After graduation, after a divorce, after an election
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At the end of a routine medical exam, my doctor wants to know if I’m thinking about retiring. “Aren’t you ready to rest on your laurels?” he asks. Taken aback, I shake my head. Doesn’t he understand what my work means to me? At sixty-eight, I’m as passionate about The Sun as I was when I started it at twenty-eight. I’m no more interested in resting on my laurels than my cats, Franny and Zooey, are in taking a long hot bath.
On my drive back to the office, however, I keep thinking about the doctor’s question. As far as I know, I’m healthy. But maybe he’s seen too many people like me — men who watch what they eat, and exercise regularly, and take their vitamins in strict alphabetical order — delude themselves about aging. Maybe he’s seen Time knock once, twice, then kick the door in.
Well, I reflect, it’s possible I’m being unrealistic. Of course, more than a few people thought I was being unrealistic when I started The Sun in 1974 with no money, no office, and no staff — just the unwavering belief that if I worked hard and stayed true to my ideals, the magazine would survive.
I pull into The Sun’s parking lot, then take the creaky stairs to my office two at a time. At the top of the landing I pause, feeling a little foolish. Really now: What am I trying to prove? That I’m not too creaky? I think about friends whose gait is no longer steady; about friends who’ve died. Even the investment ads warn: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Yet here I am, still breathing. And so is this ad-free, reader-supported magazine.
In my office I glance at the shelf that holds more than 450 back issues of The Sun. (There’s room for plenty more.) I look at the religious icons on the walls: Buddha, Jesus, a Hindu guru; I’m an equal-opportunity seeker. I study the precariously tall stacks of unread manuscripts and unanswered correspondence — a reminder that my prayers for a day with more than twenty-four hours continue to go unheard. But why quibble? Most small magazines are labors of love that blaze brightly for a year or two, then expire. That The Sun has not only survived but flourished is miracle enough. I used to work by myself; now I’m joined by more than a dozen dedicated colleagues. I used to solicit writing from friends and neighbors; now submissions pour in by the hundreds each week. I used to sell The Sun on the street to passersby; now there are more than seventy thousand subscribers around the country. Without their extraordinary allegiance and quiet generosity, I’d be bounding up a staircase that went nowhere.
So much and so little has changed. When I started The Sun, I had no fax machine, no computer, no e-mail, no Internet. I typed on a manual typewriter; to “cut and paste” I used scissors and rubber cement. I never imagined that one day I’d have on my desk a device that provides instantaneous access to more information than I know what to do with, or that we’d offer readers a “digital edition.” Even a neo-Luddite like me can marvel at the mind-boggling changes technology has wrought. But we’re still mysterious creatures on a mysterious planet. Injustice is still injustice. Wars are still being fought, and most of us are still fighting battles with ourselves. The triumphs and losses and epiphanies people wrote about in the earliest issues of The Sun aren’t much different from those found in the magazine today. The human heart hasn’t changed.
Nor have the challenges faced by a truly independent nonprofit journal that operates without the advertising revenue on which most magazines depend. In a media culture dominated by conglomerates that control most of what we read, the very existence of The Sun suggests to those facing seemingly insurmountable odds that anything is possible. That’s why I ask for your support as a Friend Of The Sun. Your tax-deductible donation will put money in the pockets of deserving writers and photographers. It will allow us to continue giving complimentary subscriptions to homeless shelters and prisoners and readers who have fallen on hard times. It will help us focus on putting out the best magazine we can without worrying so much about paying the bills.
Has it really been nearly forty years? More than two thousand weeks on the job? In a corner of my office, almost hidden from view by a pile of self-help books I’ve been advised to read and studies about the future of publishing I’ll never read, is my old Underwood typewriter. This is the solid, dependable workhorse on which I used to pound out essays every month, and the kindest rejection letters I could muster, and, during the leanest of years, pleas to our creditors to be patient a while longer. Then one day I hit a key, and nothing happened. The letter n had broken off. N as in “The Sun.” N as in my wife’s name, “Norma.” N as in “Oh no.” The typewriter repairman told me my Underwood couldn’t be fixed. That was twenty-five years ago, but I’ve never hauled it to the dumpster. The Underwood reminds me, better than any scrapbook, of The Sun’s earliest days and, better than any tract on impermanence, that nothing lasts.
I’m a workhorse, too, built to last — for decades, as it turns out, but not forever. Someday something will break. No one will be able to fix it. There may be good reasons to retire before then: to say goodbye to the long hours and nonnegotiable deadlines; to stop reading so much, and obsessing so much, and insisting on a comma where a comma belongs. But I don’t want to rest on my laurels, and I don’t want The Sun to rest on its laurels, either — to become safe and formulaic, an upstanding citizen afraid to take risks. I want to keep putting out a magazine that honors the human condition by not lying about it. A magazine without the drumbeat of some “ism” or a seductive ad on every other page. A magazine that uses words to celebrate the wordless, knowing that words will always fall short.
I settle in behind my desk, ready to get back to work. No, I can’t imagine walking away from this weathered, two-story house where The Sun comes together every month. Not after having steered the magazine through six recessions. Not after having seen so many other admirable publications give up the ghost. Retire, doctor? I’d rather roll up my sleeves and put out another issue. Conspire. Inspire. Stay up half the night and throw another log on the fire. Forty years ago it was my dream to publish a magazine like The Sun. It’s still my dream. Call me unrealistic. That’s OK with me. When Time kicks the door in, this is where I’ll be.
Founder and Editor
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