Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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Finn Cohen’s interview with Dietrich Vollrath [“Even Money,” August 2020] reminded me of the two years I worked for a federal antipoverty program in Berea, Kentucky. I used to wonder at the amount of money I was taking home as an “expert” on poverty. I always thought the poor would be better off if they were given that money directly.
I enjoyed the interview with Dietrich Vollrath, but the tone of economic justice that pervades the August 2020 issue bugs me. I hear enough from my liberal friends about how poor people are inherently honorable and hardworking while capitalists are venal and greedy. As Vollrath concedes, people are more complicated than those stereotypes.
There are quite a few progressive libertarians solving social problems today; maybe The Sun could feature some of them in interviews now and then?
Dietrich Vollrath gives an engaging interview, but I take issue with his conception of capitalism. He argues that “Big-C Capitalism” is unequal, ecologically damaging, and predatory, while “small-c capitalism” is nothing more than a benign and efficient system for setting prices. This conflates “small-c capitalism” with markets and implies the two are inseparable.
Capitalism, in all forms, is defined by private control of surplus capital and the means of production. Moreover, markets can exist in noncapitalist economies. True market socialism is one example. In it, workers directly control surplus resources and the means of production, using markets to distribute their goods and services.
Vollrath’s narrow economic definitions feed the false notion that a world without capitalism is unviable. I expect more from a progressive economist.
I attended one of Lyn Lifshin’s poetry workshops at her home in Niskayuna, New York, in the early 1980s. It was a delight to read her work again in your posthumous tribute [“The Other Side of the Moon,” August 2020] — and to learn that she remained a long-haired sylph, dancing her way into readers’ hearts.
I have been a fan of Lyn Lifshin’s poetry since I read her book Black Apples in the early 1970s. As a poet, I appreciate her artistry, and I felt sad when I heard of her passing. Lifshin was prolific and talented, and her unique voice continues to speak powerfully to poetry lovers everywhere.
I laughed at many of Sparrow’s observations in his campaign journal [“Future Generations Will Thank Me,” August 2020] but the one that really hit the mark was his promise, if elected president, to whisper his State of the Union Address.
I was a preschool teacher for eighteen years, so I know the power of a whisper to transform the chaos of a classroom. It was even more powerful if I would tiptoe around the children and put my index finger to my lips with dramatic flair.
I hope we someday have a president who will whisper the State of the Union Address. I promise to give it my rapt attention.
I have suddenly become an enthusiastic supporter of Sparrow and his Dadaesque campaign for president. Finally — someone to vote for!
I was pleasantly surprised to read about B.B.’s romantic relationship with a man thirty-six years her junior [“Boyfriends and Girlfriends,” Readers Write, July 2020]. After my divorce, I checked out dating sites, but the men in their fifties (my age group) seemed grandfatherly. I naturally gravitated toward younger guys — and they toward me — because of our similar interests and energy levels. But then I’d look in the mirror and chastise myself. No young guy would look twice at me! I decided to stick to my own kind.
After a year, however, I still can’t find anyone over the age of fifty who’s right for me. I’m going to take a page out of B.B.’s book, be open-minded, and interact with whomever appeals to me, regardless of age.
I read with perverse bemusement M.A.’s Readers Write piece about the distractions he finds — video games, the gym, football on TV, and so on — to avoid making music and taking creative risks [“Fear,” June 2020]. I know that game all too well.
M.A. got the last paragraph wrong, however. He says the worst-case scenario is actually sharing his music with the world and facing everyone’s judgment. The worst-case scenario is telling yourself for fifty years, like I have, “I’ll start tomorrow.”
After reading Louise A. Blum’s essay “How It Ends” [March 2020], I thought to myself that life is exactly what it is — the entire range of comedy and good fortune to tragedy and forsakenness. I cried for the earth, which has been fracked, polluted, and disregarded. The suffering and death of her dear friend K., which Blum profoundly captured, went directly to my heart. My consolation was that, holding the magazine, I didn’t feel alone.
The Readers Write entry by the inmate who slowed down to be patient and kind to a man in the prison infirmary [“Shortcuts,” March 2020] affected me more deeply than a whole book on compassion. Like the author, I, too, struggle with helping people who can be irritating or unkind. But the author took it upon himself to put aside his own needs and try to understand his fellow prisoner’s anger and frustration.
I hope the author sees this letter and realizes what a good person he is.
Last year, at the age of seventy-four, I walked the eight-hundred-mile Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan. Three years before that I walked the six-hundred-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain.
If I walk another pilgrimage, it will be across the country to Sparrow’s home in New York, to personally thank him for “Sparrow’s Guide to Meditation” [January 2020].
Ever since my brother sent me “Joyas Voladoras” [Dog-Eared Page, January 2020], I’ve read as many of Brian Doyle’s essays as I can, but I keep returning to this one. I come close to crying every time, mainly because Doyle mentions a father making pancakes for his children. My father, who died when he was fifty-eight years old, used to do the same for us. He could have made us a lot more pancakes.
I’m sad that Doyle died when he was sixty. He could have given us a lot more essays.
After months of receiving subscription-renewal reminders, I chose to let my Sun subscription lapse. I had become complacent in my reading and was leaving entire issues unread.
Then my wife and I took a camping trip to Glacier National Park, and I decided to bring a handful of unread issues with me. After several days of reading around the campfire or in our camper, I rediscovered the insights The Sun offers. Now each issue is coffee stained, water soaked, smudged by dirty fingers, and well loved.
I renewed my subscription when I returned home.
I love you guys. I’ve been reading The Sun since I was fifteen years old. I’m now thirty-four.
Like a relationship that drifts in and out, my Sun reading habits have gone back and forth. Sometimes I’m bored or wonder if I’ve moved on. But then you do the thing you always do when I’m feeling alienated: you make me feel human again.
Thank you for being a comfort in some of my loneliest hours, for celebrating with me in some of my brighter ones, and for reminding me to be kind to myself when I think I’ve got it figured out but get knocked on my ass again. Thank you for being a kind voice in the world. You taught me to be brave, and I am a better person for reading your magazine.