room and talk to yourself. It’s especially hard not to murder the obsessed writer who just can’t get alone enough with their own mind: no matter how quietly the children play, or how much cotton you tape to the dog’s paws, or the sign advising the mailman to leave the mail on the curb because the house is under quarantine … all these amiable compromises do no good if the writer can’t settle down in their dearly-bought space and write.
Hence, for Kage, the occasional risible tantrums about turning pages too noisily or the maddening click of my knitting needles. Though, I must admit, endless riffs on Rule, Britannia or “Hello” in a dozen different pitches for a half hour at a time could drive anyone insane … a good rule for the sanctum-seeking writer is not to have a parrot in the place. Hence, also, her invention of writing weekends, wherein we would hole up somewhere and devote all our waking hours to Kage’s Muse. Writing weekend venues have ranged from tents in meadows above the Big Sur cliffs to posh B&Bs; but they’ve all revolved around the possibility of solitude. And they’ve all worked.
I have some wonderful friends who are taking a week off to go to music camp. (This is not the band camp to which your parents might have sent you – this is mature musicians off in the woods making magic.) They very kindly offered me the delightful position of house-and-cat sitter for the next week – which I leaped at, because they live in the Bay Area in a 1906 cottage which I think is at least half in another, gentler dimension. The cat is a regal beauty, a seal point Rag Doll with eyes like beryls. And I get to hole up in solitary comfort and try to kick start my lazy brain back into writing.
I’ve been recuperating, Dear Readers, from accumulated oxygen starvation and sleep deprivation. And I am recuperating well, but I had no real comprehension of how muddled I had gotten over the last few months. The CPAP is every bit the miracle you all assured me it could be: I am sleeping soundly, waking up while it is still discernibly morning, not fading away into narcolepsy between paragraphs. I have energy! I can think! And I am so behind on everything!
Which is why I’m up here. I left L.A. in mid-morning and had a wonderful drive up I-5: the highway of the weird in early summer is a wonder and delight. Especially if your car has air conditioning, because it’s 100 degrees out there … but the scents of fresh-ploughed earth and ripening crops are a delirium that rushes into the car every time you crack the windows or stop the car. Melons, tomatoes, peppers, onions, apricots and peaches and lemons. Timothy and other cattle-favoured silage baking in the heat.
Sometimes the vegetables pass in trucks, leaving a cornucopia perfume in their wake. Even potatoes somehow smell interesting passing you at 65 miles an hour, a quick hit of fresh dirt and wholesomeness on the wind. Of course, a lot of the veggies do seem to commit suicide along the way – there are always abandoned dunes of tomatoes and lettuce, in particular, lining miles of asphalt. Those don’t smell as charming after a few hours on the grill; but sometimes you get lucky and the vaporous relicts are cantaloupe or oranges. Those are paradisiacal.
This trip it was something new. For about 50 miles between Buttonwillow and Kettleman City, there were little drifts and lost herds of kohlrabi. Kohlrabi, as you Dear Readers may recall, is a weird member of the Brassica family. And to be considered a weird member of the Brassica, you have to be pretty peculiar indeed. The particular qualifications of kohlrabi are that it is either green or purple, and it has above-ground roots: which means, when it is planted in the ground, it looks as though it is struggling to tear itself free of the confining earth on far too many tentacular limbs.
When it has leaped from a truck and been left on the side of the I-5, it looks as though it has succeeded. And is coming to annihilate humanity with its implacable Brassica wrath.
So it was an interesting drive North. And an interesting evening here with my lovely hosts, who don’t leave until tomorrow; tonight, they took me out for Thai food and are now playing dulcimers as I sit writing …
Solitude can indulge itself tomorrow. Tonight, this is just what I need.
Hurray for having energy again! Hurray for Science to the rescue! And hurray for writing retreats!
A lovely elegy and eulogy of the I-5 suicides. A cottage, a cat, a CPAC – magic will no doubt soon ensue!
Wonderful. May your Muse be with you, Kohlrabi and all.