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African Renaissance

The captive spirit: Bipolar creativity and genius

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We are seduced by people, individuals’ who achieve extraordinarily. I never thought I would be living the life that I am living now. I am literally living out my dream. I am a poet, and a writer. I was very much in love with the stage as a child. I was four. I started reading when I was four. I was eight when I wrote my first poem. My friends were writing stories about Barbie and Ken. I was quoting Shakespeare.

I took part in plays when I was very young, all through high school.

Lead role in the house play. Editor of the school magazine. I wanted to be a child prodigy, a gifted child for the rest of my life. I always wondered where does it come from? This nature to drive yourself to achieve, achieve, achieve.

Achieve nothing less than perfection. I was perhaps only five years old, or, perhaps even younger than that. I thought to myself later on in life, when I was a teenager and beginning to feel the onslaught of peer pressure. I wasn’t fitting in. I was being bullied. I didn’t have a boyfriend, but I made up for that in my twenties. There was for a time period a complete lack of interest in anything academic, or, social, or, athletic in high school. I consciously chose not to succeed. I told myself I didn’t want to be successful. In my mind, if I wasn’t successful people would like me more. Life didn’t work out like that. I was my father’s daughter. So, I had this depression in high school. It would continue, these spells all through my life.

The depression did two things. It made me go into an almost catatonic state. I did not speak. I did not communicate. I didn’t talk to anyone. Then there was the onset of eating disorders. A phase of anorexia, which turned into bulimia. On again and off again in high school. On again and off again in my early twenties. My body. My physical body became a villain. I couldn’t trust what to eat. So, the bipolar genius is obsessive. But we don’t all have obsessive compulsive disorder. I was, still am a perfectionist. I have to at least write a certain amount of words in a day. I have to write a poem, or, meditative haiku. Not just one but a series of them. Also, people in high school, other students would say, you’re so ahead of your time.

This did not make me feel good. It only made me feel more different.

Is it natural, or spiritual, and why don’t I have it? When I was very young, I would watch a lot of television. Some good shows. Mostly sitcoms of happy families. My family was dysfunctional. I have a brilliant manic-depressive father, who was the principal of a high school in a sub-economic area in the Northern Areas, of the Eastern Cape, South Africa. He worked on his doctorate in philosophy for nearly a decade. Riding up and down to Grahamstown for about on average every two weeks. Sometimes I would go with him. I would play on the hallowed grounds of the university. I’d be about six or seven years old. We’d be the only people of colour there.

Everybody had a degree. Professor Ray Tunmer was my dad’s supervisor.

He’d make coffee before they began to go through the chapters of his thesis my father had worked on the evenings when he came home from work. I’d watch him sleep. Watch the news sitting on his lap. My father was my life. My father was my entire life. My mother, a narcissist, is still an extremely beautiful woman. She had it all. She was also very religious. Experienced the loss of her youngest brother early in life. Her father was a high-functioning alcoholic. I’d walk around as if I owned the place. We’d eat strawberries and drink pineapple juice at a roadside stall. Creativity seems almost second nature to them? It captivates lesser mortals. The average.

But there’s the other side to the creativity, the creative mind of someone who suffers from bipolar. Is it a mood disorder or a brain disorder? Why do I have to take the medication? Why do I feel isolated and rejected from society? Why do creatives live solitary lives it seems? Are they lonely people that have social patterns of self-destructive behaviour? The bipolar genius takes life literally moment by moment. They live fully in the moment. Immerse themselves in it. It is very much an unorthodox life. The life of the creative.

You’re a gifted personality. It never leaves you. There were many, many times I thought that, there it goes.  My poetic gift was gone. It wasn’t. It was always there. As a child I had the flair for the dramatic.

Able to memorize poetry written by Emily Dickinson, study and portray Shakespearean characters in monologues from his plays. I still think that bipolar mood disorder doesn’t make me special, but daily there are breakthroughs. Research studies are being done on the brain all over the world. We must take cognisance of the fact that it is a lonely life. Creative people understand loneliness, the solitary life better than anyone else. I think in retrospect it was my mother who wanted to be up there, under the spotlight, on the stage. For me, sometimes everything came a little too easy, a little too effortlessly. Being different when you’re young and gifted, when you’re a child prodigy doesn’t make you popular. It makes you stand out.

When you are a child you do not want to stand out in this way, you just want to go to the park, play on the swings (but of course, every single thing that I did with my younger siblings, also gifted, was a competition). Genius is unafraid to challenge the status quo. Genius is not frightened of asking questions about the world around them.

What they can do with their imagination and creativity far outweighs what the average person can do. I’ve asked myself that eternal question, “Why me?” I’m a writer and a poet. Some days it feels as if, it’s even acknowledged deep inside of me, as if I was born to do it.

You hear this all the time. I was born to do this. I was born to imagine, to create, to progress in life using these gifts, but my creativity is genetic.

My father is a brilliant educationalist. He is the most selfless, giving and gifted person I know. He grew up in a time when there was a great deal of alcoholism, addiction around him, poverty and the promulgation of the Group Areas Act, I think what people today refer to as the forced removals. In those days you could not have relationships’ and marry across the colour line. It was the law in South Africa. The fact of suicide. People have committed suicide in our family. Mental illness is in our genetic makeup. He has six degrees. He studied at London University, he went to Rhodes in Grahamstown, he went to the University of the Western Cape (Bush

University) during apartheid. He wanted to become a medical doctor, but his family was poor. His mother was a seamstress, cleaned houses, and churches and took in washing.

His older sister had to go to work, leave school and put her brothers through university. He is also creative. He is a writer. Has written pamphlets on mental wellness. He has co-authored books on historical non-fiction. He was moody. Still is. But now I know that it is simply an aspect of not only creativity, not only an aspect of genius. Every knows who my father is in the Northern Areas. A few months ago, they named a building after him in Port Elizabeth. This is our normal.

Writing books, engaging in discussions about politics, relationships, life into the early hours of the morning, watching documentaries on apartheid, and me listening to my father talk about the past. About how he heard Ruth First speak.

This was at an African National Congress conference in London. How he was recruited into a subversive organization when he sixteen years of age, along with his brother. How his comrade Dulcie September was assassinated.  This is how we live. We live to understand our brain.

How our brain functions. The deeper levels of imagination that only highly intelligent people have access to. It is not easy to have an above-average intelligence. People are always testing you. If you are creative, highly intelligent, have bipolar, or a recurring (see chronic here) mental illness. You don’t write books to make money. To get on the New York Times Bestseller list, or, to become a national bestseller. I write books that will move a person, because that is all that it takes. Just one person is all it takes to start a movement.

That one person can influence other people, communities, learners in every sphere of life (like my dad did). That’s why I write. My father devoted his entire life to learning everything he could about the brain. Philosophy, education, psychology, mental aberrations’, physical abnormalities, and the effect that it had on the mind. That’s why my father writes. In our world, we’re normal. In the outside world, we’re outsiders. But would you rather want to change the world, the way that people think and move and exist and evolve in their reality, or would you rather be average. Coast through life. Marry, have a family. I’m here today to tell you that there’s a kind of nobility in that. Those are noble ideals too. To be follower, or disciple. What you are doing to the utmost of your ability, God sees that.

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

Thoughts From the Frontline

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Photo: Keenan Constance/Unsplash

“Hip/Hop, Trap. I would describe my music as different, unique, compared to what I hear in the music industry in South Africa. It is a different sound of genre based on hip hop. In my downtime I listen to artists like Mexikodro, Playboi Carti, Diego Money, Pyrex Whippa, Lil Gotit and Sahbabii. In my life my family has been and still is a major influence, I just want to see them happy and stress free. I want to be successful so that they can spend the rest of lives living comfortably. I chose music because I believe that it is something I’m good at. I wouldn’t call myself a musical genius, or say that I’m talented musically because I’m not but, I have taken the time to learn everything that I know today, I started as a rapper, but now I am a producer as well, a very good one if I should say, I mix and master vocals, well I try to. It is still something I am learning on a daily basis and I believe that one day if not soon, I will understand that aspect of music. The guys who I record with are so gifted at what they do, we really inspire each other to take it to the next level. I would be lying if I said that I inspire myself, well maybe I do, I don’t know, however what I do know is that we can go to the next level together because nowadays you rarely see a duo or a group of rappers in the South African music industry, there are 4 of us in our group including others who aren’t full time as yet, I think that makes the odds better for us to take it to the next level as opposed to being a solo” SUPREME ZEE, CEO OF Holidae Don’t Stop!

“What inspires me to take it to the next level is basically my daughter, Family and my everyday experiences growing up and living in Westbury losing friends and family to gang violence had a huge effect on me since a young age I’ve been through hell and back if I may describe in short and I’ve realized, to make it out you really need to dig deep. This is also one of the main reasons why I started writing music. I love Music, it is my passion that is mainly why I chose to make music, ever since a young age I’ve just been through the worst writing music and articulating every word I write is therapeutic. Manifesting and having faith in God has carried me through. Major influences in my life remains God, my baby girl, my family and obviously my Team Holidae Dont Stop! We always encourage one another to do our best we definitely do bring out the best in each other and I’d say the beats that supreme Zee creates brings out the best in me personally and it’s also one of the major influences in my music career it’s only elevated since the moment we started. In my down time I listen to All types of music mostly Gospel & HDS. I would describe my music as being one in a million very versatile, real and unusually different from the usual and it has an unorthodox flow and style to it so you can literally expect only the best” TheGR8ACE, CEO and co-founder of Holidae Dont Stop!

My inspiration comes from knowing that I have a God given talent and my friends (HDS) and family that motivates me day to day to do better. I chose music because as a hobby it is something I love doing which started out in high school where I had friends that used to rap over beats and I’d just stand within the circle and listen to their rhymes and it became to amuse me when I found out that there are people in my community creating their own music, whereas in 2019, I linked with the crew Holidae Dont Stop! and it has been a wonderful journey ever since! Learning and growing at the same time. My mother has played a role as one of my biggest inspirations including friends (HDS) have been a major Influence in my life, for they always pushed me to be a better me. Not giving up on me and providing not bad advice but love and positivity. I’ve been in difficult situation in the past and I am just trying to make a better standard of living for my family, my friends as well as my community (Westbury). In my down time I listen to various genres like Rock, Rnb, Hip/Hop, Rap, Emo Rap. I would describe our music as Western Plug for it derives from Hip-hop with an offbeat including 808s and guitar and piano samples that Supreme Zee (Producer) recreates and when hearing the beat, I can automatically put my heart on it.” Bando -recording Artist at Holidae Dont Stop!

 To conclude this, we are all from Johannesburg South Africa as one of our members spread across as far as Cape Town, temporarily. Our member who are not full time are – Leiph Camp (Splaash66) Stock broker, Razaak Benjamin (Glock) Salesman and Marion Reyners (Marion The Great) Facilitator. “Our music is Bold, Iconic and timeless” TheGr8ce. Our crew is based in Jozi (Johannesburg) although we do not have a manager as yet. Our follow up record will sound similar to the “Western Plug tape” that we have recently released, followed by 3 singles. Plug is a genre that derives itself from Hip-Hop and our next single will drop in 2 weeks. The link to our music is on all platforms and the Love and support would be much appreciated. We literally wont stop! –

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African Renaissance

Slavery and the real life bending sinister

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What is slavery? It is nothing more than poverty of the mind. It is not a school of thought or a philosophy. It is scarcity. It is lack. It is cumbersome. It is heavy. It is a burden.

What does it have to do with politics? Ask what it has to do with genocide.

What does it have to do with the power of having a slave mentality? Just as easily as we rise, we fall. A leaf. Ask yourself this. Does the leaf or gravity have the slave mentality or is it just a path to its consciousness, and if it is a meandering path to its consciousness what does that make of gravity? Gravity is easily the culprit or saboteur. A cup carries water but how does the water break through the physical wellness of the body to sate thirst, how does water flow through the universal meridians and find sanctuary in all the wild places that the ocean cannot contain, in code, in which case what observations come out of these natural and bohemian studies.

A slave is a slave is a slave. My grandfather was a slave. My great-grandfather was a slave. On both the paternal and maternal side they are non-existent for me. I live for my father. My father is not a slave. You see his mind is not enslaved. His psyche, his mental, emotional, physical wellness, intellectual prowess and integrity is intact inasmuch as he is not a slave to the peculiarities and eccentricities of the people he finds himself amongst.

In the stages of my own life I can see that I have been enslaved (my mindset and attitude was) by my body image, my identity of cosmic Africa, the cosmos, my self as an African, what I was entitled to, my basic self esteem. I was a slave to my sister, her dalliances, her whiteness, her renouncing Africa for America then Europe and I understood what loneliness, family, friendship and family finally meant and this frightened me a great deal because I realised I had never really loved myself before. I was a slave to every moment up until I heard James Baldwin speak up. I had truly been a slave to waiting for someone to release me and offer me relief somehow from this kind of suffering and cognitive thinking. I wanted happiness but the price for my freedom was this. Somebody else had to love me before I could.

Ask what slavery has cost us as humanity. Look back at history. When I look back at history, all my life I never felt safe. Whether it was the bogeyman, or a horror film, or apartheid, or reading about apartheid, acknowledging it was the difficult part. How would you even begin that dialogue? What could you partner with those hectic images that left you with an urgency and a sense of betrayal from God? So, I grew up with an unpleasant disdain for middle class families in South Africa. It was easy for me to picture them as racist which they were and still are to a certain degree and yet how could I not be? The thought of slavery and decolonization never left me even as a child as I sought to fight for the betterment of society and to right all the evil wrongs.

Slavery is everything. It is primitive. It is visible if you look hard enough. We haven’t even begun to talk about or discuss in rational terms without venting or becoming agitated or irrational about race relations in South Africa or slavery as a concept or narrative in Africa.

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African Renaissance

On watching David Mamet in an African context

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His boots made a squelching sound. In the whorl of her ear a squelching noise on the welcome home mat. The man was quick. The girl was slow. The woman was slow to speak. She was slow to communicate what she was thinking and feeling. The secret part of the actor was valid. Her fear, anxiety and chemistry becoming like the flapping wings of a Bach woman. After the interview came the hurricane. Late morning the man realizes his mistake. The woman remembers her parents’ relationship from childhood. The man remembers how the young woman looked the day he married her. He remembers their courtship and the day they got married. How he squinted at her through the sunlight that fell upon her hair that day at the beach. He had gone fishing. Caught nothing.

He had left her alone to read a magazine on the beach. The town was near decay. It was a tourist destination for the mega rich.  She will think one day (the girl inside of her) that she married the wrong one.  The apparitions come at night. The snow in winter. David Mamet is a mega rich American writer and Republican intellectual. He has made it. Millions won’t. Millions idolize him. Thousands want to be him. They want to live his life for him. They admire him for living so well. There is driftwood on the beach. The chips of wood are like a magnet almost as if they are chipping away something of life at the root heart of humanity. There is always a story to be told from life, from everything. Everyone has a story to tell. The girl sighs with a thousand other girls. Her soul is bitter. She has lost something. She feels she has lost everything because the guy has up and left her stranded with the baby. What is she thinking, what is she feeling? David Mamet is a well-known playwright. In a shining circle the bleak ones live in this world feeling nothing. Existing on the fringes of this life world. They wait in unison for the hereafter. I realize my mistake now. The young girl fell for the wrong guy. The twig sucks me in. The man walks in beauty. Wild geese are calling with a purpose. Music in Africa has its own language.

We are conditioned to think that nothing lasts forever in politics. The only thing that really lasts is a story. It has prophecy and legacy combined. Which one lasts longer? What of our playwrights and our songwriters? It is a summer evening. People are dancing in the street. The smell of barbecue is smoky. She looks at her face as she passes a shop window that is brightly lit up and doesn’t recognize her own face. The wretched and forlorn look upon her face. The young girl smells of bloom ad smoke. She thought she would give it up for Lent. David Mamet is a world-famous director and writer who understands the nature of art and truth when it comes to telling and writing original stories. He started his own theatre company. He married an actress. Conquerors know of miracles. The house has a room that has been standing empty for years. The naming of parts comes with having a range of intelligence, scrutiny, wearing a sorrowful mask, understanding suffering. The woman has a slender body. The actress has a stunning face. The woman has a confession. There is a sharp intake of breath as the man’s fist comes crashing down on the table. You cut your finger with a kitchen knife. Remember, the day you cut your finger with the kitchen knife. Or was it really your fingernail?

The director goes back and forth, back and forth cutting between the tension and the dialogue of the actors. He walks them through their paces. The actors take a well-deserved break. They talk and interact with each other. They smoke and laugh. The girl throughs her head back and sounds silly when she tries to put everyone else at ease when she is not with her own performance. There is some insecurity there. Some self-doubt. They run lines. The gravity of the thing comes into view. We all struggle. Don’t we all, someone in the group says. There are confessions. Then there are more confessions with a trimmed and a manicured nail. I am getting old. I can feel it in my bones. The flesh of my flesh was very tender that day I cut my finger with the kitchen knife. I sliced it like a pear. Prizes make you happy and sad. Here is the ballad of a growing intimacy, a camaraderie amongst the actors in this theatre company. They mill around. No one wants to end the flow of the conversation. They want to work. They don’t want to go home yet. It means sitting at home alone for some. It means a lonely night. The beauty of the dahlias is complicated. Will there be real flowers or plastic fruit on opening night on the table? My sister doesn’t phone to talk to me.

When she does telephone, she speaks to my mother. I wish I was more real than having this kind of a fake personality.  The actress is deciding whether to paint her toenails a fire engine red to stay in character. Pain helps you to grow. If you forsake pain, you also forsake growth. All of us should conquer something in life. Let us go into the wild that is calling. My life has always been on this path.

On the edge of uncertainty. My soul is gone to tell you the truth. It has lost a bit of its own mystery.

When I speak of David Mamet, I think that in the context of Africa that there is the worker Mamet in all of us. Whether it comes to the tradition of oral storytelling or not, the linear arrangement of the goal of the storyline or in the sheltered pose of the actor reading their lines from a script. The past slips out of its calling. Its shell of water. It passes away into nothingness. That means absolutely nothing and everything to me.

I feel it coming. I feel it coming on. Turning me around. This lonely night. Beyond the trees I feel the thaw.

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