I recently lost my job and am going through a second bitter divorce. Money is virtually nonexistent. Yet I renewed my subscription this past month with no regrets. The Sun reminds me that to feel pain and empathy and joy and grief is to be alive.
I am also an alcoholic in the early stages of recovery, and tonight, as I curled up on the couch with the December Sun, a hot cup of tea, and my many problems, I cried and felt the release that I used to get only from a drink. I had just read “Instead of Dying,” by Tess Gallagher, about her husband Raymond Carver’s battle with alcoholism. I was profoundly grateful to be holding an empty tea mug, and not an empty bottle.
If I hadn’t been told that Ann Blondo’s “Resistance Is Futile” [December 2006] was a true story, I’d have thought it one of the most wonderfully wry and imaginative pieces of fiction I’d ever read. It had me wincing, shaking my head, and laughing all at once. I can’t wait to read her novel when it comes out, to see if her fiction can possibly be as good as her real-life story.
Antler’s poem “First Breath Last Breath” [December 2006] let loose a flood of memories that I hadn’t even known were there. I stared at the accompanying photograph, by Tom Sundro Lewis, and reminisced about the moments each of my sons had entered the world. I was so grateful for their breath. I will put Antler’s poem in the box of keepsakes that I have stored away for my three sons. Maybe they’ll take the time to read it after I have breathed my last.
My relationship with The Sun started slowly. My friend Amy gave me a subscription earlier this year because she thought it was “a good magazine for a young writer.” When my first issue arrived, I didn’t read the interview (it was too long) or all of Readers Write (there were too many). I put the magazine down for a couple of days, then picked it up again. I did this over and over until I’d read — and reread — the entire issue.
The Sun didn’t give itself away from the start. Instead it gradually revealed its complexity and heart with each piece. After two issues, I knew. It was like meeting a lifelong friend for the first time: open, intelligent, thoughtful, and, above all, human.
I am slack-jawed in awe of Alison Luterman’s poem “Saddam Hussein Is Writing Poetry in Solitary Confinement” [December 2006]. “Most poetry is bullshit, of course,” she writes, then proceeds to blow the roof off with her raw, piercing images, dropping pinpoint word bombs that unerringly hit her target.
Pass the smelling salts. Luterman is good.
The private school where I teach is having a book fair, and I have been asked to address the entire student body — middle and high school — during chapel. I am going to talk to them about The Sun.
I discovered The Sun just a couple of years ago, in my late thirties. I sometimes wonder how my life might have been different if I’d read The Sun in high school. I can only imagine how it may shape the direction of some of these students’ lives.
In the December 2006 Correspondence, Vanthi Nguyen writes that Eastern traditions such as Buddhism encourage a dispassionate, “above-the-battle” position on social-justice issues. I have found this to be a misconception of the practice of equanimity. If the struggle for justice is made with an angry, righteous attitude, failure is often the result. Seeing one’s personal suffering is a means of grasping the true extent of suffering in the world. When one learns to see how things really are, stripped of the colorations of the ego, one’s heart cannot help but respond appropriately to injustice.
The responses in the November 2006 Correspondence section to Bethany Saltman’s interview with Sam Harris [“The Temple of Reason,” September 2006] were fascinating for their diversity of opinion. For me, however, the most compelling reply to Harris’s criticism of religious faith was not in the letters section, but in David Hassler and Gary Harwood’s “Field Notes” [November 2006]. I refer to Dr. Teresa Wurst’s eloquent story of caring for the migrant workers of Hartville, Ohio, in which she quotes the words of Jesus, found in Matthew 25:40: “When you did it for one of the least of my brothers, you did it for me.” I thank God for people like her. We’ll never have enough of them.
David Hassler’s interviews with migrant workers should be read by every U.S. citizen who has been tricked into fearing immigrants. These citizens would also benefit from reading “Immigration Nation,” by Tamar Jacoby, in the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs. The author makes a strong case for earned citizenship for the 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Both pieces should be required reading for all members of the 110th Congress, to assist them in constructing intelligent legislation on immigration in 2007.
“Field Notes” really brought back memories. I spent my teenage years in a small town just south of Hartville, Ohio, and worked two summers planting and harvesting onions in high school. I don’t recall if I worked for the Zellers, but I do remember that it was backbreaking work. We were paid $1.80 for each hundred-foot row of onions we planted and six cents for each bunch of onions we picked during the harvest. We all reeked of onions continually.
Though I was aware that migrant workers came to Hartville seasonally, I never met any of them. I appreciate David Hassler and Gary Harwood’s efforts to bring attention to their story.
“Field Notes” paints too rosy a picture of migrant workers. The Zellers’ farm is not the norm. Also, the authors should have explained to readers the poisonous reason that the field workers wear rubber suits.
How about an interview with organic-farm owners and their workers? We would be willing to wager that they do not wear rubber suits in the fields.
I hope the short story “Bomb Shelter,” by Stephanie Koven [November 2006], was only an installment, because I’m wondering what happens to the two girls. Koven paints such a detailed picture of the young narrator and her older sister that I feel I know them. I want them to be OK, not stuck in their house, scared and hungry and waiting for their mother to come home. And what is her story?
Maraya Cornell’s essay “The Button” [October 2006] describes a conversation she had with author Brian Buckbee, whose work has also appeared in The Sun. After seeing the essay in print, Buckbee wrote us the following letter. It wasn’t intended for publication, but he gave us permission to print it:
Because of “The Button,” I have been marveling about art this past month:
My mother had Alzheimer’s.
I wrote a story about my mother.
The Sun published the story [“Dear Me,” December 2004].
I went to Los Angeles to visit my ex-girlfriend.
Because my ex was working, I spent a day with her roommate Maraya, and I told her about my mother.
I got the news at 5 A.M. the next morning that my mother had died.
My ex and I went for a walk that morning, and by the time we’d returned, her roommate had written an essay about my mother and me.
I read the essay and was moved. “You should send this to The Sun,” I said.
She sent you the essay, and you published it in your October 2006 issue.
I sent the October issue to my mother’s sister. She was so moved by the essay she couldn’t speak.
Thanks for providing a place where my mother can live on.
I believe I have found the elusive quote that is at the center of Maraya Cornell’s essay “The Button.” It’s by W. Beran Wolfe: “If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that had rolled under the radiator, striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of each day.”
As with anything in life that’s worthy of a second glance, I stumbled upon The Sun and got smacked in the face. The October 2006 issue is my first. It is currently two in the morning, and I have not done any of my homework, but I have read every single word in this magazine. I plan to read it again at least twice.