Dear Friend and Reader:
THE SUN magazine and John Rosenthal, a frequent writer for THE SUN, have been sued jointly for $10,000.
The occasion for this suit was the publication in October 1982 of John’s article, “Saying Goodbye to Warren,” a eulogy for a friend of John’s who had been killed in a car accident. The piece was a heartfelt tribute to a troubled young man and an expression of love and respect — love for Warren’s rare exuberance and respect for his occasional difficulties in life.
A few months later we were jointly sued by Warren’s parents for $10,000. They alleged in their suit that the article had been written and published in order to cause them mental distress. As it turned out they had received a copy of the article because a friend of Warren’s had sent it to them, imagining that they would be as touched by it as she was.
Because the case is still in the courts, we’re not at liberty to discuss any of its details. Nor can we attempt to interpret the motivation of those who brought the suit against us. We can say that so far it has been tremendously expensive and that the expense has been emotional as well as financial. Naturally we feel greatly harassed by the suit since it has a chilling effect on our right to publish and, by implication, the right of any small magazine to publish.
We offered to write and publish a statement which acknowledged that feelings had been hurt by the article and how deeply we regretted it. But this was rejected in favor of a money settlement only.
In America anybody can accuse anybody of anything, no matter how frivolous the charge, no matter how bitter the intention, and the accused must supply some kind of legal defense against the accusation. Assuming that the intent of the suit is not legal harassment, this is all to the good — it is our democratic legal system. But this also means that the affluent possess the power to damage or ruin financially anyone who cannot afford a legal defense, that is, anyone who can’t afford a lawyer but who also doesn’t qualify for legal aid. Later on, it is true, you can bring them to court for malicious prosecution, but you must hire a lawyer to do that too.
A judge has thrown out their suit against us. What else could he do? If they were to receive damages for such a suit, the court would in effect be saying that our free press had come to an end. It is our understanding, however, that the relatives intend to appeal this ruling against them.
Our appeal is for financial help right now. Our legal expenses — simply to get the suit thrown out of court — have been nearly $2,000, which we’re paying off as best we can. We regret having to ask for your help but we don’t know what else to do. Yet our regret is tempered by the knowledge that we are fighting a court battle which is not of purely personal concern. (The North Carolina Civil Liberties Union agrees with us and has offered to defend us if the plaintiffs appeal the original decision.)
The well-being of THE SUN is at stake, but so is its right not to be intimidated by anyone who doesn’t approve of its contents — and by extension so, too, the right to exist of a particular kind of publication, that is, the small magazine which can never quite afford to pay its authors, much less afford to have a lawyer on its staff.
Whatever you can send us will be appreciated. Please make all checks payable to THE SUN MAGAZINE LEGAL DEFENSE FUND.
At the risk of dragging out this correspondence past its being productive, there’s just one point that I feel compelled to make in response to Steven Hendlin’s response to my response.
What Hendlin refers to as “real” about the ego structure and so forth, is only real to psychology; that’s all I was trying to say in the first place. There have been countless saints — spiritually pure people — who would have been considered awful messes in terms of “pre-egoic-egoic-transegoic” standards. Ramakrishna finally gained his emergence into the Divine Mother as he held a knife to his throat threatening to kill himself if She didn’t appear to him. Gautama sat under the Bodhi tree resolving never to move again unless he gained enlightenment. Neem Karoli Baba spent twelve years walking along the Ganga River refusing to talk or to raise his arms; he only ate when people actually came and put food directly into his mouth.
Were these people happy, well-balanced folks with healthy ego structures? All I’m trying to get at is that the Western psychology-based model of ideal human fulfillment is only one model; it may be wonderful and it may be what Hendlin or I most would like, but it’s still just one model, and it is absurd to somebody whom by nature relates to a different model. The most dangerous ego-act we can commit is to think that our own model isn’t absurd under any circumstances. That idea is the beginning of all the bloodshed.
Did so enjoy Issue 97. We are committing ourselves (or eventually having ourselves committed, whichever comes first) to a stretch of 20 acres here in the Texas Hill Country. The foundation for the first building has been poured and I finally set myself to the task of breaking the ground for a first garden in the spring. Wendell Berry’s article seemed significant — much to think about and much was brought to the surface within which I had not even paused to acknowledge. Our task ahead is phenomenal if for no other reason than because of our love for the land and the animals and the life it both promises and threatens. Great article. Also enjoyed tremendously “The Green Woman” for its gentleness and wisdom and a deep glimpse into the feminine psyche. More, more. . . .
Willa Koretz’s letter, below, refers to this paragraph in my Editor’s Note, Issue 97: “The other night, I sat on the porch with my wife and a friend; he spoke passionately of his need for companionship, for family. If only he’d meet the right woman, he said, he’d be happy. Well, said my wife, being happily married has shown her how much of her own unhappiness comes from inside her.”
Where are they? These men who speak “passionately of the need for companionship, for family”? The rare birds who say, “If only I’d meet the right woman.” I have not seen any fly by. And I’ve been watching.
Why are they always on someone else’s porch? Why are they never at Pyewacket, at International Folk Dancing, in The Little Professor Bookshop when I am? Have I been on the wrong porches all my life? Should I place an ad in THE SUN: “Wanted to Rent: appealing and available porches for chance encounters with the right man. Porch must be in the right place at the right time.”
I go to dances, concerts, gallery openings, and meet men who: want their space, have a fear of commitment, are just tenderly post-divorce, or, leaving for Albuquerque. All those years dancing backwards, only to find they are not dancing at all; they’re on someone’s porch.
Believe me, I could enliven a porch. I can cook; I can sew; I’m Phi Beta Kappa material, but too smart to be caught by a university; I’m brilliant in my field; I can dance in six different languages; I can even repair a porch when the boards go. . . .
Which brings me to: the death of the new age. I too am ready to let the new age pass gracefully into its old age. I won’t hold onto its fraying sleeve and plead for one more esoteric, blissful, unreal year. . . . So, Sy, I ask you, when your friend there on your porch talks “passionately” of his need for a woman, don’t respond by plumbing the depths for the real meaning of happiness. Tell him you know this wonderful girl who. . . .
The questions these days are of the heart, not of the mind. And the answers need to come from the closet Pisces in all of us. Be the first, as you so often are, to answer with the balm of the pragmatic. It never hurt inside anyone’s head; that’s only where it registers.
In the meantime, since reading your Editor’s Note, I have looked at the world in a whole new way. Everywhere, I see porches. As I drive by people’s houses I slow down; I squint to see who might be on those porches; I strain to hear what they might be talking about. Someday, I might have a porch of my own.
This is in reference to Bo Lozoff’s article, “What in the Name of God?” (Issue 99). I don’t intend to defend any of the people criticized in his article. In fact, I heartily agree with his warnings of the dangers posed by “attachment to the ethic of not-judging.” But I must take issue with how he followed his shoot-from-the-hip remarks about famous “gurus” with paeans of praise for Neem Karoli Baba, as “a real-live Guru, a living Christ.” To me, inserting that sort of personal belief here falls into the same sort of smugness for which Lozoff criticized the TM people earlier in the article. Printing the parables and sayings from Miracle of Love immediately following served to underline the feeling that perhaps both Lozoff and THE SUN were saying, “Now that we have your attention let us show you our guru. He’s better than these other jerks.” To me that’s “tacky” and not in the spirit of one who “yelled at people who told others of his miracles.”
It is easy to praise gurus and saints when they have left their bodies. It might seem easy to follow them. After all, what can they do to embarrass or rob you or prove you a fool for following them? Yet, I would say that a living Master is valuable beyond reckoning, and worthy of being sought whatever the risks. For most of us, only a living Master can offer the grace of his company, the guidance of practical personal example, and, out of his own mouth into our own ears, the words we need to hear. Certainly there is need for discrimination and the risk of encountering imposters is great. But counterbalancing the risk is the seeker’s sincere desire to know God, a desire kept pure by faith and trust in God’s own ineffable desire to reveal Him/Her Self to any true seeker. The bond created by that faith is the only thing that can carry any seeker, even the fortunate one who sits at the feet of a true master, to his or her actual goal.
For me THE SUN is a mixed blessing. If I were a seamstress, I would value THE SUN among the haystacks of this world: an awful lot of hay, but more than its share of needles (on which my trade depends). THE SUN seeks a truth of mind and spirit. Occasionally, it finds it. Still, there are a couple of things about THE SUN that turn me off.
1) THE SUN takes us all, willing or not, into its family and invites our support. Some may not be ready. Some may expect THE SUN to be like the other magazines beside which it is shelved: an informative, entertaining product — a product for sale. I suggest that THE SUN, as a non-profit organization, offer memberships to potential family and simple subscriptions to those less enthused. The members could then enjoy Sy’s family solicitations. Regular subscribers could enjoy the magazine.
2) THE SUN is preoccupied with pain. The current issue (96) prints a letter from a reader who “dunked in hot pain” is “ready to wallow and ache” with the rest of us. Count me out on that one! The issue also features readers “dealing with pain” and Sy tells us how he welcomes the pain he once held at bay. Don’t get me wrong, I respect Sy’s sincerity and great effort. But our pains and trials, while important, are only a part of the experience of a full life. When this is expressed, as in interviews with Bly, Ginsberg, and Ram Dass, I see THE SUN’s value for me.
Usually, THE SUN cloys, but occasionally I find it irresistible. Every few months, I can’t help myself. I buy a copy.