Kage Baker needed to be able to see the world while she wrote. She always had her desk close to a window, wherever we lived; the point was to provide a contrast to whatever world she was building on the pad or screen in front of her. All she had to do was turn her head, and some new vista filled her gaze – whether she looked out the window at the mutable sea, or back to whatever world was displayed on her computer.
It was the rhythm between the two that powered a lot of her writing, I think. Like a superconductor, one end in cold shadow and the other in hot sunlight; the difference between the two ends generated current. Kage’s brain was the superconductor.
And, of course, she was already well-situated for those moments when you simply must flake out and stare out the window. Sometimes the point is not to generate a damned thing, but to open the gates of all your senses and be overpowered. Kage’s self-control was such that she could enter and leave that state at will.
I’ve been infamous since grade school for being a total victim to windows. Many teachers tried to stop me from gazing out into infinity, to no especial effect … I am endlessly susceptible to the lure of what the sky is doing, but I was deaf to the call to attend the teacher. Books do the same thing to me; being, as they are, merely windows to yet other worlds. I’ll stare into the eyes of just about any distance, happily lost. Kage used that same energy to generate other worlds altogether.
Kage said that was half the trick to writing – you have to set your gaze on the world you’re creating, and see what’s to be seen. She said she sometimes got so far into the story that it was like her fingers were telling a story to her eyes – there was no communication between them that she could discern. What the plot and characters did then was as much a surprise to her as anybody else.
I think most writers have a point or place or process like that. You can call it something trendy, like being in the groove; you can call it self-hypnosis, if you’re nervous about admitting you don’t always know for sure what the hell your mind is doing. But it’s your special place, where reality is what you say it is -or at least, it’s what it tells you it is …reality speaks in tongues, and you have to listen very carefully.
Kage could do this. It wasn’t easy every time, though, and there was lots of cursing, sighing and twisting furious knots into her hair. I had to un-knot her from her chair sometimes, or even get her fingers unshackled from the copper wire of her hair. But she insisted that this was one of the real ways she got into a story – staring off out the window until she could see something other than what was obviously there …
And she was right, too. It is an excellent way, and it serves me almost as well as it did Kage. You just have to resigned to losing a certain amount of time to the sheer glamoury of the view – and the closer you get, to that contact point that frees the words, the stranger and more fascinating the world outside the window grows. You have to take what appears, too; there’s no menu, it’s cook’s choice …
It was grey here in Berkeley this morning, and a wind rising: not a chill wind, though, and the ceiling of cloud as high as a hall – flowing like liquid granite on a wind that smelled of warm grain. The cat vanished into the garden as soon as I opened the door, and has been stalking flower petals and insects on the air ever since, arching her back to the hands of the wind.
Rain is coming. The air carries its perfume like flags and banners.
Where I’m sitting, I can see out the dining room window, right on to the stand of New Zealand Flax that so fascinated me this early summer. In June, it was all stems of carved ebony, set with long scarlet flowers that looked like Maori war canoes. Since then, the flowers have bloomed out, and the black stalks withered and faded until they look like jasper spears, or long burnt bones … new leaves have grown up between them, sword blades taller than my head.
This tableau somehow says Ten of Swords to me. When Kage read the Tarot – which she did, and well; her old deck with the Rider-Waite illustrations was worn as soft as flannel – she said this one meant Things can’t get worse. You’ve hit the bottom. And sometimes, fixing her black eyes sternly on me, in particular, You’re being a martyr again. Stop it.
Could be. Could be. I’m certainly given to late night despairs and stony intransigence. Kage sympathized, but she usually bent down only long enough to pick up and hand me my boot straps.
Rain is coming, on a wind as warm as flesh; the rain that the earth has been gasping for this last 6 months. Last year’s blossoms are rattling thorns in the wind, but next year’s leaves are already growing up around them. The grey sky is flowing like the grey sea, under a froth of bougainvillea petals and butterfly wings.
The world outside the window says wait for the rain.
Wait for the rain, and the words.