Issue 207 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I’ve had some personal upheavals lately and went through them uncharacteristically dry-eyed. I thought I might be losing my ability to cry.

Today, though, after I read Readers Write about “The American Dream” [January 1993], I was pleased to note that the old taps are working reliably as ever.

Dan McSweeney New York, New York

I cried my way through much of the January issue. The lump began while reading Linda Foust’s “Small Favors.” The dam broke halfway through “The Vet” by Owen E. Dell. Is there anyone in this country who has not been affected by the Vietnam War? Twenty years later, healing from that awful war is far from complete.

My own pain began only four years ago, when my husband was offered a position as an engineer in a Vietnamese refugee camp in Malaysia. We were in the midst of building our own American Dream; the house we were constructing was almost finished. We had no desire to go anywhere, but we could not, in good conscience, say no. How could we stay home and work on our American Dream while others in the world, in large part because of America, did not even have clean drinking water?

We both worked in the camp, and it was a heartbreaking experience that still lives with me. Thank you to Foust and Dell for sharing their pain and, in the process, helping me to heal a bit more. Thank you to The Sun for creating a place for this to happen.

Nancy Spagnoli Victor, Montana

I loved Frances Stokes Hoekstra’s “Gestures of Protection” [January 1993] because it was so cleverly ambiguous. I was never really sure with which character I was supposed to sympathize.

The ashram scene was inherently false, yet somehow powerful and legitimate. The guru had wisdom and power, but he also seemed suspicious, with his flip answers and the set-up of his little domain. The father was correct in his distrust of the whole scene, but he was entirely wrong in trying to manipulate his son with money. He had a profound experience at the end, but I don’t blame him for resisting it if it meant that he would have to surrender — even something as simple as credence — to the guru.

I’d like to know if Wally eventually came home or at least left the ashram; I rather hope he did. Do you think you could ask Hoekstra for a sequel?

Marc Polonsky Berkeley, California

I found the gender-specific anthropomorphizing of Antler’s poem “Ejaculation” a sad, ironic contrast to the interview with John Seed, “When a Tree Falls in the Forest” [January 1993]. Seed’s vision of deep ecology offers an alternative to the very phallocentric culture that Antler celebrates.

The Sun is reflective of our search for truth and meaning. Antler’s poem lacked either, and was instead, as he would put it, of an ejaculatory nature: quick, gasping, and fleeting.

Renée Lertzman Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The more I am exposed to Dana Branscum’s genius [“My Life as Giselle,” January 1993] the more I admire her art. Here is a thinker and a true wordsmith.

Everything Giselle is and is not exists in each of us. Branscum brilliantly brings this quality of Giselle-ness to life in a story that delights as it teaches and comforts as it reveals.

Kate Larken Tryon, North Carolina

Education has been one of my great interests since our daughter was five — and she is now forty-three. I have taught illustration and art for ten years at an art school and a community college, I visit other schools to talk about art, and I have been on three commissions for our local school board. So I read John Taylor Gatto’s “Confederacy of Dunces” [December 1992] with interest.

I agree with Gatto that this country’s public-education problems are rooted in the German-Austrian-Prussian teaching methods he mentioned. However, I also believe that schooling cannot dumb down kids who have loving parents. Unfortunately, a lot of kids don’t. The dumbness Gatto battles would be there even if there were no schools today. For example, one local junior high school has three classes of what the counselors call “incorrigible” students. These kids are just about lost. The school takes too much of these kids’ time — and most parents seem to like it that way.

If Gatto really believes that parents are “trying to make a work of art called a family,” my impression is that his head is in the sand, or that he has not met too many parents lately. Of twelve good friends of mine, only four of us are still married to the same wife with whom we had children. Yes, the other eight still “love” their kids, but they don’t see them grow up or offer themselves as role models. More than half the kids in our “good” local schools, from “good,” middle-class families, are from broken homes; last year there were three kids living in their cars.

Schools, with their new buzzwords every couple of years, are traps. “Critical thinking” is, to my mind, the most recent attempt by educators to “fix” things. Do they mean that the more clever and clearer the thinking, the better the person? Doesn’t anyone notice that corporate heads (who continue to be paid more for less) think? And drug lords? What about Hitler and Stalin? Weren’t they critical thinkers? The thing they could not do was see the results of their behavior and respond to the life around them.

I recommend all of Alice Miller’s books, most particularly For Your Own Good, to understand just how Nazism came to be so easily accepted in Germany, and Banished Knowledge for one’s own part in this mess; also Tom Brown, Jr.’s The Tracker to see what education is when it’s good; and Gregory Bateson’s Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity for the direction education could take.

Taylor Oughton Bucks County, Pennsylvania

John Taylor Gatto’s fascinating insights into our troubling educational history set me on fire.

I am a product of post-WWII public schools, which I detested. I agree with Gatto’s observations of librarians and libraries. Ever since my formal, institutionalized schooling ended, my real, impassioned, fruitful education has occurred in libraries.

Gatto’s article gives weight to your banner “A Magazine Of Ideas.” Every time I think I have to drop at least one of my many subscriptions, you produce an issue which makes it impossible.

Also, I could not disagree more with Rich Siegel, who described Miles Harvey’s “Meet Mr. Fist” [October 1992] as “the stupidest story you have ever published.” I thought it so imaginative that I shared it with twelve people in a writing workshop.

Steve Reichl New York, New York

Lately my business has gone so poorly that I have had to file for bankruptcy. In reviewing my past expenditures, I find myself second-guessing many of my decisions. But I have absolutely no regret over the money I spent for a set of back issues of The Sun. Truly a beacon of hope in this world.

J. Rude Wilber Woods Hole, Massachusetts

An abbreviated version of the following letter appeared in the October 1992 issue. Because the author insisted our editing distorted his intent, we’re printing the complete text here.

— Ed.


Interesting issue, the money issue [August 1992]. Lots of people have lots to say about the green. People seem to feel they have to justify their actions around money, or they get emphatic about not having to justify; except those who have preposterous amounts of the stuff and, as Donna Schaper says in her “Fool’s Gold” article, pee on the poor and laugh at the middle class all the way to the bank (which they own).

Celine said he pissed on it all from a considerable height, but Celine was impoverished and bitter and (something he is seldom given credit for) deeply compassionate. Where does Celine get off, talking like a rich man? Celine lived as poor as the sick he doctored, no one was lining his pocket, and so he could say piss instead of pee and generally tell it like he saw it.

Poverty and suffering are prerequisites for spiritual greatness, I think. So does (or did) Igjugarjuk, an Eskimo shaman. So does any true spiritual leader. But, as Schaper says, society in the industrial world has internalized greed to such an extent that greed has taken on the hue of virtue (as have so many other traits that used to be seen as vice), and that is precisely why there is so little spiritual greatness in the world today and such an epidemic of ersatz, happy-face mediocrity in its place.

Our spiritual leaders today come in many shapes and sizes and are mouthpieces to ease our consciences about the way we live. We give them money envelopes to censor truth and assuage our guilt which we don’t even own as such anymore. Keith Russell Ablow in his “Delicate Business” came ‘that close’ to admitting this. If I were in a business that made money (lots of money) a prerequisite for spiritual help, I think I would feel uneasy too. I think I might drink excessively and eventually commit suicide, as so many of Dr. Ablow’s fraternity do. And cut it any way you will, the bottom-line malaise Dr. Ablow’s profession deals with is spiritual in nature.

Jerrold Ladd’s “Growing Up In The Projects” helps offset somewhat the apologetic tone of your money issue, and Alan Brilliant’s “Living Simply” [June/July 1992] should have been bumped up an issue to achieve even greater scope and balance.

We’re a people with a puncture wound driven deep into our very bowels. The hole from the outside looks insignificant enough, treatable enough. A little sulfur and a Johnson & Johnson bandaid should set things right again. But, to paraphrase Henry Miller (a spiritual leader who said, “If it’s enough to make you puke, then puke, me lads, it’s your own sick mugs you’re looking at,” and consequently had his books banned in his own country for nearly a quarter of a century): you can’t realign your sick soul with the universe with a bandaid — nothing less than a change of heart will do.

Money, when you put denial aside, has nothing to do with the cure and everything to do with the sickness.

John Bennett Ellensburg, Washington

The Sun consistently feeds me spiritually, guiding me along the path from which I inevitably stray. I am benevolent of heart, but not always beneficent in action. The Sun nurtures the merging of the two, and is the only publication that I routinely read cover to cover.

Tim Ferguson Falls Church, Virginia
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