Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Thrill

I need to remember how it feels. I need to remember why I’m doing this.

I get so bogged down with this greyness that I cannot see ahead.

I need to remember how it felt when he called, the thrill I felt talking about it, I could hardly get my breath. That is why I am doing it. To feel. To feel alive. To feel alive with possibility.

I dreamt that I’d arrived in a strange town. It was near the sea but in England not Wales, somewhere like Sussex. It was daytime and the sun was shining. I’d walked over the brow of a hill and the town had opened out before me. An elegant place, well-to-do. I sat down on a rock and looked at it below me. A woman came up to me and began to talk about how run down it was, how shops had shut and so on and how it was something to do with the original town planners not building the houses big enough for the people who lived in them. They’re all building roof extensions, she said. And without permission. It’s quite ruining the town. I remembered that he, I think it was he (though the man was younger and bearded, I think) was picking me up in his white van (yes, I know) because we were due to move. I saw it across the road waiting for me. The woman followed me and opened the passenger door. He, anxious to get off, was rather gruff with her. I don’t like him, she muttered to me as she shut the door. We arrived at our home and I realised just before I woke that we couldn’t drive up to the front door meaning that we’d have to carry all our stuff back and forth such a long way.

Dream pictures are fascinating, don’t you think? A grey day yesterday, they promise sun today. I’ve had a coffee, it’s been a while, now it is time for tea and proper stuff, I missed the lift yesterday when I only drank decaff. What’s the point? many would say. The need for sleep, I suppose. Right, onward – to work, to work on the ‘what’ not the ‘how’.

I asked him to buy me a hyacinth. Have I said how much I love them? Of course, he said, I love buying you presents. Just one, I said. A simple bulb, not yet flowered. Ok, he said.

Crocheting

I struggle with her. I don’t know if it is me or her, or a combination of the two. She gets under my skin. She probably thinks she is being helpful, but I feel sidelined by her. She was crocheting at her desk. I asked her about it and a warmth came forth that I’ve never received from her before. It was nice. She shared what she was doing with me. She was proud of it – it was beautifully done. She’s recently given up smoking. So I have to be doing something with my hands, she said. And she is prolific, bags, blankets and even a wooden table have been made. She had a basket full of yarns under her desk. I live in a cottage, she said, and I collect baskets. When she first started there she talked about her garden to me, but that brief intimacy soon stopped. Was it me or her? What is the point in surmising? It was nice on Sunday. Let it be.

I struggled with sleep, my mind was so fired up. It was marvellous talking to him, but so unexpected. He caught me on the hop. Information poured from him – I couldn’t get a word in edgeways. They seem interested, he said afterwards. Yes, I said. Were they? I liked him. He was so engaged. But the unknown-ness of it all is what was keeping me awake. I dreamt of an unknown woman, she was late middle-aged, grey hair with a ring in her nose. She said that her son had said that he’d met me somewhere, a place name I couldn’t recognise. She was windswept, had walked up from a beach. I wasn’t able to place her accent – South African, Australian? I hadn’t met her son, and I was sure that she’d or he’d mixed me up with someone else. She said he’d met an artist. But he’s not interested in marriage, she said.

Sanditon’s denouement was unexpected. No happy endings, what a surprise. It’s real life, we both said. Yes. She still had her adventure. Isn’t that enough?

Wise Words (2)

I got it wrong. It wasn’t about the doing. What he said was, ‘It’s the what, not the how’. Focus on the what not the how, he reiterated. It helps. And I shall, if only to stem the terror that builds up inside me. A liveable terror, which sounds odd, its internal and self-nurtured but nonetheless real. Do you know it, that doom-ridden fear of failure of not being good enough of being found out for the fraud that you truly believe you are?

I dreamt of her last night. I rarely do this days. She was much younger, in her forties, I guess. Her hair was cropped short and dark, almost black. She looked gamine, like she did when she lost all that weight when we lived on the farm. We saw them at distance, it was her and one of my sisters (first it was one then another), getting out of a car. I was in Norway and I got excited about the prospect of showing her my Norway, of sharing it with her. But she was detached, watching but not really participating, a ghost. I asked him if he didn’t think she looked beautiful. He said that he did.

Her hearing is almost completely gone. What can you say, other than the trite stuff, like how brave you are, when she isn’t, she is scared, mourning, as anyone would be? She posts it all on FB. Does it help to express such things so publically? Mind you, isn’t that what I am doing here? Anyone could read it. Couldn’t they?

We talked over supper about how unerotic on-screen love-making is to watch. Is it our age? My libido has gone, and I’m not sorry. What a consumer of energy and time it was, and what a fuck-up it could be. It didn’t bring out the best in me. However, reading his book yesterday at work (a 3 hour stint, what a treat) now that was strangely erotic. And it was about two young gay men. I think it was the way he wrote about it so detachedly, it was all about innocence and curiosity and discovery. I was so reticent as a young girl to delve into what seemed such murky waters, and I had her watching over me too. But even as I read I know that certain words act as triggers, is any of it real, least of all sexuality? I cannot trust it. Better out of it, he said. Yes. What was it that that visiting lecturer said of me all those years ago, she looks like she doesn’t have sex? What did that mean? I think it was some kind of veiled compliment. He certainly paid me a lot of attention. Ho hum. Life, eh.

Wise Words

I don’t have time to write much. But I wanted to say something, to ‘touch base’ as they say in American parlance. He is so kind, he gives me his attention. What more can one ask but to be noticed to be paid attention to? I was in tears, utterly floored by my fears. It’s not the how, he said. This isn’t the time to focus on the how but the doing. Ask yourself, what it is that you are going to do? It helped. He always does. And he is right. I just have to trust that the right people will come my way. I will guided, shown, in this and in all things. Trust. That is all, that is all I have to do. Like falling and believing one will be caught. I just need to let myself fall. Shall I?

There are curtains….

I woke up with the sentence in my head. I was saying it in my head. There are curtains in my room and no way out. I am intrigued by the liminal space between sleep and waking. The merging of the two different existences where language is lost in translation. It sounds like a plea, a cry for help or is it more a statement of fact, a route to acceptance of what is. I dislike curtains, they make me feel trapped, too enclosed. I like to see light whenever I can.

I got so stressed. There was just too much to do and I wanted to concentrate, be in a quiet space with my writing. I became a scratchy, bit-ey creature, distinctly nasty – just as I felt inside. Poor love, he got the brunt of it. Such is love, eh? I wanted to solve it, to get to the plain sailing bit but I didn’t, there wasn’t the time. Here there and everywhere and being so cross about it. Consequently, my stomach is in knots this morning, groaning and yawling.

The morning was still as I walked, lovely. A few students roamed the Prom. One girl was in pyjamas with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She didn’t give me eye contact. She was withdrawn, her hair in heavy strands around her face. One lad came out of the new council flats on Mill Street, swaying. He was reading his mobile phone when I walked past on the other side of the road. He must’ve spotted me for he started to shout out. Yo! Or at least that is what it sounded like. Yo! he shouted again. What do I say? I looked at him. Yo! yer fuckin’….he didn’t finish the sentence but turned and headed towards Bridge Street. I don’t think he even saw me, I was just a figure to launch aggression on. My hackles rose a little but I kept moving, walking towards home. A homeless man sat on a bench by the station, all his belongings beside him. We looked at each other. Morning, I said. Hello, he said. Climbing the little hill towards the Buarth I heard a wailing, not unlike the sound I heard yesterday. I can’t write it. It was a kind of aeeragh! In the gloom I saw a figure, he was clutching his stomach and groping at doors. Then I heard a key in a lock and he was in.

Must get on. I want to crack it. Tea then write. Onward.

Fearfulness

I am assailed by it, I have been most of my life. It reduces me, shrinks me. And yet, it is part of me. Others might call it vulnerability, sensitivity – and not necessarily a bad thing. I try to not let it stop me living, trying, trying to be brave. I create but doing so scares. I need to follow the lines some days, allow though I’ve always been crap at doing so. Even when I used to ‘colour-in’ as a child, I couldn’t stay within the lines, my colouring crayon would always go over and it would mortify me. I need to write today. It is my job, my living, if a sparse one. And then there is this project – this great scary monster of thing that is forcing me to encounter one of my worst fears -computers and unfamiliar computer software. Try it, she advises, give it a go, play around abit. She makes it sound fun. To me it isn’t. I am terrified, even downloading it, if the blurb is to be believed, is dangerous. Is there someone out there would could help me? I have the ideas and want to make them happen but how? Oh, and to make something trite and amateurish is worse, worse of all. Breathe. There are other things to concentrate on today. Oh, God make me brave.

It’s ages since we spoke, she and I. I got through. She has another cold. Their Christmas was quiet though they had unexpected visitors. I felt her distress over this, I too am a retiring soul like her. I love to see people, to converse but on my terms, not unexpectedly. But she managed it, though it, and the impromptu take away Indian the friends brought, played havoc with their digestions. There is something 19th century about her and her small life, as there is about me and mine. Kindred souls. She asked after me too. How I like her, cherish her even. Keep her safe. And me. And him. And her. And her.

The Bald Prima Donna

I leave notes for myself, usually of something, a word, phrase of title of a book that I heard on the radio. Sometimes these notes, generally tiny yellow post-it squares, sit on a page in my filofax (yes, I still have one, finding it preferable to putting such information into my phone) and either are responded to or get moved on till there is time to deal with them directly. The Bald Prima Donna note was written down after hearing a programme about Surrealist Theatre in which one of the contributors had said it was Ionescu’s best work. I loved The Chairs, both to read and to see (I saw it in the Ustinov studio in Bath a while back – how many years? Ten?) It is marvellous spare writing. The Theatre of the Absurd. If only I’d had the courage all those years ago…..Still it is in me, that training, those ideas have been ingested. They stay in me. And life, after all, is a compromise. I shall look the play out. One day.

I want a quiet day today. I shall need courage tomorrow. It will be my first review for them and writing about ceramics always makes me a little nervous. Do I know enough? Am I charlatan? I asked him pretty much that same question at breakfast. Should I be embarking on a project where the principal method of communication is wholly new to me? He said, of course. And I know this, I know that many artists use other people’s expertise to produce their work. It has been so for centuries. It’s a control thing and a fear thing. But if I am to break out of the smallness of my experience I need to reach out beyond, into the unknown. Isn’t that so? The ideas, the concept, the initiation and graft will be mine. Won’t that make it mine also?

Enough with the worrying. There is a cardigan to mend (much loved) then a pot of tea to make and then sewing to do. Nice. Today it is enough.

Pine Needles

We thought they were feathers. A bird, I said as he was locking our door, it’s probably been caught by a cat. They were everywhere. Our communal hall was full of them. But as we got closer I realised that they were in fact pine needles, great clumps of them. Someone had clearly dragged a dead Christmas tree through and not bothered, or felt obliged to clean up afterwards. And just after I’d begun reading the monk’s book about cleaning too. He wouldn’t approve. Though perhaps would not, being a Buddhist have passed judgement. He got agitated, and so did I. And yet, what is the point? We could clean it ourselves. Or get in touch with the agency and report it. All our actions impact on others. There is no getting away from it. But also we need to accept that people’s standards are different. I just want to be at peace. Let it be, eh?

Moire Soup

I love the randomness of the words that my subconscious choses to express. Moire Soup was supposed to be the name of shop or business that someone in my dream told me we had worked for. Where did that come from? Lots and lots of dreams that really and truly pull me under. Dreams of friends in Norway – I so often go there in my dreams – conversing with them, working things through with them. One involved a toilet door I thought I’d locked but she came in regardless.

I have begun it. I’ve walked into it – started it on its rolling course. What did Goethe say about beginnings? I try to remain a little detached. It is both exciting but deeply frightening. (Is it really excitement I feel? Is that honest? Excitement is too strong an emotion to feel in my present ‘Winter-blue’ state but I’m intrigued and interested in the challenge it will set me. And the opportunity to converse with people – I love that. I always have. What a conundrum – and me such a solitary, diffident being. We shall see. I can let it be. Do the work, see the detail and wait and see. As with all these things there is so much I do not know. Can I find people to help me?

I’ve had a coffee, now it is time for some tea then down to the nitty-gritty sending out my feelers. Godspeed.

Horses

I woke from my dream realising that I hadn’t managed to photograph the horses. They weren’t real horses but sculptures of them made from wicker. They’d been placed on top of hill and I’d kept intending to slip out and take an image of them but the house I was living in was busy so that I was distracted. People kept coming in and out, visitors from foreign lands mostly. Just before waking I’d been saying goodbye to them. I think they were on a large ship and somehow I’d gone aboard the ship even though they’d set sail to bid them a proper adieu. I hugged and kissed each one, though I didn’t know them that well, but none of them seemed to appreciate it or indeed, welcome my intimacy. Most were scowling as they huddled together. I continued to be as warm towards them as I could be despite the chill coming from them. I woke disconcerted however, and a gloomy bleakness overtook me.

I try to manage these winter blues, if that is what they are. I don’t hide from them or try to smother them. I walk with them, investigate them, shine a light on them, anything to find a strategy of living with them and managing them. They assail me. They weigh me down, my feet feel leaden, but worse they take the fire out of my courage, my willingness to take on challenges by kindling my innate desire to hide, to hunker down and just exist. Will they pass? It is still so so black outside. And today I must face the clumsy beginnings of my idea for the project, and worse, worst of all begin to engage with the ACWs guidelines. Such language represents the worst kind of authority for me, rigid, uncompromising and often unkind. I take my tender ideas to them knowing that they may be crushed, stamped on, made ridiculous but do it I must. And bravely. How I long to run, to escape. I could. But I won’t.

I sat in the cafe alone, even the owners were elsewhere. No radio, no sound. It felt calm. Soon she came, walking fast, open and friendly. Tea with soya milk. It was cold, and I was glad for my wrap. I chatted to her, feeling duty bound though I wanted to begin work. She is sweet and was distressed by the violent attack in the town, her town, on Saturday night. He was just left for dead, she said, who would do that? We talked about cleaning windows and the efficacy of vinegar and newspaper. My Mum used to do that, she said. Customers dribbled in. Two loud women sat in the booth next to me and talked about upholstery and overeating at Christmas. I couldn’t get into my trousers, said one. I worked steadily trying to push through my inner judgement. He said he was proud of what I’d done. Then work and the taciturn young singer. Then the carpenter. A nice lad, a climber.

I survived the day. The returning after the holidays. It is enough. Now it is time to make some sense of what I wrote. But coffee first.