I was moved by David Romtvedt’s “Loyalties” [Issue 193], but he needn’t feel he “signed away an opportunity to participate in the life of his culture” by not signing the stupid loyalty oath required by the University of Southwestern Louisiana. Other honorable professions — cabdriver, janitor, day-care assistant, printer, designer, and writer — also offer opportunities to teach. What difference where the learning happens? Life will provide students seeking personal integrity and courage. We teach what we live.
Twenty-two years ago I reluctantly signed a loyalty oath to teach at the University of California. I have had the leisure to contemplate, discuss, and write about integrity. I can polish up David Romtvedt’s arguments. The oath does not, in itself, limit one’s scope of thought.
Consider writers in totalitarian societies: they have to make many more compromises to survive at all, yet their scope of thought is not inferior to ours.
The hasty and phony arguments so many gave for signing are more indicative of the harm the oath does. We professors who reluctantly signed the oath are not necessarily charlatans when we speak of integrity, but Romtvedt would have been a charlatan for not listening to his daemon.
I applaud his decision, and the beautiful essay it produced confirms its rightness. It challenges us not to necessarily imitate his action but to find our own deeds of authentic self-expression. His essay encourages me to live more fully my beliefs.
I think of two things when I think of the Louisiana Constitution — the rejection of David Romtvedt and the rise of David Duke.
I was surprised — shocked — to learn that Natalie Goldberg [“Wild Mind,” Issue 193] finds journal writing boring, as it is just writing about “emotions.” Her own book, Wild Mind, could easily be construed as a series of journal entries. Journal writing is writing — wild mind, tame mind, frightened mind, happy mind, all in one. It’s you writing your story. How could that be boring?
I enjoyed your feature on Natalie Goldberg, who has many interesting things to say about writing, but was surprised and annoyed when she referred to journal writing and Jungian therapy as “precious.” Many people tap into what Goldberg calls the “wild mind” through journal writing, and I can’t imagine why she thinks Jungian therapy is any less worthwhile than the therapy she has done. In fact, her own writing strongly resembles journal writing, given its episodic character and lack of a larger narrative thrust. Goldberg is the one imposing limitations in this case. Maybe her mind isn’t as wild as she thinks it is.
Like Sy Safransky (whose “This Body” beefed up Issue 193), I avoided weight training until middle age. I was thirty-nine when I did my first chin-up, and now, at forty-four, I work out seventy-five minutes every day. I enjoy all the usual perks, including a heart rate so low that several aerobics instructors have kidded me about being already dead.
But the greatest satisfaction is mental. I have overcome the complex inhibitions and the fear of competition that kept me from participating in sports in my younger years. As Safransky suggests, by changing your body physically it is possible to liberate yourself mentally. The process is exhilarating.
Reflecting on the letters in Issue 192, I miss the ads. Not only were they side trips for the eyes, they were also a taste, a barometer, that went beyond the stories and pictures. They were different rays of The Sun, extending to other possibilities. I would like to see them back.
Pardon the stationery and lack of typewriter but I had to respond now to the issue of advertising.
I say stick to your guns. Ads mean censorship, subtle or overt. Take heart — Ms. magazine did away with ads and they’re doing great. I only subscribe to mags with no ads.
Keep asking for money. I don’t have any to spare, but angels are out there. Keep the faith. Keep the integrity of The Sun. It’s a bright spot in my mailbox.
Usually I like your choice of cover photographs. But I am really mystified by Issue 193. Why does the backside of a zebra merit the cover?
Then I read Sunbeams. Is no one editing these quotations? Why mix something as hopelessly mundane as the quotation by Martin Mull — “Always pee before a long car trip” — with the quotation by Kabir and the Bauls verse? Truly, life is composed of the banal and the sublime; but must I find them side by side in The Sun?
This is a letter I never expected to write, and one that pains me deeply to have to send.
While I was looking through back issues of The Sun from 1981 and 1982, it quickly became obvious that the magazine today is nowhere near as good as it was back then. Those earlier issues featured Robert Bly, Ram Dass, Stephen Levine, Buckminster Fuller, and Carl Simonton. Recent issues simply don’t offer as much work by writers of comparable stature. The Sun is just no longer the magazine it once was!
It also looks as if you are publishing a greater proportion of fiction these days — and, as one who edits a literary magazine, I would say not very good fiction.
I sincerely hope you go back to producing a magazine that I used to regard as something of a miracle. I was once a wildly enthusiastic booster of The Sun; it would be nice to become one again.
My deepest gratitude to John Rosenthal for his essay “Insisting On Love” in Volume I of The Sun anthology, A Bell Ringing in the Empty Sky. My God, you people have me saying things like “deepest gratitude” and meaning it. I don’t normally say things like “deepest gratitude” because I don’t usually feel it. So much of what goes on in life today boils down to wolves in sheep’s clothing — and just as bad, sheep in wolves’ clothing. Not much running around stark naked. A little stark-naked love is what we need, not fear feigning as love. A little root truth is what we need, a little liberation, freckled and towheaded.
Rosenthal mentions Henry Miller, the iconoclast’s iconoclast, a massively liberating force. Miller’s books were banned in this country until 1963 or so, but it wasn’t pornography that made that happen; pornography was running rampant in this country in 1963. I have no use for pornography. The Gulf War was pornography, the network packaging of that war was pornography, General Schwarzkopf dancing with Mickey Mouse for the whole world to see — that is pornography, and I don’t need a Supreme Court decision to tell me this. I am fifty-three years old, I’m a battered child, I’ve been to hell and back, and my innocence is intact. When I say “spiritual” I mean spiritual. Spirituality is a ferocious joy that consumes hate and fear, and it was Miller’s joy that was being suppressed, joy that causes the fear juice to squirt into the veins of those terrified of their own core innocence. People who bring this fundamental truth into focus are labeled dangerous, and they are dangerous to those living on the dark side of the moon, those with a twisted desire to block out the sun. Rosenthal is one of those dangerous men.
I’ll go nose to nose with anyone who thinks this is new age pie-in-the-sky drivel. The Sun is not “new age.” New age is jargon and jargon is a trap. Jargon tends to confine, thwart, make simplistic. The Sun ignites something in me, sheds light on some invisible, intangible source, a place children recognize effortlessly, a place where the catch phrase “life on life’s terms” should apply. The formidable forces that hold us prisoner today do not represent life on life’s terms, they represent life on death’s terms; they should be resisted and rejected. The Sun tends toward this core place, and that’s what sets it apart. The Sun has its eye on the lodestar.