The Sufis enjoy telling stories about an enigmatic character named Nasrudin. In one of my favorites, Nasrudin decides to start a flower garden. He prepares the soil carefully, plants the seeds. But when his flowers come up, they’re overrun by dandelions. After trying every method he can think of to get rid of them, he finally walks to the capital to speak to the royal gardener. The wise old man suggests a variety of remedies to get rid of the dandelions, but Nasrudin has tried them all. They sit together in silence for some time. Finally, the royal gardener looks at Nasrudin and says, “Well, I suggest you learn to love them.”
It’s not easy to love weeds — yet here we are. No matter how many weed-killers we buy, no matter how high our garden wall, the wall eventually crumbles, along with the marriage or the job or the good health we took for granted. Then it’s sorrow we must love, the storm and the mud.
Every month, as I gather this wild bouquet called The Sun, I’m reminded the real work isn’t done on high, in pure flashes of inspiration, but amidst the weeds and thorns and biting flies: the distributors who pay late and the computer that keeps breaking down; the valued assistant moving to another city, another dream; the long, teasingly slow afternoon that’s never long enough for just one more hour of editing, one more hour of proofreading, one more call to the author — the ending, you see, has just a few too many words, too many dandelions. Then there are the six or seven hundred manuscripts that arrive each month, of which we accept only six or seven, so that each published piece trails the ghost of a hundred rejections — a difficult reminder that we can’t say yes unless we’ve learned to say no, and who loves saying no?
Yet here we are, a tiny bouquet that celebrates life, its very existence a kind of miracle. When I started The Sun, I knew I was being impractical; small magazines are as ephemeral as flowers. Nineteen years later, as we struggle to survive in an economic climate not always hospitable to provocative writing and intellectual integrity, does The Sun still seem impractical? After all, we don’t carry ads, because it’s hard to create an air of respectful intimacy while exhorting readers to buy now. We don’t adhere to editorial formulas or shy away from printing pieces some find too risky, too angry, too sexy. This may not seem practical if the only measure of success is, well, success — but is it practical to sacrifice ideals? Is beauty practical? Is truth?
We’re practical where it counts: keeping our costs down and our spirits up, saving on postage and paper and pencils, trusting that an abundant universe favors a frugal steward. Still, keeping the magazine alive is a challenge. Without advertising, without university affiliation or corporate sponsorship, The Sun depends on its readers more than most magazines. This is why I invite you to become A Friend Of The Sun by making a tax-deductible donation, however modest.
I know that scarcely a day goes by without one more appeal from yet one more worthy nonprofit organization. How do you decide whom to help? I don’t know the answer any more than I know why you pause to consider these words; why we come together month after month, joined in this strange celebration; why the perfect photograph or story shows up on my desk, nudging me a little more awake. I don’t pretend to be thrilled by all the bills, the worrying. But there’s nothing I’d rather do than gather these bouquets: Gatto and Sparrow and Krishnamurti, a sprig of Hillman, the dark, full bloom of Hammid, readers laughing about lipstick or their cars, Ventura’s astonishing memoir of a ritual and Madsen’s uncommon prayers. One piece may be lighthearted, the next all too sad, but in the snarled and twisted vines of our humanity, there’s beauty, too.
I wasn’t much of a gardener when I started working this ground with a lot of enthusiasm and a battered watering can. Nineteen years later, I’m still learning the basics (I’m a slow learner), still devoted to keeping The Sun alive. I’ve seen too many other gardens, lovelier than this, curl inward and wither. I never want to take for granted the generosity of our readers, the passion of our writers, this tangle of flowers and weeds.
You may send your check to The Sun, 107 North Roberson Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516. Your donation is tax-deductible, and you’ll receive a receipt for your records.
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