The life I have lived is more the climate of Hollywood than the establishment of New York. More Zelda Fitzgerald than Rebecca Miller. People are always furiously watching me, observing me, and I hate that. I absolutely do. I feel like they have no right to do that to me anyway, but they do. It is merely an aspect of the illness, symptomatic of the mood. Everybody is just waiting for my father to die. They named a building after him here in this port town. All these men have ever done for me, all these short-lived love affairs, these complicated relationships, always complicated because I was the factor, they all killed the poet inside of me. In return, years and years and years later, they become muse in my head, interpreter in the room where I write, or, read, or, or sleep, or watch Netflix. I wish I was as beautiful as my sister. I wish that instead of my psyche being the ballet Swan Lake, I was traveling the world somewhat like her. Teaching English as a foreign language. I wish, I truly wish that I was happy, but I am not. Everything in life is temporary. The arts and literature to me are not. I dream of falling in love when the loneliness and the torment and the high and the anger that comes upon me. But when I write, I write vicariously through the greats. The great female poets. Women I consider my contemporaries. The writing is vivacious and lavish like a room in Gertrude Stein’s Paris apartment. There are days when I feel completely still and calm. There are days when I feel as if I am buried and gone. I hate my body. It disgusts me. There are days that I eat. There are days that I do not eat. I survive on toast and black coffee. I wish it weren’t so, but that is the way it goes.
Eat, and be a slave to eating, or, don’t eat and don’t love myself. I have a poor self-concept. My identity is to fly under the radar, and not be in the spotlight. I don’t really have close friends. Don’t have intimates, or, confidantes. Anything, I would give anything to numb this pain inside, Petya. Bang, bang. The bullets are in the gun. Gone, gone then this clinical depression instead of feeling like taking a pill, or, a pharmaceutical. The autonomy of life spreading out before me as a leaf. I numb myself with tranquilisers and sleeping pills. Sleep does not come. When it does, it is usually four or five hours of completely natural sleep. A response to the environment I that live in now. Before, I was fine. Before being hospitalised again. Now I am dead inside. Completely numb. Before I was happy and outspoken. Now I am filled with dread when speaking to people. What to speak of, what to do, what to make conversation about, I don’t know anymore. I don’t want anything out of life. I don’t want anything out of life anymore. It has spat me out. I am chicken shit. Take me to the afterlife. Take me to the moon, the other solitary planets, the sun, the stars. Let me feel. Let me feel adventurous. I was like that before being locked up in a high care facility. Didn’t need to be there. So, now at home I make noodles all the time and sauce, and tell myself to be happy, rather than unhappy. The bullets in the gun go bang, bang, bang and the door on life is shut to me forever. I am the key to trepidation. I am the underworld. I am an embryo. I am a greenhouse. And everything, everything has a womb. They want me dead.
They want me dead. They don’t want me alive anymore. Get me gone. Get me out of here. I want to be dead. I want to be buried. I want to be gone. Kill, kill, kill. Kill me, kill me, kill me. That is all that they do. And then I think of the bullets in the gun. To take me out of this life for good. Macbeth sees a ghost. Lady Macbeth has psychosis. Sees the blood on her hands. When will they see my blood on their hands, when I take my own life? Is that what it all comes down to, that I am the daughter of this gun. I am the birthday girl that no one sings happy birthday to, that no one buys presents for. That no one visits. But I am not lonely because of this. I kiss someone and inside it makes me feel more dead than alive, and no one, no one can understand this. I am a poor woman clothed in mist. I have nothing to give you except drowsy hardship, and the wintertime of despair. I try to write a little from the folds of my belly, the sun of my laughter, the trick of the light, but everything that comes out of me, spills out of me, pours out of me is death. Today I hate myself and tomorrow I shall surely love myself again, and be full of breath, and Goliath shall strike me, and I will life again. The periodic table will fit into my pocket and I will be 14 years of age again. Inside I feel 14 years of age. I’m unhappy. I’m unhappy. I’m unhappy. Strange for a burnt-out adult woman to feel like a child. The stress of life has marked me this time for good. I want to leave, leave, leave. Get out of this town. But wherever I go I will be the drowning visitor. I have eaten the sun, the cold ripe figs in the refrigerator at the speed of light. There is a wedding in my head.
Drumming away like a suckled thing, lingering there like a yellow harvest, or, a season’s gurgle. But there is no groom. She waits for him, this vision, like I wait for him. To save me. To save me. But there is no mercurial saving. And there is no Saviour. My skin is hot. This sadness will not vanish. I sprawl on my bed in the hopes of perfecting this line in this novel I am writing, this letter I am writing to you on your island, but I feel just about as focused as a monkey. The relaxed business of the afternoon is spilling over my head. It feels as if I am drowning again. I am a heard child crying in the dark of nightfall. I am taking on the world one word at a time, dispelling intricate stigma and discrimination. I am a seawards boat following an island on the horizon on a film set. I dreamed of that once. I don’t anymore. There are days when it feels so completely, and utterly natural to me to think of that world. A steak and potatoes will be good eating now. The rain has stopped like the bleating of a lamb yielding to death after being caught by the wired hooks of a fence. There will be stretchmarks that will not fade. There will be cellulite that looks like orange peel. There will be fad diets and no exercise. Everybody knows me in this town. The mad girl with a disability. Her highs and her lows. There are days when I feel more woman than girl. More girl than woman. I am lost. I am stolen. I am forgotten. My struggle with depression steals me away until I am truly lost and forgotten. Evening comes and falls all around me. I eat a congealed egg and a slice of burnt toast. Think of when I was a child and I was molested. I am pollen.
I am pollen found on Kathmandu, the symbol of a grave rabbit. There is this feeling that I have to alter something. Perhaps my adult life. There will always be the capacity for pain. How to deal with trauma. How not to always play the role of victim. I have to heal myself for all the lost boys, for daddy, for mum but there are days that I don’t care anymore if I live, or if I lay dying in the foetal position on my bed, or on my bedroom floor. All I ever wanted to do, to be, was to love, and to be loved in return. Didn’t work out that way. There are fireworks inside my brain. I am the woman who buried her affairs so deep like a voice. I was a big girl. Now I am a thin girl again. The dangling wildflowers are in a panic. Father is kind, but he can be unkind. Like locking me up in a hospital so that I am out of the picture. Nobody brings me clean clothes to wear, or, sanitary napkins. Nobody picks up the telephone and makes that call. And everything is a mildewed statement about a wolf, or, that there is a nobility in the fear that an artist can be lonely too. I am insanely grateful for ever having lived at all. If you only knew half of my anxieties, my difficulties. I am truly, truly insanely grateful for ever having lived at all, Bulgarian poetess Petya Dubarova with the sad eyes. The sad world that I live in has kept me safe for as long as it possibly could. It can’t anymore. It can’t possibly anymore. I was kept safe. Keep me safe from the liberties of the drowning sea, is all the ghost of me asks. I wish I was dead. I wish I lay at the bottom of the ocean with a gun in my mouth. The light has gone out of my eyes. The faith, and will, and strength has left my physical body.
I am no poet. I was a failure at everything. I am spoiling your life, mother. You have been patient with me all this time. I seem to have fallen out of select society with abandon to cover the invention of the of silence. I am disciple, while my sister is follower. I am feminist, while my sister is educationalist. You kissed me on the lips. You kissed me on the cheek. You kissed me on the beach. The sea kissed me on the lips. The sea kissing me on the cheek. The sea kissed me on the beach. The glaciers need elbow room to grow, to grow, to grow. I use the things which actually happen, but not in a bad way. I thought it was my fault the day that my sister told me that she never wanted to get married. Thought that it was because I had a mental illness. But my alter ego discovered that there is freedom in artistic expression. Everybody gets hurt sometimes. I want it all. Just to have it all again. The singing rivers of it all, the zen mood of the owl and the broken link, to be existentialist in the frog hospital. To be the starling in the gap again, not to be this broken darling, but to be transformed by good. Then there’s this avalanche of sin. In me. In me. Like a photo workshop, even the trying decline of the citizenship (belonging to the working and lower middle classes) of stigma and the super-rise of discrimination amongst the mentally ill has myths and attitudes. It has become kind of like an occupational hazard to know and understand this ‘captive-apartheid’ (separate but equal mentality, this psyche) of what it is like to be mentally ill, to be hospitalised, institutionalised on a long-term basis.
Then there is the conflict in the home that needs to be considered that leads to isolation, withdrawal from the community and broader society of the ‘victim’. In anger and agony, there will be violence and assault against the mentally ill that is never spoken about. There will never be an apology. The arrogant and thoughtless perpetrators from all quarters would think that with time memories of the past injustices and brutality will fade. That the mentally ill sufferer would forget the pain of the mental cruelty of the emotional abuser. Well, I will never forget the emotional pain, the mental cruelty, the embarrassment and humiliation at the hands of family members. I think of when God called Isaiah to be a prophet, the sign of Immanuel, the evil that men can do, and I know that aspects of my life have been useless, but I have seen everything. That there is enough injustice in the world at the end of the day, but that is the philosopher’s experience, the teacher’s experience, the parent’s jurisdiction. We all know that although mental illness is permanent, you can learn coping skills, how to cope, how to survive in this world. You can find a return to normality. You can find your reality again. Sometimes my thoughts go back to something someone insensitively said, or, the supportive role, the intervention, the difference that a person made in my life. I discover then I am grateful. That although mental illness is the broken link in my life, it has given so much to me. I wouldn’t be a writer. I wouldn’t be a poet. I wouldn’t be a daughter, or, a sister, or an aunt. Pushing up the hill, I found God. In finding God, I found purpose. Meaning in activities.
The ghost in the shadows’ kind of true happiness. I became a kind of voyager. I found the exit out from the renal unit into a voyage into eternity.
Slavery and the real life bending sinister
What is slavery? It is nothing more than poverty of the mind. It is not a school of thought or a philosophy. It is scarcity. It is lack. It is cumbersome. It is heavy. It is a burden.
What does it have to do with politics? Ask what it has to do with genocide.
What does it have to do with the power of having a slave mentality? Just as easily as we rise, we fall. A leaf. Ask yourself this. Does the leaf or gravity have the slave mentality or is it just a path to its consciousness, and if it is a meandering path to its consciousness what does that make of gravity? Gravity is easily the culprit or saboteur. A cup carries water but how does the water break through the physical wellness of the body to sate thirst, how does water flow through the universal meridians and find sanctuary in all the wild places that the ocean cannot contain, in code, in which case what observations come out of these natural and bohemian studies.
A slave is a slave is a slave. My grandfather was a slave. My great-grandfather was a slave. On both the paternal and maternal side they are non-existent for me. I live for my father. My father is not a slave. You see his mind is not enslaved. His psyche, his mental, emotional, physical wellness, intellectual prowess and integrity is intact inasmuch as he is not a slave to the peculiarities and eccentricities of the people he finds himself amongst.
In the stages of my own life I can see that I have been enslaved (my mindset and attitude was) by my body image, my identity of cosmic Africa, the cosmos, my self as an African, what I was entitled to, my basic self esteem. I was a slave to my sister, her dalliances, her whiteness, her renouncing Africa for America then Europe and I understood what loneliness, family, friendship and family finally meant and this frightened me a great deal because I realised I had never really loved myself before. I was a slave to every moment up until I heard James Baldwin speak up. I had truly been a slave to waiting for someone to release me and offer me relief somehow from this kind of suffering and cognitive thinking. I wanted happiness but the price for my freedom was this. Somebody else had to love me before I could.
Ask what slavery has cost us as humanity. Look back at history. When I look back at history, all my life I never felt safe. Whether it was the bogeyman, or a horror film, or apartheid, or reading about apartheid, acknowledging it was the difficult part. How would you even begin that dialogue? What could you partner with those hectic images that left you with an urgency and a sense of betrayal from God? So, I grew up with an unpleasant disdain for middle class families in South Africa. It was easy for me to picture them as racist which they were and still are to a certain degree and yet how could I not be? The thought of slavery and decolonization never left me even as a child as I sought to fight for the betterment of society and to right all the evil wrongs.
Slavery is everything. It is primitive. It is visible if you look hard enough. We haven’t even begun to talk about or discuss in rational terms without venting or becoming agitated or irrational about race relations in South Africa or slavery as a concept or narrative in Africa.
On watching David Mamet in an African context
His boots made a squelching sound. In the whorl of her ear a squelching noise on the welcome home mat. The man was quick. The girl was slow. The woman was slow to speak. She was slow to communicate what she was thinking and feeling. The secret part of the actor was valid. Her fear, anxiety and chemistry becoming like the flapping wings of a Bach woman. After the interview came the hurricane. Late morning the man realizes his mistake. The woman remembers her parents’ relationship from childhood. The man remembers how the young woman looked the day he married her. He remembers their courtship and the day they got married. How he squinted at her through the sunlight that fell upon her hair that day at the beach. He had gone fishing. Caught nothing.
He had left her alone to read a magazine on the beach. The town was near decay. It was a tourist destination for the mega rich. She will think one day (the girl inside of her) that she married the wrong one. The apparitions come at night. The snow in winter. David Mamet is a mega rich American writer and Republican intellectual. He has made it. Millions won’t. Millions idolize him. Thousands want to be him. They want to live his life for him. They admire him for living so well. There is driftwood on the beach. The chips of wood are like a magnet almost as if they are chipping away something of life at the root heart of humanity. There is always a story to be told from life, from everything. Everyone has a story to tell. The girl sighs with a thousand other girls. Her soul is bitter. She has lost something. She feels she has lost everything because the guy has up and left her stranded with the baby. What is she thinking, what is she feeling? David Mamet is a well-known playwright. In a shining circle the bleak ones live in this world feeling nothing. Existing on the fringes of this life world. They wait in unison for the hereafter. I realize my mistake now. The young girl fell for the wrong guy. The twig sucks me in. The man walks in beauty. Wild geese are calling with a purpose. Music in Africa has its own language.
We are conditioned to think that nothing lasts forever in politics. The only thing that really lasts is a story. It has prophecy and legacy combined. Which one lasts longer? What of our playwrights and our songwriters? It is a summer evening. People are dancing in the street. The smell of barbecue is smoky. She looks at her face as she passes a shop window that is brightly lit up and doesn’t recognize her own face. The wretched and forlorn look upon her face. The young girl smells of bloom ad smoke. She thought she would give it up for Lent. David Mamet is a world-famous director and writer who understands the nature of art and truth when it comes to telling and writing original stories. He started his own theatre company. He married an actress. Conquerors know of miracles. The house has a room that has been standing empty for years. The naming of parts comes with having a range of intelligence, scrutiny, wearing a sorrowful mask, understanding suffering. The woman has a slender body. The actress has a stunning face. The woman has a confession. There is a sharp intake of breath as the man’s fist comes crashing down on the table. You cut your finger with a kitchen knife. Remember, the day you cut your finger with the kitchen knife. Or was it really your fingernail?
The director goes back and forth, back and forth cutting between the tension and the dialogue of the actors. He walks them through their paces. The actors take a well-deserved break. They talk and interact with each other. They smoke and laugh. The girl throughs her head back and sounds silly when she tries to put everyone else at ease when she is not with her own performance. There is some insecurity there. Some self-doubt. They run lines. The gravity of the thing comes into view. We all struggle. Don’t we all, someone in the group says. There are confessions. Then there are more confessions with a trimmed and a manicured nail. I am getting old. I can feel it in my bones. The flesh of my flesh was very tender that day I cut my finger with the kitchen knife. I sliced it like a pear. Prizes make you happy and sad. Here is the ballad of a growing intimacy, a camaraderie amongst the actors in this theatre company. They mill around. No one wants to end the flow of the conversation. They want to work. They don’t want to go home yet. It means sitting at home alone for some. It means a lonely night. The beauty of the dahlias is complicated. Will there be real flowers or plastic fruit on opening night on the table? My sister doesn’t phone to talk to me.
When she does telephone, she speaks to my mother. I wish I was more real than having this kind of a fake personality. The actress is deciding whether to paint her toenails a fire engine red to stay in character. Pain helps you to grow. If you forsake pain, you also forsake growth. All of us should conquer something in life. Let us go into the wild that is calling. My life has always been on this path.
On the edge of uncertainty. My soul is gone to tell you the truth. It has lost a bit of its own mystery.
When I speak of David Mamet, I think that in the context of Africa that there is the worker Mamet in all of us. Whether it comes to the tradition of oral storytelling or not, the linear arrangement of the goal of the storyline or in the sheltered pose of the actor reading their lines from a script. The past slips out of its calling. Its shell of water. It passes away into nothingness. That means absolutely nothing and everything to me.
I feel it coming. I feel it coming on. Turning me around. This lonely night. Beyond the trees I feel the thaw.
Covid-19 and recovering from the first wave of the pandemic
I always wanted to be an African writer living and working in Paris. Eating onion soup and fresh bread rolls at a café for lunch but mostly I am a woman reading, translating work through editing, writing and working in the macrocosm of the narrative that is modern day Africa. I am a woman who feels compelled to tell stories. It is a fundamental part of my day and one of the basics of my life. I want to be honest, but it hasn’t brought me happiness all the way. I go outside and loneliness meets me there. It is too authentic for its own good. It smells like spirit and behaves like wild horses. I admit that I am like water. I am tired of braving hospital life after braving hospital life again. Swimming against the tide of the kindness of strangers. Those nurses and caregivers. Covid-19 there, there, there everywhere and then manifesting inside of me.
What to do with illness? The aberrations of mental illness and physical illness. What to speak of it and to whom? I drink coffee. Too much coffee. Underneath all that coffee is a field. A field of illness. Health is wealth. But I have realized this much too late. The pills glow at night and during the day I take them with gulps of water. My mind palace is awaiting harvest. Too divine. Every day is a day of hope and recovery and renewal. There was a man in the picture, but he is gone now. I thought a man was going to save me. But he didn’t. Now he sits in a house, occupied with thought and calling. All I have ownership of is purpose. It is capable of many beauties. Many things. Once I was in love. Now I find territories to conquer and one of them happens to be life itself. I am a warrior with intent. I am happy, content and satisfied to be a puppet again engineered by the ways of a materialistic society. A puppet named outsider. I don’t pay attention to my mother as often as I should have. I chide myself. I should have been more on her side, placated her more, laughed more with her then I wouldn’t have been rejected by her I tell myself. Now that I am older, I don’t know what truth is anymore. Most of the time life perplexes me. In all my life Rilke has been in my hands like summer. I dance towards battle.
There is certain kind of darkness visible in my nerves. I have known and lived alongside suffering emphasized by psychological insight. It has been majestic in the way that only inconsolable sorrow can be. I am too primitive for this world. I have known love but not enough of it to marry and be happy. My brother says there are married people who feel deeply unloved and who are unhappy. There began to be patterns in my life that marked me, and the world seemed to reject the sunlight inside of me, inside the ancestral worship, Christian psychiatrist of my head. On returning home I began to step out in faith. I watched Joyce Meyer. I wanted to be worthy. Even comets have the air of having a complex about them. Time has a refrain. It is leaving me and with its return come all the stars of the universe. I wanted to know more, do more, I wanted to know what my inheritance was. I remembered myself as a bone thin girl in my twenties wanting to be ambitious but already jaded of the people around me, in their spiritually diminishing crowds. Their mystery attracted me. Their personalities seemed to reject the introvert that I was. I always viewed it as a rejection of me. Rejection of self I suppose.
My mother’s destructive self-sabotaging behavior milking my father’s manic-depressive personality. My own dark struggle with mental illness defined who I was for much of my adult life. My middle sister made her escape to Europe, my paternal family into the church, establishing the bonds of close-knit nuclear family, religion and my maternal family into wealth and privilege. The quiet honey of money. Rich and thick. I found a spiritual habitat in writing poetry, cognitive behavioral therapy and stream of consciousness writing was unleashed. I found there that life shimmers in both joy and solace. I found the edge of the impossible in reasoning, balancing and prayer. We tend to find the human being in the minority, the lesser being in the outsider and locate glory in the majority. In the pages of my diary I find the destruction of the earth there, moral being. For as long as the man was in my life, he was wondrous, and I felt tethered and I discovered that the empirical nature of childhood functions as the creative’s unweaving. When I wrote I felt bird flight in my veins, bird flight in Provincial Hospital, bird flight in my brainwaves, in the cavernous vibrations of my body and something was manifested.
It felt as if I was manifesting the exposed. The spiritual embodiment of the plains of the journeys we mature in confidence in, the districts of human nature, the rooftops of the birds and while society paints the iris, we contemplate the beauty in the world. On the wings of the unpeeled, the astonishing, the extraordinary the capable scientists flutter in the medical fraternity, on the cusp of innovation in pharma. I am left to glitter. Like an octopus I wade into the supreme self-correcting depths. There was an otherworldly renewal to my limbs when I recovered from the first wave of Covid-19 and life felt supernatural to me. Everything was faster, faster, faster and I began to live in a magical reality. Millions live life like this. On this precarious edge of the device of breathing with this kind of survival mechanism built into them. When you descend into illness you also descend into a kind of sustained despair that never leaves. That seems to float like the leaves, that has the hardy vertebrae of branches, the activity found in furious churning of the gulping mouth of a shaking fish. I never contemplated my own death in the hospital.
I never contemplated that life would go on, that I would recover, that I would write again. The day was filled with silence and longing in the ward filled with young women. Psychotic. Aggressive were words that were used. I had my period when I was admitted to the hospital. The depression I had when I got out of the hospital had the body length of an elephant. It curled up inside of me like a snake connected to my bones in the fetal position. My mother had a kind of tender fragility leaning towards sainthood when I came home. My father was sad. My brother did not pick up the phone when the hospital telephoned him to come and fetch me. I had been discharged. My mother told me he had feared the worst. I had to stay an extra day in the hospital. My mother explained they were not ready for me to come home yet. What did that mean, I wondered? I still don’t know how I made it through that passage of time, fought my way through. All I know is I still need to heal. I still need to heal and that takes practice and getting used to, engaging, involving yourself in the pursuit of daily activities, not words.
Things are returning to normal. My brother wants to get away to Canada now. Even the holy is visible here in my childhood home. Incarnated here if it is possible to use a word like that. It feels as if some days there is an anointing on everything that I touch. The day is golden and bright with promise. You don’t come all the way back from the experience of near death. I want you to remember that.
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