Kage Baker maintained that some obstacles are simply insurmountable.
That wasn’t fatalism. It was her observation that life will inevitably put things in your path that you cannot beat into submission or climb over. You need to be prepared for them, prepared to survive the experience. You also need to be determined to get as much as you can of what you want, despite such obstacles falling in your way.
Some things might be insurmountable, but that didn’t mean (to Kage) that they couldn’t be outflanked. To combat the inevitable barriers, Kage made plans. Multiple plans; the first layer of which was always, Have a plan. As Shakespeare (always Kage’s favourite quotee, and still mine) commented: “The readiness is all.”*
So Kage collected an enormous fund of Things To Do When All Hell Breaks Loose – kind of vague, but also pretty useful for every disaster, foreign and domestic. A hide-out $20 in her purse; a hide-out chest of gold coins and large-denomination bills in her closet. She always carried several pens, and made sure I did as well. She procured maps everywhere we went – I think she could have navigated us anywhere on the Pacific coast of the United States, just from her enormous collection of gas-station maps.
If she got stalled on a story, she had another one in progress to try. Or a carefully coordinated series of games to play, that would restore her mind to a creative state at the end of the sequence. Computer games as Zen, sort of; it wouldn’t work for everyone, but once Kage had gone through every single one of her restorative games, she was always ready to sit down and write again. Always.
At the first symptoms of a cold, she washed down echinacea capsules with orange juice. I, personally, am uncertain of the physiological utility of this regimen, but it worked on Kage. I think it was more a matter of mind over matter than actual anti-viral properties, but what does it matter if it stops the rhinovirus in its tracks?
When she suspected influenza, the super-cure was Chinese wonton soup. When gastroenteritis threatened, it was ginger ale – that even worked on the nausea of chemotherapy and radiation. Her oncologist just nodded – he told me once he had heard of all sorts of weird things that helped his patients, and he’d learned not to argue: results were all that mattered. That was always pretty much Kage’s philosophy, as well.
Coffee, aside from its charms as an early morning aperitif, was for use against hangovers and migraines. There are actual physical reasons for this to work – caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, and since many headaches are caused by vasodilation, the correlation is obvious. I think it was enhanced by Kage’s will of iron, but there really was a physical reason it works.
Since I lack Kage’s semi-solipsism of focus – what she believed, really believed, tended to happen – I also have no talent at fighting actual chemical reactions with disbelief. (Kage managed that with only slightly more effort.) I did notice, as the years went by, that certain coffees worked better on her than others – bur I think that was purely an example of Kage’s taste in flavour. There’s no way 12 ounces of Coca Cola has the caffeine kick of a like amount of very strong Mullah’s Blend coffee. But they worked the same on Kage.
If the readiness is all, the willingness is right beside it …
I woke this morning with a bad headache, the sort of elf-shot spike in one’s temple that makes one suspect (and eventually hope) that one is about to drop dead of an exploding skull. The black and silver spikes of migraine began creeping over my vision, like a view of Sleeping Beauty’s castle as the thorns invade. Sleeping for another 4 or 5 hours helped; and when I woke, Kimberly made me a wonderful carafe of Mullah coffee. I’ve been glugging it religiously all afternoon, and can now report that I have been restored to rationality and function. Or as much of them as I ever possess, anyway.
So I’ve outflanked my migraine. And I’ve still got half a jug of good coffee left, so I will survive it in some comfort. And I can write (a little) and read (a little). It will be the Kindle tonight for sure, because I’ve just finished a paperback on the Bubonic Plague and discovered that plain print by ordinary lamplight is no longer my best activity … large back-lit fonts are my dear friends now.
But what the heck – it’s raining steadily here anyway. The fire is lit, the space heater is working, and there’s soup for dinner. If the readiness is all, as Kage believed -and as I do, too – then all is well and likely to remain so. I can scurry round the edges of the insurmountable as well as anyone.
I’ve had lessons.
* If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet