Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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Matthew Vollmer [“The Other, Invented Man,” December 2018] sounds far more interesting than his invented man, who sounds like a total bore.
Matthew Vollmer’s story “The Other, Invented Man” is one of the best I’ve ever read in The Sun — so real, so funny, so heartwarming.
I was happy to see Tony Hoagland in your December 2018 issue, especially his poem “On Why I Must Decline to Receive the Prayers You Say You Are Constantly Sending.” (“Thoughts and prayers” is a phrase that drives me batty.) Then I saw the note in Correspondence that he’d died in October. I’m glad he also let you publish “In the Beautiful Rain,” criticizing the silly euphemism “passed away.” These poems are a fitting farewell.
Tony Hoagland taught writing at the University of Maine at Farmington in the early 1990s, where I also taught. He was brilliant, generous, funny, and a beloved teacher. I helped put together an anthology for new students to read, beginning with Hoagland’s poem “The Question,” from his collection Sweet Ruin: “Some questions have no answer. / Raised, they hang in the mind / Like open mouths, full of something missing. . . .”
The first words a new student at our university had to ponder were Hoagland’s. They couldn’t have asked for a better introduction.
Andrew Snee’s note likening his refinishing an old steamer trunk to the comfort one gets from reading The Sun [“Become a Friend of The Sun,” December 2018] inspired me to tell you about an annual practice of mine.
Every year at the holidays, I put a hundred dollars in my wallet. Then I give that cash to someone who does something kind for someone else. One year, on Christmas Eve, I gave it to a young man who runs the local laundromat, after I saw him trading stories with an old man and helping him fold his sheets.
This year the hundred dollars went to The Sun.
Stacy Mitchell’s thoughts on Amazon [“Unfair Advantage,” interview by Tracy Frisch, November 2018] were enlightening. Like a lot of Alaskans who live miles away from convenience, I use Amazon Prime. Few businesses have affordable shipping prices to Alaska, but Amazon does. Many Alaskans are Prime members and use it to order everything from dog food to dried mangoes.
Mitchell made me ask: How can Alaskans get by without using this monopoly? How can local businesses compete when retail prices are about 30 percent higher than prices we find online? And how can we be conscious consumers when Amazon is willing to knock on our doors, delivery in hand?
I’ve attended the same synagogue for eighteen years, but lately I have felt ambivalent about organized religion. Your October 2018 issue stirred my desire to participate again in my synagogue — and to recognize that organized religion does not have to create barriers.
Laura Esther Wolfson’s interview with Rabbi Rachel Timoner [“The Holiness Hidden within the World”] helped me see that following any faith is a good way to set your moral compass. To be part of a community is to be connected with the universe.
I held my breath while reading Alan Craig’s “Tea Time” [October 2018]. My ex-partner was an opium addict who read The Sun. I thought: If he isn’t using anymore, will the high described in the essay make him go back? Will Craig’s instructions on how to make opium tea prompt my ex-partner to find a poppy seller on the Internet? Or, if he is still using, will the essay serve as a cautionary tale and help him quit?
I felt that pang familiar to anyone who has loved an addict. It’s as if the drug was his mistress, more important to him than I ever was.
I hope Craig has found relief from his addiction. This disease takes a lot of prisoners, and they’re not just the people who are using.
My brother died last week. He was seventy years old and had gone back to using heroin after thirty years of being clean. Two days ago I spent the day with his son, making arrangements to cremate the body. He told me he knew fifteen people who had overdosed in the last three years, and five who had died.
I don’t understand how heroin can have such a hold that people throw away their lives for it. I am grateful to Alan Craig for writing honestly about opiate addiction. We need to keep talking about it. I hope people will read essays like “Tea Time” and find other ways to deal with their loneliness and pain.
After reading the negative letters about Tony Hoagland’s “The Cure for Racism Is Cancer” [September 2018] in your November 2018 Correspondence, I went back and reread the essay. I can’t see how anyone can be offended by it. I’ve heard the same kind of reaction that Hoagland describes from my friends who have had cancer. The oncology ward is a great equalizer; everybody there is your brother or sister. It reminds me of what the Yaqui sorcerer in Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan said: If you want a powerful spiritual practice, just remember that everyone you see is someday going to die.
Barack Obama’s words from his 2008 campaign proved to be prescient [“Where We Start,” Dog-Eared Page, September 2018]. His presidency was marred by the intransigence of his opposition, who would rather have seen America fail than see him succeed. Barack and Michelle Obama’s grace, intelligence, and cool-headedness were consistently disregarded, and the racist and Islamophobic response to his presidency helped to catapult Donald Trump into the White House.
Obama’s speech both praised and condemned his pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. As a theological student, I heard Wright preach in chapel. He was fiercely prophetic, with an unswerving commitment to justice. I wish more pastors would assume such a posture today.
I was disheartened to see some readers criticize Jessica Anya Blau’s story “Waiting for My Rape” [August 2018]. Speaking from experience, I know rape can occur in unexpected ways: consenting to sex but not oral sex; within a marriage; with a friend. It took me time to acknowledge I’d been raped. Rape can be confusing and is often more nuanced than most people are comfortable with.
I hope Blau’s critics will challenge their antiquated beliefs about consent. The story doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes; it helps to broaden the conversation.
I’ve read your magazine for more than thirty years. As I finished your August 2018 issue, I realized that no matter how I decide to savor The Sun — whether I save the magazine for a flight, or read it cover to cover right away, or read just one piece and save the rest for another day — the same thing happens: I’m sorry I’ve finished and will have to wait a month for another issue.
I am a rape survivor, a teacher, and a mother of three girls. I felt like I was reading excerpts of my life in Heather Sellers’s essay “What I Heard” and Maggie Cheatham’s essay “The Feminist Club” [June 2018]. I’m scared to define myself as a feminist, but I feel moved by the strength and bravery of these authors.
At 4 AM I found myself reading Sy Safransky’s collection of essays, Four in the Morning. Like Safransky, I abandoned a promising reporting career to pursue other ventures. Now I’m in prison. But everybody’s got to be somewhere. Maybe I subconsciously made sure I’d end up here in order to allow myself the freedom to write. If so, mission accomplished!
When I saw Safransky’s collection in the prison book cart this weekend, I had to get it. I’m an avid Sun reader and a big believer in synchronicity. I noticed his experiences find their way into his writing, and I want to ask him: Is he still dragging the heavy furniture from his past along with him? It’s tough to throw things away, especially those that are permanently tattooed on your heart and intertwined with your soul. The bitter taste of a tragic life is too delicious to resist.
For years my mom used to lie on the couch, candles flickering, and read excerpts from The Sun to me as I drifted off to sleep. Only years later have I taken a real interest in the magazine. Every issue is a brutal kind of magic.