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The Sun Magazine

Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

Leaving Walden Pond

It wasn’t mere crankiness that made Henry David Thoreau suspicious of civilization and all its defenders, titles, and awards. Rather, he thought that civilization already had more champions than it deserved, and that it was not his particular genius to be another. Civilization consistently (and incorrectly) rates itself above Nature, Thoreau felt, just as humans rate themselves above animals. (And, a Jungian might add, just as the conscious mind rates itself above the unconscious mind.)


I am not free of the condition I describe here. I cannot be certain how far back in human history the habit of denial can be traced. But it is at least as old as I am. In our common history, I have found it in the legends surrounding the battle of Troy, and in my own family I have traced it three generations back, to that recent time past when there had been no world wars and my grandparents were young. All that I was taught at home or in school was colored by denial, and thus it became so familiar to me that I did not see it. Only now have I begun to recognize that there were many closely guarded family secrets that I kept, and many that were kept from me.

Pine Boards And Strawberries

Finding Courage At A Cancer Workshop

As the end of my chemotherapy treatments approached, they became more and more difficult to endure. Freedom was so near, I could hardly bear to wait for it another second. When a session was delayed because my blood count was too low, the mixture of feelings was overwhelming — the leap of joy at not having to suffer the probing needle and poisonous drugs that day, and the fury because the entire horrible business was being prolonged.

Tattoo Envy

Motorcycle Jim used to go with Katie. That was before his biker lifestyle proved a tough, chalky mix with Katie’s desire for respectability and security. They broke up, and Motorcycle Jim did what a guy named Motorcycle does: loaded his bike, hitched up his jeans, and hit the road.

I Read The News Today

The editor of a local newspaper asks me to help identify the twenty most powerful people in town, the men and women who not only have a vision, but “the guts, the stamina, and the influence to fulfill that vision.”



Dear Marsha,

You asked me to write to let you know how I’ve been doing. You suggested I might start, like we used to, with a dream. Well, it’s funny; ever since you asked me to write, I’ve been haunted by a really old dream — maybe twenty years old. I can’t remember when I first had this dream, and I also can’t figure out why I never told you about it before.

Anatomy Of A Lie

I can’t tell you this, but my mother has a dot on her lung. It’s a small dot, on the left lung. If her lung were a map of Texas, the dot would be roughly the size of the city of El Paso, which is large enough to be written in boldface type by Rand McNally. When I think about her dot, which I’m not supposed to do, I imagine a wet circle of India ink spreading quickly toward all sides of a sheet of yellow, gauzy paper. I also see a knot, a thick ball of mucus, my hand ripping open her lung and squeezing the ball until blood and pus and membranes slide between my clenched fingers. But remember, I’m not angry, because I don’t know this. I’m not telling you this.

Original Sin

My Aunt Louise wore three feathers in her hair that summer I went to live with her. “Red-tailed hawk,” she said, though the feathen were tawny brown and glistened evilly from the black bun where she stuck them, conjuring in a boy’s mind the commandment Thou shalt not commit adultery, barked sternly by our old minister back home. I couldn’t say why it should, any more than I understood the commandment’s meaning.

Readers Write


I’ve never had to decide where a tattoo should go: I feel it waiting under my skin. It sometimes takes years before it becomes clear to me what the tattoo looks like, and longer still to draw it out well enough that an artist can make it visible to others.

Personal Stories By Our Readers ▸


Why do you go and build a monument to a man who sends electricity through a wire? Does not nature do that millions of times over? Is not everything already existing in nature? What is the value of your getting it? It is already there.


More Quotations ▸
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