I live a rather odd sort of life. Small and quiet, in some respects, and certainly not one in which to draw attention. In fact I rather find myself far too often with myself. My hermitage is often by the sea, dear Toad Hall. Yet, when one is a hermit, and I see this best describes my habits, my hermitage follows me about.
Today, for example, I am again perched upon my little desk in the hidden reaches of the London Library. A vast city is at my feet, but like a rabbit I burrow into my little warren and here I sit, happy and content. I may alight frequently, like the said lapin, to sniff the breeze or, in my case, to have a coffee in the shadow of St, James Piccadilly, or a sniff round Hatchards, but am quick as a flash into my hidey-hole.
This revelation of my own solitude is not a new realization by any means. I have rather worn it, for no one to see of course, like a badge of honour. Yet, deciding as I have, to make a change in this manner of life, for at least half the year, has made it more apparent to me; or rather, it has put it into a new light.
In part my split year, as it were, is meant to balance the solitude and quiet of Toad Hall, with the peopled populace of London. For this to work and make sense I must then, it seems, talk and interact with the people. A logical conclusion but one hard won by a self-inflicted hermit. It is quite easy to be as quiet and self reflective in the bustle of the city as it is on the isolated sea side. Perhaps that is why I abhor the suburbs with its middle-class meddling.
My December and early January has found me reveling in quiet moments of watching people go by, a book to read here, a few lines drawn there and then out into the city with a coffee and a fag and view the world. It is as a play upon a stage or even more a film in the cinema, this people watching. For to me it seems as if those characters, those frenzied varied players, cannot see nor touch nor communicate with me.
I have been attempting to remedy this. I have found that London is rather a good place to find clubs and organizations to join. Of course I have my Library and my club, but there one is apt to sit in the drawing room sipping tea quietly reading magazines or the paper whilst your compatriots do the same, with an apology for a cough or sneeze. I will soon have bridge club and there is my book club, but rather a quiet lot when all is said and done.
This new set of people I am endeavoring to meet are meant to interact with you. At least that is what one assumes. They collect up, this new group, like so many wayward birds having lost their flock, to find themselves a rather odd collection of city pigeons with some flamingos, gulls, and a rooster in the mix. It is in this new endeavour, to meet and connect with people, that I have begun to see my life differently. It is through their eyes that shines the light upon my odd little existence.
If one thinks oneself a normal sort of person just going along, living one's life, to then have your self questioned about what you do or what you like to do, you soon sound to yourself as mad as a box of frogs. I might start telling people I am a plumber or a work in the City, but then they might ask me to fix their pipes or their finances and I should muck it up and show myself out.
My life, as I seem to live it, has no real plan nor pattern. That appears the goal of the modern person: The Plan. We are to set goals and reach aims and chase dreams and decipher the colour of one's parachute, whatever that might mean. And this is probably what sets me most apart from the normal person. One is always encountering people who are doing, just about to do, working towards doing, or having just done this or that. And it is all sensible things like having jobs and children and deadlines and meetings and schedules. And if one talks about what they have done, like sailing a large vessel alone with the main rigged and a plethora of lines in the cockpit so as not to be bothered by others in a boat with them, they are looked at as mad. I shan't even mention how I felt this past Sunday when chatting with a lovely vicar who was on the brink of heading to India to do all sorts of good works what it was I was to be up to the coming week. What indeed. Reading, rambling, drinking far too much coffee and contemplating one's self far too much. You can see how such realizations can make one feel a complete wretch.
I am an artist, that is I do artwork and sometimes people buy it. Sometimes I am coerced into having a show, but more often than not, I simply do art for my own amusement. I rather live like the ancestors in my works. The ladies in my past that happily spent their days alone or with small groups, moving about to suit the needs of family or fashion, reading, needlework, and occasional chats and meetings at their clubs. This sort of life, however, is odd to a modern person. We are meant to always be doing something and for me, much of what I do is, by modern terms, nothing.
Of course to me this sort of life isn't "nothing". It is a great many things to me: spending the day reading, or contemplating the sea bed of a morning snorkel, a casual coffee and flip through a book, an hour or three drawing or painting and then a drink as the sun sets. To me this is Life. This is living. To consider a trip to fly fish, or contemplate an afternoon riding. These are the loftiest of my goals. My ancestors would have not thought it odd, such a life, but if I am meant to get on with modern people than I had better find more things to do, I suppose. Even my need to be in the city for this portion of the year seems to need to have a reason. It is that I had better come up with one. "I want to be here in the city part of the year" just seems to meet with blank stares. I can see the question behind their far too polite eyes: "But what, silly mad woman, are you going to do? What is your plan?"
This is most likely why I fit in so well at my club. Sitting in an afternoon lecture in a sea of grey hair and walking sticks, no one is apt to give me a stare of "is that it?" when I say I might just get some tea and read the rest of the day away in the drawing room littered with other aged folk.
I always recall, since very young, finding more affinity with the very old. To me they had the pattern of life set. Their days were spent in contemplation and enjoyment. I've always felt an 80 year old since I was young. Though I just suspect it is simply the times have changed and what is meant to be fun and what one is meant to be getting on with has vastly changed to what I consider living. Perhaps it comes from being raised by very old parents and losing myself in the history of times long since lived out before even my conception.
It is an odd sort of life, this, but it is mine. I have never felt it ugly or misused, but seeing it through others well meaning eyes seems to make me see it differently. Like an ugly doll you love dearly and are only aware of its ugliness when you compare it to others Parisian Perfections in bone china.
Now somehow, as an artist ( as I suppose I am meant to "be" something) how can I go about putting this in my new work? My new digital realm that I see really only provides me my next hermitage: The Virtual World. Old habits do die hard.
I lived as a 1950s housewife for three years. Click below to see that project.
Donna Davis is a painter and printmaker living by the sea. Her work deals with women, history, the seashore, and moments in time. Follow along to see the process behind the product.