I have been feeling these days more often like my namesake, that grand Hebrew prophet of old seated atop a mountain decrying the wickedness around and imploring people to seek God. They never do, seek God. Wickedness is way too much fun, and rewarding!! People like to be surrounded by nonsense, makes their own nonsense feel more relevant – they will even pay for the pleasure of that type of company. But who will pay the prophets? A stoning is what they usually get, and good riddance – right? A tiresome lot, always pointing out the inconvenient.
Today it was Haiti. Forget that the gangs are seizing the city, that little by little the anarchy is taking over and there will soon be no more food to buy, even if people had money to buy it and jobs from which they might earn their money. Everybody knows the mayhem is upon us, but nobody can be bothered. Eventually there will be five million boat people – plenty of time then for recriminations. When the army of the Dominican Republic is mowing down waves of hunger-migrants, we an accuse them of human rights abuses and thereby assuage our own guilt. Put them on a list. Wag our long fingers, turn up our pointy noses. Nothing is easier than signaling virtue. To be sure there are solutions. Soldiers, from any number of nations. Seizing the port, the airport, the government buildings, the power grid and the manufacturing centers of Port au Prince. But I don’t command soldiers; and those that do are pushing them through gender-bending courses or diversity trainings or looking under rocks for ‘domestic extremists’. No, I don’t command soldiers, so here I am on my hill.
It is not going swimmingly, is it? ‘Desgobierno‘ is what we call it in Spanish — MISRULE. “There is no more right and left” a friend told me over coffee yesterday. “No more ideologies,” and I nodded my head in agreement. “You are right,” I responded. “Today we have a group at the top who believe governance is an attempt to manage the hordes; and elections about grading the populist who can more effectively entertain the mob.” Commodus anybody? There once was a dream that was Rome…
No, things aren’t great. I had a conversation today with a book agent. She told me, in a sufficiently apologetic voice, “Nobody gives a shit about what you did last decade, last year. Stories of olden refugees or epic fights of yesteryear against tyrants long forgotten. People only want the most recent scandal; the most recent name.” And then “Write something,” I was told, as if my five novels and plays and essays were not already there. “Unless you’re Michelle Obama, who can put a fingerprint on a piece of paper and it will sell.” Yes, that is true. Nobody cares about my ancient tales; epic fights in the quiet; silent nights long forgotten in places unpronounceable with only myself as guide and companion. When I started writing, I was told “Good writing conquers all.” But that too has gone the way of the MISRULE.
Tomorrow the Misrulers will give us Iran hurling mushroom clouds at Israel, and they will pretend they know not from whence they came. Or perhaps reappearing gulags in the frozen Russian tundra. Camps, that is what the Misrulers ache for; for the re-education of the unconvinced, who still somehow say that man is man and woman is woman and God is God. How tiresome.
So I will keep writing, I suppose. Though nobody is listening. I am not Michelle Obama, after all, am I? Nor am I an ancient Hebrew prophet, though he would be much better company. I often envy Nietzsche (and I’ll end with this, I promise). Up there, in Sils Maria hugging his miniature statue collection as he fought off the madness. Or Yegishe Charents drunk at the Intourist Hotel in Yerevan trying to convince all those who would listen of his greatness (Yes, he was great. No, nobody told HIM to ‘forget his old stories’.) Or Borges; or Neruda; or hell even Leon Surmelian who only wrote two books but composed an ode to immigration so beautiful it still echoes, though he died as well in silence. He isn’t Michelle Obama either.
I experienced a brief moment, a parenthesis utopia (yes, I realize I promised to be done – this my last point I promise – again). Hiding in the mountains of the South Caucasus. Like Nietzsche, but without the madness and instead of statues I had ancient Soviet books printed in English. But beware a utopia achieved – for the shock of real life is a bitter pill indeed. So I’ll return to being Joel – talking about Haiti for the benefit of, well nobody, it would appear. At least I’m in good company.