The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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I am currently raising two very sophisticated girls, ages nine and eleven, with whom I share my subscription to The Sun. Several days ago, the eleven-year-old said, “Hey, Mom, The Sun is going to sex like everything else.”
Now that I have read the June issue in its entirety, I wish that I had been more careful about what I left lying around for her. Although there were many wonderful pieces, some of the material was not suitable for children. I have been careful to keep my girls safe from consumerism, sexism, and porn. This issue seemed to cross the boundaries that I have established. I don’t want media in our household that must be forbidden to my children. Please consider this.
Aren’t The Sun’s editors, and most of its readers, a bit too old for the type of immature, hormone-driven, adolescent male fantasies that Michael Matkin wallows in [“The Symptoms,” June 2001]? Matkin’s writing ability does not alter the fact that his story was a juvenile and boring piece of pornography. I would hate to think that The Sun confused eroticism — which is healthy — and pornography, which is not.
I thoroughly enjoyed the June 2001 issue, which focused on the mysteries, impact, and living presence of sex in our lives. Sex is so much more than a moral thundercloud or a biological need. Sex can be a symbol, a symptom, an expression of love or hate, a weapon, a sign, a product, a gift. It takes tremendous vigilance and discernment to live peacefully with its message and its meaning.
Your June issue has revived somewhat my flagging belief that The Sun is a magazine I cannot do without. I loved Genie Zeiger’s interview with Thomas Moore [“Summoning Venus”] and, even more, the stunning story by Michael Matkin.
In a culture suffering under, as Moore calls it, the “tyranny of cheerfulness and the religion of positive thinking,” The Sun exists to remind us of the darkness that is the necessary companion to joy. It also reminds us that we are not lone, separate beings, while the religion of positive thinking and the quest for spiritual perfection rely on denial of the knowledge that we are essentially connected.
Something that has long amused me about Moore, super salesman for the soul and its polytheistic perspective, is that reading his words amounts to what he would call a “spiritual” pursuit — a striving for perfection. He makes soulful living sound so good that he can be read and enjoyed without upsetting the regime of cheerfulness and positive thinking.
In my experience, the terrain of the soul is a place where tragedy is a real possibility; where you can forget about control and perfection, because there’s a whole new set of rules here, and they are nature’s rules, not ours. There’s a reason why we resist leaving the spiritual realm, where everything is “bright and wonderful,” for that downward, soulful place where you have to face growing old and other darker realities. We would rather watch television than willingly enter such a place.
Matkin’s story was more soulful — that is, more disturbing — than Moore’s carefully reasoned and well-expressed case for the soul. “The Symptoms” might leave one saying, “Let’s have a little less soul and a little more cheer, thank you,” but that’s the point: the cultural/religious war against sexuality and soul and connectedness has landed us in a pretty frightening place, alone with desires that have been transmuted into terrifying compulsions.
Thomas Moore speaks and writes often about “sex,” so it is surprising — and revealing — how little juiciness there is in his words. There is more essence in the single sentence of D.H. Lawrence in the Sunbeams section than in the entire interview with Moore.
Genie Zeiger’s interview with Thomas Moore was both graceful and soulful. Because of my mournful mood at the time I read it, this line called out to me: “Along with all that pain and suffering, there’s actually something working for you, and you have to be open to that.” So I let go and allowed myself to anchor in that gray harbor of a mood, a place I don’t usually want to visit for very long periods of time, preferring to float past, blindfolded.
I am amazed to say that, against my will, it worked for me. I dove into a reverie I wouldn’t have found with my thinking being. Smells, sounds, and touch were heightened and mixed with passions, fears, and a sense of wonder at the world’s existence.
In your June 2001 Correspondence, Luan Gaines criticizes Tim Farrington’s “A Hell of Mercy” [March 2001], stating that she does not associate depression with the “dark night of the soul,” but views the latter as involving “significantly more complicated moral territory.”
It was my experience that “moral territory” had nothing to do with either affliction. Rather, both came to me unbidden and unmerited.
Luan Gaines suggests that Tim Farrington’s premise might be wrong when he compares his depression with a “dark night of the soul.” My own experiences with depression and dark nights of the soul have suggested that we cannot always differentiate between the two, and that both involve “complicated moral territory.”
In their book Spiritual Emergency, Stanislav and Christina Grof suggest that some forms of mental disturbance — including types of psychosis — are integral to spiritual growth. Manic psychosis, for instance, may be understood in some cases as a form of spiritual awakening — an accelerated experience of personal transformation. In such instances, one’s normal boundaries fall away, and a sense of mystical oneness occurs. It is normal to experience deep depression in the aftermath of this.
As thankful as I am for recent advances in psychotropic medications, I am concerned about potential overuse of these substances. I am not calling Gaines’s experience with her husband’s medication into question. Depression and manic depression, like other mental illnesses, can be extremely hard on a person’s family and friends. And too much suffering is not good for an individual, either. Medications most certainly have their uses.
But the decision about when medication is necessary is complicated. Who has the right to decide? Should we leave it to the doctors? To the family members who have to cope with their loved one’s disturbance? Or to the individuals who will take the medications? At what point does a person lose the ability to decide for him- or herself? People have a right to spiritual development, and, as a society, we still have decisions to make concerning where those rights end. To curtail a person’s spiritual development can exacerbate disturbance.
The use of the word illness to describe these experiences, though accurate in many ways, has negative connotations. We need to look for new ways to describe mental disturbance. The point of this is not to justify illness, but to seek better approaches to healing. To be called “mentally ill” and told by others that one needs medication is still a stigmatizing experience in our society. And in many cases, the people who say medication is necessary are incorrect.
I do not know whether Farrington’s depression was a true dark night of the soul, but I respect his courage in writing publicly about his spiritual life, and his right to define and label his experience for himself — at least, up to a point. Where that point lies is a difficult judgment call, one on which people are unlikely ever to agree.
The Sun is a state of grace. It relentlessly asks the question “What does it mean to be human?” And it asks the sufferers, not the philosophers. The Sun’s pages are like modern sutras written for the longing, waiting, and vigilant heart.
In his May 2001 “Notebook,” Sy Safransky writes, “I’m here in the early-morning darkness, a congregation of one.” To him, I say: You are one, but make no mistake, you are one of many. There are plenty of us reaching out in the morning darkness. You, of all people, are not alone. Your many readers take refuge in the dharma of these pages that you painstakingly churn out each month. You are supported on all sides. You help us to know that, out of the early-morning darkness, the sun will rise. So continue with “the luxury of tears.” The wet warmth gives us life and ties us together as we learn what it is to be human.
Contrary to some complaining letters, I do find humor in The Sun. Sometimes it’s ironic or tragicomic. It’s definitely not Western society’s usual idea of humor, but I find it — and the rest of the magazine — very touching, poignant, and illuminating. The writing in The Sun storms the barricades I have built around myself over the past sixty years.
I am a black female nurse, and all the stories and poems connect with my humanity. I hope you will not change your format, the premise of which seems to be exploring the often mysterious experiences of being human.
My husband is standing at the bathroom sink shaving when I drop the bomb on him: “I’ve renewed my subscription to The Sun.”
He stops midstroke and gives me an incredulous look. “What? You said you hate that magazine!”
“I know. I do,” I say. “But I just can’t not get it. I just have to know what’s . . . what’s been . . . written!” I’m on the defensive. I sound silly, witless.
My husband shakes his head and goes back to shaving. He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t read The Sun. There’s the poetry and photographs, Readers Write and Sy’s “Notebook,” the interviews and stories, and the emotions evoked.
I have to get The Sun. I’m addicted. Or is this magazine something I truly love? Sometimes, when you just can’t get enough, it’s hard to know the difference.