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African Renaissance

Labyrinths

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Petya Dubarova, you grew up in Burgas. I grew up in a port town. I grew taller and thinner by the sea buzzing with bluebottles every January. This is a kind of lamentation for thunder, manifestos, and my father the king-man, the Parisian rooftops of Picasso and Modigliani, Rilke, Hemingway and Salinger. Petya Dubarova, I say your name like we’re friends, or, something. The only thing that we have in common is that we are two female poets via Bulgaria and Africa. Like we went to school together, had sleepovers. Stuff. Shared our poetry with each other like homework instructions. I have known the experience of death in the asylum. Family pain. Philosophy poured out into verse. The exquisite fire-red lipstick of my sister. Dream and poetry. I was an actor on stage. The vanishing curve of my hip, hint of a smile on my lips I warmed to the audience. The words of Abigail George are words oblivious to empty love. The other truth. Diary of a poet. Of a misfit. My fragile mental health, how those words ring inside my head like the tune of a roman wedding. Women poets meet the light and the darkness. Poetry will never feed you, but it fed the plays of Sarah Kane. Giorgio Manganelli, Salvatore Quasimodo and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Alda Merini. And, me. My love, sexual desire, pain, torture both physical and psychological and death. Crave psychosis. That hand to God. Love me or kill me. The voice is all. The lonely victory. I say to it, come on out and join the dance. Grotesque and curious is the spider’s web. My childhood was a web too. Isolated, the business enterprise of impoverished loneliness. I have a secret brain disease. It is known as manic depression, or, the schizoid personality disordered female brain in society.

There is no male nor female mind. No dominant sex when it comes to the poets. I think of Petya Dubarova’s Burgas. Her sea. Behind the walls of the big house, you will find the sea and me. Both deceived by youth and forgiveness, sleep and memory. The sea and me have known all restoration through psychoanalysis and therapists. The gold dust of lithium therapy. Gone am I with the rainy season, domesticity, sketches in pen scratches, liberty, elders, and the ill/un-well poetess. My father uses a walker. My mother drives the car. I have had two relapses this year already. April and October. I go to the sea. Walk on the beach amongst the black ghosts dressed in the costume of breaking code. Think of being kissed by the sea. I see normal people. They see me. My sister is a normal girl. My mother was a normal girl. I am anti-normal. Anti-muse. I think of Brighton. Think of every female poet who has ever thought of committing suicide. Think of my four attempts now. Of how it felt the first time, then the second, then the third, then the fourth. This kind of fragility in me. In imperfect and random me you will find the things you love. Flowers and roots and stems and sap. I am the sap you spat out. I am replaced by other women’s daughters. The magic salt (lithium) saved my life. Afrikaner psychiatrists. There’s something wrong with me. Guess everyone can tell. There’s something wrong with me inside. Guess my heart is broken from all of those years of trauma. Trauma, syndrome, perspective, mental cruelty. Guess they are all just plain words for all to rhyme, see and hear. You love me. Then you don’t. You accept me. Then you don’t. I think of desire. Then I don’t. I write. That’s what I have always done. Like it is a form of revenge or something.

They say like father like daughter. That I am just as madness as him. Just as lunatic. Just as a black sheep. Just as burnt out from life. If I could smoke my life away, believe me I would. If I could drink my life away, believe me I would if I could, if I was so inclined. I am poet gone mad. You’re all of me, dad, and I’m all of what you are. I think I know what I am. The psychosocial action of the black vein in a leaf. I think of stigma and discrimination. The dynamic that exists between mother and daughter. Winner standing in the milieu of the gap and her miserable daughter at being a failure at having no children and spouse. I’ll turn into an island, you’ll see. I think of you mother as I do of the flowers in your garden. How like them you are. How filled with focus and concentration you are hip and knee-deep in your work. You’re rather something special, made of vital poetic substance, I wish you could love me the way that I love you, be proud of me the way that I am proud of you instead of you thinking of me as your mentally ill daughter. I’ll turn into a bird, you’ll see. I’m ink catching a fish catching a genius, and the owl screams while the bat twitches and the mole snitches, and the moonlight is zen. Zen. Tonight, I’m thinking of my paternal grandfather. I’m thinking of his smarts, his tattoos, his children, his alcoholism, his baptism, his restoration, and how I flesh him out now in words. How he spoke the language of the Second World War. How he was a cold sea, a waking child in the middle of the night. How much I loved him. How much I’ll always love him in the big night’s dark grasses, and mountain air. The valley of it all razed with guns and bullets. All the people I have loved are gone, or, are dead. Flung all over the world. Never to return again to me. America, Berlin, Swaziland, Johannesburg. They all tell me how difficult it is to love me, my madness-life from the glass ceiling to the chandeliers. It is difficult to love someone like me, they say. I’m a cold sea too. I’m Bulgaria. I’m Africa. I live within a hemisphere of social isolation, and fear and anxiety, and stars like fireworks inside the cellular network of every nerve fibre of my brain. You’re perfect grandfather. I’m rebellious. Your other grand-daughter had a Berlin Christmas. I’ve turned into an island, you see. You’re abundant, grandfather. In everything I do, I see, I know, I acknowledge, I write. You’re still attached to me like a wishbone.

You stand in solemn-mode armed with a bayonet. Then, saint, you’re home with five mouths to feed. I never went to university. You never went to university. I never finished school. All I ever wanted to be was a poet and an editor like Ezra Pound. An admirer of Pound’s Alba and Sappho, Antigone and Joan of Arc. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. And the island’s name is Saint Helena. If you’re a flower mother, then so am I. If you’re summer good-looking, then I am wintertime’s bulbs stuck in gravity and earth. I am third eye wiser. I am the wheel, the spark. I am loneliness. I am both alone and lonely in this world of ours. With one light on, I know you are home mother. With one foot upon the stair, wind in your hair, you’re simply put an angelic flame. You, like my grandfather are a saint. You’re the axis, the planets, the stars, the sunlight. You’re the riot of the phantom thread, the golden thread of this planet, the rollercoaster machinery of Monkey Island, the theme park of Africa, the aloof poetess of Bulgaria. I am mulatto (of mixed-race descent). You, Petya, as pale as milk. Hair as thick as molasses. The colour of honey. In photographs I did not smile either when I was your age. Even in death, frozen in time you bloom at specific will. With the focus, growth-process, the speed of a flower. Like a wildflower. Like all wildflowers. I am so pale. The colour of death. Down into the yards of the grave of the sea I must go. Book passage there. Rooms made of star signs and water, silence and music, the hours. Don’t go look down there into the abyss, I told myself. I knew of a love once. He gave me National Geographic books to read. He’s long gone to the States now. I know he’ll make a roaring success of himself in the image of Fitzgerald. Thought he’d be perfect for me. Thought I’d be perfect for him. He pulled me up from the funeral waters to his heart. I was alive again. We lived for each other, Petya. Then the day came when we had to say goodbye. The moon sat above the silent streets that night when the moonlight left my soul. Dove warbling in my throat talks across the page. My heart is lonely again.

My head is a foolish wasteland of cowardice and fear, my heart is a cage, all I can think of is the pain of this relationship. We’ll both be estranged for the rest of our lives. He’ll fall in love with another, I know this. But I want him right now and this room spins. My heart wants to scream out loud. I’m always falling, tumbling down, rambling, falling like a leaf to a shroud, like vapour from a cloud. I’m always falling in love. I haven’t always been very successful at it. The love affair is wasted on me. I can see no potential in it for me. It makes me feel empty inside. I want to be more than a grain of sand. The tears are always falling. Petya, did you know love in your short life? Aspire to it. It feels so empty without him here now. The music, the hours, the silence, the water that I slipped into for my baptism. I was baptised in the local swimming pool by an apostle. Life feels so empty. Petya, could we have been intimate friends. Shared everything, everything. All I can think about is this guy. I wish he was still around to make me laugh. America is like another constellation.

If you wanted to be found, we could have found each other. If I wanted to found, you could have found me. When I dance, I hope you’re coming for me, but you don’t. You don’t see my grace. You don’t see the way that I see the sea. It hurt so much to let you go. To see you standing there for the last time. The last time. For you, I’m the hungry lioness. I’m a carcass that wild birds feast and claw their way upon. All I can think of is you. But you’re gone. Gone to America. You can do anything. You can do anything you want with this heart of mine. Loving you has only caused me pain. The wound will never heal, feels like it. Feels that way inclined. You’re leaving town. I’m left hanging around. How sweet is was to call your name, how sweet it was to know desire, how sweet it was to have you in my life, call you friend, call you love. I have known others. In a way they’re dead to me now, they’ve moved on. Onward. Where did you go, where am I going, after this? That sunny road will always be so incomplete. Nothing I can do about the pain. You’re not here. You’re not here. You’re a pale king on your throne. I tell myself that the young king never loved wretched little me back. I’m just a poor girl, impoverished and lonely. Call it a secret then. Call it desire. Your Monkey Island, Petya, has become mine. So, I live to survive, to fight another day. I live to write. That’s part of my deception. That was part of your deception too, Petya.

He was a young king. My sister is in Berlin. It is raining there. I long for your Bulgaria to kiss this pain away. I long for my Africa to kiss this pain away. I keep waiting for the telephone to ring long distance. Hear the sound of their voices again. But it is just a hallucination. Part of my personality type now. To hear voices. There are no voices now. Only goodbye. He’s gone. The music has stopped playing. All I see now are false people around me, haunting me with the triumphs of their ghost nation, with their falsities, or their niceties. And sometimes even their loneliness, their false bravado, their librettos written on their chests. All I wanted was to love, and be loved in return, and for a short while I was. He was too. Gone, only to be forgotten. Gone, forever and a day, until the hours to the next sunset. In return for his silence, he gets mine, Petya. I think of Burgas this time of year. Could it be summer where you are, where your bones are, where your poetry is? For my entire life I have worn a mask, Petya. I’ve experienced trials in living, in loving, in writing, in productivity. For me, the world has been wintertime all these long decades. Help me to live, Petya. Please, please help me. Behind me is the northern star of the death wish. Make it go away, I tell my identity. I am through with it. I have known such a little love in my short life. No view of the world. No view of bride. No view of groom.  I am shy of the world, of the universe. There is nothing left there for me in it except to drown in the waterfall of it. Pull myself away from the current phase in my life. This relapse into the doll-like flowers of winter. Leaves in a hat. Do not touch it. Leave it behind. Tithe in the collection plate. Leave it there to always mark my father’s place. Petya is magical, funny and truly soulful. Petya’s poetry is classical, timeless, and a must-see. I am uncut, un-magical, un-funny, not soulful. For if I were soulful, Petya, then wouldn’t someone fall in love with my soul. I am Japan from memory, from meme, from verse, from rhyme. I am diarist. I am insomniac. I am lovesick and want to be seduced. I am old. I am older. You will always be young. You will always be younger. Although in my estimation all female poets are wise at any age. I will not read about the male poets anymore. Except Nick Laird. I really dig Nick Laird’s poetry. His wife’s (Zadie Smith) novels. I’ve read Updike. Read Hemingway. Read Salinger. There was a time when I wanted everything. There was a time when I wanted it all. Then came a time when I only wanted the pursuit of happiness. Now all I want is to be truly happy, exposed as poet. It seems everyone who marries meets at university.

I think of you all the time, with love, with respect, with admiration. Why am I so sad? I lost the love my life again. It feels as if I’m in my twenties again. You with the sad eyes, what am I going to do with you. You love, you love, you love and nobody loves you back. Her eyes look so sad. The reflection cast in tones, in silver, in speech and pause. The young king never loved me back. Inside I feel so sad and over-wrought. Ill. Ill. Ill. Healthwise. Yet still feminine and all I want to do is shine. Like you. Like you. Like you. I’m old. Too old for you. You’re a prisoner. I’m a woman. You’re leaving me. Father, brother, mother, sister. Greener pastures and the fairer sex await on the other side. I think of you smoking your last cigarette of the day. You’re perfect. You’re perfect just the way you are. I could glorify you in a handwritten poem. Kiss. Kiss. I could kiss you. Forgive you. Be in it for the long haul. You’re in love, my love. You’re leaving town. I’m swinging from the chandeliers. Burning the candle at both ends. Open your mouth and let me kiss you. You’re thrilling and formidable. How come I’ve never found love. Don’t want it. Don’t need it. I’ rather partake in cheesecake. I think of you. I think of you all the time. I always have and I always will. I feel as if my own heart is breaking. Everything I have ever done, is done. And here I am writing again to you David, my love. Always David. Always my love. And I will always be forever yours, but you are taken and someone else’s dream man. She loves you. Go to her. This will be goodbye then. All I want to know is this. Did you love me, once? Afraid? Yes, I am afraid. I am scared of the dark (for example). All I want is you. You. You. But we are children of the, (this is difficult to say, difficult for me to admit to), we are children of the revolution. We are children of the struggle. You know it. You know it. I know it. And all I can think of is being in your arms and loving you. Go to her. Go to your life partner. You made a commitment to her. Go.

I’ve been in the wilderness for a long time. Half of Moses. You have your journey. You have your own journey. But do we meet again as friends, or lovers, or maybe nothing at all. I was always even as a little girl falling in love with father substitutes. I would tell them all I know. This would make them smile. I am a child of the revolution. And you? How I love you, David. How I love you, David. How I love you, David. How I love you, David. I will go on loving you for an eternity. Stay with me. Stay with me. Stay with me. I will, adore, worship and love you forever. In the middle of the night I am the girl not in reach of anyone, except you. David, you are the only constant in my life. In the silence (which is as unbearable as the loneliness, the futility of always being the outsider looking in), David is the only constant in my life. Ignore what everyone else says, and run away with me. Let’s elope if this love has substance, and if this is for real. David, I only want to love you. David, David, David, David, take me away from all of this hell and fury, this misery that loves company, live with me and be my love. You, David, of all people understand what I think, what I feel, what I know, how I react to your voice. Is this hello or goodbye? I don’t know yet. The decision, is up to you, David. If you want me, I am here. I am waiting for you. I am waiting for love. Wait until I see your eyes again, that smile, that laugh. I look young enough again to be your daughter. I don’t care what other people say. I love you, Dawid. I always have. All these years. How can I regret anything? You are yours. You are man, and I am Eve. I think of you all the time. Hearts will be broken. I look at you and I see that you need someone who just not only loves you but understands you completely. But you are not a free man, or, perhaps you are. I pray. I pray for you. Think of your silhouette in the dark. Think of you in the morning. I am all alone. I have always been all alone. You are my light in the dark. Whenever I think of you, I think of you as lover, and friend. You make me laugh. You make me want you. You make me want to be a better person, a better woman, kinder, more understanding. I love, love you. I adore you. I worship you. My life is just beginning. Yours?

Tell me, how are you. Are you loved? I think of you all the time. Can’t get your name out of my head. You make me forget my dreams. I only want to dream them with you. Nobody loves me really for me. I pull the hair back from my face. Holding my hair up with bobby pins. I dance for you, and then suddenly I’m in love, and all I can think of is you. How imperfect you are. I am too. How perfect you look. Even after all these years you still look the same to me. You’re the music inside my head. The love song inside my head. Joy Division in the background. Remember when I was working as a cocktail waitress in the bar that we met. Are you nothing but a careless whisper? A heart-shaped bullet passing straight through transparent me. Nothing but yesterday. Words pass me by. Words pass me by now. Words are like bees. Words are like the mist. Words are like circles, paradigm shifts (shifting in the light of day). You were once a chance. You were once an opportunity for a love affair and matters of the heart. I can only see my shadow now on the pavement in front of me leading me home. My mother doesn’t love me in the right way. She tries, like I tried to tell you once that perhaps I had feelings for you. Remember this. Remember. Je me souviens. You left me first. Standing there, looking at your gorgeous back as you waked away from me. I felt devastated, left. Empty, left. Left behind, left behind, left to fend for myself. It was a kind of prophetic omen for everything in my life. Go to your devoted wife. Your beautiful daughter you created together. My cold, cold heart was not undone by you, but by God. There’ve been so many loves over the years, my love, and all I can think of is one. For now. A novelist, the lecturer, the creative consultant, the educationalist, the producer, the researcher, the filmmaker, the clinical psychologist, the magistrate, and the list goes on and on. I know I have loved, I will love, and so forth. But I don’t want to get all Coco Chanel all over you, or Norma Jean Baker, or Britney Spears, or the Kardashian clan. I don’t just want to exist; I also want to live. I want love. I want to love but I am terrified of it. But the novelist was my first love, and Swaziland was my first love, and my second mother will never see the light of day again. And so, I write. I write to save all, impact the world, make a change, heal the world, heal myself. Always thinking of the novelist, always thinking of what could have been. Me, 16, with the sad eyes. Time to grow up. Time for recovery, and not relapse. Time to think, to mature, to remain confident. And all the girls are so, so pretty. And all the boys are so, so handsome. And all the good men have gone. All the women are married. All the handsome men are gay, so Robbie Williams sings in Love Supreme. Nobody wants to kiss someone who has been raped. No one wants to know her name.

 The wedding dress is reserved for women who want to be lovers who turn into mothers. No one hears this woman crying, sobbing into her pillow at night. Every one ignores, has ignored her pleas for help. So, she thinks of her first loves. Her second mother sleeping in the graveyard alongside Ingrid Jonker, she thinks of eddies of dust on the mountains in the pure greenness of Swaziland, and she thinks of her novelist. Always saying hello, goodbye. On reading women, the phoenix and somehow finding the exit out, Petya, pain is the hardest thing. It’s flippered. Like home, it has a soul, body, and mind of its own. It has the call of a swallow swallowing song, releasing the god of dew in the morning. Sometimes pain is like you, looks like you, talks like you. And I remember the days I called you Simon, Jacob, Elijah, Nicolas, Patrick, or Benedict, or Ignatius, or someone else’s name, that I just don’t care to remember at all anymore. You’re older, you’re wiser, you left me innocent and sweet, but your romance was a masquerade, a sham of deceit, and lies. Love, so naïve, so trusting, so maybe it is for the long-term haul, maybe it’s just a short-term plan in the interim, while you wait for someone else to love you. I’ve been in the arms of poverty. Poverty is familiar to me. The world, my world, is tilting again. Shadows disappear. Shades appear in the gloom. You’re like a fish. Here, and not here. There, and not there. Nature makes beautiful things. The flowers you don’t buy, I buy for myself. The chocolates, and wine you don’t buy, I buy for myself. I want to make a tree out of you. Trees are cool. They help put a kind of fizz over the day. I feel myself falling, falling, falling. I’m exhausted. Think of the mad Zelda Fitzgerald who didn’t like Hemingway’s friendship with her husband, the exquisitely put together advertising genius Assia Wevill, think of Marilyn Monroe at the acting studio, wanting to become an ‘actor’, not just an actress flirting with the camera. I fall into the swell, the push-and-pull of night. I don’t behave. The waves inside my head spill over into day.

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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