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African Renaissance

The genius of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell

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Old friend, loving sister, this is goodbye. I’m journeying once again into the wilderness, but this time without you. I promise you that I won’t think of you every step of the way as I did before. I promise you that there’ll be no declarations of love this time around. You’re so obsessed with the lens, with the camera. You’re in love with everybody, that’s your kind of education, your kind of hardworking-philosophy. You’re bird with song. You say that you love her, so love her like family, your mother. One word from you, one false alarm, changed everything about our past. Old friend, so, this is goodbye. This time next year you’ll be married, and I’ll never hear from you again. I pray that you’ll have poetry in your life, stories, narratives, concepts, reminders of concepts, life in perspective, in context, sipping on Saint America’s supernatural provision. And words take on a life of their own. Let your wife shop for clothes, and when she’s pregnant let her shop for maternity-wear, your hands will drift across the waterfall of her dark hair. The path you have to go is ecstasy, touch her restless soul, and then let her touch yours, wonder boy, genius boy. You’re Zambia, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast.

You, Clive Bell, only win when you hear her talk in her sleep. There’s a shore she has to reach to get to you, whenever you close your eyes. Your sea is beautiful this time of year, the origin of your universe, baby galaxies are at rest, space is expanding back into time closer, closer. It contracts to a certain point, and returns to time, energy and matter. The flesh is just the absolute beginning of your life, your love’s tragedy, illustrations of science. Sister, I wish for a parade of family life for you. You will be most thorough when it comes to your love. I was all wrong for you from the start, could never make you happy, my emotional damages would have become your emotional damages, at night I sleep with Alba at my side, and you sleep like the gospel, the spiritual racing through all of your nocturnal molecules holding the knock, search and obey through faith and action, my old love. Your children will be your prize. Faith is risk not yet seen, a standing conviction of things not seen. I was saved through your grace, the mask that you use, the taste of red, red wine. You did not choose me after all. I have Robert Lowell, Paris, and all this madness war.

The end of August. Life is beautiful (the writing life). Aren’t glaciers even beautiful, the rush of winter in the trees, birdsong in the clear of day and the clarity of the sensibility of all of them. But writing, the book stuff is something else. It is mixed with the salt of the earth, blue, sharp and intensely felt light. It grounds you and smells like dust up in the air, books that have to be launched, poets-in-the- making. July and August have passed into that ancient otherworldliness called ether and newspapers and research, writing, and study. I don’t answer the voices sometimes. I ignore the hallucinations. It’s all a part of life, my life. Sister, nothing compares to you since you took your love away. Not the pale sea, not Sussex.

And the only things that I seem to have on my mind is that I don’t have enough time in the world during the day to write, to perfect the craft of writing, the art of it. So, wish-fulfillment has been on my mind, that and everything else that is happening to ‘the people of the south’, the people in South Africa, the vulnerable. Everything is fleeting, including your youth. At the heart of t all we’re all poets. But most of all I’m frightened of the wild, of the wilderness disappearing. I am mourning the loss of our mountains, and rivers. What are your answers on how to sell a book and save the world at the same time? And I’m frightened all the time. Frightened of being an invisible person, an invisible woman for all of my life, or am I forgetting myself again. Fear and anxiety rise up in my masculine throat. The voices say that I am mad, that I will never get a man, and he will never trust my judgement.

The loneliness wells up inside of me. I think of the reality of my dreams, and nightmares. The men that I telephone, who accepted my friendship when I was in my early twenties, who do not return, who have stopped returning my calls. Sister, shy away from me. The voices worship, and adore me. They do, they do, they do. They’re fierce creatures when it comes to the burden, and care of loving me, heavenly when they play my love songs on repeat. Video did really kill the radio star. Fear is what I hold dear. Anxiety is what I cherish. I am volcano lover versus oil on my hands. I am devilish. I am exquisite. I am poet. I am lake. Sometimes I go where the mood takes me. Sometimes I am numb with cold, the freezing to death because of the air in my room, salt, and light, and energy on the forsaken summer breeze, and I think of my arms, and legs as I do branches.

I need you, Vanessa. I smell like a forest of trees. Ancient and cool, like driftwood spat out of the cold sea. The men I once loved are decades older, and I still long to be in their arms, to be in their bed. I search the internet for online literary journals in Scandinavia, because the voices tell me that I am something of a poet. I have sorrows on my mind, the colour blue, fish fingers on my plate heavy with apricot chutney, chapped lips, a greasy egg breakfast. Vertigo goes to my head. In modern life and times,I watch Joel Osteen on the television. Afterwards the television evangelist Joseph Prince. They give me the good news that I want to hear. And yes, yes, I mustn’t waste my pain. All I want you to do is to remember me. I don’t want a lover, I just need a friend, like I need sobriety, like I need a man in my life. Women don’t want to be my friend. They rather treat me unkind. Laugh at me behind my back. I will always remember you, you, and you. How you said I was behaving, like I had been misbehaving, not taking my medication.

How you spoke to me as if was unwell. That I needed to be treated for the depression again, or something, or something else this time around. I won’t forget your words, or your fiancé with her hair like black silk touching her waist. Like our dead mother. Like our dead mother. I have stopped loving you. I am not in love with you anymore. I would be a fool. I would be the insecure coward. You win traitor. You’ve got the girl now. You’ve got that woman on your arm. You made a fool out of me. Never replied to my flirting. Perhaps I was lovesick, traitor. You’re yesterday, traitor. You’re suffering. Traitor. You are kismet, milk-fed, champagne snorting through your nose at the parties, and social gatherings that you go to with that girl on your arm. I give you my blessing. Clive Bell, marry my sister. Grasp her in your arms as flowers. As if you will never let her go. Modern sister, you let me go, go.I really wish you would smoke. Light up that joint, fall asleep with marijuana in your bone season, but you won’t. You won’t think of snorting cocaine up your nose. You’ll drink sherry, but half-heartedly, just to join in with the rest of your in-crowd. You’re still as popular as you ever were in high school. All the girls, no matter what their age, they all fall for you. They are all in love with you. I feel split right down the middle, because of you traitor, part of me calls you vulnerable, part of me remembers the intimacy of our conversations. I long for a bowl of black olives. They are salty and they’re all sanctioned for me.

My blues.I long to spit the stone out, like you spat me out, traitor, as if I was the criminal in this narrative. I’ll write a book about you one day, see if I don’t. I swear on my father’s wheelchair, I swear on his life, I will, I will, I will. I won’t call you sweetheart. I won’t call you friend. Vanessa, you took your love away. I forgive you darling sister. I need you Vanessa, but you don’t need me. Torn between Clive and your fragile sister’s desperation. It has been so lonely without you here. Lonely tears fall. I am caught by the ways of the loneliness of the river.

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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