An examined life

An examined life, the blurb accompanying the exhibition called it. Her life, he said. They mean her life, he said. I know, I said. I know. She examined it through writing, diaries and letters and through her self-portraits. She kept looking, kept drawing. Trying to fathom it. Getting to know its detail, like that of a face. Those lines, her careworn etchings. I was in good company. The drawing is beyond belief, utterly breathtaking. The sure physicality of it. Did I do her justice? How can I? How could I?

I examine mine too. My life. Always. Always thinking, weighing it up. What more can I do? What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to be? Here, doing this? This is good enough. The world is misty. A fine rain coated me as I walked. No Perygyl again today. The kids were still out in force. An acquaintance passed me on her way home, with a male friend lagging behind. She was eating what looked like crisps. I didn’t say hello. It didn’t seem appropriate. She wouldn’t have recognised me with my wet weather gear on, hood tied close around my face. She comes in to review films. I like her. She is chatty, energetic, enthusiastic. This morning she looked a little cross. A boy in a gingham shirts was running towards me. He crossed Llanbadarn Road and ran towards town. It was an awkward, jerky kind of running, arms flailing.

Bits of dreams. One I had several nights ago where I was trying to get into this room. It was my landlady’s and she was having a party of some kind behind it. I wanted to go in but realised that I’d forgotten her name and that I’d be thrown out without it. Her name was a kind of key to being accepted. There were two doors and I was scared to go in either. It was the ignominy of being thrown out, I think, that troubled me the most. The doors were painted a kind of browny-red, like congealed blood. Then yesterday afternoon I dreamt that he and I were in Spain. We were staying in a lower ground floor flat and woman was renting the one above. She came down and it was my sister but decades older. She had a black eye, I asked about it and even lifted the eyelid up to see how bad it was. She was unconcerned and told me that they (she and her boyfriend Nigel) were travelling about doing storytelling. I remember thinking I must ask him if he thinks it is her too. Then this morning I woke from one in which a tiny, white, rather plump little poodle puppy had just turned up. You’re in the right place, I heard my self say to it (I think meaning that there was a vet on hand). Dogs usually mean friends. A new friend? Who knows?

I’m sleepy already and I haven’t begun work yet. A pot of coffee is required.

It’s all in the details when the whole is too much to cope with. The smell of earth brought on by the rain. The smell of the teacake I toast for his breakfast. The smell of the vanilla candles I light before I go down to wake him.

Time to sit, then coffee.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.