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A time for silence and a time for utterance
A writer’s dilemma   


Mahsa Meshki
February 16, 2006

Grade 7 …

Kimia gathered up her courage and walked through the doors of her grade 7 English Class.  She was dressed like Orsion from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. She began to deliver:

“If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it that surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken and so die …”

Her grade 7 English teacher was astounded by her theatrical performance.

Kimia had only recently graduated from ESL (English as a Second Language). Despite the language barrier, her predilection for poetry and literature had not left her. The young Kimia was her grandfather’s pet before his passing. She had a poem prepared for him each week. Her grandfather who was the principal of a prominent boy’s school in Iran before his retirement, naturally, was fond of studious children.  

Kimia could not understand Shakespeare but she enjoyed the exaggerated language and she particularly liked how inanimate, abstract nouns were given life and acted as the subject of poetic sentences: the dying appetite, the falling strain. What Kimia loved about poetry was how the string of words put together sounded to her ear. A good poem, she believed, was like good music. If she liked the melody, the words didn’t really matter.  

As a child, Kimia often appeared in front of the mirror and entertained herself with the recital of inane lines she spontaneously created. She would cry and pretend her image was the saddest audience she had ever seen. The idea of soliloquies was, therefore, all the more beguiling to her poetic sensibility.

17 years passed by …

17 years have passed by since playing Orsion for her grade 7 English class. Slowly and over the years, her predilection for literature and poetry was shelved away. How sad!   

Kimia reflects on life …

She is on page 233 of Paulo Coehlo’s latest novel, The Zahir.  It is a book within a book. The main character in The Zahir is also a writer. His novel is called A Time to Rend and a Time to Sew. Kimia reposes her back to her bed and hangs her head down from the bed. She holds up the book in the air firmly with two hands as she tries to flip the pages.  “He died while he was still alive”. What a lovely epigram! Kimia turns herself over. She reposes on her stomach. Her hands are now hanging down from the bed. The book is lying on the floor. Kimia contemplates. Were the words speaking to her? Was Kimia to die with the candle burning inside her? Had she treaded down the wrong path because the road less traveled had seemed too dicey? The epigram inspires Kimia to touch base with her poetic sensibility.  

Kimia decides to write…

Kimia needs context. She needs to create a mood.  Maybe some sad Persian music like old Vigen records her father used to listen to or even better -- perhaps some Koursoh Aghmaei -- that ought to do it. Or maybe Charles Aznavour! “The sadder, the better,” Kimia thought.  Sad music always tends to stir up her emotions. As tears streak down her cheeks, a stream of words will naturally find their way onto the paper.

They say the French savor unhappiness, “le gout de Malheur”. Kimia is convinced the same is true of her own culture. Maybe Iranians admired Parisians so much that they began to savor unhappiness just the same.  After all, much of Hedayat’s contemplation on life and death was formed in Paris. Isn’t that where he took his life?

Kimia recalls the mournful voice of Edith Piaf crying out of forlorn and despair. She pictures Piaf walking the old gloomy streets of Paris making her way to la Cloiserie des Lilas in Montparnasse. Did Piaf hang out there at all -- at la Cloiserie des Lilas? Or did she just attend at the cabarets to sing?  Did it matter? Piaf was dead. Kimia could make Piaf to be whomever she wanted.

How about Hedayat? Did he frequently make his way to the cafes in Montpanasse? Did he sit and eaves drop on great philosophers exchange their theories of existentialism? Is that where he reached his conclusions on the purposelessness of existence? “Hedayat maybe died young,” Kimia thought, “but he still left behind a legacy.” “Is he buried in Pere Lachaise?” Kimia wondered, “that famous cemetery that is a charnel house for the dead French socialites?” Is that the reward Hedayat received for his sad existence, burial at a cemetery for the rich and famous, the Parisian “intellectuals”, the avant-garde?  “How could he be silly?” Kimia thought, “after all, Hedayat wasn’t French.”

Where do people find inspiration to write?

Kimia remembers Mehrjui’s The Pear Tree. A prominent writer was struggling to find inspiration. In pursuit of inspiration, he attended at his secluded villa in Bagh Damavand but none was forthcoming. Worse yet, he was constantly interrupted by his silly retainer reminding him that the pear tree had not bore fruits that year.

It wasn’t until the end of the film when it began to rain and the writer found solace under the pear tree that he understood the silence of the tree. At least, that was Kimia’s interpretation of the film. After all, she watched it so many years ago. At the time, she was mesmerized by it. She particularly liked the black and white documentary clips each time the writer recalled the political exuberance of his younger days. Her small bachelor apartment soon became home to Mehrjui’s posters and a collection of his films. Kimia aspired to become a film director for a while and she developed a penchant for Mehrjui’s work.

Kimia makes her way to the wine cabinet…

She pulls out a bottle of her favourite Shiraz, slowly pours it into a wine glass, makes herself a plate of cheese and crackers and finally decides to play Aznavour. She preferred not to understand the language. That would distract her and would serve no useful purpose. All Kimia wanted was to create a sad mood.

Kimia then picks up her pen. She writes: “the ephemeral moments of life”. She will write about the past 17 years. Where did they go?  She sips on her wine. She admires the chaos around her, particularly the stacks of newspapers that made their way in all directions across her room. She takes another sip of her wine. Aznavour and the wine are slowly settling in. Kimia identifies with Mehrjui’s main character in The Pear Tree.  She is irate. Why aren’t the words making their way onto the page in front of her? Was she having a bad day? Or was she simply bereft of her poetic sensibility?

A time for silence and a time for utterance …

 Listening to Aznavour, Kimia closes her eyes. She pictures herself being showered with rain just like the character in Mehrjui’s The Pear Tree. She recalls his solace. She recalls his message: There is a time for everything and every subject under the sky can be broached at the right time. There is a time for birth and a time for death; a time for destruction and a time for construction; a time for tearing apart and a time for patching together; a time for silence and a time for utterance.

She then recalls the title of the novel within The Zahir, A time to Rend and a time to Sew. “Funny”, she thought, “was fortuity working once again? Or had the title, A time to Rend  and a time to Sew, simply reminded her of Mehrjui’s The Pear Tree?”

Was Kimia treading down the wrong path? She recalls the poem by Robert Frost:

I will be saying this with a sigh,

Somewhere ages and ages hence,

Two roads diverged in a wood and I,

I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference …

It is the end of yet another night for Kimia. Will the road less traveled and the road on which she is traveling meet one day? Is there a time for silence and a time for utterance? Will she have an epitaph that reads, “she died while she was still alive?” So many unanswered questions! Kimia takes another sip of her wine and sits back on her chair. Aznavour is reaching the climax of his song!  Kimia puts her pen down. 

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Book of the day

Borrowed Ware
Medieval Persian Epigrams
Translated by Dick Davis


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