Kage Baker tried assiduously to not pay close first-hand attention to the world.
She loved life, living, her family and friends, chocolate, the sea, Harry, music – you know, the world in general; as seen through the eyes of one person. It’s what we all see of the world, and we pay as much attention to it as we can in order to walk around and get our work done. In Kage’s case, though, “paying attention to it” interfered drastically with the “walking around” and “getting work done” parts.
So she squinted. She closed her eyes, stuck her fingers in her ears and sang Beatles songs and Bertolt Brecht as loudly as she could. She used periscopes, spy angle sights, backwards binoculars and telescopes; kaleidoscopes, camerae obscura and those nifty weird lenses that make you see upside-down for 2 weeks and then you can see straight through ’em until you take them off and see upside-down for real for a fortnight …
Through a glass darkly was one of her mottoes. She completely approved of veils between worlds and over things we were not meant to know; she was in favour of not knowing all that stuff that men wot not of. Mind you, Kage also felt there should always be ways to peek, as well, because there’s no point being unreasonable about this stuff, you know? There might be a good story in it. There are gaps between the fingers we hold in front of our eyes for a purpose, she felt.
The reasons she found it necessary to view the world dim and a-slant was that it scared her. Also, parts of it were just too freakin’ bright and noisy to let get too close: what good did it do you to see things that made your eyes spin round like pinwheels and blind you with static and sparks? Which phenomena Kage insisted did happen to her, and what I know of migraines never led me to disbelieve her.
Also, the older you get, the more depressing the world can get. I won’t claim it always does, for everyone – your mileage may vary. But for Kage, it did. The News of the World sank further and further into the shadows, the edges of the chirpy newsreel burning and blackening as the sound track descended into growls, screams and the wails of the probably damned. Had she lived in one of the Golden Ages it might not have happened; but the latter half the 20th century has not been a festival. The beginnings of the 21st have not improved the outlook, either.
I’m glad she missed the last 6 years, especially the latest Presidential contest. This election is the nastiest piece of Americana I’ve seen since I was 5 years old, and learned where Little Rock, Arkansas was and why it wasn’t a good idea to be black there. Nor has the long cavalcade of venality, evil and general shit between then and now made the realization that the country is essentially still mired in racist asininity any easier to bear. Things are crappy here. There. Everywhere.
There’s not a state in the Union nor a country in the world where peace or plenty reigns. The Chinese have annexed Shangri-la, Camelot is probably under a car park in Britain, and all the treasure islands are sinking into lagoons where the coral reefs are bleaching to dead bone. Even the Pacific paradise of Vanuatu, once beloved of the late Robert Louis Stevenson (himself once beloved of the late Kage Baker) suffers: not only is it eroding, but yestreday it suffered a 7.0 earthquake.
No wonder Kage always watched the world through the corners of her eyes. No wonder she spent all the time she could at her computer, in her head, wandering through the worlds she called out of the aether. No matter nothing mattered but the work.
For over half a century, I was privileged to live in that cask of Orient pearls that was Kage’s brain. And outside it, Dear Readers, the world is a nasty, nasty place. Too many people suck. We are ruled by idiots and villains. Social media has become a dark wood full of spiderwebs and cat poop.
Yes, I am depressed. The sky appeareth no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.* All I want to do it write, and all I can find the energy to do is read. It’s Friday, though, and I can take a few hours off to go form some new scar tissue on my psyche.
I have a new novel where jumping spiders become the dominant form of intelligent life an a terraformed planet. (Look for Children of Time, bySounds like a good idea to me. I’m going to go curl up with the Long Red Cat and cheer for the arachnids.
* I have of late, (but wherefore I know not) lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition; that this goodly frame the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you, this brave o’er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire: why, it appeareth no other thing to me, than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. ‘What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
William Shakespeare, Hamlet. Also, a great song from Hair. I used to sing it with Kage, in the most exquisite harmony – never again. Never, ever again. Still great lyrics, though.