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African Renaissance

Finally being diagnosed with bipolar

Abigail George

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I was finally diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder after Tara. I spent 6 months in a mental institution in Johannesburg. Mental illness stamped on my forehead for all to see, alongside a stigma, a family (and paternal and maternal family) that saw to it that I quickly became an outcast, felt like an interloper when spoken to. I was ignored, and sat quietly by myself at family functions. It was as if I was in high school again. I never cried about it, but I don’t think that made me brave.

I was half-mute like Princess Diana, and Maya Angelou as a child.

Something had happened to me. Somehow I had been transformed intrinsically in childhood (it was because of my mother’s mental, verbal, and emotional abuse), but was it the environment that changed, no, no. It was human nature. All the humans around me. Bright children, no matter how bright they might seem even if adult words come out of their mouths, all children are still innocent. And all children want is the mother-love, and I felt the lack of mother-love acutely with an acumen and focus beyond my years.

I was called insubordinate by a male teacher once. Years later when we met at a prayer meeting, he spontaneously embraced me. In that moment, I forgave him. For the corporal punishment he had meted out to me for letting someone else, a popular girl, copy out my answers in a test. I thought I would be liked. But I wasn’t. I was still a goody two shoes.

I still sometimes would spend break in a bathroom stall.

As a moony-moody teenager I would read. I was mostly withdrawn, serious, never smiling (I never smiled once at Collegiate, it hurt too much to smile, my mother would go on rampages then, hurling mental abuse at me in the morning for breakfast, afternoon tea, and supper which my sister made for us. My mother was depressed too in a sinister and deceptive way). Now let me get back to never smiling, and never playing team sports.

Let me talk about the (good) old days. Collegiate High School for Girls in Port Elizabeth (a Model C school). That year, 1995, I was of course a perfectionist. A bipolar perfectionist who only ever understood the world of achievement, achievement. It had nothing and everything to do with having a Khoi-ego, Khoi-identity, Khoi-personality. But I would only understand the knowledge of Khoi-anything later on.

In those days I relaxed my hair. My hair was so straight it made no curls or waves, and I wore it in a ballerina bun. I was skinny, not voluptuous or buxom like the other girls. Late to bloom, as the saying goes. At 17 years old, or 16, I forget, all I could think of was my shame. My shame that I was not White. The shame of not having straight hair. The mortifying shame of not being athletic, not being able to play sports, not being able to be singled out first for a game during P.E. period I did not play hockey, or tennis (my mother got her Transvaal colours for tennis in high school).

I did not have blonde hair, and freckles on my face, forehead, knees, and the rest of my body. I did not have freckles in secret places.

But I learned quick, and I also learned very slowly that people don’t easily forgive, and forget if you live with a mental illness. This made me withdraw even more into my mute-self. For most of my life I lived like this with a mute voice inside of me until one day I began to write. I was 8 years old.

In later years cousins on both sides of the family despised me (because I was mentally ill). I could see it there in their eyes, as they did not meet my gaze whenever I spoke. Family despised me (because I was mentally ill). I was not invited to weddings, or kitchen teas. Women-fold women-folk kind of things. They despise you (this I told myself) because society despises lunatics, and for a long time I was happy encompassing whatever this word meant. Lunatic. It was me who was more in touch with reality than the ones who thought I was mad, I have come to accept this now. I have other much more important, and significant things on my mind, and I am about to begin to write my first novel. This is what moves me to write this for other people suffering in silence, people who are being told to pull their socks up (or that they ‘re beginning to be too big for their britches). Don’t live a half-life. Don’t live a half-lie.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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African Renaissance

The Chosen Family from Church to Earth

Abigail George

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Guess at the intensity behind my words. ‘Give me a place to stand,’ said Archimedes, ‘and I will move the world.’ After all that is said and done, Rome was not built in a day. I want to forget Africa as a place of weeping. Listen to this quotation. ‘If Athens shall appear great to you,’ said Pericles, ‘consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men who learned their duty.’ What is the source of all greatness in all societies? Our artists. What is the key to progress in our time? Our artists. I consider artists, and performers valiant men and women.Two words. Moses Molelekwa. The pen is mightier than swords.

The thing about being a tortured genius is very real. Your man is not going to be superhuman all of the time. Within every man is a bored and tortured genius waiting for the woman who will understand he is flawed. He also needs to be loved, understood. If you need therapy,and I’ve needed a lot of it over the years, make the call. (Think Hemingway and Salinger, brilliant men, tortured geniuses) who will live for posterity. The gifted, tortured ones always will.You will live for posterity in the lives of your children.Your wife at your side, the people that you work with. What is the legacy that you will leave behind?Two words.

Moses Molelekwa. The thing about being a tortured genius is very real. Your man is not going to be superhuman all of the time. Within every man is a bored and tortured genius waiting for the woman who will understand he is flawed. He also needs to be loved, understood. If you need therapy, and I’ve needed a lot of it over the years, make the call. (Think Hemingway and Salinger, brilliant men, tortured geniuses) who will live for posterity. You will live for posterity in the lives of your children, your wife at your side, the people that you work with. What is the legacy that you will leave behind in the lives of the people who love you, who care for you? The sharpest words cut an artist down, depression, mental illness, and poverty.

(Whether it is clinical or manic, the spectrum of mood disorders that affects the nerves in the brain (nor-adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine). Time is longer than rope, and it will do us the world of good to remain cognisant of that fact. I’ve lived in poverty for most of my life.We (not forgetting that this is a global phenomenon, to be loved, to be kind, to be humble), artists, are not strangers to the dark. People who are broken, broken-hearted (and I am using the example of artists here use their pain, the locus of their external environment to create world that few of this world, they feel that no one will love them.

No one will accept them as they are (here I speak for myself). I am scared of being seen as an artist. Artists are scared to be seen. They fear people will always judge personality over and above, not adore, worship, or praise them. Artists (here I speak for myself) are afraid of the wolves. Remember Patrice Lumumba, Stephen Bantu Biko, Samora Machel, Chris Hani, Kwame Nkrumah, Ken Saro Wiwa, Frantz Fanon, Bessie Head, Dambudzo Marechera, Sol Plaatje Albert Luthuli, Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee all of them marched to the beat of their own drum. Let us remember South Africa’s Nobel Laureates. Let us remember.

Let us remember Robert F. Kennedy’s speech at the University of Cape Town.The artist (they have their reasons), broken-hearted (they have their reasons), the extraordinarily gifted (they have their reasons), all have a voice that needs to be seen, and heard.I am an ex-presidentMandela, Mbeki,Zuma, and president-elect Ramaphosa loyalist too.I’m a Julius Malema loyalist, a Winnie Madikizela-Mandela loyalist. My loyalties are aligned with that of the African continent, from the east to the west, the African Renaissance, negotiation, diplomacy, and reconciliation. What my Saint Helenian ancestors believed in, on that island.

What my elders, and statesmen believe in, what our leaders in the cabinet, and our leaders in government believe in. Here, I am speaking about world leaders as well. It feels to me as if we are facing, standing on the brink of another World War. I say look (back), take stock (ownership), and I ask myself this? Has the revolution finally, finally come to an end, and what will become of the revolutionaries, if writers, and poets do not celebrate their life and death, their fight and the struggle?Struggle to me means the art and seduction theories of survival. I think of the cosmos. How does war, and death, bloodshed fit into this cosmos.

For isn’t all of life infinite? I speak for myself. How I see the world. The world of artificial intelligence, the computer age, the digital divide, the dissemination of information knowledge systems, technology, the age of the robot, advances in the medical field. We have come so far, but we think that we have forgotten the psychosis of our veterans. For me, our absolute existence is not just on earth. It is aligned with the universe, the cosmos, and the paradise of heaven. There lies the Einsteinian-truth. Albert Einstein, a clerk envisioned the theory of relativity. Our experience of time is relative. We live in the present moment, and yesterday.

And our tomorrows are non-entities. I am trying to fight the pain of losing you, you all, believers and non-believers, estranged family that I have loved unconditionally for years. I think of winter tress when I am sad, and Sylvia Plath’s ‘botanical drawings’, and what exactly are these winter trees made of in the dead of night, in the dead of winter. I have fallen in love again, and the world is as it should be. I am writing again. Mind, body, breath is reality again. The non-reality of the psychosis of the bipolar mood disorders inside has become like the rain, pavement, drains, and darkened alleyways. In past wars we have gone from protest.

To challenge. In South Africa we are moving beyond apartheid, and Black politics (are we, are we), the makings of the African working class (we are all comrades, and compatriots in Africa). As I write this, new laws are coming into being. Gender-based violence is being addressed. There is an unquiet revolution from within (always remember that the pen is mightier than the sword). The unquiet mind of the artist, poet and African writer. I think of the fragments of human bodies in war, reconciliation and peace in the African Renaissance. So, today my keynote address to you is the African Renaissance, a Jabez prayer for the youth.

A prayer for the dying youth of the Northerns. I speak now of my own background. A sub-economic hovel, the Northerns, that is my home. I think of the Coloured psyche, ego and identity, the near wasted generation, the duplicity, and promulgation of the Group Areas Act, and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Sometimes, on every inhale I watch the sky, the cloud people, the illusion of it all, that war, and not the Fourth Industrial Revolution is going to feed the world. Politics is not going to feed the world, agriculture, and trade is going to do that.I am fighting the war of all of these successions of deaths. Crimes.

All of this that I see in front of me, the prophecy, all my tears, again, and again, and again. I am saying no to revolution, a life being taken again, innocent puddles of blood being shed.Equality and diplomacy is key.

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African Renaissance

The Secret Orchard

Abigail George

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She wants diamonds, to live in a mansion (she thinks that’s the perfect life), to be the hostess of parties, to run her pale king’s life. She wants to hear the church bells ringing. She wants to sip champagne at these parties. The mulatto’s pale king is at her side. The years will go on. She’ll call it depression. Poets call it torment of vertigo. But she tells herself at least have his last name; he must love me. The wardrobe is filled with clothes, but her pale king does not love her. He came home ready to fight; she hid her bruises under dark glasses. She remembered growing up in a shack. The fact that she didn’t know what a tureen was. They ate at the country club every Friday night, with his old school friends. The women ignored her every smile.

In the secret orchard, I’m here waiting for you, but you never appeared, love. You then went off to the races. Called me your Coco Mademoiselle. Do you still think about me? You were a house of fun, made me laugh, made me smile. And all I could think of was unbuttoning your shirt, undoing you, abandoning myself in your arms. But now it’s over. You left me waiting for you by the house of fun. You never came. They say you’re in therapy now. It is scary how much you can love someone. I see a protea, and I am overwhelmed by grief. She’s gone. She never said goodbye. There’s nobody calling on the phone to speak to me.When I telephone out, I’ve burned all my bridges.They put down the phone.

He keeps me away from his friends. Everything I do foryou; I do for you. Same old Abigail. Same old him. Would have been a bad mother. I know this in my bones. That is how I taught myself not to cry. He has some happiness in his life. Being wife is not for me in this life. I have to write this down. if I don’t, I’ll forget about it. I will love you in secret if that’s what you want. If that’s what turns you on. I don’t want to hear church bells ringing.I am writing against depression. Dawn is breaking. You’re not here. But I am feeling fine. You see,I’m leaving soon. I’m going far away. You’ll see me everywhere. God and guards will be on my side.Don’t kiss me. Don’t hold onto me like you did once.

And when I began to write for English class Rob Perez was always in the frame of my mind. I pictured him making his way through the papers, marking them in red pen and finally until he came across my paper in the bunch, there is where he would finally align his vision with mine. At first glance perceptions are normality not borderline or bipolar. They’re usually just realities of light and energy. I felt an undeniable (yet also unattainable sense) of magic drawing in his dance of movement and on the contemporary as he made his way between the desks in the classroom. Memory, memory, memory could hurt the eyes, could pierce the heart away in tune to their own Hiroshima, could half-drown you in desire.

There between my pages he would find ministry, meaning, shielding me (and my secret forever) and standing solid at the same time behind my descriptive words. He made everything sound pretty and as fragile as words like climate change, global warming, ecosystem, and wetlands in class, where he stood magnificent and cold upfront in the class, reciting poetry out loud, completely detached from the reaction that was being raised in the crush of my schoolgirl heart. It had brought me much undisclosed joy to watch this adult male in my hemisphere. In my dreams we would have ‘conversations’. We would talk about books. My first choice had to be William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice. I could imagine reading some of his own work, praising him or telling him what to rework, blushing that I could be that brave.

Back home before I had left. When I had been a suburbanite-townie with the infinite sea in my backyard, before I discovered ‘the’ Sylvia Plath, her husband Ted Hughes and their baby daughter Frieda in a poem in a time and place unlike any other I had never experienced again, in a country that time had for the most part seemed to have forgot. I stood on the beach, the wailing wind in my hair feeling as if the earth had been chilled by the inclement weather. Smooth, clean, washed shoreline, gulls softened feathers find its place channelled. On the beach, before I left for boarding school in Swaziland, my mother and I went for ice cream. She mother-blazed a path past me (like she did on so many other past and future-times), her mouth set in a grim, determined line. She was determined to say goodbye in her own way.

I am an adolescent girl again. Girl from Mars! in her school skirt and her summer blouse, from Ash (that Irish band). To keep my mind away from you, teacher, to stop it from enthralling me, to keep the knowledge of you clean, pure I am a collection of lost and found, an uneducated volcano, impatient smoke and the voice of denial. I have become a series of pounding satellites in orbit, the reminder of skinned knees from meeting the pavement, scary broadcasts on the evening news with the words coming out effortlessly from research. That is where I’m coming from, an illuminist. Fear from childhood gone. Troops in hardship just an imprint burned on my brain. My bedroom has become my throne room.

Here I have turned hours into a spotlight on loves, death, eternity, daughters and mothers. I wonder if he’s old now. I wonder if he’s elderly. I wonder if he’s been ill these past few years, or perhaps he’s been in perfect health. I wonder if he takes long walks in much the same way that I take long walks to combat the spells of depression. I wonder if I spoke to him in those days, would he have understood my highs and lows. The energy I would feel one day, and then, next, being overcome by tiredness and hunger. I wonder if he’s been ill in the same way that I have been ill. I wonder does he have high blood pressure or diabetes now, has he ever been hospitalised for depression, lived on and off with the stigma in the ways I have before I turn my thoughts elsewhere.

It is easy to be damaged by love. Especially when the object of your affections does not reciprocate your feelings. We have all been there. First love, first breakup, first date night, first marriage, first child from that union. Away from the moonlight, in the morning you realise you have made a mistake. I listen to rain, until the evening drips into silence. I haven’t lost the darkness since I was a child. Nobody but my biological father understands this darkness. God answers. Distance changes everything. Distance lends enchantment to the view. And when the end of love comes, it proves I have lived, and will live again. You will love again. Let the pale king live in his world, mulatto lives in yours. For both of your psyches are wounded.

Tycoons marry beautiful women. If you do not love yourself first, how do you expect to marry someone as insecure as you are. Marry a teacher, master, someone who makes you laugh, who makes you smile, who has a good sense of humour, who tells you that you are the most beautiful person in the world. Kindness, gentleness, a man who understands you completely. A man who has you at ‘hello’. Don’t marry for money. Marry for love. Woman is minor. Man is major. We only have to look at the sciences, philosophy, education, psychology, the canon of English Literature to see how Jean Rhys is minor and Dostoyevsky is major. But we write, male and female to inspire.

You didn’t want me. You didn’t want to marry me. I refused to be kept like a bird in a gilded cage. To be stroked, caressed, petted, fed titbits from the master’s plate. Once I thought you were the most amazing man I had ever met. It’s over. It’s over. You walked away from me once, pale king adored by your loyal subjects. I see now that you never loved me. Treated me kind. I came here to forget. Came here to forget that we don’t love each other anymore. There is a reason that you’re gone. The bipolar mood disorders. The clinical depression. The madness. The insanity. The sleepless nights. Insomnia, sleep apnoea, Pax, Lithium, Risperdal, and tranquilizers. I tried to kill you with kindness. I still think of you.

But I’ve moved on. And most of all you’ve moved on. You don’t love me, accept me. Never will, and I have come to some sought of sweet understanding about this. Have a child with someone else.

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African Renaissance

Beauty awakens

Abigail George

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There is my reflection in the window. She dances. She dances. She dances. Look at me, Master. I am wearing my dancing shoes. I am dancing. I am dancing only for you. Emily Dickinson has fallen in love in the prime of her life. Although the bloom of beauty has fallen away. Tell me what you want to do. And then I’ll tell you what I want to do. I just want to sit here and look at you, Master. I love only you my love. Despise all other men who think that they are above your station in life. For you I would burn in hell for an eternity. Be the love of Satan. For you I would live in the paradise valley of heaven. Sheltered by the highest angelic hosts. The angels. I would spend my days and nights singing alongside choirs of angels. It is as if the world in its entirety is mentally ill.

There is Lavinia, there stands Austin, there stands the congressman, my father, my mother is wrapped up in her little universe. She is nothing but a weakling. Infirm and unable to even stand looking at my father. She has refused for the longest time to sleep in the same bed as he does. Lavinia and I tend to her daily upon the hour. I do so love her. What is the feeling, I want to ask my mother, the sensation of carrying a child in your womb for nine months?I daren’t ask anyone else for they would laugh in my face at this silliness of a spinster called Emily Dickinson. What would I do without you, Master? What would I do if I cannot see you, talk to you, Master? How can you leave me in this state? In this frame of mind, it feels as if I am losing my mind again. It happened once before. I needed the still and tranquil surroundings of Amherst to keep it in check, all the expensive doctors that father sent me to said so. You’re an omen. You’re the hourglass that I am holding onto.

Master, you are loved. Even above that, you are cherished. You’re the winner that takes it all. I am humble servant. I am savant. Do you remember when it rained, I called out your name. I desire inspiration. You provide the desire. I want my imagination to soar, to fly, to have wings. You give me everything that I have ever needed, ever wanted, ever desired. You are the love of my light, fire of my loins. I am Elijah in your arms. Prophet and seer. Oracle in this winter maze. The tears I cry now are tears of hope. I did everything for father, but he does not love me anymore. He has never protected me. He has never sheltered me. He has isolated me from people. Which is why I am so withdrawn and serious. He has locked me into this house. This Pandora’s Box of conundrums.

Austin needs me. Lavinia needs me. Mama needs me. Papa needs me. It has all become to much for me to handle I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being left alone. So, I retire to my room to write. The poetry comes. The poetry is always there. It is wonderful. It gives me courage. I’m totally alone in that space. That space. That heavenly space is sanctified by God. I wish to give the people what they want, but it is difficult. The men that I have loved before are nothing compared to Master. Master and I make new worlds together. In one night, I can four or six poems done and dusted. Put away to be sewn together. That is the legacy that I am leaving to the world. Perhaps one day it will be significant to someone out there. Perhaps a young woman, younger than I am now. Perhaps it will impact her creativity, her imagination. That is all I want. For the legacy of my work to prosper. You’re a maze, Master. For the longest time you have only believe in me and that was enough for me. So many people have come into my life. So many have become socialites, lovers, mothers. I haven’t become any of those beings. I simply find this need within myself to write everything that is gifted to me. I look to nature.

To the ancient mists in the garden air in the mornings. No more will I protect you. No more. No more. No more. It is done. It is over. No more will I love Austin. It is done. It is over. I think of the February song in nature. Married to nature in the natural. Married to nature in the supernatural. I can handle the summer son just fine. Today I must rest. Even though it goes against every bone in my body. Yes, Master. It is my fault to worship in the totality of the inter-dependence of the birds and the sky. Birds flapping their wings. The blue light coursing through day, navigating its way like arrows. Everything must find its place in time. Once I was a beauty. Then illness struck at me fiercely. It made my blood boil. My platelets go pop. There’s a fire in my soul. I am dragon beast. Take this all my enemies. A blast of fire from my mouth. They say that I am unwell again. Sometimes I sit at my window in my bedroom and just stare into space.

The words in all their vision of loveliness comes to me then. This life, this world makes me content. I mean, sometimes I am afraid. I become frightened of the future when I will be alone. I make your life possible Austin. A father in Washington, I make his life possible too. My spinsterish life makes Austin’s life possible. My old-fashioned ways make papa’s life possible. My caring for mama has made her life easier. Her days of childbirth and child-rearing are gone away from her now. I hear voices now. Master’s voice is not so clear to me anymore. The voices are here. I tell myself they are angels. That it is the angels telling me to write. Be gentle. Be gentle. Be gentle culture. Be gentle background. Most of all I must be gentle and kind and considerate. Accommodate the afterthought that is me.

These insane molecules that is inside my head. I am jaded. I am moving mountains. Elijah fills my physical body to capacity. I am loved. Treated in much the same way the prophets were. The Amherst community of men jeers at me and all their socialite wives mock me now. As girls we were certainly friends. We are not friends anymore. I am no longer a socialite. All I wear is white. For I am in mourning. The light of day is exquisite here in Amherst. This is how I live now.The sound of silence in the rooms are invincible. I walk through the house, adjusting my eyes to the light. It is dark out. I think of the people. Their restless dreams of Amherst, the relationships that they have with their families, the hard pews in the church that made me fidget as a girl. I am cold and undone. My lover has gone. He does not telephone. He does not write.

What is wrong with me? I fall in love so easily. I trust so easily. I have no mother to talk to about this. Lavinia is even more of a child than I am. The voices in my heard share their worries and their cares and their burdens with me. I write everything done. It could be God or the angels talking to me. I am winter. Cold and undone. I am muse. I am my own muse. It comes and it goes like a flash of neon light. I want to touch the sun. I want to burn up like a volcano. Until I exist no more, no more, no more. I touch the sun. I reach out to daylight, to the light, to the sun. I will do the same. His wife is now with him wherever he goes. I will do the same one day when I am married. Master and I are no longer lovers. No longer are we girlfriend and boyfriend. Made for each other. We don’t talk anymore. I have lost my best friend. To Master, I am just a girl, even though I am middle-aged. A girl who is still in love with him. Some girl who is still in love with you. Welcome darkness, my friend. Here I am here to talk to you. A vision moves through me. Through my brain. I wanted to love you. Give you my heart. Story of my life. Can’t sleep. Can’t eat when I’m waiting for you to appear, Master. Can you also see all these inter-connecting patterns? Can you also connect the dots? Master, I am waiting here for you.

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