The Sun on Me in the Morning
The Sun, of course, is the magazine. That other sun comes, too, only occasionally in the winter, and through the window I can see its light on the frozen trees, distant and cold. I huddle a little over my coffee and read until the Franklin stove in the basement heats up my space down there enough for me to sit at my computer and do my work for the day. The best mornings are those after The Sun has come.
I watch television sometimes in the evening with Judith, as much to be and to get the company as to be entertained by the stuff on the tube. There are a few shows I get something from. I canít say that I enjoy them, not the ones that mean anything, because those few make me think or feel, and itís seldom what Iíd call joy. Judith would like me to feel joy more. Maybe Iím one of those people who pick at a sore to remind myself that Iím alive, after all, even if Iím hurting.
The February issue has an interview with Michael Shellenberger, on "why liberals need to abandon complaint-based activism." I often have trouble with the interviews in this magazine because they are so often about how the country is going down the tubes and if only people did this or that we might slow down the slide to oblivion. I never was much good at getting fired up about issues. In the Seventies I did march in the streets with the families carrying signs about stopping the killing, and I tried my hand at filmmaking, thinking that I might find my voice that way. Films move meósome films, anywayóand I guess I had the idea that if I made films about things I felt strongly about, they might move others, too. Shellenberger talked about how we are doing things the wrong way, that there are more effective ways to make the world better, and for some reason he made sense to me. But it was like my efforts to feel joy in my lifeóhow do you set out on a project to feel good? How do you turn around from complaining to inspiring? It feels futile. Picking at my sores again.
Still, I wasnít tempted to turn the page and go on to the next story or whatever. I read the whole interview and an excerpt from his writings, and thought for a while.
The magazine seemed an easy read this month. Over the next few days I read it all, eating breakfast or sipping coffee, rubbing the ears of our cat with my bare toe when he cried for attention. Then down to my desk, check my email, write to my sister or my daughter or respond to something I read on one of the mailing lists Iím on. Once a week I have to produce an essay for my Friday writing group. A thousand words, something personal; maybe later it would go up on my web site for nobody to read. The Sun stimulates that kind of writing.
There arenít any ads in this magazine, if you donít count the ones for the magazine itself or for the compilations that they publish as books. I read from one article or story or poem to the next, and somehow it all hangs together. I wonder, sometimes, how much they think about which pieces to juxtapose. When you assemble a magazine from pieces sent to you more or less at random, how you put them together affects the flavor of the whole thing. What I hate about commercial magazines is what I hate about televisionóthe ads are like cold water splashed in my face, destroying whatever impact the stories have had on me. If thereís a flavor, it gets lost.
In this issue, "The High Heart," is a short story by Joseph Bathanti about a card game, only it isnít about the card game at all but about tortured souls seeking absolution in a way that practically guarantees the opposite. The stuff we all do, picking at our sores to make them hurt, as if physical pain will ease the other pain in our souls. We strike out at others, especially those who seem to be escaping the torture we feel deep inside ourselves. How dare they enjoy life!
On television, that ending moment, that fade to black, would be followed by a bunch of kids screaming for french fries or dumping their ice cream cones on the seat of the brand new SUV, as their parents smile in the rear-view mirror because they know the material can be wiped clean in a moment. That precious moment of profound feeling, that sense of being connected to something bigger than just the sore on our hand, is utterly obliterated in thirty seconds. Itís as if the broadcaster didnít want us to go too far. Donít feel your humanityóthis is just a story! It doesnít mean anything. Especially donít forget your greed. You have an obligation to your economy.
"The High Heart" ended at the bottom of a page with a street fight:
"Then suddenly it was me with his back against the frozen earth, McCaffertyís fists reminding me that I was beholden to a merciless planet, as Keith, sobbing Jesus Christ, crawled into Bonnieís arms and she rocked him like a child."
And on the next page a poem by Kimberly Pittman-Schulz, called "Morning Prayer, Late July," sang of compassion and living and dying. It was as if she had just read the same story I had, and this was her response.
"Every day, someoneóa mother or father, some finch or fox, a stand of spruceódies, but so far I havenít been among them."
No chattering kids at McDonalds, no sleek new automobile zipping around country roads with rock music accompaniment. Just, yes life is sometimes hard, but itís life, and we are in it together, and I feel what you feel.
Before I go on to the next page, where Sy Safransky shares his notebook of his ordinary dayís thoughts, I go back and read the poem again. The last few lines are about a woodchuck feeding at the compost pile:
"He watches me watching him from the window while I bite a peach, the two of us feeding the same body."
Iíll read Safransky a little later. Iíll open my email in a moment. First, I have to sit here and think and feel what it is to be alive.
(If you are curious about the magazine, here's their web
February 2, 2005