What Lenses Reveal Gold?

Kage Baker was not much given to moodiness.

She had moods, of course – anything with a biological rhythm and chemical responses to its environment can claim that. If you are one of those sensitives souls who are also susceptible to sea-changes at every tide of the world – if you are brought to tears by Hallmark commercials, and frenzies by a hot tune on the radio – you know how easily one’s emotional chromatosphere can alter its colours in response to every change in the environment. Some people are just easily overcome by vibes.

Kage was not one of those people. She could be preternaturally responsive to vibrations, groups feelings, whatever you want to call them – she could also be as deaf to the voice of the zeitgeist as your average rock. Quite deliberately, too; she was happy, more often than not, to live unaware of what people were saying about – well, anything. Kage enjoyed blissful ignorance in many circumstances. High on the list of what she never wanted to know anything about was whatever was a current event, including what the rest of the world felt about it.

So, moods – yes. Moodiness – no. She preferred her emotional states to be expansive and in primary colours, with lots of gold embossing. And very probably glow-in-the-dark. She always claimed she didn’t want subtlety in what she felt; and she was suspicious of it in other people’s feelings.  Honesty, she believed, called for strong colours and clear outlines. Pastels were sneaky things.  Uncertainty was a probable sign of moral weakness.

I used to occasionally observe that, considering the complicated, conflicted and downright moody characters she wrote about so well, hers was an attitude walking dangerously close to hypocrisy. She didn’t agree. I write stories, she would explain to me airily. I write fiction! People shouldn’t behave the ways I write about – it’s dangerous and neurotic. But that’s not my fault; you have to exaggerate to make a story interesting.

I’m not the one moping around over lost loves, she’d say virtuously.  I’m not even going on binges! But who’s gonna buy a book about a middle-aged lady making the best of things in a small town?  You gotta be Jane Austen to make that trick work. Readers want glamour. Romance! Excitement! Really wild things! But the writer can’t be like that, not and keep her focus.

And she’d go back to writing. Until it occurred to her that she needed to see a particular hillside road above Cambria, where bramble bushes were hung with enough ripe berries to make one really ill – and we’d head off into the slightly-known, looking for the barely remembered turn off. When we got there, we’d fill empty Slurpy cups with dusty sweet faceted blackberries, until a bobcat or a wild pig or a herd of deer sent us scrambling desperately for the car, laughing and cursing. And we’d flee somewhere that had restaurants, and stop for dinner, and spend the first 15 minutes taking turns in the ladies room trying to scrub berry stains off our hands and beat golden dust off of our boots  …

Kage had no idea these things don’t happen to most people. She had no idea that what made the world around her scarlet and gold, embossed and bejewelled, was her. She had no idea that nothing dared stay pale and thin and moody in the flame of her regard.

It’s why I am so busy these days, making masks  heavy with  goldwork and gem-pure colours; trying to fashion something like her eyes through which to see the world. Because I didn’t figure it out either, until she was gone.

And I want to see the world like that again.