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African Renaissance

The Afternoon of Shakespeare’s Mind (Part 3)

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Perfume.

Coming back to you. Half of my life’s work so far has been written in the vein of tragedy and when I have tried to write comedy. People laugh. They come to the theatre and they have a good time.

They pay good money to have a swell time but the thing is I am always thinking of putting in a love story. Every play has to have a love story. If it does not then I know it will be a failure and then I would have failed too. It is like flirting with disaster. Walking, dancing on glass. I have not written about you to you enough in this letter. You my future wife are adored and admired by an eternal romantic. A ghost story, my Eve, a haunting postcard, a joyful sonnet in the hands of a scholar or poet discovering it for the first time, my future wife and I am the one with all of this restless and frustrated energy. You are my poetry, the end of the history of violence, my familiar catalyst and my connection to reality.

What is reality anyway? All I can spell out is its unholy demise, ‘dismays and rainbows’. You can say that you love a woman and that she is perfect for you but what happens to all that sincerity when she gives birth. It blossoms, it flowers into something else and a tenderness opens in the floodgates of a man’s heart. How do you know that you are with the right woman? You are sensitive towards her when you are the insensitive brute amongst men. You just know that you care about her and love her in a jaded breakthrough, triumphant way. You leave your cynicism behind and reform. You are happy with your newfound hope and happily leave all despair and the costumes that people wore and did not wear, the people who let you down and disappointed you behind. You discover you are no longer restricted by writing.

Now you are also a family man and the expectation of that leaves a spell on you. I am writing to you about all of this because I think that you know me best. I do not know what you will make of it but know that it is written sincerely and with tenderness. History concentrates too much on heroes and not enough on the family man. There is so much focus on hell, madness and despair. There is so much war. Good men have died and I am certain that they have gone to heaven’s gates, knocked and were let in but I cannot understand is why we have sent these good men to war in the first place if the only reason was for them to lose their lives. All I know is that you have never injured me. Men injure men a great deal. Men insult men but the relationship between a man and a woman who are going to be husband and wife it is a little bit different.

Sometimes it is a bit depressing in my room and then I think of you and the sun comes out. Sometimes when it rains and the London streets are filled with mud all I can think of is the lotus flower. I hope I do not sound pompous or arrogant when I say these words. It is a gift. Writing is a gift and I am a gift to this world. When I write there is also detachment and I rather like using this as a shield when people (fools) want to make an engagement with me and ask me silly questions. Gobbledegook. These geese. Why do they not read more, these illiterates I ask myself instead of interrupting me from my work? It is not in the reading, it is in the meditating on what you are reading. It is concentrating on not feeling superior but they will not listen to me when I talk to them like this, which is a bit depressing. They have what is called ‘the ego’ and there is nothing that I can do for them.

One fellow was telling me about how he fell in love with a duchess who was older than he was. It sounded interesting but only, if only he had got around to writing down some of it. I listened to him. I know how important it is for any playwright just to be given an ear. He just spoke on and on and on and would not stop. Dramatic. It sounded good though. There were parts that sounded phenomenal. I guffawed along with the rest of his entourage. I would even say he went as far to impress me. Yes, I would say that in all honesty. I love meeting knew artists. Pity he did not get a head start on writing it. All this must bore you. What keeps you busy these days (besides thinking of me in my drafty room in London)? When it rains, I think of your tears. When I look at the River Thames, I think of you. A bouquet of baby’s breath, white lilies and roses in your hands.

When I see horses and carriages, I think of us finally being married in a church. Having said those vows and then I will put forth all the matters of my domestic life, I put it in your hands against the backdrop of Stratford-upon-Avon. I do not know how you feel about that word ‘ego’. Do you think that I have it within me not to be associated with that word? They call me an artist but I do not know what that word really means. They laugh and I think there is a part of their soul that is laughing at me. All artists are insecure. Anchors will snap. The solidity of the blue sky disappears with every sunset. I remember the long days and the even longer nights when loneliness, fear, vulnerability and negativity brushes up against my mental faculties killing me. Stopping me dead in my tracks. You are beautiful and I do not think I say it often enough.

A woman needs to hear it all the time from her beloved. I know that sometimes you feel you lose me to London. You lose me to the world of artists but most importantly, you have my heart. For whom am I keeping this self-preservation? For no one. For no one. I want to give you everything-everything. There will never be any real love in my life beside you. You, God, and that is it for me. I am lonelier than ever. In London, all those beautiful men and women can surround you but they are all too arrogant for words. They are shallow. You would not believe how mean-spirited some of them are. How highly they think of themselves but just try to have a conversation with one of them. Words will be coming out of their mouth with no rhyme or reason. London folk think they are brilliant. They do not really care about me very much then, I think to myself except when they want something to amuse themselves with.

Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.

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African Renaissance

The Lesbian Passion of Virginia Woolf

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And so I come to the lady in the water, the sinner (but in the end aren’t we all sinners). Virginia Woolf in the flesh, that death of the drowning visitor. Her brain cells turned into the cemented atonement of dead moths. Deaths that can be accounted for. Physical bodies that can’t be spirited away, mended only souls torn from the material. Absolutely nothing escaped Virginia. The glory of love (she had that white wedding, the gift of love, she knew it, she knew of it, defended it graciously, she was no failure. I am that failure). Nothing escaped her passionate seeing eyes, her liberty, her meditations on nature, her platelets, mitochondria and bilateral symmetry no more. Only the grit, the brick walls, the mysterious interiors of the mansions of her work remained. Left behind. Granite. Diaries left behind for apprentices. Her intuition, breath and vitality has left this damned for an eternity to hell corpse. What does she have to do with the parenting skills of my distant manic depressive father and my elegant and cold mother, my cool mental illness that needed a room of its own to coexist with my brother’s cigarette smoke, his fatherhood, and his triumph where I had failed and then I voyaged inwards. River Ouse captivated me. I am a woman who writes. Virginia Woolf was a woman who was a wife, a lover and woman who wrote. My ordinary madness became a thing of beauty to me. Me an empty vessel who found bright stars in women, in their husbands and children, in flowers in a vase, in the fabric of the universe at night. I am Orlando. I am Lady Lazarus. I have lived vicariously through Hiroshima, Jean Rhys the demimonde and artist’s model and the feminist Sylvia Plath’s cutting-edged authentic words signalling warning, communicating threads of wisdom, and protest poetry. I needed to understand the London scene, Ted Hughes, Assia Wevill, and the child from that union, Shura. I’m afraid of modernism because it’s not modernism that is taking over the world. It’s writing. The interpretations of an inner life, innerness, marriage, creativity and madness.

Vita and Virginia sitting in a tree. K-i-s-s-i-n-g. Don’t ‘look’ at me. Look at ‘me’. Our intimacy is something special. Your skin is a fabric I could drown in. I can do without religion but I cannot do without you. You have given me the highest form of art, and that is inspiration. How can I ever repay you? Come to me you elegant creature with all of the hopes that you have for yourself. Your goals have become mine. Your dreams my own. Beautiful, elegant Vita. My Orlando. When I read your work I am filled with a clarity of vision, astute perfection, and I feel as if I am your sole possession to have, to have, to have. Can I borrow some of your inhibitory nature, your anticipatory nostalgia, your poetic descriptions, your sky, and the sky in your eyes, your flowers, the flowers that you meditate upon in your garden, your compass that navigates you across the passages of London and Europe? And I want to share something else with you if you will let me. I have come to care very deeply about you. Understand this. Understand that I don’t want to own you, claim you for my own as I am sure others have wanted to do in the past, and I do not want to possess you, and enter your world as a lover and leave as an interloper. When we are together like this, you reading my words (because there are parts of me that want to be completely honest with you about how safe I feel with the charming and seductive you). When we sit together there is still a veil of privacy, an idea of privacy on my part. I am sure the same goes for you too.

You’ve become my obsession and I can think of no one else’s company that I want to be in. When I’m with you I can feel electricity.

I find your poetry, your humility, your abandonment, your inhibitory current stunning, Vita. You are the second love of my life. You are all the dimensions of my world.  I find you clever, so artistic, your work is electric, so imaginative and dear Vita.

I’ve always been curious of married life. I thought I would be surround by the walls of a prison and then I married, became a wife but did not have those children and I discovered how far from the truth that was. Marriage frees you in a sense in so many wonderful and illuminating ways. I wanted Leonard. I wanted love but not necessarily a husband because I didn’t think that love came with having a husband. Love comes with having a likeminded companion. You, Vita, are that likeminded companion. You come with love, with passion.

Observe the adjustments in my personality carefully whenever I am with you, study, and evaluate my dying in your arms. Learn my half-truths and white lies as I do yours Vita. I only have to hear your voice and I thrive. I achieve a new intelligence, a new acting, a new materialism, and a new language in that dry season. It should be as obvious to you now as it is to me that I am utterly besotted, smitten by you. I am in love with you. Let’s set up house together. Get away together if that’s impossible. And when I am without you I am a winter guest in a cold storm. I want to tell you that there is something luxurious and soothing about your skin. My Vita.

I am at your mercy. Your perfume fills my head. And when I begin to live vicariously through you, self-consciously or consciously my sadness has a complex wavelength. Brutal accomplishments threading my humanity. I have longed for them my whole life. The gratitude I have for you being a part of my life has become educational.

And they did not think of the extraordinary consequences of the gift of their relationship. They did not think. Period. They lived for love like other women did for being regarded as sex objects, parties, men, the London scene and flowers. Instead they are transformed.

The lovers whisper to themselves. They don’t want to part. The grass was a dream. And they were both brides rushing to the end of adolescence, the English summer weather, its immediacy of sustaining both women’s ideas of silence in the complexity of detachment. Here in the countryside, shielded by multitudes of simplistic chores, sharing the routine of waking up to their literary work, neither woman could untangle herself from their ‘marriage’. These elegant English heroines, English novelists whose writings were hypnotic were oblivious to reality, the outside world, and men were rendered insignificant, invisible. Men became others and humanity, the female of the species existed in a time and space that became known as the unknown future.

After the dust, the sexual disclosure, the impulsivity of the lesbian love affair between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West no sentence could shame the both of them, their writing process, their divine prowess. Woolf gave Sackville-West authority over her physical body, and in return Sackville-West did the same. Gaps, flashbacks, embarrassing regret should come with the territory of an affair that comes to an end. The silence is textured with what is not being said, the acute longing, and the despair of loneliness, of a seductive theory identifying the beginning of this lifelong romance, the mutual admiration committee between these two gifted English women.

I know what it is to suffer. To live with the face of enduring love shining upon my frozen countenance, love realigning my psychological frame, my sexual pace. Your power stifles me, a thing. And a woman alone.

At first it’s a glance framing reality, a sensual anticipation and so the landscape’s feast becomes symbolic of what will come after this inconvenient love.

Photographs survive. Historical events, knowledge, actors but not manic depressives, the mentally ill, people who have an absence of order in their lives. The living do not survive.

In our world morals are made of shrinking ice. Our love is fingered apocalyptic bliss. The detailed built foundations of the sublime. To hurt someone else is an inconvenience. To be hurt in return embroiders negative patterns in your thoughts for an unseen lifetime, it cheapens secrets, weaving, slaughtering the golden, the sensual image of the physical body.

There is nothing that can be a replacement for the latter.

Virginia Woolf. Was she still that molested child? Hurt, confused, yet her mind still cool and pure, cleansed of any illness, elements of fantasy, climate change, global warning, world poverty, trafficking did not coexist in her field of vision yet. She delayed the information. The bridges to the onslaught of mental illness. All she wanted was freedom. And this she found with Vita Sackville-West.

And as an adult did she not want children, a whole screaming tribe of them of her own, a child so that she could mend all the wrongs of the past.

Already she had a plan while writing in her diary Virginia, ‘I know I’ll never love this way again.’ And then the River Ouse was upon her like a lake. And there it was. She wanted to die. She wanted to waste away. Find a wilderness of her own making. She wanted to beg to the gods. The unwritten freedom which had been her church, and like a religion to her had left her angelic perspective. The dead end the shortcut to a hellish parade, the seducer. The hook of injustice was in her heart. She lived (it was but a pale gesture) but in death she lives extraordinarily.

Short fiction by Abigail George

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African Renaissance

Putin’s War

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Image source: kremlin.ru

The outbreak of war in Ukraine has left millions displaced. There has been no solid partnership between the West and Ukraine. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelinsky asks for help, addresses governments with a plea, speaks about the turmoil and devastation in his country and the West remains diplomatic about the situation on the ground.

Refugees are now making their way across Europe. So far they are seeking refuge in Poland, Romania and Germany. The West has used a soft approach against Russian president Vladimir Putin and what about the ceasefire? Ukrainians want the Russians to leave. The world wants this war to stop. We all want peace but Putin does not want peace. Putin has an agenda. Zelensky accuses the West of cowardice. The West refuses to stand up to Putin. They have every right, we have every right as humankind to be very afraid of the outcome of this war. We are living with the knowledge of humanity existing on the brink of a “nuclear war”. It has become a daily reality.

The war has conditioned all of us not just Ukrainians to cope, to defend ourselves against the blueprint of depression and anxiety. I have seen Ukrainians in the news living in refugee camps develop survival skills for the conflict situation they find themselves in.

What do you understand about Russia’s invasion in Ukraine? Are you angry, sad, frightened? This may mean the war is affecting your mental health in direct or indirect ways. War does not discriminate unfortunately. In war soldiers need mental strength but what kind of strength do civilians need? Church services have been held to bring communities across the Ukraine together. People are standing together in solidarity across the world.

What does it mean to flee your homeland? What does it mean to pack a few belongings, just what you can carry in two bags and leave your home overnight, making it from the country of your birth to the border of another country and literally walking your way to an unknown future?

In the eyes of the world the West is not protecting the civilians of Ukraine and the country is on the brink of a catastrophe. Daily people are preparing for Russian assault. Conscription age is between 18-60 years of age. The most vulnerable in this war are afraid for their lives and in a state of shock as is the rest of the world. Everyone in Ukraine knows they can die at any moment. Will the Russians get their comeuppance? History will not forget how Russia behaved.

The world accuses Russia of genocide. The country has been ravaged by war for weeks and it is taking its toll on the inhabitants and children of the Ukraine. Supplies of food and water are at an all time low. Time is running out for all of us but for the children of the Ukraine their childhood has come to an end.

What impact has this invasion had on the psychological framework of the citizens of the Ukraine? Tension is at an all time high. Is there hope in the coming months this war will come to an end, that there will be a reconciliation between Putin and Zelensky? Will they at the end of the day be able to see eye to eye at the negotiation table and what will be the next phase of their “complicated” relationship to say the least.

The ongoing crisis has seen the loss of thousands of lives, employment, and places of business. Ukrainian men who can stay and fight have made the ultimate sacrifice by abandoning their families and taking up arms. No vital progress has been made to end Putin’s war since the beginning of the invasion.

The figure of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky as a hero in this struggle will remain with many for a lifetime. The invasion has been life-changing. The mood of a battlefield is still in the air. Amnesty International has accused Russia of war crimes. What will Putin’s tipping point be?

This war will stay with us for a long time. That goes without saying. We must remain cognisant of the lessons we can take from it.

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African Renaissance

The Humanitarian Problem

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While Elon Musk is a man who is in a race to colonise Mars war is playing out in Europe. 850 Mcdonald’s are closing in Russia. We have a refugee problem and psychological incompetence. Nobody was prepared for this war. Nobody was prepared to see dead bodies in the streets and war planes flying overhead in the Ukraine. What is virtually the only interference we are seeing from the West? We are seeing weak and ineffective leadership at all levels of our society in this scenario. Nobody understands the motivation behind the invasion. Gross support to the people of the Ukraine is being denied. The Ukrainians have been denied their freedom as a collective but so have foreign students. Everyone wants to get out. Everyone wants to leave the Ukraine. The only people who are staying behind are men between the ages of 18-60 who are going to fight against the Russian army, tanks, and troops. Does anyone know what they are doing in a crisis and what exactly motivated someone to invade a country, start a war and what motivated someone else to stay and fight against insurmountable odds? In the West the Ukrainian president is being seen as a hero. Ukrainians basic liberties have been taken away from them. This isn’t what we were promised. What were we promised in this century? What the world and Ukraine didn’t sign up for was an invasion and a war.

We as the international community have to be thankful and grateful to the volunteers who are helping the millions of Ukrainian refugees. Giving them a hot meal, tea, helping with small children and finding them a place to live. As outsiders looking in we cannot begin to imagine what is happening on the ground. The elderly are being left behind, what about the disabled, the people who have stayed behind, foreign students at the universities. The situation is terrifying. This is the biggest humanitarian crisis of this century.

Women are giving birth underground. Children are being traumatized. Girlfriends are leaving their boyfriends behind, wives and mothers their husbands and the fathers of their children. The men are going to fight.

With covid the freedom to learn was taken away from us, the freedom to decide what to put into our bodies. The term “lockdown” was coined. Is covid and this war linked somehow? Do they have something in common? Are they related to each other? We have YouTube videos telling us, making it clear that we should stockpile for the eventuality of a nuclear war. The invasion has caused millions to flee the Ukraine, to isolate themselves, to join the Resistance army and the world can only standby and watch on in horror. Everything has come to a complete standstill. The death toll rises steadily. Life in war seems to count for nothing. People are suffering in the Ukraine but what is happening on the other side of the border. Russians are fleeing into Finland unsure of what is happening in their own country and how it is going to affect them.

The world and the Ukrainians wait for the announcements of humanitarian corridors and peaceful talks and negotiations for a ceasefire. I am not alone in praying for this to happen. The world is praying for this to happen.

In other news, discussions at a government level to regulate Artificial Intelligence have not been introduced yet. How will countries use Artificial Intelligence during this war?

There is a humanitarian crisis in the Ukraine and no ceasefire is being brokered to allow for a safe passage to neighbouring European countries Romania, Poland and Germany for Ukrainian refugees. Innocent civilians are locked in a power struggle that two weeks ago before the invasion they weren’t aware of. Do they stay and face imminent danger and certain death from shelling, bombings and Russian troops, or do they go and leave the only home they have ever known? At least now there are countries willing to come to the table to mediate. Is this the beginning of the changing World Order?

We don’t know how long this war is going to last or when it will end. We don’t know if there is a deal on the conference table. Do this and this war will come to an end, is what everyone wants to hear and how will this transition period in the history of Europe impact Africa? This is not a game and every day there is more suffering.

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