The most important lessons in my life are ones I learned from trees. Starting at about the age of five, I left my body on a regular basis to hang out inside whatever tree friends I could find. What they taught me kept me sane (though there are those who would argue the point).
It was wonderful to see Sparrow [“Conversations with a Tree,” September 2011] give one of the world’s best teachers a little much-deserved publicity.
One day, while browsing at a (now gone) newspaper stand, I saw a magazine with a striking black-and-white photograph on the cover. It was the March 1996 issue of The Sun. Looking for something different, I decided to purchase it and devoured every word. I have been a subscriber ever since.
I’ve almost written you letters numerous times. This month’s stark and salient photo essay by Martín Weber [“Latin American Dreams,” August 2011] finally did the trick. I’ve traveled extensively in Mexico, and the raw truth and humanity Weber captures left me sin palabras (speechless).
They say that timing is everything. When I went into the kitchen this morning, I spied food scraps in the sink. No matter how many discussions I have had with my husband about this, he always forgets to clean up. It drives me mad.
In a huff, I picked up The Sun, went into the bedroom, and read Brian Doyle’s piece “His Weirdness” [August 2011], about a wife who will miss all her dying husband’s irritating quirks after he’s gone. Tears began to flow down my cheeks. Since reading that essay, I look at the dirty kitchen sink and feel gratitude that my husband is healthy, vibrant, and very much alive.
I am considered by some people to be a “cold-hearted bitch,” but Christian Zwahlen’s short story “Her Name Was the Whippoorwill” [August 2011] made me cry.
Thanks to Ella Driscoll’s letter [Correspondence, August 2011] I see I’m not the only reader who is annoyed by your poor-mouth petitioning for financial support. Driscoll expressed my thoughts perfectly: stop asking me for money when you are unwilling to support yourself by carrying tasteful, interesting, and informational advertising. Ads will benefit The Sun, its readers, and its advertisers. What is your problem?
And for heaven’s sake, stop bragging about being ad-free until you have so much money in the bank that you don’t need handouts.
I have always cherished the fact that I can savor a whole issue of The Sun without encountering one ad, but after reading Ella Driscoll’s letter encouraging The Sun to include “tasteful advertising such as one finds in Smithsonian,” I wondered what I might be missing. I plucked the top issue from the dusty stack of Smithsonians my sister ordered for me last Hanukkah. Within it were forty advertisements. Nine were for tours and cruises. I couldn’t decide which was the most tasteful. Was it the picture of the three white people on an African river, gawking at an elephant? The woman dressed like Meryl Streep in Out of Africa? Or the one that exclaimed simply, “BOTSWANA!”?
Other ads were for “lab-created DiamondAura” jewelry, limited-edition coins, hearing aids, shoes, shirts, pajamas, language programs, earrings, glue, puzzles, coffee pots, floor mats, car insurance, charities, bow ties, and four different prescription medications.
Finally I saw it — the pinnacle of good taste. An ad for trademarked pheromones guaranteed to attract the opposite sex, complete with testimony from a retired physician who’s dating a woman in her thirties: “It works!”
After seeing for myself, I must join the throngs of deprived readers clamoring for The Sun to include advertisements.
Poetry isn’t my favorite type of writing, but Richard Lehnert’s “The Only Empty Place” [July 2011] almost brought me to tears. I am about to be divorced, and I do not think I ever felt this way about my ex. But I know this is how I want to feel when I meet the person with whom I am supposed to be.
At the age of fifty-one I have jettisoned my former career as a systems analyst and am now working as an intern family therapist in a hospital psychiatric department. Every day I listen to my clients describe their latest suicide attempts and answer parents’ questions about how to handle their out-of-control teens.
When The Sun arrives each month, I scan the contents hoping to find an essay by Poe Ballantine. His honesty and insight about his own life allow me to quiet my self-doubt and reach for my most authentic self.
I read with deep enjoyment Chris Dombrowski’s essay “My Anti-Zen Zen” [August 2011], especially the part about dreading the day all three of his kids will be crying at once. I don’t have three kids, but I have two very strong-willed twin boys. They had trouble learning to breastfeed, so I would pump my milk and put it in bottles. I remember one night at 2 AM, pumping both sides while rocking the babies in their car seats, one with each foot, all three of us crying.
My boys are fourteen now. They are taller than I am, with deep voices and muscular limbs. The other day I was goofing around with them and tried to pick them up and rock them and play some of our old toddler games. We were soon helpless with laughter, holding our sides, tears streaming down our faces.
I take that joyous image and try to send it back in time, like a bright postcard of hope, to my fourteen-year-younger self, sitting in the dark and weeping. Don’t you think we can do that, be our own guardian angels and comforters? I like to think so.
Reading Barbara Platek’s interview, I was impressed by Marc Ian Barasch’s insights into the value of dreams [“What Did You Dream Last Night?” August 2011], particularly the importance of intuition, synchronicity, and listening to one’s inner voice.
I facilitated a dream group at a mental-health facility in which most members had major psychiatric illnesses. It seemed that the clients’ dreams became more vivid and plentiful once they had a regular outlet for talking about them. Many of the their fears regarding violence and substance abuse were quelled as the dreams provided a substitute: acting out in dreams versus acting out in real life.
I commend The Sun for showcasing writing about the impact mental illness has on families, particularly the essays “My Sister Teaches Me the ABC’s,” by Anne Templeton [May 2011] and “Not Suitable for Children,” by Doug Crandell [July 2011]. I am humbled by both writers’ courageous, eloquent, honest, and, above all, compassionate voices. They illuminate a world that has been in the shadows far too long.
I didn’t write “Not Suitable for Children,” but I could have.
I identified with the sense of impending doom Doug Crandell felt about how his mother’s latest manic phase would end with the inevitable crash and the possibility of exposure, embarrassment, and shame. His essay concludes with a soft landing, but judging by my own experience, I expect there was worse to follow.
I fretted constantly about how others viewed my mother, although my friends liked how colorful she was, how creative, how interesting, never boring. One childhood friend recalls sitting at our kitchen table while my mom watched a pot of stuffed cabbage cook on the stove for hours, waiting for it to be done so they could taste it.
I watched my mom the way she did that pot on the stove, but my anticipation was laced with fear and dread. I never knew which mother I would get.
After a long, fruitful friendship, The Sun and I parted ways about ten years ago. There was no dramatic fight, no shedding of tears. We had simply grown in different directions, and I moved on. I dare say I didn’t even miss it.
Recently The Sun showed up in my mailbox in the form of a gift. We picked up right where we left off, smiling, laughing, crying, and thinking. I read it from cover to cover into the early morning hours, sleep be damned.
My old friend is back. Or is it me who’s back?