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African Renaissance

The Romantic Dream Of Reading Jhumpa Lahiri During Struggle And Depression In Lockdown

Abigail George

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photo: Wikimedia Commons

Jhumpa Lahiri is an impossible beauty. I started reading her again during lockdown remembering The Namesake and The Lowland.

I take pictures of female writers like photographs. Their backgrounds and cultures, their families and children. At which universities they studied at. What literary prizes they have won. If they are female, I am drawn to what they have achieved, accomplished.

What I haven’t. The great male writers, nothing can compare to their huge intellect, the moth-subtle appearance of their language, the shape, the identity, the psychological challenge of reading and understanding them. I never compare male writers to female writers.

What would be the point of that. Genius versus genius. Anti-feminist versus feminist. Feminist versus feminist. There is a brief lull in the proceedings today in my life. It takes an eternity to write the short story.

It is an original and genuine art in itself. Elsewhere there’s a storm but it is periodic. Some women grow old gracefully.

Some women live dying a succession of deaths on the basis of intellectualism and the fourth wave of the feminist treatise. Some women are alone.

Some women, those who inherited these pearls of wisdom from mothers and grandmothers, are surrounded by spouse, children and grandchildren. Lahiri has taught me well. The calling of a short story writer is as an early winter. I am a woman in love.

It is a quickening of a montage of enlightenment, and sometimes as anti-feminists or feminists, as pioneers or short story writers we pay for the rest of our lives for something we didn’t do. That didn’t mean that much to us in the first place.

I want to make a difference, a perpetual impact envisioning heaven in all of its glory. I have known the pain of rejection, the loneliness of association with other interlopers.

So to write is to be inspired and to inspire a revolution from within, positioning a turning point in others.

That all of life, the fulfilment bound in life is divine in nature, that life itself is precious, being, feeling, fully aware.

I think of the white teeth of speech, prayer and songs. Roots taking shape like the kiss of life. Beginnings come with scrutiny, knee-deep in oral tradition and custom, the old dooryard.

In my books, as in Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories where there is a lack of knowledge, people are destroyed. There is higher learning with absolute arrogance, supreme arrogance. Characters are sheltered by their ignorance from the shark tank of the world.

So, I begin with the story, call it The Psychology Of Rebecca.

Everything is jade or a blue screen. The stars and the alignment of the planets are regal. I stride forward, celebrate the past, her past, my past and create my future. So, I write about limited flaws.

My own, other women’s materialism. No more hiding in the wild for me.

Survival can be redemptive. Seeking closure to the bloody battles of the heart with goodwill and progress and beguiling faith. Tomorrow becomes like raining snow. It blooms in shade. Trials of fire.

I write about leaving the past behind, the man’s hand in the small of the woman’s back, inequalities, the hunger and misery of non-spirituality and intimidation, immense neediness and human suffering. I mean to tell you about legend. The legend of a woman.

The woman of resistance, the revolutionary, the creator and created of infinite wisdom. I think of wisdom, the collective and tortured loneliness of a woman. I write about submission and obedience.

A child and a man will and can never understand that loneliness. In the stories there is the letting go of an unhappy childhood and I wonder if this is what it is like for every female writer.

Her resurrected day, her walk into nightfall, words, negativities, self-doubt and insecurities.

What turns her towards hardship and despair, courage when she is under fire, a woman who waltzes with silence, with a kind of phantom grace, but loneliness and the art and symbol of therapy is on my mind all the time.

So, to the short story I have this to say. You voyage into eternity, into the fellowship of the wild with exceptional purpose, with all of your might and power of the abundance of your wildflowers. We will survive as we have always survived. Out to sea there are glaciers, on the mountains there is snow, and my energies are at current level.

There is flock, blue sky consuming gigantic ceiling, there will be rain, but we will venture outside again in the same way as the high wind, dawn in the fullness of the hour. You are providence. You are extraordinary. You are early risers. You are foot traffic. You are folded away lions and tigers in the archives, and although we are all tourists now, we are exceptional. Our purpose is exceptional, and for those that live in memory, you are time, and the ones you left behind, we are time too. We all exist in the same way philosophy exists. In terms of functionality, potentiality, invincibility. In terms of sufficient knowledge, in our state of awareness and mind. In the maintenance of our ordinary yet extraordinary routine let this keep us mindful of our environment, our world, our psychological framework to be in the stillness a symbol of hope, our anthem of hope for everyone around us at the turning point in time. To health and to our liberty.

To humanity. Centuries touch me as I sigh into the wind and speak to the glory of God.

The world is changing, narratives are changing, there is the letting go and spelling the end of things. As a writer I walk in obedience even when insecure and vulnerable, alone, lonely, helpless and powerful, powerless and defenceless. I tell myself to be spontaneous.

To be bullish.

The weeks go by, my struggle and depression increases during lockdown.

I would rather hurt, than feel nothing. Nothing at all. Then the months hurry. The stories do as they please mostly. Still I am here.

Still nothing happens. Otherwise I am well. Surviving under the circumstances. Coping with the mechanisms of self and ego. In the short story I am me, then someone else, then just not me at all.

I have to follow the long sound of it for a moment, up and down, with my ear alone, before any words come through it.

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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