We are Always at Home: Irina Povolotskaya about Life in Self-Isolation

Audio description: This is a colour photo. Irina Povolotskaya, wearing round dark glasses, is sitting in a green armchair, with her elbows resting on her knees. She has a thoughtful look. She has brown lipstick on her lips. Her black hair in a banged bob sets off her fair skin. She is wearing a brown linen dress and golden-tinted sleeveless jacket with a long hood. The hood is covering the top of her head. The walls of the room are of raw brick with patches of concrete plaster and images of greenery.

Irina Povolotskaya is a writer, artist, actress and psychologist, who has been deaf-blind from childhood. She is the author of the autobiographical novella “I See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Say Nothing”. In the Special View portal’s column “Alien in an Aquarium”, she talks about her perception of the world. This article is about everyday life and self-isolation.

During the recent lockdown, social networks were hit by the flash mob “We are Always at Home”. “We” are those who can neither see nor hear. Of course, we are not always at home if there is a person who can accompany us outside. But where would you find this person? If you have relatives and friends, then they are normally busy with work and their own lives. As for a professional companion, this service is on a quota — only a certain number of hours per year are allocated. Even so, you cannot always entrust yourself to a random companion or feel comfortable around them. That’s why, we, the deaf-blind, are always in self-isolation, like some aliens in an aquarium. Of course, we would prefer to be active members of society rather than being alone at home. However, this world is not adapted to us, therefore, we are almost always at home.

The four walls have long been a whole small world for me. It is my home where... I have to live, navigate and do everything that I can and want to do. One of the most frequently asked questions to me is: “How do you usually keep yourself busy?” During the lockdown, many people asked this question to themselves so I thought it would be appropriate to share my own experience, although there is nothing special about it.

To feel comfortable in these conditions, constant access to the Internet is important for me because keeping in touch with my friends and the whole world via social networks and chat rooms is not entertainment, but a vital necessity. When you can neither see nor hear, the Internet is your main channel of communication — for personal interaction and coordinating your everyday tasks. This means that I must have top-notch gadgets, like a smartphone with a Braille screen. I also need be able to operate programs that are relevant to me. By the way, these devices are not cheap and are unaffordable to an ordinary pensioner.

Luckily, a lot of e-books are now available that can be read using a Braille organiser. There are books in every area of my interests so I can read and study whatever I desire at any moment. And, of course, I write a lot myself as a writer, poet, psychologist and director: stories, poems, articles for publishing and my training courses, scripts for performances etc. Also, there are various foreign languages that you can study every day. In the age of the Internet, there are no boundaries for self-development and for an almost fully-fledged life. “Almost” because not every manufacturer of gadgets and software considers the needs and capabilities of deaf-blind people.

Audio description: This is a colour photo. Irina is standing by a wall, with her back to us. With her right hand, she is touching a green “island” on concrete plaster. A ring shaped as a black flower adorns her middle finger. Her hood is off her shoulders. On the left, a black lampshade is hanging down from the ceiling.

Mental activity should always be in balance with spiritual and physical activities. I am practising qigong, yoga, walking and fitboxing. With the help of hatha yoga, I restore those skills that I used to actively develop in the early 1990s. Actually, it is now just mild stretching that is good for muscles and tendons. Also, I would like to hang a yoga hammock and a punch bag at home. As for qigong, I have an instructor.

Thanks to the Nikolai Ostrovsky cash prize, I was able to fulfil my long-standing need — I bought a good-quality treadmill,which I use with great pleasure every day. I just love going for walks, but when it is not possible, the treadmill is always by my side (to be more exact, under my feet). This way, I can have my “walk” independently and safely — comfortably and for as long as I want.

For my soul, I have painting and music. I made yet another long-cherished dream of mine come true — I learned to play flutes “listening” to them with my hands, though at first I did not even believe I would succeed. Now I have five various flutes, and I would like to get a few more, for example, ocarina. Each of them has its own sound, mood and character. With each flute, you can communicate in a different emotional state.

Whenever possible, I try to stock up on paints and canvases to last me a couple of months — these are the most expendable materials because I paint a lot. I study new painting techniques, develop my own, paint to order and, at the same time, I am building up my collection that might be needed for an exhibition. This is to avoid having to create forty paintings within a month, like has happened to me in the past.

Audio description: This is a colour photo. It is the same room. The shot was taken from below. Irina is standing, with her hands hanging down and her chin slightly raised. The upper parts of the walls are concrete. A tree with green foliage and a soaring bird are painted on the ceiling. A metal bar runs diagonally between the walls. A black lampshade hangs down from the bar.

Of course, there are times when I am feeling blue. In that case, it helps to open the window and stand for a while, soaking up the sun. Or it is a good idea to organise a tea ceremony, have a cup of hot fragrant Pu’er and just have a break from everything — close your eyes and don’t think. In the evening, before going to bed, it is also good to stand there for a while and enjoy the fresh air.

I also love essential oils and incense sticks, which become part of the home atmosphere. I often burn candles at home — they warm up my soul... I have even learned to make my own wax candles. It is such a pleasure — the fragrance, tactile sensations and knowing that I made this burning candle myself.

In addition to entertaining literature, mostly space fiction, which I read just for fun, I study serious works on psychology, Eastern philosophy, qigong, painting and literature. In one of his fundamental treatises, Lao Tzu stated: “Without opening your door, you can open your heart to the world.” Another canon contains Buddha’s teachings about how to “develop one’s vision-as-is”. Those who practise it are able to disengage from the elements of experience and remove prerequisites of potential psychological and physical suffering.

Whenever possible, I go for a walk — preferably, in nature: in a forest or garden. However, you can also find your inner nature — the garden of your soul. For me, the easiest way to express this state is through Zen tercets in Japanese haiku:

Four corners of a square:

I’m in the center of the big world.