Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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As a teenager I woke each weekday morning to the sound of my father leaving for work. When I heard him return at the same time every evening, I didn’t bother to crack my bedroom door to say hello. He was as familiar and reliable as the New Mexico sunshine — and just as unappreciated. On his fortieth birthday, as he sat at the kitchen table reading the card I gave him, I studied his profile and figured I knew his future: an endless cycle of comfortable routines.
Now The Sun is nearing middle age. As it embarks on its fortieth year of publication, the magazine has much to celebrate. From its humble start as a stapled stack of xeroxed pages sold on the streets of a Southern college town, it has matured into a magazine with subscribers all over the country. It has survived lawsuits, recessions, and too many financial crises to count. It’s published thousands of talented writers and photographers and won numerous awards. Steady and respectable now, it’s outgrown its awkward youth: Editor and founder Sy Safransky no longer peddles the magazine on the sidewalk or holds yard sales to pay the printer. The office hums along. The mailman maneuvers through the front door with a bin full of submissions. The smell of strong coffee drifts down the hall. It’s easy to imagine The Sun continuing like this forever.
And that’s a risk for the magazine: readers may begin to assume it will always be around. As a teenager I had not yet discovered how often we take for granted what we cherish the most. But no matter how stable our circumstances seem to be, the future can never be secured — not for ourselves, and not for a magazine. A Sun contributor once wrote that every marriage is “pregnant with divorce”; in the same vein, every magazine reckons with the prospect of its demise. Magazine failure rates eclipse divorce rates: 60 percent of magazines fold in their first year. By their tenth year, 90 percent of new magazines have vanished. You’re as likely to stumble upon a white rhino as an independent magazine in its fortieth year of publication.
Even more unusual is a reader-supported magazine totally free of advertising. Nearly everywhere we turn, advertisements compete for our attention. Some are entertaining or even informative, but they don’t belong in our most intimate spaces — not in our bedrooms, not in our places of worship, and not in The Sun. A great piece of writing can startle us out of a self-centered stupor, awaken our appreciation for what we’ve overlooked, remind us that everyone we encounter has a heart as big and broken as our own. Writing like that deserves our undivided attention. In The Sun it will never have to compete with a clever sales pitch.
Without advertising revenue, The Sun depends entirely on reader support. The magazine arrives like clockwork each month because readers like you keep it going year after year. Your subscriptions and donations have put money into the pockets of struggling authors, enabled us to share the magazine with prisoners and readers who have fallen on hard times, and helped us survive a tough economy that has sunk far bigger publications. When you make a tax-deductible donation as a Friend of The Sun, you stand up for independent publishing and the power of the written word.
On my own fortieth birthday a few months ago, my father called me from thousands of miles away, and I stood in a parking lot straining to hear him over a bad cellphone connection. I would have enjoyed nothing more than a heart-to-heart with him at our old kitchen table, the kind of conversation I once took for granted — but that table is gone, and so is that house, and now my own children barely look up when I walk through the door. I don’t blame them. I, too, often overlook what’s right in front of me. On my way to work the other morning, I drove past a man on the corner before I realized it was Sy. He’s begun walking the three miles from his home to the office for his health — part of his plan to edit The Sun “forever,” he says with a wry smile.
But the only part of forever we can experience is this moment. A parcel arrives at the office containing advance copies of the latest issue. The staff gathers around, and Sy opens it like a birthday present, handing each of us a copy. There’s the whisper of turning pages as we take our first look: One more issue to celebrate this dazzling, unpredictable existence. One more issue to remind us we’re all in this together.
P.S. You can donate online at www.thesunmagazine.org or send your check to The Sun, 107 North Roberson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516. Your donation is tax-deductible, and we’ll send a receipt for your records.