This morning I am seated at a wooden table. I have a cup of tea and a piece of dry, crumbling leftover Christmas cake on a white plate, next to my laptop. I have just washed all the breakfast dishes and wiped the counters; opened the cotton curtains with little ducks on them so I can watch the rain beat down on the lawns. Last night I left one window in my bedroom open so I could hear the waves on the rocks. But before I did this, I took out all the summer dresses I had, and put them on wooden hangers and hung them on a hook on the bedroom door. I arranged gold nail polish, my sunglasses, a bathing suit and a seafood cookbook on the brown dresser in front of my bed. If I open the other window, ferns and flax plunge through; at night, if there is wind, they run their fingers across the glass. Anything cast off, or dropped on the wooden floors or the bed this morning - I have put it there deliberately. If the ferns really disturbed me, I would go and get a kitchen knife, and hack them back. But their urgency goes with waves and the doors and floorboards (a kitchen knife: maniacal, but there are no hedge clippers or even scissors).
This is my room for four days; I am treating it like it is a set for a play that one of us here should be writing (we are on a writing retreat). Last night I watched one of the five of us, from inside as I reclined on the couch with a gin and tonic. In the middle of gales and rain and groaning trees he sat there, writing on a porch that seemed like it might get blown away. He wrote like he was going to die in an hour. He barely lifted his face up. I had just discovered Mad Men that afternoon and was on my fifth episode of Season One. I drove the lemon and ice cubes around in my glass and marvelled at 1952 dialogue and Don Draper - " What you call love is what guys like me invented to sell you nylons" - and slammed the door on the thought of the suitcase I'd brought with me, from New Zealand to California, then back to New Zealand again, full of all the unfinished projects from last year in Wellington and this was going to be the week I would be up at 7, polishing off each one. I would see each project through. This morning I woke up at 10, and dangled my feet above the floorboards, my blanket wrapped around me, watching the problem suitcase. Then, with the heels of both feet I dragged it towards me. It caught on a rug and Idragged that too. I rolled my feet until it was my toes, pulling, then pushing the suitcase under my perch, then finally, under the bed, as far in as my feet could get it.
Since March I have written: A 50-minute radio play in my car, looking out to Nugget Point and the lighthouse, my pillow behind me, crushed up against the glass. A five-minute short film while washing dishes at a wedding reception in the Kaka Point town hall (Wash tea cups. Peel off gloves and write. Shove fingers back into wet gloves. Keep washing tea cups while listening for more dialogue from the swinging kitchen door). An essay about a lightning storm on Mount Shasta and how it felt to see a friend in front of me drop to the ground, hands over his head, as I stood there, my hands shaking too much to even rip the crampons (metal) off my boots, unclip the caribiner (metal) at my waist, from an ice axe ( metal) I had just plunged - quite expertly for a baby mountaineer, I thought - into the snow. All of that got written about by headlamp in a bottom bunk.
Do I need things to be difficult? Do I need difficult towns, difficult jobs, difficult chairs and bottom bunks to rise to my best self?
I went back to Kaka Point last week to sleep and read and eat toast and go for long runs after a month on the road (I'm a cook this summer for a tour company) and I went swimming with a friend on my last afternoon. When I was a kid, I loved waves. I loved them coming at me. I loved the choices you had to get through and over them: you could swim hard at them, leap up to catch them as they crested, lifting you up with them; you could dive under and through them, just missing their punch, rippling over you; but if you fear them, they will crush you.
I thought about that while leaping and diving, how leaping and diving to get to the calm, so that you can lay on your back and look at the sky and the cliffs and do frog strokes and feel the sea under you is at times, anti-climatic. There is something to the leaping and diving and getting crushed.
I am finishing this in the afternoon, and I have given up. It has stopped raining and the sun is spreading out all over the porch I am on, eating watermelon and spitting the seeds onto the still-wet grass. I am on the Kina Peninsula for 24 more hours and this place - Harry's Place; you can find it on bookabach.co.nz - is too perfect to waste on writer's block. The suitcase is going back into the boot of my car. I will pull it out when I get to some place that frightens me or tries my patience, like Blackball.
I am going to make myself another gin and tonic and play lawn tennis now. Thank you, and good afternoon.