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A Bell Ringing In The Empty Sky

The Best Of The Sun Volume I

This first volume from The Sun’s first decade is a glimpse into the magazine’s early years. “Subtle, sometimes mystical,” the Los Angeles Times says, “this anthology never disappoints, alternating whimsical essays with soulful contemplations.”


Table of ContentsX

Sy Safransky

Sy’s Spac
Lorenzo W. Milam

News From El Corazón: In The Composing Room
Pat Ellis Taylor

Sharing History, With Rufus
John Rosenthal

Sy Safransky

Autobiography #40
Carl Mitcham

Selected Stories

Quiet Life In A Loud World
Robert Horvitz

Family Stories
Ramona Alvarodiaz

Sy Safransky

Angel At The Gate
David Guy

Opened Flesh, Naked Spirit
Elizabeth Rose Campbell

Sara Elizabeth
Sy Safransky

Being A Parent
John Rosenthal, Patience Blandford, Dee Dee Hooker

Insisting On Love
John Rosenthal

First Sexual Experiences
Personal stories by our readers.

The Pornographer
David C. Childers

Richard Williams

Wine: A Lesson In Self-Discovery
Frank Graziano

Maps To Where You Live
Joel Jackson

Possessiveness And Jealousy
Brian Knave

At Work
Joe Blankenship

The Choice Of Emptiness
Jim Ralston

Three Photographs
John Rosenthal

Paul Kommel

David Koteen

Nothing Scares Me
Dusty Miller

Facing The Struggle
Peg Staley

Asking After My Own Light
Roger Sauls

On The Mind And Cancer
Stephanie Matthews-Simonton

The Dolphin Messenger
Michael Shorb

Patricia Sun
Elizabeth Rose Campbell

Alan Brilliant

Carol Hoppe

There Is No School On The Second Floor
Ron Jones

Looking Back: Tuli Kupferberg On The Not-So-Bygone Sixties
Howard Jay Rubin

Kicking The Corpse — Or Is This Love?
Sy Safransky

How To Really Change Society
Sparrow, Bruce Terrell, Gerard Saucier

Peace Nigger’s Long March
David Grant

Michael Shorb

Going Against The Dragon: An Interview With Robert Bly
Sy Safransky

Facing Fear
Dee Dee Small

Lord Shantih
Thomas Wiloch

Kali Comes Home
Elizabeth Rose Campbell

Amazing Coincidences
Patricia Bralley

Letter From Boston: Spiritual Fascism In America
Moira Crone

Lou, Turn Up Your Hearing Aid
Karl Grossman

An Interview With Swami Muktananda
Sy Safransky

Psychology Today
Judson Jerome

The Lazy Man
Thaddeus Golas

How Things Came Into Existence
Franklin Mills

Living Within The Question: An Interview With Reshad Feild
Howard Jay Rubin

Tales Of Trickster
David Citino

An Evening With Ram Dass

Zen And The Art Of Peanut Butter
W.G. McDonald

Read an ExcerptX


When I started The Sun in 1974 — peddling the first crudely, printed issues on the street for twenty-five cents each, the “office” fitting neatly into my knapsack — I had no more idea where it was going than I do now. Which is to say, I’ve been as consistently surprised as any of its readers by the magazine’s unpredictable turns, its unusual marriage of the sacred and the profane, its many changing faces — mystical and harsh and honest and funny — and its extraordinary evolution from a local oddity to a national “magazine of ideas.”

Each monthly issue is an amazement to me, shaped by invisible currents I know better than to try to name; the people who write for the magazine and the people who read it startle me with their passion and intelligence, their faith in the power of love, their acknowledgement of the great mystery and the great truth in each of us, which words can only hint at, but oh such lovely hints . . .

This is a book of the best of those hints, in essays and interviews and poems and stories and photographs and drawings, published during the first ten years of The Sun. Some of the authors or people interviewed are well-known, others are unknown. That, too, has been typical of The Sun — to mix, without reference to anyone else’s formula, such diverse voices as somehow feel right together, like a cook, without regard to recipe, reaching for a little of this, a little of that.

Bent over the simmering stew, I’m the head cook and chief bottle washer. I love it back here in the steamy kitchen, all these strange fragrances in the air, friends dropping in, sun streaming through.

As before any meal, a few words of thanks: to Lorenzo Milam of Mho & Mho Works, for his generous support and razor judgments; to Doug Cruickshank, Lorenzo’s partner in Mho & Mho, for the book’s handsome design; to John Cotterman at Lunar Graphics here in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who typeset the articles; to Carol Logie and Jan Bellard and Lisa Holm of The Sun staff who, along with me, proofread the book, though I suspect a few errors slipped by us; and certainly to all the people whose work appears here; and also to those whose work doesn’t, but whose contributions are just as deserving of praise.

Sy Safransky

Sy’s Spac

In the first Sun I came across, there was a funny, wise speech by Richard Alpert/Ram Dass, which resonated with my many memories of two decades before. There was also a fine interview with O. Carl Simonton on our bodies as metaphors for our minds. I immediately sent founder/editor Sy Safransky a check and a long letter. I told him to mail me all his back issues. I also asked him what the hell he thought he was doing.

I’ve since had a chance to read all the past issues of The Sun twice. Once, shortly after I received them, for my own edification. And again — a year or so later — when Sy and I decided to put together an anthology, the one you are now holding in your hand.

I had moved to Tijuana by the time the second reading came about. I was suffering from a broken heart; in keeping with the American artistes’ tradition of running away from our country of origin, I moved to TJ, which made me as close to an expatriate as I could wish. I rented a house in a Tijuana barrio river valley and lived there in splendid, broken-hearted squalor.

I kept the issues of The Sun in my bedroom, or, on occasion, in my outhouse (no running water in Squalorville) and as I dealt with in­somnia, or adjourned in the company of various flies and spiders homesteading in the outback Shangri-La, I would attack another issue, marking the copies, folding down the corners of the pages containing the articles I liked. I started to compile a list for Safransky, a list which represented one fan’s version of The Best of The Sun.

A house with no heat or water connects you with the earth. I had then (I have now) a certain fancy for show birds (chickens). They ­— the Belgian Bearded Bantam d’Anvers, or the Barred Cochins — ­would fairly often join me in my bedroom (or, on occasion, near the throne). Me and the chickens and the skinks and the noise of the Tijuana water-trucks. The Sun was my only intellectual compa­nion and my only love in those days. And I have never lost my love for The Sun.

It was there I met the aptly named Patricia Sun — whose picture and words quite swept me off my feet. It was there I was first intro­duced to Pat Ellis Taylor, a master, obviously, out of my generation. It was in those dusky rooms that I first met Peace Nigger — whose writing must surely match in joy and in existential passion the long journey of Juan Ramón Jiménez and his wise donkey Platero. . . . Jiménez travelling in poverty through the plains of Spain; Peace Nig­ger and pack-laden goat Iowa marching bravely, wordlessly, through the infested swamps of Mississippi.

It was there I could journey with Peg Staley as she fought the cancer that had invaded her own sweet breast — the same breast that had once fed her babes, that now was feeding something far darker. Peg, the brave, the desperate; in anger, in sweetness, in grief, in endless journeys, seeking — what? — relief, spiritual nourishment, hope, understanding, some answer. Caught, trapped, on the cruel point of the worst question one can ever ask oneself, lost in the gloom of a life-destroying disease: did I do this to myself? If I did, why? If I didn’t, why do these so-called “helpers” keep telling me I’m responsi­ble for my own suffering? It was a potent, scary, hideous, somewhat hopeful, ultimately hopeless, journey, and I think that you and I might have done much the same. . . .

It was there that I met Dr. Stephanie Matthews-Simonton, who taught cancer patients (like Peg) to try to visualize their cancer. It was there I met Ron Jones and David Spangler and David Koteen and Rufus — Rufus, certainly as wondrous a dog as anyone would want to spend the day with. It was there I met poets like Christopher Bursk and David Childers and Hal J. Daniels III and Adam Fisher and David Searls and Sparow and Name Withheld. And Safransky.

For he is the regular of regulars, isn’t he? He’s the one that is always there, typing, pasting up, taking the stuff to the printer, sell­ing the ads, cutting the articles from inchoate down to genius size, nibbling all the while on yet another cup of coffee. I can see him now sitting at his bestrewn desk, wiggling his toes, scratching the unruly Hasidic beard, muttering Hasidic wisdom to himself, worrying, always worrying, always worrying. Thinking, as many of us do, of the very early days, him and his sandals, apologetic on the streets of Chapel Hill, selling copies of The Sun — “Won’t you buy one? Would you be interested, let’s see, it’s a new magazine, about, uhn, well about energy, and work, and friends, and community.” He’s a little embarrassed, and yet — after all, it’s the first thing he’s done on his own. Except quit The Long Island Press, run away to Europe, worry. Like Blake, the perfect all-in-one writer/printer/distributor; unlike Blake, always fussing: “Am I doing the right thing?” “What would my father think?” Sy’s mind the busy bee, fretting endlessly, making honey.

In snippets — over the years — he has told us much about himself. We have had a chance to experience, with all the grief, worry, acceptance (worried acceptance, at that), his marriages, his loves, his father and mother, his doubts. “You’re a mensch, but you’re too mushy,” Dass once told him, straight on. How wise that Dass.

We got to share in his fussy paternalizing, stewing over The Sun. “Am I doing it right?” “Is it worth it?” he would wonder, sotto voce — especially during the early days. “Am I wasting my time?” he would fret, and we could hear his mother, his father, two thousand years of Judaic heritage, wrangling in his ear. “Are you blowing it, Sy? Not again Sy. . . .”

Ah Safransky, you are something, aren’t you? Keeping on keep­ing on. Getting out yet another issue. Dealing with the advertisers, the subscribers, the landlord, the typesetter, the crabby writers, the lawsuits, the occasional burst of beautiful publicity (CoEvolution Quarterly! National Public Radio!) and always another issue to get out. Always. It never quits, until you’re dead, or until it’s dead, or until you retire — which might be the same thing.

We are there at the birth of his child, taking the bloody sheets to the laundromat. We are there with him when he moves into the of­fice — after the breakdown of his second marriage. We are part of his family, nu? And the day his mother comes to visit; as always ­— sigh — such a troubled visit. Does she like The Sun? Does she understand what Sy has done for so many of us, the loving, worried, always worried, sons and daughters of the spirit-sun. Is he too much i’ th’ sun? We know she asked him, didn’t she, if he was eating pro­perly, getting enough sleep. . . .

And the day his father died. It was a heavy occasion for all of us — in no way lessening the pain and the questions and the memories: a long weekend — the trip to New York, the hospital. New York: from lovely Chapel Hill. A long journey — in every sense of the word.

And then there was the day when he and Priscilla (and you, and I, and countless others) travelled in the snow all the way to that ashram, in frigging Pennsylvania, or was it upstate New York, and the car broke down, and there was a spectacular wreck, and we were late, and the baby started crying, right in the middle of the Meeting with The Master, and someone had to take her outside, but we had to go on, no matter what — because we wanted some answers, and we had to figure out if Muktananda had the answers, the answers we were seeking, the answers all of us are seeking, always. . . .

I guess that is the word, the one that most belongs about the co­rona of The Sun: “seeking.” It should be emblazoned there. Not “Endure Burning.” No. God, no. Rather: “Endure Seeking.” To never be satisfied, ever. Never sure if these new-fangled/ancient ideas out of the East can mean something, can do any bloody thing for us. Especially to those who live (god forbid) in the winter/snow summer/humid/sweaty wastes of North Carolina. The Dark Endur­ing Sun of North Carolina!

From the ash-ridden, paper-littered office on Rosemary Street (there is a couch with straw weeping out of the bottom, isn’t there?) ­to those of us adoring fans in Washington, or California, or Maine, or Illinois, or Texas (or Colombia, Vancouver, Tijuana). We are all there, rooting for it, aren’t we? The Sun has filled a special place for us, hasn’t it? There is no other magazine I can think of that fills those two disparate needs: one for straight, good, honest, artistically deliberate writing, classical interview and reportage. And the other: for writing that addresses itself to the suspicion that many of us have — that there is a spiritual being there somewhere (perhaps without, perhaps within) who is available to us if we try, if we are honest enough, if we quiet our blabbing brain, if we give ourselves a chance at peace, and silence, and honest searching: the God of Answers, some very important Answers. If we are ready to listen. If we are willing to learn, put down our Western either/or. What is it they tell us? It's not either/or; no, it’s either/and/or. . . .

“You know what I want to put in A Bell Ringing in the Empty Sky,” I say to Sy, as we start on this project. “I want to put in the very first essay you ever wrote, the one in Issue #1.” “But why?” says Sy, no little ashamed. “Because,” I say, “it’s prototypical you, pro­totypical Safransky.” From the very first issue, the folded 8½ x 11 sheets, grainy and poorly printed, dated January 1974, typed up on one of those portable Royals, with a picture-cartoon by Mike Mathers of some big fat guy with a tourniquet on his arm, shooting a big syringe in his arm, the syringe marked “ALASKA OIL.”

And on Page 15 there’s “Sy’s Space.” That’s what he called it. A page long, a few hundred words, with printing so off-center (he couldn’t do that now, not in a thousand years, even if he tried) it comes out as SY’S SPAC, some 21st Century Spac opera by this Martian guy in the rolling hills of Chapel Hill:

“A CLOUDY (emphasis his), dreary day, sick with a cold, yet I want to mark the day, the year, to settle old accounts and begin something anew. It is what I am always up to, and I see how foolish it is, and how necessary. I can no more draw a line between yesterday and today than I can continue without one. The weight of days is too great. The spirit needs release. . . .”

“But why?” he wonders, sniffing, slightly ashamed of this raw effort from more than a decade ago. Why include it in the proud prodigal Best of The Sun? Why? Why not? Our pasts speak to us, and we have to listen no matter how distorted the words of our child, no matter if it causes a slight blush. . . .

“And so a new year,” he said, “a new longing — no, rather the oldest — to be different, to be better. I yearn for the end of attach­ment, and, with barely a pause, I am already dreaming of a more beautiful body, a more elegant mind, a self better able to receive, and give, love. I ignore the only wisdom of my years: that I need only accept myself. And I forget that time is but the one eternal moment in which we are created, and forgotten, in the timeless mind of God. . . .”

“Yearning,” “attachment,” “love,” “beauty,” “one eternal moment. . . .” “the timeless mind of God. . . .” It’s like one of those poems out of Shakespeare, those sonnets. Or it’s like the corner of a laser photograph. From the sonnet you can construct the whole set of Shakespeare’s later corpus. From the edge of the laser photo­graph, you can create (befogged, but visible!) the whole universe. From the primum mobile, we can create the next ten years. Longing. Wisdom. A cold! And he asks (don’t we all — at one time or another?) for a more elegant mind, a more beautiful body. Right: A Beautiful Body. Of Literature.

Sy gave us a spac to grow on, didn’t he? And now it fills whole pages, whole issues, whole books. And if we observe the babe very very carefully, we can delineate an entire humanity. “How foolish it is, and how necessary,” he says. “Necessary,” he says. “Foolish,” he says. Necessary. The Weight of Days. . . .

Ah, Sy.

I suppose he is right. It would be a bit self-indulgent, wouldn’t it, to reproduce the man-child words, so far out of the past? We loathe mushy self-indulgence, we readers and writers in The Sun, don’t we? It would embarrass us all, wouldn’t it, we participants in the growth of Safransky and His Bright Sun? This light from the corner of the new and richly flowering garden, reflecting — as suns and gardens must — so brilliantly on all of us; with all those gold and green silver spacs. . . .

— Lorenzo Wilson Milam

First Sexual Experiences

by Our Readers | November 1979

For three weeks straight, both nights of the weekend we struggled and tossed around, cramped under the steering wheel of his Impala, windows steamy. No luck. What is it some song says, “We just couldn’t make it fit”? Literally.

Autobiography #40

by Carl Mitcham | May 1980

Her kitchen window
looks out on a soap opera:

Intimate friends and their problems
constantly disturb her life.

She cannot see the trees
or even the ground. In Afghanistan

tanks roll through Kabul,
and there are no children under ten left
in Cambodia.

She can’t rest at night worrying
about whether Harriet is sleeping with George.

Will they make their house payments?

Going Against The Dragon

by Sy Safransky | November 1983

Safransky: In one of the poems you read last night, you talk about longing for “the cheerful noises to end.” You said, “When I’m too public, I’m a wind chime ringing to cheer up the black angel.” What do you do to get away from other people’s noises and your own?

Bly: Well, I can’t get away from them when I’m giving poetry readings, but when I’m home I spend time by myself. Every once in a while a short time completely alone. . . three or four days in a woods cabin I have.

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