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African Renaissance

Orpheus

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It is the worst feeling in the world when you are rejected by a man, any man, but when it is the love of your life. Well, the only one you would have chosen anyway, above any of them, and there were some, some of the most powerful, highly persuasive, well, it doesn’t matter anyway. Because in the end, he didn’t want me. He was very polite about it though. About telling me to leave him alone. All he had to say was this, that I looked like his daughter. Which meant I was too young, too unsuitable, too crazy, or too mad, whatever word you want to use in place of mental patient. I wanted them to leave me alone, and now they do. I only have myself to blame at the end of the day, or night, or in the early hours of the day.

Men want sex. They want to know it is available to them when you are in a relationship with them. Men want the sex-act. They don’t want to ask you questions. I don’t eat anyway. Restaurant dinners would be wasted on me. I don’t like to eat in public. I don’t like restaurants.

Don’t like to go to them. I don’t believe in all of that. The stuff of relationship-imagination that girlfriends want, and wives want even more. The date night. That’s foreplay for the girl, for the wife. She talks, and talks, and talks, and the man says nothing, what does he really do, what does he really want. He wants the evening to end, so he can make love to his wife, or his girlfriend. I on the other hand because of the medication cannot climax. I cannot reach orgasm.

I am a complete waste of time. What does a wife do best? Nag. Whine.

But she’s fertile. She gives him the sons, and the daughters that he wants. He worships his children, gives them everything, everything because he can. The men, besides being beautiful, and intellectual, and driven in their careers and all of that, the Orpheus Effect, oh, I said that. I said what I wanted to say. They are beautiful. All I want is the man. But I can’t. I can’t fall pregnant, do you understand.

What would I do with a child, a baby who will need me for the best part of eighteen years? I have no money. A woman alone, living in poverty, oh, I write. I write books for a living, but I don’t make much. It’s enough for me. But not for a family. Do you understand?

There’s no man, you see. Do you understand? There is no man. But there were. Oh, they’re all off now in the world. Leading everything.

Building empires. Leading filmmaker, leading researcher, leading companies, teaching, consulting. I was young. I’m not young anymore.

Maybe one day I’ll get lucky. I’ll get someone to marry me. But I’m a strange and bewildering woman. My books are full of it. If you read them, you will find that out about me. I’m not a woman. I’m an intellectual. Blame my father for that. He was lonely. He wanted someone to talk too. I was his companion. His best friend. His confidante. I don’t know how to be this woman, anyway. Lack of mother.

Lack of her intensity. So, I lack that kind of intensity within me.

You’re the therapist, here. Yes, I understand. I understand that you understand. Yes, it is a lonely life. I don’t have a father to shelter, or protect me anymore. The sky is a blue ribbon, so, so is my heart. What colour is yours? I’m a detective. If I investigate everything, write about everything, hold nothing back, what then the wife in the relationship with her husband. These books I write, oh, they sell. People read them. Men and women read them. My life, I, little me, make people curious. My life makes people curious. Not men.

Men know exactly what I am. The Jack Nicholson of women. Always left, always loved though, but men can’t stand to be around me say, for years. Maybe hours. Everybody wants me. It’s tiresome. Tiring.

The conversations are mentally exhausting. The love, I have enough love for the world of men. Creative men, highly intelligent men. For them, I am everything. I’m progressive thinker, I’m independent, I’m object of affection, and in return they love me. They can’t be with me; they can’t marry me. Marriage is out of the question. They made their choice years before, all these men. All my loves. Everyone can see this. So, I try to stay out of the man’s way. His space. Goodness knows how important a man’s personal space is to him. The wife ensconced in mansion, large house, with child, or, with children. They make it clear to me from the beginning that no mention must be made of the other women in their lives, their wives, their daughters.

Their other children, if the other children are sons. In the men I have chosen to live my days with, long afternoons. The men that I think of, that are there even when I close my eyes, and am utterly, utterly alone, they chose me, so that should be enough happiness for me, isn’t it? The sex act makes me sometimes, just sometimes uncomfortable. But I do, do I do it gladly, that is enough, isn’t it?

It makes the man in my life happy. That is enough for me. I get no pleasure. None whatsoever. Blame I guess the lack of the presence of a mother in my life. I was always gravitating to women, not to fall in love with them, no, no. I always, always preferred men. Blame my father. Blame me for being his confidante for his entire life.

Even near the end, I had to do everything for him. He was in a wheelchair at the end, in the autumn of his years, and I was still doing everything. A grown woman behaving like a child. Never able to settle down and run my own household affairs. I was a grown woman, bored, uneducated running my father’s household. Fixing breakfast for him, giving him his pills, reading to him from the Book of Psalms, after that we’d discuss what was read, he’d pray, I’d pray, then we’d talk and talk and talk. He was educated, an intellectual. Perhaps that is why I’m only attracted to heavily educated, intellectual men.

Childhood is strange. My childhood was strange. No mother, although there she was in the house. Elegant, always elegant.

Hair always done. She never spoke to me. She talked at me. She screamed at me. She shouted at me when she wanted something done. I could not, even when I the insomnia started, the nightmares as a child sleep in her bed. By then, my parents were sleeping in separate beds.

My childhood. You want me now to talk about my childhood. Not now.

Please not now. I don’t have that kind of time. Already I am mentally exhausted thinking about my father, thinking about all the men. They leave me alone now. Maybe it’s because I’m old now. Older. Isn’t it sad? All that time, all that love, all that potential wasted. Or, perhaps not wasted after all. I have written books. Some people even call me an artist. Note to self. Not novelist.

Not writer. They call me artist. Read it. Read them, if you want to. I know you won’t. You’re female. Not male. You have a female sensibility. You’re married. You have a husband, a daughter. I have none. These books you will either find amusing, or absurd. Perhaps you won’t be able to take my freedom. I’m free. You’re not. You’re tethered to community. I have no community on the other hand. If you read just a chapter, even open any of my books randomly, you will discover this for yourself. I don’t want you to hate me. It’s not your job to hate me. It was my mother’s job to hate me. My sister, she despised me all the way to Czechoslovakia. She lives in Prague now. If you read my books, you will know all the secrets of my heart.

All those men, but all that time they didn’t, or, couldn’t understand that I didn’t know how they loved me at all. They didn’t want talk.

They didn’t want communication eye-to-eye. Face-to-face talk. All they wanted, desired, was the sex-act. Even in my early twenties I didn’t know anything about the sex-act. Jean Rhys had called it ‘the sexual transaction’. Sorry, she was a novelist and short story writer.

Dominican. Feminist before her time. Writer, in the vein of the Russian men, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak, you know. Oh, you don’t know them either. Fine, I’ll continue. I had plenty of boyfriends.

Most of them, no, all of them, come to think of it, a good deal older than me. Do they still think of me, that is the question, with their careers and prosperity? Children at university. The only one I do care about, no, let me rather rephrase that.

The only one I love, love deeply, for who he is, and all of that. The kind of love that makes a woman in the end marry. He doesn’t love me anymore. He never loved me. All this time, I thought he did. After winter, must come spring, right? Right. Madly in love with me. Sadly, as it turns out I had believed in a dream all these years. In my youth I struggled. As a child I was hurt, wounded by my own mother. There’s the proof. I have life. I am an artist. I also have no life. To look at me I look as if I’m a married lady, with children. Not even children at university, young children. After all this time, years, and years, and years. My great love is still unmarried. He is still beautiful. He’s still older though, but even more beautiful.

We’re both a great deal older now, and of course I thought, anything can happen. Yes, yes, it was a mistake. But it was my mistake, you see. I take full ownership, and responsibility for that. I thought, well now. We can love each other now. We can fall in love now. But I am here. He is in America. He is in Los Angeles. He is also an artist.

I am an artist. All of these things we have in common. I contacted him. It was my mistake to make, you see. He did not speak to me. He spoke to me through his secretary. There was no love. Never. I could see that now, as I saw it when I was in my younger years. My early twenties. Or there was, and he was just doing what he always did, which is love, absolute love, unconditional love me, in any place.

He protected me, by not speaking to me. By not questioning me. He just said this. He told his secretary to say this to me. That I looked like his daughter. And all I thought to myself was this, asked myself, really, has so much, or, so little time passed that I still looked like his daughter. All this time I thought that change would eventually come. I thought I would marry. That the seeds would grow.

That I would marry the man I loved with my entire being, and that accepted my psychological framework. All this time it was out of the question. It was out of the question. My love was unacceptable. He had someone else in his life. A daughter, and we would never be together.

I look like her.

Remember, because I remember that cold and hard fact, bitterly sometimes. That he told his secretary these exact words. That I looked like his daughter. Which meant this, the very obvious. That he was always going to be old enough to be my father. I know, I know. Why do I hurt myself in this way? It’s all my fault. It’s always my fault.

They end it, always. They walk away. The men. All of them. When you are a gifted child, you carry that gift with you throughout your life.

Yes, it stays with you. No matter how old you become, you become wiser, also indifferent to the world. In a way, this gift arrests your youth, your development. You understand? No, you don’t. How do I explain it to you, then? You specialized in the field of psychiatry.

You should be explaining this to me. Not the other way around. You smile. So, so, we are friends. All this time I thought to myself that we weren’t. I was too forward-thinking, too artistic. You were mother.

Wife.

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

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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African Renaissance

Covid-19 and recovering from the first wave of the pandemic

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coronavirus people

I always wanted to be an African writer living and working in Paris. Eating onion soup and fresh bread rolls at a café for lunch but mostly I am a woman reading, translating work through editing, writing and working in the macrocosm of the narrative that is modern day Africa. I am a woman who feels compelled to tell stories. It is a fundamental part of my day and one of the basics of my life. I want to be honest, but it hasn’t brought me happiness all the way. I go outside and loneliness meets me there. It is too authentic for its own good. It smells like spirit and behaves like wild horses. I admit that I am like water. I am tired of braving hospital life after braving hospital life again. Swimming against the tide of the kindness of strangers. Those nurses and caregivers. Covid-19 there, there, there everywhere and then manifesting inside of me.

What to do with illness? The aberrations of mental illness and physical illness. What to speak of it and to whom? I drink coffee. Too much coffee. Underneath all that coffee is a field. A field of illness. Health is wealth. But I have realized this much too late. The pills glow at night and during the day I take them with gulps of water. My mind palace is awaiting harvest. Too divine. Every day is a day of hope and recovery and renewal. There was a man in the picture, but he is gone now. I thought a man was going to save me. But he didn’t. Now he sits in a house, occupied with thought and calling. All I have ownership of is purpose. It is capable of many beauties. Many things. Once I was in love. Now I find territories to conquer and one of them happens to be life itself. I am a warrior with intent. I am happy, content and satisfied to be a puppet again engineered by the ways of a materialistic society. A puppet named outsider. I don’t pay attention to my mother as often as I should have. I chide myself. I should have been more on her side, placated her more, laughed more with her then I wouldn’t have been rejected by her I tell myself. Now that I am older, I don’t know what truth is anymore. Most of the time life perplexes me. In all my life Rilke has been in my hands like summer. I dance towards battle.

There is certain kind of darkness visible in my nerves. I have known and lived alongside suffering emphasized by psychological insight. It has been majestic in the way that only inconsolable sorrow can be. I am too primitive for this world. I have known love but not enough of it to marry and be happy. My brother says there are married people who feel deeply unloved and who are unhappy. There began to be patterns in my life that marked me, and the world seemed to reject the sunlight inside of me, inside the ancestral worship, Christian psychiatrist of my head. On returning home I began to step out in faith. I watched Joyce Meyer. I wanted to be worthy. Even comets have the air of having a complex about them. Time has a refrain. It is leaving me and with its return come all the stars of the universe. I wanted to know more, do more, I wanted to know what my inheritance was. I remembered myself as a bone thin girl in my twenties wanting to be ambitious but already jaded of the people around me, in their spiritually diminishing crowds. Their mystery attracted me. Their personalities seemed to reject the introvert that I was. I always viewed it as a rejection of me. Rejection of self I suppose.

My mother’s destructive self-sabotaging behavior milking my father’s manic-depressive personality. My own dark struggle with mental illness defined who I was for much of my adult life. My middle sister made her escape to Europe, my paternal family into the church, establishing the bonds of close-knit nuclear family, religion and my maternal family into wealth and privilege. The quiet honey of money. Rich and thick. I found a spiritual habitat in writing poetry, cognitive behavioral therapy and stream of consciousness writing was unleashed. I found there that life shimmers in both joy and solace. I found the edge of the impossible in reasoning, balancing and prayer. We tend to find the human being in the minority, the lesser being in the outsider and locate glory in the majority. In the pages of my diary I find the destruction of the earth there, moral being. For as long as the man was in my life, he was wondrous, and I felt tethered and I discovered that the empirical nature of childhood functions as the creative’s unweaving. When I wrote I felt bird flight in my veins, bird flight in Provincial Hospital, bird flight in my brainwaves, in the cavernous vibrations of my body and something was manifested.

It felt as if I was manifesting the exposed. The spiritual embodiment of the plains of the journeys we mature in confidence in, the districts of human nature, the rooftops of the birds and while society paints the iris, we contemplate the beauty in the world. On the wings of the unpeeled, the astonishing, the extraordinary the capable scientists flutter in the medical fraternity, on the cusp of innovation in pharma. I am left to glitter. Like an octopus I wade into the supreme self-correcting depths. There was an otherworldly renewal to my limbs when I recovered from the first wave of Covid-19 and life felt supernatural to me. Everything was faster, faster, faster and I began to live in a magical reality. Millions live life like this. On this precarious edge of the device of breathing with this kind of survival mechanism built into them. When you descend into illness you also descend into a kind of sustained despair that never leaves. That seems to float like the leaves, that has the hardy vertebrae of branches, the activity found in furious churning of the gulping mouth of a shaking fish. I never contemplated my own death in the hospital.

I never contemplated that life would go on, that I would recover, that I would write again. The day was filled with silence and longing in the ward filled with young women. Psychotic. Aggressive were words that were used. I had my period when I was admitted to the hospital. The depression I had when I got out of the hospital had the body length of an elephant. It curled up inside of me like a snake connected to my bones in the fetal position. My mother had a kind of tender fragility leaning towards sainthood when I came home. My father was sad. My brother did not pick up the phone when the hospital telephoned him to come and fetch me. I had been discharged. My mother told me he had feared the worst. I had to stay an extra day in the hospital. My mother explained they were not ready for me to come home yet. What did that mean, I wondered? I still don’t know how I made it through that passage of time, fought my way through. All I know is I still need to heal. I still need to heal and that takes practice and getting used to, engaging, involving yourself in the pursuit of daily activities, not words.

Things are returning to normal. My brother wants to get away to Canada now. Even the holy is visible here in my childhood home. Incarnated here if it is possible to use a word like that. It feels as if some days there is an anointing on everything that I touch. The day is golden and bright with promise. You don’t come all the way back from the experience of near death. I want you to remember that.

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