Losing pieces of your identity already in childhood.
At the end of every pilgrimage in my childhood, there was a line that was always a painful experience for me in my consciousness growing up and with time its intensity and disillusionment increases. It has taught me that only knowingness and completeness can begin with the path of self-awareness. And now that partnership, reconciliation and compassion in this still divided society on this continent that we live in forces us to grow together and see each other in a more real and accurate light. It is a way of seeing people in communities who live in poverty, the clarity of struggle, the monotony of routine and who are starved of art, poetry, and literature. It is a way of finding themselves poised in an exhilaratingly tender world, but they only hear the lonely sounds of weeping and it has become like a machine.
Its mystique strengthens our soul.
All children are pretty.
We can choose to see the landscape we live in as a desert or a paradise but what do the most vulnerable citizens of this planet see it as? We cannot solve the escalating problems of today without imagining and visualising the end results of solutions. Even writing comes with its own mythological totem pole and so we must create new images of our life and background through our stories, the wealth of our collective life experiences. There are still feelings of fear and vulnerability that continually tests us, the philosophy of man, the anatomy of melancholia, our multiple identities, contemporary man and it is a powerful dynamic for any writer and poet to live in today.
Life mirrors art and art imitates life in comic, dramatic and alluring ways. What is humanity? It is the frail human bones of the human condition, it is you and I and it is all our stories. The page is only a dead landscape until you fill it up with words and language creating a center of interest. At heart are we still war children?
I lift the immaculate transfer of the mental ropes and the chains (it’s an improvement). It is a only a song of despair from my childhood experience that took me to dark places and saw me cross the lines of society, the borders of rivers of light that traversed the palimpsest of the red columns of my heart. This transfer felt like a magical thing. I went from standing at the edge, to freedom (with all the parts of the machine, a mantle, and all the futile parts of fairytales, making imprints of circles in the sky above a storm, raging insomnia). Something changes when we grow older. People feel alone in different ways as they lay down in darkness, slide into a pose repeatedly; listen to me, pay attention.
Will I leave you guessing at the intensity behind my words? Will you embrace me when I fall, my art, this potent vessel and a poet in her gilded cage, journeying onwards into oblivion? I gesture to the moon and stars and back again, like a memory pinned down in a stream. A mother’s poised flesh, a neck, words that are flying like bats remind me of how quickly love turns to hate. Pale in alluring portraits of smoke and mirrors and the heart grows bitter and cold like a lake, which is when depression and madness collapses in on itself and all hell tends to break loose. The house is falling, falling down around me, like the melody that comes from fingers on a guitar or a flame that has a negative quality to it, more disconnected and fragile.
Dazzling is the shock of trauma when you’re in the middle of it.
Don’t put it together for my sake. I melted where my skin touched the skin of water. Under I was more human, bolder yet still lost and cheated. My heart felt like snow, I could sense arteries turning white. What was once a red catalyst bleeding in hushed tones is now Braille, wet and bittersweet, reminding me that there were still guns at every rising of the sun. Don’t put it together for my sake. Whether I wanted them to be there or not, whether I wanted to wake up or not.
It is only my reflection that is dead in the water.
Don’t put it together for my sake.
Writers are mostly voyagers with clean perceptions, clarity of vision when faced with the parallel world, elements of the darkest parts of humanity. Good morning, midnight. We hold each other up with the rites of public scrutiny; tell ourselves criticism will be the death of us (what does that mean to the most inexperienced). I want to drown. I want that experience. The experience of being compelled to sacrifice that loveliness of the haunting game of connecting truths to the politician who is at the core of you. No half-life lived for me. Give me a manual for being fragile, so I can disable and correct all the information effortlessly on these cold lines. Let me journal them.
Read everything Africa and you will triumph because since childhood you have been an apt pupil pouring your knowledge into a distillate, standing at the edge. If it was bleak, left you with the gift of elation at and memory of the ghost of potatoes and meat on your plate.
If you feel darkness in moments of being, if you feel the loss of your ego, it diminishing and that the only possession you will leave this world with is your physical body, then this is a journey you must remain loyal to its cumulative progress. When I don’t eat, when I don’t sleep there’s an intelligence that is frozen solid, given substance in the madness. There’s a reason for everything under the sun.
Emancipation always leads to conversation even if it is on the other side of the world.
The question I ask myself most often these days is, what are other writers thinking, examining here, what do their soul’s look like, what is the most poetic/emotive thing to come from their background and what is the most sacred thing to them and about the information they are giving me through their literary world? We’re sitting on millions of years of creation here; art, earth, sky, diamonds, rage, literature, vision, feminism, summer, writers, writers, writers writing. There’s a writer born every second. Most of all we need each other. Good morning, midnight, hour of blue. I find in that still life quiet the writer’s soul longs for, the silence that is like a terrible scar before it marks itself as refuge, it manages itself as an intense feeling of joy, a hunting ritual, a spiritual rite, an extraordinary state of calm in that identity of all identities that is created without borders, joints where there is always a motivating space for beautiful learning.
I often wonder at the family and background, the self-assessment of African writers and think to myself that the voices, male and female will fuse in a sacred contract and their storytelling that will emerge, will emerge (with a word that has become second-nature to me) as a collective. We will prosper, cross that universal threshold together, changing, seizing the spinning web of history, becoming penning confessors of the intimate, commune with the virgin birth of interpretation with the anonymous, the creative myth, gift and the creative impulse falling into whole infinity. Should we be calling ourselves just plain and simple writers? Which is the most authentic?
Why should we label ourselves? A home of writers is a profound community, like mind will often meet like mind. A community of writers is a home wherever you find yourself in the world.
Our self-possessed generation writing for the most part out of defiance is making the cause the statement, the platform ‘the waves’.
If our muse is wrapped in stone, then so has been deception, identity theory, social and political commentary for, if our soul is the ghost of our spirit then what we have learnt must either be shielded or go underground. That’s the undisclosed beauty of and the brutal violence in mortal thinking that we are always in supply of. This journey is an ancient one, savage and lonely. The pattern of the pensive mechanism attached to the clarity of light is bold in the vision of literary creation and pen-and-watercolour imagination as it is to the dark side. The underpinning alchemy the experimental constructs in the absence of margins and destruction is giving us the clue to the exit, an entreaty to immortality.
Youth has taught me the key to sacrifice. Of where writers of colour will build empires of gold where no one can touch us. I write because I am instructed to and because it is the sum parts of my pilgrimage.
It is a song of despair from childhood experience, a hiding place, where I feel alone in different ways, where I speak with my hands, a distillate in a wasteland of rumours of darkness and hard laughter. If I am not writing, then I am not living, my mind is not free, a clown not realising his goal beautifully. It is merely a view of life through a lens where I sometimes feel at the mercy of the inhabitants, a stranger in their strange world, ill from living the image of urban burnout. The road of recovery is hard, toughs you out from inside-out.
Beneath us, the surface is us writers’ always making examinations, hunting the unicorn, the flight, the thread, the accident of the kaleidoscope drowning in us and the life of kismet, dream of velocity, sweetness in the belly. So we become the sun, the stars that shine perfectly and limitless, the footprint, the intact channel, the feathered plumes of love. We become more humane with the aid of the sight of our two eyes, the nervous, sometimes lunatic vision in our mind’s eye. What is the situation? We are the situation. What is the conflict? We are the conflict and both are internal, both have terrifying explanations, both burn and as we follow that light as it bounces off phenomena, we store it or abandon it. We’re Masai-dreaming-philosophical-mode, signs of vertigo showing through, turning people into objects but this is what writers do – we anticipate, we prepare for it, the missing link, the alibi, and the last of the human freedoms, to choose your attitude between history and reliving it.
The life of a female writer is not liberating until she forgoes contact with identity and ego, until it comes down to battle lines drawn between boundary and voice. Until she gives the whole of herself to further study, education, research and her life, her being and soul is governed by that. Until that is a picture of what home means to her. I do not speak for this generation, the scholar, the wife and the mother who is also a writer. People have their own truth and language is still a strange tongue for me. Truth is as if we plant ourselves in a river and so we become enmeshed by it to the point where we cannot tell where we meet it and where we, our live, warm human body ends.
To me, I fear voyeurs, walking around with my life history inside their heads and then there’s me, ever so willing to give it up at a moment’s notice without any hesitation at all. What is wrong with me?
What finally defeated me, all of that anger bottled up, fizzing inside of me? Was it the holocaust in childhood that exploded in my face like the freezing cold in winter, while I played in the dirt, played at ‘being mother’ or was it the war veteran inside of me’s damage, rage and brutality, the poet’s inside-out abnormal sensitivity, the black dog of depression, that coveted prize of recovery, pushing by like a pulse, that followed spells of mental illness that came in youth.
On the wings of a poet writing about a prayer for hope: Nothing about youth diminishes, about dying and culture. It is still a shock to the system when it arrives on the scenario, the scene of the volume of sky meeting a child caught in the drift of time. A storm is raging inside my head, deep inside I am a still life, a figure’s reflection glittering. The dead does not speak of trivia. They no longer can bask in the orange disc of the sun with their infinitely perfect bodies, perfect smiles. They have left us to invest in a shroud. Couriered shrouds are as foreign to the inhabitant as the splitting of the atom, population dynamics and the restoration of a refugee’s spirit on childhood dirt.
The female writer speaks in code. Women speak in colour, in structured wavelengths of them, crossing over from thought to speech with poetry written on their walls of their silence, of their honeyed wonderings, their glimpses into the expanding illuminations of flame. If only we did not realise too late that we’re stained from childhood.
Slavery and the real life bending sinister
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.
On watching David Mamet in an African context
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.
Covid-19 and recovering from the first wave of the pandemic
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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