In the December 2016 Correspondence two people wrote in to cancel their subscriptions because you didn’t warn them there was explicit sexual content in Claire Halliday’s essay “The Possible Universe” [September 2016]. Sigh. I am going to order a subscription for my sister. We both realize the world is a difficult place and that the best writing may make us feel uncomfortable from time to time.
In “The Long Shadow” [interview by Jeanne Supin, November 2016], adolescent psychiatrist Bruce Perry describes a child mindlessly binging on Doritos and states that the fat content of the food “can stimulate the reward networks, [and] ultimately [the child] gains weight.” In fact, the culprit in this anecdote would be the carbohydrate content. The work of Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz has made clear that dietary fat has been unfairly demonized in our society, with appalling consequences for public health.
Bruce Perry really knows the mind of a child. I heard him speak in 2009 at a psychology conference, where he asserted that Americans live in a “child illiterate” culture. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen far too many parents yank their two-year-olds to their side the second they start to wander, as if the child were deliberately defying them instead of just exploring. And then the parents wonder why their children are poorly motivated later in life.
We’re not letting kids be kids. My own childhood wasn’t easy, but I was taught how to rely on myself.
Stephen Elliott’s essay “Sometimes I Think about Suicide” [November 2016] caused me to ask: Why would you print this? The explicitness is over the line even for The Sun.
Then I remembered Jeanne Supin’s interview with Bruce Perry in the same issue, and I thought, This magazine is here to give voice to it all. I guess this is part of my education as a human.
When I started reading Stephen Elliott’s “Sometimes I Think about Suicide,” I put it down. I didn’t want to participate in the extreme sadness he describes. But something drew me back. It is a good portrayal of depression. I’m glad Elliott discussed his misery and thoughts of suicide with a therapist and is on the road to recovery.
I wonder how many readers will cancel their subscriptions after reading Stephen Elliott’s “Sometimes I Think about Suicide,” with its talk of cross-dressing, suicidal ideation, masturbation, heroin overdose, sexual abuse, violence, and fetish porn.
I appreciate his willingness to provide a glimpse inside the mind of a creative person driven by self-destructive demons. His essay might be of great assistance to others with similar challenges. But I wonder if this view of his netherworld was more self-serving exploitation than forthright confession. Reading it left me wondering why The Sun would publish it.
I understand that Stephen Elliott is a tormented soul, but I question your judgment in printing “Sometimes I Think about Suicide.” I read it hoping it was fiction and some wrinkle at the end would help me understand it all. When I checked the Contents page and saw it was nonfiction, I stopped reading. It’s the only piece you’ve ever published that I didn’t finish.
I get that people are appallingly damaged in life. I just do not want to encounter all the lewd and ugly details in a publication I read to fortify my belief in the human race.
Stephen Elliott responds:
I’m glad my essay elicited strong responses. The letter writers raise interesting and valid points. I think art that appeals to everyone has no value and I appreciate The Sun taking the risk and publishing my essay.
When people who can hear do not use American Sign Language with deaf people, they shut off communication. Doug Crandell’s client Riley couldn’t receive the services he needed because no one could communicate with him [“Activities of Daily Living,” November 2016]. The staff at the institution clearly had no clue, and likely the doctors didn’t either. All anyone had to do to help Riley was contact a school for the deaf. Those who hear must become aware of the needs of those who don’t.
Lenore Pimental’s name appears often in Readers Write, most recently in “First Impressions” [November 2016]. Her insightful, tightly written narratives reveal a woman who appears to be doing good for this world. Her contributions solidify what I love so much about that section: through a small window, I view a shocking bit of reality that brings shivers, tears, or joy.
In the photograph of a man and woman at a cocktail party [Readers Write on “First Impressions,” November 2016], the woman is wearing white gloves, so I assume the photo is from the 1950s or 1960s. If so, then my first impression is that she was no lady. A lady did not smoke in mixed company at that time. She smoked with her women friends or in her own home when no one else was around. Nor did she hold her gloves with the fingers flapping. She held them discreetly in the palm of her hand. It also appears that she was not wearing a girdle. No lady let her backside wobble freely in those days.
I know these things because I was raised to be a Southern lady during that era. It’s startling how long these judgments persist, even after we have rejected their validity.
The images Joe Wilkins paints of his inner and outer experiences in “Dry Season” [October 2016] are breathtaking. He takes his place in my personal esteem beside David James Duncan and Brian Doyle, two other literary wizards I was introduced to through your magazine.
I’m a thirty-seven-year-old inmate. I spent time in a juvenile facility from the ages of fifteen to seventeen and have been in prison since I was eighteen. Ellen Collett’s essay “Undue Familiarity” [September 2016] struck a chord. Over the years I’ve experienced every feeling she observes in the boys she writes about.
Collett clearly cared for her students. That none of them wrote to her after she stopped teaching them only shows how fickle boys and inmates are. On occasion these capricious youths mature and become what few thought they could be: good men.
Being incarcerated, I’ll make no pretense of objectivity, but I was surprised by the strong backhand that Ellen Collett’s “Undue Familiarity” laid across the face of prison education.
Yes, there are predators in prison writing classes, but are they more pervasive than in fraternities and corporate America? In my experience the predatory types who attempt to dupe teachers are about as subtle as the average soap-opera villain.
I hope people will see for themselves how beneficial prison writing programs are, both to the incarcerated population and the general public. I’ve been in an excellent volunteer-driven program for five years. Writing improves communication, broadens one’s worldview, and builds a capacity for compassion — the same virtues embodied by every volunteer teacher I’ve had the honor to meet.
Ellen Collett responds:
I’m touched that Jeremy Gross spent a stamp on me. I don’t blame my students for not writing; I was the naive one. I continued to teach in that prison until it closed. After that first semester I described in my essay, some of my new students did write. The ones I heard from all became the men I knew they could be.
I share Andrew Krosch’s belief in prison writing programs and didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. My students were fearless, focused, and brutally self-aware. They wrote to understand themselves and to survive the total annihilation of self that prison has as its goal.
As I continued to teach, I had each student write a document that explained his incarceration to a future employer, landlord, or college admissions officer in a way that proved he was no longer the boy who made that initial mistake. I take great joy in hearing about the students who are now finding success on the outside.
I am ninety-eight years old and live in an assisted-living facility where most of the residents have some degree of dementia. It is difficult to have a conversation with anyone, and I do not possess a computer, tablet, cellphone, or any of the other artificial appendages that are so prevalent today. Fortunately I can fulfill my need for human contact by reading your magazine.
I volunteer to lead a meditation group at a men’s prison in Concord, New Hampshire. One of the men brings The Sun to share. He recently told me that, as an inmate, he receives a free subscription. I wanted to let you know how much this man enjoys the magazine and how appreciative he is that he can get it at no charge. I will continue my own subscription and make a donation on his behalf.