This isn’t the kind of letter we usually print, but I respect Jon Remmerde and feel saddened by his plight. We published eleven of Jon’s short stories and essays between 1984 and 1993. His address is P.O. Box 8569, Bend, OR 97708.
I’ve just spent eleven days in the hospital with meningitis. Now I’m home again, grateful to be alive, slowly recovering, and very concerned about how I will pay all the bills resulting from this illness.
My financial difficulties actually started twenty-nine years ago when a drunk driver with no insurance, no money, and no job severely injured me. I was self-employed and didn’t have health insurance. Since then, I have been almost completely unable to work full time. Yet I’ve had a creative and rewarding existence despite a very low income.
Two summers ago, while employed at manual labor, I reinjured the leg damaged in the accident. I began to receive Social Security disability, but the payments were small because my lifetime earnings have been very low. My family and I were in a delicate position, meeting our needs but with nothing to spare, when the meningitis hit.
I’ve been hoping to find part-time work, but my doctors tell me recovery from meningitis is very slow, and my age — fifty-nine — makes it difficult to find work even if I were in excellent physical condition. Legislators have gutted welfare so severely that it provides little or no assistance. I’ve checked all possible avenues and found no help available from state or federal government or from nonprofit organizations.
It seems to me that, in times of need, those of us with common interests should bond together and help each other however we can. Sun readers fit my concept of people with big hearts. I’d like to appeal to them for contributions to help me pay the bills so my family and I can keep our house, cover the rising expenses from this illness, and continue to meet our everyday needs.
I had to write after reading Gordon Grice’s “After the Stillbirth” [October 1999]. In 1985, I had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured my fallopian tube. I hadn’t known I was pregnant, and was devastated when I came out of surgery and found out what had happened. That I was single made no difference; this would have been a much wanted child.
I lived in the South then, with many relatives nearby. My mother urged me not to tell any of them that I had been pregnant. “Just tell them you had some female problems,” she said. This seemed outrageous to me, and I asked whom she thought she was protecting. “You,” she replied over and over. Finally, she admitted, “All right, it’s me.”
My aunts showed up, as they do whenever a relative is in the hospital, hovering over me, wanting answers but never asking outright. I felt no shame and told them the truth. In their eyes, this was just another thing for which to condemn me. I was already divorced, a flight attendant, and drove a sports car.
My grief lasted for years. Some friends said, “It wasn’t a real baby.” Maybe that was true for them, but for me my miscarriage was the loss of a human being. That is why Grice’s essay struck me so deeply. I admire how he was able to articulate his pain. As one who has been there, I know: everyone has to grieve in his or her own way.
In the October correspondence section, Ernest Stableford says, “You owe your readers an apology for not editing out the racist remarks from [Gregory] Frederick’s . . . essay.” If an apology is called for, it should be from Stableford to Frederick. Anyone who can refer to “the clichéd guise of a victimized descendent of slaves (yawn)” has no knowledge of history and not a drop of feeling for his fellow human beings.
Stableford’s complaints about how Frederick described white men in prison were foolish. Frederick’s comments were neither negative nor positive, but rather sensitive observations of the varieties of suffering in prison. It makes sense that white prisoners, in general, having had a different outside life from that of many black prisoners, bring different worries and feel different terrors inside.
Stableford further says that Frederick’s “view of prison as a metaphor for society at large is testament to the paranoia . . . one expects from racists.” The fact is, prisons do work as a metaphor for society at large. The same hierarchy exists in both: the rulers and the ruled, the favored and the ignored. The economics that directs goods and services only in certain directions, the exploitation of the weak by the strong and the lucky, as well as efforts toward fairness and small examples of human goodness — all these are present to extreme degrees in prison. Prison is a compressed version of society’s tensions and a testament to its failures.
If you will permit a response to David Guy’s response to Ira Shull [Correspondence, October 1999], I would like to propose another point of view on sex workers.
Like Guy, I would like to see these workers as proud women with a gift for sensuality, as sacred women: This is their path, their craft. They do it well. But let’s also see these women as hungry. Let’s see them as neglected. Let’s say they have children and not enough money, and are trapped in a poverty mentality. Let’s say that no matter how much someone looks at them, touches them, tells them they are beautiful, it will not be enough to make them feel loved, to make them realize their true worth. Let’s say they are all addicted to something, just like the rest of us. Let’s say that their work is not spiritual all the time, but often just a way to get money.
And let’s also say that they were six-year-old girls once. Let’s say they ate cinnamon toast. Let’s say they lost their first teeth when they were seven. Let’s say, when they were eight, they took their friends to the skating rink for a birthday party, and each of them got a package of M&M’s, which melted in their pockets by the end of the day. Let’s say these women have mothers, and their mothers have shoe boxes filled with crayon drawings of trees and smiling suns. Let’s say these women were not always naked, but were once twelve-year-olds who read C. S. Lewis stories on their back porches, who got A’s and B’s on their geometry finals.
Let’s say all of this is true. Let’s widen our view of these women beyond their bodies, beyond the fifteen-inch screen, beyond even “the red thread of passion.” Because for all of us humans, there are many threads.
“A Good Enough Daughter,” by Alix Kates Shulman [September 1999], was inspired. She writes with incredible perception and insight. Old age is sad and difficult. Pride goes early. It’s the last step before eternity. What can we do? Only live it as best we can, helping others along the way, and enduring to the end.
In Dan Wakefield’s splendid and inspiring interview with Leonard Kriegel [September 1999], Kriegel said he doesn’t “see how men will be saved by sitting around campfires and crying in groups.” I couldn’t agree more: there is nothing to be gained from simply crying and lamenting what we did not get from our pasts. Yet the insight I have gained from “men’s work” over the past few years has made it clear to me that there is no easy way to transcend the loss of a father, a loss that binds so many men of my generation. The Greeks advocated katabasis, a descent into our darkness and wounds. This descent requires the courage that Kriegel espouses. And that odyssey should not be confused with the rampant victimhood that so much of society — men and women included — celebrates.
The aim of men’s work is to run head-on into the loss, to taste it, wrestle with it, feel it so deep in your blood and guts that you don’t need to stay there anymore. Only then, and not before, can we move on with our lives.
Crying around campfires is, at best, only an initial, small step in an arduous process that leads to true empowerment. Facing the “shadows” allows us to become the Audie Murphy–type men whom Kriegel admires.
Ever since I read Cammie Doty’s letter in the July 1999 Correspondence section, I have been thinking about whether I would let my thirteen-year-old daughter read The Sun. In this society, we don’t do coming-of-age rituals, or many rituals at all, so it’s hard to say whether a thirteen-year-old is grown up. If I felt my daughter were still a child, I would not give her The Sun to read. If she were a young woman, however, I would give it to her, because its pages are filled with secret adult lore about the deepest joys and sorrows of the human experience. Children might not be ready for such straight, harsh, and dirty truth, but adults need to hear these stories, need to wonder at the beauty and awfulness of life.
Perhaps The Sun isn’t here to enlighten. Maybe it’s simply here to shine on the living and the dying, the drug addict and the alcoholic, the man wrestling with his sexual demons, the woman who fights against her instincts to stay with the abuser she loves, the child learning that while there are bold eagles flying through blue skies, there are also blind worms eating shit.
My wife and sons have always remarked on my taste for “depressing” literature. So I’ve followed with interest the ongoing debates in the correspondence section as to whether or not The Sun is weighted too far toward the darker side of life. Some suggest that The Sun gives short shrift to joy. True to my Scandinavian roots, I believe life is actually a rather dark experience overall. I see joy only in the glimmers of light shining through the darkness — a point of view The Sun caters to admirably. Since one of my sons died three years ago at the age of nineteen, I’m more certain than ever that I haven’t been misreading life, nor has The Sun.