Silence at the Border

I should have been hollering from the rooftops about Issue 03. I didn’t, and so I will be extending the submission period. Expect the submissions page and Submittable form to be updated by the end of the weekend. In the mean time, I will be getting in touch with writers who have submitted work already. Then, I will have to find my rooftop and start hollering from it.

The problem is, I don’t know where to start.

When I conceived of wards, I thought “Borders” would be the most important and timely theme. Trump and his calls to build the wall had not yet won him the White House, but he was getting uncomfortably close. He amplified fear and nationalism, encouraging the voice of ignorance and economic insecurity to chant a nonsense phrase — and to not only chant it, but rally behind it, believe me.

I thought, optimistically, that even if he lost, it was our responsibility to seize the moment to talk about border security, to hone in on the humans affected by politics, to expose the abuses and dire needs at once on a national stage, and, damn it, address them.

I don’t know what to say, because I’m not the one suffering, not the one threatened by deportation, not the one separated from family members, not the one desperate enough to cross the desert. I really don’t know what to say that can get through to the people who describe human beings as “illegals.”

I thought about exposing a bit of my own family history. My Armenian ancestors weren’t considered white like me, weren’t welcome in America, and frankly didn’t want to be here — it simply beat mass extermination, it simply presented an open exit from a nation suddenly soaked in blood, a nation that didn’t want them and finally found an excuse to murder them on the streets in broad daylight. Yes, America was better. It was freedom, it was meritocracy. It wasn’t the life of wealth and prestige they left behind when my great-uncle got shot on the steps of the bank he owned, but it was life. My great-grandfather found work, and my great-grandmother followed. My grandmother, born here, strove to fit in, to break from old world convention and prove herself as an American. She joined the Navy, went to University, and raised three boys. I hear this story echoed in contemporary narratives, from many national origins, with varying circumstances I don’t think it can be echoed enough.

What else would I shout from the rooftops? I grew up in Massachusetts. I don’t know the southern border like those who live near it.

I met the border when I moved to Arizona. I was 23, and pretty fearless. I lived on my own, in my car or primitive camping on BLM land. That didn’t last long. Jobs were scarce around Tucson at the time, and the money I made busking and doing odd jobs wasn’t enough to live on. I used to drive through a border patrol checkpoint on my way to a campsite. Sometimes they’d ask me questions, other times they’d just wave me through. Then I’d park somewhere in the wilderness and pitch my tent.

I’d explore the desert, encountering cowpats and actual animal skulls (I thought that was a cartoon trope, not a real thing), plants I didn’t have names for, articles of abandoned clothing. At night, I’d wonder what the hell I was hearing, but they didn’t sound like human sounds, just wild sounds and weather sounds.

Mostly, the place was silent. It was 30-some miles north of the border, northeast of Nogales. A patrol car trundled by once when I was there. I found casings, but they had clearly been dropped a long time ago, more likely from a rancher’s shotgun than from a firefight or execution. That was good. I hadn’t gone near the border out of morbid curiosity. I went to isolate myself, breathe air and live softly in winter sun.

I looked at the hills and wondered if anyone could see me, a sad and perfectly legal transplant from thousands of miles away.

I should shout about detention centers, family separation, and the futility of a wall. I should shout, but I wanted to show you the land. I am thankful that people are shouting for justice and reason and humanity, that they have been doing so for decades, and are gaining power.

I didn’t want a political magazine, I told myself, and then chose the theme “Borders” knowing full well the political significance, and where I stand. Oh, well. Cat’s out of the bag.

Submissions will reopen soon.

first Foster issue update

When I launched wards, my biggest fear was that no one would find us. Who wants to man a lighthouse no one can find?

Thankfully, the powers of Google search, Facebook Advertising, Duotrope's fabulous listing, some writer forums, and probably magic combined to summon seven writers. Seven is more than zero!

The presence of seven ships in the harbor means the lighthouse attendant has to get off her butt and work, so that's what I'm doing. I've updated the website to improve user experience. I've read and re-read the submissions, and am responding to the writers today. 

One outcome I didn't expect: that this Arizona-based literary pet project would reach all the way across the Atlantic! I should have known, what with the lighthouse imagery, that literature crosses oceans. (Also, the world wide web. That helped a bit.) Through opening this website, I connected with Rosie Canning, a doctoral researcher in the U.K. who specializes in orphans and foster care in literature. She advocates for youth who are leaving the care system; a transition she experienced herself.

Unlike Rosie, and unlike millions of youth stateside, I have not been in foster care.  I could drone on about how one of my childhood best friends was adopted, or how my current best friend is the bio-mom of an adopted son, or how one of my clients is a foster mom and high-profile advocate for children in Arizona, or how I know a guy who knows a guy etc., but those aren't my stories to tell. I would rather hear directly from folks who have been in care, and provide a platform for their stories and poems if they are inclined to write.

Submissions are now closed for the first issue of Foster. Perhaps as the wards community grows, we will revisit this theme in future issues.