I was angry to the point of ending my subscription after reading Derek Askey’s interview with Edward Slingerland [“In Vino Veritas,” July 2022] about our society’s historical and current relationship with alcohol. Comparing the high people get from alcohol to that of religion and prayer is extremely offensive. Though Slingerland eventually addresses the destruction that alcohol can cause, he does so only after arguing that drinking alcohol together can create a sense of trust and bonding among people.
I grew up in a Mennonite community with family and friends who did not drink, and I have continued to abstain from alcohol throughout my life. This has not impeded my ability to develop trusting relationships or dampened my sense of wonder. I thank God every day that I was not exposed to the dangers of alcohol early in life.
Edward Slingerland praises the inhibition-lowering quality of alcohol, saying it eases interpersonal connection and boosts creative thinking. He ignores the many harmful effects of alcohol-induced disinhibition, from drunk driving and brawls to domestic violence and date rape. Sometimes inhibitions save lives.
I question Edward Slingerland’s view of alcohol’s benefits, including helping us form relationships and lessening our inhibitions. I started drinking at sixteen and used alcohol to ease my social discomfort. When my first husband left me, I was heartbroken and decided to quit drinking.
I was nervous before the first party I attended as a nondrinker. I knew only the person who had invited me, and I worried I would be a boring wallflower, gripping my water, afraid to talk to people. I needn’t have worried. I had a fantastic time. For fifteen years I’d thought it was alcohol that enabled me to be outgoing, funny, and likable. But I realized: that was me. I knew then that I would never get drunk again.
More than thirty-five sober years later, I’m grateful that I had the strength to stop drinking and learn to develop relationships without relying on alcohol.
Edward Slingerland addresses the dangers of drinking alone, but not all solitary drinking is harmful. Though I prefer to drink with a friend, I also enjoy a drink by myself at 4 PM. I like the settled feeling it gives me. Even my psychiatrist says that after a day of adapting to my life’s physical difficulties and emotional challenges — I’ve had eleven orthopedic surgeries and am married to a man who travels frequently — it’s OK to think that I deserve a drink.
I agree with Edward Slingerland that the social aspect of in-person Alcoholics Anonymous meetings is the most healing part of the program. And I, too, have found the importance of tangible pleasures in our increasingly virtual world. Slingerland lists food, nature, and art. I would add reading books — physical, touchable books — and The Sun.
After Sunday breakfast I read Jim Ralston’s essay “My Fight against Time” [July 2022] to my eighty-year-old husband, who has memory problems. We both connected with Ralston’s language and insight. At this stage in life we cherish our time together and are grateful for writing that shines a light on the day-to-day joys and pains of growing old.
I don’t know when I’ve read a more vulnerable piece of writing than “Siri Tells a Joke,” by Debra Gwartney [July 2022]. I am saddened to learn of the death of her husband, the author Barry Lopez. He comprehended our need to be intimate with and compassionate toward the places we live, and his words have guided me since I first read his book The Rediscovery of North America. Gwartney’s essay is heartbreaking, and I share in her sense of loss.
Debra Gwartney has written a searing, beautiful eulogy to her husband and beloved friend of many. Reading Gwartney’s essay was like being at a spiritual memorial service: a heartfelt way to say goodbye to an old friend.
In your July 2022 Readers Write on “Bikes,” Deb Werrlein writes about a cross-country trip she’s wanted to take for many years. Riding cross-country was a longtime dream of mine, too. Over the years I tried to put a ride together, but the logistics were too much of a challenge. I feel fortunate that I eventually got to make the trip with Bicycle Adventure Club, riding from Seattle, Washington, to Boston, Massachusetts, in 2018 at the age of sixty-three. I was concerned about being away from my aging mother, but cellphones made staying in contact feasible. The ride was an experience I will never forget. I say, Go for it, Deb!
I am grateful to Gail Husson and many other Sun readers who have written to encourage me to take a bike trip. I’m pleased to say that I have planned a cross-country trek for next summer. Now that I’m committed, I’ve forgotten what my hesitation was.
I was a practicing architect for many years, and now I can’t help but notice how city buildings layer on top of one another. Ingrid Lockhart’s image on your A Thousand Words page [June 2022] took my breath away. She beautifully captures the urban alignment of lines, shape, and texture, while the ghostly figure of a reflected building adds an element of mystery.
Alexandra Ford’s essay about raising sheep [“The Valley Between,” May 2022] provided some welcome closure for me. Several years ago, while riding my horse in the high desert of Nevada, I came across a crippled lamb that had been left behind when its flock had moved on. Afraid it would not survive alone, I consulted my veterinarian and made a soft bed for the lamb in my horse trailer, giving it hay and water. Even with my efforts the lamb died within a few days. I have always felt a nagging sense of responsibility and wondered what I could have done differently. Ford’s essay, which points out how difficult it is to keep sheep alive, assured me I did the best I could and provided a peaceful passing for the lamb.
I begin reading each issue of The Sun as soon as it arrives. As I toss junk mail, I take a moment to appreciate the cover image of a woman walking in the surf [Jon Kral, March 2022] or an egret in flight [Rex Wilder, January 2022].
Year after year I hold The Sun up to my writing classes and say, “This is the best, must-read magazine out there. Subscribe.”
For nine years I’ve facilitated arts programs in prison. About a year ago someone let me know that The Sun provides free subscriptions to writers who are incarcerated. I jumped on the offer, sending the mailing information for approximately thirty writers I know. The Sun said yes to all of them.
The September 2021 issue was the first we received — me at home, them in their living units. I was directing a prison theater performance, and the facility’s writer told me he was inspired by Steve Edwards’s essay in that issue, “A Thousand Cups of Coffee,” to start a “viral” trend in his living unit: he’d wake up early and make coffee for others, giving them a bit of the scarce sugar and powdered creamer he had to share. There was a subtle request to pay it forward. And they did. Last I heard, people were still making each other cups of coffee months later.
I haven’t been inside a prison since November 2021. There are strict rules against maintaining casual contact with people inside after you’ve volunteered or worked in prison. Though I’ve sorely missed those relationships, I don’t break the rule for fear of losing access. But when my copy of The Sun arrives each month, I think about my friends inside, holding the same issue in their hands, inspired by the same stories. I scour Readers Write and Correspondence, searching for their names. I’ve felt close with them in spite of the distance.