After much thought, I’ve decided to renew my “rental” of the LeavingAmerika.com domain for another year.
I launched this blog 3 years or so ago, after the election of 2016. Originally the URL was nicalebela.wordpress.com, because I thought that my wife and I might be moving to Nice, France, in 2017.
I had realized soon after that disastrous election that people of Arab ethnicity and/or liberal political inclination would have an increasingly difficult time of it in the United States.
It was obvious that a malignant opportunist was ready to engage in a scorched earth campaign for fun and profit.
Nothing that has happened since then has caused me to change my mind in that regard.
If anything, things have turned out to be far worse than I anticipated — though the mass roundup of Arab-Americans for dispatch to remote concentration camps, WW2 style, has yet to transpire.
So what now?
Why keep a blog going that few people read?
I think it boils down to the fact that born writers write. That is what people like us do. If we don’t, something’s wrong, missing. You feel aimless. Writing on a daily basis to someone who is a writer is akin to breathing. Stop, and you in effect die.
This is why I’ve renewed LeavingAmerika.com.
It is my marker that, despite all the disappointments and misfires, that I still hold on to the dream that one day I shall find my way to a place I can finally call home.
During the coming year, I shall write about 3 things in this blog:
dogs, specifically Geneva, our beautiful new German shep puppy who is arriving in 17 days;
weight loss / getting fit; and,
books (mainly fiction) / and literary theory (don’t worry, I shan’t go overboard with that).
The Internet is strewn with the cacasses of countless well-meaning but ignored blogs into which creative and even not so creative people have poured out their hearts without expecting much in return.
The world is cruelly indifferent, yet there is always a chance your screwed up life will turn up all right in the end — despite the ruthless and unceasing efforts of zealots the world over to snuff out that which refuses to be like them.
One day, LeavingAmerica shall be no more. It, too, shall become a silent testament, another grim heap of bleached bones in the Internet’s death valley, another digital skull laying in wordless vigil on the hot, cracked earth, with uncaring vultures circling the cloudless sky above.
The picture you see above is of the island in Cairo where I grew up. The red arrow shows the location of the apartment building where I spent my formative, teenage years. The greenery in the front part of the picture is the Gezira Club. This is where I literally spent the first 16 years of my life, knew everybody, everybody knew me, and all was good.
I went to the Gezira Club almost exactly a year ago today. I am no longer a sentimental nostalgist, but it felt odd to have to pay 150 LE to some guards to enter the place where once I walked in without a carnet and all the suffragis called me Ali Bey.
Life was a box of chocolates, then, for I grew up with extreme, unearned privilege — though I did help start one of the most famous rock bands in Egypt.
Immigration is hard on everyone, but particularly when your family abandons a life of apparent luxury, and you have no idea why.
Being dirt poor in Manhattan in the 70s through 90s, hanging out during those interminable afternoons at those Irish dives in the East Village, having those blurry, raucous one nighters with the various skanks that randomly came in and out of my shotgun walkup, then, seemed edgy at the time, the bohemian life any budding writer must lead to accumulate material, the idea of having noble dreams, while pursuing the most wicked of pleasures, saying no to little except the most sordid, but it was not much fun when no solid writing emerged, and I began to think of writing fiction not as art but as a form of pernicious self-indulgence, as I increasingly lived a life abstracted even from the unreality of early 80s Manhattan, a place that while not the hollow trustafarian garden it later turned into, was still a place where one could cultivate self-righteous rage and existential despair, until the rent came due, and I finally came to terms with the idea, like some dim-witted, unfunny Lebowski, that I had to find a real job that provided a steady income, not just gig money, one gig after another, a precursor to the so-called gig economy that passes for cool nowadays, which gets old real fast by the time you hit your mid 30s and keep having to explain to your date why you don’t have a real job despite getting a Ph.D. at NYU, this idea, this notion of a job, of steady employment, crucial to the coming to terms late in life with the necessities of an orderly, middle-class existence, like the one your parents had, and you don’t just have the one shitty suit from Moe Ginsberg that you wear winter, summer and fall, and with that the obligation of paying bills on a regular basis and not filing embarrassingly piddling chump change 1099s, because you’re a creative, after all, and not some ordinary strap-hanger, and you even have the bright idea one day of even trying to make a career of it, some it, any it, despite your late start, because while you may have scored the gorgeous girl in your mid 20s, when looks and clever patter are everything, now you’re starting to fall off the radar of desirability and that girl, the one who said you were the handsomest man she had ever met, remember her, the one who ended up dumping your bony ass for the rat-faced dork who was already a VP somewhere, the one they used to giggle at behind his back in High School, the same sort of dude whom you always knew could not even begin to compete with you at any level, so you thought, arrogantly, but now she shares his bedroom, and sucks his dick, and you sit there some loser in a cubicle wondering what happened, until you realize it’s never going to be now yet don’t give in for the contrariness of it — stepping past the built-in excuses and bitterness over the lost beautiful island and the One Who Got Away.
I am 67 now; an old man, and no longer handsome. Who is, at 67?
The last decade and a half has been for me a sort of lost weekend. I essentially threw away 16 years of my life, as I wandered from place to place, in Dahab and Tozeur and El Gouna and Nice and Tavira, not so much a digital nomad, for I walked away from that in anger when the tech meltdown ruined me financially in 2001, but a pilgrim looking in vain for that place where I could hang my hat again, and as the years progressed, where I could embrace the tranquility of growing old gracefully and without regrets and where I would not be horrified at resting my bones one day.
But my mind won’t let me; I can’t let go; not yet.
It still whispers to me that I have that novel to write.
It still tells me that I also have an affinity for tech. I was good at it once, why not have another go at it?
At an age when brains begin to shrink and atrophy, would I still have the mental suppleness to pursue such endeavors, or settle for the pensioner’s life, frittering whatever time is left away.
After publishing this post, I shall focus on what I planned on doing today — other than running my wife’s e-commerce site — which is learning some shiny new thing called graph database technology, which I talk a lot about in my other blog, the tech one, as well as on my chatty Twitter account.
My mind refuses to slow down; I probably still have a good ten or maybe even 15-20 years before it goes to sleep.
You can do a lot in 20 years.
Write a novel, or two.
Launch a tech startup — which is why I am so interested in the tech scene in Lisbon, as a way of getting permanently away from the bovine, antediluvian mentality of FLA.
I would love launching it in El Gouna, where I spent much of the past year. There is a flourishing angel funding tech startup scene that is constituting itself there.
In El Gouna, which is starting to address some of the wild roaming dogs and noise pollution issues I documented in this blog a year ago, being 67 and forming a little tech company might not be viewed as quixotic.
In Lisbon, I would probably cut a pathetic, faintly ridiculous figure.
But then, as I take off those ever tempting rose-colored glasses, and read news like this, I remember my late father, who left everything — including the opportunity to be as rich or richer even than the richest of mucky-mucks today in El Gouna — in order to provide his sons with something he deemed as infinitely more precious: Freedom.
My uncle the retired general still lives in the apartment overlooking the Nile that I grew up in, where the red arrow in the pic is pointing.
He has throat cancer now.
There may never be another chance to see him again, if I don’t return soon, he who represents one of the few direct links to my father still around.
He fought gallantly in Egypt’s wars, and was made to suffer immensely by the guy in the big suit you see in the pic above, for speaking up as to why ’67 happened.
What if… I returned?
Just look the other way as the poets and mystics and homosexuals and truth tellers are tortured and imprisoned or mutilated and left for dead in some ditch on the road to Alexandria; the way everyone else does in Gouna; ignore the proverty and lack of democracy outside its patrician walls, and do this startup thing in El Gouna, where if you keep your mouth shut and have the right friends, life is as it should be.
I have an Egyptian ID card that says Muslim on it, just like 90 per cent of the population there. I can recite the fatha from memory. Just by hearing the intonations of my accent in Arabic, there is no question to any Egyptian as to where I come from, even though to most I look like a “mister,” for it is my land, here, ardi, baladi, my country — even though the changes have been vast.
I watched an interesting movie last night called Goldstone, that the Guardian review described as a masterpiece of outback noir. There is a line in the movie that stayed with me, something about it not being the job of the world to accommodate itself to you, but yours to find a place where you fit in.
I am no longer the rich man’s son who grew up in a life of immense privilege.
I know what it is like to be poor, to go hungry, to get very sick.
Despite all that, I am still no sheep-like conformist.
2018 is coming to a close.
What will the future bring?
Will I finally shed my sense of overarching personal failure, and accomplish the impossible, at this stage of my life?
Or will I simply get older, and, one day, as time goes on, die a stranger in a strange land?
Since returning from Portugal, almost two weeks ago, I have been engaged in a ferocious internal debate: what should I focus my energies on next (other than preparing to move to Portugal next year)?
The choice is ternary:
a) Do nothing; hang out; chill; exercise; lose weight; ignore whatever happens with the coming election and the daily fulminations of the orange asshole and his friends and supporters; or,
b) develop a WP plug-in idea that I had a few months ago, one that I think has realistic commercial promise; or,
c) Write the novel I have been thinking (and talking about endlessly) about since 2005.
The first choice is the easiest. Gripe about Trump, while spinning around in a state of powerless fury and resentment, and spewing forth the occasional rant in this blog that few will bother reading.
The second, ambitious, but — at age 67 — unlikely to happen, except very slowly, if at all.
There was a time when I was quite good at designing and managing the implementation of large-scale financial database applications; alas, tech is nothing if not a young person’s game, and with my eyesight such as is it is nowadays, and my grasp of modern computer languages and paradigms poor to nonexistent, I take an, er, dim view of the likelihood of accomplishing anything notable in that regard anytime soon, even on a hobby basis. I was good at it, once, and was well paid for it; but that train left the station a long time ago.
The third choice is more promising (and quite frankly, engaging at an intellectual level) — providing I keep my expectations low, keep at it every day, and allow my imagination to run free of any constraint, to go where it wishes, without any self censorship, which has been a big problem in the past.
While writing a book in one’s dotage is perhaps the most clichéd of all endeavors — I find that I continue to have a great interest in literature; beyond that, the urge to write has never left me. I can’t stop doing it, literally.
For example today, as I was bicycling past one of the Sand Crane families that live around my house, I was able for the first time to picture the opening scene for that novel I have been thinking about since those أفيون-filled days, when I hung out in hippie Dahab a decade or so ago, before it fell to commercialization and lost its many charms.
So… the answer is clear. Read widely, write every day, and stay healthy. Who knows: maybe, at last, 2019 will the year that I complete a novel.
Should that miracle happen — the one that in fact no one is holding their breath for — I will make sure I send a signed copy to the good folks of Mizna — who rejected a story of mine this year, making it the third submission in a row that they tossed in the trash bin.
My memory is quite long about such things, and I will show them could be a great motivator, except that, at my age, such a sentiment would be unseemly.
Besides, there are a lot of things that need to be talked about through the medium of fiction… horrible things, for sure, undignified for sure, scandalous no doubt, at least to a person holding a stereotypical American or Arab/Egyptian frame of reference, yet insistent on being expressed nonetheless, instead of being swept under the magic carpet of neocon bombast and fascist suppression of whatever stripe.