Dear Isabel (Letter/5)
by Mark Chmiel
Wednesday 24 June 2015
Ah, claridad in El Salvador, because it is (seems?) so black and white. Your description of what living there, amidst violence, gives you is powerful; e.g., “vulnerability is easier if every day feels like the last.” Drama City, Day after Day. (Our neurotic responses to drama can make it Melodrama City.)
You admit that you experienced your skin being endangered rarely. BUT. Proximity to danger, death, corpses on the street, those realities must do something to you. Like splitting your soul. Something dis-integrates. Even with “fumes of the second-hand,” it can drive you crazy some times. Yes?
And you next say “So sometimes… I am engaging in a dangerous act.” What does ”dangerous” mean here? Like you morally shouldn’t do that? And why would that be, NOT to stake a political claim, NOT to write an article? Those two activities are within your power, “power” meaning the ability to act, those are specific actions you can take in response to what you’ve experienced and witnessed. Other times would it be irresponsible NOT to stake claims and NOT to get the word out?
Your self-scrutiny makes me wonder—don’t the people with whom you are living, working, staying, accompanying, being accompanied, learning from, don’t they KNOW you’re a writer? That you’re there AS A WRITER? (Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket.) You are too conscientious not to be sensitive to the people, AND … you’ve got to assert some autonomy, claim your (limited) perspective, realize your finitude, yadayadayada, AND STILL WRITE THE ARTICLE.
But maybe I’m totally worth ignoring because I haven’t lived four years in a war-zone. And page 5 made me wonder, a bit, is Dear Layla “exploitation” of the Palestinians? Using them to tell MY story. Hell, that’s what every novelist does. (You have been warned—I will work you into my next fiction.) The truth is—many people in the West Bank and Gaza told me, told us—go back to your people and tell them our stories.
So that’s what I did.
I just started reading a book of blog posts by an America Jewish doctor who was in the West Bank a year ago when Israel when on a rampage. She’s so detailed, specific, Yiddishistic, garrulous, I felt my novel is so banal! So vague! So un-fiery! So terse!
Then I realize: vive la difference! I told the story my way, with lots of quirks. If someone wants to read Chomskyan political analysis, go right ahead. But this is mostly a story about my tribe, the “internationals” — Carla, Henry, Perry, Tanya, Rob, Sabine, Alex— and mostly about being here, in the US, before they went, and when they came back. Everyone, except Sabine, was at the mercy of something specific (Henry had been a serious drinker. And it was the Guatemalans who, unwittingly, helped free him.) And the Buddhist thread is how we inter-are, how one action—Carla looking at the precepts taped on her wall—is partially responsible for Layla wanting to go to Palestine AFTER seeing “My Name Is Rachel Corrie.”
Random question: What’s one thing of personal significance you associate with Ignacio Ellacurría?
Second random question: Do you meditate?