Accomplishing Something In The Noisy Dark

Kage Baker was a firm proponent of momentum. She felt one should work constantly to achieve and preserve it, and to use it in  all one’s endeavors.  “Maintaining momentum,” she often told me, “is the only way to get long projects finished.”

This may have something to do with Kage’s many years of experience of trying to hang on to enough momentum to make it over the Grapevine on I-5 in old cars with 4-cyclinder engines. There are sections where, unless you can keep your speed going as you attempt the uphill grade, there is no safe median between just fast enough and barely making way – if you slip below 50, you’re gonna lurch over that pass at a gasping, coughing 12 mph.

She applied this to her writing, of course, as she did everything that ever happened to her. Momentum in a project was never abandoned, even when a day’s work consisted of hacking individual words one by unwilling one out of the jungle of inertia. “It would be easier to write memos in cuneiform,” she would complain, working on some recalcitrant passage with single-fingered fury. Kage typed like Chico Marx playing the piano – and, like Chico, so fast it was an inhuman staccato.

“So, set it aside for awhile,” I would mutter from behind a book or a half-knit sock.

“No, if I stop I’ll never start again!” And she’d pursue her muse in a furious halting frenzy, like a posse on rocking horses.

Kage would occasionally employ an alternate method: working on something else. But that was just transferring funds from one bank account to another; the banked momentum wasn’t wasted. As soon as she’d built up enough to make the transfer back the other way, she’d return to her original project with renewed energy.

Even in my current state, this method still serves me well. The last 2 days, I have been fighting a truly epic migraine – not one of the painless sort, where I just have to wait until the black and silver thorns all dissolve from my field of vision. Those – which I am informed are called “optical migraines” – don’t hurt and don’t last long. They’re just inconvenient, because it’s hard to type through all the glitter … no, the last 48 hours have been a classic migraine, the sort Kage used to get. And I’m not used to those.

The pain is a given on those: no use describing it, it just exists and is horrible. Kage used to aver that her hair hurt; that even thinking hurt, because her brain was so bent she could feel the neurons trying to connect and short-circuiting. And I’d make soothing noises and draw the drapes, maybe rub her temples until she fell asleep. I was sympathetic, but I did NOT understand. Oh, silly me!

No, the worst part is the sensory distortions – the way sound and scent and tactile sensations all turn inside out, and against you. Kage was right; your hair hurts, thought hurts, colour hurts. Yellow is the worst; yellow light is worse than even bright white light, for me. For some reason, red is the least uncomfortable. I achieved a considerable amount of relief with a red t-shirt over my face.

At one point, my head was filled with the sound of a calliope, badly played, with a background of glass harmonica: like army ants eating through my ears. At the same time, all I could smell was cinnamon. I happen to be allergic to cinnamon, resulting in a period of astonishing nausea. Dear Readers, I have never had such a cacophony of sensory input gone wrong in my life.

And yet … a part of my mind – off to the right, and a little underneath Wernicke’s Area; I could visualize it precisely – was busily working on the final polishing of “The Teddy Bear Squad”. I’ve had several beta readers kind enough to send me their analyses, and even as most of my cerebral equipment stuttered to a halt – part of it kept working away at that story. Some bits were really weird, but I think I managed to weed most of those out when the hallucinations quit.

Consequently, last night I finished up what I honestly think is the final version. My agent will have it in her hands Monday, to see what she thinks of it. Hopefully, after that, we shall see what some editors also think of it, and if it will finally see the light of day. But no matter what – I finished it! Under duress and  half-blind, I finished the story! That is a wonder and a miracle, and I will never tire of it: and that’s the ultimate reward: if you keep going, you do, eventually, Get There.

This is a trick Kage taught me. I pass it on to you, Dear Readers, in the hope it may help you as well. Those of you who have worked Renaissance Faires in California – and thus encountered the Grapevine in ageing junker cars – know what I’m talking about already … and it may be you can adapt this method as I have done, to your own needs.

Kage said it was cheating at physics, and was amused at her own cunning. I tried to tell her you can’t cheat the Law of Conservation of Energy. but she never believed me. Or the Laws of Thermodynamics. And if you consider our respective records – well, I guess she comes out the winner.

So much for the Laws of Thermodynamics, eh?


About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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1 Response to Accomplishing Something In The Noisy Dark

  1. mizkizzle says:

    A posse on rocking horses. I like that. Yes, Kage was right about momentum. It’s important to write ALL THE TIME to keep the gears moving smoothly.
    Your migraine sounds horrid. Smelling cinnamon when there’s none around is weird. Have you seen a doctor to rule out a minor stroke? I’ve had migraines for donkeys’ years and I’ve never smelled odd smells, just visual distortions, pain, and wincing at sounds and colors. I did have a stroke once when I was twelve, and it made me talk backwards for awhile, to the amusement of my peers. Words came out literally backwards, like a recording being played backwards. The brain is a wonderful thing.
    So I hope you’re feeling better and you’re able to get your eye repaired soon.


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