I’m in my ideal habitat. I’m sitting at the window at Varuna, the writers’ retreat in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. A crimson rosella – no, three, four, more – have just flown in to sit on the branch just there, a few feet away. All you have to do here is write and, if you’re lucky, talk to Peter Bishop. Peter Bishop is a professional encourager of other writers. The Peter Bishop Way is conducted in a nice posh voice, a knitted jumper that might have biscuit crumbs down the front and an infinite joy in reading and writing. Until March this year, he was caring for his wife, Libby, who had a degenerative disease that left her unable to do a thing, and then she passed away. After she was asleep at night, Peter would start writing. He’d often start with the phrase, “After the last light, another cold night.” Or something like that. Last night he read out the piece he’s been working on. It starts at Libby’s graveside, goes out to tending an apple orchard in Norway as if he were
Olav Hauge, goes off down an overgrown path with Uncle Vanya and back again. It’s divided into ten sections in the manner of Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations, and each section has ten sub-sections. He just dashes them off in a noisy cafe. I’m copying the idea. I love it. Each sub-section only has to be about 350 words long. Not so daunting. Then you just keep stringing them together until you’ve finished. I’ve just dashed off a piece comparing multiplying cancer cells with multiplying rabbits.
Before I came to Varuna, Deb and I went off to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation day at Rydges Hotel near Central. A series of doctors, researchers and ordinary afflicted people gave presentations. Lots and lots of slides of breasts and breast reconstructions, nipples tattooed, nipples recreated out of spare skin, breasts made out of tummy fat. Before that, on Saturday, we walked all the way to Circular Quay, ate lunch while looking over the harbour, and then headed back towards Central. There was a refugee support march going the same way, so we joined it as far as Town Hall, where it stopped and we kept going. We did a lot of Sydney rallies and marches in the 1980s and ’90s.
It’s my birthday tomorrow. Last birthday, feeling tired and unwell, but before diagnosis, I had a Dr Who themed party complete with a large cardboard TARDIS. Half the potential attendees had to cancel their plans because of the bushfires. It’s a year later, now, and a cascade of water has gone crashing under the bridge. Things are quieter now. I feel fabulously well, and I’ve got time to reflect.