Issue 372 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


As a regular Sun contributor, I was heartened to read how Poe Ballantine’s essays pass through many incarnations before appearing in the pages of The Sun [“Blessed Meadows for Minor Poets,” October 2006]. I had thought that I was the only writer whose work often took months to crown, emerge, then greet the light, guided by the experienced hands of those editorial midwives in North Carolina.

Genie Zeiger Shelburne, Massachusetts

You’re In Prison,” by John Purugganan [October 2006], spoke to me. I know no one who is in prison, yet the humanity of his story supported the small voice in my head that says prisoners are not monsters but people with souls. It’s easier to close our eyes, as our culture encourages, and pretend a convicted felon ceases to be human.

Marla Kiley Denver, Colorado

As an inmate serving a life sentence, I can say that John Purugganan pinpoints both physically and emotionally what the experience is like. Yet, as I read his tale of guilt and remorse, I couldn’t help but think: Is there no room for forgiveness? Is it wrong for me to forgive myself for the horrible, irreversible damage I have caused my victims? Is there no allowance for healing?

I do not see asking for forgiveness as a selfish insult. When I went through a victim-offender mediation program, I felt obligated not only to take full responsibility for my victims’ loss and pain, but also to ask for their forgiveness. I did this not so that I could minimize my crime and feel better about myself — their forgiveness cannot make me feel better about what I’ve done — but to offer them an opportunity for healing. My own healing will have to come from forgiving myself.

And of course I do not deserve it! That’s why it’s called “grace.” If I deserved it, I wouldn’t need forgiveness.

Stephen Stoeltje Gatesville, Texas

In a growing trend, Sparrow is replacing other contributors to The Sun. His article bemoaning the increasing use of initials in place of words [“Fighting CIS,” September 2006] is the fourth piece of his that you’ve published this year, not counting his frequent replies to letters in Correspondence. I call the phenomenon “Creeping Sparrow Syndrome” (CSS).

I say Sparrowization has gone far enough. Bring back other people!

Lindsey Kuper Portland, Oregon
Sparrow responds:

At the risk of appearing yet again in The Sun, let me say that I completely sympathize with Lindsey Kuper. I myself am bedeviled by numerous overexposed writers — John Updike, for example. The New Yorker seems to publish everything but his income-tax returns.

Pema Chödrön [“The Ultimate Kindness,” September 2006] reduces all suffering to that which is self-made in the mind and prescribes inner purification as a remedy. This is an inadequate response to the problems of genocide and ecocide in the world today. We are experiencing the trauma not just of our personal neuroses but of a break in the Great Chain of Being.

To cultivate compassion for prisoners, or even to admire their spiritual fortitude, is perverse in a society that disproportionately puts black men on death row. To neglect to oppose the system from which we benefit is a silent endorsement of it.

It is time for spiritual leaders in the Eastern traditions to give up their self-deceiving, above-the-battle position and embrace the burden of building a world in which all are free to pursue contact with the absolute vastness of Big Mind. They should join the grass-roots movements that struggle for political, economic, and ecological justice, reclaiming solidarity with life itself.

Vanthi Nguyen Charlottesville, Virginia

Having been accused my entire adult life of “willful insanity” due to drug use and bad behavior, I was relieved to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder at forty-one. I’ve spent the ten years since then being open about my illness, but I’ve never been able to describe with any degree of accuracy what mania feels like.

In “The Madness Equation” [September 2006] Mary Spalding describes the state of being unmedicated so well that I’ve decided not to donate this issue of The Sun to my local library, but to keep it for myself.

Gloria Kemper Emporia, Kansas

Mary Spalding’s “The Madness Equation” helped me to see what a mother’s love for a son in crisis looks like, but I’m resistant to her belief that antipsychotic drugs are a necessary part of her son’s recovery. Such medications are harmful to human beings, causing permanent loss of muscle control and balance, brain shrinkage, cognitive impairment, reduced life expectancy, faulty immune function, and increased risk of diabetes. In return, they do no more than tranquilize and zombify people. How would Spalding’s son, Jason, have responded if someone had tried to understand what he was experiencing and helped him to react to it in a less dangerous way? What if his predicament had been regarded as a spiritual emergency, an existential crisis brought on by fear, confusion, and desperation?

Spalding’s explanations all involve esoteric phenomena such as fractals and chaos theory and the collective unconscious. She doesn’t consider the simpler, more common-sense explanation that Jason was reacting to tremendous pressure to be a conventionally successful young man when perhaps he didn’t want to be one, or didn’t think he could be. Or perhaps Jason was estranged from his father. (Spalding mentions a divorce.) Alienation from his father at a crucial time in his life could have contributed to his break with reality.

When the real world becomes too much to bear, one response is to create one’s own reality. People prefer to attribute bizarre, deluded, and dangerous behavior to chemical imbalances and genetic determinism, but human beings do things — including bizarre things — for a reason, even though we may not be aware of what it is.

Al Galves Las Cruces, New Mexico
Mary Spalding responds:

Jason’s medical history includes three neurosurgeries, seizures, and a lesion on his brain that caused hemiparesis (muscular weakness on one side of his body). So I feel strongly that his illness is of both physical and psychological origin.

Through Jason’s experience I have seen the value of the new generation of drugs for treating mental illness. Though I very much believe in the healing benefits of community, I don’t think it’s the only answer, or that medical science should be dismissed. One wouldn’t rely solely on the love of family to cure a disease of the heart or liver, and the brain is no less a part of the body.

My interest in “esoteric” theories has been less a search for a cure than it has been a coping strategy. I’ve also done my best to provide a loving and therapeutic home environment for Jason as we both recover from this traumatic experience.

Tammy Stone of Idaho [Correspondence, September 2006] is furious with Barry Lopez [“Against the Current,” interview by Michael Shapiro, June 2006] for having helped reintroduce “nonnative” wolves into “her” backyard. But Stone’s backyard has been home to wolves for centuries, and those of us with European ancestry are the real nonnatives in Idaho, and everywhere else in North America.

Stone also claims that our “forefathers were wise to eradicate” wolves because they are “a murderous predator.” Taking her argument to its logical conclusion would make it equally wise to eradicate all carnivores simply because she finds these animals’ means of survival offensive. Our forefathers were not “wise” to eradicate wolves: they were upsetting a balance that they did not understand or respect.

Stone asks, “Has Lopez seen the carnage of a dead cow, colt, sheep, or dog after it’s been killed by wolves?” I ask: Has Stone seen the carnage in a factory slaughterhouse, where the assembly line is often run too fast for the animals to be properly stunned before the brutal kill? It is easy to judge wolves for the manner in which they get their meals while remaining blithely removed from the process by which one’s own food is obtained.

If “cougar kills pale in comparison to wolf kills,” as Stone asserts, then where on this spectrum are the pathological atrocities committed daily by our own culture? We may not have blood directly on our hands, but we generate this pathology through our lack of connection to the natural world. Stone’s distorted, anthropocentric worldview is precisely what is killing the planet.

Suzanna Jones Walden, Vermont

Although I enjoyed the interview with Marion Woodman in the August 2006 issue [“Men Are from Earth, and So Are Women,” by James Kullander], I was disturbed by her contention that “you have to be loved by others before you can love yourself for who you are.” Fortunately for those of us not lucky enough to have parents or spouses who love us for who we are, there is another, albeit more challenging, method of healing: learning to love yourself as your parents should have loved you when you were a child.

It may be a lonely path, but only after we learn to accept ourselves and give ourselves the love we need can we sustain healthy relationships with others. In the end, it is up to us to change our negative thought patterns. No one can do it for us. We must love ourselves before we will want to change. Seeking love externally is simply not a solution.

Nina Sokol Copenhagen

Like Marion Woodman, I’m a dancer who’s done a lot of thinking about men and women. When a couple dances, it is a physical manifestation of the interplay between the masculine and the feminine. The masculine role is called “leading,” and the feminine role is called “following.”

When I lead, I make the decisions, but if I sense that what I’m doing isn’t working for my partner, I change it. After a while she learns which of her signals prompt me to make changes, and she gets better at sending them. In turn, I get better at receiving them. Eventually the distinction between leading and following blurs, fades, and vanishes al­together. Two become one.

Bob Bennett Brownsboro, Alabama
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