I enjoyed Ariane Conrad’s interview with Dalton Conley [“The Hand We’re Dealt,” February 2015]. He happens to have a career I once aspired to: sociologist. The question that most concerns Conley is also the question with which I am obsessed: Who gets ahead in America and why?
My own failure to succeed matches Conley’s conclusions: uneducated parents and low family net worth. My parents’ education stopped at the eighth grade, and they never had enough money to care for themselves and their five children properly. Conley helps explain why, despite a college education and a strong drive to succeed, many of us are just spinning our wheels.
To Julie Ingram who wrote in to cancel her subscription [Correspondence, February 2015] because of Sparrow’s essay about curing a toe fungus with his own urine [“Unexpected Medicine,” December 2014]: My father was born in 1904 in a small Mountain West community where children went barefoot whenever possible. In warm weather, shoes were required only for church, holidays, and funerals.
The children’s feet sometimes got sore from walking the dirt streets, wading in irrigation ditches, and exploring fields, hills, and canyons. To soothe the pain and toughen the skin, they would pee on their feet.
Under normal conditions urine is sterile. Millions of people in India routinely consume their own urine for medicinal purposes. Our own cultural ignorance on the subject ought not to be reason for shock or canceling one’s subscription.
In the eighties I worked as a farm hand in Humboldt County, California. In the course of my job I brushed up against poison oak or ivy — I can’t remember which — and no amount of calamine would quell the itch. A Native American in the area recommended swabbing the blisters with my own urine. As unsavory as this seemed, I proceeded to do it each morning. Sure enough, the itching and redness abated. God, or however you understand the magic, made our bodies such that self-healing could occur.
Sparrow is a strange bird, indeed, but he knows of what he speaks.
The interview with poet David Hinton in the January issue [“The Egret Lifting from the River,” by Leath Tonino] brought to mind the work of philosopher Martin Buber, who describes two ways of looking at a tree: as “It,” which reduces the tree to a compilation of scientific laws and facts; or as “You,” which draws one into a relationship with the tree. From his book I and Thou: “The world as experience belongs to the basic word I-It. The basic word I-You establishes the world of relation.”
I found the poetry translations by David Hinton a simple gift. I also found his critique of the West tiresome. I don’t disagree with his major points regarding the damage done by Western thought and religion, but I do find it troubling how he juxtaposes the dominant Western tradition with the alternative Chinese tradition of Taoist-Ch’an poetry, which is practiced by a minority even in China.
In arguing that Chinese culture and language are inherently more capable of revealing our unity with the natural world, Hinton passes over a deeper critique: that mainstream societies of both East and West operate largely through systems of dominance, including dominance over nature. Those living a life of contemplation and communion with the earth are always in the minority or on the margins of society.
The West has such a countercultural tradition, too. The Christian mystic tradition has long placed “heaven” in the present moment and found incarnate divinity in all creation. Hinton briefly mentions Thoreau and others but leaves us with the sense that the Western tradition doesn’t have much to offer.
It is too easy for us in the West, out of correct aversion to our violent systems of church and government, to look to the East for the answer. This leads to idealization and distortion. The critical work of addressing the illusion of ego is not tied to any tradition but is found on the edges of all traditions. The deepest reality of communion is always available to those who take the road less traveled or live, as Wang An-shih wrote, “close to the cascading creek.”
Brilliant interview with David Hinton. I skipped it at first, thinking I was not particularly interested in Chinese poets. It turns out I was wrong. The Chinese poets, and Hinton’s in-depth knowledge of them, are very relevant to my life at the moment, helping me to navigate loneliness, impermanence, and my relationship to nature. Thanks for the insight I didn’t know I needed.
Photographs in The Sun often provoke thought and create a mood, but I never expected one to bring me back so personally to my childhood years. Your January 2015 cover evoked memories of my dad, a New York dentist who would sometimes accept oil paintings or theater tickets from patients in lieu of payment. Hanging on a wall in my Vermont home is a portrait given to my father that could be of the same man pictured on your January cover. The photo immediately brought back memories of Dad, who died during my freshman year in high school.
Please don’t tell my husband, but I am in love with Brian Doyle [“November 1968,” November 2014]. (Then again, I am pretty sure my husband is in love with him, too.) It’s not the kind of love where you want to rip the person’s clothes off and jump into bed with him or her. Rather it’s the appreciation of a person’s passion, of the beauty in their doing something that delights them, the sweet, secret glimpse into their soul. In his short pieces, Doyle expresses joy, sadness, expectation, wanting, and loving so beautifully. He is a masterful writer.
I love The Sun and take it with me to the gym to read while I’m on the stairclimber. The magazine is so engrossing that the time, which otherwise seems endless, whips right by.
I was a magazine editor for twenty-five years before I retired, and, like any longtime editor, I have my share of pet peeves. I can’t count all the uses of over I’ve changed to more than. Since I retired, the Chicago Manual of Style has decided that the two are interchangeable. So I’ve given up on that one, but I still have a huge problem with the use of myself in place of me or I. So imagine my distress when I read the sentence “There is no one to act as a barrier between my father and myself” in “A Boy’s Girl,” by Katherine LaBelle [October 2014]. It should be “my father and me.”
I know it’s a minor point and hardly worth mentioning, but I’m concerned that, if I read more such errors, I might miss a step on the stairclimber and hurt myself.
I love that The Sun is not a slick, perfect magazine. It’s like life: parts of it are awe inspiring, wonderful, joyous, and passionate, and parts are messy, dirty, unpleasant, and confrontational. Of course, I could skip the parts I don’t like as much, but I never do, just as we can’t skip over the harder aspects of life.
The written word has a power and a permanence that the spoken word does not — especially when the written word is published and cannot be taken back.
Almost ten years ago I submitted an essay for Readers Write. I requested that it be signed “Name Withheld,” because I believed this would give my fragile ego some much-needed protection. I was pleased that The Sun thought the piece worthy of being published, but I have regretted writing it ever since: I said such snarky, mean-spirited things about my family, calling my kids spoiled and uncaring and my wife detached.
A host of family issues were troubling me at the time, but I now want to correct those statements that have haunted me for a decade: I have an amazing wife and three loving, honest, intelligent, funny, and deeply soulful sons. I am immensely proud of each one of them.