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A quiet and modest life

Let me read you this, he said at breakfast this morning. It’s in The Times, a note that Einstein wrote in a hotel about happiness: ‘A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest’ Read it again, I said. And he did. You should write it down, he said. And I have. I’ve cleared my noticeboard of all those things, some important, others not so, to make a space for it. Just that. An A4 sheet with that quote. I like it. It’s what I need at this time, this moment. Such gifts always come. I was unsettled yesterday, you see.

We’d planned to vacate the flat for the morning while the electrician came to fix the Expelair in my bathroom. Neither of us like strangers being here. It unsettles us. And I struggle to concentrate on my work. It’s better that we go out and leave them to it. When we got back he hadn’t come. And so I felt I’d wasted my time. We’d had coffee and gone shopping for her. Gifts for her. An important milestone, I wanted to feel part of it. Make it real. It didn’t work. It felt excessive, a little chaotic. I didn’t know what she needed, what she would want. It wobbled me. And then we went in search of a tripod for the IPhone camera so that I can begin filming myself working. No joy. Nothing. Another waste of time.

It’s still work, he said. later that afternoon.┬áDon’t be so hard on yourself. I keep comparing what I do to others, to people in proper, regimented jobs. And yet, as I talk it through with┬áhim I realise that I do far more than I realise. All those hours writing emails, doing my accounts, chasing invoices, ordering material, it’s work. It is work. I wasn’t only working when I was teaching, he said, as I lay on the bed next to him. There was all the preparing, seeing students, and the thinking about it. The thinking about it is work too, you know. I know. And I think about my work all the time. That is unless I am worrying.

I worried this morning as I walked. How to deal with her. How to be kind. How to make sure that it is returned. Fretting about money. Why has that started again? I think it is because I haven’t made much these last few months. Holidays you see. Self-employed has its joys but when you are not there to work you don’t earn. So be it. We have enough. But it is more than that, it’s about self worth. My sense of self is so wrapped up in how much I earn. It is an old paradigm. It needs throwing out. It is old stuff. Old hat. A has-been of a thought. I do what I do. Wealth will come from it when it is ready. I am blessed with abundance in other ways. We manage. And we are budgeting. Is that part of the problem? Am I concentrating on what we can’t have rather than what we have?

Thrift. We go shopping with a limit. Things may have to go back. Do you remember that? Many, many people have to do it, why shouldn’t we? It is an exercise in restraint. It suits me, it always has. Excess scares me. We are doing OK. It was just over this morning. Two pounds. A slippery slope, he said to her on the till. A slippery slope. No, it’s OK, I said, we were two pounds under last time. Slippery slope, he said. And then I forgot the bread. The conditioner will have to go back. So be it. Rigour, she used to say. Yes, perhaps. It’s about intention. I have it.

A quiet and modest life. Yes. Let it be.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.