I appreciated Heather Kirn Lanier’s “The R-Word” [May 2015]. When my son was born almost fifty years ago with a chronic medical condition, doctors told me he had a “birth defect.” Every new term for disability seems to turn into a slur over time, but at least many of us are trying to be sensitive to the effect our words have.
Although he has never heard the word retarded, my son wears a T-shirt that reads, SPREAD THE WORD TO END THE WORD (a Special Olympics campaign to eliminate the word’s use). He was labeled “developmentally delayed” until he turned twelve, and “intellectually disabled” became the preferred term. At twenty-one he will be labeled “developmentally delayed” again, as though he might someday catch up to his peers. I enjoyed Heather Kirn Lanier’s take on this process of labeling. These inaccurate descriptions have helped my son get the services he needs in school, but I do not use them around him. I simply tell him he is perfectly himself.
Jocelyn Evie’s “Almost Unendurable Beauty” [May 2015] reminded me why I home-schooled both my children. We all grow in our own good time. In a strict, standardized educational system, anyone who is different suffers.
Children come into this world with their own curriculum. This realization stopped me from sending my own off to an antiquated, misguided school, where they’d be made to sit down and shut up.
In William Larsen’s piece on “Holding On” [Readers Write, May 2015], he blames himself for the death of his infant son during a home birth. He believes the fault lay in his and his wife’s false convictions about the importance of giving birth at home.
Though I have never been pregnant myself, many of my friends have had successful home births. If Larsen would read the research on lay midwifery, he would find that home births are statistically safer than hospital births, with both maternal and infant death rates being higher in hospitals. Perhaps then he could stop holding on to this negative judgment against his younger self.
In “The Endless Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” [April 2015] Sybil Smith writes of caring for M., an eighty-nine-year-old woman with mild dementia who “refuses to let go of her idea of herself as an artiste.” After criticizing her home and habits, Smith describes her client’s body as “a wreck of dewlaps and burst veins and brown moles.”
Smith sees all the crumpled pages this woman has produced as the detritus of a life poorly spent and tells us “I used to be that way myself.” If only she could forgive this silly, senile old woman for her delusions, then she’d be able to forgive herself for her own misguided literary ambitions. But M. doesn’t need her forgiveness, nor the bitterness Smith exhibits on the way to it.
Perhaps it’s because I face the possibility of needing home healthcare in the future, or maybe it’s because today is the fifth anniversary of my mother’s death — she, too, suffered from dementia and relied on strangers for her care — but I hope that anyone tending to me and my loved ones will show more compassion than Smith does in her essay.
Sybil Smith’s essay “The Endless Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour” left me feeling foolish and a little resentful. I’m a retired person who writes every day and occasionally publishes articles, blog posts, and Readers Write essays. My writing life gives me joy.
I’m not sure what Smith intended by comparing her own writing aspirations with those of her client. Was she being ironic, writing about not writing anymore? Was she saying this woman inspired her to write again? If so, then why disparage the older woman’s efforts? Or was Smith poking fun at herself? Maybe I missed the point, but the effect the piece had on me was negative.
Today I’m back to my morning writing practice. Unlike Smith’s client, I use a notebook to keep the pages in one place. And, like her, I take pleasure in the process.
David Mason’s poem “Fathers and Sons” [April 2015] struck a chord. Four years ago I lifted my father from the commode. Ninety-seven years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s, he was unable to understand why he couldn’t get up on his own.
In the mirror behind us, I saw his broad back, now hunched forward. His head, with its boyish, disheveled white hair, rested on my shoulder. I thought of how, growing up, he had protected his mother as the two of them managed without his father; how he was a grounded, plain, and solid man who cherished the nuclear family he hadn’t had as a boy. As I held him close, it seemed he had become old and vulnerable in an instant. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I could not speak. He could not understand.
I was unfamiliar with Alex R. Jones before reading “Small Time” [April 2015], but I’m going to search out more of his work. As a hopeful writer, I know about those nights when words won’t come, and those days spent making someone else’s dreams come true. His prose sounds so effortless when I suspect it is anything but. Thank you for helping me keep my own dreams afloat.
Though I love The Sun, I take issue with a glaring omission in Tracy Frisch’s interview with Daniel E. Lieberman [“Too Much of a Good Thing,” March 2015]. When they discuss cancer, immune disorders, ADHD, allergies, and obesity, neither of them mentions the enormous amount of toxins in our environment. Our air, water, soil, and food supply are polluted with toxic chemicals, most of which didn’t exist until the industrial age. Regardless of where we live or how organic we eat, we all have toxins in our bodies. Even breast milk is tainted.
Then there is the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In this country, most crops, including corn, soy, canola, and sugar beets, are GMOs unless they’re certified organic, and even then they could be contaminated. Research is beginning to show that there are health consequences associated with GMOs, and the environmental consequences have long been known.
I don’t doubt Lieberman’s claim that our bodies don’t cope well with today’s diet, and that refined carbohydrates and a lack of exercise contribute to the rise of many diseases. But neither are our bodies adapted to cope with the chemical assault we’ve created.
I read the Daniel E. Lieberman interview closely, and nowhere does he mention the automobile. Along with sugar and other dietary problems, reliance on the automobile is a major component of the failing health of Americans. I have been car-free for more than five years, relying on my own two legs (and our excellent public-transportation system). We’re constantly told to exercise; just get out of your car and walk a bit.
Daniel E. Lieberman responds:
I agree with Susan Meeker-Lowry and S. Gibbons and cover both their points in my book.
The only reading material I brought with me on a recent trip to Africa was a backpack full of issues of The Sun. It proved to be a marvelous decision.
As a mom of four, I’m rarely able to get through more than Readers Write and one essay, story, or interview every month. With thirty-two hours of travel each way, though, I had time to read every word of the issues I had with me. When I finished one, I left it somewhere as a gift to the person who found it. There are copies in the Addis Ababa, Kilimanjaro, and Rome airports; on two Ethiopian Airlines flights; in a hostel in Tanzania; and in a coffee shop in Zanzibar. I love the thought of a stranger discovering The Sun for the first time in some far-flung locale.
I have just renewed my subscription for two years. I was hesitant to do so at first, thinking that I’m too old for this magazine and remembering that I do not always agree with your essayists or interview subjects. Sometimes I also find the content a bit gloomy. But then I thought: What else is out there that makes me think? Your magazine helps me appreciate other people’s struggles. Often I wake up in the early hours of the morning pondering something I have read in The Sun.
I am ashamed to admit that several issues of The Sun will often end up in the back seat of my car, and somehow various liquids will spill on them. And then the pages will stick together. But, no matter how stuck they get, I am able to peel them apart, one by one, and never lose a single word. So in addition to all of your magazine’s other wonderful qualities, the paper it is printed on is superb.