Issue 410 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


By now everyone at The Sun no doubt knows of the death of Marjorie Kemper, whose story “Rayleen and R.L. Bury Their Luck” appeared in the April 2009 issue of The Sun. Marjorie was my best friend; we met in 1991 at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

I flew from Georgia to California to speak at her memorial service. Her family requested that, instead of flowers, contributions be sent to The Sun. (I hope you’ve received mine.)

I still have moments each day when I think, Oh, I have to call Marjorie and tell her this, and then my heart does a slow twist, as if there were no more room in my chest for my sorrow. But I get up and try to write, and then I write some more. That is what Marjorie did.

Linda Rehkopf Marietta, Georgia

Publishing Leslee Goodman’s interview with James Howard Kunstler [“The Decline and Fall of the Suburban Empire,” October 2009] so close to Halloween was appropriate. His predictions for our future are frightening.

I looked up from the interview to see my grandson playing with his battery-powered dump truck and my husband whizzing by the window on his gasoline-powered riding mower. The aroma of pot roast cooking in my electric oven filled the house. When I tried to imagine us in the future Kunstler predicts, I envisioned myself turning meat on a spit over an open flame.

The move to smaller communities and a simpler life may be forced upon us by shortages and financial ruin, but I am convinced that God didn’t bring us this far to drop us on our heads. The spirit of my grandmother, who immigrated to this country from Poland in the late 1800s and grew up in a sod hut in Missouri, lives on in me. I have hope that the individual spirit in each of us — and the collective spirit in all of us — will prevail.

Judye Reilly Landenberg, Pennsylvania

Though James Howard Kunstler brilliantly analyzes how and why oil looms so large in our current problems, I find his take on humans’ relationship to the natural world regrettably narrow.

Kunstler assures us that he’s a capitalist, not a socialist, but there’s really not much difference between them. Both systems treat the earth’s “resources” as exploitable and expendable. Neither attributes any worth to forests, mountains, oceans, rivers, soil, or air except what is beneficial to humans. Both economic systems rely on getting all these “resources” for free, no matter that the costs to the nonhuman world are usually devastating. If more of us realized that every tree, every wild creature, every stream has merit in and of itself — unrelated to our short-sighted, self-centered goals of prosperity and comfort — we could begin to value intact ecosystems and robust populations of native animals and plants as much as Kunstler values intact small towns and robust local economies.

Mary Janet Fowler Charlottesville, Virginia

Perennial windbag and know-it-all James Howard Kunstler has a regular field day telling us what is so bad about America, yet he offers little in the way of solutions. Of course we would all like to get back to a simpler life. It doesn’t take a pompous egghead like Kunstler to point that out.

Donna Neal Montrose, Colorado

James Howard Kunstler calls for people from suburbia to move back to the blighted cities that they and their parents and grandparents abandoned, but he doesn’t talk about what will happen to the people who already live there. I fear that when self-centered suburbanites flee back into the cities, they will force the poor, who have sustained the inner cities for years in spite of poverty, crime, and homelessness, into worse places. We’ve all seen it happen in pockets of our larger cities. Where will the poor go next? And who will care?

India Henson McCalla, Alabama

Peak oil did not cause the financial crisis, as James Howard Kunstler believes. The economy was brought down by credit-default swaps, the securitization of fake mortgages, and corruption at the highest levels of the global banking system.

Oil supplies have not reached their peak, and they never will. The peak-oil theory is based on the belief that oil has a biological source, that it is made from organic matter decaying over many millennia under the earth’s crust. Yet there is absolutely no scientific evidence for this. Scientists simply do not know how oil is formed. The “abiotic” theory says that oil is formed from geological materials under great pressure. The discovery of methane gas on planets that lack any biological matter helps bolster the abiotic theory, as does the refilling of once-dormant oil fields. Known oil reserves have increased, and many new oil fields have been discovered in the past few years.

Peak oil is a convenient theory for the oil companies, because it will convince people to accept higher prices. (Ever wonder why the peak-oil theory comes from “retired” oil-company executives?) Peak oil is also convenient for warmongers who are trying to stage and win an unnecessary resource war.

Bob Klein Santa Rosa, California
James Howard Kunstler responds:

To Mary Janet Fowler: I never claimed to be a capitalist. In fact I emphasize that capitalism is not a belief system but rather a set of laws governing the behavior of surplus wealth. One can’t choose to believe in them any more than one can choose to disbelieve in gravity.

To Donna Neal: There is no set of “solutions” that will permit us to continue behaving the way we do. There are many intelligent responses to the mandates of reality, such as relocalizing, downscaling commerce and agriculture, replacing mass motoring with a restored railroad system, and so on, but Americans are not interested in doing these things. They want a “rescue remedy” so they can keep Wal-Mart and the interstate highway system. They’re going to be disappointed about this.

India Henson is misunderstanding what I said. I said we’ll see impressive demographic shifts but that the big cities will face problems every bit as difficult as the suburbs. I believe we’ll see the revival of our small towns, smaller cities, and the agricultural landscape.

To Bob Klein: The “abiotic” oil theory is nonsense. There is no evidence that any depleted oil fields have refilled themselves in the entire history of the oil industry. The earth does not have a creamy nougat center.

Robert Alexander’s October 2009 cover photo is the best I’ve ever seen in your magazine. It makes a bold and true statement about the forgotten and underrepresented people in our cities and towns.

I am also amazed by Leslee Goodman’s interview with James Howard Kunstler and Cara Blue Adams’s short story “Exit,” two pieces that dissect the American experience in different ways: Kunstler with his hard-nosed comments on our illogical rationalization, and Adams with her unnamed narrator’s mixed feelings toward “our town.”

The Sun forces readers to take the good with the bad and turns a blind eye to nothing. Don’t ever stop.

Daniel Mollet Vermillion, South Dakota

Richard Chiappone’s story “Uncommon Weather” [October 2009 ] made me wish I played hockey. If I did, I would have danced around my hermit hut with a hockey stick, smashing my typewriter and burning all my half-written manuscripts. What I’m trying to say is: I loved it.

Robert McGee Asheville, North Carolina

I thank Jim Ralston [“Confessions from a Conversion Van,” October 2009], a fellow spiritual journeyman, for sharing his moments of insight and joy. I felt a deep disappointment, though, when I read about his classic middle-aged-male fixation on younger women and subsequent feelings of emptiness when such encounters end.

Ralston presents a false dichotomy between the wonder of a woman’s breasts and his forays toward the divine source. Is he not aware that separating sexual love from the spiritual path will always lead to disaster? Does he not know that if he seeks a female companion who is also on this path, he could potentially share a blissful union with her at every level: sexual, spiritual, and emotional? Why hit on a teasing minx like Raven or fantasize about a young divorcée with dark locks when the world is awash in beautiful, sexy women in their fifties, sixties, and seventies, many of whom are seeking a spiritual warrior with whom to share their lives?

But such unions have to be between equals, and I am not sure Ralston is ready to meet a woman on that plane. Chasing women half his age will keep him tied to his ego needs and distract him from the path he is treading. I wish him luck anyway.

Ruth Oliver London
Jim Ralston responds:

Ruth Oliver predicts that if I sought “a female companion who is also on this path, [I] could potentially share a blissful union with her at every level: sexual, spiritual, and emotional.” That’s what Raven and I were striving for. Our relationship was more spiritually focused than any other romantic relationship in my life thus far. But, as Grandma used to say, there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.

I certainly don’t consider my relationship with Raven a disaster, or even a failure. Quite the contrary. It opened doors in me that wanted and needed opening. She claims the same for herself. Isn’t it really the illusion of possession, of permanence, that is the disaster?

Oliver does read me correctly on one point: my track record shows a tendency toward younger women, though not exclusively. I wish these available, beautiful, spiritual-warrior women in their fifties, sixties, and seventies were out there in the numbers she suggests. I am open. I know a couple of them, but we seem more right for each other as friends. I don’t think we get to pick with whom we fall in love. There are lots of shadows involved in “falling” in love. It’s a wilderness area, and maybe we should thank God for that.

But don’t get me wrong. Something is definitely off in terms of the number of older men, I among them, who court younger women, leaving women their own age and older stranded. As Grandma also used to say, there’s no fool like an old fool.

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