Durre Shahwar shares some creative, freewriting extracts and an audio clip on symbolism, imagery, mental health and her writing processes as part of Wales Arts Review’s new series, Artists in Residence. Here she reflects on the use of writing and bibliotherapy as a coping mechanism when dealing with mental health. Throughout 2017 artists, including Durre Shahwar will take a leading creative role in what Wales Arts Review publishes, centring their skills on a challenging project over the course of a month. We were inundated with applications, receiving hundreds of emails about the positions, and it was no easy task whittling down all that talent to this final eleven. Our team of six editors debated long into the night, and in the end, we decided on a collection of people who we most want to work with, and whose work excites us. We think you will be excited by them too.
Those days, there were rooms in the house that she could not go into. The inside world seemed to be in another dimension to the outside. The atmosphere sullen, silent. She knew they were still at war when the stove would stay unlit for days and almost turn an ash grey, no longer blackened from the burning. The screaming would echo in her ears for days to come. It would echo in her skull as she would be falling asleep – like a gunshot too close to the ears, ripping into the silence, and taking something from it, leaving it different to how it was found. Leaving behind only a ringing.
Those days, her stomach would pain with hunger and her shadow felt further away from her than before, as though even it could not solidify her presence. A temporary muteness would overtake her tongue, spreading to the rest of her leaden body. Her eyes would glaze over possessions meant to determine her, and look no further than the walls of the room. Those days, she could only wait. Wait for herself to find her way back from the realm between here and nowhere.
It comes in waves. Waves that disrupt the slow, settling tide, the barely moving water. Water so still it almost looks like glass. But then the ripples start. Gently at first, but then more frequently, forming into waves that crash urgently onto the rocks. As though, they too, wish to escape the sea that holds them. There’s a low, guttering noise as something moves beneath the water. The tectonic plates shift and break, give way to cracks that you fall through. All the while shaking, heart racing to climb up out of your mouth as the waves build up on top, layer upon layer, higher than the eye can see, with you at the bottom, anticipating submergence. Sometimes the wave submerges you again and again. Sometimes it disappears like it never was.
“He lets you loose for a while. He lets you sin. And then one day. He punishes you.”
“It is because you receive the message, believe, and then turn away that you are punished. It is because you see the message clearly yet do wrong when you think He isn’t looking.”
She clutched her card and felt Him the closest to her then, now. Repeated the number in her mind. On the other side of the room, a toddler took apart Lego structures and threw them loudly on the floor, one by one. The noise made her wince. The toddler too came from the same place of sin. This innocence too came from the same wrath.
They offer you it – smaller than a newborn’s fingernail.
Perfectly circular – not fully flat, but slightly protruding at the sides.
Just like the pieces of you you can’t contain, smooth and fold away neatly below the surface, out of sight. Out of the comfort of their eyes.
They offer you it.
Say it will give you the juice you need, fill the lack that keeps lacking in something.
You feel more like you are wearing it, this small, perfectly circular.
As your body is its host.
When love leaves you, you hear rather than feel the impact of the blow from within the unbreakable glass it builds around you.Your search for the worst documentaries and come away unscathed.
You sit at the kitchen table – the refrigerator’s low hum, the crunch of cars pulling into driveways after long days – and try to remember what longing felt like.
This audio clip is available through the official Wales Arts Review Soundcloud account.
This contribution by Durre Sarhwar is part of the Artists in Residence series.