I agree with Rebecca Priestley [“Don’t Panic,” interview by Dash Lewis, June 2023] that we shouldn’t shield children from the realities of human-caused climate change, but I think it’s also important to wait to have these conversations until children are ready. Before six years old children can have a hard time understanding the complexities of climate change and will often distill a well-worded explanation to something like “nature is wrong” or “people are bad.” The youngest children should instead be taught to enjoy the natural world in all its intricate beauty. Later, when they hear about climate change, they will want to protect this world they have already learned to love.
Sexual abuse is a tough subject to write about. Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s short story “Shock Value” [June 2023] captures the emotional bind children can feel when a parent invades their body. The author also shows how the burden that victims carry can contaminate every part of their lives. I know because I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
It can be painful to read stories like Bhuvaneswar’s, yet as a society we need to talk about this.
Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s short story “Shock Value” stopped me in my tracks. It’s quietly harrowing and profound.
By strange coincidence I happened to read Synne Borgen’s essay about traveling to the North Pole [“Observations on Ice,” June 2023] shortly after reading Barry Lopez’s essay “Our Frail Planet in Cold, Clear View,” from his posthumously published collection of essays, Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World, in which Lopez recounts his experiences at the South Pole Station in Antarctica.
I was taken with how differently Borgen and Lopez, excellent writers both, treat the subject of polar extremes. Lopez presents Antarctica as a climatologist might: with numbers and scientific data. I felt the urge to pick up a notepad and pencil and take notes on a lifeless world of measurements, elevations, and temperature gradients. Borgen’s account, featuring Gore-Tex, wellies, fleeces, and the layering of woolen long johns, is visceral and impressionistic. She writes that she could “smell the North Pole.” After reading her words, I longed for a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea.
I am a teacher representative on my school’s diversity and inclusion committee. We work to raise awareness in our community about social inequities, but it often seems like an uphill battle. Ross Gay’s essay “Some Thoughts on Mercy” [The Dog-Eared Page, June 2023] highlights the importance of recognizing racism and the vital need to move forward with mercy. The past will never be the past until we can name it and make things right.
When I read the Readers Write reprint by a woman who bathed in and ate her own excrement, my first reaction was revulsion and anger toward The Sun’s editors for sinking to shock tactics [Name Withheld, June 2023, first printed in January 1978]. Then I remembered that the topic of the section was “Pain,” and I reread the submission. With tears running down my cheeks, my disgust melted and I was filled with empathy for a woman who bravely showed true pain. I’ll never forget this story.
My wife was leafing through the June 2023 issue of The Sun when she said, “You have a piece in here” [Readers Write on “Pain”]. I looked at her in bewilderment. Sometimes I come across something on the Internet that I wrote many years ago and have no memory of. But in this case I did remember writing the piece, in 1978. The Sun was just starting its Readers Write section (originally called Us) and needed copy to get it started. I was already writing a monthly book review for the magazine, but I put together a contribution for the new feature.
It’s funny to read my twenty-nine-year-old self saying he had written about all the painful incidents in his life. I’m still writing forty-five years later, and there has been plenty more pain to go around.
I also remember the other piece you reprinted, by a woman so overcome with grief and shame that she ate her own feces. And I remember thinking, back in 1978, that it was the best piece of the section. At the time I was working on being honest in my own writing, and I saw her words as an example of true, painful honesty. That phrase, “painful honesty,” is how I would describe the best writing in The Sun.
I learned something from reading and writing for The Sun that I don’t think I could have learned anywhere else. The author of that Name Withheld piece taught it to me.
I was saddened to read about how guilty M.H. of Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, feels for passing on a genetic disease to her children [Readers Write on “Pain,” June 2023]. It was not her fault. I hope that she can let go of the unnecessary guilt that plagues her and probably her children, too. We’ve all done things we regret, but punishing ourselves for situations outside of our control will only create more pain. I wish her and her family peace and relief.
I couldn’t help but notice that out of twenty-four Readers Write pieces on “Pain” [June 2023], only three seemed to be written by a man. I don’t know whether it’s because we men won’t share our pain or because we don’t express it well enough to be published. Either way, guys, we can do better.
Finn Cohen’s interview with Justin E.H. Smith [“Speaking of Tongues,” May 2023] touched on a topic near and dear to my heart: the intrusion of English words into non-English languages. Smith references the practice in Germany, which he says is the worst culprit he’s seen, but I invite him to visit Italy sometime. He should prepare himself for dismay. In Italy an important piece of job-related legislation was called “Il Jobs Act,” and during the COVID crisis, instructions for dealing with the pandemic sometimes used hybrid phrases like “gli over sixty” to indicate people age sixty and older.
I sense Smith may be more sanguine than I am, saying, “It won’t be forever.” Of course I know he is right, but in the meantime, I think Italians are impoverishing their language. People rave about Italian food and the beauty of Italian cities, but as someone who lived in Florence as an expat, I tell visitors to learn a little Italian, because there is nothing like eavesdropping on a barista at a cafe as he talks to locals and regulars. Combined with a set of highly defined hand gestures, those conversations are linguistic choreography.
In September 2021 I ordered two subscriptions to The Sun: one for myself and one for my partner, Jorge Vargas Perez, who had begun a prison sentence earlier that year. I hoped that such a beautiful publication would brighten his days in prison, and I thought reading the same magazine would be a connection for us. Jorge and I share our perspectives on each issue, discussing which pieces moved us and which ones we thought were misses. When the Readers Write topic of “Privacy” was announced we knew we had a story to share.
We are grateful for the invaluable connection The Sun offers, reaching even through prison walls.
You can read Heidi Romanish’s Readers Write piece on “Privacy” in this issue.