The International Writers Magazine: On Staff
Please sit. Are you comfortable? In this space I am. It’s a kind of sanctuary to me. I grew up here. These rooms, walls, interiors. At the end of this interview I’ll take you my bedroom where I wrote all the time as a child.
My mother kept us from other children. It was her way of protecting us. The bedroom is a reflection of me, of who I am as a girl child and then not so much, more than a woman and then not so much. You don’t get to travel light in this world when you’re a curator of dreams. Writing is a kind of ballet to me, a mystical dance from a culture that has been here on earth, which has existed throughout the ages.
There is no death in poetry, flight, the medicine that comes with the ballad of suffering to be found in suicidal illness, illuminating the searching longing and desire you have for love, affection you have for children, the admiration you have for your lover when he is courageous. You never completely grow out of your childhood. You ask what of the illumination of pain. I can never turn my back on it like the other side of the river, the cancer years of therapy, the assumptions, issues addressed in the work of confessional poets, writers. Every writer wants to mend history, silence evil, heal the future, burn diaries, live through winter and write a survival guidebook about it.
Everything in life is fragile. Sometimes I get tired. I get tired of the world’s constant need for materialism spreading out in front of me. Now the men I met wanted and needed (who did not desire me necessarily) when I was in my early twenties are history. How dry those words seem to me now. Transaction. The red contours of love collapsing.
I get tired of the cold. How distant that dizzy life seems now with a throat hidden by a scarf, a head full of homesick customs, homemade values. Life is meant to be extraordinary. It is only meant to crush you with its, what I mean to say it only crushes me when I study the survival of other artists. I see all people. Volcano people who have so much bravery and energy within them. Dreamers with their little deaths in eight or more interludes and their educated guesswork behind death. Now when I think of a dreamer I think of what sparks the blue death within me.
I have a room available.
Would you like some tea, some samoosas? I also have some crackers and cheese for the child if she prefers not eating spicy food. Food with some heat. How many children do you have? And you’ve never been married?
You’ll take the room. You’ll stay. Just you and your daughter Agnetha you say. Why don’t you come outside? I’ll show you the garden. It’s a real spring garden (images of roses shooting up inside my head) shooting up. Pollen is everywhere. You knew my aunt very well. You showed her a great kindness when she was alive. A great kindness I will never forget.
You’re quite brave too. I know what they say. A woman at her age on her own. It is not good. All educated women, those with brains do not want to be independent for long. They want to move with the times. They want those kids, the sunny road that leads down to having a family, a husband, a life partner. You seem to understand me perfectly. I have the key. You will come back later this evening or tomorrow morning? Oh well, then I will see you then. I always have other things to do. You mustn’t worry about me.
The woman has sad eyes. Her daughter has sad eyes. The woman asks if her daughter can spend the time doing her homework when she comes home from school in the big house. I say yes.
My mother taught me to weave and thread stories, to braid hair and to dwell in possibility. She taught me well.
Are you hungry?
The girl nods her head.
Would you like a tuna fish sandwich?
She nods her head again.
Coffee or tea?
Her skin and spirit is drenched in winter white but her voice is as warm as honey. I am left wondering what the grown up version of her would look like. Bold, beautiful, arrogant and her world would be a beautiful and arrogant world too. And suddenly I realize out of the blue what suffering is. Agnetha’s eyes are like arrows. The mother’s skin is the color of driftwood.
Coming back to the interview with the reporter.
One of the things that strikes me at heart is this? Are we all the same? We can’t be otherwise words like mediocre and extraordinary would not exist. Are all men more insecure and vulnerable than women? Our genetic frameworks are mapped out differently.
When I am writing everything is scribble, incense burning, poetry filled with distilled abstract metaphors, homeland sketches. I don’t talk about the abuse that wounded me (the abuse I experienced as a child in a dysfunctional house, hands, quick slaps, words that would cut you to the quick, break me into a million tiny distracted pieces that couldn’t put me back together again). I write about it and that’s my window of opportunity. The door that is closed to me that is sometimes left ajar. I am so jealous of other writers who seem to have it all together. No Freudian slip of the tongue on the sly lips of their character’s narratives. The bully on the playground was my mother. My father was ‘mummy and daddy’, chef, teacher, role model, master and conquistador. He was the president of my world, instructed my calculations, waited for me to finish my ice cream with hot chocolate sauce as I wiped my sticky and warm brown fingers on my school uniform. I would watch him read his newspaper and every once in a while he would look up from it at me and smile and I would feel glorious and amazing and White.
Can you clean? Can you cook? Can you do the floors? I don’t expect you to call me madam. How much do you want me to pay you ‘Norma’? This is not her real name. It is her English name.
You ask me where is the one place I go to to forget about my father’s mental illness and that is the swimming pool. I hide there. Each stroke sways in the air. Cuts through the air’s surface tension like a knife. My limbs are set perfectly. The golden image of Buddha, of a supreme God, of my mother. Is it an appearance of nostalgia, expectations for arrangements sake, an impulse, anticipatory like hypomania? Under the water is where I knock down my mournful face, where I recover. I don’t feel awful.
And where I’ve learned that even when you’re scattered brained and have a grocery list of New Year’s resolutions that you can sink your sweet tooth into you can still be useful to someone that you love or a stranger. And now I am useful to my father the way he was once useful to me.
I always have other things to do besides writing. I make the time to read because I love to but when I do I read poets mostly. I look forward to reading other writers great work. You’re wondering why I say the word ‘great’. It’s this feeling that’s conveyed by the constant energy between the lines. There is nothing cheap about it. I can stay up until the early hours of the morning thinking about one line, a title, the name of the poet. Secrets. The secrets of a man, a woman, a child’s soul. Secrets carved in a spirit primitively. The unnamed becomes named. The love affair is no longer discreet. It burns me to say these things.
My father’s hair is growing as white as a blanket of snow spread out on a grassy field. It is growing fast. He is losing his hair this mighty warrior, king of his castle. He still finds the time to write. To me everything he says, he does, his voice, his laughter, his apron, when the fork misses his mouth there is a beautiful fragility in all of it. I kiss his forehead, tell him how much I love him then I read. Newspaper, fashion magazine, novel, poems, short stories whisper shade, phantoms of injustices, pinching the nerve fibers of revenge. Twisting it together with the fact of the matter that wild imagination should be slept off in a dream reality.
When writing feels like cutting through stone I have to walk that bridge laced with boos, salt, booze, of mice, war, lemons that have to make lemonade out of.
If you have any further questions don’t hesitate to contact me.
© Abigail George January 2014
Email address: abigailg (at) dbm.co.za
The Monk’s Mission
I sit here as the aftertime explodes into life continued. Dirty hands from constant gardening, the bloody-everything of war on the television, in the air, in the newspaper, feet on the stairs, and a stampede in the house of childhood