I just finished reading the November 1999 Correspondence, with its letters about Sybil Smith’s story “A Dog Named Hopi” [August 1999]. Like some of the letter writers, I was disturbed to discover that the story was fiction. Smith’s reply did little to assuage my concerns. Her admonishment that such things do happen is an insult to your readers’ intelligence.
She goes on to say that we need people who are brave enough to talk about it. Herein lies the problem. Smith, it seems, has presumed the right to speak for those who have been wounded. While she does so in a riveting manner, how true is her story to actual experience? Only those who have gone through a kidnapping and rape can tell us. And why not let them write their own stories? I’m sure a fair share of them are literate enough to do so. To speak for victims who are capable of speaking for themselves only invalidates them further.
Having said all of this, I have to admit that the letter from the woman who had been raped, yet took no offense at Smith’s story — and, indeed, seemed to derive some validation from it — suggests that Smith got it right. Ultimately, I guess, it is just as presumptuous of me to speak for these women. Perhaps the appropriate path is to step back and leave the criticism to those unfortunate enough to have the qualifications for it.
Reading the correspondence about “A Dog Named Hopi,” I thought, Don’t they get it? It amazes me that Kristen Pitzen is letting her subscription lapse over that story, and that Katja B. Szarafinski wants you to water down The Sun because the same piece disturbed her. I would rather be disturbed than bored. Great literature is supposed to touch you somehow, make you feel something: joy, sorrow, hope, anger, love, and, yes, even disgust.
When I read Sybil Smith’s story, I was deeply affected, a little uncomfortable, and very glad to have had the chance to read such a great piece of writing. As a matter of fact, I handed that story to three friends and said, “You have to read this.” Each thanked me when returning it.
Reading “800” by Alyce Miller [November 1999], made me uncomfortable, but I forced myself to finish the whole story, bored though I was by her narrator’s endless musings and apprehensions. I simply could not bring myself to care about the characters, burdened as they were with education, income, and privilege. I sensed no gratitude or spirituality in them, but rather the kind of subtle racism that educated white people have always indulged in, under the guise of being “honest” about their thoughts. I am white and have heard remarks like these all my life. Before I comprehended their stupidity and cruelty, I kept silent. But no more.
“How come I can’t have a baby,” the narrator asks, “when babies just fall out of these women?” Am I supposed to think that she might actually be willing to trade places with one of the poor, unwed mothers she’s referring to? And how about the decision not to adopt the triplets, one of whose parents may have been biracial? Was it really the number of babies, or was it the ethnic combination that so frightened this couple? Why are white women willing to pay exorbitant sums for a baby whose skin is untainted by color?
I read frequently in your magazine of those searching for peace and harmony in their lives, giving something of themselves back for all they receive. Even those who struggle with the painful experiences they have endured give to the rest of us by sharing their pain. We don’t turn away from it because we are all part of the human family, which has no color.
Thanks for publishing Derrick Jensen’s interview with Frances Moore Lappé [“The Broken Promise of Democracy,” November 1999]. I first encountered Lappe’s work in the early seventies. She made it clear how coffee production exploits Third World farmers. It’s a huge cash crop grown for export in place of badly needed food those farmers could otherwise be growing for themselves.
Because of this revelation, at the age of forty-five, I have never had a cup of coffee. I had meant this to be a political statement, but I’ve discovered it has an added health bonus: I visited a naturopath a few years back, and she asked how it could be that my kidneys and adrenal system were so much healthier than those in others my age. “No coffee,” I told her, “ever.” She actually shook my hand.
Jenny Pike’s criticism [Correspondence, November 1999] of me and other “self-absorbed” and irresponsible pet owners who told their stories in the August issue [Readers Write on “Cats and Dogs”] struck me as unfair. In every writing class or workshop or magazine office, there is a person who startles me with his or her total failure to read the pain between the lines. Maybe we could invent some special set of punctuation marks to notify such people when a “casual, matter-of-fact tone” should be interpreted as anguished.
If only Jenny Pike could see the photographs of me tandem-nursing, with my two-year-old on one breast and the family cat on the other! Perhaps then she would cease to shudder at the thought of my child-raising capabilities.
I love The Sun. Every issue is a treasure chest of true and authentic stories, interviews with exceptional people, and amazingly poignant, revealing photographs. Stories in The Sun, including those in Readers Write, may be on the sad and sometimes unpleasant side, but they always come off as genuine.
Why, then, would you choose to publish a piece of dreck like Sparrow’s “Catskill Sky Journal” [October 1999]? If Sparrow is such a poet, why doesn’t he invent his own images to describe a sky he supposedly loves, instead of relying on such corporate clichés as Nike insignias and demons from Ghostbusters? Must we be subjected to mindless product references even in The Sun? I feel betrayed. Now, this is offensive.
Sam Keen has an impressive list of credentials. When I read Scott London’s interview with him [“On the Flying Trapeze,” October 1999], I thought, A man like this must really know his generation. But in one brief statement, he managed to dismiss the sixties, one of the most politically exciting decades that generation will ever know, a decade that held promise and brought about real change. Keen said: “More people are working on real alternatives today than in the sixties. . . . Hippie culture really wasn’t fundamentally creative, because it was stuck in a rebellious phase. It was a good rebellion, but we thought we were going to change the world by entertainment and rock bands and dances and acid, and that’s not serious politics.”
This account is an insult to the political activists of the sixties and a disservice to all others. I was a schoolkid in the sixties, but here is what I remember: I remember four political assassinations. I remember many more lives lost for the sake of civil rights. I remember activist groups such as Students for a Democratic Society, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Organization for Women, the Peace Corps, and the Republic of New Africa. I remember racial revolution in a dozen major cities. I remember widespread demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Was this not “serious politics”? What have I missed in the nineties that compares with it?
Even if Keen represents the sixties accurately with his emphasis on entertainment and rock bands, I contend that those things were powerfully transformative. If they suggested optimism and naiveté, then we need more, not less, for the nineties has been a cynical and cruel decade.
Sam Keen says that hippies “thought we were going to change the world.” My friends and I never thought we could change the world. Our goal was just not to give in to it, not to surrender our youthful naiveté too quickly. Along the way, an unwinnable war was brought to an end. We worked for candidates who supported a clean environment and equal rights for women and minorities. Some of us successfully went into politics ourselves. And many of us still try to treat the planet and each other with respect, because, in the end, this is all we have. Philosophy needn’t be so complicated.
In Dan Wakefield’s interview with Leonard Kriegel [“A Rage to Live,” September 1999], Kriegel says, “The idea that we’re going to be saved by becoming more lachrymose to me seems absolutely wrong. I prefer the idea that you should hold back your tears. Why don’t we give that another chance? To think that somehow you’re going to be liberated by blubbering is ridiculous.” I feel you did your readers a great disservice by printing his words.
I grew up in an emotionally abusive home surrounded by the messages “Be a man,” “Suck it up,” and “Big boys don’t cry.” I followed these instructions and became very hurt and angry deep inside. I learned to think that I was fairly worthless. As a teenager, I looked for evidence to the contrary in the eyes of girls, but I didn’t receive it. I think they understood, on a subconscious level, that I was still a scared, confused little boy inside.
As I grew into manhood, this constant rejection led me to feel anger toward women. I started watching pornography because it gave me an outlet for my anger. I progressed to becoming a peeping Tom, rationalizing that I wasn’t hurting the women because they didn’t know what was happening. Even after my wife found out, I continued. Why? Because I had never learned how to deal with the hurt in a healthy way.
Finally, I got caught and entered counseling. I cried for the first time in seven years. And I started growing, emotionally and in other ways.
I am now thirty-six. I gave up voyeurism years ago and pornography more recently. It’s easy not to want them anymore, because I have replaced them with love for myself and a strong desire to affect positively all the people I meet. I regret my past actions, but I’m proud of the person I am today. I’m admitting all of this to The Sun’s readers because I hope it will help others on their path toward growth. I will continue to heal my pain through my tears.