When a socially committed friend lamented recently that she was “awfully busy these days,” I reminded her she’d been awfully busy for years. She laughed good-naturedly, then told me I had no right to talk.
That’s true. I still work long hours and, like my friend, I’m not apt to change. Do people like us need to change? Sometimes, working hard is a way to avoid life. But what if the work isn’t an escape? What if it’s a way to embrace the human condition? Martin Buber said: “One eats in holiness and the table becomes an altar.” I wonder: If our work is meaningful, rather than simply a means to a paycheck, can our desk become an altar?
When I started The Sun in 1974, a desk was nearly all the furniture I owned. I was living hand-to-mouth, determined not to return to my job as a big-city newspaper reporter. I had no office, no money, no mission statement. I simply wanted to create a magazine that celebrated the heartache and the glory of being human. Would there be enough readers to support such a magazine? I had no idea. But had faith that if I worked hard enough and didn’t make too many dumb mistakes, The Sun might survive.
I didn’t realize how often my faith would be tested by exhaustion and disappointment. (Isn’t it amazing how faith and doubt can coexist, like roommates of wildly different temperaments?) It took years before I could pay the bills on time or earn more than a subsistence wage. Then, just as the magazine was beginning to enjoy a modest degree of success, I did something that, to all outward appearances, seemed like one of the dumbest mistakes I could make: I dropped advertising from The Sun.
Virtually all magazines depend on advertising to survive. But I wanted to publish a journal where the connection between reader and writer wasn’t interrupted; where people weren’t constantly being hectored to buy something, do something, go somewhere.
Now, eight years later — with advertising impossible to escape even on public radio — I’m confident I made the right decision. For many people, discovering The Sun is like finding a key to a room they didn’t even know existed. Month after month, we come together in this room to mourn our losses and celebrate our blessings. Sometimes there are tears; sometimes there’s a sudden transfiguring vision that points the way. In this room, The Sun makes only one demand on your attention: the content. Nothing but the content. Advertising simply doesn’t belong in a magazine that strives for the greatest possible intimacy with its readers.
I picture the The Sun’s reading room: its shabby elegant atmosphere, creaky floors, comfortable chairs. I know this room exists only in my imagination. You’re probably alone as you’re reading this. I’m alone now, too: early in the morning, still in my bathrobe, my hair wild — hardly an appropriate way to greet visitors. Yet month after month we meet . . . somewhere. You and I and Alison Luterman and Poe Ballantine and John Taylor Gatto and Sparrow and all the others. We meet on the page. We meet in the imagination. We meet in the vast room of the heart.
If this gathering matters to you, if you wouldn’t miss it for the world, please consider becoming a Friend Of The Sun this year with a tax-deductible donation.
Your yearly or quarterly pledge would mean a great deal to us. Without advertising or corporate sponsors, we depend more than most magazines on our readers. Postal rates have gone up again. Our printing costs have increased, too: we added eight pages to the magazine last year and switched to a different recycled paper, which allows the photographs in The Sun to really shine. I’d like to keep the extra pages so we can publish more writing that’s too subversive or too erotic or too devotional for many other magazines. I’d like to keep using the new paper so we can continue to showcase photographs that remind us beauty is everywhere — in the lined faces of an old couple laughing at a private joke; in sunlight falling across an empty bed. I’d also like to increase salaries for our small, hard-working staff. They’re the ones who keep the reading room clean, comfortable, and well-lit; who make sure there’s a new issue on your chair each month. Many nonprofit organizations lose their best, most idealistic, people because they can’t pay them enough. I hate goodbyes.
I’m grateful that The Sun will celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary next year; few magazines survive that long. But we would never have made it this far without the help of readers who responded generously when we passed the hat. As you ponder whether to reach for your checkbook, consider how many times you lingered in our reading room for a second cup of coffee, delighted by the openness and unpredictability of the conversation. Consider how often you laughed at something in Correspondence, or cried at something in Readers Write. Consider the value of being reminded each month that something that breaks your heart can also open it. Consider that, while we had your attention, we didn’t try to sell you a sexy new perfume or suggest you lose a few pounds.
Editor, The Sun
P. S. You may send your check to The Sun, 107 North Roberson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516. Your donation is tax-deductible, and we’ll send you a receipt for your records.