Kage Baker clung to the philosophy that everything was grist for the writer’s mill. It wasn’t that she was desperate to find material for stories – inspiration was her constant companion; her Muse guided her through her days with his hand on the back of her neck.
No, Kage frequently and fervently recited the old adage in order to simply make it through the onslaught of sensory input that sleeted perpetually through her mind. Leonardo DaVinci was one of her patron saints, and a constant warning, a brilliant bad example: keep track of all that stuff pouring through your brain, or you’ll never get a damned thing done! She forced a shape and index on it all. she wrestled the amorphous incubus of data into a coherent and biddable angel.
It’s all grist for the writer’s mill, she would recite through gritted teeth and tight-squinched eyes: as we whirled twice widdershins in a skidding truck to end up backwards on the traffic island in the middle of Santa Barbara’s main drag, covered in centrifuged date shake:
As we trudged up the dark slope of an abandoned quarry, family members lugging camping gear and bad attitudes and fighting over who had the flashlight – until a beam of blue-white light arced down out of the night sky to pin Kage, alone, on the hillside in a glaring prism:
As she was carefully shoe-horned into the narrow steel and ceramic catafalque of a CAT scan at one in the morning, about to discover that a tumour the size of a golf ball had grown in the ivory redoubt of her skull in a mere fortnight.
Whatever happened to us, at whatever speed, whether it left us laughing or weeping or puking our fillings out: Kage flung up this, her special shield, before every flight of arrows that came whistling through the air down to us. And the mirror on the shield – make sure there is always a mirror on your shield, Dear Readers! – flung the light of the fire in her head at whatever shit was falling, and froze it into a perfect portrait. And there it was, ready to be preserved forever, at her leisure.
Considering just how much input she opened herself to in the course of her life, she got a truly amazing number of those portraits down in coloured inks. The mantra of the endless grist was the trick, or so Kage maintained. You had to grab all that coruscating stuff, brand it and own it and make it dance for you. You had to dance back, of course, but she never minded that – as long as there was a fiddler and a dance somewhere, Kage would essay the course.
And that’s what she tried to impress on me. I have no idea what worked best – the 50 years of running frantically at her side taking notes as she turned the grist into gold; or the one frantic year when she just poured it all, uncatalogued flaming invention, straight into my brain. But it took. It’s my creed and coda, too. now.
Which gets one through all sorts of Sloughs of Despond and heights of hilarity, not to mention unexpected and unwanted excursions into the toils and coils of ridiculous medical science. So I told myself this evening, while a technician poured what was apparently hot olive oil over my ribs before driving a blunt fork into my kidney …
I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, Dear Readers. right now I am popping ibuprofen and racing the clock hands to midnight – nyah, nyah, I’m gonna win! It’s all grist and it can all be baked into bread somehow.
And it will.