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African Renaissance

The Pioneer Doris Lessing, The Unaccustomed Earth of Rhodesia

Abigail George

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Women novelists or rather women who write know about pain as subject matter.

Pain. Nobody knows about pain or the memory of pain or that temporary desire of pain in unhappiness the way that I do. Nobody knows about heartache the way that I do. The passage of the adaptation of constellations beyond the selective branches of trees and the daylight yonder, the grace found in all the dimensions of the frozen wilderness and the decay in and of the earth, the dance of the wildflowers, a child’s scraped knee. I ask myself does the female novelist want a human connection or an emotional one. I think to myself of Doris Lessing’s goodness, that her shortcomings were nobody’s business but her own. That she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, like my mother, like my sister, like my Swaziland cousins with the straight and elegant texture of their hair and fair porcelain skin.

They made cooking and cleaning, settling down and having babies look effortless.

Made me feel like a failure for not doing the same and then I discovered Lessing and looked into the most intimate moments of her life. Realised that although I was always heartbroken at never having children, I was still hopeful because I was a gorgeous storyteller and a recorder of tales of both woe and redemption. I looked at, gathered all the significant hallmarks of Lessing’s life, her skilled expertise, her displacement and migration, her detailed awakening, her humanity. and found all my principled valleys, my thoughtful and pensive mountains, my reasons for becoming a novelist. I have to prove I too can impact the world, talk and write about the vulnerability and intimacy of women’s lives. I wanted to be tough. You see, you have to be to interpret the symphony of pain and the peaks and troughs and crescendo of loss. Lessing taught me about the fragility of existence and fading away into non-existence as you get older, and I gravitated towards the unshowy habits of tradition, towards devastating sentimentality, to intricate prose.

Every story became matters about and towards a kind of questioning intellectual treatise, an educative philosophy. The more I started to write, the more I turned away from the genetic pool of arrogance, fear, limited thinking, having a limited vision of the world, and the writing became the supreme. The impact I was having as creator and creating, this novel and perpetual progress towards awareness of ego, of self and reckoning became my responsibility. I looked at Lessing as a scientist, as astronomer. I remembered the imprint of my deepest wounds and began to write about every wounded feeling I have ever had in my life with authority and power, in much the same way Doris Lessing had. She wrote with bold authenticity and confidence, greatness and with a paramount awe and belief in herself. In writing the novel, the female writer must be self-aware and always find herself reconciling her command of language, mastery at her technique and sensing that her foundations are both chariot and messenger. In writing, that most difficult of pursuits for a woman, you have to be bold and cheerful and brave. You have to accept routine.

In my isolation, I have to answer the narrative and writing the novel becomes my support group. It becomes my secret to becoming mentally strong and staying fit. For me pain has always birthed creativity. It has always been the proof of the refrain of disorder in my life. It has been my motivator, my major influence, my calming antidote.

Lessing always makes me think of the beauty of language. That it is communication, human connection on the emotional and spiritual levels that makes us who we are. I thought of Lessing as pioneer, myself as anti-feminist. She made me think of African feminism and privilege and community feminism. I think of Lessing’s personal intentions with her first book on a surface level. The instruction and correction of her philosophy. How she inspired the realms of the wider society. why art mattered so much to her. She was an intellectual enthusiast when it came to gender equality and relations. She was an enthusiastic writer.

As a novelist all my imperfections become a psychological discourse.

The putting together of humanity into conceptualisation.

I have known like Lessing what it means to be emotionally devastated.

Becoming a novelist has become something of a possible fundamental truth to me, a certainty. The silence and existence I found in Doris Lessing, I find in myself now. A portal to another dimension, resonance in all of its glory and like the wildflowers and birdsong in this pandemic, I have substance too and have found salvation and redemptive love in writing.

The novel is the most sacred thing that there is to me. It is the sleeping wolf, the temple, even the days when I am a fragile and obsessive mess. It is writing that keeps me from going under, that keeps me most alive. The mother I had always wanted to be, became my own mother and she taught me to live my truth. That it is only our emotional connections that make us happy in the end. The female novelist is the pioneer. Whether she is feminist or anti-feminist.

The novel is the many things that I love about theory, the fact that philosophy is always present in my reality. Awareness, intuition and communication. Men have taught me. They have taught me well. It is the male writer that has taught me to be daring and inspiring and insightful with his genius perspective. In my physical reality it has always been man, the male writer that has been genius, but the female writer, the female novelist is the class salt of the earth.

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

Diary of a filmmaker, the fox and the curtain

Abigail George

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I woke up with my hands full of leaves. Marakana and Lonmin are all over the news. My brother the wolf guy, the lone wolf, Wolf didn’t know how to sing and how to hold down a melody between his ears. But he did like music.

Every kind and when he laughed, he howled. I could hear his laughter as if the veil was lifting from his belly. He was the first person who ever taught me about issues of trust and loyalty, vulnerability and morality and giving up the ghosts. The boy in him was the purest part of my memory of him. The geometry of loneliness was built into him long before I ever reached any kind of love story, any kind of instruction on that world that dominates. Between my parents there was denial, shame, truth, separation between both of their depressions. My father’s mood was manic and my mother mood was pensive. So, they would alternate. So, we all lived with broody illness. She would be sulky, moody, shout and disagreeable and mostly ignore us and forget that we have to eat hearty meals of meat and potatoes rich and thick with gravy, that the meat would have to be taken out of the freezer to defrost. She would shout at my father. How he could do nothing right. Was he having an affair? Why wasn’t he a family man? Paying more attention (to her). So, we lived like this, the three of us, my brother, my sister and myself for all of our young lives never daring to question it, thinking that this was the way everybody lived. Sometimes they would go out.

They would behave like a couple. They would go to the movies and be like girlfriend and boyfriend. I would wonder if they would share their popcorn and hold hands. My father would write at night working on his thesis. My mother would watch television. They would be in separate rooms but you could still cut the tension in the house with a knife. My sister and I would do what my mother did throughout her life. Watch love stories and read them. We had a library. Access to books in a way other children did not have. The paperbacks my father bought in London. The romance novels mummy read. In all of this happy-mess my brother came into the world, into the exciting times of two people who had decided that because they loved each other they would get married and start a family just because they could. The lives of four people, individuals who learned the controversial mechanism of not giving in to the unstable because it would mean you were weak and vulnerable. Fathers are supposed to be charming. Mothers are supposed to be poised. Houses are supposed to be filled with joy every day of the year not just Easter, Christmas or birthdays. Mummy was stylish even when she was wearing her glasses.

Even when she crashed and burned on the sofa chair while my sister and I played on the floor with our dolls, re-enacting the same territory, the same drama our parents had come from. Drama filled with a man having enough rope to hang himself, war stories, and a father who had another family. Children who did not have his surname though. Then there was the drama of alcoholism, clinics for stress, burnout and depression in faraway cities and a clinic and a notorious hospital that was close by. Just a twenty-minute ride away to visit over the years, the childhood years, and the years that counted the most. People stopped coming to visit and I stopped having friends come over because mummy needed to rest. At least that was what I told myself. One day she yelled and screamed, cursed, pulled the sheets off the bed as if she was a mad woman. And then I began to look for her in the books I read. I called her Mrs. Rochester when I read Jane Eyre. I watched, observed and learned. Her imprint marked me like my father’s old books and divided us forever. Sadness seeped into my home, my bones, the stars and fat moon, everything, everything. The sun burned and left a scar on my forehead.

I couldn’t see it when I looked in the mirror but when I put my palm against my head, I could feel it. Anger, now that was something else. It was a sharp and bright force. It came with the momentum that any negative energy came from. Hot and cold, Iceland and Hawaii and it hit me literally between the eyes. It was potent, made itself seem significant and important, as if it had any kind of real substance and staying power. But it would also vanish just as soon as it had appeared. So, I am not afraid of Virginia Woolf and of speaking of the data of her sorrow, her memory, behind the scenes of the wasteland of her childhood. Sometimes things go wrong but not today. Sometimes holding onto the videotape, that stream of consciousness thinking of the position of a dream of a man turning into dust is enough. This is my diary. A diary caught on videotape, life through a lens as I see it. I think that is when and how and why I decided to go to film school. I had all these images that I had collected over the years and stored up in reserves in my heart. Finally, I decided one day that writing about them was not enough. I needed more time to compulsively declare them to the world to be the truth about what happened to all three of us.

It had become an obsession. These thoughts, my goals, all the psychological heresy and games that is in my mind’s eye held down in text while serotonin and dopamine is whizzing around in my head (that I furiously wanted to fix, hold down, stick to). There is nothing neurological about preeminent death. It will come whether we want it, and will it to or not. The bluish sky was filled once upon a time with laughter, with your laughter. Your glee had never been so magnificent. All we wanted to do was live. In childhood we were tigers, mannequins, clowns, climbing trees like monkeys, aping them before an organic depression cloaked us, dealt us stealthily with blows, neglect. I abandoned you, Wolf. I know that now. We were perfect once and loveable, adorable, wacky before we put up barriers to our inner vision and dreams. Projects to build empires reside in us still. And then the darkness came, that monster, those monsters of shame and prejudice. No friend of yours or mine but it was activated all the same. In parking lots in Johannesburg, I dreamt of change and freedom and love as I felt hands reaching out towards my thundering heart. I never felt the electricity of passion passing through me like a beam of lightning.

I never saw trees in Johannesburg. All I saw was a city and smoke. And men and I saw them everywhere I went. I saw them sitting in cars, in peak traffic, smoking, in restaurants, with wives and children pulling on them, reading newspapers, in a glorious office space and most of all I saw them walking past me, leaving me behind. All these strangers inspiring me towards greatness like you have done for most of your life. I have to make everything up to you. It came from your childhood. Life is an event that we are always waiting for.

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African Renaissance

Alcoholism: Cloud Briefly Visible For A Moment Above Zelda Fitzgerald’s Head

Abigail George

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I think of total exhaustion and being. How it takes me from winter to summer. Then I think of you and the space, the gap you in-habit for me.

The thing is I don’t distrust you, or pain. I think of you unburdened.

I think of you but you’re light years away from me now. Once I called you home. Once you called me sanctuary. Your hands were like a hat full of leaves, a porcelain teacup full of blue sky. Now all I know is betrayal, ghost protocol, the estrangement of the heart, the page, the frozen sea. I am the surgeon. You are the vibes in my fingers at the operating table. You are the phases of a Saturday morning, the leveling out of daylight. There’s nothing common about you. About your system of arrows, your symphony of sorrows. You’re light, I’m a bird found with an olive branch in it’s mouth. The notes found here in this world’s paradise are tentative. I’m thinking of you again. Now what is so wrong about that. You were romance, and I was homelessness. Now all that I know of love is extinct for me.

Zelda is waiting for the light. We’re all waiting on the museum. She’s waiting for the light. I’m waiting for the light. The world is full of stories for us to sup on. Even you must have one. The text sparkles.

It stretches out into the widening silence. Zelda is fathoming. The old girl has hit her head. She is bleeding from the wound. Her heart over the years has been faithful. Zelda is young and smart and no-nonsense. The priest must come over the vastness of desert and city jungle. The priest must come to pray for me. Zelda is not holy like the tubers and fossils found underground are. I’m left to clutch at the bird in my hand.

Zelda is eating sunflower seeds and honey. The old girl pours milk into her tea. I’m falling in love with Tarzan. Me Jane. Let’s give thanks. Let’s celebrate the galaxies. New and old.

I fear photographs and the cold sea’s philosophy. Now we all grow like wildflowers. Anywhere that we please. Like the seed of a mustard tree.

There’s nothing as beautiful as the newspaper man eating fresh plums.

The woods, mushrooms, potatoes. The vibrations of foliage. Daylight.

Glory. A tender swarm. The triumph of an athlete. The redemption of a sinner. Spring found in the desert. A Saturday morning. Leaf! Oh, sacred leaf! Universal winter. Cat. The action of rope found in blood.

The shadow of a woman found in the venerable wild. There’s nothing as beautiful as deep-blue love. The echo of a bird. An icy wind that freezes everything green but the gap of time. A page in a book. Golden people. Fire. Bright places. Novel places. Iron faces. The out-lines of a lonely season and hills. There’s nothing as beautiful as the woman in the photograph. The bride of high summer days. The confession of a sinner. The perfumed juice of a pear. Bird. Field.

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African Renaissance

The Renal Unit: Paper Towns Of A Borderless Woman

Abigail George

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The hospital is a lovesick climate. The blessing of an emerald day.

Kite-flying. The fabric of a stream. The hidden wings of a child. The swell of a rosebud’s mute-bloom.

Thread of an owl through the air. The lengthened passage north.

Sinking-gathering-maturing cells of sunburnt flesh and bone. The Mediterranean-blue sky. The tarnished transaction of vital star meeting black hole. No, there’s nothing as beautiful. I come to life in my sister’s Cape Town flat. It is raining men and women and when the radiant sun comes out it rains golden. I think of people that only say things to be polite or diplomatic. I think of how before I do things now, I have to wait for the tiredness to lift. I think of my flesh and blood. And how everything around me is fragile and connected to God. Sometime I think of the hospital room I found myself in when I was barely 20-years old at Tara, then at Golden City Clinic, then at Hunterscraig Private Clinic. That was before the renal unit at the hospital where I was born. Now, I eat for three and four and five. I have to find my own way to be cheerful, and it feels like the day after Christmas in my hands.

The sun was unusually strong today. The waves seemed as angry as I was, and fury was like ice warmed up. He has a bear of a man for a step-father. I think of his sticky fingers on the counter-top. I think of the shape of autumn near my fingertips. The weather changing. Is it more climate than God? Whenever I wear a dress I think of Paris. I think of wearing Parisian-made dresses. I think of the love of my life and his daughter now. Of how he never saved me. I think of eating and drinking. I think of grief. I think of loss. I think of emptiness, futility, loneliness and silence. All harmless like vessels. I think of the country where I live. How heavenly it is. How metaphysical.

There’s a chill in the air as I eat alone in my room, and I think to myself that I am oceans away from the sun. I wonder if he told his wife what I said. That I was afraid of him. Making love to him. I was young. I was afraid. I thought of never going back. Never going home to the dysfunctionality I was brought up in. A sister, a daughter.

Siblings fighting. Competition and rivalry. I think of the desert. It offers freedom. I think of how vulnerable I felt in the hospital. I think of my sorrows. My so-called nuclear family. My poverty. My weaknesses. I think of freely-given bread. I am always looking for people to read my poetry and tell me what it is they think of it or rather me. As if it will add to my happiness. To my future. As if it will fix me or love me or mark me in letters ‘Return to sender’. I think of my house on fire. Pale fire. Milk in my hands washing away all my sins but it is never ever quite enough. I am never ever quite enough. I am not loved. I am unloved. I dream of digital copies of my books. The world is cold and made of gnarled oak, exoduses, and indigo children. People who are dumped on the ash heap of life. And for all of my life I have been one of them. No winter-husband. No autumn-children to rain on me. No blue river. There is no one to bring me flowers or to cook me a champagne breakfast.

Only the souls of bad men and good men.

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