Gooseberries (5)

I make plans. I do it all the time. I impress order on the chaos. To no avail, life, work, fate, and other people send them awry. So be it. I need to learn to be less rigid, less set in my ways. To step back, to detach from the detail, my obsession with time. Am I obsessed with it? It feels like it. It is the nature of my job, I suppose, timing is all. And yet, I watch others and they seem so much more fluid. They appear to laugh at it, not watching the clock at all. It’s to do with wanting to fit so much in. And what I do do to do well, to the optimum. You do not have to be good, whispers Mary Oliver. Don’t I?

I tried to catch it as I walked this morning. There got it, like a eiderdown feather in my fist. That was it. I was comparing. I was climbing the little hill up North Road and I caught my mind comparing. Or was it more about other people’s judgement. No, that was it. I was talking to one of my dear friends. A beautiful girl, sometime woman, skin as white as snow and hair as black as coal. My lovely girl. I know she cares for me, celebrates me even, and yet, I found myself in conversation with her trying to explain why I was no longer ‘out there’. She always approaches discussions about my work with such enthusiasm. A way of encountering what she sees as my passion, I am sure, but it is genuine too. I believe she values me and, in turn, values what I do. So, she was asking, during this imaginary conversation, what are you up to? Nothing, I wanted to reply, I’m lost, stuck, floundering, reduced. I felt the awkwardness, it was as real as if she were there in front of me. My body felt heavy with it, my back tight as the skin of a drum. Do I tell the truth? Will she think less of me? Is my status of friend bound up with my identity as artist, creator, writer? I didn’t resolve it, I was just made heavy with the weight of it. That was then the comparing started. She, such a star in my eyes, with her important work. So clever, so able, so shining. And then another friend. Again, so able, so resourceful, so brave and talented. I was shrinking under the weight of them as I walked. Breathe, I said to myself. Concentrate on your breathing. In and out. In and out. I passed the honeysuckle bush. Is there a scent yet? I think so, a sweetness was coming through. More to look forward as the warm nights come.Then the house with the clumps of lavender that I usually stroke with my gloves to capture their perfume. No, no flowers yet. Soon.

Why do I visit these imagined judgements? Both of these friends care, have supported and responded to my work. What is it about? Just be it. Be that person. Be stuck, be lost, be floundering. Life is about experiencing. Not about whether the experience is good or bad but just living it. Feeling it completely. Noticing. Who is to say what is the right way to live? I am trying to unravel, to discover something. I think about a book that is beginning to form itself in my head. Though perhaps I shouldn’t see it in that way – for it intimidates the hell out of me. Perhaps I should merely call it research, something more flowing, open-ended. I want to research artists and writers ‘talking’ about being blocked. Not as a kind of self-help thing but more as an exploration of how it feels and if it can, indeed, be a creative act in itself. There is so much baggage from education. I’m still not wholly convinced it is a good thing to do. I’ve over-qualified myself as a way of giving form to my need to make, either as a writer or artist. I belonged to those institutions, though never happily, they gave me structure, guidance but they also stymied me. Or at least, I let them do so. Yet I long to be back in one, someone responding to what I do, giving me a place and forum for my ideas. The world is too big. I cannot make a ripple. Do I need to? Cannot it be work for work’s sake? Going through the motions. Just being at my desk, my laptop, doing it for myself. And yet, it goes against all that I have learnt. It is this unlearning that is so painful, so unsettling.

Abe Lincoln was a quiet man, a melancholy man…Charles Dance’s voice was coming through the radio. It was a recording he made to accompany Aeron Copeland’s music and they played on Radio 3. Those words stuck with me. To be a quiet man with such a responsibility. How did he live it? With grace.

Will you ask if there are gooseberries?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.