Hacking Consciousness

Kage Baker was quite scornful of “life hacks” . Those began to proliferate like bacteria on the Internet about as soon as it went commercial; along with porn, games with annoying sound effects, and cat videos.

She scorned all of them, actually. She quite liked sufficiently funny videos, but found cats utterly resistible. She thought most porn was juvenile, although she was impressed with how many new techniques in cinematic and computer technology arose from the battle to make it 24-7 on the aether. And she usually turned down the sound on her games anyway, unless it was a pirate game with really good gunnery effects.

She saw all those lists, like the infamous “One Crazy Trick” series, or lists of “17 Top Uses for Flamingos” and such to be really nothing more than forms of “Dear Abby” and “Hints from Heloise”. Anyone remember “Hints from Heloise”? It ran in newspapers, and told your mother how she could save scads of money on fabric softener by using white vinegar instead of Downy. This was apparently great, unless anyone in your family was contact-sensitive to white vinegar and you used it in an underwear load … in which case, one of your daughters (me) came home in hysterics, howling and ripping her clothes off like a first-time werewolf.

(That is a story still told in my family to this day. Kimberly was the lucky person who got me home, somehow still clothed, babbling  and weeping …  But it left Kage with the permanent conviction that not only were “life hacks” silly, they were potentially dangerous.)

However, oddly, Kage was not averse to  carefully designed personal tricks to make life more efficient. She just liked to invent them on her own. She used  many deliberately crafted hacks to facilitate her own life.  We girls all  had to read Cheaper By The Dozen the summers before we entered Immaculate Heart High School; the intention may have been to impress us with the Catholic lifestyle of having too many children, but what most struck Kage on reading it was the use of efficiency and motion studies. Maybe it was because she was left-handed. But ever after, she arranged her desk, closets, shelves, and kitchen cabinets  on principles designed to accommodate her own bilaterality and arm’s reach.

It extended to her daily writing technique, as well. Her writing schedule had a rhythm and a series of rites and rituals, beginning with checking the day’s earthquakes and the causes on the Hunger Site, and ending with a few games of Free Cell. Only then did she begin to check mail and write. I still do this, because she made me promise to do it. Well, not the Free Cell – that way lies madness. But I have been known to play a few levels of Plants Vs. Zombies as a run-up to writing.

These sorts of things do often work for me. Not as often or dependably as they did for Kage – I am not wired the same way, but who was?  She was unique. Nonetheless, her private hacks are still accessible  and useful to me, unlike even the most detailed advice from best-sellers like King and Rowling – let alone the people who write for Buzzfeed. My writing hat and writing necklace do work, and I don’t care if  it’s due to beneficial juju or self-hypnosis.

Right now … I don’t know why but I am in a strange mood for creativity. I suspect it is a form of recovery from writer’s block,  wherein one is consumed with the urge and energy to compose but cannot actually string words together easily. This is one of the times when the pen and notebook technique is a definite assist – it works, it’s like a yoga pose and a mantra all in one: the smooth glide of the ink across the deliciously blank paper, the slight glitter it gives off as it dries behind the pen-nib, the faint floral scent of it. You can almost sit back and watch in happy fascination as the words spool themselves independently out from your pen. And of course, a fountain pen and coloured inks are an enormous aide de écriture.

I think automatic writing may have developed from some blocked writer watching her own hands throw logic to the winds and take control.

I sent off another story today – or, well, I sent off the same one to another magazine. Online magazines are opening submissions opportunities like crocuses right now, and as they mostly don’t like  simultaneous submissions, one casts one’s bread on the editorial waters one hopeful crouton at a time. But in the meantime, I am also trying to produce other and more short stories.

For some reason, my mind is currently set on urban horror. I have an unusual urge to write a zombie story (I don’t even usually like zombies),and that story about little girl ghouls keeps clamouring for attention. If I can tease plots out of the copious description that is crowding my mind, I may have some good – or at completed, which is almost as useful – stories.

I also saw a photo of a Siberian  sinkhole today – tentatively blamed on thawing methane ice under the steppes – and a sudden plot for another Company story leaped us to join the throng: something about subterranean bases kept safe and sound under the permafrost, until global warming begins and everything has to be moved or hidden better. But you’d have a looong time of safety and security, because hardly anyone explores the tundra or questions what’s running around on it; you can blame careless Company aircraft on meteors, and everything else on vodka. Could be amusing. I’m calling the notes “Prosperity In A Hole”.

And in the meantime, the most effective writing hack of all is surfacing in my mind. I am dreaming of Kage. In these dreams she is berating me to write, or demanding I brain storm with her on her own writing, or we’re searching through some really weird libraries for source material … they are good, good dreams, because I am spending time with her, and because I do feel encouraged. Or brow-beaten. Or sometimes desperately curious, as in today’s nap when she showed me a notebook full of completed stories of hers I have not read, and kept putting off letting me read them …

Time to break out the pen and notebook again, and see if I can pull something out of thin air. I can feel it waiting there.


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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