2:00 A.M. Nobody knifed, shot, dying of respiratory failure, stroke, massive coronary occlusions, migraines, the flu, or earaches. After doing so much medical scribbling with this pen, it’s nice when the hospital quiets down and I can toss some ink on the page just for me.
Once I read several magazines every week. The New Yorker was my bread and butter. But it turned into perfume. I divorced it. I was well along my path away from commercially driven journalism when I found The Sun. It instantly became my bread and butter . . . and my Camembert and cabernet sauvignon, my eggplant-tofu enchilada and rhubarb-strawberry pie. Old issues make great snacks, too. Thank you for such a masterpiece of honest energy.
What’s the point of Rafael Weinstein’s “Scenes from a Wedding” [August 1994]?
How many stereotypical Jews could the writer include in one short piece? How many stereotypical non-Jews? (The innocent Lees, the passive shiksa bride, the hot Latina are all ridiculous.) Could Weinstein have made his characters more hateful and cartoonish?
Satire can be bracing, fresh, instructive, funny. Think of Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus. I’m not saying one has to be as good a writer as Roth to get published, but Weinstein’s no writer at all. His is a poor story, badly written, meanly conceived; it contributes to images of Jews that are untrue, except in the minds of antisemites and racists. I’m sure you get a lot of the same. How did this one get through?
Rafael Weinstein responds:
Voremberg complains that my story contains stereotypes of Jews; she complains about “untrue” images. Which images are untrue? Are some Jews not, sad to say, materialistic, philandering, cheap, gay, or opportunistic, as are some non-Jews? Should Jews be portrayed as uniformly pious, holy, moral, and better than others? In short, as stereotypes?
What is stereotypical about a rabbi who is more interested in his suits than in his parishioners? Or a gay cantor? Or a bride (shiksa or not) who, while taking her vows, cries over a dead ex-boyfriend?
Voremberg has apparently forgotten that both Roth (whom she admires) and Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer were roundly criticized (mainly by Jews) for portraying Jews unfavorably. That is to say, as flawed human beings.
It is heartening to see that the myth of the noble savage is alive and well after all these years. Your recent interview with Malidoma Patrice Somé [“Holding Our Power,” August 1994] reminds us that as long as there are people who are dissatisfied, confused, and unhappy with where, when, and who they are, there will always be prophets like Somé to lead them back — always back — to a finer, purer, golden age of innocence. Doesn’t anybody ever want to go forward?
My quarrel with Somé is that he chooses the West as his whipping boy, as if the West were somehow a single monolithic entity — which it isn’t. Having worked with foreign students for years, I can tell you that most people in the world are fairly clamoring to get their hands on some of those decadent Western evils like Walkmans and jeans. (The Japanese are more “Western” than most “westerners.” Mull that one over!)
Where we really part company, though, is in the discussion of power. If Somé’s tribal elders don’t want to use their abilities to “handcuff” the West, then how about using them to save their own people? The Rwandan refugees in Goma, Zaire, could certainly use some homespun magic. (Did you notice how I slipped monolithic Africa in there?) I note, however, that it took clean water and vaccinations to stop the epidemics and save lives. If that’s the difference between Western power and Somé’s alternative, then I’ll take health, longevity, and expanded opportunities for growth and learning, thanks. Somé and his followers can have the indigenous world.
Malidoma Patrice Somé responds:
The noble savage is an invention of people who do not want to understand the indigenous world, who are annoyed by it and by any mention of its power. The same people are responsible for the mass murder of natives in this country and elsewhere.
Chester thinks that we should stop looking back and fully embrace progress. (Who says that looking back is not going forward?) He invokes the chaos in Zaire and Rwanda (one might add Somalia and Liberia, as well) to support his argument that progress is redemption, and that the primitive savage has nothing worthwhile to offer. I hope that Chester’s great intellect continues to supply him with guilt-free rationalizations to maintain his sedation from reality. For if he is unfortunate enough to wake up some day, he will shiver at how many atrocities are manufactured in the name of progress.
Chester should know that indigenous peoples who could be saved by “homespun magic” would take care of themselves if the West would just leave them alone. He might as well ask, Why didn’t they use that spiritual power to prevent the horrors of slavery? Or why didn’t that power go to work when colonialism came in? Apparently he feels power that isn’t used in accordance with his definition and expectation is not power at all. Clean water and vaccinations are not the cure to the situation he is talking about.
As to his assumption that I am some kind of guru with a herd of followers, I want him to know that I neither have followers nor want any; I myself am a follower of the ways of my ancestors. Nor am I a prophet. I merely pass on spiritual values to those who can use them.
Reading your Correspondence section, I find myself laughing out loud. What a wonderful endorsement for the very essence of The Sun. Some people embrace the raw truth that drips from your pages, while others aren’t able to judge content because they are hung up on wording.
When the dust settles and the ostriches have buried their heads back in the sand, there will still be those who sit in their cells each month and await the next Sun. Who better to judge than those who do little else but read?
When I read “Stones of Light” [July 1994], I wanted the interviewer to ask David Freidel about the process of shamaning, and how myth and metaphor are connected to the collective consciousness (not so unconscious anymore) that is manifested today. I have known “altered states” since having a high fever from polio when I was seven. I think all children know them. If people could come to realize that altered states are as easily available as time alone in the woods, perhaps some of the mystique would dissipate. Perhaps more would seek such states without drugs, meditation, gurus, shamans, or other snake-oil salesmen. Which is not to suggest there aren’t legitimate shamans. Only that we are all shamans, or can be. The “otherworld” is just beyond the city limits of most people’s limited perception, in their ability to sit quietly, alone in the woods.
Andrew Weil [“Why We Are All Addicted,” July 1994] says “the Buddha has nothing to say about where craving comes from.” For more than twenty-five hundred years, Buddhist teachings have elaborated on karma and the twelve stages, or nidanas, which fixate our thinking on the delusion of ego, the struggle of perceiving ourselves as separate from our experience. Craving is the result and the cause of this fixation. And the Buddhist prescription for recovery is clear: get to know your mind; meditate. Meditation shifts the emphasis from why we are addicted to the more practical question of how — how do we get ourselves into a state of “craving poison as if it were food”?
What I draw on as a therapist is not my training in Western psychology or addiction theory but twenty years of Buddhist practice. I’ve been taught that craving, with its attendant ignorance and aggression, is the root of human pain. I am told by Buddhist teachers to sit down and relate to the craving that arises in my mind.
When meditating, I discover that I feel separate from the object of my craving; that I delude myself into seeing addiction as a solution for the pain of this separation; that addiction arises as a way of avoiding the boredom and discomfort of the present moment. But my biggest discovery is that there are gaps in my obsessive thinking, gaps that open up to the vast sky of serene awareness that is not fixated on thoughts. With that realization, I know that the ultimate liberation from craving is possible.
Weil accurately describes the feeling of urgency and revulsion that is the reason we practice. It is because we are horrified by samsara, the endless cycle of addiction to the causes of suffering, that we apply ourselves to the third noble truth of Buddhism, which proclaims that craving can be eliminated, and the fourth noble truth, which outlines the path of recovery from addiction.
Buddhist psychology offers a tried and proven method of unraveling our addictions and uncovering a state of liberation from craving, known as enlightenment.
I’ve just read your “Friend Of The Sun” letter June 1994], telling me how The Sun works, how my donation will help.
I’ve also spread all the Suns I have in a fabulous multicolored ring on the floor, letting my eyes and fingers spin the wheel, remembering what snagged and nagged and was dissolved, what still snags and slices and draws blood, and what makes me smile.
I’ve shown issues to friends, with results that are often disquieting. One says, “Ideas? You call these ideas?” Another leafs through and, looking as if she held a dead fish, hands it back, holding her pretty nose. “The production values stink.”
After these experiences, I always look at it lying there rejected in my lap and wonder what it is they’ve seen. How can they miss the questions, the great and terrible superglue questions that peel your skin off in huge strips if you jerk away too soon? As long as there’s an address leashed to my being, I want those questions pressed upon me.
When the issue comes each month, that day is lost. I end up sprawled on the carpet, reading. Sometimes I wince away from it, feeling the weight of the previous issues; all those ideas and thoughts undigested, bread-crumb trails winding off between trees into the distance.
I’ve just read your fine letter again, telling me how you think The Sun works. You do presume, don’t you? You really know only the smallest part of the “workings” of The Sun. The rest of the workings are hidden here, warm and juicy within me.
So here’s some extra money, Sy, whoever you are, you gentle, foolish panhandler. Spend it, then come back and shoulder that miserable forty-page burden, and agonize over what to print, and somehow choose, as always, what you think I’d like to read, to experience, to think about awhile.