The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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Despite some intensely good writing in every issue, I have never tried to find out more about an author in The Sun — until “The Quiet Room” by the pseudonymous M. Jones [May 2021]. Writing like this deserves not just praise but widespread exposure of the sort not often granted an unknown public-school teacher.
I understand Jones’s need for anonymity, if for no one’s sake but his students’, but his soul was on unvarnished display throughout his beautiful essay. I’m grateful for it.
I was gratified to read about Paula Harris’s approach to poetry in her essay “The Lovely Harry, Philip Larkin, and Me” [May 2021]. Those poems she can grasp, she loves, but there are many in vogue these days that she just can’t. Many times I’ve thought of Marianne Moore’s “Poetry,” in which she writes, “When they become so derivative as to become unintelligible, the / same thing may be said for all of us — that we / do not admire what / we cannot understand.”
I have had the exact same experience as Harris, an articulate and compelling writer whose poetry I would love to read in The Sun. It’s a comfort to know I’m not the only one who sometimes can’t appreciate fine art.
Sheldon Solomon’s “terror management theory” describes our fear of death as the number-one influence on human activity [“This Mortal Coil,” interview by Deborah Golden Alecson, April 2021]. When faced with reminders of our mortality, he says, we intensify our core beliefs, which often leads to increased racism, xenophobia, and polarization. The result is that people are pulled apart at a time when, more than ever, we need to work together to solve the threats facing the planet.
While reading this interview, I thought of peace educator Paul K. Chappell. I first learned of Chappell from an interview in The Sun [“Fighting with Another Purpose,” interview by Leslee Goodman, April 2011]. In the ten years since that interview, Chappell has founded the Peace Literacy Institute. A nonprofit organization, it develops extensive curriculum for all ages based on the conviction that peace will prevail only when humans have as much training in waging peace as they have in reading and writing.
Solomon articulates a global problem. Chappell offers a comprehensive solution.
In twenty years of reading your magazine I have never been as impressed by an interview as I was with Deborah Golden Alecson’s conversation with Sheldon Solomon.
Not only did “This Mortal Coil” reinforce my beliefs about my mortality; it gave me a reason to be understanding of others’ fears. I have been present at the deaths of my husband and both of my parents, and they all offered me the gift of perspective on life: It will end. Enjoy it and be grateful for what it is. You are a tiny speck in the scheme of things.
As the pandemic swept across the country, I was first alarmed, then panicked, at the dearth of bread on grocery-store shelves. Like Debra Gwartney [“Beat the Old Lady Out,” April 2021] I decided to bake my own, only to find, as she did, that yeast had been bought up as quickly as bread. Our sourdough starter came to the rescue: a decades-old descendent of my Hungarian grandfather’s starter, which he brought with him from the gold fields of Alaska. Sourdough was such a staple there that old-time prospectors were called “Sourdoughs.”
Sourdough seems to be a patriarchal passion in our family. While it is not shared by my two sisters, all three of my brothers keep a starter bubbling away at the ready, each a scion of Grandpa’s Alaskan original.
Every other Sunday is sourdough-pancake day at our house. I retrieve the starter from the fridge on Saturday afternoon, feed it with flour and water, and then let the yeasts work their magic overnight. Our Sunday breakfasts, less the fresh-caught trout, are much the same as what Gwartney’s grandmother served. In spite of decades of practice, however, I have yet to duplicate Grandpa’s pancakes.
While munching on a piece of tasteless, gluten-free bread, I read Debra Gwartney’s essay “Beat the Old Lady Out” with great delight. It reminded me of my mother’s fluffy waffles, served to us on Sunday mornings, always made with Bisquick. Although she never baked bread, her buttery piecrusts, moist pumpkin bread baked in coffee cans, and lemon meringue pie were all made from scratch. I salivate just thinking about them.
When I tried to bake bread, it always emerged coarse and heavy. I was too weak to give the dough the proper punch, and my patience was too thin. I resorted to the once-popular bread-making machine, but the results were never the same. The cylindrical shape and puffy top reminded me of a volcano about to explode.
On rare occasions I am lucky enough to visit someone who has just pulled a fragrant loaf out of the oven. Like Gwartney, I would never refuse a slice slathered with butter and jam — a little taste of heaven.
S.B. Rowe’s essay “Precarious” [March 2021] nearly moved me to tears. For the last three decades my family has supported my brother-in-law, who has been in and out of prison. We’ve witnessed the injustice of incarcerating — instead of giving medical attention to — the mentally ill.
Our brother-in-law was maliciously beaten by his father his entire childhood. To get him away from the beatings, his oldest brother often took him along everywhere he went. His intentions were admirable, but many of the situations (parties, etc.) were not in his younger sibling’s best interest.
My brother-in-law began drinking at a young age and has been an alcoholic and drug abuser for most of his life. He would call us, crying and drunk, to rehash his childhood trauma. While incarcerated, he was beaten, stabbed, and sexually abused. We’ve supported him as best we can.
Recently he called to say he is terminally ill. If he had gotten the help he needed many years ago, perhaps he could have been saved from so much torment.
Ever since a complimentary issue of your magazine arrived in my mailbox a year and a half ago, I’ve developed a relationship with The Sun that I have with no other publication. Each issue brings excitement — not just for the in-depth interview, but for the engaging stories, poems, and photographs as well. Something always leaves my mind reeling, captures my imagination, or moves me to tears.
In the December 2020 issue it was Nick Fuller Googins’s “Maine Escapes,” about two seemingly unrelated subjects: lobster fishing and juvenile prison. I was delighted to discover the commonality that connected the essay’s two halves: small acts of hope and kindness, so unexpected in those settings.
In February 2021 it was Ethan Hubbard’s photographs [“Salt of the Earth”]. I couldn’t stop looking at the beautiful faces. Most of their smiling, bright eyes looked directly into the camera. I saw no fear or suspicion, only curiosity, happiness, and love.
I gasped when I read the word autism in Stephanie Austin’s essay about her father, “Something I Might Say” [February 2021]. I felt astonished and grateful to finally find another who knows.
Like Austin, I, too, identify as the savior in my family after learning the one word that explains fifty years of stubborn misunderstandings, estrangement, and longing for a love that wouldn’t be shown even though it was there.
Autism can be a source of unspeakable misery when it goes undiagnosed. It is no wonder the logo for Autism Speaks is a jigsaw-puzzle piece. When you put that piece in its rightful place, the picture becomes clear.
Letters from people offended or otherwise pissed off by The Sun are a regular feature of your Correspondence section. Many threaten to cancel their subscriptions.
For every piece that’s disturbed me, there are several more that inspire me, give me hope, help me understand, or make me smile. Edginess, honesty, and a devotion to what’s real are what The Sun is all about.