Parnaz Foroutan ~
I’m not sure if the neighborhood birds know of the State’s mandate that human beings can no longer leave their homes, but they gather outside in numbers I’m certain exceed other Springs. Ruby-throated hummingbirds. Sparrows. A family of hawks. It brings me joy to think that the natural world has become more alive during this period of our absence. And just as this inspiration allows me the courage to begin writing, my youngest daughter opens the door to my office, tears on her cheek, holding out her finger, which she hurt in a game of ball with her sister. The dog follows, curious and concerned. Her sister follows, indignant of the blame, an argument brews, the girls yelling, the dog yapping, and I forget the words I was about to put to paper, they fly away from me like so many startled birds.
I wake up each day. I enter the kitchen, the morning light streams in, the dust specks illuminated. I fill the kettle with water, turn on the fire. Eggs, bread. I remind the girls of their schoolwork. I’ve created schedules, established routines and tried to carve out of the day a small nook of time for myself to write. Before the pandemic, it was my daily work. The children off to school, I’d take a cup of coffee to my office, sit before my desk, and begin. I wouldn’t stop writing until it was time for them to come home. And each morning since the doors to the school have been shut, I begin the day with the hope of returning to my work. I sit down at my desk, and my eldest calls me from her room to ask about obtuse angles, and the youngest wants me to read with her on the couch, and the dog is furious that the mailman still roams the streets. Before I know it, it is dusk, time for dinner, we eat, we laugh. I tuck them in bed, we pray, they sleep.
It is night now, that I am writing this. And I am exhausted. When it quiets in my home, my thoughts begin. And at first, the fear comes. It is a time of fear, of uncertainties, and I imagine the most horrible narratives. Food scarcity. Suffering and illness. The crumbling of institutions. Mistrust, greed, violence. My mind eats itself with worry. And then I think, it is time to write now, if you are to write. But it’s hard. To put words to paper. There is a peace and clarity, a still place in the mind necessary to compose. I don’t have that, not during these days.
But that is not say that I am not writing. Writing is not solely the act itself, of putting words to paper. The observation of ruby-throated hummingbirds, the acknowledgement of the sparrow, the awe at the hawk, which drops from the sky, beak and talon, and the thought of the field mouse, unknowing, before my child comes to me, tears on her cheeks, holding out her little finger for me to kiss… To live in these moments, to be awake and in awe, is part of writing. To be afraid and uncertain, to allow the mind to eat of itself, to carry you into nightmares, that is writing. To watch the storm brew between two sisters, then abate. To walk into the kitchen each morning, into the stream of sunlight, to take the kettle and listen as it fills with water, listen as it begins to boil and whistle, listen as the girls stir from sleep, to listen to the world, that is an act of writing.
Words come hard these days, but the world is terrifying and beautiful, and the soul, naked and watching. It is a time to be awake, to see the world, perhaps, the way a child sees it, uncertain, bewildered, open. And when this time passes, and the peace and silence returns, the words will come, and we will tell our stories.
— Parnaz Foroutan
Parnaz Foroutan is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Girl from the Garden (Ecco 2015) which received the PEN Emerging Voices Award and was named one of Booklist’s “Top 10 First Novels” of 2015. Her new memoir Home is a Stranger (Chicago Review Press 2020) is about her journey back to Iran as a young woman, two decades after her family fled the rise of the Islamic Theocracy. Her essays have appeared on NBC Think, The Sun, Body Literature and other literary journals. The essay that made her mother proudest, entitled America and addressing the refugee crisis, appears in the anthology Radical Hope (Vintage 2017).