Alex Vitale’s thoughts on the history and politics of policing [“To Protect and to Serve?” interview by Mark Leviton, September 2019] were enlightening. I agree that prostitution between consenting adults is entirely different from sex trafficking, which is the buying and selling of human beings for unpaid sex work. Victims of such slavery are not criminals. They are victims of human-rights violations. We — and our Congress — need to be their voice.
I could barely bring myself to skim Thom Goertel’s photo essay “Old School Boxing” [September 2019]. I have no respect for contact sports of any kind. The athletes who participate in them make me think of the gladiators of ancient Rome.
For thirty-five years I took care of a Golden Gloves champ who had an amazing voice and used to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before his matches. By the time I met him, he was homeless and living under a bridge.
Years earlier he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and spent a year in a mental institution. But he and I both believe he was misdiagnosed and that his mental-health problems are the result of the blows he received to his head.
After his psychiatrist committed suicide, my friend became more disoriented than ever. He moved to Wichita, Kansas, where I found him again on the streets. I brought him to my rural home and gave him a room of his own. I helped him collect disability and food stamps, and to stay clean.
Later his brother took control of his care, and I lost all contact with my friend, which was extremely painful. Eventually I located him many miles away — too far to visit. I sometimes call him at the care home where he now lives. We still have a sweet, quiet bond, but his mind is so far away. As long as he can remember my name, I will continue to call him.
Thank you for publishing Jennifer Swift’s short story “Stories We Tell Now” [September 2019], about a group of women discussing an alleged rape. The #MeToo movement has raised awareness about how frequently sexual misconduct and assault occur. Women have always known this; the men I talk with often seem surprised to find out. I hope men are beginning to acknowledge that women’s lived experiences are quite different from their own.
Bless you for printing Jennifer Swift’s “Stories We Tell Now.” And thanks to Swift for writing about an enormously complex human experience that’s become so deeply rooted in our culture.
In Jennifer Swift’s “Stories We Tell Now,” a book club discusses a rape at a high-school party, and Swift attempts to evenly present both sides of the argument about who is at fault. The two sides are very much not equal, however. One person did perhaps do some stupid things; the other committed a serious crime that will scar a young woman for life.
As someone who has never been the victim of such a crime, I find it shocking if this is where the conversation stands in the twenty-first century.
Jennifer Swift responds:
The dialogue in “Stories We Tell Now” is intended to expose the “boys will be boys” excuse by juxtaposing it with women’s stories, rather than balancing both sides equally. I understand, though, that once a story goes out into the world, it has to stand on its own merits. I’m grateful for these thoughtful responses and for any discussion of this important issue.
It struck me that a disproportionate number of the entries in the Readers Write on “Endurance” [September 2019] were by women. With this small sample size, I don’t think we can definitively say that women tend to endure more than men. Or can we?
Having lived among American Indians on three reservations, where my father was a teacher, and having served as a consultant to many tribes while working as a professor of economics, I read with interest Mark Leviton’s interview with Paul Chaat Smith [“Our Fellow Americans,” August 2019]. This interview, and Smith’s essay “Geronimo’s Cadillac” in the same issue, are two of the most accurate descriptions of the Indian experience that I have read — and I have read many.
When I was growing up, all my neighbors and classmates were Ojibwas. Mine was the only white family within miles of the school where my father taught. I envied my Indian friends, who, it seemed, all had a pony, and who were better than I was at the things I considered important, like horsemanship, hunting, fishing, and so on. It was only after we moved that I understood Indians were a minority.
When I became a professor, I had an anthropologist colleague who thought the stereotype of the “noble savage” was bogus. He was a brilliant scholar but opinionated and undiplomatic, and when he shared his views, many Indians told him he was not welcome on their reservations.
I understand why Indians question the credibility of white academics who have distorted their past and present, but I think sometimes, as is true of all of us, they would rather live with the myth than with the truth. (Some historians, like Howard Zinn for instance, would say the same about the authors of widely read U.S. history textbooks.)
Was every submission for the Readers Write on “Childhood” [August 2019] as unhappy as those you published? Perhaps you agree with author Anna Quindlen, who said, “One of the biggest impediments I had to becoming a successful writer is I had a very happy childhood.”
I have spent years searching for a magazine that is self-sustaining, honest, and comprehensive. I think I have found it. Your thought-provoking material is not aimed at needlessly stirring up controversy, but instead is engaging and insightful.
The story-in-letters format of Ralph Hubbell’s short story “The Happy Vertex” [July 2019] provided a voyeuristic pleasure I found irresistible!
The July 1987 Readers Write on “What I Do Best” included an entry from Rebecca Latimer of Sonoma, California, who wrote that she was always willing to change her plans. Sometimes she even walked an extra half mile through the vineyards instead of her usual two. This amazed me, since Rebecca was eighty-one years old.
I lived in New York at the time but often visited family in the San Francisco Bay Area. A month or so after I read that Readers Write, I was in the Sonoma town square, and I found a phone book and wrote down Rebecca’s address.
She answered my letter right away. We corresponded for years after that. She always encouraged me in my writing, and I visited her every time I was in California. When Rebecca was in her nineties, I received a letter from a caregiver informing me that Rebecca was dying. I called the house, and the caregiver asked if I would like to speak to Rebecca. I said yes.
I struggled with what to say. “Watch for me in the vineyard,” I told her. Rebecca said she would.