Yascha Mounk asserts, in your interview by Daniel McDermon [“Sticks and Stones,” April 2022], that the U.S. has “played an incredibly important role in spreading democracy and rights and the ideal of self-government around the world.” This is a “national narrative” that the U.S. notoriously uses to smash any nation that refuses to be incorporated into the U.S. centralized-power structure. If we are going to talk about respecting diverse and dissenting views, as Mounk calls for, we must also look at our nation’s long-standing practice of disastrous regime changes and violent occupations.
The essays in your April 2022 issue felt like they were written about me and my loved ones. I saw my sister in Alison Clement’s “Past Lives,” about an abusive relationship. “Beacon,” by John Paul Scotto, could have been about my best friend, who died by suicide. Maureen Stanton’s “Evanescence” reminded me of my mother, who turns ninety this year. And “Hard Times,” by Alison Luterman, felt like it was about me: a once-struggling guitarist and singer and now-struggling writer. Next month’s contributions might not have anything in common with me or those I love, but I know I can learn from and connect with those essays, too.
I felt a strong connection with Alison Luterman’s essay “Hard Times.” Like her, I was the only Jewish student in my class and always sang off-key. When our elementary-school music teacher heard me sing with my classmates, she said, “Donald, just move your lips.” Even so, seventy years later, I love to sing.
Years ago I taught school in Mexico and fell in love with the ballads of José José. I sang along with my students, and they smiled and humored me. I remember one young woman said, “Profesor, usted canta con mucha emoción, pero bien feo.” (Professor, you sing with much emotion, but very badly.)
Later I took a job at a local university teaching Spanish. If a student was celebrating a birthday, I would walk over to them and quietly ask if they would like to be serenaded with “Las Mañanitas,” a celebration-of-life song that I had been practicing for several years. If they agreed, the other students and I would sing to them.
Toward the end of my last year of teaching, a student came to my office and said, “You made my day when you sang to me on my birthday. I’ll never forget it. You have a really nice voice.”
I won’t forget it either.
Michael Galinksy’s photo essay “We Were All Just Kids, Really” [April 2022] could not have come at a better time.
In 1978 I moved to Manhattan with my boyfriend, who was a punk drummer. He joined with a few women to form a band called the Bush Tetras, which became one of the hottest on the New York City scene. I was a shy, inhibited young woman, and the club scene intimidated me. But, as the drummer’s girlfriend, I was a regular presence at shows.
My former boyfriend was like the young musicians described in the introduction to the photo essay: not settled into himself and making bad decisions. He started using heroin. He was able to kick that habit but replaced it with others, and although he had long stretches of sobriety, he always relapsed.
We broke up after some years but still communicated. Sadly he died of addiction-related causes in October 2021. He had been calling me more and more frequently during the last five years of his life, pleading with me to come visit. The news of his death devastated me, but I am coming to a place of peace with it.
Galinksy’s photos reminded me of that time in my life, when we were just kids and there was love, laughter, and dancing.
I am ninety-six years old. My body is starting to fall apart — ears, eyes, teeth, hips. Each night before I go to sleep, I hope that tomorrow I will wake up dead. But not tonight, please. My April issue of The Sun has just arrived.
Tracy Frisch’s interview with Robert Bilott, about chemical contamination and corporate greed [“Something in the Water,” March 2022], struck a chord with me. As a federal lobbyist at a nonprofit health organization, I worked on an effort to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. My job was to ensure that modern, human-relevant testing methods were integrated into the legislation. Without this explicit language, millions of animals would die in painful chemical experiments only to give us faulty data on human-health outcomes.
After a ten-year effort we were successful, and I was invited to watch President Obama sign the bill into law, his last piece of environmental protection before leaving office. The Bilott interview was a reminder of how important this work is for humans, animals, and the environment.
I shook my head when I read Teetle Clawson’s essay “Culled” [March 2022]. It is tragic that some people, upon experiencing trauma, are ostracized, harassed, and subjected to “secondary wounding” (mental-health-professional parlance for kicking people when they are down).
When I read accounts like this, my hope for humanity hangs by a thread. I don’t understand how people can believe every cruel rumor they hear. I often think of something comedian George Carlin once said: “Think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are stupider than that.”
I can easily relate to Staci Kleinmaier [Readers Write on “Being Stubborn,” March 2022] when she writes that, after her late father’s recovery, people refused to recognize him as anything other than an alcoholic.
My mother used alcohol to deal with her rape as a young teen. She managed to stop cold turkey — after forty years of drinking — when her husband told her it was either him or the bottle. I always will be grateful for the eighteen years of sobriety that followed. We built a new relationship, and she was able to restore her dignity and love of life.
Likewise my brother was addicted to meth for many years. He managed to quit and spent his last five years serving the unhoused community of which he had been a member.
It takes unimaginable courage for people in addiction recovery to resume control of their lives. Because of my mother and brother, I understand that people are far more multifaceted than most of us believe.
I enjoyed Jeff Weiss’s interview with Rick Perlstein [“The Elephant in the Room,” December 2021], but I was disappointed to read that Perlstein doesn’t respect any young conservative intellectuals. “I think it’s interesting that liberals scour the horizon for conservative thinkers to respect,” he said. “Why does it matter?”
Why does it matter? Because human beings’ natural tendency is to connect with others rather than constantly be at odds with them.
I work for the public-health department as a nurse in a county jail and am surrounded by people who think a lot differently than I do. During the pandemic, conditions in the jail have been especially tense, and for quite some time I was angry at my coworkers for improperly wearing masks, refusing to get vaccinated, and not protecting others from the virus. I grew exhausted from fighting with people about COVID and other issues.
I have decided to be less angry at those who still don’t wear their masks correctly, because I’ll take connection over division every day. It’s better for my health, and it’s better for the health of the world.
Six months into the COVID shutdown, I sat in a friend’s backyard, and we challenged each other to come up with something positive about the previous half year. I said I’d enjoyed being able to catch up on reading The Sun.
When I was working in an office, I did my job or browsed the Internet while I ate my lunch. Remote work meant I could read The Sun for half an hour before heading back to my laptop. Once I was able to return to the office, I appreciated seeing colleagues and clients, but the magazine basket next to my couch filled up again with unread issues.
As the omicron variant spread, I signed up for a cross-country bike trip to see some new scenery and reduce my anxiety. Aside from the layers of clothing that enabled me to start rides at thirty-six degrees in the New Mexico desert, the heaviest thing I packed was a stack of eight back issues. I’ll be caught up before I reach Louisiana.