Alyce Miller responds:
I want to thank Luan Gaines for her letter [Correspondence, February 2000]. Everything she describes is exactly the point of my story “800” [November 1999], which is all about acquisition and babies as commodities and the uncomfortable and disturbing relationship between adoption and race and class.
I normally don’t write such unappealing characters, but I was drawn to these by my interest in the politics and ethics of adoption. Of course, one can’t simply make one-dimensional characters and then stick them with pins for their flaws. So I tried to create two fairly bland, not-too-bad people with some sense of self-irony and a little humor thrown in, but whose choices were clearly embedded in privilege and the wide range of options it brings.
The whole adoption system is very depressing, and I have much more to say on it, but lack the space here. I am glad that some readers saw these issues in the story. They are the issues I approached the story with as the writer. I am also glad to know the story makes people uncomfortable. I was edgy all through the writing of it.
There is definitely a strong sense of community and family among people who read The Sun, and an even larger degree of caring than I thought. When you published my letter asking for assistance with my medical bills in the January 2000 Correspondence, I was hopeful, but not convinced anyone would respond. Now, as the checks and kind letters continue to arrive, I have no doubt that our financial needs will be met by this outpouring of love — itself a powerful healing force. (Not having to worry about how to cover the cost of medical bills also contributes a great deal to my healing.)
My rescue, my family’s rescue, is due to The Sun’s willingness to print my letter asking for help, and to the generosity of its readers. If anyone doubts that people love each other and will help, refer them to me.
As someone who once bought into the belief that if only I ate the right food, took the right supplements, and had the right spiritual practice, I could be cured, I am grateful for Derrick Jensen’s interview with Marc Ian Barasch [“Body Language,” January 2000]. During my illness, I eventually found tremendous relief in Buddhist philosophy and practice. It taught me that, when something bad happens, I should lean into it and learn to appreciate this aspect of experience instead of pushing it away. Also, I should stop pretending I can predict what is around the next corner.
Reading Susan Parker’s “And Jill Came Tumbling After” [January 2000] reminded me of how precarious life is. What happened to her husband, Ralph, could just as easily happen to me or to someone I know.
I was especially affected by the reactions of her friends: “There were friends who disappeared the moment the accident happened and friends who held on for a while, but eventually had to let go. There were new friends who came and went and others who stuck by us.” I had to wonder what kind of friend I would be. Maybe after reading Parker’s story, I am more likely to be a true friend in times of sickness and need.
Susan Parker is to be commended for her tremendous courage and honesty. It’s refreshing to hear the unvarnished story of disability from the caregiver’s point of view: neither martyr nor victim, but just a woman in a very difficult position. There is no harm in being where we are, only in believing we are somewhere else. Parker may not be overflowing with gratitude and enthusiasm for her lot in life, but she is unquestionably brave, healthy, and well. I wish her, Ralph, Harka, Jerry, and Mrs. Scott the best, but I believe they already have it, whether they know it or not, because they have one another.
And if I may comment on Sharon Skelton’s letter in response to David Guy in the January Correspondence section: Ten years of counseling and befriending former sex workers here in prison has taught me that the majority of these women were molested, often repeatedly, at an age too young for most of us even to think about. As a result, they are tremendously confused about sex, anger, and love.
I don’t hear stories of birthday parties at the skating rink or boxes of crayon drawings, but I hear too many stories of repeated violations and molestation throughout childhood. I hear stories of abandonment, foster homes, and parental drug use and alcoholism. I hear stories of women who have given up on themselves, who cannot trust, who have abandoned their children and are filled with self-loathing. The only time they’ve felt any self-worth was when they could count it in dollar bills.
There are no goddesses in sex work, only troubled, wounded little girls in grown-up bodies craving love and attention, but with no clue how to get it. Let us not forget that these women are a part of our wounded, crippled society, and that, more than another fast buck or quick fix, they need someone to listen, to care.
I thumbed through the January 2000 issue to read the poetry first — my usual pattern — but I missed it. Then I thumbed through again and realized: No poetry. What a way to start the new millennium! Is Sunbeams next to go?
Please, poll your readers before you make these drastic (to me, anyhow) editorial decisions. Poetry of the caliber found in The Sun often speaks to the spirit in ways that prose never can. Please consider this before planning another poetry-free issue.
Sybil Smith’s story “A Dog Named Hopi” [August 1999] made me cry and remember again my own experience of many years ago. That kind of experience never really leaves you but becomes a part of who you are and where you have been. It’s rare for me to read anything on rape or torture that actually speaks the truth without overdramatizing it or playing on a theme of victimization.
If you’ve ever really wanted to know what you might think and feel while being raped, Smith’s story will give you a good idea. You’re not thinking, Poor me, or feeling like a victim. Instead, you’re trying to figure out how to manipulate the person who is threatening you. Your instincts are clear. You focus on survival. You keep your word until you know it’s safe and you don’t have to anymore. You promise to count to a hundred backward, cover your face, and move in a way that makes the perpetrator comfortable. You promise never to tell anyone.
In response to Katja B. Szarafinski [Correspondence, November 1999], who wrote that, after reading the story, she felt as if she had been raped, I promise her: if she had, she would know the difference.
In our February 2000 issue, photographer Anette B. Hansen’s name was misspelled. The Sun regrets the error.
On the cover of our March 2000 issue, the date and issue number temporarily disappeared from the Sun logo. They are back now. We apologize for their absence.