For a little while though – a precious and odd little while that feels like a dream now – I was occupying an office on the second floor of the Charles Perkins Centre at Sydney University, right out the back near Missenden Road. My name was on the door! I was the Writer in Residence in an illustrious building full of petrie dishes and test tubes. People chatted about knockout mice as they were getting a coffee in the staff room and the fridge had a big sign warning everyone to use it for human food and drink ONLY (and presumably not for storing parts of scientific experiments or chow for the knockout mice). Two different tech dudes appeared to get my laptop to speak to the large monitor and once that was sorted, I started having odd conversations with scientists. One of these chats actually started with both of us declaring that we loved poo. Yes! (His area is the gut microbiome.)
I’m writing a novel in the form of a cancer memoir from the point of view of my abdominal organs (working title: The Pouch of Douglas). There’s Panno the Pancreas, Ute the Uterus, Liv the Liver, Maureen the Greater Omentum, Col the Colon, and so on. They’re all freaking out because two tumours, Bunny and Baby, are refusing to obey the rules of cell regulation and are getting way too big for their boots. With the Charles Perkins Centre dripping in experts of the human body and how its various parts speak to each other, the centre was the perfect place to get inspiration and advice for this venture.
Actually, I still am the writer in residence, the project continues! But the “in residence” bit of it has been made untenable (for now) with the onset of Covid19. I don’t have a spleen, I’m a cancer survivor, and while I feel robust, I’m probably in the “could end in tears” category if I actually caught the virus. So I was quick to scuttle out of the building and retreat to Bathurst. I thought I’d lay low for a couple of weeks and, once the coast was clear, head on back. Ha ha ha! The virus got the last laugh there.
So, like many others privileged to be able to do so, I’m working from home. I continue to Zoom in to scientific presentations when I can. There’s one coming up later today titled “The greasy link between obesity and cancer: membrane remodelling mediates selective exosome miRNA loading”. Well, I get the first part of that title but I’m entirely lost by the end of it. Approximately 95% of such presentations fly right over my head but there’s always something in it for me. First, I’m slowly absorbing biological information by osmosis and second, someone always says something so damn poetic that I get a little shiver. And they don’t even realise they’ve done it! I write these things down. As Margaret Atwood has said, I’m here to steal the shiny bits.
But not just to steal the shiny bits. Science is having a lot of trouble hanging in there in the face of nonsense, like people refusing to wear masks because this whole virus thing is a government conspiracy. Arrgh. I’m loving this opportunity to be a humanities gal in the midst of the hard sciences, with the respectful exchange this project provides. They might be able to work out who’s who in the zoo in terms of molecules in the petrie dish, but we can help get some of those ideas out into the minds of lay folk.
At one point there it looked like I’d be back in the building by the end of July. But with these new viral waves in Victoria and New South Wales, I may need to hang back. Sadly, I may not physically get back there before the residency officially ends at the end of November.
So: my bum is on this seat in Bathurst but my mind is Zooming both far and wide and also deep into the material of my own guts.