The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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Does THE SUN have a future? The question is not rhetorical. THE SUN may not have a future. That’s something I don’t like to contemplate, but no one likes to think about the death of someone, or something, he loves. “Everything put together sooner or later falls apart,” Paul Simon sang, after splitting up first, with Garfunkel, then with his wife. At thirty three, I no longer believe that just because something is important to me, it’s going to endure. You, or I, may not want THE SUN to fold; that doesn’t mean it won’t.
Does this sound too negative? I’ve not written about this before because it is negative. I know that we create our own reality, that our beliefs are the blueprints for our lives: if we build a house to last, it will. But who among us is so accomplished an architect, so familiar with the stresses and spaces and intimate ecologies of the soul that he can build to last? We try, and only sometimes succeed. For another, you’ve paid for a magazine, not for a lament about the difficulty of publishing one. After giving your order to the waitress, you’re ready to eat, not hear from the cook about the traffic jam at the Farmer’s Market, the high price of tomatoes, and the heat in the kitchen. Lastly, there’s so much to do here that little time is spent reflecting about whether we’re going to make it. It’s easier to push ahead, thinking positively, and not complaining.
Well, the cook’s at your table. There’s no more bread, and it doesn’t look good. Maybe you should listen.
Most small magazines don’t survive because it’s hard to make money publishing a magazine. To be successful, a magazine has to have enough mass appeal — or appeal sufficiently to a special interest group, say antique collectors — to impress advertisers. Advertisers, not readers, pay for magazines (with rare exceptions). If THE SUN were to depend entirely on its readers, we’d have to charge $3 an issue. Obviously, that’s unrealistic. So magazines, like landlords, sell space. If, instead of paying a writer $200 for a two-page article, you can sell two pages of advertising for $400, you’re — how do they say? — in business.
Naturally, magazines try to keep reader interest high by giving readers what they want. Thus, they entertain, or inform or, rarely, make the reader think. (What passes for the latter is, usually, an affirmation of what the reader already thinks.) Occasionally, readers are provoked, but rarely, as a reader who is provoked too often may stop buying the magazine. So the emphasis is on what is safely provocative, what appears to challenge or pry open the mind, and the heart, instead of painfully, lovingly, doing so. This is as true of many “intellectual” and “spiritual” magazines as it is of Time and Cosmopolitan. There is even something safe in the adversary stance of a magazine like Mother Jones; with (perhaps) the best of intentions, it capitalizes on a mood of disaffection in the same way that Playboy capitalizes on you-know-what. Anyway, the point is to find an audience you’re sure of, and please them. The advertisers hear the applause, and line up at the door. The computers do the rest.
Some of the articles that appear in THE SUN are no more thoughtful or provocative than what you’ll find anywhere. Some of them are worse — spiritually pretentious, or self-indulgent in that cloying way that confessional writing can become. There are different reasons for this: lack of more material from which to chose, hasty judgements about what’s worthwhile, and so on. But, more and more, we steer clear of what many magazines sail straight for. We’re not trying to be safe. Or to define ourselves. Which is one reason we don’t have an easily definable audience (or more advertising). THE SUN is not “political,” or “literary,” or “spiritual,” because labels exclude and, in truth, there are no such distinctions. The world is whole, whether we see it that way or not, and THE SUN exists, in part, to remind us of that. If I didn’t believe that, I’d be back in New York, earning four times what I do now. I was an “award-winning reporter,” gifted at writing about the boils and lesions on the American body, the death of the schools and the cities and the poor, the mock battles of the politicians and the real battles between the races and the generations, but writing in a way that subtly perpetuated the very “evils” I resisted, as most journalism does. If you’re going to be a Good Guy, you need evil; otherwise, you’re left shooting at tin cans. Reporters become cynics because they start out as romantics who cannot see beyond the story they make of America: if she’s not a virgin, she must be a whore, and this study — by experts! — proves it. But to know a woman, or a nation, we must travel, and thirst, and discover what pools of joy and despair are hidden from the camera. The Mother Country wants not to be despised, or glorified, but known, which is to say, loved. This is the same body you and I inhabit! We are creatures of bone and flesh and more, and the papers don’t tell us that, and the television lies, and the poets speak it to other poets, and the spiritual teachers to the faithful. Four times nothing is nothing. But a voice to speak us back to ourselves seemed worth the effort.
But no formula. Nothing New Age, nothing revolutionary, nothing underground or overground, nothing in front of the mirror but another mirror. Does that sound foolish? God bless the fool. A hand reaching out for other hands? God bless those who care. For fifty dollars, Mike Mathers and I started THE SUN in January 1974. I peddled the first issues on Franklin Street, and the “office” fit neatly into my knapsack. Back then, my mother and sisters and nearly all my friends discovered they were writers. In time, I told myself, the mailbox would be stuffed with manuscripts. I folded the pages by hand, to save money. I learned to stay up, night after night, to get the magazine out each month. Pushing against the walls of my fatigue like a tongue probing a loose tooth. Not for the money. Not to grind some axe. I won’t say for love, because it sounds too fishy; to love is a watery commandment, and it’s hard to tell the shallow from the deep. And words are too loose a net. But I’ll say this: the means and the end were joined; my work and my job and my life were no longer separable. What a paycheck!
The office won’t fit in a knapsack anymore. We own a printing press and do our own camera work and rent a computerized typesetting machine. Our monthly paper bill alone is $500. I no longer know many of the contributors. Some days, the mailbox is stuffed. The next issue of THE SUN will be distributed nationally by the same company that distributes the New Age Journal and the CoEvolution Quarterly to newsstands. I’m no longer even the publisher, but an employee of The Sun Publishing Company, Inc. — the not-for-profit corporation which publishes THE SUN (since we’re not, in fact, in it for the money, we became non-profit to qualify for grants; we’ve applied for some, but since we’re not strictly a “literary” magazine — how important that label is, how safe it has become! — we haven’t gotten any). Mike Mathers moved on to other things, but my wife, Pris, learned to stay up, too, and now Betsy works here full time. A “staff,” a building, responsibilities and urgencies along the length and breadth of this shared body, a business to run! a magazine to get out! how little time is left, not merely for asking whether we’re going to survive, but why we do this in the first place.
I stop to remind myself: because the paths to truth are many, but not nearly so many as the salesmen of truth suggest. Clear thinking, and clear writing, help us remember that. And I want us to remember. Good. But the paper company wants, along with my good intentions, a check for $500. And our national distributor wants 15 per cent off the top, and the retailer another 40 per cent, and after paying for shipping, we lose money. We’ll do it anyway, if we can find the money, because it’s the best way to reach new readers, who will hopefully become subscribers. And we need new subscribers, desperately. There’s no way to bring down our expenses, without radically altering the magazine, so we’ve got to increase our readership to stay in business. We spend nearly twice as much as we make; Pris and I have propped up the magazine for the last year and a half with our personal savings, which are almost gone. We went out on a limb to improve the magazine, hoping that by the time the money was all spent, THE SUN would have become financially self-sufficient (with three times as many subscribers as we have now, we would be). Will we find those subscribers? It’s up to you.
If you don’t subscribe, then subscribe. If you subscribe already, give a gift subscription, or two, or three. Fill out the card in this issue now. If you’re broke, send us the names and addresses of three or four friends who might subscribe (mention your own name, too). If you take responsibility for finding just one new subscriber, we’ll survive. If you don’t, we won’t. It’s as simple as that. Unless you get behind us, there may not be another issue. We’ve asked for gift subscriptions before, we’ve asked you to subscribe; this is different. How ironic: we’ve limped along, from issue to issue, nourished by our faith in the future. Now, with a national distributor wanting 1,000 copies of next month’s magazine, we don’t know if we can last another month. If you can loan us money, call me. If you can give us money, send a check payable to THE SUN. With enough money, we could job out much of the time-consuming production work that keeps us from doing more research and planning and writing. What we might discover and share! Swapping stories on this, our party line. The mouth to the ear, whispering the reminder: not to get lost in this or that “ism,” to love the face in the mirror, to trust the mirror we become.
It’s easy to see what this means. Since we spend more than $2,700 a month, and take in only $1,600, we need an additional $1,100 a month to break even. How can we find the extra money? By raising the price of a one-year subscription from $8 to $12, and by tripling the number of subscribers (we now have 550 subscribers; 1,500 subscribers, paying $12 a year, means $18,000 a year in subscription revenue, or $1,500 a month, which is about $1,100 more than we now earn through subscriptions). We can’t count on much more advertising, since even with several thousand more readers nationwide, our circulation base would still be too small for most national businesses to consider, and we seem to have levelled off at $1,000 a month in local advertising. Newsstand sales, as I explained, don’t count for much immediate return. So, our hope lies in finding more subscribers. This had better happen quickly. All that stands between us and bankruptcy is you.