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African Renaissance

The science of winter: Bessie Head, feminist daughter of the earth, writer and philosopher

Abigail George

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With her lotus feet. Milk, and rain clouds gathering is a vision in her indelible psyche. She is barefoot sowed to the shoreline in Port Elizabeth. I fell in love with Maru when I was 16-years-of-age. It marked a turning point in my life. She’s a lifetime ago. Never grew to be a Doris Lessing or Nadine Gordimer. 

Her mind flowed and flowed like the rivers of Babylon. Too much vibrations of forest advancing and captive in her brainwaves. There was for me a kind of inward necessity in her writing. She was like a surgeon with ice in her veins reminding me of the strangeness of my latest grief, and her unfathomable anxieties. Which was always dominant in her writing as much as the episodic loneliness of Jean Rhys in her own books and novels. Whenever I pick up Maru, reread it, I am reminded of John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. The narrative is written in a lavish style, dazzling technique, with straightforward characters in the wretched circumstances of dirt on the ground, rubbish like flowers in the streets kind of poverty-stricken alienation where pigs eat. My father is a piano. Head never grew up knowing her father. She is, was, and always will be my Basquiat. For what she could do with words, was art. Her gift to the world was her artistic vision.

She had a child. She married. She had been at one stage a journalist. I am always asked as a poet, why I am not married, and why I don’t have any children. I think of insomnia, the history of addiction, alcoholism, and suicide in my family and how it is majorly interpreted in my work as more than a human and psychological stain. I have lived like a loafer for most of my adult life. These themes over the capsule of time have informed me as a poet. I was homeless, I stayed at the Salvation Army, I lived in a home for abandoned women and children. I see Head as outcast. I see myself as interloper. Head’s personal torment is my own. Burning in the rain, I write. Living in bittersweet squalor, I write. In love, and falling out of love, I write. I stand at the gateway to hell, marked by the aftertime exploding into life like a volcano, and I write. Bessie Head taught me that the spirit is indestructible, even though the intellect might whither away, and the physical body will decay and sooner, or, later address death. Head’s books were always coming of age stories for me written in a language of a woman who knew, and survived, as much as I do, on the comfort of strangers.  Bessie Head made waves in her time. She used every intellectual opportunity she had in her writings to her full capacity. Her economy of words were land to her, her reforms were the sea to her, the development of the concepts of identity in her books were always rooted in the philosophical. On her rather wasted potential, her infitismal struggles, her mental illness it was like she was very much a seed thief, a savage wolf, and the writing was her prize. She was fragile, but I doubt that she lived with regret near the end of her life. I would go as far as to call her Jean Rhys’ South African twin.

For this is the way of the writer, to capture and express the law of waiting for the price of equilibrium, conflict and balancing out that conflict, and the process of breakthrough that comes with knowledge, divine purpose and meaning in writing about those forward-thinking advances. Head’s intellect always burns me. Both of our childhoods will forever be shrouded in secrecy in the literary community and establishment. Head’s writing illustrates the river walls of her mixed-race heritage and identity. Those walls were pretty much unbending and unyielding. My feet as a poet is to find land. To communicate what I think, and that is my philosophical response to the world, and to artists of the African Renaissance. My poet’s hands must find land and the performance of the sea, for a flower also feels the roots of it’s grief, and those wandering connections are universal. The poet is philosopher. The philosopher is poet. It is impossible to think otherwise. The land is bride and the succession of the  sea knows the difficulties of the groom. And like Moses, Head was a woman writing ahead of her time, vulnerable to decay and invisibility in the wilderness, but like a star she rose from one paradigm shift to the next, ultimately connecting with paradise. Head understood most of all the weariness of the soul, the face of human love, and she was a female writing in the climate of a revolution, an African 

Hemingway, Salinger and Fitzgerald. All poets are connected to the universe, and Bessie Head taught me that we are all philosophers. She had a voice like an arrow, the smell of flowers, opera, an artistic and holistic vision that was an achievement in itself. Now others multiply her logic, and her morale, her moral instinct has translated her work into classics. Now, beyond the looking-glass of post-apartheid South Africa poets have become nomads, and female writers warriors because of Head’s legacy as writer, journalist, feminist, thinker, intellectual and philosopher, and mother and wife. Her books are about confession, my writing too is confessional.

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

Symptoms of depression: As told by Dr Ambrose Cato George to Abigail George

Abigail George

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What is depression

Life in South Africa can result in us having good and bad feelings. Sometimes we feel happy and sometimes we feel sad. However, when these sad feelings carry on for longer periods and interfere with the person’s ability to perform his responsibilities at home and at work, then that person could be suffering from a serious illness namely depression.

I have suffered from depression for the majority of my adult life. During this time, I have experienced much pain and suffering from the illness that affected all aspects of my life. There were many times that thoughts of suicide were constantly in my mind.

But I persevered and have lived to tell my story, a story of hope and happiness. Over the years I have learned to cope, by looking out for the signs of depression and getting immediate treatment for it.

The signs are important to all South Africans since we all confronted by stressors such as crime, violence, family abuse, rape, HIV/Aids, unemployment, retrenchment and the like.

I invite you to follow the signs of depression with me, the educator.

Slowing down

It is difficult to become aware that you are slowing down. I take action when I become less active at home and at work. I lost interest in the learners and what they were doing. This had to be a sign to family and co-workers that something was wrong with me.

Lack of interest and motivation

I lost complete interest in what was expected of me as an educator. There was no clarity in my thoughts to the extent that I could not see any good in what I had experienced in the past.

Extreme tiredness

This was one of the most difficult features of my depression to handle. I felt tired on waking in the morning and had no energy to see me through the day. If you are an active individual and you become slowed down by tiredness you need urgent medical attention.

Sleeping problem

As soon as my pattern of sleep is disrupted, I take immediate action. Waking up in the early hours of the morning and taking a long time to fall asleep means trouble of insomnia. See a doctor immediately.

Poor concentration and memory

This factor had a very painful effect on me as an educator. It was very difficult for me to concentrate in order to prepare my lessons. It was ever more difficult to present it to the class.

Disturbance with the appetite

Depression goes hand in hand with one eating too much or too little. With my depression, I lost my appetite to the extent that I stopped eating. The desire and need to eat was completely absent. This situation is very serious as it could lead to other physical ailments and even destroying yourself.

Suicidal thoughts

Frequent thoughts about death and dying and particularly suicidal thoughts need drastic action. When I was thinking about suicide, I contacted members of my support group immediately.

Gloom

My mood and daily vision, which had been bright, can become dark and dismal. Going to bed at night was a frightening experience as I hoped I would never wake up. Action need to be taken immediately.

Reduction in sex drive

It is a serious problem, which must be handled with insight, understanding and maturity.

Worthlessness

When I am very depressed, I am overcome with a feeling of hopelessness and worthlessness. The large classes, the undisciplined pupils, poor motivation and lack of concentration gave me a sense of hopelessness. I felt that there was no way out. I then knew I needed help.

Loss of self-esteem

When I start feeling no good and think that I am a failure, I realise that I am on the road of a bout of depression.

Throughout my years as a depression sufferer, I have been sensitive to the signs, which I have mentioned above.

From a medical point of view, a person can be considered depressed, if they have at least five of the signs mentioned above. Everyone must take swift action when they, a friend or a colleague is affected by depression. You can learn to cope with depression. There is hope.

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African Renaissance

Domestic Violence

Abigail George

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It is too cold to swim but she takes his hand. It is beach weather but it is still too cold to swim. She knows she is being brave at this point; even her rage is poetic as she feels the world, her world and the information in it blackening around her. Everything is becoming more and more intense (she can feel it in a jarring physical sense in her cells), barbarian, savage as she clings to him, her life partner and most of all she also feels mindful of detaching herself in secret from him. She is waiting for him, never questioning or fussing. Waiting for him to join her where she is outstretched on her side, her side of the towel and she is smiling up at him.

‘Here, let me dry your hair for you.’

In the car, he pulled her hair and before she could even blink back the tears, he slapped her hard in the face.

Curls never smelled as sweet like this before. It’s the sun. The sun pressed against her cheek. Her body is brown and tingling all over from the swim and the wind and her tears. He’s an invincible work-in-progress. In the interim she’s left to burn, to explode. The lines are there of her passion, her experiments into family life (cohabitation), intelligence and her value to this the most modern of society’s. Her survival she thinks up to this point has been extraordinary.

‘Hold still. Hold still. There’s sand in your hair.’

‘Pull yourself together right now or else I’m leaving you here.’ She licks her lips and tastes blood. Has it stained her clothes, she wonders? Blood is hard to get out.

Dianne in the kitchen, out the door, walking, in the afternoon quiet laying down in the bedroom with the curtains drawn, frying steak or chops, watching the hiss of chips in the pan for his lunch (instead he comes home with pizza, a weak smile on his face and he runs his hands up her arms, up and down her back until she feels light governing all her movements), watching the daylight until it is gone, listening to the forked tongues of laughter coming from the television. She feels all of it sliding through her as if she was a string on an instrument. It smells like rain so she gets up and stands in the draft, closing her eyes. The door is open. The security gate locked and bolted. Is it to keep her in or the madman out? She believes in him and whose fault is that. Who’s to blame? Has she gone mad?

Is he finally going to kill her? This scene has not lost its touch and the only thing that is going to take the edge off of things is if she starts to scream.

The next day the phone rings. It’s her sister, the one from Port Elizabeth, the younger one, and the outsider of the family. ‘Is he ready to start a family yet?’ is usually what the hot topic of discussion is that not why are you crying? What happened last night? Talk to me? Why do you let him do that to you?’

If she checks in the bathroom mirror, will he notice the turn of her head from the bed? She is drowning, Dianne is drowning but can he see?

The words coming out of her are, from the darkness of her tongue are broken links in a chain. There is no inner space, no room for forgetting the violence. When she is done with the out of town call, she plates two portions of breyani for herself, which the other sister, the eldest out of the four of them, the matriarch made for the entire family. When Dianne has had enough of feeling wretched, she sits on the couch and eats in front of the television before he comes home from work in the evening. He only comes home when it’s dark out. God knows what he gets up to or with whom, she imagines to herself. She has exiled herself from the hive of shouting, the flying fists, when he has her pinned to the floor under his weight, when she has blacked out.

‘Have you gone insane? I’ve had enough. I’m going to leave you.’

‘Have you really had enough, Dianne?’

‘It’s all a fog.’ She told the magistrate. She knew he didn’t believe her but she said it again as if he had misinterpreted her the first time. ‘It’s all a fog.’ The magistrate had seen this kind of case before. ‘I can’t remember. I don’t know the exact date. I did not call anyone. No, I didn’t pick up the phone to call the police or a trustworthy family member whom I could confide in.’ She didn’t add that she couldn’t move because she was in so much pain and her jaw hurt and she thought he might have broken one of her fingers. She didn’t add that he; her boyfriend had sent dishes with the leftovers of their half-eaten supper crashing to the floor. She remembered how dark his eyes turned at the table at the mention of his mother calling earlier that day when he was not at home.

‘What did you say?’

‘I said nothing. I just said that you would call her back as soon as you got home.’

For Dianne, she finds nothing to wound her imagination, that illusion of all illusions without flaws that delights a child and even more so, a woman, a female poet waiting in the wings. So when she says those words, ‘I believe in you’ or ‘I love you’, she says it in part with fear, as if some harm will come to her if she does not say those words with meaning and a giddy, mad dance of happiness, as if she is standing on the brink of a new world that beckons.) Her alienated family remains alienated, everything in her world that she can no longer cope with becomes more or less challenging to face. She begins to fear voyeurs, walking around with her life history inside their heads and then there’s she, ever so willing to give it up at a moment’s notice without any hesitation at all into her work.

‘I didn’t touch you that time. There’s not a mark on you. It’s just shock and panic rushing through you. That’s why you’re trembling. I didn’t mean to scare you like that.’

Hours pass.  ‘What is wrong with me,’ Dianne asked herself with the bedspread under her chin. It’s afternoon and she is still in her robe. ‘What has 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 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 that followed spells of mental illness that came with youth.’ She is tired of being brave, her suffering in silence and inclement rage. There is no heady, formidable sky to reach out to her in her physical pain and offer her solace. She is not perfect.

They are not perfect people. He says, it was just an accident waiting to happen and that she is just a voice with no sensation of armour.

She is the firm catalyst and when he starts swinging wildly at her, he cuts her deep to the very heart of her until she feels she is nothing, not worthy of being spoken up for, just a heap that has bottomed out that once had the potential to be buoyant. Cry baby standing her ground against brutality, a fragile bird caught in the fray of domestic violence, hair unkempt and one emotional cripple tied in chains to another; she finds her own blood enthralling. He wipes the floor with mummified her. She is stained by darkness that flows out of his fighting spirit to the point where her dreams meet reality; she is just a passenger. She only comes to life in silence, when she realises what her situation is.

All she can do is shout out loud. If she quivers at the sound of his voice, he will leave her like that, watching her soul spill into the ether.

What does she need a social worker with a rapidly increasing in-tray of case studies for? It’s not like they’re considering marriage. These skirmishes are just skirmishes, intermittent but she can still blot them out. She drifts in and out of waves of real time, paralysed by periods of resting, imaginatively counting the seconds between the blows before finally falling asleep. She feels as if she belongs to a tribe of moon women. Everything about them delicate (suicidal) and if physical harm should come to them (if they walked into a door for instance) they would go to the moon hospital surrounded by caring nursing staff, head doctors who are experts in their field. He cares. He does. Why would he apologise, buy her expensive gifts?

She can’t go out, not like this and she has told him this but he’s not listening, doesn’t give a damn or he’s not paying attention. ‘Use makeup. Hurry up. We’re going to be late.’

There was still something inside her that wanted him to stay. She was frightened of leaving, what that kind of ultimatum would say to her sisters and brother. She would be set loose on the city as a single again. She was too old for that scene. Through all the uncertainties holding her back and the silent treatments she endured in front of the television, in the bedroom, from the bitterness choking her, that climbed into her, curled up inside of her, head spinning she ran water for a bath adding bath oil under the hot water tap. She watched the water turn a constellation of milky white. She was a kept woman, the proverbial housewife with spiritual and physical tasks demanding her attention with nothing to fill up her time but to look after him and his needs.

Being emotionally dead was a serious condition. She needed to replenish the energy she was at a loss to explain how it got away from her. ‘I can break you.’

She knew that her dependency on him had to be seen as an addiction, ‘Dianne’s’ addiction. She slid into the hot water, a rag doll, her features out of focus in the mirror, far away from her conscious being. She closed her eyes as if to brace herself from a fall. To reach the green fields, the other side of the mountain, you had to climb hills.  All of life is drama and drama is a painful way of learning, Dianne and you are slowly becoming a master at that. Even when he wasn’t there in the house with her, she could hear him breathing down her neck, stalking her as if she was prey, carrion, talking to her as if she blind. It was too late for her to learn how to look after herself. She had to be joined to another soul to feel strangely creative. That was part of her generation’s Iifestyle. 

‘I can’t be held responsible for your behaviour, Dianne. You’re behaving like a child, talking like one, acting like one. Does that make you feel brave, standing up to me?’ 

Tea, a private affair for her, always helped to put everything away, to shut the face of her depression up as far as humanly possible. In a time capsule it had more perspective. She could let go of the song of the wind in her hair and him trailing markers of black lines wherever he went and beneath the highs of that surface laid alarm, still waters and the intertwined remains of a girl. She would leave the bag in a mug, pour boiling water over the teabag and leave it for a few minutes. For her ‘going out, flying away’ face she would stand in the bathroom curling her eyelashes making Hollywood-lashes, applying lipstick, rouge, scent and powder but for now she relaxed and opened the hot water tap again.

So she would continue to feel like a foreigner in their home (it was her home too, after all she was the one who kept the home fires burning), struggle against his fury even if it was futile. She packed away the empty bottles of wine where he would not find them and every evening she would compose herself before he came home. If she conceived, the child would be demanding but her splintered life would come full circle. The spiritual quest that had spread for most of her life in front of her would come to an end, normality would reign. But would that be enough? She remembered the day at the beach, waves crashing over her head, bluish sky, while inside she felt miserable, homeless while the commodity of the sun burned up, leaving her a luminous falling angel.

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African Renaissance

The Filmmaker

Abigail George

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Stay with her and protect your family. But especially protect your daughters, you need that the most. They need that the most. Already you are a memory, a bittersweet memory. You are already far-off. Even if I ask you, my love, love of my life, fire of my loins, will you, won’t you stay here with me forever by my side, but even though I am writing this to you, I am thinking of someone else who has always been the gap, the fixture, the mile that I have been running to the horizon. I love you. I love you. I don’t quite deserve you.

I love you until the end of time. I loved you Dawid. Once. Once, I loved you with every inhale, and every exhale. Yes, you called me. I called you knowing there was a family in the picture. A family in the way of us rekindling anything. I give you back to her. I give you back to Andiswa safe and sound. Dawid, you are love. Dawid, you are loved. You who are worshiped and adored by Andiswa. Your Andie Macdowell. You will marry her in four weddings, and forever be attending my funeral. You have wife and family, children.

Because although the breakthroughs come, through no fault or gift of my own, you are loved by your Andiswa. You are loved by your little daughter. Stay. Stay. Stay in the comfort of her arms. I am not your angel anymore. Who are you loving now? She’s blonde now. Whatever did you imagine. I promise I will never find you. Living only to fulfil your fantasy. Your fantasy of me. I think she’s pregnant. You wanted me to stay. I never wanted to let you go. We all need love. We all need to fall in love. I am in need. I fade.

I needed you. I need you like the Sussex-man. Like the Nottingham-man. You worry me. You worry for me. I worry you all the time. So, I dance, because you are the music. You are the music. Take me into your arms. It is only because of you that I am writing again. I will feel your heartbeat inside of me for the rest of your life. Imagine you making love to your wife. Yourdaughters need you more than me. I’m not the one for goodbyes. You won’t find me. I won’t find you. Ill love you for the rest of my life. I, I think you know.

Sorry. Sorry. Apologies. I don’t mean to be so morbid and depressing. This is not the end of anything, you know. Your life is just beginning again with your beautiful and kind and loyal wife at your side, with your devoted daughters So, be a good husband. Be a good father. I love you. I love you. I love you. I can see the sorrow in your eyes. You saw the sorrow in mine. I wish we could be together again. Staring at each other across from the table at breakfast, lunch and dinner. To see you smile was the most amazing. To, see you.

To see you laugh was the mot amazing. I have the very best parts of you inside my heart. I have waited simply for an eternity again to see you again. As in centuries past, Achilles, Andromedas, we will forever stay connected, have this special inter-connectedness. I relate to you in everything. You relate to me in everything. Sympatico. I needed this sorrow, love. I needed to feel pain again. I needed to feel love again. God speed. I will think of you each day, surrounded by your friends and family, your children. Yours. Hers.

And grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Yes, I have felt it again, the first stirrings of love and passionate lovemaking again in my heart. I am not the one for you. You are not the one for me. But I will keep on telling myself that for the rest of my life. Have this heated debate inside my head. Did I make the right decision? I love you, I always will, you, you, you, gorgeous man.You will be happy again. Think of me always. Hello. Good morning. Goodbye. Love you. Love you. Love you. Burn this, or destroy this. You.You have your own moods. I have my own moods. The word lives outside my dooryard. The world lies outside of me, in your arms. Stay. Stay. Stay. Go. Go. Go. Before I begin to cry. Again, gorgeous man. Again, gorgeous man. Again, gorgeous man. Again, gorgeous man. Again, gorgeous man. Not another word about my father, gorgeous man. Another word about my mother, gorgeous man? No, no, no I don’t think so, gorgeous man. You healed my broken heart. You were there for summer reading, for winter dreaming.

For coffee in the rain for life. And if we could have, my Achilles, my Andromedas, my Hercules, you would have taken my hand, and held it in yours. You would have wiped away the tear running down my cheek, stroked my bottom lip. Breathed life back into me, but I am a vampire. My fangs would have suck ed the very life out of you. What would you would have left if I had taken you awayfrom your wife and family? How could I live with the fact of the emotional separation between mother and daughter? I will love you.

I will. Until the ed of groovy time. I would have obeyed you, taken vows with you, submitted to you again and again and again, oh, gorgeous, gorgeous one. Oh, Achilles. Oh, Andromedas. I would have obeyed your every command. Cooked and cleaned for you barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Mopping the bathroom floor, love, love, love. Where are you now? Forever yours.Beginners in diplomacy are waiting on the world to change, and everybody must have a seat at the table. Love, my great love, will tear us apart. The disabled and veterans who receive a disability grant and can’t work. Leaders of government, your countries in particular are facing a global phenomenon. World leaders, hasten! Psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioural therapy, pastoral counselling, spiritual counselling cannot solve everything. I think of the psychology framework of every individual on the face of this plane.

How we all face insurmountable problems, and challenges, choices and mistakes, the right decision, and Joy Division is now dead to me.Youth excites me. I remember what I was like when I was young. Invincible, always sure of myself, certainties disappeared, and I was particularly drawn to poetry, the Russian writers, Doctor Zhivago in particular, Omar Shariff, Lawrence of Arabia, James Dean, and Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean in East of Eden, directed by Elia Kazan, written by John Steinbeck.  attached to straightening my hair every month, trying, trying, trying to get the kink out of my curl. Trying to micro-handle frizz. I wanted to know my family but they didn’t want to know me. I wanted death not life, but God had other plans for me. My aunt’s voice turned into pearls of wisdom. Daddy dear, it hurts so much. So, I don’t eat to shut out the pain. I become anorexic again. I eat green salad out of the bowl. I want a new, healthier version of me. They all tell me I’m unwell again. Goodbye my lover, goodbye my friend. What exactly did you want from me in the first place? I have nothing for you. My mother doesn’t drink my coffee, or, tea. Not even my coffee is good enough for her. Now he wants nothing to do with me because I am as mad as a hatter. The love of my life, he won’t save me. The nature of the bipolar illness, mood disorders, brain disorders, PTSD when is unstoppable. Think of a multi-approach to bipolar. There’s both humility and hilarity, giving and taking, manna and the burning bush, birdsong and voices, auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, and psychoses and neuroses. I’m in need of self-help and painkillers.

Distance will always lend enchantment to the view. If there is nothing else in your life as survivor, or, family member, or victim, let that give you hope. You can learn to love life again.In some moments you can change your act, your behaviour, in others your attitude.I face the difficult challenge that brings our life to an abrupt halt, the individual’s passage into dismal failure, or profound, breath-taking greatness daily. I wasn’t invited to the wedding, because I wasn’t a friend. Feels just like Christmas, home. Like long distance.

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