A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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I am thirteen years old, and every month I wait for your magazine to arrive in the mail so I can steal it from my mother. I read the content with great interest, but I wish more of the stories were cheerful. I know that drugs and sadness are a part of life, but happiness is also.
Angela Winter’s interview with psychologist Barbara Fredrickson [“The Science of Happiness,” May 2009] is a welcome surprise for this longtime, sometimes weary reader of the often wintry Sun. Fredrickson’s academic credentials provide credibility for her view on the benefits of attending to one’s emotions, both positive and negative. Much of what she says has been said before, but her scientific findings give new strength to the argument for listening to our feelings — the ones with the glitter dust on them and the ones that arrive whether we want them to or not.
Fredrickson suggests that there are far more positive than negative moments in one’s day. The truth may go even deeper: that, despite what is happening in our lives at any time, we are positive at our core, and acceptance of the present moment opens a channel to that reality.
One glance at the photo of Barbara Fredrickson proves the power of her ideas. What a glorious face, with a radiant smile.
It warms my heart to see someone who so obviously loves her work as a psychologist. I dropped out of a PhD program in clinical psychology thirty-five years ago because of an academic environment of intellectual arrogance and denial of feeling. I’ve since found a career teaching yoga.
As a culture we need to learn that happiness is not dependent on consumption of material goods but on relationship and service to others and doing what we love.
I want to thank Barbara Fredrickson for giving me a strategy for dealing with my prolonged funk at having returned to prison for three more years because of a parole violation. (I’ve already served a twenty-two-year term.) At fifty-two I consider my remaining years precious.
Fredrickson reminds me that joy lies in the accumulation of positive moments, which are available even in my situation. My basic human needs (besides touch) are being met, which puts me in a position to appreciate that things could be worse. Though I don’t expect to “flourish” in prison, I want to continue to learn and grow. I choose to focus on banking moments of joy, minute to minute, hour to hour, while accepting my heartbreak.
Some of my patients at a state psychiatric hospital have benefited from reading The Sun. It’s one of several publications I offer them once their symptoms come under control. Readers Write is often their favorite, but they also appreciate the interviews, fiction, and poetry. I love to see someone’s world open up through exposure to quality writing.
There is snow blowing in Ohio today. Walking home from the library after reading your April 2009 issue on faith, I felt warm despite the darkness and the cold wind. How well named that magazine is, I thought.
Thank you for Poe Ballantine’s essay “The Fine Art of Quitting” [April 2009]. Although I have not struggled with alcohol, like him I have been struggling with my writing: specifically, starting again after a thirteen-year break. I had been toying with the idea of going back to school for an MFA to improve my craft. And then I read Ballantine’s wake-up call: “I remember now why I quit [school] before. The five things you need to write well are talent, heart, life experience, persistence, and luck, and the university can’t give you one of them. And if I stayed in school what would I write about? What would the other students’ beloved Kerouac have written if he’d spent his youth hiding out in college: My Trip to the Water Fountain?”
I intend to work at living life instead of hiding in workshops and classrooms.
Barbara Platek’s interview with Native American healer Leslie Gray [“The Good Red Road,” April 2009] disappointed me. Too many of Gray’s claims seem invalid: There were laws and penalties against littering in this country at least a century before the early 1970s, when she says they first appeared. Native Americans have a history of doing almost nothing to protect forests, burning them at will for various purposes. Mainstream medicine, despite its limitations, is far from being a “negative model” hostile to health. If many illnesses are psychosomatic, they are still responsive to physical remedies. And, by and large, Euro-American psychology does not have guilt-ridden “Christian underpinnings.” (Freud, a Jew who considered religion illusory, is, after all, the father of modern psychology.)
Finally, when I read Gray’s account of the client who’d dreamed about a spider, and then Gray picked one up from her pillow “exactly like the one” in the woman’s dream, I became suspicious. In On Synchronicity and the Paranormal, Carl Jung relates that same experience with a woman who dreamed of a scarab and then became amenable to therapy when he heard such a beetle at his window and showed it to her. I assume Jung’s beetle inspired Gray to treat a similar case in the same way, but I wish she had credited him. As she herself says, in dealing with individuals who profess to be healers, “We need to ask a lot of questions.”
I enjoyed your April Fools’ interview with Leslie Gray. What a good joke: to present as an expert on relating to nature a woman of vague Native American origin who was born in Boston and raised in Los Angeles and apparently has never spent any significant amount of time in the outdoors. You really had me going there for a few pages.
You made up for it with the last lines from “Stones,” by Michelle Cacho-Negrete: “I’ll have no headstone, only the stones I have brought back to our house from my travels. . . . I’m humbled to have possessed them for a brief span of their long existence.” Now, that’s spirituality you can hold in your hands, outdoors, without being someone’s “client.”
Why do you continue to publish Poe Ballantine? I start to read him and always stop before the end. He is so crude and unadmirable! In contrast, I’m making ten copies of the Leslie Gray interview to send to friends.
In her search for comfort following her mother’s death, Michelle Cacho-Negrete might find solace in the words Albert Einstein wrote when he learned that Michele Besso, his closest friend for more than fifty years, had died. Einstein wrote to Besso’s sister and son: “Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
I finished Marjorie Kemper’s short story “Rayleen and R.L. Bury Their Luck” [April 2009] five minutes ago, and my heart is still racing with anger and shock. I have just read a story in The Sun about a marriage “saved” by a rape.
A great many arguments could be constructed in defense of writing and publishing such a story — arguments about artistic distance, plurality of perspectives, the value of discarding easy moral judgment and pat victim-victimizer narratives. But those are just attempts to disguise the reality, which is that, in this story, a marriage and a woman are rescued from oblivion by a rape. I am nauseated and disturbed for the first time in a couple of decades of reading this magazine. My regard for The Sun has gone radically downward.
Marjorie Kemper’s “Rayleen and R.L. Bury Their Luck” is filled with humor, irony, and pathos. The characters are vividly drawn, the situations believable, and the dialogue priceless. I want to read more about this strange, dysfunctional couple who bumble through life loving and hating each other, coping, failing, and being real.
I have just finished reading David Kupfer’s entertaining interview with Paul Krassner [“In the Jester’s Court,” February 2009]. I had to agree with most of what Krassner said, but I vehemently disagree with his opinion that marijuana will eventually be decriminalized. There is one reason this will never occur: taxes. The federal government has yet to figure out a way it can effectively tax something that is grown and processed as easily as marijuana. You almost can’t stop it from growing, and processing it is as simple as letting it dry on your windowsill. I have grown it in gardens, in window boxes, in closets, and in a pot in my living room. There is no special machinery needed nor certain type of soil. Anyone in the world can grow it anywhere. How will the government tax this? They may as well try to tax the air you breathe.
As a ninth-grade English teacher, I have often feared for the future of writing. From my first issue as a Sun subscriber, my fear has diminished. The contributions to this magazine are authentic, intelligent, honest, and unashamed. They reach to find the truth that exists for individuals and the whole. I am a better person for reading The Sun. I am fed more than mere bread and water.