It was during what must have been the tenth time playing Uno ( in the middle of another COVID lockdown) with my nine year old daughter, that my mother called. If you are familiar with Persian mothers you’ll know that my first thoughts — even as a 40 year old woman, were: What have I done now?
Luckily, we have considerable physical distance between us and she isn’t privy to my recent fiascos. After exchanging pleasantries, I complained to her about the lockdown. To this she responded: “We’ve been through this before, Boshra”.
Shrugging off her comment as being contrary, I let the staticky silence fill the void for a few moments, and then it dawned on me: “Of course, maman! I do remember those long nights!”
“Yes” , her accented voice sounded like a pulled taffy, replied: “This lock-down is another Shab-e-Yalda.”,
Shab-e-Yalda is what Persians call the Winter Solstice and is an ancient tradition followed since time immemorial. After the call, I sat my daughter in front of the gods of You-Tube, whom I’m forever indebted to for helping me through lockdown with my sanity intact (well…somewhat). I opened up my journal, about to write, but all I could hear were my mother’s words: This is just another Shab-e-Yalda. It was then that I put down my pen and stopped trying. After all, if I’ve learned anything about being through a Winter Solstice, it is that these moments of bare-bone, frozen, writer’s-block are necessary for a writer.
Growing up in Canada before modern conveniences, like the internet or email, my mother feared we’d lose our heritage. The Farsi spoken at home became bastardized by English words. I starkly remember my aunt visiting Canada from Kuwait for the first time and barely being able to string together a sentence in Farsi. My mother continually interjected my quasi-Farsi sentences, with translation, so that my aunt could understand. Shortly after my aunt arrived, tradition became more important. I remember my mother, at the urging of my aunt, deciding that Farsi and all Persian traditions would be observed. December 21st, the Winter Solstice, or what Persians call, Shab-e-Yalda, arrived. At my mother’s and aunt’s bidding, we stayed awake all night. We told stories and my mother read poetry from Hafez. When our eyes did become heavy with sleep, my mother poked at us, “stay awake, even if it’s difficult.”. If that didn’t work she made us play Uno. It seemed pointless, and slightly cruel, to my nine year old mind to make children stay awake all night. After the initial excitement of staying up late gave way to sleepiness, Shab-e-Yalda meant nothing more than observing an irrelevant, ancient tradition.
It is only now, as an adult and having to be forced to put up with many dark nights in my life, that I can appreciate the significance of Shab-e-Yalda. Being charmed by language, we writers dread the idea of our thoughts freezing, drying up into a writer’s block. This experience isn’t so foreign to me. But, with my mother’s words still in my mind, and living through the dark night of another COVID lockdown, I can appreciate that the darkness of writer’s block is a fertile ground for awakening and regeneration, for hope and faith, for imagining the light, whilst being present to the darkness.
This dark night is also teaching us the nature of impermanence. As writers we should not fear the frozen immobility of writer’s block. Rather, we should take heart that it will not last forever if we just stay the course, and rejoice in those around us. However long we sit with the inertia of writer’s block, we should not fear it because its nature, like our own, is impermanent.