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African Renaissance

The Language of Africa’s Girl Child In Water and Tears

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My youth is finished and along with it my bright star, and tears. I stopped thinking of the future.

You know I don’t know when exactly that happened all I know is one morning I woke up and I decided you are not loved, you are not loved. You will never be loved and the universe was laughing at me. There was no navigational system set on course for a husband, there was no solid path to follow to a career, no beautiful journey with challenges and an obstacle course to raise children only images of things, imaginary things like hallucinations, psychotropic medication that soon became not so imaginary and the usual Disney-fare, unicorns, talking mice and fairies and the Cheshire cat of which I speak so often in my short stories and a damned waterfall, David Livingstone’s waterfall, no trajectory, only adrenaline pumping through my veins. Whenever taste and sickness becomes fascinating your physical body begins to smile. Your fake mirror reflection smiles back at you, obsessed with the ethereal being you’ve become. Madness is my addiction. Missing it is my crush, my babysitter, my thin if I had an eating disorder or two. I think it’s sexy. Every day I’m seduced by it. Madness is my truth, my statement, the commentary I am making about the society that I live in today, my mother who is thin, who scolds me because I am not even though I tell her it is because of the psychotropic medication I am taking that makes me stay sane, put together, keeps me grounded but it seems to me she wants me to be high even though I am now healthy. I am fixed and the chemicals in my brain have formed their own social cohesion in their closet.  Dopamine has her own shoes. Serotonin has a drawer full of pharmaceutical pamphlets. They’ve learned to be roommates, get along, and give each other motherly or hell sisterly advice. All I know is that they’ve got it into their brains sometimes to talk about me and my weight.

I don’t go anywhere about the weight theory. I don’t entertain it. There’s too many conspiracies about that out there. For a long time I thought thin was good, easy, effortless but now I just think it is just a sick mentality. Women come in all shapes and sizes. They’re good mothers, lovers, career women, filmmakers, photographers and take pleasure in everything that they do but they do not experience highs and lows. They do not crumble under pressure. My sister is a photographer. I just thought I’d put that in there. Skinny-sister, kohl-rimmed, peacock-eyes who spends her weekends in galleries or at dinner parties. A life, a life, a life. One must amuse one self.

There might be a leap of faith, but you can never forget about the madness but how can I forget about drowning, falling half-asleep in warm bathwater after I have taken my sleeping pills. I want someone to tell me that they have done those kinds of things too.

I am falling, falling, falling and oh it is so intoxicating and who is to blame for that. Even in therapy I do not talk about my promiscuity. My other-life in another life. There’s a shift that I cannot fix. The men protected me, said I had integrity but the women had eyes like slits, bits in the workplace and they all reminded me of my mother. They stripped me of everything. How daunting it was to be nineteen. To be twenty and sinking into madness, into despair, only finding hope in books and not to have found love yet, yet always the absence of it. Of course my expectations of finding love never grew. I had known what to expect from an early age. I grew up with it. My father worshiped me and I worshiped him (it was pure, it didn’t come with drama even though perhaps in the end it was only an illusion) and I would find that out all through my life you’d get dropped fast if you did not give in to the physical love. I had convinced myself as a young child that my parents were not made for each other. Instead they were all wrong for each other and they were not soul mates fated to be together in sickness and in health till death do us part. Young, old, young-at-heart, divorced with children, single flying solo so how could I ever forget not being the daughter who was adored, who was adorable, who brought home impressive merits one after the other, success after success, the scholarship girl, the Maths genius who went to space camp and worked in New York to pay her university tuition. I have forgot how to shine unfortunately (at thirty-four can a girl still shine, no, she should be having babies, her wedding dress wrapped away delicately in tissue paper). I have forgotten how to illuminate, to blur reality, to blur the normal until it feels like snow, winter settling, filling, being driven, channelled, wedged into the sides of a lake, feeling your way into this world as the interloper, always the Outsider, the loner and not feeling that that is the weirdest part of all. I don’t dream anymore and people who have died, crossed over they visit me in my dreams and ask me after staring at me (poor brilliant girl are you still sick, what happened to all your fierce intelligence and potential when you were fourteen years old in high school) for the longest time, ‘Do you remember me?’ and I say in return. ‘Yes, yes, of course I do. You were my English teacher who died of pancreatic cancer before your time or you were diabetic, alcoholic, pill popping aunt who died before your time. You were my favourite teacher. You were my favourite aunt, my second mother and now you’ve gone dead on me.’ I wish you both were still here. Unfortunately I am still sick but nobody really seems to understand what is wrong with me when my sister seems to have the perfect life. Hatred, I will never let her go. I will never surrender her, clever girl.

What does it matter if I am a stupid girl or a clever girl? Mourning is destructive. Morning is sabotage set loose. Dreamlike, slow, metaphysical braiding the soul with the spirit, a broken self-portrait.

And what do you remember about our childhood I ask my soul and it replies nonchalantly. I want to, need to, desire to remember nothing.

The abnormal, what does that mean? Why, why do we use our heart as a weapon? My mother’s tears come to me in angelic dreams. Is this all that she had hoped for me? Misery and failure. The wolves at the door.

I am bleeding. Space. Exile. History. Nerves. Fatigue. I give it room to breathe. It is the only thing that makes me feel as if I am a woman now. Mothers and daughters must talk about these kind of things, bond over them but we never did. Insanity isn’t it?

What my mother taught me about female poets is that their words were like bows, arrows, apples wasting, falling in heaps and that a child’s eyes can see everything. Vanessa Woolf, my veil, and my apprentice. I will caution you as Achilles was cautioned. As I’m sure Virginia an incest survivor and victim of sexual violence will tell you.

I am growing old. I am growing older. Who will be my mummy then, make me tea, and see that I get out of bed, open my curtains. I believe that she thinks I have always been a threat to her. She is killing me. Her knives are sharp.

The great thing about childhood and two sisters (hating you hating me) sharing a mother, a father and a brother are that there are outgoing scars, there are wounds, that the material that they are made up of is luminous but that there is also a haunting sensation of death and there you will find an honesty open and truthful, perhaps dazed and adventures that will always lay scattered before me, before us as a family. Salvage it as a stamp, an axed scrap or splinter, an album that you page through with trembling fingers looking at dark wonder after dark wonder and one day you know it will be destroyed. Observe the comic. There is both comedy and tragedy in it. Observe the bird, its agony and often its own attempted-suicide as it falls from the nest. Sacrifice is totally unsexy.

I began to fly, see things in a different light once I reached out to books. Marvellous, wonderful things that made up for my childhood and my mother forgetting me, for her to see that I was simply non-existent in her eyes. Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes in my eyes became the beet king and queen to me perched on their earth-thrones. She was both a mother and an older sister to me. Don’t talk to me about dysfunctional families. Every family is dysfunctional in their own way. Don’t talk to me about cruelty to animals. All human beings are animals. They‘re barbaric. Tears are simply water. Believe me they can be wiped away. They shouldn’t define who you are, or your pain.

By this time it is winter. I hate love. Always have. Ever since I was a child. Don’t touch me. I would think. Don’t kiss me to say hello. Abuse can do that to you. Estrange you from people, your immediate family, and the common people. The only thing I love is madness. It’s Hollywood to me it really is. A bright light city. You have to be so careful letting people in to see the real you, trusting people and even as you are reading this I am hating you too. Look it just comes with the territory, the district. I cannot trust anyone. Mummy you really hurt me. Remember that. I need to know what humanity up close and personal really means. I was never taught what it was. Human rights were always hip during apartheid, post-apartheid, the African Renaissance, for our Rainbow children (I’d rather grieve than say Rainbow Nation). But what on earth were they? I knew as a child mine were always denied or was I simply living in a state of denial.

I could not have wished for better rejection letters. ‘You write with such energy, variety but we cannot publish this.’ Oh that one I remember with wit, it had tasted like spit before it had tasted like honey, milk, butter cookies but also bitterness and hurt. I took it quite personally. Reject. I felt that that word was illegal. Simply put. My mother constantly reminded me it was just a label. It was just as storm in a teacup. My sister smiled as if it had made her happy, joyful but already I had suffered an early death. I knew what the words suffering and sorrow meant. I also thought the rejection of my poetry and haiku was political. My guess the proverb of a skeleton.

‘I enjoyed reading this but unfortunately it will not be placed first.’ They liked it. They liked it. I was overcome, overwhelmed, felt jubilant. But still nothing was good enough. I learned to hate women by hating my emotional, my elegant, and my beautiful mother and I became another version of her but of course I was not vigilant of this in youth. Adolescence, how I miss it. Living in borrowed ignorance. I really am an orphan.

This soft, erotic woman with the strength of a man in her arms, and in her tennis legs, her beautiful white teeth biting into the soft yellow sunny-side up of a fried egg while I watched her and shrieked at her where was my own breakfast while she would just smile, her Mona Lisa smile. She was my Trojan horse, my little shop of horrors, my cancer years, my addiction for all of my life and so her pain became my illustrious pain, her struggles became my own, her burning winter became my project and soon I was the anonymous ghost-child who was a flower in the attic turned into a thief. My sensual-flawed-mother, exotic-smother over her only son.

My sister was happy. She thought she made the right life choices. Perfect doll-child. Perfect adult wearing the perfect shoes, undergarments made of lace, the daughter who is not part of me, the winter guest (I say this in all of my short stories to remain anonymous but there I am a rag doll like M. Night Shyamalan in all of his films) There I am in my little cute box, wooden, not flesh, not blood, not made of skin only violently curious (thinking I am a branch. I am a tree. I am a leaf. I am a stem. I obey. I am Whitman’s grass. I am the weather girl. We’re anticipating clouds today.) She wants no part of me, no portion because perhaps there is meat-to-my-bones.

I seldom worship God. I seldom wonder why that is.

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

Slavery and the real life bending sinister

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What is slavery? It is nothing more than poverty of the mind. It is not a school of thought or a philosophy. It is scarcity. It is lack. It is cumbersome. It is heavy. It is a burden.

What does it have to do with politics? Ask what it has to do with genocide.

What does it have to do with the power of having a slave mentality? Just as easily as we rise, we fall. A leaf. Ask yourself this. Does the leaf or gravity have the slave mentality or is it just a path to its consciousness, and if it is a meandering path to its consciousness what does that make of gravity? Gravity is easily the culprit or saboteur. A cup carries water but how does the water break through the physical wellness of the body to sate thirst, how does water flow through the universal meridians and find sanctuary in all the wild places that the ocean cannot contain, in code, in which case what observations come out of these natural and bohemian studies.

A slave is a slave is a slave. My grandfather was a slave. My great-grandfather was a slave. On both the paternal and maternal side they are non-existent for me. I live for my father. My father is not a slave. You see his mind is not enslaved. His psyche, his mental, emotional, physical wellness, intellectual prowess and integrity is intact inasmuch as he is not a slave to the peculiarities and eccentricities of the people he finds himself amongst.

In the stages of my own life I can see that I have been enslaved (my mindset and attitude was) by my body image, my identity of cosmic Africa, the cosmos, my self as an African, what I was entitled to, my basic self esteem. I was a slave to my sister, her dalliances, her whiteness, her renouncing Africa for America then Europe and I understood what loneliness, family, friendship and family finally meant and this frightened me a great deal because I realised I had never really loved myself before. I was a slave to every moment up until I heard James Baldwin speak up. I had truly been a slave to waiting for someone to release me and offer me relief somehow from this kind of suffering and cognitive thinking. I wanted happiness but the price for my freedom was this. Somebody else had to love me before I could.

Ask what slavery has cost us as humanity. Look back at history. When I look back at history, all my life I never felt safe. Whether it was the bogeyman, or a horror film, or apartheid, or reading about apartheid, acknowledging it was the difficult part. How would you even begin that dialogue? What could you partner with those hectic images that left you with an urgency and a sense of betrayal from God? So, I grew up with an unpleasant disdain for middle class families in South Africa. It was easy for me to picture them as racist which they were and still are to a certain degree and yet how could I not be? The thought of slavery and decolonization never left me even as a child as I sought to fight for the betterment of society and to right all the evil wrongs.

Slavery is everything. It is primitive. It is visible if you look hard enough. We haven’t even begun to talk about or discuss in rational terms without venting or becoming agitated or irrational about race relations in South Africa or slavery as a concept or narrative in Africa.

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African Renaissance

On watching David Mamet in an African context

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His boots made a squelching sound. In the whorl of her ear a squelching noise on the welcome home mat. The man was quick. The girl was slow. The woman was slow to speak. She was slow to communicate what she was thinking and feeling. The secret part of the actor was valid. Her fear, anxiety and chemistry becoming like the flapping wings of a Bach woman. After the interview came the hurricane. Late morning the man realizes his mistake. The woman remembers her parents’ relationship from childhood. The man remembers how the young woman looked the day he married her. He remembers their courtship and the day they got married. How he squinted at her through the sunlight that fell upon her hair that day at the beach. He had gone fishing. Caught nothing.

He had left her alone to read a magazine on the beach. The town was near decay. It was a tourist destination for the mega rich.  She will think one day (the girl inside of her) that she married the wrong one.  The apparitions come at night. The snow in winter. David Mamet is a mega rich American writer and Republican intellectual. He has made it. Millions won’t. Millions idolize him. Thousands want to be him. They want to live his life for him. They admire him for living so well. There is driftwood on the beach. The chips of wood are like a magnet almost as if they are chipping away something of life at the root heart of humanity. There is always a story to be told from life, from everything. Everyone has a story to tell. The girl sighs with a thousand other girls. Her soul is bitter. She has lost something. She feels she has lost everything because the guy has up and left her stranded with the baby. What is she thinking, what is she feeling? David Mamet is a well-known playwright. In a shining circle the bleak ones live in this world feeling nothing. Existing on the fringes of this life world. They wait in unison for the hereafter. I realize my mistake now. The young girl fell for the wrong guy. The twig sucks me in. The man walks in beauty. Wild geese are calling with a purpose. Music in Africa has its own language.

We are conditioned to think that nothing lasts forever in politics. The only thing that really lasts is a story. It has prophecy and legacy combined. Which one lasts longer? What of our playwrights and our songwriters? It is a summer evening. People are dancing in the street. The smell of barbecue is smoky. She looks at her face as she passes a shop window that is brightly lit up and doesn’t recognize her own face. The wretched and forlorn look upon her face. The young girl smells of bloom ad smoke. She thought she would give it up for Lent. David Mamet is a world-famous director and writer who understands the nature of art and truth when it comes to telling and writing original stories. He started his own theatre company. He married an actress. Conquerors know of miracles. The house has a room that has been standing empty for years. The naming of parts comes with having a range of intelligence, scrutiny, wearing a sorrowful mask, understanding suffering. The woman has a slender body. The actress has a stunning face. The woman has a confession. There is a sharp intake of breath as the man’s fist comes crashing down on the table. You cut your finger with a kitchen knife. Remember, the day you cut your finger with the kitchen knife. Or was it really your fingernail?

The director goes back and forth, back and forth cutting between the tension and the dialogue of the actors. He walks them through their paces. The actors take a well-deserved break. They talk and interact with each other. They smoke and laugh. The girl throughs her head back and sounds silly when she tries to put everyone else at ease when she is not with her own performance. There is some insecurity there. Some self-doubt. They run lines. The gravity of the thing comes into view. We all struggle. Don’t we all, someone in the group says. There are confessions. Then there are more confessions with a trimmed and a manicured nail. I am getting old. I can feel it in my bones. The flesh of my flesh was very tender that day I cut my finger with the kitchen knife. I sliced it like a pear. Prizes make you happy and sad. Here is the ballad of a growing intimacy, a camaraderie amongst the actors in this theatre company. They mill around. No one wants to end the flow of the conversation. They want to work. They don’t want to go home yet. It means sitting at home alone for some. It means a lonely night. The beauty of the dahlias is complicated. Will there be real flowers or plastic fruit on opening night on the table? My sister doesn’t phone to talk to me.

When she does telephone, she speaks to my mother. I wish I was more real than having this kind of a fake personality.  The actress is deciding whether to paint her toenails a fire engine red to stay in character. Pain helps you to grow. If you forsake pain, you also forsake growth. All of us should conquer something in life. Let us go into the wild that is calling. My life has always been on this path.

On the edge of uncertainty. My soul is gone to tell you the truth. It has lost a bit of its own mystery.

When I speak of David Mamet, I think that in the context of Africa that there is the worker Mamet in all of us. Whether it comes to the tradition of oral storytelling or not, the linear arrangement of the goal of the storyline or in the sheltered pose of the actor reading their lines from a script. The past slips out of its calling. Its shell of water. It passes away into nothingness. That means absolutely nothing and everything to me.

I feel it coming. I feel it coming on. Turning me around. This lonely night. Beyond the trees I feel the thaw.

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African Renaissance

Covid-19 and recovering from the first wave of the pandemic

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coronavirus people

I always wanted to be an African writer living and working in Paris. Eating onion soup and fresh bread rolls at a café for lunch but mostly I am a woman reading, translating work through editing, writing and working in the macrocosm of the narrative that is modern day Africa. I am a woman who feels compelled to tell stories. It is a fundamental part of my day and one of the basics of my life. I want to be honest, but it hasn’t brought me happiness all the way. I go outside and loneliness meets me there. It is too authentic for its own good. It smells like spirit and behaves like wild horses. I admit that I am like water. I am tired of braving hospital life after braving hospital life again. Swimming against the tide of the kindness of strangers. Those nurses and caregivers. Covid-19 there, there, there everywhere and then manifesting inside of me.

What to do with illness? The aberrations of mental illness and physical illness. What to speak of it and to whom? I drink coffee. Too much coffee. Underneath all that coffee is a field. A field of illness. Health is wealth. But I have realized this much too late. The pills glow at night and during the day I take them with gulps of water. My mind palace is awaiting harvest. Too divine. Every day is a day of hope and recovery and renewal. There was a man in the picture, but he is gone now. I thought a man was going to save me. But he didn’t. Now he sits in a house, occupied with thought and calling. All I have ownership of is purpose. It is capable of many beauties. Many things. Once I was in love. Now I find territories to conquer and one of them happens to be life itself. I am a warrior with intent. I am happy, content and satisfied to be a puppet again engineered by the ways of a materialistic society. A puppet named outsider. I don’t pay attention to my mother as often as I should have. I chide myself. I should have been more on her side, placated her more, laughed more with her then I wouldn’t have been rejected by her I tell myself. Now that I am older, I don’t know what truth is anymore. Most of the time life perplexes me. In all my life Rilke has been in my hands like summer. I dance towards battle.

There is certain kind of darkness visible in my nerves. I have known and lived alongside suffering emphasized by psychological insight. It has been majestic in the way that only inconsolable sorrow can be. I am too primitive for this world. I have known love but not enough of it to marry and be happy. My brother says there are married people who feel deeply unloved and who are unhappy. There began to be patterns in my life that marked me, and the world seemed to reject the sunlight inside of me, inside the ancestral worship, Christian psychiatrist of my head. On returning home I began to step out in faith. I watched Joyce Meyer. I wanted to be worthy. Even comets have the air of having a complex about them. Time has a refrain. It is leaving me and with its return come all the stars of the universe. I wanted to know more, do more, I wanted to know what my inheritance was. I remembered myself as a bone thin girl in my twenties wanting to be ambitious but already jaded of the people around me, in their spiritually diminishing crowds. Their mystery attracted me. Their personalities seemed to reject the introvert that I was. I always viewed it as a rejection of me. Rejection of self I suppose.

My mother’s destructive self-sabotaging behavior milking my father’s manic-depressive personality. My own dark struggle with mental illness defined who I was for much of my adult life. My middle sister made her escape to Europe, my paternal family into the church, establishing the bonds of close-knit nuclear family, religion and my maternal family into wealth and privilege. The quiet honey of money. Rich and thick. I found a spiritual habitat in writing poetry, cognitive behavioral therapy and stream of consciousness writing was unleashed. I found there that life shimmers in both joy and solace. I found the edge of the impossible in reasoning, balancing and prayer. We tend to find the human being in the minority, the lesser being in the outsider and locate glory in the majority. In the pages of my diary I find the destruction of the earth there, moral being. For as long as the man was in my life, he was wondrous, and I felt tethered and I discovered that the empirical nature of childhood functions as the creative’s unweaving. When I wrote I felt bird flight in my veins, bird flight in Provincial Hospital, bird flight in my brainwaves, in the cavernous vibrations of my body and something was manifested.

It felt as if I was manifesting the exposed. The spiritual embodiment of the plains of the journeys we mature in confidence in, the districts of human nature, the rooftops of the birds and while society paints the iris, we contemplate the beauty in the world. On the wings of the unpeeled, the astonishing, the extraordinary the capable scientists flutter in the medical fraternity, on the cusp of innovation in pharma. I am left to glitter. Like an octopus I wade into the supreme self-correcting depths. There was an otherworldly renewal to my limbs when I recovered from the first wave of Covid-19 and life felt supernatural to me. Everything was faster, faster, faster and I began to live in a magical reality. Millions live life like this. On this precarious edge of the device of breathing with this kind of survival mechanism built into them. When you descend into illness you also descend into a kind of sustained despair that never leaves. That seems to float like the leaves, that has the hardy vertebrae of branches, the activity found in furious churning of the gulping mouth of a shaking fish. I never contemplated my own death in the hospital.

I never contemplated that life would go on, that I would recover, that I would write again. The day was filled with silence and longing in the ward filled with young women. Psychotic. Aggressive were words that were used. I had my period when I was admitted to the hospital. The depression I had when I got out of the hospital had the body length of an elephant. It curled up inside of me like a snake connected to my bones in the fetal position. My mother had a kind of tender fragility leaning towards sainthood when I came home. My father was sad. My brother did not pick up the phone when the hospital telephoned him to come and fetch me. I had been discharged. My mother told me he had feared the worst. I had to stay an extra day in the hospital. My mother explained they were not ready for me to come home yet. What did that mean, I wondered? I still don’t know how I made it through that passage of time, fought my way through. All I know is I still need to heal. I still need to heal and that takes practice and getting used to, engaging, involving yourself in the pursuit of daily activities, not words.

Things are returning to normal. My brother wants to get away to Canada now. Even the holy is visible here in my childhood home. Incarnated here if it is possible to use a word like that. It feels as if some days there is an anointing on everything that I touch. The day is golden and bright with promise. You don’t come all the way back from the experience of near death. I want you to remember that.

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