Bruce E. Mitchell’s short story “Cuba Libre” [May 2007] could have used a little more Cuba, a little less liberty. My father is from Cuba, and many of his relatives still live there. There are no “mestizos” in Cuba, as there are in the other Latin American countries, because the indigenous native population was worked to death and otherwise exterminated. The historically accurate term for mixed-race peoples in Cuba is “mulatto,” though I understand that term makes people uncomfortable now.
My father grew up in the mountains near the coastal city of Mayari and emigrated to the United States. Years later he and my mother took their honeymoon in Cuba. There are no round grass shacks with palm-leaf roofs in any of the photographs from their trip. My father never once described to me the desperate poverty that is so prevalent in Mitchell’s version of 1950s Cuba. My mother was a nurse and politically liberal. Given that she grew up in the crushing poverty of rural Nebraska during the Depression, I would have expected to have heard from her about the poverty in Cuba. But she never mentioned the legless beggars that are all over the place in Mitchell’s story. Corruption, violence, and repression — not poverty — were the root causes of the Cuban revolution.
Bruce Mitchell responds:
I’m sure Luther T. Garcia is justified in his perspective, just as I’m sure that my portrayal is correct. I traveled in Cuba in the 1950s. I don’t have any photographs, but my brother, my wife, and I all remember the legless beggars in Havana and the poverty in many of the small towns. I had an accident in one town and almost died because there was no hospital or clinic (a situation that has improved dramatically since the fifties). The corruption, violence, and repression affected a small portion of the population (I did mention the torture of Batista’s enemies), but poverty was the larger problem, and it went mostly unrecognized, especially by wealthy Cubans and American tourists — which is the whole point of my story.
When Ellen Santasiero describes contradancing [“Giving Weight,” May 2007], I can feel the ebb and flow, the intricate weaving of the dancers. Back in the early eighties, my wife learned about contradancing at a university function. She loved it, but every time she invited me to give it a try, I resisted. Eventually, I agreed to try it — once — to get her off my back.
I was enchanted. I still am. When my dance partner and I are moving together, the joy and pleasure I feel are beyond words.
When, one Saturday evening, my wife told me she couldn’t make the dance I sheepishly asked, “Would you mind if I went by myself?”
In his lament for the felled trees of Gettysburg [“Shade,” May 2007], Dustin Beall Smith misses the greatest irony of all. The cutting of trees at Gettysburg today mimics the logging that took place one year prior to the great battle of 1863. Many Adams County landowners had sold the trees on their woodlots to government purchasing agents, because the Union Army of the Potomac, with eighty thousand men in winter quarters in Maryland and Virginia, needed trainloads of timber and firewood. Hence some important battles, such as the struggle for Little Round Top, were fought on recently denuded land. In fact, Little Round Top was tactically important precisely because it had been cut and thus offered clear fields of fire. Today’s cutting is simply history repeating itself, albeit for different reasons.
Though I was enchanted by most of Dustin Beall Smith’s “Shade,” I was angered by his complete ignorance of mental illness. To suggest that mental illnesses are a fabrication of our societal “angst” or “despair” only makes it that much harder for those who struggle with them. Not only do they have to battle a medical condition that can be crippling and stigmatizing, but every day they must fight people’s skepticism about the very existence of these disorders.
Simply because drugs are marketed on television does not make it a mere lifestyle choice to take them. To compare bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and clinical depression with erectile dysfunction, as Smith does, is appalling. As a college professor, he has an obligation to be informed about these matters; he probably has students who cope with these disorders every day. When they are left untreated, the consequences can be tragic.
Dustin Beall Smith responds:
As a college professor I listen carefully to my students, and I work closely with mental-health professionals on campus. I am acutely aware that students cope with legitimate disorders every day. Nevertheless, Tina Maynard’s angry reaction to what I wrote is valid. My discursion into the subject of prescription medication was too brief and casual to accommodate the complexities of the issue. I did not mean to suggest that mental illness is a “fabrication of our societal ‘angst’ ” (who would suggest that?), but rather that market forces and advertising have blurred the lines between mental illness, per se, and what one might call “healthy” anxiety, sadness, and anger — the kind that motivates us to act in response to real injustices and dangers.
You make a big deal about how The Sun is ad free, but is it? I see no fewer than six advertisements for The Sun on the newsstand wrap, back cover, and the annoying pull-out cards. And why do you have to use “ad free” in all of your publicity? Why not just be ad free and leave it at that? If you push your good deeds on people, then they are just a hair less good.
I liked much of what John O’Donohue had to say in Diane Covington’s interview with him [“The Unseen Life That Dreams Us,” April 2007], but I found unfortunate his assertion that “religious fundamentalists . . . would not be able to distinguish God from a cucumber.”
Religious fundamentalists, like any other group, are not a homogenous monolith. Their life of faith can be deeply sincere. O’Donohue should know better, especially since, in the preceding paragraph, he says, “All extremes create a mirror of themselves.”
I read John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara when it first came out. I had long ago abandoned my Catholic heritage and become a solitary practitioner of Wicca in the Celtic tradition. O’Donohue’s book touched me deeply and helped me to make peace with the hurts of the past. I revisit the book often and, after reading Diane Covington’s interview, I believe it’s time to read it again.
While I enjoyed much of Diane Covington’s interview with John O’Donohue, I am offended by his comments about middle-aged women who, wishing to be creative, “engage in the most boring, disastrously unoriginal enterprises.”
I’m forty-three and my children are ten and twelve. I’m a part-time English professor and spend much of my day taking care of my family, my home, and my yard. Though I don’t write poetry or create sculptures, I do feel creative when I’m thinking of healthy meals to cook for picky children, decorating my home, or discovering new ways to keep my marriage lively. For O’Donohue to say that these activities “have vacancy written all over them” is judgmental.
We cannot all be artists in the conventional sense, and we shouldn’t be made to feel bad if we’re not.
John O’Donohue says that some New Age writers “cherry-pick . . . from ancient traditions,” which he believes is “soft thinking.” Actually, that’s thinking. Far better to be an adherent who makes choices than a blind follower, swallowing doctrine like a goose destined for pâté.
I take pride in being a cherry-picker. I am a Buddhist, Pagan, Native American, Shinto, Christian “openist,” for lack of a better term. Too many religious adherents have become insistent that their way is the only way, and I call that soft thinking.
Wouldn’t it be great if we worshipped ideals rather than books? Then, when we encountered the same ideal in another culture, we would recognize its divinity. How many religious wars could be prevented if ideals took precedence over the desire to name and claim? Rather than bending a knee to prophets, we could bend a knee to truth. Rather than idolizing Kwan Yin or Jesus, we could celebrate compassion. Rather than praying to a static entity to show pity on our hungry brethren, we would rise up and act, for the worship of ideals compels us to live up to them.
When the occasional person asks me if I go to church, I usually shrug and say, “Well, I read The Sun. And I hike a lot.” Who knows whether that counts to them, but it sure does to me. Your April issue is a case in point.
I left the Catholic Church in part because of its treatment of women and its position against birth control (despite the fact that overpopulation is ruining God’s creation). Your interview with John O’Donohue reminds me of what is beautiful and positive about the Church. Ellery Akers’s poem “The Word That Is A Prayer” speaks to me. I’ve always imagined my last thought will be Please, a plea to the Universe to be kind, or explain itself. The photo essay by Marshall Clarke [“Into Silence”] is a portrait of love in the face of difficulty.
Each issue of The Sun keeps me thinking, aware, and curious, reminds me what it is to be human, and pushes me in new directions.