I was pleased to read “The Skeleton Gets Up and Walks” [interview by Leath Tonino, June 2016] in which Craig Childs describes our civilization one day becoming invisible in the fossil record. I have long believed that there must have been many advanced civilizations prior to ours, and I am heartened to learn it’s possible that no proof of them survived: civilizations with technologies that may have allowed them to venture to other planets; civilizations that rose and fell without leaving a trace.
Ani DiFranco has been an inspiration to me for many years. The interview with her by Mark Leviton [“Righteous Babe,” May 2016] makes me lament the influence of folks who use social media to push their extreme political correctness and criticize someone like DiFranco, who is trying to make this world a better place. She shouldn’t let them derail her political and social passions, and we shouldn’t pay too much attention to their ravings on Facebook and Twitter.
Mark Leviton’s interview with Ani DiFranco was one of the most satisfying reads in The Sun for some time. I became aware of her music in the late 1990s, when I was in college. I still keep her album Shameless on hand. At the beginning of the title track, she attempts a challenging guitar riff but can’t quite get it. She abruptly stops and lets out some kind of growl, after which the riff flies from her guitar. Sometimes I play that part over and over.
I wish that S.J. Miller wasn’t a pseudonym so that I could tell her directly how much I appreciated her essay “A Merry Little Christmas” in your May 2016 issue.
My heart ached for all she endured: the brain trauma, the efforts to connect with her mother, and everything that came with those challenges. Miller’s dogged patience and compassion, even when her mother did her best to hurt her, is something I’ll never forget.
Thank you for disseminating Stephen Levine’s good work [“Let It Shine,” May 2016]. Just imagine if everyone who opened the top drawer of the hotel bureau found Stephen and Ondrea Levine’s book about dying, Who Dies?, instead of the Gideon Bible.
I first read Who Dies? around 1980 and years later heard Stephen speak at Duke University. He showed me that you could be a neurotic white male and still be compassionate and wise. That gives me hope. I expect that as I approach my own death, I will turn to Levine’s words again.
In the 1980s I attended every one of Stephen and Ondrea Levine’s presentations that I could get to: meditations, workshops, lectures, retreats. I wanted to understand myself and my relationships better. One could not be in their presence without experiencing the immense ocean of compassion of which they spoke.
I remember one retreat when it seemed that I alone — among two hundred people — had no reason for being there. What right did I have to sit among the grieving, traumatized, wounded, and confused? I later realized that my reason for being there was to witness the others’ pain. Those years were my preparation for leaving a marriage that was doomed and for surviving the heartbreak that would follow.
After a long day of teaching with a terrible cold and headache, I opened the May 2016 issue to Gabriel Heller’s essay “Every Moment Is an Act of Faith” and couldn’t stop reading. His ability to express a fundamental yet complex insight into human nature was inspirational.
Leath Tonino’s interview with Robin Wall Kimmerer [“Two Ways of Knowing,” April 2016] has introduced me to a significant role model for the coming chapters of my life.
Kimmerer shed light on one of my most pressing conflicts: How do I foster a relationship with place in this fast-paced, globalized world? As a young adult I have teetered at the edge of cynicism in the face of moral dilemmas. Kimmerer’s synthesis of traditional and modern views renewed my belief in the possibility of a cultural shift toward compassion and responsibility.
I grew up in Humboldt County, California, near Hoopa and Yurok Indian reservations, and now live in an area that is home to Paiute and Shoshone Indians. For years I have been frustrated by the absence of an answer to the question: How do we integrate indigenous peoples into the broader culture without losing their traditions, values, and cultures?
I was given hope by the interview with Robin Wall Kimmerer that native cultures within the Western world can be preserved.
I once read an article about scientists monitoring plant communication with some kind of device. I laughed when they were so surprised. How could they not know? Like Robin Wall Kimmerer I lived for the forest and fields when I was growing up. I still talk to and touch ancient trees, which have such wisdom in their limbs.
I’m sad for those who don’t listen to the plants.
I worked in the woods for several years, cutting thousands of trees. Pines would become ornery in the afternoon, pinching the saw and trying to fall the wrong way. Somehow the trees told each other about us — at least, that’s what we suspected.
During this miserable political campaign and other world events, Brian Doyle’s essay “The Sudden City” [April 2016] was a little ray of light. As a former flower child, I particularly enjoyed the anecdote about Max Yasgur, on whose farm the famous Woodstock festival was held. Hooray to him, and to Doyle’s sister, and to the people in the world like them.
I have enjoyed modern poetry since I first encountered it in my rebellious youth, but all these years later I still don’t understand what makes it poetry. “Beauty: 1976” and “Intrigue in the Trees” — by Ruth L. Schwartz and John Brehm, respectively — are two examples from your April 2016 issue. Both would be just as interesting presented as prose. Surely they don’t become poetry simply because sentences are broken into uneven lines. So why is it poetry?
Ruth L. Schwartz responds:
Poetry is more condensed and image-driven than prose. It also tends to use many devices of sound — alliteration, assonance, consonance — and its syntax is based on musicality rather than grammatical rules. Although I’m not able to objectively comment on whether “Beauty: 1976” is a “good” poem, I do think it makes use of these poetic techniques. If it were rearranged as prose, it would feel awkward and incorrect.
John Brehm responds:
The only consistent, observable feature that distinguishes poetry from prose is an uneven right-hand margin. Whatever else it is that makes a poem a poem exists in the realm of the unexplainable, where, in my opinion, it should remain.
My world changed when I read the following in Debbie Urbanski’s short story “The Portal” [March 2016]: “For my husband [sex] remains an act of love, what he’s doing to me once a week while I think, This is what it must feel like to be molested.” As I had sex with my husband a week later, I remembered it.
Moved to tears that I hid from him, I wished I had never read it. That sentence made me see the reality of my situation, and now I don’t know what the future brings.
While on a long international trip, I was catching up on issues of The Sun — which I usually leave behind in the seat pockets of airplanes so that others will discover them — and was moved by Janice Lynch Schuster’s interview with Raymond Barfield on practicing medicine with compassion [“The Miracle in Front of You,” January 2016]. I wish all of us could be in the hands of a physician like Barfield when going through a family illness or death, and that he continues training new physicians to cope with more than the clinical aspects of illness.
As a subscriber for about twenty-five years, I’ve come to regard “our” magazine as food for the soul. I savor each issue and share my passion with others, hoping that they, too, may want to partake. I did this recently with a prisoner whom I visit as a volunteer; he contacted you and now receives a free subscription. Thank you not only for a wondrous magazine but for your generosity in making it available to our society’s forgotten people.
I’ve read every issue of The Sun since stumbling across it many years ago. Readers Write used to be the first section I would turn to, but nowadays I eagerly open the cover to see if Brian Doyle is listed under Contributors. I knew of him before you started publishing his writing (I attended the University of Portland in the mid-eighties) and have long been an admirer. No one else writes like him, do they?