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The Sun Magazine

The Sun Interview

The Plants Respond

An Interview With Cleve Backster

Sometimes it happens that a person can name the exact moment when his or her life changed irrevocably. For Cleve Backster, it was early in the morning of February 2, 1966, at thirteen minutes, fifty-five seconds into a polygraph test he was administering. Backster, a leading polygraph expert whose Backster Zone Comparison Test is the worldwide standard for lie detection, had at that moment threatened his test subject’s well-being. The subject had responded electrochemically to his threat. The subject was a plant.

Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

Which Way To Siloam?

Mazatlán this July is hot and smelly. A sewer line has broken and sent a river of reeking brown water into the street, and our taxi leaves a swirling wake of sludge. The air is thick with flies and putrid stench, and I wish I hadn’t agreed to go downtown with the McDougalds for lunch. They don’t seem to mind the filth as much as I do. They’re excited about being here with the healers again and finding that I’m here, too, and they’re busy catching me up on everything that has happened to them since we were here together last year. They’ve brought their eighteen-year-old daughter with them this time, a pretty young woman who’s a blonder version of her mother.

Nothing Moved Except His Eyes

It was late November, and I was visiting my parents. Dad was asleep in a rented hospital bed in my sister’s old room; he was dying of lung cancer. Mom and I talked over coffee at the kitchen table. I told her about a hospice, how they would come and help out a few times a week. She lit a cigarette and I watched the ashes form and fall to the table, until at last she put it out without having taken a single drag.

Gray Rain At Graceland

I’m driving west on a Tennessee two-lane, listening to Shelby Foote speak of Gettysburg. His Old South accent gives the bloodiest battle fought on this continent a daguerreotype, sepia-toned look in my mind’s eye; I see a battleground where the living seem not quite living, the dead not quite dead. An odd suspension of disbelief grips me — over hours of tapes I’ve forgotten who won; it seems the battle (and all of history) could go either way. Until Pickett’s charge: 1863. Not for fifty years would my people come to this country, yet Gettysburg feels like my fight, too. Which is as vivid a proof as I’ve ever had that I am an American — that the history, not of my genes, but of my consciousness, goes back to this land’s earliest days. The blood, not of my ancestors, but of what’s shaped my heart, is in this ground.

Ode To A Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitor

The last time I went to my psychiatrist’s office, he asked me how I felt. I said that with the pills he was giving me, I felt as happy as a clam. He then, with the full approval of the DEA, the AMA, and the American Psychological Association, sat down with pad and pen and wrote a few words, thus making it possible for me to continue my drug habit — namely, Zoloft, first cousin to Prozac.

Sources Of Nourishment

All week long at my job I’ve been telling people to eat. I’m supposed to be counseling them about HIV, talking about condoms and the needle-exchange program, but instead I find my eyes drawn to the hollows of their collarbones, to the sticks of their wrists and elbows, and I ask them when they last ate.


My Father Swims Away

As my mother’s coffin was lowered into the ground, my father whispered to me out of the side of his mouth, “Spike, who’s in there?”

Readers Write


I had perfectly orchestrated my day (or so I thought): first a meeting with my husband about our collapsing marriage; then lunch with a girlfriend; and finally, an appointment with my therapist — although it’s almost redundant to have lunch with a girlfriend and see your therapist on the same day.

Personal Stories By Our Readers ▸


Today in America — and every day in America — seventy-six million Valium will be swallowed. In addition, some thirty million people will glue themselves to soap operas on television. It would seem that our culture is not well adapted to deal with pain.

Matthew Fox

More Quotations ▸
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