Issue 331 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I am sixty-three years old and have never tried marijuana. After reading your May Readers Write on the subject, all I can say is “Where can I get some?”

Janet Beech Alta Loma, California

I’m in love with a longtime marijuana user who hid a daily habit from me for years. Before this relationship, I had no real opinion regarding marijuana; now I do.

When high, this normally intellectual, loyal, honest, and kind person thinks it’s funny to tell “innocent” lies; thinks the most mundane forms of humor are witty and sophisticated; becomes volatile and is sexually inappropriate; says hurtful things and denies them later; can’t make decisions or forgets them; has no grasp of time or schedules; becomes either depressed and lethargic or manic and hyperactive; repeats the same philosophical discussions over and over, year after year, and still cannot draw conclusions about them; and misunderstands much of what others say.

It no longer matters whether or not my partner is using pot at the moment: the memory lapses and the sexual problems are part of our daily life. My partner doesn’t think pot is a problem, but rather believes it is the source of life’s finest, most creative hours.

Perhaps I don’t fully understand the role of marijuana in people’s lives, but I do know that with me, people are getting someone genuine and fairly consistent — and if not, I can address that problem within myself. My loved one can’t, because there is often no memory of what was done or said. I think we both deserve better.

Name Withheld

Reading Michael Pollan on the effects of marijuana [“The Botany of Desire,” May 2003] has inspired me to share my own experience of what the drug does. I was an occasional user (parties only) who last smoked fifteen years ago. I always learned something from it — every time. I attribute this to two facts: 1) I first smoked it when I was twenty, not twelve; and 2) I never smoked it daily, or even weekly. It was always on a special occasion.

Marijuana allowed my mind to focus totally on one sensation or train of thought. Normally we tune in to a lot of things at once. This is practical in the Darwinian sense, as it enables us to shift our attention quickly if one particular sight or sound becomes a threat. But it also makes our experience blurred and vague; the course of our thoughts is constantly corrected by different perceptions.

Marijuana enables a powerful, spot-lit concentration; every competing sense or thought goes dark. I remember wandering around in the architecture of jazz, or bathing my whole being in vanilla ice cream. I also became aware of my mind as skating on two-dimensional ice while my consciousness, ancient as a coelacanth, watched impassively from beneath. Marijuana leaves little or no room for the survival-oriented “monitoring” function of the straight mind. Anyone who has ever tried to “act straight” to fool a cop or parent, however, knows that the monitoring function can sometimes be reactivated by a great effort or a great scare.

I would suggest to the scientists studying endogenous cannabinoids that they may enable concentration, as well as forgetting. While this may seem paradoxical on the face of it, it is only by selective forgetting that we are able to focus our attention, and so to love, achieve, and create.

Annie Gottlieb New York, New York

Thanks for the break, in the May issue, from super-idealism, self-absorption, and angst. Derrick Jensen’s interview of Alfred McCoy on the history of drug trafficking [“Tricks of the Trade”] was concise and exhaustive to the point of classicism. And the Sunbeams on the subject of war were all superb.

Russ Tremayne Auburn, Washington

I have noticed that Alcoholics Anonymous is frequently disparaged in the pages of The Sun. To each his own opinion, but I fear the negativity might discourage someone whose survival could depend on trying AA.

AA is often criticized as unhip, establishment, clinical, cultish, boring, repetitive, and religious. It may display all those traits. It is supposed to be nondenominational, nonreligious, grassroots, and nonauthoritarian (though some members require firm direction at the start). AA is not your typical monolithic organization. Every member is both consumer and staff. It’s a “fellowship.” It is supposed to offer freedom, not just an alternate form of bondage.

I do have the freedom to reject meetings that have a more authoritarian culture. I also have the right to politely press my contradictory views where needed. There is no tyranny of senior officers.

AA spun off from the Oxford Group — a Christian-experience movement of the early 1900s based in New York City — essentially because the drunks were too eccentric to fit in. Early members described alcoholism as a syndrome of effects, rooted mostly in spiritual emptiness and an insatiable craving to fill that emptiness with alcohol.

The Big Book of AA is a ruling standard of sorts, but there’s no supreme court to interpret it, and no police to enforce it. AA therefore reflects the notions of the community, to varying degrees. New Age ideas, pop psychology, religious dogma, and social ills such as gossip, domination, and dependency occur, as they do in any society. But profound stories of disintegration and redemption — best expressed with humility and humor, not self-aggrandizement — balance any negatives. I’ve been blown away by spiritual insights from drywall finishers and bikers, and I’ve been dismayed and bored by confused PhDs. (I’ve found myself both boring and profound at turns.)

Initiation into AA must start with rudimentary spiritual practice, with action leading intellectual understanding. AA can serve as a springboard to self-honesty, a search for truth and wisdom, and a sense of playfulness that would have Lao Tzu laughing uproariously. Some members have endured great tragic losses with only love and faith to sustain them.

The idea of “powerlessness” that disturbs many AA “tourists” refers to the idea that alcoholism — with its attendant soul craving and mental/emotional blackouts — is, by its very nature, beyond the ability of the unaided human will to control. Full recovery usually entails gradual, deep transformation — a spiritual awareness as visceral as a fifth of booze, a bump of heroin, or a hit off the pipe, and as vivid and deep as a hit of windowpane. Many of these ideas are echoed in The Sun. Your magazine has helped me to understand that struggle and pain, as well as rebirth and growth, are not confined to the AA paradigm. The Sun has helped me become a better human being.

Gary G. Akron, Ohio

If conservative pundits seek fodder for their rants about the Left, they need look no further than the March issue of The Sun. Starhawk [“Webs of Power”] writes and speaks eloquently, but undermines her own credibility by delving into “magic” as a protest stratagem. And Sparrow’s downright silly manifesto on revolution [“Yes, You Are A Revolutionary!”] is its own satire: “And, of course, there are explosives and guns.”

I have long considered myself a liberal, but if carrying that card means abandoning all rationality, I’ll throw in the towel and start watching Fox News.

David M. Randall Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Sparrow responds:

Has it ever occurred to David M. Randall that silliness might be revolutionary?

I feel it is my responsibility as a “cat person” to respond to something Holly Ann Hyde said in her essay “How to Bury a Dog” [February 2003]. I was moved by Hyde’s essay and reminded of the pain I have felt after the loss of several beloved pets. I was shocked, however, to come across such a bitter statement: “I have a theory about cat people: more often than not, they are afraid to express or be in the presence of powerful emotions.”

Until that point, I had thought that Hyde spoke for all pet owners. It is unfair and selfish of her to suggest that she felt more powerful emotions because the friend she lost was a dog. My cats argue and fight with me and with each other; they also make up and ask for forgiveness. And above all, they have the ability to recognize love and return it with their kneading paws and purring. If those aren’t powerful emotions, I don’t know what are.

Erin Corbal Altadena, California

For the first time since I began receiving The Sun, I have let two issues remain unread. My good friend has breast cancer, and I have set aside many of my routine comforts to be with her. She’s going to be just fine, but since her diagnosis I have taken stock of my own life and become more aware of what is really important. I know that some things are not expendable. The Sun is one of those things.

I have read The Sun for six years now, and it has never failed to jolt me back into reality and make me realize that I have not grown numb. In my hectic life there are few things that consistently arouse such an emotional response in me. Every issue of The Sun opens my eyes to new perspectives. People often criticize The Sun for its tendency to delve into the dark side of life. I am thankful to The Sun for its boldness and commitment to presenting all sides of life.

I have just enjoyed the first warm breeze of spring and the February issue of The Sun. And I have wiped tears from my eyes after reading Readers Write on “Falling in Love.” I couldn’t help but cry in response to Sigren Kuefner’s childhood encounter with the Russian soldier who held her and sang to her. And then I cried again as I realized the horrors that other young German girls suffered that night at the hand of Russian soldiers. I also felt joy as I read Shea Settimi’s story of the boyfriend who heated water on the stove and washed her hair when they had no hot water. A simple act in itself, but a symbol of pure love and devotion.

Danna Flowers Unicoi, Tennessee

I have been a melancholic ever since I can remember, but the somber mood of The Sun somehow lightens mine. It’s like the old rule of homeopathy: Treat like with like. You talk about sorrow without causing it.

I discovered The Sun while a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1989. I was twenty-one. Now I’m thirty-six. It has accompanied me through hard times in Germany, France, and Greece. It has revealed to me many “soulful places,” as James Hillman would call them. It has kept me connected to a community of thinkers.

Dimitrios Tsiapkinis Thessaloniki
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