Issue 187 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


Thanks to Jake Gaskins for “Instrument of the Immortals” [Issue 184]. I started piano lessons with Myrta (we called her Murder behind her back) when I was five. I played “Gypsy Skirts” at my kindergarten graduation.

My older brother continued lessons for twelve years. The sibling competition was too much for my sensitive soul, so I quit after three years. My parents made me face Myrta and tell her my decision, a moment that still makes me recoil when I think about it. As I spoke, she suddenly transformed into a monster — a huge face with eyes and wrinkles — declaring, “You’ll regret this some day.”

For my brother’s sixteenth birthday, Mom and Dad invested in a fifty-year-old rebuilt Baldwin walnut concert grand. I played it when no one was home, and hated Myrta for being right.

When my husband and I separated eighteen years later — I married a man who had no musical appreciation, unless you count Neil Diamond, which I didn’t — I asked to move the family piano into my condo. Mom and Dad were divorced. My brother had moved to Hollywood and earned enough to buy his own German hand-built black lacquer Steinway grand. No one was around to say, “I told you so.” I fantasized about playing the Moonlight Sonata. A few months later, I found a sympathetic teacher and began my lessons.

Somewhere during this period, my husband and I agreed to reconcile. He hated how much room the piano took up in our small home, but thought my wish to continue piano lessons endearing. We moved into a bigger house with a living room and a family room. He watched football and I progressed through Schumann, Bach, and Chopin.

Being self-employed with a home office meant I could play while waiting for advertising campaigns, between loads of laundry, while the meatloaf was in the oven, and between morning and afternoon meetings. Like Jake, I found that any spare moments were magnets to the keyboard. Earning a living and building my public-relations business took second priority to greater and greater accomplishments on my piano.

My lessons continued as money, family, and professional commitments allowed. Three years later, I found myself agreeing to participate in a master class. I had been working on Debussy’s first Arabesque for many months. My teacher flattered me by asking, so I said okay. There were twenty-five of us, and I was to be twenty-third — plenty of time for all those recital demons to return. With knees and hands shaking, I did my best. During the waiting, I wrote my eulogy: “She died trying to prove resurrection of the spirit.” By this time my teacher had a full grasp of how much it meant to me to be there. I hugged her when it was over. By the way, I played the piece horribly, but it didn’t matter. Playing for an audience was never the point.

A few days after the master class I opened the phone book to find Myrta’s home number and tell her she was right. I dialed. She wasn’t home, and I didn’t try again. I figured she deserved the first attempt, but not a second or third.

Two years ago, my marriage fell apart. I chose a new life in Mill Valley over a reconstituted one in my lifelong home of Indianapolis. I had no friends or acquaintances in the Bay area, but I had lots of courage. I credit my adult piano lessons for most of that courage. Losing my marriage was sad, but moving three thousand miles away to a tiny apartment meant I’d have to sell the family piano. That was excruciating; I still mourn it on some days. My friend LeeAnne bought it from me for six thousand dollars and the promise to love it as much as I did. Her payment helped me through the first year of my new life in the nation’s most expensive area. My piano money bought groceries and provided security while I made new friends and found new clients.

A few days after reading Jake’s story, I was having a meeting with a new business partner. We were discussing my long-range goals. When I told him I wanted to own a home in Mill Valley large enough to accommodate a grand piano, tears started streaming down my face. I don’t know who was more surprised, he or I.

Jake, play Chopin for me today, please. I’ll be listening.

Sandy Leicester Mill Valley, California

Last night about 11 o’clock I crawled into bed with Issue 185, expecting to read a few paragraphs of the James Hillman interview before I surrendered to sleep. Instead, I read the whole issue, skipping from back to front to middle — and back again.

The Hillman excerpts were exceptionally provocative; I will read them many times. But the placement of “Tanganyika” immediately after was an ingenious counterpoint. Swept up into Miriam Sagan’s world, I found myself without a frame of reference to separate fiction from fact. Naturally, I had to read the US section, just to get grounded — and so, on and on, into the night. Only an occasional thunderclap punctuated my rapt fascination with the lives unfolding on the page. And only once, as I unavoidably took on the existential sadness of Edwin Romond’s Sunday night priest, did I consider tossing The Sun over the side of the futon, turning out the light.

When my night journey was nearly complete, I thumbed back through the magazine to muse over Uelsmann’s photographs. This was a remarkable issue, Sy, richly diverse. Congratulations.

The photographs mentioned above are available as a PDF only. Click here to download.

Robert Donnan Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

Imagine my disappointment upon diving into your interview with James Hillman to find him characterize meditation as “a quest to flee the so-called trivia of the lower order. . . .”

I’m not an expert on meditation, nor do I know anyone who would consider her or himself to be an expert, but I don’t think anyone in the Buddhist tradition would agree with Hillman’s description. It is discouraging that a person with such obvious compassion for his fellow beings would discount a five-thousand-year-old tradition which emphasizes the very thing Hillman stresses: the need to go out into the world with an open heart and a willingness to connect with others in a meaningful way.

Laurie McCann Sacramento, California

We have enjoyed our trial subscription to your magazine, but will not be renewing it.

Initially, we found The Sun to be a unique and thought-provoking publication. Of late, we have been disturbed and disappointed to find articles glorifying drug use.

We are both thirty-something and maybe have become more conservative in our “old age.” Having four boys ranging from eight to twelve certainly has its impact. We are blessed with health, friends we enjoy, family we can tolerate, and a lifestyle that is certainly enviable to some.

We must follow our own hard-earned lessons and not pander to the celebration of those narcissistic hippie amoebas still kicking around after all these years.

Frank and Denise Conner Laguna Niguel, California

Please ignore my letter of a week ago in which I advised you that I would not be renewing my subscription. I just read your interview with James Hillman.

My check is enclosed.

Glenn Roe Fineview, New York

Sy’s piece “Catching Up” [Issue 185] really struck home.

I’m (also) a magazine and bookaholic. I’ve got the same feelings you put so eloquently: those unread magazines and books can be like a ball and chain. Magazines do “spoil” appetites. They fit too comfortably into our fast-food lifestyles — always rushing around grabbing bites instead of really taking the time to sit down to a leisurely, balanced meal. Very seductive — “I can get that article read during lunch!”

I’m struggling very hard to get out of my “intellect solves all” mode. Sounds like you’re experiencing similar feelings. For me, there’s still a big, frustrating gap between knowing and doing. Since I’ve finally acknowledged that it’s there, I’m not as frustrated and puzzled; I know what I need to do now.

Bill Taylor Sacramento, California

Regarding your “Catching Up” essay, the “spiritual gossip” of Hesiod and Master Kung, say, are of greater practical spiritual use than anything you’ll read in Harper’s. A periodical is not expected to be permanent. The world of Ulysses charts greater spiritual seas than does the Village Voice. Without Ulysses, you’ll never be truly “here now” because you remain unread in one of the truly great monuments of Modernism — and American Lit in this century was born with Modernism. While the magazines make rich, famous writers of people like Brett Easton Ellis, Moby Dick gathers dust in the English Department. And we wonder how we became so spiritually bankrupt.

Sam Hamill Port Townsend, Washington

I have decided not to renew my subscription to The Sun. I support the concepts of the magazine (as I perceive them): an alternative view of the world that is free of hype; extensive reader contributions to the content; no advertisements. But I am not satisfied.

As I pondered whether or not to renew, I reviewed the back issues I have not given or lent to my friends. When I looked at the male-female ratio among authors, I discovered what troubles me. At first glance, there seems to be an even distribution. And then, when I broke it down to fiction/nonfiction, the picture changed. Women authors are found almost entirely in fiction and poetry. This explains a lot.

There is a very masculine tone to the magazine — and I mean that in the best sense: not football, power, and wealth, but the full range of male emotions and experience. What is missing is the full range of the feminine.

Virginia M. Hubbs Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

I think I am falling in love with The Sun.

But how do you know if it’s really love? I tremble with anger at some words. Others are so beautiful I beat myself up. Why weren’t these words mine?

If The Sun were a woman she would be wearing brightly colored cotton from the Guatemalan rain forests. She would drink pretty good coffee and smell of jasmine. She would dance alone and sing off-key.

Finn M. Bullers Bismarck, North Dakota
Thank You Your donations helped to keep our ad-free, nonprofit magazine in circulation last year, funding everything from production to distribution. Learn how you made a difference last year. Learn More