Seldom have I read such a fine example of “writing into the story” as Andrew Roe delivers in “Accident” [July 2011]. With each segment he takes the reader deeper, until we are bouncing off the bedrock of the souls of these two parents.
I was moved by Poe Ballantine’s visceral and candid depiction of the hardships of his best friend Cliff and his own experience raising his son, Tom [“Guidelines for Mountain-Lion Safety,” July 2011]. His story is one of overcoming adversity and social abandonment and an unquenchable thirst for belonging. The advice Ballantine gave to his son, for dealing with bullies the same way one should deal with a mountain lion, was brilliant. In a world filled with predators and prey, it is essential to stand tall and hold your ground.
On a recent backpacking trip, I missed seeing a mountain lion by seconds. In the meantime I’ll settle for Poe Ballantine’s “Guidelines for Mountain-Lion Safety.” The mountain lion usually attacks in one leap and a bound, the same way Ballantine writes. It uses its long tail as a rudder to finely adjust its movement; Ballantine uses his life’s experience to similar ruthless effectiveness.
I have been a subscriber for more than twenty years but recently let my subscription expire for economic reasons, naively believing that doing without The Sun would be relatively painless. Wrong.
After three months of deprivation, I purchased the July 2011 issue in a bookstore and devoured it. I was reminded of what a reliable connection to the human race The Sun provides.
I read Gail Hornstein’s interview about mental illness just a few hours after a friend informed me that she’d spun out of control and spent the previous night in the psychiatric ward. I read Poe Ballantine’s description of his son, Tom, and pondered the destiny of my one-year-old grandson, who will be challenged by his genetic makeup and his mother’s struggles with addiction. On the Correspondence pages I read praise for the April issue and was sorry to have missed it. Whatever page I turned to, there was my confirmation that my subscription to The Sun wasn’t a luxury item — it was a necessity.
In response to Sy Safransky’s musing in his July 2011 Notebook about whether his friends govern themselves as well as President Obama leads the nation, I ask: Do his friends go to war with their neighbors? Safransky wonders if his friends are smarter than Obama. Well, do they believe that the least of us should be cared for first, or that all of Wall Street’s demands should be met?
So-called liberals should not be afraid to hold Obama responsible for his mediocre leadership skills and sometimes dangerous policies. If my friends were to behave like him, I would hope that I’d be a good enough friend to call them out on it.
I had decided not to renew my subscription. The human condition can be so hard, and The Sun is so honest — at times whining, but also loving and painful. I thought that by not renewing, I would find time to focus on more important things. In the June issue, which was to be my last, the closing paragraph of the Peter Coyote interview [“Against the Grain” by David Kupfer] suddenly turned much of my midlife angst into understanding. And when I got to the last few paragraphs of the “Dear Sugar” advice column, a lifetime of family confusion made sense. Even if only one issue a year has this impact on me, I had to renew.
Peter Coyote’s description of addiction as “the pit bull that’s been chewing on your innards your entire life, the one you’ve been bribing to stay out of your consciousness,” has stuck with me. My son is a heroin addict (one year sober) and I am a food addict (sixty days abstinent), and this describes both our conditions exquisitely. Coyote is correct that without a community, twelve-step or otherwise, to keep you straight, recovery is almost impossible.
I love the interview with Peter Coyote, but I have to comment on his metaphor for staying clean: “taming the pit bull that’s been chewing on your innards your entire life.” The media have given these dogs an undeserved reputation as savage beasts. I own two pit bulls and know firsthand the social ostracism they face and the institutionalized prejudice of breed-specific legislation. I challenge Coyote and The Sun to think about the effect this kind of language has before you use it.
In “Against the Grain” Peter Coyote implies that the age of “communes” is past. Not so! The Fellowship for Intentional Community (www.ic.org) publishes an excellent quarterly magazine, Communities, about the many intentional communities that are blossoming all over the world today. These groups are full of idealists who have chosen to live sustainably and according to their values. They give me hope in today’s world.
While I am a hopeful realist and not a pessimist like Peter Coyote, he makes an excellent point regarding capitalism as we currently practice it. Its bedrock principle is: more.
Capitalism requires more land, more water, more energy, and more people. It is this last element that will lead us to face overpopulation in the near future. I hope that we can avert impending disaster, but I am far from confident.
I found your interview with actor and activist Peter Coyote to be one of the better ones of the past year. Just one thing troubled me. Coyote says, “All the kids I have met who look like punks have been, without exception, sweet people, but they are not hopeful. I think they are trying to keep a part of themselves sacrosanct from the culture by violating norms of fashion and behavior, making music that is so angry and unbeautiful.”
As one of the pierced and unconventionally dressed punks, I have a problem with his implication that anger and hope are mutually exclusive. I have many proudly iconoclastic friends whose anger about the state of the world only fuels their work for a better tomorrow. To quote old-school punk John Lydon, “Anger is an energy.” I challenge Coyote to show us a revolution that wasn’t based on people’s frustration boiling over.
I am saddened that such a thoughtful and sensitive man as Peter Coyote could espouse such naive and dangerous views about Israel. It is the Palestinians who have repeatedly torpedoed peace initiatives by refusing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. The Palestinian leadership has failed to condemn terrorism, and the Palestinian people are veering dangerously toward fundamentalism, which brooks no tolerance for the Jewish state and holds that all Jews must be driven into the sea.
Peter Coyote responds:
Rachel Kathleen Chan is correct about pit bulls. My dad had a white pit bull, Knappy, a fabulous animal. But they have been bred for five hundred years as a “dead-game” breed, meaning they will fight until they die. There is a deep genetic history in these animals that needs to be understood and approached with caution and respect.
I am happy to stand corrected by Nancy Roth and thank her for the link. I am often asked about communal living today, and now I have a source.
I am not a pessimist, as Tom Bloch says. I practice what I call “radical optimism,” which is based on the indisputable fact that we never know how things will turn out. I never confuse my personal predilections with objective analysis, however. The facts look bad, and there are no guarantees that wisdom will triumph over ignorance.
Byron Case is right in parsing what I wrote, but I didn’t express myself very well. I don’t think that anger and hope are mutually exclusive. I have found, however, that expressing anger rarely solves anything. It makes us feel powerful but also draws lines between people, subtly reinforcing one’s own “correctness” at the expense of others. If we look deeply, we’ll see that we possess the same noxious qualities and practices (expressed differently perhaps) that we target in others. By placing them outside ourselves, we make ourselves feel purer. My model is the Dalai Lama and not John Lydon. Hatred is an energy, too, but . . .
I’ve read that 30 percent of Israelis are in the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement. Perhaps they are all as naive as Carol Green Ungar suggests, but perhaps not. If not, what would that mean? Can there be a “Jewish” state and a democracy that equally includes non-Jews? I don’t know. Can there be a democracy in Israel in which the government is an honest broker in a pluralistic, multicultural society? I don’t know, but if South Africa, Ireland, and the Serbs could do it, I would bet that my own people are capable of such an act of transformation. I don’t think that it’s “dangerous” to discuss the issue. I think it’s dangerous to have a closed mind about it.