People: Irina Povolotskaya

Audio description: This is a zoomed-in photo of a female face. It is a slim middle-aged woman with short stylishly cut purple hair. She is wearing bright burgundy lipstick on her thin lips. In her ears, there are small silver-coloured earrings. Her dark eyes are unfocused.

Irina Povolotskaya is a writer, actress, artist, public figure and psychologist. She is a person of unlimited creative power and contagious enthusiasm. In a Special View column, Irina told us about her "new" life as Purple Fairy Phoenix and compiled a heart-breaking "medical record" from fragments of her autobiographical novella.

I am a lifelong disabled person – first-degree disability, deaf-blindness. Up to the age of 40, I still had some residual vision, about 10%, but, after retinal detachment, I lost sight in one eye and then in the other. After a few years of deep depression, I managed to recover from the existential crisis and reach a completely different level of personal life thanks to creative social rehabilitation through flamenco, inclusive theatre, special painting technique and a return to writing and psychotherapeutic activities.

In the process of this revival, I created the pseudonym Purple Fairy Phoenix. I perform in several plays (In Touch, Anima Chroma, The Seagull. Fragments) that have been staged at leading Moscow theatres and across Russia, as well as in London and Paris. I have shared the stage with many Russian renowned actors and actresses. Now I participate in art performances, keep improving my skills in the Xieyi Chinese painting style, which allows me to create my paintings. I am also planning to hold my own exhibition. I write articles, fantasy and sci-fi fiction, poetry, and I teach a course on metaphorical maps.

For many years, at the request of my family, friends and the media, I have been recording some episodes of my life in the form of miniatures. Many found these notes informative, useful, instructive and inspiring; some of these texts were even included into plays. Eventually, I realised that I needed to combine all these miniatures in one book – an autobiographical novella. Of course, there are no answers to questions that life throws at us, but there are answers to some of the questions that I am often asked.

The name of the book is I See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Say Nothing. As for the epigraph, I chose the quote by Zhuangzi: “He sees in the darkest dark, he hears where there is no sound. In the midst of darkness, he alone sees the dawn; in the midst of the soundless, he alone hears harmony.” Here I present excerpts from my book.


I remember my birth. Bright light, flash spots, a slap bringing even more pain, a sudden push… Air bursts into my lungs with sharp pain – I scream… Scents… of fear and pain …I am lying on something warm. Alone. Emptiness. There is no one else. Light. Cold. Scary. Loneliness…

...I look at the woman in the birthing chair. She is screaming in pain. She will soon give birth. Soon her suffering will be over, and the suffering of the one who is entering this world ... A sunny day. Through the window, there is a lilac tree and the sky – blue and clear ...I am lying in the arms of a person in white, and I am screaming ... My Mum later said I was born blue-eyed.

Hospital. A white ceiling, dirty yellowish-beige walls: a nasty colour, nasty odours. An indescribable mixture of nauseous smells. White robes and masks. I am scared. Why am I here?

...In the morning, they put me on a stretcher and wheeled me. The nurse pressed me tight to the stretcher – it was really scary. After the lift arrived, smells became stronger. And sounds around became more scary. Children were not running around anymore, I could not even hear them, there was only someone whimpering softly like a puppy... And harsh low voices.

I had the first surgery to remove my eye lens at the age of three, and the second – at four. Doctors claimed that it was a congenital cataract. I am not sure, but, most likely, I had a birth trauma. They clamped my head with forceps around my eyes. You could see the marks above my eye sockets for some time...

I hated glasses. This uncomfortable feeling of distortion – as if the world was mocking me: the world did not look any clearer – it was blurred and smeared, like oil over uneven glass. And these unpleasant sensations – of heaviness slipping down my nose, misting, preventing me from breathing and moving fast. And the mirror did not flatter me: a round face with dark circles and huge eyes behind these circles... Looking at other girls in our neighbourhood, I began to feel incredibly unattractive, even ugly: everyone seemed to see the same as I saw in the mirror – a fat-faced and deaf four-eyes...

Kindergarten, winter, snow, sunshine, playing in the snow. I am not doing what the teacher says, I am having fun... I came back to the room sweating and wet. I had no change of clothes, I was warming up and drying by the radiator. My Mum was scolding me when taking me home...

At night I had a fever, ...pneumonia. ...It is hard to breathe, the world is blurred. I cannot swallow or chew. Everything is so hot, both inside and outside – like a red-hot stove. By my legs, there is something red, furious, with lots of pulsing tentacles, spherical. Who is that? I cannot see my legs. But my eyes... My eyes... Like coals. It is stretching out its tentacles towards me. I am scared, suffocating, but I cannot move. I am – again – blacking out.

A breeze of cool and a fragrance of flowers. Delirious, I see next to me a woman wearing a long white-and-blue dress. Her face is fair and unclear, and her hair is dark. Her head is covered with a delicate and semitransparent veil. She stretches her hands over me. The fever is going down, and the "red" hovering above my legs becomes furiously crimson and is swelling even more. ...A string is vibrating between them. I repeatedly fall into the dark and then ascend again. I am not scared anymore, I am ill... Very ill. ...The string bursts with a ringing sound. The world explodes with sparks of pain and suffocation. A cold wave runs over my spine as if something is being torn off ... And I fall into a dreamless sleep.

In the morning, I began to recover... Doctors gave me injections of streptomycin, the first-generation antibiotic that made many people deaf at the time. Only a dozen injections, but – my hearing began fading, slowly and inevitably...

I showed the first signs of loss of hearing around my fifth birthday. I remember how my Mum was scolding me for not doing what I was told – she called me from the kitchen, and I did not come. I explained that I had not heard her. My family began to speak louder to me, and I often would not go outside by myself. It became more difficult to communicate – I could not hear my friends. The world was getting quieter. It was surprising, yet – I did not see it as a tragedy... I just – did not understand what was awaiting me...

We were sitting in the corridor of a clinic, with my Mum crying and cuddling me. Such places made me feel sick anyway... But with my Mum crying – it was really scary. I put my arms around her neck and just felt frightened – no other feelings. A woman sat down next to us and started to comfort my Mum. She talked about her son – a boy of my age, who was born mentally disabled. Her husband left her after they were given the boy's diagnosis. The woman said that I was a normal kid, I just could not hear. And that my Mum just needed to pull herself together – and raise the child.

...Quiet. Really quiet. Always. This is – always. This is – deafness. Sometimes there is some noise – in the silence. Screeching. Ringing. It is unpleasant – but it is there too. Or, maybe, – some muttering, unclear and illegible sounds. The world without sounds. The world without images. This is – what it is like. Forever. All of us have – our own deafness and our own blindness. We are – deaf-blind.