Cary Tennis’s essay “On the Destruction of a Roseate Spoonbill Marsh Habitat, Early 1960s” [September 2012], moved me to tears. He perfectly captures the sacred wonder of nature and the fact that we are all one. Sadly a vast majority of humans veered from this truth long ago, and we are reaping the consequences in our modern world.
When Tennis writes, of his younger self, “He should have been better able to handle it, but he wasn’t,” he reminds me that I am not alone, that there are many of us who bear a collective sorrow about the countless bayous that have been dredged to make room for “big box” stores, about the roseate spoonbills and other vanishing species, about the palm-oil corporations in Malaysia relentlessly hacking away the rain forests as global temperatures rise. It is still not too late to save our precious world, and thankfully many of us are working around the clock to do so.
After I read each piece in The Sun, I put a check mark by it on the Contents page: black pen for good and red pen for spectacular, sometimes with short comments. Today, after reading Lad Tobin’s essay “Let the Bad Times Roll” [August 2012], I let my emotions settle for a few moments, then turned to the Contents, checked Tobin’s memoir with my red pen, and wrote, “Perfect.”
I’d like to ask Tobin how many rounds of revision it took to arrive at this level of exquisite, understated, and humor-laced perfection. However he accomplished it, the essay did me good.
I want to thank John Frank for his essay “Pioneers” [August 2012], about a relationship falling apart during the onset of mental illness. His description of the stages preceding full-blown mania were very like my own experience. Two moments moved me most: the scene in which Teresa breaks up with Frank because he is “too intense” (I’ve been hearing those words since I was a teenager); and the two beautiful last paragraphs about the psych ward, where Frank comes to understand why his father and other sufferers of depression sleep on the couch instead of the bed — they want to be a part of things. This feeling, too, I know well.
I have been subscribing to The Sun for several years, and every single issue enlightens me in some way. The July interviews with the late James Hillman [“Conversations with a Remarkable Man,” by Sy Safransky, Scott London, and Genie Zeiger] were more than enlightening, however: they were literally life changing.
Despite being a psychology buff, I had never before heard of Hillman or his work. I immediately read The Soul’s Code, which answered more than a few questions concerning the patterns of my life over the past sixty-four years.
As a young clinical psychologist, I appreciated the James Hillman interviews. None of my professors or supervisors had ever mentioned him.
I was puzzled, however, by Hillman’s antagonism toward meditation and spirituality. The practice of stopping and looking inward can bring us into contact with our most cherished principles and quiet the mental chatter that says we can’t act effectively. I especially question his notion that “It’s better to go into the world half-cocked than not to go into the world at all,” as this mentality seems to underlie our never-ending cycle of misguided wars.
Being in prison is plenty grim, but the true tales and short stories in The Sun give me a sense of perspective and dial the grimness back a few notches.
I just finished reading Thomas M. Atkinson’s short story “Grimace in the Burnt Black Hills” [July 2012], and I feel a strange but welcome sense of invigoration and peace. I want to know more about Paul, Chief, Edgar, and especially Claire. I want the novel of their lives in my hands, thick and satisfying. I want to start on page one and not stop until it is finished, chow calls be damned. Maybe Atkinson will write it someday. I’ve got time.
“Grimace in the Burnt Black Hills” reminds me of the Bob Dylan song “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” Dylan packed so much into “Hard Rain” that every line could be the first line to an entirely different song. “Grimace” is the same. There is a whole world contained in this emotionally devastating story, and a line like “Betty looked over her shoulder and said, ‘Stay out of the food. And leave that rifle alone, unless you want to end up like Uncle Larry’ ” could be the first line to a completely separate story.
There is nothing contrived, manipulative, or dishonest about Atkinson’s writing. This is the best story I’ve read in years and a reminder of the possibilities of great literature.
Thomas M. Atkinson’s “Grimace in the Burnt Black Hills” struck a deep nerve in me. His portrayal of two profoundly vulnerable characters coming together and gathering strength from each other brought tears to my eyes.
In the same issue, Krista Bremer continues to win me over with her essay “Blues for Allah.” I admire how she writes about her bicultural marriage and faces the challenges of raising a child who is determined to maintain her father’s Muslim roots. Bremer’s writing is a priceless lesson in how we must approach our cultural differences as global citizens.
Sara Catterall [“Katydid,” July 2012] is not alone in saving bugs. I, too, will go out of my way to place a beetle on safe ground, rescue an inchworm from the hood of my car, or hold open a door for a moth caught in a building. (I am irrationally afraid of spiders, so my husband is the one to put them in a safe place.) If I can, in any way, mitigate some of the suffering in this world, then I’ll feel my time here has been well spent.
I look forward to Sy Safransky’s thoughts in his Notebook each month — or I did until he wrote in July 2012 that this country has been ruined by “the likes of Nixon and Reagan and Bush the elder and Bush the idiot son.” I felt betrayed. All that The Sun has come to stand for in my mind was bombed to bits when the hatred that lies inside of Safransky spilled out into his Notebook.
In his July Notebook, Sy Safransky writes that he still wears “round, wire-rimmed glasses because John Lennon wore them nearly a half century ago.” I too was obsessed with Lennon’s eyeglasses in the sixties. Turns out he wore them partly as a social commentary: they were the cheapest glasses supplied by the National Health program. The working-class hero was making a point most Yanks missed.
I was completely taken by Lidia Yuknavitch’s essay “The Unspeakable Things between Our Bellies” [June 2012]. Her lay-it-all-out-there style fascinated me, but her last, simple line — “My daughter’s name was Lily” — took my breath away. The reader knows that Yuknavitch has lost an unborn child. Then, in five words, we discover that this child is still carried by her mother.
Kelly DeLong’s short story “On the Verge of Extinction” [June 2012] is a powerful account of the agony children go through each day after a divorce. Many hide their suffering and shame from their friends, fight a constant internal battle, suffer through accusations they don’t want to hear, and move from one place to another, always fearing they will upset one parent or the other.
The scene that really grabbed my heart was when the young boy, having arrived for a weekend at the house he’d grown up in, lies on his bedroom floor and moves his outstretched arms and legs, all the while repeating, “Mine, mine.”
Carolyn Miller’s short essay “Summer Evening” [May 2012] transported me back to the sights, sounds, and smells of a summer eve in my own childhood. How many of us have similar frozen memories? But, of course, we can’t really return to that time and explain what it meant to be there “together and alive.”
I wonder: how can we tell each other right now what it means to be together and alive?
I was introduced to your publication two years ago. I read and enjoy the Sunbeams for the most part, but I am indifferent to the essays and stories. I feel the same about Readers Write. And, though I don’t profess to know everything about poetry, I’ve not found a single poem in your magazine that moves me.
My wife reads your magazine as if it were her religion. I don’t mind. We live on a farm in the middle of nowhere, which is how we want it. My complaint is mostly that the content of your magazine makes her think, perhaps too much. We don’t like our women to think out here. They are supposed to be subordinate and loyal to their husbands.
When will you report on the same subjects as the mainstream corporate media? Where are your ads? Are you anti-American? I hate you.