When I received my first issue of The Sun a month ago, I couldn’t remember having subscribed and was a little annoyed. Now you are my favorite publication.
Thank you for Barbara Platek’s wonderful interview with Miriam Greenspan [“Through a Glass Darkly,” January 2008]. Greenspan puts a finger on what’s wrong in our world today — namely, the denial of our sacred right to feel. There is nothing wrong with feeling sadness, anger, or fear, any more than there is something wrong with feeling joy, contentment, or love. What would a painting be if there were no shadows? A dance, if there were no stillness? Music, if there were no silence?
I loved Barbara Platek’s interview with Miriam Greenspan, but I found myself disagreeing with the idea that we can learn nothing from the emotions we experience watching TV. I often cry while watching a sad movie or listening to the tragic personal story of a guest on Oprah. Would Greenspan call this “emotional pornography”? Why do I choke up so easily when I watch these shows? And why is my crying so cathartic? Am I really just (tear-)jerking off?
Then I turned the page and read “Push Here for Tears,” by Alan Craig, who seems to ask these same questions. He cries at animal suffering in movies or in the news, and he wonders whether the reason he feels so upset by the pain of animals is because he feels “unworthy” of his own sympathy. I want to reassure him that perhaps his tears are a way of grieving for himself and his upsetting childhood.
In a question to Miriam Greenspan, Barbara Platek says, “Kali, the [Hindu] goddess of death and rebirth, is sometimes depicted with her mouth dripping blood. Why do you think we are so unwilling to face the dark side of life here in the U.S.?”
Greenspan responds, “We have lost our connection to the dark side of the sacred. . . . We have no god or goddess like Kali to guide us” through the dark emotions.
This is true of some Americans (as it is probably true of some natives of India), but both Platek and Greenspan ignore the image of Christ on the cross. For Christians, Christ is the embodiment of death and resurrection. Crucifixes in churches worldwide are as much a connection to the dark side of the sacred as images of Kali.
Miriam Greenspan responds:
To Shannon Paaske: I did not say that all movies or TV shows that evoke emotion are “emotional pornography.” On the contrary, the cathartic release of tears when watching a movie is often a tribute to the movie’s artistry; a function of our capacity for empathy; and, as Paaske suggests, a reflection of our own need to mourn our losses. What I mean by “emotional pornography” is gory horror movies or blood-soaked TV series that are designed to evoke fear and disgust. Like bystanders at accidents, people are compelled to stare, but they don’t really learn from their voyeurism. Another example is so-called reality TV that pushes normal people to extremes to get an emotional rise out of the audience. People who walk around emotionally numb often end up addicted to shows like these, because they need to feel something.
To Mary Ann Brownlee: Yes, Christ is the embodiment of death and resurrection and a source of guidance through the darkness for many Christians, just as Kali is for some Hindus. When I say, “We have lost our connection to the dark side of the sacred,” I am referring to the dominant culture in the U.S., whose gods are materialism and scientism. Our secular culture is not devoted to Christ but to the accumulation of possessions. Its “religion” is science, with its panoply of drugs as the answer to all suffering.
Alan Craig’s essay “Push Here for Tears” [January 2008] resonated with me. I, too, find animal suffering impossible to bear, and I don’t have any more answers than he does as to why this is so. I grieve over human suffering, too, but if animals are being hurt, I have to turn off the TV or shut the book. Their misery feels like my own.
I do rescue animals (I once tried to steal a beagle that was being neglected), and I have felt the joy of placing abandoned pets in loving homes, but I don’t volunteer at a shelter because I fear I’d be incapacitated by the loneliness of the caged, often doomed animals.
Craig’s essay has encouraged me to look for some insight into the roots of this “malady” he and I share.
My husband and I moved to southwest Florida a year ago from Minnesota. Each morning we take turns reading to each other while we do our exercises. Today, as I read aloud from Michelle Cacho-Negrete’s essay “In My House” [January 2008], my voice cracked. By the end my husband and I were both crying.
Cacho-Negrete describes our own struggles and heartaches as we fight to save our watershed and harbor from phosphate-mining contamination and to prevent yet another gopher tortoise from being buried alive in its burrow. We’ve had some victories: the community voted to purchase land to help preserve the native flora and fauna for the next twenty years. But it is exhausting to show up at every county-commissioners’ meeting and argue against monied developers and their retinue of land-use attorneys. The meetings begin at nine in the morning and sometimes last until seven in the evening. Do our efforts make a difference? No. Our elected officials vote again and again to build condos on the beach. Only one of five commissioners sides with us.
This November we have the opportunity to elect three new commissioners. Supporting the right candidates will take even more time, energy, money, and dedication, but this is what we must do. We draw strength from the stories, essays, and poems that we read each month in The Sun.
Matthew M. Quick’s essay “The Whiskey Robe” [December 2007] eased my soul. When I shared it with a friend who’s struggling to reconcile her own beliefs and the conservative religious beliefs with which she was raised, she responded, “I need more things like this in my life.”
So do I.
I enjoyed reading Luc Saunders and Sy Safransky’s interview with Adyashanti [“Who Hears This Sound?” December 2007], but I was disappointed by Adyashanti’s cavalier response to a question about killing animals for food. He replied, “If we eat a vegetable, we’ve killed it. If we eat an animal, we’ve killed it. To be a living organism is to kill.”
Though all living beings must kill to eat, there is a marked difference between killing a sentient being and killing a nonsentient organism, especially when the animals consumed have endured horrific suffering, both prior to and in the process of being killed.
You asked in your renewal letter why I decided not to renew my subscription. The answer is in the letter itself, in which you write, “Come back! All is forgiven!” as though you were not a magazine soliciting subscriptions but a family expecting loyalty.
As a cozy New Age family, The Sun regularly invites all its members to express whatever they feel (as long as they aren’t mean to their brothers and sisters), whether or not the expression contains literary merit, original thought, or new information. It’s the sort of dynamic found in twelve-step programs and group-therapy sessions.
The cultlike message of your renewal letter is that readers of The Sun are a sacred in-group, and everyone else is cast into outer darkness. Consider the sentence “Or maybe you’ve been flirting with other magazines: making eyes at that fashion rag, or taking home the latest copy of that financial journal.” Are those the only two choices — embracing the prevailing social order of unfettered capitalism and soulless materialism, or subscribing to The Sun? What about “other magazines” like the Nation and Mother Jones, which offer better-presented, better-researched, and more-timely information?
If you want me back as a subscriber, I suggest you leave topics such as self-mutilation to the psychotherapy trade journals and seek personal testimony from those who were once swept up in the revolutionary hopefulness of the 1960s; or from veterans of the war in Iraq or Iraqi civilians; or from feminists in Islamic nations. Perhaps you could publish stories from, rather than about, those who work on farms or in minimum-wage jobs; or stories from nonwhites about the relationship between poverty and race; or stories from teachers and students about the struggle to obtain an education in underfunded, overcrowded schools. I’d like to hear from former gang members and people in the prison system; from Jewish Israelis who believe Israel has a right to exist; and from Palestinians who have something to say about what the devil is going on in that corner of the Middle East.
Your publication once offered a unique combination of social conscience, new information, and lively writing. The closest you’ve come in recent years is Michael Shapiro’s interview with the amazing nonagenarian activist Studs Terkel [“Hope Dies Last,” November 2006], a blast of life and color on pages that are increasingly moribund with depression, confusion, and guilt.
I came across your website [www.thesunmagazine.org] while looking for information on freelance writing. A high-school graduate and stay-at-home mom, I don’t purchase magazines or books anymore — I don’t have the money — so I read online now.
I can read only when my daughter is asleep and the house is quiet, and I don’t have time to sit back and enjoy a lengthy article. So I was thrilled to come across your Sunbeams section. In our fast-paced world, it is nice to know that a few simple words can still touch the soul and slow us down long enough to breathe and appreciate our own existence.