On trying to keep still

I reread Jenny Diski’s On Trying to Keep Still wholly mindful of the fact that I cannot. I try. But it is this moving, this doing that I must do, always. I want to be still. I keen towards those that are. Like mothers. Still mothers. Mothers who sit, watch, smile, returning inward to their secret womb. Diski goes to a wooden shack in New Zealand and a farm cottage in the Quantocks to be still. And yet it is more about being alone, being left to her own devices, to do as she pleases that she seeks. The stillness is a whole different thing.

Glorious birdsong this morning. 3.30 am and they were in full song along Llanbadarn Road. I don’t know them all, but I could make out blackbirds and blue tits. Layer upon layer. I let it surround me, enter me, take me over. I become nothing. A sounding board, a sponge that exists only to absorb their song. Nothing down by the Prom. There, there is only the occasional screech of a gull, the chitter of the starlings under the Pier and the now and then pip of an oystercatcher. It is like walking through a membrane of sound. Pushing through. Hard. Resistant even. I pull myself out of sleep for this. This connection, this forgetting of self. The swallows have returned, he said, reading from The Times’s Nature Diary. Apparently, he said, we’ll see them in the West and the South West.

I’ve begun the clear out. Out. I wanted to give my drawing board away. A great cumbersome thing. I remember it from Bath. My bedsit in Bath. Everyday dragging it from under by bed to lift it up onto my table. Then back again at night, under the bed. But he talked me out of it. He looked grave, cautious. He knows me. Hang on to it. You never know when you might need it. Drawings have gone. Writings have gone.  Sewings have gone. Making room. Today it is paperwork. Shred it. Shred it. He throws out clothes. Jumpers. Passing them on. The women in the charity shop are delighted. We love your things, they say, pulling them from the bag.

I want to lighten myself. To relieve the heaviness of the matter that keeps me here. Like a balloonist dropping stuff over the side of the basket. The lighter he is the nearer he is to heaven. Up and up he goes. Sailing upwards. Light as air. I felt light when I went to Norway. All my stuff packed up in storage. All I had was one enormous suitcase. I felt light. I felt unencumbered. I carried them in my head though. The things. And sometimes I longed for them. Thought about them bubbled-up in Mach.

My sister calls and I am thrown off course. The day’s plan momentarily awry. And yet, I love the love I feel. It pours from me to her. She has it. Whether she knows it or not. It is there. Uncomplicated. Love.

Just like I feel for her, and her, and her.

Is this work? I ask myself. This clearing out. It needs to be done but my mind wants to create, to plan. Hold fast. Wait. Make space. Be still. Still.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.