Worlds end. All the time. Southern California may seem very different from any from these places, but sometimes a scratch, not even that deep, reveals what is roiling underneath the surface. You don’t have to listen that hard to hear the sound of different histories crashing and colliding.
The belief that one can live separate from one’s ancestory is an invention that emerged from the “discovery” of your continent (or as Derek Walcott more elegantly put it: “Amnesia is the history of the New World.”) Plus you are in California, my friend, where selves are constantly being recreated. But don’t be fooled — you’re not, are you? — you’re very much still on this tragic planet.
– Jose Manuel Tesoro, 1971 – 2008
The last email I got from Joel was exactly a month ago. He wanted to continue this conversation. What will happen to all these global networks of communication we’ve created when there is no longer money to keep them going? When we all have to take much closer looks at our budgets, will we still be willing to pay $100 a month on our cell phones and $50 a month on home internet access? Will we still care about what’s happening half way around the world when our priority is putting food on the table? Joel wanted to talk about all these things. And in person. He was tired of online communication. Me too. But now, this is all I have.
Joel, a constant over-achiever, was one of the founding editors of Global Voices. After having worked as a staff writer for Asiaweek and then publishing a book, he decided to become a lawyer (at Harvard Law School no less) while working part-time on Global Voices. I don’t think I ever enjoyed arguing with anyone as much as I enjoyed arguing with Jose. Over the years he left dozens and dozens of comments on this blog, always slightly wittier and more authoritative than my response could ever be.
He was firmly part of the community of this blog when this blog still had a feeling of community. In January of 2006 he had a dream about El Mas Chingon:
In my dream, he was a midget with a huge head and that we were communicating only through IRC on our respective laptops. The reason I think my brain thought he was a midget is that my only image of him is his head on his gravatar and my brain could not imagine his voice, hence the IRC.
But our lives crossed offline many times as well as they tend to do when you dig deep enough. His wife, another former barista, went to my same university. And today, I receive Lapham’s Quarterly for an xmas present and remember that Joel once had Lapham as a professor in college: “He lifted from my final essay and used it in his Harpers column. True story.”
It’s so strange to look back at all those comments and to realize that we only met once in person. Sparshles, Steph, and I met up with him for dinner. I still haven’t met Paloma, his daughter, or Tania, his wife, despite our repeated efforts. I thought it would finally happen in less than a month.
Today I was telling my friend Heather that I think it’s time to bring back the Catalog of Pop. Volume 5 never materialized last year. Volume 4 was sent out as a CD. Joel, as always, managed to turn it into a joke.
One of the things that Joel and I talked about frequently was our mutual addiction to and skepticism of travel.
Travel is an addiction. And you, my friend, are a junkie. Not the functioning Of-course-I-can-quit-any-time addict. Nope, my man, you’re the hollow-cheeked lotus-eating kind. The far gone. The unredeemable.
I recognize the signs very well. Because I, too, was a user. So I know those highs: the enervating unfamiliar city, the excitement of the unintelligible, and the artificial promise of another self. And like all highs, they are temporary. So that’s why you start looking for them again.
Joel ended up getting married to a beautiful woman and having a beautiful daughter. He broke the addiction. So it’s a cruel twist of fate that he passed away while in transit at Hong Kong Int’l Airport (where I just was last week). Far crueler that Dopplr still says he started a trip to Jakarta today.
Wherever he may be, may he rest in peace. May he be remembered for all the thousands and thousands of words he’s left us. We’ll miss you Joel.