Kage Baker never felt completely safe. She was a tremendously brave person – in that the world in general scared her dreadfully, and her life was an exercise in finding ways to avoid, defeat and cure that fear. In which she largely succeeded, in her own distinctive milieu.
She would never sit with her back to a door; she claimed it was due to what happened to far too many card players. She also claimed it was a genetic disposition from her OSS father; or that she was watching for Company assassins. She didn’t answer the phone or the door. She would never let me yell at other drivers, for fear of road rage; also, because she was much more of lady than I am.
Part of it was also seldom going anywhere alone. I’m not being condescending – some folks just shouldn’t be out there in the wide world without a companion. People who are easily distracted, or have sensory problems, or have psychic signs on their backs that say ROB ME. And we all know such people exit, Dear Readers; some of us are such people. Kage was sharp, clever, paid close attention to her surroundings and had not only a compass in her head but a proximity alarm system set to a wider range than even Mendoza’s. But she did have some sort of metaphysical mark on her aura, one that told large, aggressive older women to bully her.
I have no idea why. But if there were big, bossy, bad-tempered women anywhere, they picked on Kage. Teachers, waitresses, clerks, nurses, mail carriers, gas station attendants: Kage was their natural prey. And when Kage got upset, she lost all powers of speech – then, all she could do was await rescue or flee.
Kage didn’t like to flee. So I went with her most everywhere. Nothing makes me stop talking. I never shut up, and the mental governor on my speech is set perpetually 10 seconds later than my mouth. I might embarrass you in a bar, and I am every docent’s nightmare: but if you need to be rescued from a bully, I’m your woman. Usually I said something snarky and then we scarpered. Kage would come up with even better retorts on the way home, and then she’d write someone into an unfavourable immortality in a story.
This kept us both safe. Kage got rescued, and I got taken away before someone popped me in the nose.
It was part and parcel of Kage’s ultimate defense against Everything In the World – which was writing. Even without the impetus of fleeing some demented waitress, writing was how Kage escaped the world. Bad news, scary news, just the news in general – her tolerance for the endless dark litany of the 24 hour news cycle was low, and got lower with every passing year and tragedy. Then she hied her to her computer, and fell happily through the glowing screen of her monitor into other worlds.
As I have noted before, some of what Kage wrote was her trying to make the wrongs of the world right. In her Universe, the extinct survived and the orphaned found a way home. No one she ever loved really died; she believed that souls are immortal, and so her giving the beloved dead new and continued lives was merely symbolic of the spiritual truth.
Going into those other worlds was also just a constant joy for her. They were places she wanted to spend time in, peopled with folks she wanted to see. It was an endless adventure and it was safe. Half the time, she didn’t know what they were going to do next until she sat down and started writing, but it never scared her. She would sit with her back to the door, then.
I’ve tried to emulate this happy method. Sometimes it works. But the world is a nasty place, and the last year has been far too constant a horror show. But not completely. I peg away stubbornly at things, and I remind myself how it worked for Kage; and I try and try again to fall through that limpid pool into a better world. Sometimes I only get as far as the limpid pool of Kindle, and lose myself in a story – but I always come back to Here. Here is where the rewards are.
This week, as some of you know, the 33rd edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction came out, Gardner Dozois’ annual compilation of what’s best, what’s happening, what’s passed away, what’s just begun in genre fiction. A lot of stories get published in the final spread; and more make the Honourable Mentions. And this year – my story “Paredolia” made those Honourable Mentions. Mr. Dozois being one of Kage’s personal deities and a very avatar of literary excellence, I am totally, completely zooed.
I can do this!
So I gotta peg away a little more, obviously. The world has scared me under the desk; time to come out and climb into the monitor. Also, untangle these absurd metaphors and similies, and finish another damned story before someone writes demanding changes on something my agent sent out last month …
It’ll keep me safe and happy.