I heard it in my head as I woke. Absolutely, she said. That was all. Just that sentence, absolutely she said.

My shoulder blades, particularly my left one, are rigid with tension. Mind stuff. It draws them tight. It draws me tight. It is almost pain. Nearly pain and all self-inflicted. I am at odds with myself. Doing battle with myself. I’d like to stop. But it feels like a membrane I must go through to come to the other side which is peace, death, nothingness, oblivion. Take your pick. It doesn’t matter. Whatever it is is a cessation of this warring. This non-acceptance of what is.

They promised a sunny morning. It is OK but a little dismal. We saw a fox on our way to Tesco. Bright and early, not yet six. It ran across our path. And the rooks were agitated. It looked grey to me but the bushy tail was unmistakable.

I need to keep it simple. Writing and sewing. Writing and making. Writing and thinking. Writing and reading. Is it enough? If someone else was describing my life I’d say yes, absolutely. (See what I did there?) I would. And mean it. But there is little compassion when dealing with myself. I drive myself hard. Why? Why so little kindness, and softness? Who is watching anyway? Just be in your simplicity. Just do it well. Live well, work well, love well. Exist well. Just be, he said to me this morning in my bathroom as he massaged my shoulders. Such a thing, that. How? I want to say. How do I do that?

Some snippets. First from Laurie Lee when he’d returned to Spain to fight with the rebels. It was winter then and he ‘curled up and became just a ball of survival’. And then from the artist Lubaina Himid on Desert Island Discs talking about her early life as a theatre designer, ‘in a play’ she said, ‘you have to feel the heat of the audience’.

Coup de grace. It kept coming up during crosswords. I thought it meant one’s swansong, a passing shot. He didn’t think so. He got it right. It’s a merciful act, putting someone or something out of its misery. A fatal wounding.

I need to find reasons. Reasons to sew. To explain my need. To connect with those women. Those domesticated women, locked into their interior lives. A benign form of expression. A soft art. A feminine art. I don’t want to subvert. It is my pen and paper. See it through. It begins to take shape. Himid talked about her visit to Zanzibar and how it helped her to make sense of herself. I too am hybrid. Might there be something in those northern climes for me? In their needlework, their domestic habits? An answer will come.  

I think of those boys. And they were just boys, landing on those Normandy beaches, sea-sick, terrified, cold, weary, having to stumble over fallen bodies and  severed limbs in the dark. In the dark. War-fodder. What a mess. My loves. Their loves. Lost.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.