I’ve logged more experience than most with simplicity and the complexity you discover inside simplicity, minimalism and asocial behavior, endurance and landscape.
Here is the truth: I think some deep wisdom inside me (a) sensed the stress, (b) was terrified for me, and (c) gave me something new and hard to focus on in order to prevent me from lapsing into a despair coma — and also to keep me from having a jelly jar of wine in my hand.
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My friend Maeve lives in a run-down mill house with a creaky, uneven porch where she sits with her roommates on humid summer evenings, rolling cigarettes and listening to cicadas. On poker night friends gather at her kitchen table, and she deals cards featuring comical drawings of naked men. When I stop by in the afternoons, she serves me homemade kombucha and tells me to relax and take myself less seriously. One afternoon at her house, when I realized how late it had gotten, I apologized and said that I hoped I hadn’t kept her from other obligations. She shrugged off my concern. “I finished everything I had to do about twenty years ago,” she told me.
Maeve is eighty-two years old, and until we became friends, I never knew how many stereotypes I believed about old women. Life has a way of disproving such assumptions. When I first moved from California to North Carolina, I braced myself for the onslaught of Southern conservatism — only to settle in the most progressive college town I’d ever known. Then I began to date a Libyan-born Muslim named Ismail — and was surprised to find that he was a big fan of Johnny Cash and Muddy Waters. Where had I gotten the idea that a grandmother couldn’t have a daring sense of humor and an enviable social life; that a small Southern town couldn’t have an openly gay mayor and a commitment to bike lanes; that a Muslim couldn’t love country and blues? Where I expected to encounter difference, instead I discovered common ground.
The Sun’s attention to the mysterious, the marginalized, and the misunderstood also challenges me to reconsider what I think I know about others and myself: An essay by Poe Ballantine leaves me yearning for the freedom of a wanderer’s life. An interview with couples therapist Esther Perel encourages me to rethink my expectations about love and marriage. The revelations in Readers Write make me feel as if I were reading strangers’ diaries — and sometimes finding my own secrets there. And the poems and photographs show me the familiar in a new light.
By focusing on how we’re different, stereotypes inevitably separate us. But the more we know about someone, the more our assumptions crumble — and the more our shared humanity is revealed. That’s one reason The Sun chooses to forgo advertising. As much as possible we want to foster a meaningful connection between reader and writer. In each monthly issue authors from diverse backgrounds share their most personal experiences and insights without the siren call of ads drowning out their quiet revelations.
Our independence from advertisers and corporate sponsorship means we are free to publish whatever we like. We can support writers who encourage us to question our unexamined beliefs and remind us that people are far more complex and interesting than the labels we affix to them. But without ad revenue to sustain the magazine, each year we must appeal directly to readers like you for support. If something you’ve read in The Sun has moved you unexpectedly or broadened your perspective, then please consider making a tax-deductible donation as a Friend of The Sun. Reader contributions help us meet rising expenses, including increases in paper and postage costs. Your support also makes it possible for us to pay writers decently, to give away the magazine to prisoners and those who have fallen on hard times, to offer scholarships to our writing retreats, and to share The Sun with teachers for use in classrooms. And having fewer financial worries enables us to work on making each issue better than the last.
Sixteen years after we met, Ismail and I now have a fourteen-year-old daughter and a nine-year-old son who remind us daily how rewarding — and demanding — family life can be. The other night, feeling worn out, I walked over to Maeve’s house, where I knew I would be welcome in any mood. As we sat in her dim living room eating pretzels and discussing the difficulties of raising children, she cocked her head and squinted at me, saying, “You look so young tonight.” Then she turned on a lamp and smiled. “Oh,” she added, “it’s because you were sitting in the shadows.” She wasn’t being unkind, merely honest, which is why I treasure her friendship. Conversations with Maeve are full of surprises. With your support, The Sun will continue to be full of surprises, too — the kind that shake us up, allow us to see ourselves and others more clearly, and help us feel a little less alone.
P.S. You can give online at thesunmagazine.org/donate, or send your check to The Sun, 107 North Roberson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516. We’ll provide a receipt for your tax records.
Last March, during a hectic week, I took a day off and hiked to the top of Occoneechee Mountain, the highest point in the county — partly for the view but mostly to be alone. This was unusual behavior for me, but it’s not every day you turn seventy.
Under a glorious sky I sat on a boulder and gave thanks for my good fortune: for my health; for the people I love; and for the readers who have kept The Sun alive for more than forty years.
Sometimes one of them asks when I’m going to call it quits. After all, the average age at which Americans retire is sixty-two. And there’s no denying that the job can be overwhelming: the stacks of submissions as high as the moon, the clock ticking toward the next deadline, no time to write or sleep or teach my cats how to read.
Still, putting out The Sun has never been just a job for me. It’s my politics, my passion, my spiritual practice. Years from now maybe retirement will beckon in a way I can’t imagine. Maybe I’ll think, Oh, to be seventy again, so young and full of energy.
In the meantime my inner twenty-eight-year-old, who defied the odds by starting The Sun with no money, is urging a seventy-year-old dude to eat right, exercise regularly, and take his vitamins in strict alphabetical order.
From the highest mountain in Orange County, North Carolina, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your support.
Editor and Publisher