The reason I am writing this is to help someone who is in the same situation where I found myself eighteen years ago, so they can benefit from my own funny, unique, sometimes hurtful, painful, and uncomfortable and even humiliating personal experience.
Bipolar or manic depression is a psychiatric illness also known as bipolar mood disorder or having mood swings. I have lived with this debilitating, mysterious and deadly disease my whole life. I have struggled to overcome the stigma attached to this disease by people who are intimidated by anything that they do not have any control over.
This is my story. Sometimes I imagine that I am standing on a stage giving a seminar when I say those words.
I am just like you. I believe there is nothing extraordinary about my life except the way I choose to live it. Some people have to have physical proof that something is amiss with their body. We put so much of our faith into the hands of healers. Faith is a supernatural force of will. Time, God, homeopathy, holistic repatterning, reflexology, full body massage, tea, herbal infusions, therapists, psychiatrists and doctors are all healers. We do not have time to visualise and reflect what our bodies are trying to tell us why we are hurting.
The illness was there for a long time. Now when I look back the truth about it is undeniable. It can be cured, or at best prevented from recurring, to the best of the patient, the doctor and the pharmacist’s ability.
I do not believe in labels like gifted, talented, creative genius or eccentric or savant.
It is such a fine illness that influences subtle nuances in an individual’s behaviour, that it takes a cluster of specific symptoms to diagnose it. It takes charge of your brain’s serotonin and dopamine levels. The feel- good hormones in your brain and that are when your slow descent into a personal and very private hell begins – your secret pain.
I was brought up in a liberal-minded household by parents who believed that love, happiness and peacefulness where greater aspirations than prestige, position and status. I am part of only a lucky few. I was taught not to bear grudges. I was told when someone hurt my feelings to ignore him or her and see him or her for who they truly were. I was taught to be forgiving and understanding and that there was not any difference between the rich and the poor children at the schools I went to. I was taught that the noblest profession in the world was being a teacher. Re-enforcing values and excellence, as well as enriching wonderfully young lives filled with so much hope and promise.
My parents taught by example. My father is a community leader and my mother is a teacher.
What I do believe is that the word stigma is a synonym for phobia. I believe people choose to see the very best in someone and that their judgement is clouded when they ignore the rest. Acceptance is something that I think we all think comes at a very high price. It is the denial of human dignity that comes at a great price with unforeseeable circumstances.
The signs and symptoms of a hypomanic episode are as follows. You behave wild and free, have depressive slumps, spiralling depression. You do not sleep. You do not nap. You are the focus – the centre of the universe. You are beautiful, smart, determined but the reflection that everybody else sees is militant, horribly annoying and irritating.
You feel humiliated in later introspection while others felt uncomfortable in your presence. You, Dr. Jekyll incognito and Mr Hyde in the flesh.
There is a genetic predisposition to depression and mania as well. There has been a history of mental illness on my father’s side including alcoholism, depression and suicide. Depression is a devastating illness that affects millions of people worldwide. The more family values are on the decrease the more suicide is on the increase.
People refer to their depression as sadness and stress. Mental health seems not to be a moot point for people in government.
I am writing this is to answer questions I had about the suicidal illness and myself. The discovery that my depression was not clinical depression but that it was manic depression, the onset of my mood swings and Christianity in my own life. If North America can be described as the ‘Prozac Nation’ by the North American author Elizabeth Wurtzel and the USA coined the terms ‘hype’ and ‘spin’ then why is mental health such a low on the list of priorities of the people we voted into power when it basically affects everyone around us directly or indirectly, in a significant manner or otherwise?
Note by Abigail George: The following essay was published in the book ‘Being Bipolar: Stories from Those Living with the Disorder and Those Who Love Them’ by Rachel Ellen Koski (Editor) as well as the 34th Ovi Symposium in Ovi Magazine: Finland’s English Online Magazine.
The African Renaissance- poets
The Dutch poet Joop Bersee, has been gifted confidante to me, selfless mentor, and I’ve have come to the beliefs, the norms, the value of the principles of an Africana-poet, who serves as patriot, comrade, and compatriot to the African Diaspora, and the African Commonwealth countries as a poet who self-edits, who doesn’t accept censorship for the sake of censorship, who works at publishing, and self-publishing (I no longer view it from the perspective of the curse of vanity publishing), who works at editing the art, the work, the vision, the craft, the poetry, proofreading, accepting that as poets, as renaissance poets that the voices of this generation, and the artists who are millennials have a responsibility and accountability to the greats who came before, alive and dead, and that we have a cause towards the broader society.
What the poetic life means to an African Renaissance (termed coined by ex-President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki) poet means survival, levelling out the pressures of controversy, moods, an almost disquieting revolutionary-determination to write to an audience, or to no audience at all. To be poet, to have poetic fervour is to have no equal footing with Western and Eastern counterparts. To be poet in South Africa, means that you are an intellectual, a philosopher, educated if you have a degree in African literature, and we all know that there’s no money in the poetry-game of life, simply sacrifice above popularity, and the complexities of the personal space in which these apprentice, emerging, and established renaissance-poets create.
These renaissance-poets create, and live within emerging race relations, the policies of integration, the digital divide, affirmative action in the workplaces, the corporate sector’s managerial positions, in their friendships, their interracial relationships, and marriage, and children, and wifedom, and chiefdom, and elder in the community, deacon in the church, teacher, educator, scholar, academic, publisher, and inter-faith competition, the redemptive powers of salvation, rapturous adulation. As a poet, poetry is my church, and I am a mallrat in a mall when it comes to poetry, feeding, nurturing, caretaking, and protecting my art, my craft, my vision, my self-worth, identity, and abandonment issues, and the helplessness that is sometimes fed into the “artist-neglect” from all walks of our society.
And as artists we live without, we lack financial security, emotional security, we call our country the world, we’re viewed as having a Aaronic-dispensation, an assignment that is tangible, relevant, holy, and pure, angelic, messianic, missionary, visionary, our input, and feedback, nothing subjugated about it, when the poet is subversive, the poet is subversive, when the poet is controversial, he is controversial as artist. Karma and destiny, the primordial soup of the mudslinging-bondage that the renaissance-poets find themselves in, carrying the promotion of government leaders with them, their physical body shielding their emotional strife, their malaise that comes with their intrinsic, and external environment, poetic, and intellectual dispensation.
You read about them, these renaissance-poets, they’re interviewed in the local or national papers, they have an online presence, they launch books, conduct workshops, attend functions where they recite their poetry, take photographs, are lauded, praised, adored for their remarkable acquisition of imagination, and the oral traditions of their creativity, they certainly don’t waste their talent, their immutable gift of the gab, their intellect, their religious affiliation, and their pain. It is that great abyss of pain that weighs heaviest on the mind, and the voices of these renaissance-poets whatever gender they are. There is depression but it is not spoken about as is intellectual-pain, mental, emotional, physical abuse. As part of a living library initiative, a satellite project, my father and I discussed at length how to go inspiring the next generation of renaissance-poets.
I, (well, we, with my father’s blessing) recently donated books from my private library to the Gelvandale library, school prizes for English, private libraries of Professor Shaheed Hendricks, who now lectures at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, (he is also the co-author of the South
End: As We Knew It, South End: The Aftermath, and South End: The Workbook which was introduced into school, as well as university curriculums a few decades ago. I donated books to the South End Museum’s Curio Shop as well. Poets need to be read, especially renaissance poets who don’t “communicate” (see write, see compose) in their mother tongue.
Poets need to be fostered in the communities they find themselves in, in primary, and high school, in poverty, and prosperity, poets need access to a wealth of knowledge, and the process of spiritual change, progress, and transformation. Are writers’ posers, actors, researchers first, and historians second, and educationalists, scholars, and academics a paltry third? Truth be told, because artists come from trauma, incidents of trauma dominate broadly speaking in the wide scope, childhood, adolescent, young adult, and adult. They’re known abroad, but not in their mother-tongue, not in their South African hometown, and they’re certainly not celebrated across Africa, as they most certainly should be. South Africans, Nigerians, Malawians, Abigail George, Athol Williams, Ayanda Billie, Beaton Galafa, Brian Walter, at the end of the day we are all African poets. We are all a part of the African Renaissance. We are all renaissance-poets.
The Nigerian-American Chika Onyenezi, the South Africans Douglas Reid Skinner, Genna Gardini, Joan Hambidge, the Zimbabwean John Eppel, Mishka Hoosen-Lewis, Mzi Mahola, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Nick Mulgrew, the Zimbabweans Tendai Rinos Mwanaka, and rising star Mikateko Mbambo who is on the brink of publishing her first poetry collection, must all see their literary work as a Jurassic World of sorts, a fallen kingdom, that will once again become dynamic. If I have advice to give to the renaissance-poets it is this. Let the breath come to you, let the hunger speak, put your work in a time capsule, and think of this capsule as a time machine. Your mutual admiration club unfortunately is not going to arrive in your lifetime, renaissance-poets, but for the generations to come.
You will feel lonely, and isolated, and rejected, and interlope, you will feel pathetic, and limiting frustration, and anxiety, and fear in the work that you do, but this is what happens to artists who make no money from their art, and artists who make money from their art. It’s good to be modern, to venerate your peers, your contemporaries, but most renaissance poets work will never see the light of day. It is important to question that continually, and we are all children of Africa, and we’ve all lived Alan Paton’s “Cry, the beloved country”, and we’ve all had our hearts resonate with Nelson Mandela’s “Long walk to freedom”. Is the male writer/poet-figure under threat, under fire sinister, or otherwise, and who is judging anyway, who is judging committee politics, the kingpins of the literary establishment ruled by the liberals, and the hypothetical-picture, the self-portrait of the class and justice system.
And where is the modern-day dashing Mr Darcy figure of Richard Rive?
Where is Mongane Serote, Mzi Mahola, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Ayanda Billie, Monde Ngoyama now, and why is the female voice is not as beloved as her male counterpart, uplifted, and empowered, and as positively-inspired as I would like her to be. If you are a poet, you’re educator, and philosopher. Don’t, don’t, don’t waste your pain, instead empty out of all your negativity, and the sorrow that you think that people don’t see. The poetic life is the life of an emergency continued, harsh trauma, all-powerful and a collective.
Poetry is tribal, and ancestral, and poets should be venerated, and uplifted, but they’re not. Reflection, introspection of the renaissance poets should be more than the image of gravitas, more than illusion, more than a mapping out of freshly grounded utopia.
The female renaissance-poet is more mouse-intellectual, than thunder, and the physical chemistry of lightning. She makes take up her place, her mantle now in her-story as visionary-thinker, more than radical feminist she-devil. The renaissance-poets is far from near-decay, instead they are saint, and gloriously in bloom. Cultural, and qualitative intellectual sensibilities, probabilities stem from, are rooted in fear, nausea, consciousness, the superego, identity, and issues of inter-faith that must stand counterpoint to democracy.
And take the suffering nature of humanity that you think that people around you, people in your environment don’t take cognizance of, and be the artist that you were meant to be. And know that you are writer/poet-friend to the world, to millions.
Know that you know how to deal with hundreds of years of trauma if you’re an artist, that as an artist you are a dominant figure in society, in the art-world, and that you are a symbol of both hope, and triumph, equality, democracy, solidarity, if you’re a born free, or millennial, or living in self-imposed exile, or in exile basically.
Poets, talking about the poets of the African Renaissance here, we’re a cosmopolitan bunch in it to win it at all cost to our intrinsic-humanity, the inter-faith of different races also comes into play here, and the realization that we are ancients really, alongside the apparitions, the voices in our heads, threading words, and creating tapestries with our phantom threads. Our African Renaissance is just beginning. Watch this space bloom anthologies in arrows, guardians, smoke, flesh, and bone.
What Emily Dickinson can teach us
The sun is a laughing, talking, walking miracle today. If it shines, it shines only for me and Lavinia. What perfection, because it shines with an otherworldliness. It is a forceful warrior, (and I’ve known prayer warriors in our community here in Amherst). The sun is like a woman who is a siren, in the company of other men. The sun is fire, means fire, is powerful, a powerful commodity. It grows during the day, ablaze with heat, eddies of dust rising up from the floors of the homestead as I walk, as I wander from the downstairs to the upstairs.
It is much like me, much like I was in my early twenties, popular and admired at dances. It is a dazzling sun. It dances in shadow. It plays with leaf, another omniscient miracle. Leaf, and leaves, tree, and trees, those most ancient, like the instrument of change, like a symphony orchestra, a violin being plucked at repeatedly with expertise, a composer being, again, plucked from obscurity into fame, and fortune. The wildflowers found in nature, the most natural feeling in the world is to feel as if I am like that wildflower. Built temporarily to sustain the hidden energies of beauty, wonder. Am I wise? But am I wise? Am I courageous whenever I’m articulate? Austin, my brother, does not belong body and soul to me any longer. I can only imagine what his life is like now, shielded from the view of sometimes perplexing me, intense me, playing with ideas, bringing life to words, awakening a truth in them. No man has ever said to me that he loved me. Taken me in his arms, but understand this. I am a token soldier. I can see. I can hear. I have this powerful knowledge within my bones, planted there, and it resonates through the entire marrow of my being, season after season of this terrible war that they call the American Civil War. Men are dying. Boys are dying. Can I trust in the knowledge that I have the personality of a wildflower? I like the expression. I can guess at its hidden meanings. I can trust myself in the daylight.
I don’t cower away from the light, from the life, from the wakefulness that it gives me. The sun is divine. On it lives fire. On it burns a volcano. I only want the freedom to be an individual. I dare not call my writing art, for art’s sake. My vision is my own, and, yet, it is not my own. It has something to with divinity, those strongholds, those realms, and my own intuition. The process is for me to make as much progress as I can in the afternoon, work in the evenings with the lamp at my side guiding this process, navigating the trajectory of the moonlight. Yes, yes, I am fond of working my nimble fingers to the bone until the early hours of the morning. Until daylight breaks into a kind of passive resistance against the night sky, the unfolding and putting away of the stars under the jurisdiction of God’s grace, and His supreme mercy. I need clarity and vision when I write. There’s a brightness lit in my brain, every living, breathing cell. I worship every crack in this system, watch every nerve tick like a clock chiming in on every hour into homestead life, into Amherst, and with writing comes despair. There is hardship. I don’t want to fool you about my preoccupation. Perhaps one day my childhood home will be a museum that people will all come to explore. They will see my life for what it really is. Loneliness personified. They will say I lived like a recluse. I don’t want anything to be published while I am still alive. That is strange. Stranger than fiction. For all poets want is an audience to tell them how wonderful they are. How wonderful it is to be published. I often ask myself, Emily, Miss Dickinson, where does this gift of poetry, of writing about minor flora, the wolf begging, knocking at the backdoor come from. My soul begs my spirit to answer.
I live in a just world. I am robust. I have health on my side. I am neither superstitious or sentimental. Why do you call it both terror, and Master? Deceit, well, it never rises to meet me when I wake n the morning. Yes, I am a difficult person, don’t ask me to transform my personality. This is bone season, feast season, meat country, the communing of the brethren meeting on every Sunday morning without fail. I have to wear a hat, that’s how hot it is now outdoors. I want to say remember me, or, do my words, does my poetry frighten you. Give you cause to think that because of my output of sometimes three poems a day, that perhaps I am touched with madness, or playing with madness. Making it ally, instead of foe. Oh look, how crestfallen the tomato plants look in their green finery. As if they are all dressed up with nowhere to go. As if they are living in a dream. I keep waiting to hear the words said, told to me in secret, or, conspiratorial whisper, or, confidence that I am special, (yes, that I Emily Dickinson is special, is beloved, is a saint after the outcomes, and aftermath of this mad war, young men dying like flies, maggots in their wounds, ) nobody has ever said that to me, or, that I’m shy, miserable at holding a conversation when meeting a stranger for the first time. The work, the passion that I have for it, I fall under its spell. Never to forget, always to be quick to forgive, to be cunning, and witty in my letters to male friends, male counterparts. I share my life’s work with my sister-in-law. Love. What is love anyway? It can strike you infirm. Its possibilities are endless. The limits of the work are totally up to you to a point as poet. It is exhausting. The hours that keep. I see no one now. Nobody comes to the house. Nobody visits. My close friends are my family members. It sometimes feels as if I have a dune to climb. It is giant. The sand is so hot I have to wear my walking shoes in this pretend reality. Everything I do, which concerns the family, I do out of love. It is a spectacular giving, and forgiving love. I study it from afar first. The first line of the verse and so on, and so forth. I am small in stature, but my words make up for that fact. I take it by the hand, kiss it ever so delightfully, remembering the church doctrine, the minister, the sermons delivered as lectures to the congregation that I adhered to as child. Summarily, I would adjust my behaviour accordingly. And sometimes at the end of the day I feel tired-happy, or, mentally exhausted, physically drained, and please, please don’t tell me that they are only words, for they are my life, they are my very breath, every inhale, every exhale. The words are lovely. They are truly perfection. Meanwhile it is I who is imperfect. It is I who is the sea, and the words are like a mountain stream in the dead of the wild.
You’re something else, you’re the love of my life, I say to my children, the poems because they are. I birthed them, gave life to the words, before abandoning them in a bureau drawer. I become someone else when I write. It’s completely absurd to me to even to be thinking of another life. I cannot say I have been persecuted. By whom? Nobody in my family has ill-treated me badly in any way, shape, or, form. And then I think of how courteous and professional spring is, the wildflowers, the lavender, everything in the natural. Am I behaving these days? Sometimes I have my bad moments, but my family is good when it comes to forgiving me, forgiving the words spoken in the heat of the moment in a fit of anger. I am a flame. I am a flame. The snow will fall and I will still freeze out the winter, the layers of soppy time, and I, the poetess of Amherst will still be a flame. Star bright in the paradise of the homestead. I sometimes will look at what I have written, weep a little, be overcome with emotion, or stare in awe at this feverish creation on paper that will stay alive forever in my heart, and nature, and life. I think of the rain sometimes (when witnessing a downpour that seems to eclipse everything in my brain, like for instance the language of blood, the comfort of strangers).
How wise, and thoughtful, and knowledgeable blood is. I think of this spitting rain in a half-condescending way, in an itinerant fashion, in the manner of a non-believer, because I cannot work for the very life of me outside, or go exploring Amherst with my sister, Lavinia, or work in the garden, toil the land, survey the landscape that was built by my grandfather. I do not often think about my lucky circumstances, and I try not to think, but it does come to my mind from time to time, I do think often that I am wealthy, or rather the word that I’m looking for is, ‘prosperous’, because of my family name. It is the work, the love of my life, the master of my life that yields those results. The reward at the end of the day is my angelic tongue, which is connected to my brain, which is connected to my thought patterns, and every living soul in my world. Even the wildflowers that Lavinia and I pick have souls. She declared this to me one day in passing, and I thought what intelligence you have for someone so young. I can’t imagine a day without the sun. And after I have put in a day’s work, I think to myself that this has been a remarkable progress, an enchanting journey from beginning to end. I think to myself, what direction will tomorrow bring. For if I had a compass, which direction would it face, to the west, or, the east yonder, and how to navigate the unknown without a foe in the world. When I write, it seems my mind is as ancient, as darling, as fetching, as beguiling, as fertile as Eden. It is evergreen there, and for the rest of the day I am not stuck in a rut, I am inside a valley. Just adding life to the joyful activity of writing, scratching out that which does not please me. On the inhale the sun hits my desk. The heat of the day seems to warm everything up. Joyfully, I start a new page, give my all, give my everything. I am a woman on a mission. There’s a peace of mind that comes over me, and everything about life that has somehow altered me for the good, all of my sheltered intentions, and protected me humbles me, stares me in the face, hunting me down. Where am I to go? I only have this desk. I only have my older brother. I have Lavinia. The page, the page. I see the dune again. It splits my brain into intelligence and stupor. I freeze suddenly, helpless, I feel I am not alone in the room. I turn around but no one is there. I am alone, sitting at my small desk, polishing what I did the day before, or settling own to work on the latest poem. I think of botany and nature, geography, time, and place, fire spilling over from a volcano, geology, the face of a rock, and the mountains of my imagination are breath-taking. Nothing can break that spell, transform my mood when I am working, when I am writing. The world is a beautiful, sensuous-filled place. But I am alone. I am quite alone. I am in my palace, sitting on my throne, king and queen, and my words are my loyal subjects. The terror of before passes, creativity comes upon me once again. I begin. Begin to write until I am sated. Until I am quite thrilled, quite elated with what I have in front of me, what I own. I am both (speaking here of my mood) is high and low, mad and sane, ruthless and determined in the composed hush of the silence in my bedroom. The air smelling like damp and rust, the heat of the day and citrus, a forest deep-deep in the Amazon. I am in a rainforest.
Then I am in a jungle. Then I am standing next to a volcano breathing fire. Then I am in nature, the place where I most want to be. Then I am in a small room in Amherst, that is all mine. Then I am explorer.
Then I am scholar deep in the frame of my textbooks. I am Keats studying medicine. Then I am Keats the poet. Of course, I relish all of this. This world has nurtured me since birth. Father and I, we have our discussions about church and the larger than life Christ-figure.
There are times when I myself don’t understand why I don’t go to church anymore. Father doesn’t understand me, I don’t understand him.
He is a law-man involved in politics, carrying on his father’s legacy, in the same way my brother will one day in the not too distant future.
I want to be great friends with his wife. I now we will be. Already she has expressed an interest in the poems, but she doesn’t understand why I don’t publish them. The sun is romantic to me. I want every bite of it. Look, it is a new day that has come upon all of us. I can feel it. I can feel it. The sun, as it plays upon my hair, every silken thread of it. I think of the nocturnal. I think of all the sights in the moonlight that is so charismatic. I think to myself what would feel like to be an owl, or a bird. What would it feel like to flit like a bat, to stare death (open and wise and vulnerable) in the face, celebrate the verbosity of life, to acknowledge that women have it differently in the world than men do when they write? I am life. I am life. There are no other words to describe this beginning, or this end. In another place, perhaps not this lifetime, but the next one, I will find love, and truly captivate a man. A man, a love, a master even greater than the poetry itself, than that heavy burden of suffering, and all the sorrows that I feel I must accept if I am to pursue this course of life. The writing life. I must always take this swift action when it comes to the demanding work of the writing of the poetry, and not the other. The writing of the poetry is my shield, and master now. The sun, this bewildering sun. The strange thing is, is how it makes me feel inside of myself. That today of all days it gives me such satisfaction, such closure, and even such mirth in the face of the loneliness I must tolerate, and understand, and live with on a daily basis. Don’t think that I’m tragic for one minute. Don’t, please, make a fuss over the writing of the poetry. It is mine. It is all mine. It is my gift to either want to share it with the world if I want too, or to not share with the world. The sun, this bewitching sun in my room that hovers, that hovers over there nearby my desk. Look at me. Look at this feast of the day in front of me. In this place in time, there is wonderment, childlike wonderment at the world around me, at the worlds and realms and empires found in Amherst, the worlds of the homestead. In my writing, the world opens itself up to me, offers itself to me on a silver platter. I make myself open to it. I must. For there is simply no other way to get the work of the day done, the chores, the kitchen, reading the newspaper to Lavinia, going out on the town. I remember in my twenties how I was a socialite. When I am writing it feels as if wave, after wave is breaking inside of me.
Vibration after vibration. The sun is a miracle. I am ethereal. I am emotional. I am sensitive. Does, can the world understand that, can, does the world see me as special, as a wonder. Some days I am high on life. Other days I am as low as the branch that can bough down to major earth meeting minor sky. Distance meeting the remote. Sky meeting brides. Earth meeting grooms. Sky meeting the wolves of the earth. Amherst is my country. Perhaps, perhaps one day the world will be my country. Perhaps, perhaps one day I will be loved by that world, that country. It feels as if I am pulsating with a kind of natural rhythm. As if I am almost being pulled and pushed in all directions.
In life, I must go several ways. In the writing-life, the world of my poetry, that pulls me down another rabbit-hole (a kind of black hole) trajectory. My course is set. My voice is stone. My voice belongs to the wilderness, overshadowed by absolutely nothing that I can possibly think of. My voice is like the wind. My voice will one day reign supreme, but all of these are just thoughts processing themselves repeatedly. I think of seduction too. How words can evolve. How words can seduce vision into art. They are beautiful, aren’t they? They are magnificent, remarkable even. For sometimes it feels as if I am standing too close to the edge. That this precipice, or whatever it is will mark me for life. Oh, how I want to glorify the page. Perfect it.
How I want to be cleansed of that vision of what comes after winter.
Master, master, the writing of the poetry, my correspondence too, are the greatest loves of my life. My eternity come close, come even closer to me. Let me kiss thy cheek, and do thy will. Amherst, you are muse. I am a visionary in your hands.
How am I supposed to live without father? He is passed. Gone into the hereafter. He is never to return. While, yes, I am still very much alive. This Emily Dickinson will outlive Amherst. The confines of her childhood home. I will live out the rumour that I was the poet marked for life in her bedroom. Sitting, sitting at her desk from the early afternoon, to the early hours of the morning. They will perhaps, perhaps speak about my voyage as poet into the known and unknown world, over terrain and republic, through familiar ground and unfamiliar territory, but that has now come to an end. My eyesight is poor. Yes, my eyes are weak. I cannot see the wildflowers so clearly anymore. Sometimes I dash my fist in a pathetic fit of frustration at what I have become on the kitchen table. I have over the years withdrawn from public life. I had life once. I had life in me. I had fire and hell and brimstone in me too, but this was at one stage in my life so far away in memory now. Yes, even my memory goes dim as time, dim as the hours in a day that go by. In another time, another place, another Amherst I was operated now. Father thought that perhaps would be best for me. After that, I was not the extrovert anymore. I did not travel. I became more inhibited. Wildflower. I think of the wildflowers of my childhood. I think of my sister, Lavinia, of us picking these wildflowers. Every heartache in this world is my heartache. Cracks are beginning to show in my armour. The helmet of salvation is still in a sturdy position on my head. I did not have any need, or, desire to speak in public anymore at functions. I did not want in particular to declare myself a missionary servant in the church. I stopped going to parties. Was no longer the most popular socialite in the Amherst community. People keep on leaving me in my life. Oh, there are so many kitchen teas, and too many weddings, and then there are the baby showers that I have never got around to ever going too. They are (the Amherst-community, the public, the Christian-folk) doing to me what they did to my father. Either full of praise, or, rubbing him up the wrong way. Spreading rumour after rumour. I am not strong like he was to take it all in, and then exhale. My father was an educated man. My father was an intelligent man with a robust energy for anything political. He was elected to congress because of that. I am just like a woman now (and a woman will always be a woman). A woman is emotional, so they say, whoever they might be. The woman is of course the one with the survival instinct. I am sitting (here as a woman) moaning about her lot in life. I am not educated in the way my brother was. He went to Harvard Law School. All I have had is self-learning. All I have reached is enlightenment. All that I am is lonely. The loneliness awaits me most of all in my bedroom. This, this is all I have. This sword. This pen is my sword.
The terrors and the nightmares visit me at night. Without them, I am nothing. Have nothing but to question my own sanity. What have I done?
I have isolated myself to the point of no return. I have no life. I have no function either than to be nurse and caregiver to the childlike woman who carried me in her womb for nine months. I haven’t become older, nor, wiser gracefully. Of course, I am frightened for the future. I am a woman alone in the world. No husband to offer me sanctuary, certainly there are no more friendships. No more correspondence with male editors. People move on. The girls I knew when I was a girl, they are all women now. I don’t want to be on my own anymore. I don’t want the hours. These hours filled with beasts of terror. The machinations of an insane person’s frame of reference. And I ask myself where is the science in all of us. It is science that keeps my brain in check, set in my ways, my habits, my very schedule that I keep lest I go out of my mind. For what happens to a spinster when she grows old. When men become weary of her. Wary most of all of her moods. Her waking thoughts keep going around in circles. I am going mad again. Do you know what it, what this life means to me now?
I no longer have a purpose. There is no longer meaning in my activities. Even basic things, my temper (because I have one, because I am temperamental), I have to continually check myself. Remove myself from the situation before there is conflict. Before there is terrible pain. Loss of insight into how the conflict arose in the first place.
Before there is even a choice in the matter, I have to leave. I have no father for companion anymore. No more mother to shield from the world. To love. To love is such a treasured thing. I, I am now Lazarus. I just am. I am Hamlet’s Ophelia. I am apostle, saint, sinner, disciple and follower. Life cursed me. It is a terrible thing to say. I take that back. I cursed myself. I am to blame for everything in the end for everything that has ever happened to me. To love is both a curse and a gift. Because eventually you lose the ones you love the most. There are funerals. And all the time there are funerals, there is a funeral in my bones. In this, this wildflower’s bones. Love me, adore me now, praise me, worship me, grant me a divine audience, or, leave me. Let me alone. Let me be. Let me go. Surrender me to the universe as all women are at some stage of their lives, whether they are mothers, or daughters, or orphans. There was always this key struggle in my life. To exist. To exist. I am truly an orphan now. Can’t stand my sister-in-law’s parties any longer. I will need a chaperone. Emily cannot be alone. Emily cannot walk by herself anymore. Emily must be calmed down when she feels the wretched distress of the terrors that come at night. Who am I? Who is this stranger dressed in virginal-white all these years? In mourning for her father. In mourning for a mother possessed with childlike qualities. No children to comfort me when I am elderly, infirm, weak.
Who will look after me? Where will I go? I have flashbacks of the old me. The old life I led when I was young, calmer, more carefree, free in other words to do as I pleased. To love who I wanted to love. But that time has come to an end. There is something sinister about death now. Upon their arrival I prepare the house, I welcome them. I welcome people who have become strangers to me over the years. They’re here now. Only stay for an hour or two. They take my breath away.
There’s no escape. No room in the house that I can withdraw into. I don’t write anymore, you know. I have completely given that up. My wildflower. I am no wildflower in the full bloom of youth anymore. The people around me are mysteriously silent now. They say nothing. They do nothing for me. They do not speak to me, and if they do it is condescending. It is patronising. They sneer, jeer, mock, stare, glance my way, and say nothing. There is no communication. There is no connection there anymore that drives us together again. Just pain and bondage. More pain. More bondage. I think it all a trick of my mind.
Must be, right? When I was a girl, I was happy. When I was in love, or falling in love I was happy. Now my mind is clouded. My judgements, what about it. I have no judgement on anything, anymore, anymore. No love. Only bitterness. No husband. Only regret. To think that now I am a joke. Well, that is how I feel. This emptiness rolling around with the birds and the butterflies and moths in the abyss of self, what is left of my ego. There is no longer an identity to speak of. No longer a charmed life with suitors in tow. No more marriage, or, even indecent proposals. No joke. Recluse. I’m a recluse. I don’t go out. I don’t socialise. Another break from reality, then another, and another, until no one is laughing anymore. They say prayers. They say prayers instead. They give me tracts. Reading matter for my spiritual progress. Readying me for my spiritual awakening, or, some reckoning made on behalf of the God of all matter and energy. There are variations in my behaviour now. Sometimes it comes on strong like a narcotic. It grows and grows and grows. Sometimes it is subtle, but it is always there. I know nothing of the world, nor do I want to now. It has come too late. Too fast and furious is the end times upon me. The end of my life. Rather the end of my life as I know it. No more father. No more father. No more shelter. No more sanctuary. Who is going to look after me when I am old and tired, and a white-haired lady whose hair is streaked with silver? The show must go on nonetheless. I must endure. The survival instinct kicks in. I must prepare my work for posterity. The legacy is in the writing itself.
The hours I spent in my bedroom. Word after painstaking word. I am given orders. I am told what to do. What not to do. Nobody comes to the house. Soon, soon I will be the only one here. It won’t be a sad affair, I promise you. I have so much to do. I have to prepare an entire lifetime of work. Put it into order. You think I’m someone. I’m a nobody. I’m a real nobody with a nothing life to show for it. All these times I was hoodwinked, you see. I thought I was charismatic. I thought I would always be dear, one day be darling wife and mother.
Now I have nothing but this for the world. This incredible body of work. The work must not be still. Must not be composed as I am. It must go out into the world. People must read it. It will be pushed.
Pushed into the world. But not by me. By critics, and editors. By the working class. By the people who love me unconditionally, and without question. Unlike the non-supportive members of this society. Give me the working classes over the petty middle class any day. They love without expecting anything in return. They are so poverty-stricken, you say, what would they want from a recluse like me. What can they possibly offer a poet who has lived a ruined life? An unmarried life.
A life marked by pain and terror at every turn. I have known what it is to be loved. Now no one can take that euphoria away from me. Not even the love of my life, the work, you see. The work, the writing of the poetry is the most important thing. It is not so important for it to be praised, for the writing life to inspire, for my own life to be admired anything like my grandfather’s life was, or my father’s life, or my brother’s life. Published widely. I know this for a fact now. My plan is my plan. My goal is my goal. My writing is my writing. Yes, I am helped financially. Yes, I am well-off in some ways, but life is getting tired of me, and I sometimes find people in society tiresome.
Their notions are ridiculous. Wishing to turn me into something that I’m not. A Protestant. I was a no-hoper. Not part of the Christian revival scenario that overtook New England in my younger days. I rejected the church. I rejected the indoctrination. The lectures that were supposedly sermons. I never rejected the faith though, although it must have seemed that way to my beloved father. The one man in my life who loved me for me, I guess. Now I am alone. Utterly, utterly alone. I’m old-fashioned in my thinking, in my outlook on life, but not when it comes to spiritual matters, and issues of faith. I just no longer make sweeping statements with regard to Christ. The only people I do make sweeping statements about are those who wax on prosaically on the total annihilation of the human race because of the end times.
Who want to quote the Book of Revelation to me of all people (as if I have never heard of the four horsemen of the apocalypse)? Speak to me of the prophets. Men of integrity. Speak to me of their depth of character. Their spiritual progress in the world. Elijah being taken up to heaven in dazzling chariots of fire. Speak to me of Ezekiel, his protégé. There was one minister who called the world an apocalypse in the making, an experimental dystopia that was a work-in-progress. I just felt that he was attacking the very cultural background of Amherst, and insulting my intelligence. I had just cause to do what I did. To turn my back on that world of the church. A spinster in distress. I am distracted by thoughts of my own mortality. I can hardly see the flowers now. I can hardly see them, but they are the first thing that I think about when I open my eyes in the morning when I wake. The very last thing on my mind when I go to bed at night.
Wildflowers are a sight! A sight to behold. The wildflower is the hero in my life now.
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