Sometime over the past two years, something changed in me. As if I woke up and became someone else. A long period of being alone in my little studio folded me slowly, just like I fold and mould my clay. I started imagining life among my art pieces – I became my own subject. If I was painting a dancer, it was me who was dancing. The old man I painted sitting in a cafe was me, I was the one sitting in that cafe in Paris. My complicated, multi-personality collages were all me talking to different states of myself.
Our one hour of exercise allowed per day would pass quickly, and soon I would be back in my studio eyeing blank paper, playing with colours, and telling myself stories. And then I became ill and days, many days, went by. I was gripped by the fear of death, separation, and loneliness. Then slowly, I got better.
I missed travelling, visiting friends, eating lunches in cafes, and walking around at night… But the new life wrapped itself around me, and I got comfortable. I sent out a few emails but mainly played games with myself and read for hours in bed. I stayed up till two or three in the morning on a regular basis, reading novels, poetry, and memoirs of people long dead. And my sleep was no longer quiet. I dreamed most nights, complicated interwoven stories, dreams within dreams. I recognised the voices of my old friends and heard my late father tell jokes and laugh. I was a child, an old woman, myself or just an observer hidden in the shadows of dark rooms. I woke up late most mornings and avoided the news. I doodled on the margins of cookbooks and planned elaborate feasts which never took place. I had hushed conversations with my mother, calming her from across the ocean.
I had searched for a rope to steady me in the shaky time we were living in, and it was my art that materialized.
I had searched for a rope to steady me in the shaky time we were living in, and it was my art that materialized. I challenged myself to do an artwork a day. I looked at my past and hoped for a future. I painted watercolours, wrote short stories, glued together collages, and of course, kept up with my diary. Sometimes I would spend most of the day working on my diary pages. I have been keeping a daily record of my life, mainly visually, for many years. But, suddenly, I started sharing my pages with others – fellow artists, cooks, gardeners, doctors, and writers, most of them total strangers on social media. I wrote about my childhood dreams, teenage years, past American life, and present London life. I would look forward to working on my diary, and each day’s theme would be inspired by how I was feeling that day.
Then, as quickly as it all started, I became the woman in Forugh Farrokhzad’s poem:
در اتاقی که به اندازهٔ یک تنهائیست
که به اندازهٔ یک عشقست
به بهانههای سادهٔ خوشبختی خود مینگرد
به زوال زیبای گلها در گلدان
به نهالی که تو در باغچهٔ خانهمان کاشتهای
و به آواز قناریها
که به اندازهٔ یک پنجره میخوانند
I examined my reasons for being alive, and I continued.
Then one day it was all over: the masks, the one hour outside, the empty streets and deserted parks, the closed bookshops and empty supermarket shelves.
One day I decided my diaries were only mine.
TRANSLATION FROM THE FARSI BY A. Z. FOREMAN AND PAUL WEINFIELD:
From “Another Birth” by Forugh Farrokhzad
In a room the size of loneliness
My heart the size of love
Looks at its simple pretexts for happiness,
The vase’s flowers, their beautiful decay,
The sapling that you planted in our garden
And the canaries’ song
Wide as a window frame
All audio, text and images are under copyright © Neelum Films LLC