Issue 461 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


When I saw the interview with Sy Safransky in your January 2014 issue [“Beginner’s Mind,” by Gillian Kendall], I was reluctant to read it. Didn’t I already know everything about him from having read his Notebook for more than ten years?

But I did read the interview, and once again he surprised and delighted me with his honest insights about his life. It’s true, by the way, that he doesn’t respond to his correspondence, because I wrote to him months ago for advice about where to submit some travel writing, and he hasn’t replied. But I forgive him, and I love and appreciate the extraordinary magazine he has given us. Not only is The Sun eye-opening, it makes my world a little less lonely.

Kim Hunter Los Altos, California

Though I became a physician, not an editor, I was struck by how similar Sy Safransky’s path has been to my own. I, too, backpacked through Europe in the sixties, was transformed by a psychedelic experience, opposed almost all the policies of “my” government, and suffered through (and made others suffer through) a failed marriage and failed relationships.

Seventeen years ago I married my wife, Natalie, also an avid Sun reader, and we got busy trying to raise a family. This past spring Natalie and I were marveling at how blessed our lives seemed to be. We had good health, good friends, rewarding jobs, financial security, and loving teenage kids. Then, on May 9, 2013, everything changed. Our sixteen-year-old daughter, Noel, who had just graduated from high school two years early with honors and had earned a full college scholarship, didn’t make it home from a friend’s house. I went out looking for her and found she’d perished in a car accident. No other driver was involved.

We are still thankful for the many blessings that, to use Safransky’s words, have been showered on us. Years ago I decided to spend my life trying to ease human suffering. Now I have a deeper understanding of that suffering. When a drone that I helped pay for with my taxes takes out a wedding party in Yemen by mistake, I have an idea of the horror and grief experienced by the survivors. I know that, for me, the pain of the loss doesn’t go away. It just becomes tolerable.

Tom Tvedten Heber Springs, Arkansas

I’m sixty years old and a mother of four, and I have been subscribing to The Sun for more than thirty years. I appreciated Sy Safransky’s candor about his use of LSD as a spiritual sacrament. I’m sure there are thousands of us who have experienced the same awakening.

Thank you for reminding us that we are all connected, and for having the guts to say how many of us discovered it.

Kay Rippelmeyer Pomona, Illinois

I love Sy Safransky’s take on the meaning of the word God, on the nature of the Divinity, on LSD, and on everything else. I was especially fascinated by this statement: “When I was a kid, I was taught in Hebrew school that it was a sin to speak or write the Hebrew name for ‘God.’ ”

I expect he is referring to the ineffable four-letter name of God for which the vowelization has been lost. In the absence of vowels, it’s impossible to know just how to pronounce the name, and some consider that reason enough to avoid pronouncing it altogether. But a sin to speak or write it? I think not.

Perhaps Safransky’s teachers took the third commandment, which some Jewish sages translate as “Don’t take the name of your God in a vain oath,” to mean that we should avoid saying or even writing the word in English, substituting instead “G-d.” I have heard the commandment better explained like this: “Don’t use the name of God in a way that is hurtful to another.”

Stephen S. Wachtel Memphis, Tennessee

My wife and I are both conservatives and have read The Sun for twenty years. We also read The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and Vanity Fair in an attempt to understand and possibly appreciate the opposition. Since conservatism is anathema in those magazines and yours, reading them requires a thick skin. But we subscribe because we support your effort: a literary magazine that shuns advertising and exists by virtue of its readers and patrons.

That being said, we laughed when we read in the interview with Sy Safransky that he doesn’t want “left-wing sanctimoniousness or right-wing duplicity” in The Sun. The magazine is packed with the former and devoid of the latter. And why is the Left merely sanctimonious while the Right is duplicitous? Would Safransky never consider the Left duplicitous? Does he believe the Right is not capable of sanctimony?

If Safransky does indeed want to bring people together, maybe he should take a hit of acid and read Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge, and Charles Krauthammer’s Things That Matter. It will not be a bad trip.

Steve Ketzer Jr. Hernando, Florida

I am writing to express my dismay at the inclusion of my former home state of Delaware in the list of “Five States with the Fewest Sun Subscribers” [“Beginnings, Blunders, and Eleventh-Hour Rescues,” January 2014]. I find it odd that the editors would rank states by raw number of subscribers rather than per capita. Of course California, the most populous state, is number one and Delaware, the second smallest, is in the bottom five. Such a list may be fun, but it does not convey much. I think it would be nice if The Sun issued a formal apology or at least recalculated the rankings on a per-capita basis.

Edwin Barkdoll Surry, Maine
The Sun responds:

We would like to formally apologize to the state of Delaware, its residents, and its native-born sons and daughters for the misleading way in which we ranked the states in our January 2014 issue.

To set the record straight, we’ve ranked all fifty states — and the District of Columbia — by the number of Sun readers per capita, from most (Vermont, with one reader for every 722 people) to least (Mississippi, with one reader for every 18,019 people).

Sun Subscribers by State

Here’s a ranking of the fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia by number of Sun subscribers per capita, from most to least.

1. Vermont
2. Oregon
3. Maine
4. Montana
5. Alaska
6. Washington
7. New Mexico
8. Colorado
9. District of Columbia
10. New Hampshire
11. Hawaii
12. Massachusetts
13. Wyoming
14. Minnesota
15. California
16. Idaho
17. Rhode Island
18. Wisconsin
19. Connecticut
20. New York
21. North Carolina
22. Arizona
23. Michigan
24. Virginia
25. Maryland
26. Pennsylvania
27. Iowa
28. South Dakota
29. Illinois
30. Kansas
31. Ohio
32. Nebraska
33. Delaware
34. New Jersey
35. Missouri
36. Utah
37. West Virginia
38. Nevada
39. Indiana
40. North Dakota
41. Tennessee
42. Kentucky
43. South Carolina
44. Florida
45. Arkansas
46. Georgia
47. Texas
48. Oklahoma
49. Louisiana
50. Alabama
51. Mississippi

Guantánamo is a stain on the American conscience. The prison there must be closed. While reading Gary Thompson’s essay “Running in Guantánamo” [January 2014], I could not help but think of a song by John McCutcheon called “Not in My Name,” in which God condemns violent crimes committed in his name. The last line sums it up pretty well: “I thought I made it clear in the Bible / In the Torah and in the Koran / What is it in my teaching about loving your enemies / That you people don’t understand?”

Richard Silberman Grass Valley, California

Thank you for the essay “And So On,” by Lynn Davis [October 2013]. I feel as if she holds up a not-so-funhouse mirror to my generation. I only wish she had published her essay under her real name. I found the loneliness she describes even sadder when I read in her contributor’s note that she’d used a pseudonym.

Bri Bruce Birmingham, Alabama
The Sun responds:

Lynn Davis used a pen name at our request to protect others’ privacy.

As a man of South Asian descent who has subscribed to The Sun for a number of years, I would like to convey my sincere gratitude for your work, and specifically for what appears to be a heavier emphasis in recent years on including writing from people of color.

My favorite issue in 2013 was July, which featured Katti Gray’s interview with Eddie Ellis [“The Run-On Sentence”] and an essay by Ross Gay [“Some Thoughts on Mercy”]. When the issue came out, I had just started a job coordinating gang-intervention strategies. Ellis’s and Gay’s perspectives were just what I needed to better understand my new professional role and, on a personal level, to reflect on many of my own experiences. Both men deliver a difficult message with beauty and grace.

Just as the July issue inspired and filled me with gratitude, so did other pieces throughout the year that reflected the experience of minorities: the excerpt from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple [November 2013], the poetry by Hafiz [October 2013], the interview with Ai-jen Poo [“Swept under the Rug,” May 2013], and Ruth L. Schwartz’s essay “Sundays with Hugo” [May 2013], about a migrant laborer.

I thank you for including the experiences of racial minorities in your publication. The aforementioned pieces are examples of what I think of as the backbone of The Sun: excellent writing that explores the panoply of human existence while shining a light on critical social-justice issues. I hope you will continue to seek out such voices.

Name Withheld
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