Lies in the
I can relax about dying; I do it all the time. But a deeper discovery emerges through this experience that leads me to question whether anything happens at all --- whether the very idea of dying may be just another illusion, which, beginning as insight, becomes incorrect the moment it turned into an idea.|
--- "Celebrating the Charnel Ground"
Written by Stephen Butterfield
and published in "The Sun"
shortly before his death.
There are probably five contemporary magazines still worth reading:
- Harpers,for the despairing view of a dying culture;
- The New Yorker, for the sardonic view of a dying culture;
- The London Times Literary Supplement, for the intellectual view of a dying culture;
- Consumers Reports, for the sensible consumerist view of a dying culture; and
- The Sun for a hopeful view of the emerging new and mystical culture.
The last of these is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Most of us who love it didn't think it would last five months, much less a quarter-of-a-century. But it survived, and did so with aplomb, creating a mountain of good will and good readers in its wake.
This is an article I wrote for them about that happy anniversary.--- L. W. Milam
< You remember that pizza --- the one chock-a-block full of onions, ham, mushrooms, olives, anchovies --- filling the room with the sweet hot aroma of oregano and cooking cheese and baked dough. We reach over and pull off a hunk of pizza, hold on to it for a moment, the threads of cheese hanging down, the rich, fat smell --- and we're all ready to chow down, and we are thinking, "Wow. This is gonna be great!"
And there is, at that very same moment, inside of us, the ... what? ... the becalmed part of us, the observer, the one that, at times like this, simply says, "Eating another pizza."
Not: "Big juicy wow pizza yum!"
Rather, very quietly, "Eating another pizza."
For us Sun fans, there was always something that got to us --- something that we never forget. For one reader, it might be a poem by Sparrow; for another, a dog names Rufus. A "Readers Write" about a father who disappeared, or disappointed. Perhaps it's a series of letters from someone dying of cancer, an interview with Tuli Kupferberg, Bruce Mitchell telling us about being sick in a French Hospital, Stephen Butterfield talking about Death and Meditation ("Gazing at a red blanket may be described as somebody's mind looking at its own ability to distinguish color, but it may also be described as the color appreciating itself...") A spot of gold that falls out of the magazine, onto the desk, never gets rubbed off, stays with us over the years.
For me, it was a speech by Ram Das, where he talked about eating pizza.
I tell you, I can't have one, even to this day, without hearing Ram Das whispering in my ear, talking about the quiet observer inside of me --- one so quiet I hardly even knew he was there.
§ § §
The Sun and I must go back more than twenty years. It's probably Julie's fault. She lived upstairs in that ratty building we had there in Mission Beach. She was tall and thin and dark, a floating ethereal being who seemed to bob about on the currents of life without getting flipped over, or seasick, like the rest of us. I was going though my third --- or was it my fourth? --- nervous breakdown. (It's hard to keep count; after the first one or two, they're all pretty much the same --- that daily gift of crapola, hopelessness, nonspecific agon, and worst of all, the feeling --- no, the knowledge --- that it will never end.)
Julie and I shared mailboxes, a big RFD mailbox, with a flag, and one day I opened it up and I found Safransky, peering out at me from the dark, looking like one (or maybe all) of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. I borrowed him from Julie for awhile, took him over to my place, spent the day with him, ended up hanging out with him quite a bit that spring and summer.
It's very pernicious the way he does it, isn't it? At first you imagine that you're just reading some loopy magazine out of the wastes of North Carolina, then you notice sooner or later that you're getting sucked in, just like he wants. Your writing hand begins to twitch, and sooner or later you are mailing off a letter of complaint, or one of praise (or maybe both), or perhaps you send him a poem, or an article, out of the blue --- just like he intended in the first place .
We send him the original Letter Home --- writings from the Sargasso Sea of the Soul, the Hebrides of the Heart, the Celebes of the psyche. Here we are out here, drifting around, trying to get a handle on it --- so we try to put it into words, telling far more than is even good for us --- worrying, in public, about why we think we're here, and where we think we're going, and what the gods must have been thinking when they set us down here to this place called "Living."
We write these things and stuff them in an envelope and ship them off to North Carolina so Safransky can take them and shape them and stick them into The Sun as he sees fit. We trust him to find the best of our words in our words.
§ § §
I often think about Safransky and The Sun, both of them there on the streets of Chapel Hill, in January, 1974. Sy's backpack is stuffed with 200 copies of the first issue. It was the year of Energy Crises for the U. S., but it was also his own personal Energy Crises. He had decided to stop wasting energy, to Do Something for Christ's sakes --- stop living in that ratty car of his, stop drifting around the United States and Europe, looking for the answers.
Instead, maybe, create a few. By opening the door, to let the sun shine in.
So there's Safransky, with his magazine, the new one that he edited and wrote and laid out and printed --- a modern-day William Blake --- and now he's going to become its first distributor, on the streets of Chapel Hill. He had thoughts about selling it, 25c a shot, but then the printing was so lousy, and he always did hate selling things, so he decides at the last moment --- typical Safransky! --- to give it away.
Most people hurry on by because it's cold. (Safransky, I assure you, wouldn't be doing this if it were a warm and sunny and blissful spring day. No, it has to be cold and snowy, cloudy and blowy.) A few stop, and look him over, and look over his 16-pager, and think, "Well, why not?" He looks harmless. It looks harmless. And it's free.
And they take a copy and go on down the street with it and I tell you, the jewel is in the forehead of the toad. Because not one in ten of those people on that raw day in January, not one in a hundred, no...listen to me!...not one in a thousand would believe that this ratty giveaway foolscap that Sy pulled out of his ratty old backpack would be transmogrified into this now typeset jewel of a Sun, with its 35,000 a month run, coming out regularly as clockwork --- going out to the world, all over the world. And getting read.