Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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Like Eliot Glick [Correspondence, May 2004], I am tired of the usual New Age suspects being trotted out to teach us right thinking. Michael Ventura’s interview with Robert Bly [“The Wind Isn’t Depressed,” May 2004] is a perfect example.
Ventura and James Hillman’s book, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World’s Getting Worse, condemns the accommodationist approach of therapy, which seeks to help people adjust to intolerable conditions. But Bly’s solution to our problems is another accommodationist fix: instead of trying to change insane conditions, he would have us go insane to match the insanity around us. Abused women of the world, embrace those blows.
It is important to realize that the philosophy of a man nearing the end of his life, as Bly is, is not necessarily appropriate for younger people, who require different challenges. Anyone familiar with Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psycho-social development knows that there is a different wisdom for every age. Bly’s type of thinking has resulted in lowered expectations and the rise of the very generation whose lack of language skills he bemoans, culminating in the election of our current president, the Great Noncommunicator.
This country is seriously depressed. It has been ever since the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. We try to fool ourselves into believing that if we can just come up with the right words to reassure ourselves, everything will be all right. It is time to realize that not every instance of suffering can be turned into joy. Shit cannot always be made into fertilizer to help us grow. Sometimes shit is just shit.
Reading the conversation between Robert Bly and Michael Ventura, I was inspired to break out a pen and highlight passages. The way they link “genuine madness” to art, beauty, and pain reflects an awareness I have ached for throughout my life. Bly and Ventura home in on it effortlessly and intensely. After reading their exchange, I wanted to curl up with my head in Bly’s lap and listen to his ideas as he stroked my hair.
Michelle Cacho-Negrete’s “Land of Plenty,” in the same issue, also moved me beyond the usual pang I feel in my heart while reading The Sun. I quietly cried and said a prayer for the author, and for all who have endured childhood hardships.
The Robert Bly interview seemed to crystallize many things I have been thinking about lately. Young people do need the sort of initiation Bly has long advocated. I’m fifty-one now, but I can remember being thrust into society in my late teens with no instruction, no knowledge, no wisdom, no protocols, no boundaries: nothing. To this day, the only way I can discover where the boundaries lie is to go out of bounds.
People regularly write to complain that The Sun is too dark and dreary, but lately it’s been entirely too funny. The irate reactions to Sparrow’s poems and essays really got me cheering. It took a lot of gall for you to publish his “Brief History of My Money-Back Guarantee” [May 2004] — the closing chapter on one of the funniest sequences I’ve seen in print.
What’s up with all this humor? You have really crossed the line. Tom Ireland’s essay “The Woman in Question” [April 2004] was full of gentle, wry humor, and uplifting to boot. I actually snorted out loud while reading Dwight Yates’s “Our Impending Reconciliation” [May 2004] on the airplane. Other passengers took notice. Boy, did that piss me off!
The Sun had better get back to its bleak, dreary old self or get ready for some subscription cancellations. You have no right to make people laugh.
On issues discussed in your March 2004 Correspondence:
Sparrow is right about the fictional character Tonto being dehumanized. “Tonto” is Spanish for “stupid,” and the Lone Ranger is merely a romanticized notion popularized by fifties television. Here in Phoenix, we recently struggled with another dehumanizing name, “squaw,” which translates to “cunt” in the Hopi language. Though our governor succeeded in changing the name of Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak — to honor Private First Class Lori Piestewa, who was killed in the Iraq war — the public resistance to the change was shameful. We Americans seem unwilling to educate ourselves beyond the point of being just smart enough to be dangerous.
To the reader who wrote that George W. Bush’s goal in our war with Iraq is to bring “peace and economic expansion for America and the rest of the world,” I say: “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.”
You people are a bunch of wackos. Your left-wing rhetoric is a significant threat to the way we all live. Needless to say, I love it.
I especially liked Joseph Rodriguez’s photo essay on the juvenile-justice machine [“Juvenile,” May 2004] and the Readers Write on “Second Chances” in the same issue. I am twenty-one and have been incarcerated for four years. I was arrested on my seventeenth birthday on fifty-six felony counts and am currently serving a fifteen-year sentence for robbery, kidnapping, and illegal use of a firearm. Since my arrest, I have been prescribed a psychotropic medication and have started taking college correspondence courses toward a BA in English and creative writing. This is my second chance.
Knowing what I know about Youth Authority prisons, I have immense respect for the people Rodriguez profiled. I’ve seen a lot of well-intentioned ex-cons return quickly to life behind bars, but a good number of us are getting our second chance on the other side of the wall.
I was surprised, when reading about Joseph Rodriguez in your May 2004 issue, to see the book The Family of Man mentioned. I felt as if I had run into an old friend.
Growing up in the 1950s, when everyone feared nuclear war and air-raid sirens were an everyday fact of life, I spent hours looking at the photographs of human faces in that book. My father had bought it for us, while others were building bomb shelters. I would sit and stare at those people, wondering who they were and where they lived. Seeing our shared humanity so vividly depicted, I could not believe that people from different parts of the world would destroy each other.
Many years later, when I thought I was in love with an ex-Navy SEAL, I bought him a copy, thinking that he would see in it what I did. When we separated, I noticed the book tossed in a corner, unopened.
Now I keep that copy by my bed and look at it often. I still believe that the humanity expressed in those photographs will guarantee our safe passage into the future.
I want to encourage Sy Safransky to keep writing honestly in his Notebook. When I read his entry about his wife’s snoring [March 2004], I laughed out loud and said to my partner, “Poor Sy is dealing with menopause, too.” We make jokes at our house, wondering who’ll be sleeping on the couch or in the guest room by morning.
I was surprised by Suzanne Seaman’s letter in the May Correspondence. Why is it “mean-spirited” of Safransky to talk about his wife’s snoring? Why do we have so much secrecy and embarrassment around aging? “That information is too personal,” Seaman says. But we’re all aging; we’re all in this together. It will be a grim, lonely journey if we can’t share our stories.
I recently wondered whether I should renew my subscription. Times are hard. I’m not working. We just had a baby. Can I really afford to keep getting this magazine that I barely have time to read anyway? Yesterday I became so depressed thinking about the killing of Nicholas Berg, the abused Iraqi prisoners, and the state of our brutal, unrelenting world that I began to cry. I was so tired: tired of nursing a baby day and night; tired of being broke; tired of caring that I was broke; and tired of our screwed-up society.
That evening, I picked up the May issue and turned to the Readers Write section. I found companionship in the honest and sincere voices of others. I saw community, love, and even a glimmer of hope. This morning I cut out my favorite stories of “Second Chances.” Then I wrote a check for another six-month subscription and put it in the mail.
I have read your magazine nearly cover to cover for years — and I am that fattest of fat-target enemies, a rich, white, Republican male.
To be honest, I am probably more moderate than I let on to the world, but my world is the film-and-television business, where, with a few glaring exceptions, the overwhelming majority of players are lock-step liberals. I consider it not only my duty but my pleasure to be a thorn in their side.
I’m talking about people who accept as gospel that abortion is a right never to be denied; that women are noble victims, and men ignoble victimizers (ditto the poor and the rich); that religion is for the weak and the stupid; that corporations are evil incarnate; and that America is imperialist and evil.
So why do I love The Sun so much? Because every issue is extraordinarily well written. Because the stories are heartbreaking and occasionally (though not nearly often enough) funny. Because a tiny bit of diversity does sneak into the letters and the Readers Write section. I’m speaking of the kind of diversity that acknowledges that not all people who voted for George W. Bush are idiots.
Most important of all, I like The Sun because it is moving and provocative and insightful. If I look beyond the elements I find personally offensive and trite, I can find deeper truths, sorrow, and losses — not to mention a basic longing for a common humanity that might even include an old stuffed shirt like me.
Because we received an incorrect caption from a photographer, we misidentified the woman pictured on the cover of our April 2004 issue. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, she is an American Muslim and a student at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The photograph was taken in Washington, D.C.
The Sun and the photographer, Peter Foley, sincerely apologize to the woman in the photograph and to our readers for the error.