A cautionary tale about border crossing

Georgetown

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Horrifying story about Customs and Border Patrol from The Intercept:

In retrospect, I was naive about the kind of agency CBP has become in the Trump era. Though I’ve reported several magazine stories in Mexico, none have been about immigration. Of course, I knew these were the guys putting kids in cages, separating refugee children from their parents, and that Trump’s whole shtick is vilifying immigrants, leading to many sad and ugly scenes at the border, including the farcical deployment of U.S. troops. But I complacently assumed that wouldn’t affect me directly, least of all in Austin. Later, I did remember reading a report in February about CBP targeting journalists, activists, and lawyers for scrutiny at ports of entry south of California, but I had never had a problem before, not in a lifetime of crossing the Texas-Mexico border scores of times on foot, by car, by plane, in a canoe, even swimming. This was the first time CBP had ever pulled me aside….

Cooperation didn’t earn me any leniency. Next up was a thorough search of my suitcase, down to unscrewing the tops of my toiletries. That much I expected. But then a third officer, whose name was Villarreal, carefully read every page of my 2019 journal, including copious notes to self on work, relationships, friends, family, and all sorts of private reflections I had happened to write down. I told him, “Sir, I know there’s nothing I can do to stop you, but I want to tell you, as one human being to another, that you’re invading my privacy right now, and I don’t appreciate it.” Villarreal acknowledged the statement and went back to reading.

That was just the beginning. The real abuse of power was a warrantless search of my phone and laptop. This is the part that affects everyone, not just reporters and people who keep journals…

Around the three-hour mark, I became completely passive. Confinement in a blank room is a soft form of torture, especially if you suffer from a crippling caffeine addiction, as I do. They were “fresh out” when I demeaned myself by meekly requesting coffee. For a long time, I sat slumped in the chair with a mounting headache while Moncivias finished typing up his report on me. He would pause, carefully consult something on my phone, and then go back to typing. This went on for another hour.

It was around 4 p.m. when Moncivias finally finished up and informed me, anticlimactically, that I was free to go. I couldn’t wait to get outside because the detention area was freezing. No wonder Spanish-speaking migrants call CBP detention la hielera — the icebox. I took my phone and laptop and silently packed up my luggage, which still lay disemboweled on the desk, underwear and all. Pomeroy was gone by this time. As I was walking out, I said to Moncivias and Villarreal, “It’s funny, of all the countries I’ve been to, the border guards have never treated me worse than here, in the one country I’m a citizen of, in the town where I was born.”

“Welcome back to the USA,” Moncivias said.

 

If you care about press freedom — hell, any civil rights — make time to read all of Seth Harp’s story.

It is chilling.

Finding Your Voice — The Writer’s Greatest Challenge

Cover of "The Writer's Voice"
Cover of The Writer's Voice

Think of your favorite writers, whether of books, blogs, or magazine or newspaper articles.

Chances are you’ve become devoted to them because of their voice, even if you’ll never hear their accent or intonation directly.

Their authorial “voice” is crucial to attracting and retaining an audience.

Are they funny? Angry? Poignant? Sarcastic? How much you enjoy their work, and their choice of voice, depends mightily on this decision.

And maintaining that voice throughout the manuscript is the writer’s job — if the reader has started out expecting opera, they don’t suddenly want hip-hop halfway through!

Choosing which voice to use is just one of many decisions we need to make when we sit down to write — confiding, casual and conversational tones often work best for bloggers, probably less so for a more formal work of history or biography.

Christopher Hitchens. now suffering esophageal cancer, writes eloquently about this in the most recent issue of Vanity Fair:

The most satisfying compliment a reader can pay is to tell me that he or she feels personally addressed. Think of your own favorite authors and see if that isn’t precisely one of the things that engage you, often at first without your noticing it. A good conversation is the only human equivalent: the realizing that decent points are being made and understood, that irony is in play, and elaboration, and that a dull or obvious remark would be almost physically hurtful. This is how philosophy evolved in the symposium, before philosophy was written down. And poetry began with the voice as its only player and the ear as its only recorder. Indeed, I don’t know of any really good writer who was deaf, either.

One of my favorite bloggers also recently addressed the same topic:

That’s what I want to feel as a reader; I want to feel someone there, compelled to tell me a story because they are sure only I can truly understand it. There are four authors whose voices are perfect for me – Colette, Willa Cather, Kafka and Rilke. In each case you can feel the heart beating and the mind thinking behind the voice. The book by Alvarez I’m reading, The Writer’s Voice, is quite interesting and provocative, but it’s also rather jumbled; however, it does make me want to spend more time with those favourite authors and their pitch perfect voices.

The underlying issue for every writer is confidence — that you will find readers, that they will want to read you, that your voice will be heard!

I’ve been writing for a living since I was 19 years old, so had, even then, a preternatural confidence (perhaps that of the only child, never competing as hard for attention?) that someone might want to hear what I have to say, in the way in which I choose to say it.

Bad editors can silence your voice and wilt your resolve to speak — or have your fictional characters speak — as you wish.

A terrific editor (I had one for “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail”) helps you see where you’ve slipped out of character, as it were, or where your narrator’s voice begins to grate.

Whose writer’s voice(s) do you most enjoy and why?