Opinion | Who Gets to Tell the Story? Views Differ.

To the Editor:

Re “The Limits of ‘Lived Experience,’ ” by Pamela Paul (column, April 25):

As a teacher of many college-level fiction workshops at Stony Brook University in the 1980s and ’90s, I confronted over and over the question Ms. Paul addresses.

Can men write from the female point of view? Can women write from the male point of view? Can women write about war? (This was before women were actually found in the trenches.) Can white people pretend to know the Black experience, and vice versa?

I found it my duty to assign the writing of stories across boundaries, and the results were wonderful. When people began creating characters unlike themselves, others in the workshop often preferred the results to writing that didn’t challenge the imagination and empathy.

After all, children’s books (and adult books too) use animals to teach about the human experience. Is there anyone who does not believe that Peter Rabbit was terrified and relieved to get back to Mom?

Or for that matter, what adult is surprised when Napoleon and his fellow pigs take over the farm and destroy the dream of equality in Orwell’s “Animal Farm”?

Carolyn McGrath
Charlottesville, Va.

To the Editor:

Isn’t it patently obvious that direct experience best informs expressions of that experience?

This does not preclude others from describing the taste of chocolate, the sensation of skydiving or the joy of sex. Yet just as the testimony of eyewitnesses is sought to bolster credibility in jurisprudence, so should voices of direct experience be deemed the gold standard.

Charles Ellis Harp
Victoria, British Columbia

To the Editor:

For those in mental health fields, as well as for those in the arts, the issues raised in Pamela Paul’s excellent discussion of attempting to truly understand another person whose lived experience is very different from our own are also relevant.

In our clinical work we have no choice. We social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists – or at least most of us – have not been psychotic, horribly depressed, deeply traumatized or addicted. But our job is to try to understand as best we can the other person’s lived experience so that we can help them.

To be truly understood is a profound experience and one in which the arts, including the healing arts, may play an important role.

Susan A. Winickoff
Brookline, Mass.
The writer is a retired clinical psychologist.

To the Editor:

Denzel Washington has no lived experience as a Scottish king. Does that mean he shouldn’t play Macbeth? Now that would be a tragedy.

Patricia McLain
Olympia, Wash.

To the Editor:

Re “Loathing Golf Taught Me to Confront My Own Prejudice,” by Jane Coaston (Opinion, April 21):

Ms. Coaston writes about her distaste for golf and the golf world. I wish to write a contrasting viewpoint.

First of all, her perspective that golf is a game for rich people is fallacious. Yes, country clubs are expensive, but 80 percent of golf courses are open to the public, and they cost an average of $ 36 per round. Obviously the average golfer is not the country club snob that she envisions.

Having been golfing for over 60 years, I admit to having met a lot of wealthy and successful people around a golf course (is there something wrong with that?), But I also meet people of every walk of life between golfers, caddies, and maintenance and food service staff.

Golf is an $ 80 billion industry that contributes $ 4 billion annually to charity and employs over two million people. The land that golf courses are on have moved toward being friendlier to the environment and to birds and animals, although admittedly there is still room for improvement. Most golf courses make their facilities available for schools and charities as well as community and private functions.

Certainly my viewpoint, the opposite of Ms. Coaston’s, is also biased, but she certainly has not looked carefully enough at many of the positive aspects of the game.

Daniel Cohen
Pearl River, NY

To the Editor:

Re “They’ll Return to the Office, Wearing Uggs” (Thursday Styles, April 14):

“I don’t have any patience for uncomfortable clothing,” says Shira Lander, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. That the era of uncomfortable, restrictive and often painful clothing appears to be waning rapidly should be no surprise.

Women have experienced a freedom from sartorial bondage during the past two pandemic years – and who would be willing to return to painful high heels, pantyhose and cinched waistbands after that?

Is this really a phenomenon created by the sweatpants pandemic culture? The pandemic may have been the trigger, but something far more consequential appears to be at play.

As women become more powerful in economic and cultural spheres, we no longer need to suffer the discomforts of tight skirts or spike heels in order to please the male species. Just as men have had comfortable and reasonable clothing options for decades, women, rising in the ranks, are beginning to grasp that same delight.

With power comes privilege – and even Uggs.

Elizabeth Langer
West Tisbury, Mass.
The writer was a co-founder of the Women’s Rights Law Reporter.

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