With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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A mom smokes meth out of a Bic Round Stic pen in a Victorian house in Nebraska [“Penned,” Jonathan Winston Jones]. A juju priest settles an issue spiritually in Uyo, Nigeria [“The Devil Takes Back,” Blessing J. Christopher]. A fruit seller is fined for giving overripe fruit to “Crazy Mary” in Berkeley, California [Readers Write on “Trash,” Dale Anderson]. In Galway, Ireland, a smoker named Duke laughs, and it sounds like a “bad muffler” [“The River Corrib,” a short story by Mohan Fitzgerald]. Your exceptional January 2022 issue took me around the world. Thanks for the journey.
Leath Tonino’s interview with Douglas Christie [“The Desert Within,” January 2022] placed me right back in the Sinai Desert, where I took a five-day journey in 1977. One day I awoke at 3 AM and took a bus to the base of Mount Sinai. By the light of the full moon I hiked a long path, reaching the top just before sunrise. There I discovered what silence is. It is a desert: no trees or plants, no animals or insects, no wind. It was so quiet, I could hear my own heartbeat and my breathing. I became acutely aware of the sun, the mountain, and myself.
I’m grateful to Christie for awakening me once again to the power of silent stillness, which has become part of me.
Throughout Leath Tonino’s interview with Douglas Christie, I couldn’t help thinking of the Quakers. As a practicing Quaker, I enjoy the prolonged deep silences of our worship meetings. I am fortunate to belong to a silent meeting, and, although wonderful spoken messages can arise, we sometimes sit for an hour in glorious, spiritually nourishing silence.
As someone who is losing his hearing, I was bemused by the theme of silence in your January 2022 issue. The appreciation of “silence” — the rustling of wind in the leaves or the murmur of life accompanying our quiet moments — relies on our brain’s ability to filter the sound waves entering our ears, or to hear them at all.
Silence, along with most of the lovely sounds of nature, no longer exists for me. Instead my world is one of muffled sounds and an internal ringing, keening, and roaring. When it comes to sounds, our brains abhor a vacuum and will create internal noises to replace the loss of external noises. To sit in silence for me is to invite a rise in volume of this constant internal cacophony. There is no escape from it, except in sleep.
It is strange to realize that, in becoming deaf, I have forever lost silence.
Just a day after enduring another male acquaintance’s flippant supposition that “some women use abortion as birth control,” I read Hanna Bartels’s short story “Disclosure and Consent” [January 2022]. It stopped me cold. Her story says everything I’ve wanted to say about abortion but, for nearly thirty years, have been unable to articulate.
It’s unfortunate that society shames women for having agency over their own bodies. It’s unfortunate that some people want to see women punished for that agency. Bartels’s words will be with me for a very long time.
Jeff Weiss’s interview with Rick Perlstein [“The Elephant in the Room,” December 2021] reminded me why so many in the U.S. are disillusioned with the binary thinking encouraged by a two-party system. I felt as though I were reading a corporate-sponsored think piece directed at a readership clinging to a self-serving notion of good guys versus bad guys. At what point do liberals examine the follies of their own team?
For younger generations of the working class, this isn’t a blue-versus-red game. Ecocide is real. Living wages are scarce. Student debt is crushing. Poor healthcare is devastating. None of these concerns have been adequately addressed by a Democratic party that claims to care.
Rick Perlstein conflates conservatives with white identity politics and the KKK; describes them as paranoid, reactionary, and racist; and defines conservatism as a “political movement designed to uphold hierarchies and authority.” I wonder if he’s ever talked with any genuine conservatives.
The ones I know advocate for free speech and academic freedom, operate small businesses that are the backbone of the American economy, and judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I was raised by liberal Kennedy Democrats but walked away from the party because many Democrats indulge in the kind of unfair discourse exemplified by Perlstein.
As a physician I’m well aware of the unconscionable acts of maleficence and injustice to which the field of medicine has, at times, subjugated people of color. And as a Jewish person I’m sensitive to the effects of longstanding racial persecution. But I found aspects of Caille Millner’s essay “Life, without Imitation” [November 2021] to be discriminatory against doctors.
With what evidence does Millner state that the medical profession has not tried to understand the etiology of fibroids in order to better treat patients? Modern medicine may not have the answer — as it doesn’t for many diseases — but that doesn’t mean medical scientists aren’t trying to better understand what causes fibroids and why there is a disproportionate prevalence of them among Black women.
I’m a Black woman who worked for more than forty years as a registered nurse and served for four years as an officer in the Army Nurse Corps during the Vietnam War. Years later I earned a master’s in English literature from New York University.
I realize now how fortunate I was to have been born, as Caille Millner describes in “Life, without Imitation,” “at just the right time.”
Aside from the guidance of terrific parents, my ascent from working- to middle-class was due to the brief window of time in the 1960s and 1970s when — finally! — there was “no need to apologize for being Black,” as Millner puts it. She presents the stark reality that, had her parents grown up when she did, “they would have faced restrictions that kept them in a state of ossified prejudice and poverty, just like their own parents.”
It is said that the mark of a brilliant writer is the ability to allow others to transcend their individual realities so that they might observe other truths. Kudos to this talented and brave young woman.
I was delighted to read in Leslee Goodman’s contributor note [November 2021] that she’d made a film about the community spirit of Twisp, Washington, where my daughter lives. I looked up Goodman’s film and discovered a three-second clip of my daughter, dancing like no one is watching. I’m grateful to The Sun for making the world a smaller place, however circuitously.
Chelsea Baumgarten’s short story “Lawrence the Enormous” [October 2021] captures a beautiful moment of intimacy — the sort that doesn’t need to lead to anything larger to matter; it’s powerful all on its own.
Could you slow down? I read every word in The Sun, especially the Contributors page — which I often find hilarious and reassuring — and I’m way behind. Talk about dog-eared pages: I’ve been carrying around your July 2021 issue in my satchel for two months.
If you could put fewer words in upcoming issues, I might be able to catch up.
Nick Fuller Googins’s heartfelt essay “Maine Escapes” [December 2020] struck home for two reasons: I work as an attorney guardian ad litem — a children’s advocate. And I used to be an enthusiastic lobster eater.
Through parallel stories of the “bugs” (nobody in his essay ever calls them lobsters) and the “residents” at the juvenile prison (nobody calls them children), Googins recounts the lives of these precious and all-too-easily thrown away beings. He captures the ups and downs of children in the juvenile system unlike any course on trauma that I’ve ever taken.
I’ve known and advocated for children like Seth, and I’ve known endings like the one Googins recounts, where children feel safer in juvenile detention than at home. When that happens, it is so hard.