With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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I loved Sheryl St. Germain’s essay “A Country Where You Once Lived” [January 2012], a sensitive and sometimes humorous description of getting older and losing our desire for and physical ability to have sex. I was beginning to think I was the only sixty-year-old woman who was experiencing this! I even read excerpts aloud to my husband, who has lovingly and patiently dealt with this challenge to our marriage. When we were younger, we just assumed sex would always be ours to enjoy. I’m lucky to have a wonderful husband who remembers those times with me.
Sheryl St. Germain courageously gives voice to sexual-health concerns shared by many postmenopausal women in a culture that wants us all to be sexually active until we die. Could it be that erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal atrophy in women are entirely normal aspects of aging rather than disorders requiring treatment? Nature could very well be redirecting our attention in the last third of life, encouraging us to notice and wonder at the many small things we’ve overlooked.
Reading Sheryl St. Germain’s moving and honest piece about sex in older age, I kept thinking: She’s got the wrong doctor. Yes, women become drier and men’s erections less reliable. Yes, the libido calms down and can even seem dormant. All of that is natural. But bleeding after intercourse can be caused by skin conditions that, left untreated, have more serious effects, and burning pain during intercourse is often a muscular condition called “vaginismus” that can be treated successfully through physical therapy. I encourage St. Germain and any woman having these symptoms to find a doctor who doesn’t automatically think they are experiencing the inevitable side effects of aging. There are dermatologists and physical therapists who specialize in women’s issues. It’s not about staying young forever. It’s not even about sex. It’s about good health.
My first Christmas present of the year arrived early — the December issue of The Sun. It reminded me of why I have been a faithful cover-to-cover reader for more than twenty years. It was perfection, beginning with the thoughtful, intelligent, and varied rebuttals to the Stewart Brand interview [“Environmental Heretic,” by Arnie Cooper, September 2011] in Correspondence.
D. Patrick Miller’s interview with Jacob Needleman [“Beyond Belief”] was full of ahas for me as Needleman parsed the concept of sin from “being bad” to “not being all we can be.” The Dog-Eared Page excerpt from Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha was worth the three pages given to it. When I read that novel thirty years ago, I had no idea what it was about. Now I understand why it has been a classic for spiritual seekers. Thank you for bringing it back into my life at a time when I can appreciate it.
I loved Andrew Boyd’s travel essay in November [“I Got off the Beaten Path”] and sent a copy of it to my son in Thailand. This month’s “First Empty Your Cup,” also by Boyd, certainly filled mine. What a gifted writer and thinker.
Chloë Gladstone’s short story “Buenos Aires, Dancing, December 1982” gently, lovingly reminded me of my possible future, either as the caregiver or the care receiver in my marriage.
I am in awe of Dana Kletter’s stark honesty in her essay “Stateless.” She looks inside herself and her family, where shadows don’t just lurk, they haunt.
To Chase Dressler, who wrote the essay “Letter to Josh’s Mom”: thank you for your candor. If one person had the capacity to lift a guilty load from another’s shoulders, I would lift yours. I hope the writing of this piece helped you to that end.
Linda McCullough Moore’s short story “You Choose” is as true as any of the nonfiction. It made me cry, which is such a gift.
I read the interview with Jacob Needleman with ever-increasing amazement. I have recently been attempting to concisely compile my own religious beliefs, and Needleman hit on every one of my thoughts. He has a seemingly effortless ability to answer complex questions in a lyrical manner. I have sent copies of the interview to friends and family members as an explanation of my spiritual beliefs.
I decided not to renew my subscription this fall. Then I picked up the December 2011 issue, read the interview with Jacob Needleman, and wrote my check.
This interview and accompanying photos is why I read. It reaches into the heart of all that matters on the spiritual road I’ve known.
For me, the soul of this interview is conveyed by the opening photograph of the roofless monastery in San Galgano in Tuscany. The photographer’s chosen angle brings the viewer’s eye to the sky, a reminder of all that is larger than us.
Thank you for the interview with Jacob Needleman and for the Siddhartha reprint in the current edition of The Sun. You are ministering to the human condition!
After reading “I Got off the Beaten Path,” by Andrew Boyd, I realized that it was only when Boyd took “a few wrong turns” that he found himself in the “right” place.
Presently out of work and struggling with the job market at sixty-eight, I have found myself looking for a situation in which I am comfortable. Boyd looked for a way out of the comfortable “tourist bubble.” Perhaps I must choose to leave the comfort of a regular job and explore the vast world “outside the bubble.”
In the November 2011 Readers Write on “Authority,” Eleanor McNamara writes, “While I was drying my long hair, the guard coldly stated, ‘You’d better enjoy your hair while you can, as you’ll be losing it the next time the barber visits.’ ” It reminded me of the following experience:
At the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center for the state prison system in Jackson, Georgia, several of us new arrivals were herded into a large processing area. Other prisoners stood gawking at us, perhaps looking for potential victims.
“Make a line by that there chair,” the guard yelled, pointing at a barber’s chair.
Another prisoner waited with hair clippers. “How you want it cut?” he asked a long-haired boy. After taking the order, the “barber” ran the clippers down the center of the boy’s head, clipping it to the scalp. “Oops,” he said. “Sorry.” And then he laughed.
After losing our hair, we got sprayed between the cheeks and under the arms with bug spray. That type of humiliation generates hate. It carried me for years.
From time to time I find the stories in The Sun to be whiny: characters describing their misshapen lives, which all too often are still misshapen at the end. Brian Doyle’s short story “Elson Habib, Playing White, Ponders His First Move” [November 2011] was a rare exception. Doyle so immerses us in the scene that when the grandfather tells his grandson he loves him, it is already long evident. The story brought me to tears.
How timely that you published an excerpt from Gandhi’s All Men Are Brothers on the October 2011 Dog-Eared Page. As so many of our young and not-so-young folks are out there “occupying,” it is important to be reminded that nonviolence can bring lasting change.
I’m writing regarding the quote in the October 2011 Sunbeams section from Malcolm X: “Nobody can give you freedom. . . . If you’re a man, you take it.” Left out half the population of the world again, eh?
I want to thank your magazine for inspiring me to read and, even better, to write. English is my second language, and a friend recommended The Sun as a way to increase my vocabulary and learn to write properly.
I’ve been in prison for sixteen years. In this human warehouse, unless we take initiative to educate ourselves, we remain as foolish as we were on our first day behind bars.
My English is far from perfect, but I wouldn’t know half of what I know if I hadn’t started reading your magazine. My wish is that one day I may write well enough to be in its pages.
The Sun is a great magazine. Not many publications take notice of the little guy, especially inmates; yet The Sun does. I thank you for seeing all people as people.
I’d finally had enough: Sparrow’s goofy journals about talking to trees; another scene from Poe Ballantine’s life (I think I know more about this guy than I do my mother); Sy Safransky’s endless whining, which he plans on compiling into one big whine. I decided to cancel my subscription.
But then I strolled into a coffee shop in South Jersey and noticed a group of women (why is it only women?) sitting at a large table, each with a Sun magazine in front of her. “You all read The Sun?” I asked incredulously. Yes, they replied. They even had a monthly meeting to discuss the latest issue. I sat down and joined them. Now every month I get to complain about Sy, wonder if there are any writers out there other than Poe, and maybe laugh at a chirp or two from Sparrow. I finally found my peer group. I’m renewing my subscription.