With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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In your March 2022 issue you published a letter from a reader asking you to print fewer words so he could catch up on reading past issues. I, on the other hand, wish you published more issues. The Sun is my favorite magazine — and the only magazine that consistently publishes poems I like. I would pay extra to get a poems-only issue in addition to your regular monthly publication. See, I’m coming up with ways for you to print more words!
After thirty-eight years of teaching, I still delight in watching students learn to read. When Daniel J. Levitin says, “The brain is a prediction device” [“Gray Matter,” interview by Mark Leviton, February 2022], I feel like he is speaking directly to teachers. My emergent readers can only begin the first sound of words. And they’re shocked the first time their brains correctly predict the rest. Suddenly they’re reading! I remind them to trust just how smart their brains are.
I also wholeheartedly agree with Levitin that remote learning and teaching are stressful and unnatural. I am grateful to be back in the classroom now, but I fear the educational setbacks from the previous two years will be long lasting.
James Hillman’s essay “Memory: Short-Term Loss, Long-Term Gain” [The Dog-Eared Page, February 2022] freed me from a load of shame. I turned eighty last September, and my short-term memory has been losing ground since I was fifty. I feel humiliated when I can’t find the word I need or recall a person’s name. It’s so embarrassing that I’ve been tempted to stop talking to people altogether. But after reading Hillman’s thoughts on the matter, I have a softer outlook on what’s happening to me. I’m preparing to die — in a few years — and my brain is treating me to one last round of memories of the people and places I didn’t know how to cherish sixty or seventy years ago.
I am grateful to Kathleen Founds for her essay “My Thoughts Are Not My Thoughts” [February 2022]. I experienced crushing depression after the births of both my children and throughout my second pregnancy. Like Founds I played peekaboo with my baby and snuggled my toddler while being pelted by graphic thoughts of suicide. I did not want to die, but neither did I want to live in that excruciating state of numbness and disconnection. I was terrified that my horrible and unwelcome thoughts would become reality. And in the meantime I worried they’d poison my kids through mere proximity.
Time, therapy, and medication helped bring me back to equilibrium. I also found solace and perspective in Buddhist teachings that showed me how to separate my thoughts from who I really am. But for me the greatest key to becoming whole again was giving up alcohol, which I was using as an emotional crutch, and which invariably made things worse. In September 2018 I took my last drink, eight weeks after the birth of my second child and nine weeks after my father died of complications related to alcoholism. It wasn’t easy, but it was the single most powerful thing I have ever done for my mental health.
I know a few people who are living with bipolar disorder, and I have seen the havoc it can create. Even so, Kathleen Founds’s “My Thoughts Are Not My Thoughts” gave me new insight into this mental-health condition. Her honesty and vulnerability were enlightening.
What an intricate story Sam Ruddick has woven, of two people whose lives are deeply complicated by death, depression, and the macho need to fix things [“Coffins Lining the Road,” February 2022]. In just five and a half pages, Ruddick made fiction feel like raw truth.
There was such heartbreak and sadness in Dave Zoby’s essay “Winter of Flying Walruses” [February 2022]. He walked between powerful, multilayered attraction and endless hope despite a toying, unavailable partner. In sharing his pain with us, he exposes his vulnerability and a still-tender wound.
In response to Dave Zoby’s “Winter of Flying Walruses” I feel compelled to share a hard-won lesson from my own long and colorful history of failed relationships: a polyamorous relationship is not necessarily doomed to failure, but the inability to discuss one’s needs and desires openly and honestly will certainly prove fatal sooner or later.
The Readers Write section on “Haircuts” in your February 2022 issue reminded me of my second date with my wife-to-be, when she said that I would look better with longer hair. All my life I’d worn a buzz cut because it was convenient, but after her observation I let it grow out. When we got engaged, I called to tell my mother. She wasn’t surprised and said she had known for a long time that I would propose. I asked her how long, and she said, “Ever since you let your hair grow out.”
Your February 2022 and November 2021 covers both feature unpretentious, smiling faces. I immediately saw the beauty in both people — perhaps because they seem so unabashed at being seen. I don’t react this way to photos of myself. When I pass by a mirror or participate in a video meeting, I try to avoid looking at my image so I won’t be disappointed in my appearance. But portraits like these help me appreciate my face and the life and love it reveals.
Just the other day I was reframing a photo of my elderly mother and realized how similar our double chins are. Her face was dear to me, and so I chuckled as my anxiety about my sagging neck disappeared.
Agustina Reyes Márquez, who is pictured on the cover of your February 2022 issue [photo by Thom Goertel], gets the award for Most Badass Superheroine! She has such grit and determination.
I finished reading your February 2022 issue three days ago, and I am still depressed. I understand the more serious pieces aren’t intended to entertain, but in one issue you covered dementia, memory loss, death, chronic depression, suicide, an irretrievably broken heart, “toxic love,” abandoned kids, disease, and a deformed newborn.
I’m not asking for tacked-on, happy endings, but please let in some light.
I clicked on Douglas Silver’s short story “America America” [December 2021] by mistake while searching for mental-health essays, but once I started it, I just kept reading. The story is so convincing, I was sure it was nonfiction.
I thought about sending the piece to my dad, who was my caretaker for nearly twelve years after I developed mental-health problems. Silver’s depiction of guilt, remorse, and self-doubt resonated with me and helped me see caretaking from my dad’s perspective. Getting inside the minds of our family members can feel like the hardest thing to do, and a story like this helps make that connection easier.
Reading Jason Jobin’s essay about the dishwashing life [“Growth,” December 2021], I was flooded with memories of working my way through college in that trade. I still miss the diverse mix of students, townies, and immigrants, all scrambling to keep up with the endless parade of filthy kitchenware, sometimes with cigarettes stubbed out in half-eaten mashed potatoes. Henceforth, like Jobin, I’ll tell everyone that I once worked with “heavy machinery” in an “industrial kitchen.”
Washing up at home doesn’t faze me. While the rest of the household flees the kitchen, I’m happy to take up soap, sponge, and gloves — a meditation on simpler times.
I am grateful for Leslee Goodman’s interview with Paul K. Chappell [“The Best Defense,” November 2021] and for Chappell’s active work as a peace warrior. The idea that we can learn and reinforce peace, just like any other skill, is practical and profound. How is it that we’ve not been doing this all along?
Chappell’s reminder that “aggression and violence are forms of expression” has helped me shift my perspective. Understanding how spiritual and emotional poverty are more dangerous than material poverty has made me realize that money doesn’t solve everything. Chappell said his life was saved by a teacher, and now he’s teaching us all.