I read Sy Safransky’s essay “Safety” [August 1997] — about waiting for his missing daughter Mara’s phone call — the way an anorexic reads a cookbook, hungrily imagining the tastes and the sensation of feeling full. My father has no emotional attachment to me whatsoever. My desire for the sort of concern and love that Safransky feels for his daughter has at times caused me to fantasize being raped, thinking that perhaps such a violation might stir some kind of paternal response, some kind of outrage, if not simply a hug.
What I envy Mara the most is that, whether she is home in bed or staring down a tequila-crazed rapist on a remote Mexican road, she knows her father loves her. Somehow having The Sun on my bedside table has allowed me to feel, if only vicariously, what it must be like to know that.
Poe Ballantine’s “The Blue Devils of Blue River Avenue” [August 1997] is one of the best stories I’ve ever read in any publication.
Having breakfast alone in my shop this morning, waiting for my first customer and enjoying the quiet, I took The Sun from the magazine rack and scanned the contents. “Heaven,” by Alison Seevak [August 1997], leaped out at me, and I turned to that page and savored the short piece as I peeled and ate my orange.
On the radio, Jim Pittman, “the singing cook from Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia,” rambled on about finding out that a boil on his bald head was really sarcoma. He talked about how he was enjoying life, now that his days were numbered, how he loved the taste of salt and sugar, and a lemon’s sourness. He concluded by saying he’d been “a lucky son of a gun.” Just as I was coming to the end of Seevak’s “Heaven,” the radio program’s host came back on to say Pittman had died.
It’s been just over three years since I opened my shop, Heaven, a combination art gallery, bookstore, and cafe. I chose the name because the shop is located on the second floor, and because I thought this business would be a heaven of sorts, a utopian place to spend time (although people often ask whether it’s a religious bookstore). The Sun has always been a central part of my magazine section, and has slowly built up a dedicated following among my customers. I think it is a perfect magazine.
As I read on a sign hanging on someone’s front porch just yesterday: “Everything is connected to everything else.” And so I spend a perfect Friday morning connected to “Heaven,” to The Sun, and to its writers and readers.
It was with considerable annoyance that I read Lorenzo Wilson Milam’s “Ode to a Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitor” [July 1997], in which he portrays himself as a reluctant participant in the big, bad medical establishment’s latest drug experiment. Milam’s misinformed rhetoric serves only to perpetuate the public’s fear of using pharmacotherapy as an adjunct to psychological counseling. Yes, Zoloft does have side effects, including many of those described in Milam’s essay. But it doesn’t change the individual using it into some sort of grinning idiot. More accurately, Zoloft allows someone stricken with overwhelming sadness and anxiety to gain a measure of perspective and objectivity on the complicated events that contribute to his or her condition.
Milam can and should take an active role in his treatment. He has every right to return to those days of “3 A.M. anxiety attacks” that he describes with such breezy succinctness. He should also remember that the psychiatrist he depends upon as a scapegoat in his oddly apologetic ramble is a luxury to which few people have access. Serotonin-reuptake inhibitors have saved many people’s lives and, perhaps more importantly, have given many more people lives they feel are worth living. For Milam to imply that these individuals are simply being manipulated by the “wonder drug of the nineties” is insulting.
Society already does a thorough job of oversimplifying and dismissing mental illness. Please do not nourish this already overfed beast.
Lorenzo W. Milam responds:
Dr. Stoessl sees Prozac, Zoloft, and their ilk as a miracle, making it possible for one to survive the pain of a dysfunctional brain.
He is right, and I applaud him, and his humanity, and these medicines. Certainly Zoloft contributed to my own survival and happiness for more than a year. We patients are being drugged willingly, because we find our dysfunctions are driving us bananas.
The devil-may-care style of my article was a direct result of the drug. Form fits function: Zoloft was doing my writing for me. Had I still been plunged in panic, I would have written a different piece, probably more maudlin, and possibly not as intelligible. Or, come to think of it, since the article was about the drug itself, I would never have written it at all.
Milton Erickson, the famed hypnotherapist, said that when a psychiatrist prescribes drugs, it’s a statement of the doctor’s inability to figure out how to deal with a patient’s problem. Unfortunately, Erickson has gone to the great consulting couch in the sky, so I couldn’t visit with him — as I had before — to ask his help with my panic attacks. Anyway, over the years, after seeking the services of twelve — twelve — psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric social workers, Jungians, Adlerians, Perlsians, and Freudians, I find that I prefer now, when my mind goes into a dither, to make use of some of the powerful psychotropic medicines available to us neurotics of long standing.
There is an interesting irony to all this. I continued with Zoloft for almost a year and then, with considerable trepidation and the kind assistance of my doctor, slowly tapered off it. I was fully expecting — nay, I was panic-stricken at the thought — that my panic attacks would begin again, but, wondrously, they didn’t.
Why? I think perhaps Zoloft interrupted a cycle of despair and fear that was running me at the time. I also think that whatever my brain was serving up performed, as Erickson would say, an important function in my emotional life. In his terms, my subconscious may have finally decided that the panic had served its purpose, and that I no longer needed it to survive.
It’s been more than a year now since Zoloft and I parted company. I know that it will always be there for me, should I need it. I also know that it can be a teacher, as well as a crutch.
Every month, I read The Sun cover to cover. Often the essays and poetry have the empty feel of masturbation, and I ask myself what the point is in sharing these private thoughts with the world. Most publications would consider such material self-indulgent. Then I remember that the desire to share our inner lives is hard-wired into us, and I am grateful that The Sun offers a venue where this is possible.
I was moved by two essays in the July 1997 issue: “Gray Rain at Graceland,” by Michael Ventura, and “Sources of Nourishment,” by Alison Luterman. Both were beautifully written and transcended the temptation to wallow in self-importance. The authors addressed matters that affect all of us, and did so from an introspective, questioning point of view. The Sun should publish more works that not only reveal the authors’ souls, but our connections to each other.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the July Correspondence section. Did these readers plan their mass attack on Sparrow? As I read their astounding criticisms, I felt sorry that I’d never written to express my admiration and appreciation for Sparrow’s work and being.
There have been times when I thought maybe The Sun and I were growing apart, but then you’d publish a piece by Sparrow, and I’d reconsider. For me, Sparrow exhibits all the qualities essential for the health of this planet, qualities that are disappearing from view, if not from existence: a sense of humor, a lack of respect for authority, the courage to speak out, creativity, daring, and a true sense of showmanship. He knows how to get attention, and once he has it, he says things that need saying, but that most of us are afraid to say in public. I loved “Sparrow’s Message to God.” Only a true believer would know that God, unlike us ego-filled humans, can be called a fish without taking offense.
Sparrow, I may not want to marry you, but I am your friend.
When I read Sparrow’s “Why Didn’t You Vote for Me?” [May 1997] I laughed so hard the other people in the library gave me funny looks. I have absolutely no objection to Sparrow’s work appearing in The Sun; he’s one of the reasons I started reading it in the first place.
His response to the letters in the July 1997 Correspondence section was not only fitting; it earned me still more evil glances. Maybe you should stop publishing Sparrow — so that I don’t get kicked out of the library.
In response to the letters in the July 1997 Correspondence section, I’d like to put in a word of support for Sparrow. Most Sun writers journey off the beaten path, but Sparrow travels the road never taken. This might explain why he often receives criticism from those not at the extremes of the political, social, and artistic spectrums.
I just received your offer for a trial issue of The Sun. It looks like a very nice publication. We try, however, not to do any business in North Carolina due to Senator Jesse Helms.
I believe Alison Clement and I were separated at birth. Until I read her essay [“On Being Wrong,” June 1997], I thought I was the only one who was wrong about most everything. Although I have never lived in a cabin in the woods like Clement, I did recently move to Fresno, which seems a bit like the back of beyond to a city dweller like me. I thought it would be perfect after the hustle of the expensive, crowded San Francisco Bay Area, but every day I wonder if I was wrong, if maybe all five of us (which sometimes feels like all fifty of us) wouldn’t be happier in a closet-sized apartment close to friends and family, surrounded by quirky people in outlandish clothing, and restaurants serving bizarre and delicious foods.
Perhaps things are right only for so long, and then they become wrong. Maybe Clement was right about the conga player, Marx, and cocaine — at least, at the time. Just because something isn’t right anymore doesn’t mean that it was always wrong.