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Winter Revisited

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The argument was about nothing really. I really cannot remember who started it first. It was between a girl, barely out of adolescence and her married boyfriend. Perhaps I told him that I did not think that my mother really loved or accepted the choices I made in my life and that I thought he could be supportive of me. Was he really listening? Girls need their mothers more than they need their fathers. Girls need devoted parents. All I could feel was emotional. He was cold and non-committal. I knew my place and he knew his. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs was, ‘Listen to me, please!’ I already knew it would be ignored.

‘We’re not making love anymore?’

‘So what? We can do other things. We are not in the primitive ages anymore. We can talk. You know what I want. I want a married life.’

‘That’s why I have a wife. I can talk to her.’

‘This is not a relationship?’

‘I know this is not a relationship.’

‘All this talk is making me depressed.’

‘Go home. Go home to your family, lady. Go home to your mother and your father.’

‘Why do you want to hurt me?’

‘This is the end of whatever dream you had.’

‘Of course, I can see that. I can see it when you look at me. Please don’t talk to me like this?’

‘You want me to tell you that I need you. I don’t need you. You don’t need me as much as you think you do.’

,‘I’m in pain. Can’t you see that?’

‘Yes, you’re in pain. You are giving me a headache. Go away. Leave me alone and stop calling me. What if my wife picked up? What then? This is not love. When people treat each other this way. This, this is not love.’

‘When you were young did you ever map your life out? Of who you were going to get married to? Your wife? Your life? Your children?’

‘You’ll grow up and then one day you’ll wake up and I’ll be the last thing you remember. The last thing on your mind. You will not have to put me on your itinerary. You won’t have to make as if you cook and clean on my account.’

‘We always fight. I realise that now.’

‘Good. Then leave.’

‘Please?’

‘Go. Just go. In the end you’ll see it is better that way.’

‘Talk to me. Humour me. Tell me a story about a lost, frightened girl who comes to the big city with a myriad of dreams. In the end, none of her dreams comes true. She sleeps with men in hotels. She is hurt. Flesh is flesh. What happens to a lady and a man? Do they meet and always fall in love? What happens then is that nothing good comes from it? The man leaves and she does not have any self-worth.’

‘You don’t deserve this. The way I have treated you. Go out into the world. Make something of yourself. You are young. You are attractive. That is the dream world, the high art of the female outsider. I need to know that you are going to be fine about this.’

‘You need to know that you are fine with the fact that you are ending my world as I know it.’

‘Do you want to smoke?’

‘I don’t smoke. You know that.’

‘You need to relax. So this is the first time then for you.’

‘Men have left me before. This is not the first time. You were not the first. You are going to make me cry. Maybe it is best if you don’t say anything anymore.’

‘Have a cigarette with me anyway.’

‘Cigarettes make me cough. They taste terrible.’

‘You never complained before. Now you are complaining.’

‘Things were different before. By that, I mean I was going to see you again. I was happy that I was going to see you again. I would have done anything in the world for you, you know. I know how to love someone. Someone even like you. Someone powerful and insecure and full doubts and insecurities.’

‘So you have discovered a man’s secret at last. That we are much more vulnerable than a woman.’

‘And no doubt I will keep discovering it over and over again. I really do not mind if you smoke that last cigarette now. Let me just find my shoes and the rest of my clothes. I’ll go now.’

The world is not my home. Everything in this world seems to be a test or temporary. Fading out as the sunset at the end of the day or illuminating human flaws, truths that are eternal for us. We are indulgent creatures. We need trust. We need loyalty. We need kindness. We need family even though children can be selfish brats sometimes and husbands and wives and friends. We flirt. We flit. We make nests and then when they are empty there is a depression that never leaves us and that is why children come home for the holidays. The unseen is eternal. Ghost stories. Christmas. Fish. I have left childhood behind. They were gifts of great spiritual maturity.

The psychiatrist teaches me how to let go, surrender if you will but how does a person let go of the only world (childhood) that she (I) have ever known. All is gold. We speak about the feelings of being emotionally bankrupt. Unable to deal with the voices in unison in society that are blocking mine out. She says I also have to be heard. People have to listen to me too. Gone are the passages of contentment in books. I have no time to waste on something that I feel does not exist for me or for those who live in spiritual poverty. I have to learn how to love, how to marry but my parents were not good examples of this. I have to own this space, she says.

I am a dreamer. I am a dreamer who has goals, as I am sure Virginia Woolf had goals with the relationships she had, with her writing, with her diaries and letters, with her marriage. Perhaps I desire the same things she did. In her lifetime. In her world. Who made up the rules anyway? I had a bad past and then I think of Alice in her terrifying trippy wonderland. Woolf knew of gender betrayal, constructing sympathy for her characters in her novels. Her hair as fine as Whitman’s blades of grass. Woolf’s words come in waves. They cut me deep. Their serious depth, desolate isolation, rejection and suicidal despair is there for the world to see, to read.

As an adolescent, Woolf was already an intellectual. As an adolescent, I was already an intellectual. There was no psychoanalyst for her violent madness. Her outbursts. Sometimes I think I cannot walk down that road again. It is not a sunny road. It is not the road to Oz. There is a landmark exhilaration when dawn comes as if to say light beckons now, awake! With the light comes the awareness of a new day, vitality and energy for the nerves in your brain cells. Night comes with the same minutia. It is only now that the sun has faded away. The moon and the tapestry of stars is out.

Lovers embrace in dark bedrooms across the world but I am in mourning because I cannot be with that one man who changed my world, who changed my world with one caress. A precarious touch and instantly there was a change in my suffering and my head, my biology was wired differently. The lonely cannot exist. Spiritually they die. The identity is decaying as they speak, walk, and think, constructing sentences, a string of verbal and non-verbal communication. So what if I am a virgin again. Virgins thinks of sensuality and sexuality just as much as other people do but differently.

Sensuality becomes noble. Sexuality becomes an electric waiting game. Why are there all these games in this life, in this world? Sexuality is not something that is alien to the virgin. She reads about it. Sometimes when she reads about it, she will think of her infertility, her breasts, her shoulders, the nape of her neck. The physical parts of her body that are the most sensitive to touch. Sometimes when she reads about it, she will blush. The weather is comic. First, there is sun, and then it is as if rain clouds are gathering and then the sun comes out again. I think of the dark room. I think of the lovers and how I will never be a part of that world again.

It hurts too much to think, to breathe over what I have lost. What is a man? What is an older man? Grey hair at his temples. Wisdom beyond his years. Influence within his reach. Power. Powerful. Kings of their empires. Trophy wives at their sides or their best friends. Children. Children. Children. The children I will never have. What is love? Instead, I have research, my writing, and those are things that I am passionate about. I am a feminist but I am also a daughter who still a child. Wanting attention. Wanting approval. Wanting gifts. I need a change of suffering. World did you hear me? I need a change of suffering.

It is time women begin to listen to each other. It is time we all called each other feminists. It is a new word for me. Feminist. What does it mean? It has its own beauty. It has its own identity. The tragedy of the relationship that faltered is that it was both romantic and playful as it neared its end. The mood was spiritual and pensive. He was the land and I was the sea. My hands and feet were made of clay. Easily melted away by water. While his empires were made of (guess), steel girders planted into the ground, held down by gravity. He destroyed me. With every measure of success, that he acquires he lives on now in relative wealth. I live with my parents.

From here on out it, life is an unknown destination. From here on out life is unpredictable. I am 35 going on 40. Silence is wonderful when all you hear is birdsong. Backyards have their own wisdom. Trees seem to fill that precious hour. Pour into your humanity. This, this is my tribe. Nature. Time is precious. So is life. They are sacred. I am an arrangement of combinations of particles, matter, opportunities, challenges, threads, cells and platelets that communicate with each other. Just as Virginia Woolf lined her pockets with stones and stepped into the River Ouse.

Just as she communicates to me from the world or the region that she is in now, the beautiful drowning visitor I communicate with the profound and the concrete. The lake’s surface is built like concrete. Perfect for skating but the skin, the fabric of what she was wearing, her shiny forehead is down there somewhere. Winter in the end. It is always winter in the end that rises up to meet me. In my dreams, there is a remote area in Greenland. Like the end of winter, we do not always remember childhood. It gives itself to us in dreams after the innocence; the light goes out in the world of a child.

How we appear in our parents eyes, in the end does it matter? It only really matters if we are happy individuals who become happy adults instead of functioning in dysfunctional households. Women keep on meeting different men all the time, up close and personal. Women want intimacy. Men want sex. I loved that book. Instead, I gave it to him. A boy. A man. I cannot remember which posture his shoulders and his height was brought to my attention. Thinking that it would heal some part of me. The broken parts of me. Parts I had misplaced so deep that I hoped nobody could find them. I needed music and he was my source of everything.

Romanticism, pleasure, pain, intimacies and finding desolate landscape after desolate landscape but the truths that I found in the book was not the same for him as it was for me so I had to give up on him. He could not be my Leonard Woolf. It took me a long time to work him out of my system.

‘Have you ever seen a man naked? You don’t have any reason to be afraid. I am not going to hurt you.’ He makes a ceremony out of everything. Lighting the candles, pouring the wine and giving me a glass of wine that I pretend to drink in tiny sips. Incense and scented candles are burning. I can even smell the scent of roses. Does every female writer ever have an experience of lesbian passion? Echoes in a wasteland. Images from a wilderness. The female writer is an intuitive. She is a catalyst.

I lay on the bed in sweltering Durban thinking, if only he knew. Would it matter? Would it make a difference? I knew why he wanted to see me. It was not for conversation. He meant to educate me. I had come such a long way. From Johannesburg to Durban for this. For this charade to play itself out. That I was innocent. That I was so delicate my bones could break. I would be staying a week in his flat. I knew we would not leave to see the sights. Durban had beaches and restaurants that served up spicy Indian cuisine. Of course, he was going to hurt me.

Of course, he was going to break my heart but there had been a line filled with monsters, beasts, and men, wolves, older men before him who had pressured me into doing something I did not want to do. Who had in the end made it out to be my idea? Then there was one man who wanted to photograph me, another who wanted to call me by another name. Probably the name of a lover who had left him or the other way around. I feel his mouth against mine, that slight pressure. His breath is warm. His mouth, his lips are dry. What was his name again? He did something important. He was on television. He made a lot of money. He was engaged. He had a son. So young. Youth wasted. I have always wanted the qualities of a young mother.

‘Take your clothes off but do it slowly.’ He said authoritatively.

‘Why?’ I asked shyly.

‘You haven’t done this before so I want it to be special for you. I want you to feel safe, comfortable. Aren’t you happy with me? With everything that I’ve done for you today?’ he whined. Yes, I could hear a whine in his voice. He was so close. We were too far into this game and so I had to go ahead with it. I had to go ahead with this snowball effect. He had paid for everything. Paid me to come here. Met me at the bus. Carried my suitcases.

We ate leftovers. Cold pizza. Yes, he had paid for this sexual transaction well in advance. I thought to myself. What was I supposed to say to that? He did take me to the beach. I was not hungry. I did not want anything to eat. I could see he was crestfallen by this. I knew instinctively that I had to make it up to him somehow but how, but why? I felt foolish for coming. He thought he knew my reasons for coming. That I was in love with him. He was the fool and not me. I could have laughed aloud but he had gone to all this trouble of making me feel safe and comfortable. Now I am home, 35, and over a decade later.

What brings me bliss is cooking? It is therapeutic. Life is made up of moments. Some happy. Some unpleasant that sound like Verdi, Chopin and Tchaikovsky. There is something special about behaving as if it is the end of the virgin’s world. You become a woman. What does that mean exactly? I am seeing a new psychiatrist after my last nervous breakdown. The new pills seem to be helping me cope. It is funny how a psychiatric patient does not need or want sex. You seem to lose that impulse, and that sex drive. Where does it go? What happens to it? Is it numbed? There is shark-infested waters out there. There is evil and danger.

They are called men. The thirst for relationships has left me. Once again, I am an empty vessel.

‘Mum, how are you?’ I felt the coins in my jean jacket. I wanted home. I wanted mum.

‘Fine. Why are you calling? Is something wrong?’ I could hear the whine in her voice.

‘No. Nothing.’ I replied. I hummed.

‘Your friend. Your girlfriend. Is she nice? Where are the both of you staying? Are you getting a lot of sun?’ She seemed to perk up a bit.

‘Everything is fine.’ Why was I lying? Why did I run away from home again? Was it because of the complex and complicated relationship I had with my sad, elegant, longsuffering mother?

Why did I do this to her? My father had left us. He was there physically but he had left us to our own devices. Two women on their own. A single parent had to be both mother and father. I could blame the anorexia on him. The distant father who wanted a social life and a wife who could be an active participant in that world. He wanted someone who would attend functions on his arm, smiling and nodding her head, looking out for him. Two women on their own. My mother did not really understand mental illness. Then one day unexpectedly he returned. After a hospital stay.

We were father and daughter, hostile tributes aside that had to count for something. With my mother away in Johannesburg, my father and I confide in each other now. Frank talk exposing illness.

Everything else was forgotten. I look at my books. No one will ever know where it really came from. No one will know the man who really inspired me to the withering heights, who helped my gift along. One day as I have said before I will never have youth on my side. Youth is wasted on the young. Will this make me bitter or crazy down the line? I am already crazy. I am already too thin. The skin and bone of an anorexic woman have many ghost stories to tell. Skinny legs. The flesh of a bird. I feel it in my bones. I feel the lonely life of crazy in my bones. It was planted there somehow like a sonnet, keys to a post-apartheid future. 

Psychoanalysis is filled with statements. Wrecks with gut symmetries. Frail beauty. Here humanity becomes relentless as they once did at the discovery of treasure after treasure in the wilderness of the rural countryside in another life. Writers are dreamers. Dreamers who plunge into all the universal symbolism has to offer. Expressions of suffering, heritage and knowledge. 

Is writing a book like childbirth, a Darwinian experience, a sensorial experiment, an engagement? The problems with symbolism is that it gives us a sense of our own mortality. A sense of false hope. In a dream, we might come upon a cauldron of water. What does this mean?

The only thing that fits that kind of dream-reality in our existence is the warm sea, destination anywhere of the shoreline, the swimming pool or to go bathing in a river, wading into that weight of water. Once upon a time, we too were fish. Once upon a time, we too were intuitive children. Mushrooms are beautiful delicate things. The melons for this time of year are beautiful too. Food is too glorious for words. Food is like sex. We need it for our survival. If we do not have children to follow in our footsteps who will write history over repeatedly.

Light comes in waves. They come in their own time. Their own medium of survival therapy. Their own ceremony in the shadows. The real world, reality, sanity, normal is a trap. Light is made up of the angelic. It is made up of the otherworldliness against the common particles of this world. I have gone so high. I have crashed romantically trying to live with the decisions I have made. Atonement can be beautiful like videotape. There is no room for lies only a lighthouse, only fulfilment, only videotape. A man can have sexual fulfilment. For a woman fulfilment is mingled in her blood, if she can see her unborn children in her lover’s eyes.

Had Virginia Woolf known love? Real love with Vita Sackville-West? What did she think of marriage? I write for women and I write for men. I am a feminist and a humanist but the question is can I be both. I have also known lesbian passion but it was never quite enough. It was driftwood. It was cats and dogs. It was a constellation. It was the red shred of a balloon in the hand of a screaming child. It was paste. It was a vital breathing lesson. It was gold and bright and illumined my world for a fraction. It was the investigation of a distillate. I feel a disembodiment when I talk about that time, feeling her fingers in mine, brushing her hair out of her face.

I feel that there are apparitions inside my head. They come with their own prepared speeches, airs and graces. These damned adventurers. Did Virginia Woolf write enough, too much, or too little? Would she have liked to have children, a child, and a son? What is so dead wrong with married life for me? Would I not grow if I had companionship, if I had love, if I had someone to take care of me? Someone to lean on. Sometimes I feel so cold. My nerves tingling in my hands as if in this universe there are other worlds out there that are magical, stranger than fiction, haiku, Mr Muirhead, famous people. Now I am older but am I wiser?

Ghosts. Ghosts. Ghosts. They all have their own stories to tell. What the hell? I kissed a girl, have slept with men. Have known love as Woolf’s Orlando in my dreams and reality. There is this other feeling. I cling to things. To beautiful things. It is the feeling you get inside you heart as you find the words inside your head when you sing along to your favourite song on the radio. Who was she? Who was Virginia Woolf? Will the real Virginia Woolf please stand up? Will everyone who is anyone please stand up and give Virginia Woolf a standing ovation for making it so far, thus far? Was her life complete or incomplete?

The sea. Trough. Crest. Trough. Crest. The waves emit their own frequency. I have the season ticket for the swimming pool. There is two hardboiled eggs for everyone for breakfast. Toast galore. A wasteland of breakfasts in middle class homes. The accomplished man that I see in front of me does not care for me anymore in any way. I am the least of his worries. Now I must survive. My mother is no longer at the height of her awareness as a bride. She no longer has those virginal mental faculties within reach, that ego of an adolescent girl now that she has brought children into the world. I must swim. I must regain something that I have lost.

I must recover. I must evolve for a revolution from within to take place.

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

The Cemetery Of The Mind

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This is me. The voices are inside my head. Calling me. Speaking in ancient tongues. They talk and talk and talk. The damage is done. The damage is done. I wanted a child while I was still young. They think of science in masculine terms. The humanities and creative writing in feminine terms. There’s a gap for you. There’s an excursion into the remembering mind. The shaking woman’s interesting double life. I think of the anatomy of my loneliness. How everything in life is a mystery. I am waiting for sleep to take control of my aching limbs, my physical form. I invest the past into insomnia, for no fight is worth it. What are we fighting for anyway? He’s not here, they’re not here. No one can hurt me now. Marilyn, the hunter. Diana, the hunted. I want to live before planting love. Your fingers feel like ice slipping to the bones of me. They thread my bones to my being. Give hope to my flesh. Now I just want to live, but there are days when I am tired of wanting to live. The washing flutters in the breeze, men and women have been kind to me, and I have a lust for the gulf between us, how I’ve imagined you my entire life. Country of Adam’s rib, country of blood, stone and wine. Her teeth bite into my pose. There’s my unbearable sadness. Watching you satisfies me. I go all cold sometimes. The tiredness, the energy. In a perfect world you would have been free. You would have set me free. Your womb fashioned me. So, I write for the passionate outsider. The woman was displaced. The female dispossessed who lives from one day to the next in psychological extremes. I am that woman displaced like Jean Rhys. I am the dispossessed female. And the woman that I love, whose womb fashioned me is my mother’s.

I think of all the time we have wasted sibling. All the love that is gone. My loneliness grows like plant sap. Like water in wild places. All the fight has left me as I chase the sea. I wake, I chase the sea. Rabbit is gone. Don’t tell me about your secrets. Don’t tell me about your love, sibling. Leave me like you have always left me. Leave me standing here by the bright lights of this city by the sea. I always wanted your love. You were always high on life. The extrovert with friends. You erased me from your life so effortlessly. From your kingdom. I think we have said it all. The love is gone. Gone from your world. Gone from my life. They say I have a death wish. I’m hungry for it. The ghost of my spirit is hungry for it. It is cold here. Winter is coming on strong on this radar. This illusion sticks around like the Seine. I wish I was a ghost dropping off this radar. I feel sick. You make me sick. I lost the proof. I think of all that I have sacrificed. Think of myself as a crime and a victim. Sibling, you’ve found love. We’re passed the object of forgiveness. Nothing I can do about it. You’re the daughter of the Czech Republic. Let me take you to the low of the city. I am wearing my glasses. Keeping my attitude. I think of your German boyfriend with his artistic fingers, sensitive face. How again someone else replaces me in your life. Bipolar takes all. Bipolar thinks that love is evil, that love means war. My mother never brought me sanitary napkins in the hospital. Never brought me clothing to wear. I walked around like a zombie. When she came, she spoke to the other patients there at the hospital. Looking for a friend in a stranger. She left me alone. Standing there. I was her mirror image.So bulimia and anorexia nervosa found me.

She holds all the power, all the cards. The woman who ate everything. I never had your heart. This takes some time to explain. Let me understand you. Let me understand this. Out of reach, you’re always keeping busy. I’ll always be the same. When I was in love, I was in love with my own shadow. My heart’s bruised. I think all the time of how close to death I was. The renal unit at the Livingstone Hospital. My life is the diary of a volunteer. On the imagined wings of a bird in flight, I come to you. This message comes to you. This love letter comes to you, my mother. Theories have long since disappeared. The image of the soul. The twin image of our soul has vanished. Nothing gets better here on this side of the world. I don’t see myself in the mirror anymore. It is only my pride, your ego that lends itself to a new philosophy of the advanced world. I’d like to leave the world random. But I no longer want to examine the past, aftermath, aftershock, shielding the echo of the shadow, my bruised shadow. We have nothing to say to each other anymore. Only the visions remain. The words are all gone now. You grow out of it. No, not bipolar. The vision you had of yourself in high school. Where you would be five years down the line, a decade. It is just me giving up my consciousness for another. You grow out of the authentic. It is coming back to me. The collect calls I made home from the hospital. Abandoned there. Younger, I was arrogant. Life was so easy, comfortable, and happy. Not anymore. I wish I could say I have achieved my personal goals, fulfilled all my wildest dreams. What am I holding onto? The self that is a soulless misanthrope. The universe is amplified. Birdsong in the air. The leaf falls. It is just gravity.

And because of the violence against me, I have zero tolerance for violence. And because of the mental cruelty against me, I have zero tolerance for mental cruelty. They have defeated me. The family, the cousins, the aunts and the uncles. I am done looking for love in a home that puts me up against the wall. I am lethargic now. Not wanting to talk. Not wanting to talk to anyone. I am on my own now. Alone. All I have is loneliness. That’s the kind I am. The voices say, Petya Dubarova, to stop talking so much and to become a good listener, an effective listener, an efficient communicator. Revealing the purpose and value of others as God sees fit, as I connect with the universe. To transcend the negative, the voice tells me Petya, I also have to transcend the pain of the universe, the loneliness of the universe. I have to remember birth, rebirth, saturation. I have to move on from one phase of personal growth to the next level. From maturity and the confidence of maturity, to death. But it is difficult and tiring to be forgiving of myself, to be grounded in self-love and the world around me dearly, or, for life. And then there’s this nourishing sense of spirituality that strengthens me daily. I am a stranger waiting for the train worshiping sharp objects eating eggs, chicken and soup. I live in a dark house born of green figs in September on a Sunday afternoon. A dark house born of a writer in a cage sheltered and protected by the light from all the activities of harm. While watching the first snow of a June winter, with the falling snow the road inside finds bipolar me again. High on life. Low on life. Numb on life. Dead to life. And then I realise I am never going to see uncle Rabbit again.

Ever. He died on a Thursday evening of a heart attack in a hospital room while I exhaled a pose. While I overcame my evolution at home typing out my third novel. I have the fear of love, of falling in love on my side, of sexual intimacy, of being made to feel vulnerable in front of another person. I am crashing. I am crashing into the waves chasing the sea of Petya Dubarova, and there will always be those who lecture me. I think the world, and my siblings have made me toxic. And I remember the day my sibling’s girlfriend showed me her tattoo. He must have a thing for a girl with tattoos. I don’t know. We aren’t close anymore. What happened in my own father’s life is happening now in my own. The estrangement from the middle earth of the inner family, of the immediate family. I make cinnamon toast or eat peanut butter straight from the jar with a butter knife, and I try not to think of writing confessional poetry, or, the fact that I’m not loved by siblings, or, cousin, or, aunt, or, uncle, or, distant relative. I show them my rewards like arrows. Only I see the columns of light in my arrows. Yes, I’m done. I’m done. I’m going nowhere. I’m going everywhere. Jagged little pill in my mouth. Rush of water down my elated throat. I really wanted to see her tattoo. Why, oh, why am I so surprised that she gladly showed it to me. Bipolar has made me frightened of everything. Of landing on the ash heap like other people’s sorrows. I think of my own sorrows. I’m left thinking of how important it is to keep correspondence, journals and copies of your work. I think of my own father and mother living out this kind of perfect life.

My mother had a spacious house, they had two cars, and she had to raise three children. Two daughters and a son. She didn’t teach me to have that. To invest my life in children. To invest my life in sons and daughters. I know my roots and they go deep like a ninja-warrior. Now I find myself living vicariously through Dorothy Parker, and Maya Angelou. I think of the mute wind. I think of the constant rain at my window. I think of what I see when I see wildflowers. Cemeteries, ghosts, the apparitions, the voices in my head, hallucinations. There are days when I am just writing to get by. I keep telling myself it is not hopeless. All is not hopeless. That this life is what I have been given. My siblings think they know it all about bipolar. Even more than me. I can’t understand a word that they possess about mental illness. They give it to me, not as a gift, but as something to control. I think of the difficulties of my father. The difficulties of a young mother having to accept a manic-depressive husband. Nobody caught me when I fell. Contradictions keep me busy for a while. I try too hard in relationships. I was a teenage runaway falling away to the waterfront of hospitalisation. The perspective was clear. The view of my life settled. I had the beauty of language. It gave me interconnectedness. The relationship I wanted. I was on a sailing boat that caught the wind. On my way. On my way. Then the mania would come, or, the clinical depression, or, the attempt to take my own life, or, the suicidal thought, and I would be derailed again from the perfect life that I had lived before. I would be abandoned and forgotten by my mother.

I would be abandoned and forgotten by my siblings, by relatives who told me that they wished they could be of more assistance, but they had their own problems, or, uncles and aunts would just ignore me. With the onset of mental illness in adolescence, my life became more complicated over the years. I became a hunting and gathering woman of current trends forecasting for a blog that I wrote, ephemera from my paternal grandfather’s life, and phenomenology. I became this rather complex vessel (never studied further, never had the sunny road of the marrying life, or, those sons and daughters, and strange, I had always been madly in love with children my entire life), and in the end it was language that accepted me, not family, not siblings that had looked up to me once when I had the normal life, the kind of life accepted by family. There would be all this ignorance and sham surrounding my mental illness. I became known as the storyteller, I would make up stories, and this would do the rounds. So, I am threatened and cajoled, told in no uncertain terms by my sister that I am not living. She never phones home to speak to our father, elderly and infirm now. Weak and limiting and limited, and I tell myself that what matters most is recovery. Coming out of that despair and hardship and release of relapse. Now I think back to the early days of the initial treatment of my bipolar, the hospitalisation of my bipolar when I became something of a pill popping zombie, then an insomniac, and then there was this return to normality, to home-life, but also terrifying ignorance in the family, also terrifying ignorance around the sufferer, and stigma.

The discrimination of living with the bloom and smoke of mental illness. I keep telling myself pain births creativity. That it is the motivation for pursuing God. Must be more Eckhart Tolle, or Gary Zukav than me I suppose. In the hospital people may want to be your friend. But outside, you become like strangers again. You return to a kind of semblance of your previous life. You find people don’t want to know you anymore. Release from hospital always brings me back to writing, to my childhood. To the swimming pool in Gelvandale where I was baptised, to a picnic in Port Alfred. Yes, I found baptism and God. And sometimes, just sometimes, the writing annoys me, or, I get annoyed with myself, and sad, as if my work is almost incomplete. Almost as if I am not living up to my own expectations. And every time upon my release from the hospital after my meds have been adjusted, I have to open a new door, learn to live a new life again. It’s difficult, but I have endured this. I have survived. I remember that I have strategies, goals and actions. As my father did before me. I hate it that I blame him. I hate it when I say something that hurts him, and I see him wince as if I have slapped him very hard across the face. I mean, I am used to embarrassment, and humiliation, and people unfriending me with a kind of energetic efficiency. I have to work on self-love daily. I pray daily. I try to be kind but it is like making an anonymous donation. And every year I promise myself more self-love, more personal growth, more prayer and meditation, more reading, and I make an action plan out of it for the next six months. To the lighthouse.

To the lighthouse I go. There are days when I talk and talk and talk. There are also days when I cannot meet your gaze. When people’s faces look different to me in the morning light. When I’m afraid of Virginia Woolf. Society allows many things to happen to you when you are mentally ill. I’m always putting my trust in people, and being let down badly. Balance is everything. All I can think of is that I am a novelist now studying the craft of writing with every narrative that I write. That I am a poet. And a bipolar life can be as healing as rain with a savage kind of violence. At least that’s the way that I see it. Bipolar itself, there’s still so much that we don’t know. What I hear most often from other people who live with bipolar, is this. That I wasn’t always bipolar. I wasn’t always like this. I didn’t need to take a sleeping pill to sleep. Maybe there was a traumatic incident in your childhood, or, long term abuse, or, you were never loved by a parental figure, or, there was a kind of stress or burnout that you couldn’t deal with. I’ve been there. Uncle Rabbit is gone. I’m still here. I still get to live life with purpose and meaning and truth on my own terms, and there are days when I feel like a tragic figure caught in a storm. There are days when I want the world to see me. There are days when I don’t want the world to see me, because I don’t think that they’d understand me, but there are also days when life is infinitely more beautiful. There is an image that I manufacture every so often in my mind whenever I feel like it. I see the picture of a little girl, and she is loved. Bipolar is not on the scene yet. Her life is not derailed yet. She is eating watermelon on the beach. The sun is going down. She is laughing with her boy cousins. Smiling for the camera. Smiling for all the world to see.

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African Renaissance

The YCCC and How It Changed the Future of South Africa

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This was the pre-apartheid education that we received when we were still at school. I was 13, 14 years of age at the time of the promulgation of the Group Areas Act in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, which then led to the forced removals and people literally being ‘dumped’ in the Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth. Dr Neville Alexander came to Port Elizabeth on two occasions. The YCCC-organisation (Yu Chi Chan Club) was primarily based on guerrilla warfare as is expounded by the leader of the Chinese Communist Party Mao Se Tung. It elucidates in his long walk to freedom, as well as his account in the new democracy as is expounded by his books and writings. These ideologies played a key role in formulating policy in the fight of guerrilla warfare against the Nationalist Party government. It is imperative to mention that the textbook for the organisation was Guerrilla Warfare by Che Guevara which was slavishly followed by discussions in the organisation. Other books included Partisan Warfare by Lenin, as well as Das Kapital by Karl Marx.

This took a lot of preparation and in-depth discussion groups took place based on these classic writers. It was imperative that these books were simplified and applied to the unique situation in South Africa. Dr Alexander and Ali Fataar, the then banned member of the executive of the NUM (New Unity Movement) came to Port Elizabeth to do exploratory work in creating fertile political groundwork for establishing the NEUM (Non-European Unity Movement) groupings. They visited areas like Korsten, Schauderville at night where they held underground discussion groups on the non-collaboration and the ‘Ten-Point Programme’ which at that early stage were very important and relevant documents. These were lengthy discussion groups which took place throughout the night. However, it crystallised into a solid branch of the NEUM (Non-European Unity Movement), Korsten branch. Further exploratory work was conducted in the area before these two stalwarts could return to Cape Town.

As a young student (16 years of age) we had the opportunity of meeting with people of the calibre of Dr Alexander at a very early stage in our political careers. This took place while we attended the CPSU (Cape Peninsula Students Union) group at our residence in Lloyd Street, Cape Town. This group grew rapidly as more and more progressive students became interested in the finer progressive political ideologies of the CPSU. We met regularly every fortnight and the discussions took place until the early hours of the morning. The topics included Bantu Education, Coloured Education, Bush University, Students Representative Council issues and the like. We also organised regular meetings on camping trips on Table Mountain where extensive politicisation took place on advanced political ideologies such as capitalism, imperialism and world ideologies of the day. We became acutely aware that our home got the attention of the security police. However, this did not deter us from becoming acutely aware of the intrusion of capitalism and imperialism and the like. It was at a very young age that I became involved in student politics which has its origin in political activity.

The forced removals, the Group Areas Act, the political upheaval caused havoc amongst particularly the young who were influenced by teachers who belonged to the Anti-CAD (Anti-Coloured Affairs Department) and the TLSA (Teachers League of South Africa). The city was ablaze with political activity which in a short space of time demonstrated deep into the youth. This needless to say was influenced by political youth in the Western Cape. What was affecting the students in the Western Cape was, alas, also affecting the students in the Cape, particularly Gqeberha. At times, the situation became extremely volatile and out of control. Organisations like the NUM (National Unity Movement), Anti-CAD (Anti-Coloured Affairs Department), TLSA (Teachers League of South Africa) reigned supreme. It was also apparent that the ratepayer’s organisations which were formed to fight against the rapid erosion of management committees.

Many public meetings were held with F.A. Landman and Dennis Brutus (vice-chairman), who were at pains to point out the disadvantages of the Group Areas Act. Many groups were formed which included the ANC, the PAC, the Unity Movement and allied groups were mobilised. It became apparent that the Group Areas Act was not going to go through a very easy passage. The organisations were not unified in their actions and this gave the opposition deep inroads into progressive thinkers. As a student group at the University College of the Western Cape we were invited to SOYA (Society of Young Africa) meetings in the Mowbray Minor Hall on a Sunday afternoon. For the first time we witnessed serious altercations among the members of the NEUM (Non-European Unity Movement), and this included Dr Neville Alexander and Dr Kenny Abrahams.

The topic of discussion was on Angola and the chairlady of the meeting Miss Wilcox clearly did not understand her mandate. Dr Neville Alexander and Dr Kenny Abrahams tackled her on the political aspects of FRELIMO Liberation Front of Mozambique). It appeared that two factions had now developed in the meeting. It was really a fisticuffs kind of thing. It appeared as if Dr Alexander and Dr Abrahams were at loggerheads with the present discussion leaders of the main group. The matter came to a head when the chairperson asked Dr Alexander and Dr Abrahams to leave the meeting. However, before that could take place Dr Abrahams announced to the meeting that all those who believed in democracy would leave the meeting. I was one of the Western Cape students who felt urged to leave the meeting with Alexander and Abrahams, which we did and met again at No. 2 Swiss Road in Lansdowne for a follow-up meeting. Officially, at this meeting there was information about the YCCC (Yu Chi Chan Club). Dr Alexander and Dr Abrahams felt no animosity which the meeting gave them as they left.

Dr Alexander was described as a dark horse by my father. As with all leaders, the maverick visionaries and profound thinkers, brilliant intellectuals, and having the primitive wonders of both wisdom and intelligence, for these men ahead of their time their faith was shared only by their comrades in the struggle. These stalwarts have taught me that it is the tendency of every man, woman and child of every race, of every faith to embrace every other man, woman and child of every race, and of every other faith. Indeed, it is rare. Indeed, it is exceptional when it happens. Language is a bridge. The language is not of love, but of respect. It is the flesh and blood of mother tongue language that divides us. It is respect that conquers self-pity, arrogance and narcissism. There is no one identity. Yet there is one moral code. Multiculturalism has changed the order of history, moral ambiguity, cast a spell on the doctrines and phenomena of religion. In humanity, in this human world, these leaders have taught us purpose on earth, the awareness of self, lack of ego and the finding of our identity in existential relativism, pedagogical and counterfeit phenomenology. Multiply achievement and you get the candy shop of the poetic horrors of over-abundance, the romantic weariness of decay and the complex strength of popularity.

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African Renaissance

Truth and the third wave of the pandemic: To be vaccinated or not to be vaccinated

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Photo: Atharva Tulsi/Unsplash

I have endured the worst possible case scenario. Being locked up in a mental institution for six months while in my late teens, early twenties. Even though I was of sound body, mind and soul. I am 42 years old now and I haven’t come all the way back from that experience. Everyone wrote me off when I returned home to Port Elizabeth as Gqeberha was known in those days but worse was to follow. Inhumane treatment from those closest to me, rejection from society. I was taught that I had a mental disability and would never be able to work again, hold down a steady job or earn a monthly income. I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to now live on the fringes of society since I would be unable to make a positive contribution to society. For twenty years this continued. I had to all intents and purposes not only given up on myself, my personal success, development of my potential and fulfillment and engagement in a relationship that would lead ultimately to my future happiness. The goal of marriage and having a child, bringing children into the world and raising a family was not only put into the distant past, I thought that it would always be non-existent for me.

I would spend my time listening to sad music, love songs on the radio and wonder why it was not me caught up in the scenario of having a relationship with the opposite sex. I sank even further into the pit of the hell in f despair and hardship. I virtually had lost control over my life, received a disability grant which I did not spend on anything which I personally needed. Family considered me to be the proverbial black sheep of the family. When I got angry at the way I was treated I was certified. My rights were taken away from me. I was verbally, mentally and emotionally abused. I did everything in my power to be loved and accepted by both my maternal and paternal family which is why I believe so strongly today in dismantling the stigma that surrounds issues concerning mental illness and depression mania, euphoria and elation (however mild or all-consuming it might be). At this late stage of my life I have become an advocate for mental wellness. To stop the fight and curb the alienation and isolation of sufferers of mental illness. I want people from all walks of life to realise that people with mental illnesses can enrich our lives and can make a positive contribution to society.

I myself have always sought solace in writing. I have found it to be an instrument for change and therapeutic as well.

I have firsthand knowledge and experience of being called anything from schizophrenic to being diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder and because of the heavy psychotropic medication I have taken over the years I have had a host of illnesses presenting themselves. Chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, an underactive thyroid, chronic kidney disease, gout and heart disease. These diseases manifested themselves early on in my life before the onset of middle age when they would be more prevalent in someone who would be prone to these sorts of illnesses because of not living a healthy lifestyle.

I take each day as it comes now and live in the moment. I have my good days. I have my bad days. I have a mean temper and constantly have to watch what I eat, watch what I say and how I react to people who treat me as him I am a second class citizen because of everything I have been through in my life. Truth be told I always knew I was different. The depression started in childhood for me. I was always an overachiever. I would come home in the afternoons after school but no one ever helped me with my homework, told me either that they were proud of me or believed in me or loved me for that matter.

Everyday I am a work in progress. It is tough dealing with moodswing but that is the currency I deal in and the territory that borders my sense of self-control.

I have been called many names. None of them pretty or lovely. I have had zero support from my immediate family and my estranged family has complete written me off and washed their hands off of me thinking there is nothing they can do for me. This has been very hurtful and even has made made me feel quite suicidal over the years and in my hour if need, my hours of silence, pain and collective trauma I turned to God, prayer and meditation in my hour of need. At the time of the outbreak of the pandemic I got corona and was admitted to the psych ward at Provincial Hospital here in Gqeberha. I had no medical aid and was once again at the mercy of the system but I survived hell and that harrowing experience again to live to tell the tale of how to overcome the impossible, to live and to learn, to remain humble and kind even in the face of adversity and cruelty.

Loneliness, abject poverty, homelessness can either kill you or make you realise that you are powerful beyond measure and I have realised that I am powerful beyond measure.

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