Issue 433 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I loved Brian Doyle’s short story “Elson Habib, Playing White, Ponders His First Move” in your November 2011 issue. I have long enjoyed the game of chess and have, I hope, passed this enjoyment along to one of my grandsons. Doyle’s story was like a poem in prose, concise and beautiful from beginning to end.

Gary Haren Appleton, Wisconsin

Reading John Malkin’s interview with Michael Meade [“Your Own Damn Life,” November 2011], about the influence of mass culture and the struggle to be one’s authentic self, reminded me of an old Twilight Zone episode: In a future society young women are given a choice of several bodies they can inhabit — all beautiful, of course. The main character wants to remain herself. Others find that notion hard to understand.

Jacqueline Hanford Sebastopol, California

Like Andrew Boyd [“I Got Off the Beaten Path,” November 2011], when traveling I prefer the unplanned moments: purchasing a steaming chai from a cheeky street vendor in Bombay, or going off our planned route to visit with a Norwegian farmer.

Last year I took my three sons to Nepal for sixteen days. Their mother — whom I’d fallen in love with in Nepal when we were both Peace Corps volunteers — had died two years prior. My intention was to expose my sons to the Nepal she and I had known and loved decades earlier, but my plan was stymied for a couple of reasons. First, that Nepal is no longer there. Second, I have multiple sclerosis. Though ambulatory on flat sidewalks, I found the arduous fifteen-hour walk to “my” old village impossible. The bucolic and unspoiled village, with its thatched roofs, verdant rice paddies, and views of distant Himalayan peaks, was beyond our reach.

And yet I did sit in a tea shop in Kathmandu, conversing in a language I hadn’t spoken in decades, and at the Pashupati temple I watched smoke rise from funeral pyres. Did my boys ever “get” Nepal? Perhaps not in the way I’d hoped. But what they did experience was worth the trip.

Peter Parsons Chevy Chase, Maryland

In her interview with Sea Shepherd skipper Paul Watson [“Pirate with a Cause,” October 2011], Gillian Kendall asks whether, in his efforts to prevent illegal whaling, he might find justice in Japanese courts.

Impossible. I live in Japan, and no issue fires up the Japanese more than Sea Shepherd. Apolitical youth in my English classes are wont to write essays about how Sea Shepherd are “terrorists.” (None bother to use the “eco-” prefix.) When I ask for details of the “violent attacks” they mention, they cite the bottles of rotten butter thrown on board.

I attribute the pervasiveness of their hatred for Sea Shepherd to the Japanese media. For example, after the whaling vessel Shōnan Maru 2 rammed the Ady Gil, the press here claimed the opposite: that a Sea Shepherd craft had rammed a Japanese ship. I’m sure most Japanese never bothered to watch the video online.

I imagine Watson would agree that the issue is not really about laws, which can change, but values. To the Japanese the antiwhaling laws themselves are merely another example of the West dictating morality. Few Japanese care about eating whale meat, and whaling is a tradition only among scattered coastal communities, but the press here demonize Sea Shepherd out of nationalism. The conflict over whaling has sadly become a matter of national pride. To me, the only hope is for humans to understand the fallacy of speciesism.

John Spiri Tokyo

When I read the interview with Paul Watson, I dashed off a two-page letter expressing my dismay. I questioned and attacked Watson at every turn and found myself wondering why The Sun would publish an interview with someone like him.

Just before I mailed that letter, however, I saw the Dog-Eared Page excerpt from Gandhi’s “All Men Are Brothers.” I realized that I didn’t need to write a letter pointing out the hypocrisy in Watson’s rhetoric: Gandhi had already done the job better than I ever could.

Watson tries to fashion himself as a follower of nonviolence, but I challenge readers to find even one commonality between the tactics he espouses and the principles contained in “All Men Are Brothers.” Watson could scarcely be less like the man whose ideals he claims to represent.

Guy Spriggs Lexington, Kentucky

I’ve been trying to decide whether to renew my Sun subscription. (My boyfriend calls it “Death Magazine,” and he does have a point.) Then this month I read the interview with Paul Watson. What an inspiring story! All the letter writing and marching in the streets that people (myself included) do has its place, but I’ve always felt, as Watson does, that those activities accomplish little. Better to do something, if you can only figure out what. He has managed to figure it out, and to do it, and I applaud him. My renewal check is on its way, and Sea Shepherd has a new supporter.

Ingrid Noyes Marshall, California

As a nurse in a busy emergency room, I’ve seen a number of patients come through our doors and declare themselves mentally unstable. My colleagues and I are trained to ask the appropriate questions — Do you feel hopeless? Have you thought about hurting yourself? — and escort them to a locked room and have security search them for potential weapons. We make sure their vitals are within normal limits and ask the mental-health team to evaluate them.

But we roll our eyes as we do all of this. We’d much rather take care of the man with out-of-control blood pressure or the woman with abdominal pain, because their problems are easier to see and diagnose and treat. Mental illness doesn’t show up on an X-ray. It’s easy to think that mental-health patients are just trying to irritate us.

Alan Craig’s essay “Agonizing Grace” [October 2011] reminds me that while people with psychiatric issues can be manipulative, selfish, uncompromising, and altogether unpleasant, they are suffering, and as a nurse it is my job to try to help them. Craig offers me insight into the thought processes of an addict. While his account is at times disconcerting and even aggravating, I appreciate his honesty and understand better now what I can do to help.

Jessica S. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

When I saw Clemens Kalischer’s photo on the October 2011 cover, it took me a minute to decide if it was real or a caricature of two guys at a fairgrounds long ago. Did we ever really look like that? We sure did!

Carol Giangreco Woodstock, New York

Shozan Jack Haubner’s essay “A Zen Zealot Comes Home” [September 2011] is perfect. I have been meditating on and off for years, and I just came back from eighteen months volunteering in Sri Lanka. Within days of returning home I was caught in the family tangle, angry with my siblings for using bottled water and not recycling!

Nancy Shamban New York, New York

I was relieved when Shozan Jack Haubner acknowledged the violence he inflicted on his siblings as a boy. Until that point, I’d been thinking, What about poor Helen, the sister who had sidewalk slush jammed into her nostrils, ears, and eye sockets? Having been mistreated by my older brother when we were young, I would have loved nothing more than to have been rescued by our father, the way Haubner’s father came to his sister’s rescue. Like Haubner, my brother has never apologized. After reading the essay, I am closer to understanding why.

D.R. Bellingham, Washington

Two passages in Shozan Jack Haubner’s essay struck me as deeply true:

“These were not the same people who raised me. Those people existed only in my head . . . while my actual parents got older, gentler, wiser.” And “Just because you hurt doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. It may simply mean that you’re alive.”

If it took the discomfort and angst of Thanksgiving at home with his parents to bring forth these nuggets of wisdom, it was worth it.

Libby Hewes San Diego, California

As a woman in the process of leaving the religion of her childhood, I saw some of my future in Shozan Jack Haubner’s essay. I also found the comfort of companionship in what can sometimes be a very lonely path.

Jodi Kiffmeyer Rice Lake, Wisconsin

I appreciate Marc Ian Barasch’s deep respect for dreams [“What Did You Dream Last Night?” interview by Barbara Platek, August 2011]. As a teacher and student of archetypal dreamwork, I was struck by the quotation from Marie-Louise von Franz: that dreams “point to our back” — in other words, show us things about ourselves that we cannot or do not want to see. Without my dreams, and my analyst’s help interpreting them, I would stay in old, familiar territory that, although fraught with anxieties and dissatisfaction, feels “safe.” Meanwhile my dreams want to guide me into new territory, through the scary, unfamiliar, and wonderous feelings that lead back to my soul.

We carry inside ourselves the map home, and each dream is leading us there.

Deb DeGraff Montpelier, Vermont

I was going to write and say that Marc Ian Barasch rightly cautions against using dreams as a diagnostic tool. In a culture in love with the literal, the hyperbole of dreams may come across as simply the latest action movie in our minds. The woman he mentions who figured out that the plane in her dreams was a metaphor for her body seems unusually adept at dream interpretation. Some folks might decide the dream was simply a warning against air travel.

I was going to write that, but the night after I read the interview, I decided to take Barasch’s advice and ask for a dream before going to sleep.

Wow. I woke up knowing I’d had a dream of significance, complete with the deep sense of congruity and rightness he describes. So never mind about the first paragraph; I’m just going to shut up and pay attention.

Elizabeth Covington Ulaanbaatar
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