The Third Something

102 / Silence, Please

Notes on quiet from the midst of self-isolation.

So, with some brutal inevitability, C & I caught Covid.

We started feeing unwell last weekend — thankfully nothing worse than the flu — and we are in mandatory self-isolation until Christmas Eve.

Although we don’t know much about this new Omicron variant, it is extemely contagious: eight out of the twelve people at the event where we think we caught it were infected. I also can say this with confidence: whatever your local health authorities are telling you about the Omicron numbers in your area, add a zero to the end. And I can confirm that lateral flow tests (if they are available in your country) are not hugely reliable: everyone at the event tested negative before attending.

To the small extent that you take public health advice from an artist with a newsletter, please be careful; yes vaccines and boosters, but this new variant is not messing about. It is (or soon will be) everywhere. If you are seeing family or friends over the holidays, especially the older or vulnerable, do whatever you can to avoid mixing with other people in this coming week.

There ends the public service announcement!

An ink and watercolour sketch of some trees from a short story by Adam Westbrook

In the U.K., the infected must self-isolate for ten days and, as you might expect, it’s a test in patience and quiet (if you don’t count the endless raspy coughing).

So I’ve been reflecting on quietness and silence and remembering an obiturary I read for the British ceramicist Richard Batterham. It quoted him as once saying:

“The main work is not to make pots, but to allow them to come, to allow them to grow, to allow them to be alive. To make this possible, I feel that it is necessary to use our skills and materials with humility and respect. This requires a certain quietness of living.”

It chimes with Gustav Flaubert’s famous line:

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

From experience, I do believe that the more orderly you make your life the more space you leave open for creativity. I’ve felt more creative the more I have systemetized, out-sourced or otherwise automated the more mundane parts of life.

If you’re interested, I will write to you about how I do that one day.

An ink and watercolour sketch of some trees from a short story by Adam Westbrook

But I think we can go further than a “quietness of living”. The writer Joyce Carol Oates says this in her Masterclass:

“The great enemy of writing isn’t your own lack of talent. It’s being interrupted by other people. Constant interruptions are the destruction of the imagination.”

I feel this. It’s incredibly easy to be disturbed from a state of focus and extremely difficult to get back into it.

Then I remembered what the writer and actor Michaela Coel said when collecting her Emmy earlier this year:

“In a world that entices us to browse through the lives of others, to help us better determine how we feel about ourselves, and in turn to feel the need to be constantly visible, for visibility these days seems to somehow equate to success; don’t be afraid to disappear from it, from us, for a while and see what comes to you in the silence.”

I don’t read this as another argument for running away to a cottage on a cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea. As artists we must be a part of the world, not completely separate from it.

But it makes me wonder: what if what’s missing isn’t talent or luck or time, but the silence to hear a voice that sometimes only speaks in a whisper?

An ink and watercolour sketch of some trees from a short story by Adam Westbrook

Until another Sunday soon,

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