I was moved by Barry Lopez’s regard for animals and his acknowledgment of the sometimes ugly realities of nature [“The World We Still Have,” interview by Fred Bahnson, December 2019]. His respect for indigenous people and concern regarding the climate of our planet also touched me.
My favorite part of the interview, however, was Lopez’s affinity for open spaces and broad horizons. I live in the East, where the trees and valleys are beautiful, but when I visit the desert, I feel an expansion of my spirit. I am revived.
Charlie Geer’s essay “Pistol in a Drawer” [December 2019] was a powerful, honest portrayal of suffering. It can be difficult to understand how people reach a point of such desperation that they want to end their life. Geer showed us just what it’s like when depression becomes all-encompassing. It infiltrates your mind, your body, and your spirit.
Geer describes his inability to share the depth of his struggle with his loved ones. He did his best to reach out by phone but was met with simple solutions for a complicated problem. We often don’t need others to fix our problems; we just need someone to offer us a hand.
I wonder why Charlie Geer didn’t seek the help of a psychotherapist [“Pistol in a Drawer”]. Did he not see how talking to a professional could make a difference? Perhaps he was afraid to show weakness by depending upon another person. Or maybe he had bought into the misconception that depression is merely a chemical imbalance to be treated with drugs. Psychotherapy is far and away the best treatment for mental illness, yet 57 percent of Americans who are treated for a mental illness are prescribed drugs with no psychotherapy.
I helped organize the 1999 World Trade Organization protests that showed Astra Taylor what “democracy in action” looked like [“An Imperfect Union,” interview by Finn Cohen, November 2019]. I am also working-class.
So many movements — from civil rights to feminism to LGBTQ issues — have been helped by those with the money to fund the effort. But who will put up the money to end the stigma of poverty? Since those of us in the lower classes don’t have the wealth to fund our own movement, most people who speak for the poor on the national stage are middle- to upper-class intellectuals. How are we to launch an effective movement when so few of us have access to the power that money could afford?
While interviews with thinkers like Taylor encourage me to speak up and act, I wonder where people like her think people like me will find the time and energy to do so.
I know The Sun’s job is to ferret out the best writing, particularly about sensitive or seldom-covered topics. I also know your writers will bring me singular perspectives. Still, I was unusually moved by the final lines of Katherine Seligman’s “Someone to Listen” [November 2019], about answering a crisis hotline: “More than anything, I want to say to Mark what I wish I’d told my father: You were not a burden. There was never a time when you were too much to bear.” The restraint of those lines only underscores the intense emotion that inspired them. Their subtlety is unnerving, in fact, and their beauty is timeless.
I’m disappointed in Poe Ballantine for saying he is glad that a young woman reading a book on Wicca doesn’t talk to him [“Seven Days in a Sea-Creature Town,” November 2019]. If Ballantine was truly put off by this in 1992, I hope he’s grown more knowledgeable and sensitive in the years since. Who knows — he might even find he identifies with this religion that affirms life and embraces nature and mystery. Unfortunately his flippant comment at the expense of a minority religious group suggests otherwise.
After reading Mark Leviton’s interview with Alex S. Vitale [“To Protect and To Serve?” September 2019], I have a few stray ideas on overpolicing.
In 2018 a black man named Stephon Clark died of eight gunshot wounds to the back. He was standing in his grandmother’s backyard, holding a cell phone, which two white male cops mistook for a gun. (They had been sent to the neighborhood to investigate a broken window that had nothing to do with Clark.) The policemen felt threatened, so they shot him. The officers were never charged. I believe it would decrease the probability of tragedies like this if responding officers were a man and a woman. Two men typically just reinforce one another’s behavior. The first step should be for the woman to talk to the suspect. Women are generally better in such situations, and more able to calm someone down.
We should also pay the police better and improve their training, which would entail recognizing mentally ill people and handling them kindly. Another idea is not to hire ex-infantry for at least two years after they were deployed. People who’ve been in a war zone are too ready to shoot or use force and need a calming-down period before they work as officers of the law.
I’m a federal inmate, and I enjoyed Saint James Harris Wood’s description of life in these human warehouses known as prisons [“Stolen Time,” September 2019]. As Wood notes, many of us are dedicated to becoming better members of society when we regain some of our freedom.
Wood’s essay and Mark Leviton’s interview with Alex S. Vitale on the overpolicing of America highlight just a few of the problems with our “justice” system. The Sun frequently raises this serious societal issue, which is one of the many reasons I plan to continue subscribing after my release in seven months.
Jennifer Swift’s “Stories We Tell Now” [September 2019], in which a group of women discuss an alleged rape, prompted a similarly lively talk at my Sun discussion group.
The characters in that story repeating the sexist names men called them — “Prude. Tease. Cock tease. Slut. Whore.” — brought to mind many similar episodes with boys and men during my own teen years. But I also remember the way girls treated each other with jealousy, often shunning one another or spreading lies.
I’m seventy-one, and a woman of sixty-three in our group was shocked by my recollections. She remembered her friends being supportive and was adamant that they wouldn’t have allowed boys or men to treat them so badly. I’ve noticed the same attitude among my relatives in their twenties, and I applaud it. But I wonder if those in their twenties realize how women of previous generations — often without an education, a job, or money of their own, and with children to raise — worked for changes like women’s liberation, women in the workplace, and birth control. These all contributed to the situation the younger generation now sees as the norm.
Are the characters’ experiences in Jennifer Swift’s “Stories We Tell Now” supposed to represent those of most women, or just a particular group of women in a specific decade and region?
I didn’t witness the type of situations Swift describes when I was young, and I have seldom encountered them later in life. Over the years my friends and I talked about which boys and men we “had the hots for”; we weren’t focused on how they rated us. And we knew they had no right to touch us if we weren’t interested in touching them.
Swift’s last lines are: “We want to tell her a new story. . . . We have so much more to say.” I wonder if the “new story” would describe girls’ and women’s sexual desires (for males or females) in a positive way. I hope the women in that story would talk to each other about their physical needs and emotions — and that they would experience camaraderie instead of the rivalry and resentment that Swift describes. I hope those women would admire, inspire, and take care of one another.
Jennifer Swift responds:
The conversations Paula Marston had with her group, and the questions asked and wishes shared by Margaret Bockting, express exactly my hope for “Stories We Tell Now”: that women’s experiences will continue to be talked about — and heard.