Reading the responses in the June 2012 Correspondence to Christopher Lane’s critique of psychiatry [“Side Effects May Include,” interview by Arnie Cooper, March 2012], I was prompted to make my own observation as a practicing psychiatrist.
It is certainly true that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM] overpathologizes the human condition and that psychiatrists and other mental-health professionals may feel obligated to diagnose a patient with something. There is one diagnosis in the DSM, however, that is not given often enough, due to the biases of the clinicians, patients, and insurance and pharmaceutical companies. That diagnosis is alcohol abuse. Other diagnoses, such as depression, anxiety disorder, social phobia, or bipolar disorder, are often given to patients along with the message that they are abusing alcohol to “self-medicate” for their underlying condition. In my opinion the opposite is more often true: The real underlying condition is alcoholism, and the symptoms presented by the patients are largely a response to alcohol abuse — and, to a lesser extent, drug abuse.
I believe that this problem is more deeply entrenched in our society than we like to acknowledge, and it often ends up in the lap of mental-health professionals, masquerading as anything other than itself.
I’ve survived much trauma and loss in my life, but the recent death of my fiancée has plunged me into a deep despair. Whenever I’m in need of healing, I’m drawn to the water, where I can plunge in and float, be cocooned and freed at the same time. The violent, delicate, unrepentantly impersonal ocean knows my sorrow.
It’s clear in every stroke on his canvases that Ran Ortner understands the power of exploring the depths. The interview by Ariane Conrad [“Water, Water Everywhere,” June 2012] was a rare glimpse into the mind and heart of a person who gives a damn about the whole of life and relates his experience with great awareness and sensitivity. I think his paintings are pure genius, and Ortner is a fiercely tender soul. Looking at his work, I feel life’s inherent vulnerability.
I’ve awakened every morning this week with the same feeling of helplessness and loneliness, wishing I could just stay in bed, and not caring if I see another day. Somehow today I shook it off, grabbed a cup of coffee, and headed to the little balcony of my condo. On the way I picked up the June issue of The Sun. By chance I opened it to the two-page painting accompanying the interview, “Water, Water Everywhere,” and I began to cry. I couldn’t take my eyes off that image of the sea. Never in all my days of living in the Caribbean and now in Florida had I ever seen the ocean as presented by Ran Ortner.
By the time I finished reading the interview, my sadness was gone, and a strange but wonderful energy had risen in me that I hadn’t felt in weeks. I wanted to pick up the paintbrushes I’d purchased a year ago and paint something, anything. I wanted to run to the beach just to sit and meditate on Ortner’s life-altering words, the paradoxes he so vividly brings to life.
Ran Ortner speaks for all artists when he says it takes a lifetime to create a painting. I am a glass blower, and we don’t waste any time when we are actually making a piece. Once, my father-in-law picked up a bowl I had just finished and asked how long it took to make. I responded, “Maybe an hour.” Then I thought for a moment and added, “Plus a few years.”
If I were asked to pick my favorite line from Ariane Conrad’s interview with painter Ran Ortner, I wouldn’t be able to do it. The interview was gorgeous in its watery way. I felt I had been immersed in the very ocean that Ortner loves.
I have been away from The Sun for a couple of years, and color in its pages is new since last I subscribed. That ocean tableau on the interview’s opening page would not have been the same in black and white. I’m glad to be back!
Thank you for publishing Cary Tennis’s “Citizens of the Dream” [June 2012]. His advice for artists revived my writer’s spirit, which has been flagging lately in the face of errands, traffic, expectations, appointments, and fibromyalgia symptoms.
I had two pieces accepted by online magazines this week, but Tennis reminds me that I’m writing for myself as well as for publication. Thanks for helping me remember what my dream is really about.
I was moved to tears reading Lidia Yuknavitch’s essay in the June 2012 issue of The Sun [“The Unspeakable Things Between Our Bellies”]. She beautifully conveys the “unspeakable” private grief of a stillbirth with just the briefest reference to hers.
I felt as if I were at that terribly uncomfortable high-school reunion party with her and empathized with the shame and heartbreak she re-experienced. I admire how she shared her secret introspection through rhythmic repetition of the phrase “In my head I go, . . .”
There is personal writing that often seems self-indulgent to me, and then there is the superb, self-effacing writing displayed by Yuknavitch. She inspires hope through her wisdom and dignity.
Reading Rebekah Cowell’s interview with Robert D. Bullard [“In Their Backyard,” May 2012] was a shock. I caught my breath as I read about the Holt family’s dire situation. Those county officials in Tennessee might as well be murdering that entire family!
I’ve been reading The Sun since the eighties, when I first discovered Sy Safransky’s deft editorial combination of pathos, insight, and illumination. Over the years I’ve subscribed for myself, my partners, my friends, my family, and even acquaintances, because there was just nothing better than this collection of ideas and experiences.
But in the last year the culture of pornography — and the culture of rape that goes with it — has been creeping into The Sun.
I ignored it as much as possible, but “First Empty Your Cup,” by Andrew Boyd [December 2011], was the last straw for me. In an essay devoted to spiritual seeking, the author makes this casual comment about having his picture taken with a group of Japanese schoolgirls: “For a few precious minutes I was the envy of middle-aged schoolgirl fetishists the world over.”
What sickness has taken over that such an obviously predatory comment could be passed off as acceptable? If Boyd had said this about a group of schoolboys, would the shame of his comment be more obvious to you?
This is a direct appeal to the people who consume child pornography. Fantasies of pedophilia should not even be contemplated in one’s own mind. When such a fantasy is shared outright in the pages of a magazine, the writer and the editors who let it through are directly contributing to the normalization of those thoughts and, by extension, that behavior.
I do not wish you well on this path you are taking.
Andrew Boyd responds:
Child pornography is detestable. Amy Lewis and I agree on this. Where we seem to disagree is whether to talk about it, and how.
Like it or not, Japanese culture is sexually fascinated with schoolgirls. The choice for the writer is to avoid it, repudiate it, or point it out and move on. Choosing to do the latter with a tossed-off comic line does not mean I (or The Sun) casually condone child pornography.
Everyone draws their own boundaries for humor. I try to draw them very widely. Lewis asks, if I had made my comment about a group of schoolboys, would the shame of it have been more obvious? This question challenged me. In the end I thought, Let’s put it to the test. Say I had been writing a travel piece about Rome instead of Japan, and at some point I’d been accosted by an overly friendly group of fourteen-year-old Italian altar boys. I might have written: “For a few precious moments I was the envy of dissolute priests the world over.”
Would I thereby be condoning the mass sexual abuse of young boys or expressing some hidden desire to personally commit rape? No. Not at all. Whether or not one finds the comment to be in poor taste, its purpose is the same: to acknowledge reality and the historical record and to puncture the obvious comic (and, yes, sexual) tension inherent in the scene. Highlighting — and even personalizing — a moment in which innocence sits uncomfortably within a culture of depravity is not an affirmation of that culture. It can, however, be an illustration of it.
I love The Sun! I promise to cherish you always — in sickness and in health; when rich or in dire straits; through sex-goddess stories and the most pious of essays. You have helped shape my political, spiritual, and social views from the time I was twelve years old. Now, eighteen years later, I am happier than ever. Till death do us part.