Courtesans To the Left of Me. A Greek Chorus to the right.

Nelson Lowhim, Writer & Veteran

Nelson Lowhim, Writer & Veteran

Sometimes, our species’ darker side sneaks up on me and ends my attempts at an “ignorance is bliss” lifestyle. This tightens my grip on reality, or rather reality’s grip on me. It was a beautiful day in Seattle—the normally smeared gray ceiling shattered and now a light blue sky cut shadows short and crystallized the edges of the cloud shards, now white and billowing. When I first cracked open my Ghassam Kanafani collection of stories Men in the Sun. The first story was harsh, and after weeks of slow-sipping the vodka-as-text-Kolyma Tales—short stories from the Soviet gulags—I put down the book, not sure if I wanted to deal with such tales. I then looked over the author’s bio: an ignition-tripped bomb had killed him, carried out by our ally Israel. So it goes.

A low melancholy formed a rock in my chest. I let the thoughts this information conjured, wash over me. I remembered a reading held here in Seattle, only a few months ago, where Paul Auster, part of the older generation literati and author of the NYC Trilogy—much loved by me—was touted as a “free speech absolutist” and felt that the victims of the Charles Hebdo attack were both worthy of his defense and the PEN award since they died at the altar of free speech.

He had especially seemed enamored with their right to offend.

Heading home, full of cogitation

Heading home, full of cogitation

And somehow, from this evidence, Auster had assumed that something great laid there, a pillar strong enough to lay the mantle of “Western liberal civilization” upon. Meanwhile, I remained surprised, confused, never seeing any intelligence worthy of all the accolades throughout the entire fiasco. In fact, when the second attack hit Paris and one of the Hebdo staff said “They have weapons. Fuck them. We have champagne,” it was clear that the entire lot lacked any sophisticated outlook on the world—I mean did he actually think that France didn’t use weapons? - and were in fact little more than children as were their defenders.

I never got to ask Auster the question I wanted to: that if Milo, someone Auster detested, was killed for his words, would he be worthy of the PEN award? Perhaps a bit too edgy, but it would have helped to better flesh out his worldview. As you may have learned from this essay, the deification of Charlie Hebdo was not something I cared for, a reaction that was ripe with hypocrisy as the loudest people in this case have been quiet about how we have silenced people here in America for saying the wrong things (Ward Churchill, to take one example). Especially those who rail against the powers that be. [1]

That Kanafani’s death had no coverage here wasn’t shocking, as by now I’ve grown used to finding more and more about the world that loves lies—ones we end up believing. And as I strolled through the dog park with my better half and a whole host of middle class brethren, I felt anger towards the older spokespeople for the illusion they had foisted upon me, even if it would appear that the bulk of evidence pointed to the fact that they, like Auster, had created such a strong myth that even they fell for it. But this is really not the case, for these people, the bulk of the population are only screaming to highlight their tribal bonafides or are too frightened to speak up for downtrodden. In other words, all the writers I like, I care for, are cowards, they wear hearts so white.

And even if I still think highly of Auster’s fictional work and can separate his opinions from his work—trust the tale not the teller and all that—I have to wonder how much of a chance I stand, as a writer, still writing to show what is unknown to my fellow citizens, especially when showing what is unknown results in being ostracized.

And so, as I continue to write, trying to find fans, latching onto the idea that speaking the truth counts for something, I keep trying to make sure I have the moral courage—unlike those around me, those I look up to—because this is the least I can expect of myself, and yet even just thinking of the task at hand, the amount of people—my fellow citizens—with blindfolds over their eyes is enough to make me despair. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is crazy.

[1] This isn’t a matter of thinking that the Hebdo massacres weren’t horrendous, they were. But that it is the only example of Free Speech being stifled is too much convenient for me.

Nelson Lowhim is a veteran and writer. He is the author of many novels, short stories and essays to include CityMuse, The Struggle, 1000001 American Nights and the Labyrinth of Souls. You can find more about him and his work at