Kage Baker never indulged in any writing contests or seminars. The last class she took in creative writing was in high school, at good old Immaculate Heart High School.
Mind you, the teacher for that class was the inestimable poet Eloise Klein Healy, who became Los Angeles’ first Poet Laureate in 2012. She resigned the position in 2014, after a bout of encephalitis nearly killed her and left her with Wernicke’s aphasia. She is still a poet and she still writes; but she has learned a new approach to language in general, and her own voice in particular.
Neural recovery from Wernicke’s aphasia is rare, and seldom complete. Ms. Healy, who was known to Kage Baker as Miss Klein and remained Kage’s favourite teacher of all time, managed the amazing trick with elan and grace. I recommend her post-Wernicke’s collection, Another Phase, if you are not familiar with her work. Heck, Dear Readers, I recommend all her poetry, but the 5-line poems in Another Phase are particularly cogent, a sort of re-constructed haiku that twists through dimensions of unspoken but not inaudible meanings. Sort of haiku in a Klein bottle, ha ha.
Eloise Klein was a high energy, whirling dervish kind of pixie when she taught at IHHS. I looked at her photos online tonight, and I can barely see any difference in the way she looked 50 years ago and how she looks today. The grin is identical. So is the haircut. Her hair was dark then, and I doubt that she still wears Laura Ashley smock frocks: I’m not sure she did even back in 1970, but it’s how I remember her. I may be conflating her with Mrs. Cano, a tiny termagant who taught English composition as a martial art; or with Miss Weber, who was an actually be-smocked art teacher. We had a wildly diverse set of teachers at IHHS in the 1970’s, including the more anarchic members of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; none of them endeared themselves, or us, to the patriarchal Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but as a group, the teaching staff was exceptionally good at turning out independent, educated, empowered young women.
Miss Klein was enormously supportive and kind to Kage, and the fact that Kage eventually made a career out of her own writing can be attributed directly in part to her encouragement. She was everyone’s favourite English teacher, because she was brilliant and creative and compassionate, and imparted the joy of her vocation like the angular motion of a spinning top. She taught Kage to be truer to her own visions than to anyone’s expectations, but also to pay attention to spelling and grammar. She taught courage and fortitude along with the Oxford comma and the delicate art of the semicolon. Like Kage, Miss Klein was also left-handed, and so she never took Kage to task for Kage’s own ghastly handwriting.
I never had a class with her, which I regretted fiercely. Instead, I got an English teacher with braces and a lisp, who specialized in oral recitation; another who despised us for our intransigent insistence on being teenagers; and the aforementioned Mrs. Cano, who taught me that the reward for doing a good job was to get more work assigned to you. Oh, how I envied Kage her classes with Eloise Klein!
On the other hand, this cast of ladies did teach me how to learn on my own …
After Miss Klein’s tutelage, though, Kage could hardly be blamed for not feeling she needed more classes. Among the vital things she learned from Miss Klein was that to be a writer, one must write. That was the thing, and the whole of the thing: ideally, you got better at writing as you performed more and more of it, but the first thing was just to develop the irresistible need to write. In that, Kage succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. I think. She had some pretty wild dreams.
I am meditating on Eloise Klein Healy tonight because I have now spent 4 days virtuously working on NaNoWriMo. Kage never needed that kind of thing, as I said. Besides, she had so much to say, so many stories to tell, that figuring out what to write was never as difficult as figuring out how to find the time to write it all. The more she wrote, the more she needed to say. The more she needed to say, the more other people clamoured for her to write specifically for them. Editors plied her with ideas and outlines. Publishers requested adventures in new genres. Kage was able to live her entire life and never run out of stories. Eloise Klein Healy was the first person who lit that perpetual fire in Kage.
So, thank you, Miss Klein-that-was. You were not my teacher, but you taught her. And you did a damn fine job of it.
A Klein bottle is a two-dimensional manifold against which a system for determining a normal vector cannot be consistently defined. Its inside is also its outside. But it won’t tell you which is which.
Dear Sister Saundra.
Sr. Saundra was a sweetheart, despite my own adolescent tendency to giggle at the braces … my flaw, not hers. Sr. Calista, now: was an occasion of mortal sin, for me. As I suspect I was for her. But I remember with delight our amazing performance of ‘Lord Randall”. That was a wonder.
Shouldn’t we all (fans of Kage Baker’s wonderful writing) thank Miss Klein-that-was? I know I do.
It is among her many and manifest virtues. All hail!