Kage Baker was a firm believer in the advantages of carefully regulated stress.
“It’s like bonsai,” she explained to me. “Or the espalier principle. All gardening, in fact. You prune branches to reduce unnecessary strain on the plant. You pinch back some blossoms to get larger fruit. You dead head the roses to a new cycle will bloom. Or you pin an apricot tree to a wall so you can reach all the branches!”
“So … you’re espalier-ing yourself?”
“Yep,” she would proclaim, accepting a third invitation to supply an original story to yet another anthology. “More pressure, a bigger head of steam! Diamonds out of coal!”
“You can’t make diamonds out of coal,” I would point out. “You need a volcanic vent for that.” (That’s true, too.)
“Superman can do it. And I can produce a volcanic vent if I have to …” And Kage would bend her hot-eyed glare on her keyboard, and will it to boil. And it usually worked, too.
Mind you, things would often get fairly cataclysmic when Kage added one too many scoops of coal to her steam engine. One is always in danger of blowing a gasket or jumping the rails. But Kage rather liked train wrecks; they were exciting … and as she also said (mixing metaphors fearlessly), stress is also what produces new species. Who could tell how her stories might speciate, if subjected to over-crowding and scarce resources?
It’s where “Son, Observe The Hour” came from. And Nell Gwynne, too. Also, 2/3 of Anvil of the World: all of which have been well-received, and gone on to successful and fertile lives. None show any sign of becoming extinct.
Frankly, I think Kage made these airy claims because she just took on too much to do and had to make the best of it. I”m pretty sure of it, because I kept track pf her commitments and schedules. But, you know, it was exciting, and it did work. And it seemed to satisfy both Kage’s adamantine determination to get things accomplished, and her purely human desire to spend her days in a hammock with a tiki drink …
She was big on balance, too. And sometimes you only get balance by a averaging: you lean too far in one direction, then you tilt too far in another; then you spin in place while trying to straighten up …. and it all works out. No one knows why. It’s a miracle.
So I’m updating my Buke and all its pertinent programs, and I have reserved a rental car for Friday. I’ve found my toiletries bag. Kimberly made me an incredibly clever little travel box for my constant eye drops, and I am filling up my cavernous pill box for the dozens of meds I take over a weekend. And I am taking along some thumb drives with current work on ’em, so I can write at night. Lots to do – lots and lots and too much, and it’s all glorious …
Because on Friday noon, I head North! To the Cow Palace, there to take part in the vital preparation for Dickens Fair! I’m not very useful, but it’s really, really where I belong this time of year.
Pressure, to make gems. I need that, too. It might not work for coal and diamonds, but I can be happy with a well-made bit of paste. The sparkle is what matters.