Art as a Way of Life. An excerpt from an interview with Sy Safransky by Roderick MacIver as it appears in the new Heron Dance Press Title – Art as a Way of Life.
I walked away from a well-paying newspaper job into what became involuntary poverty. Had I known what I was doing, I probably wouldn’t have done it. So that’s good. That sense of mystery about what we are getting into is really necessary. With relationships, with magazines, with everything. Maybe we wouldn’t take birth if we knew what we are getting into. Maybe naïveté is necessary at the beginning of the journey. I don’t know.
Sy Safransky, from a Heron Dance interview
Sy Safransky, founder and editor of The Sun, has been a friend of mine and a friend of Heron Dance almost since we started—since the time when Heron Dance didn’t have many friends. He is a man of truly good heart. When I interviewed Sy, he talked about the early days of The Sun. He showed me a photograph of himself 25 years ago—long hair and bare feet—selling The Sun on the streets of Chapel Hill for 25 cents a copy. For the first 10 years of The Sun’s existence, Sy lived on $100 a week. I asked Sy if his $100 salary was fairly reliable.
Sy: There was a period when The Sun couldn’t even pay me the $100 a week, so I worked for a friend’s landscape company digging ditches and shoveling manure. But for the most part, I was able to get by.
Rod: Did you ever think of quitting?
Sy: I would get discouraged. I had never before had to juggle debt. Most of our creditors were patient and believed that I would eventually pay them off.… At one point I owed the printer for eight back issues, and I had to pay him at least $500 before he’d print the next issue. The day before the new issue was ready someone sent in a $500 donation. Moments like that would occur with enough regularity to remind me that in addition to the hard work that was keeping everything together, there was a quality of grace.
We can’t insist on grace. Aldus Huxley once said that all you can do is tidy up your room, make everything as orderly and peaceful as you can, then open your window. You can’t know when the breeze will blow in. But when it does blow in, you are ready. You are centered in that place, and you can experience the breeze. I have seen that work in my own life and in other people’s lives. If we do what we genuinely feel we must do, and we do it with integrity, the universe responds. It can’t be reduced to a formula. I think that is a mistake that is often made in a lot of the writing about prosperity consciousness. But there is a seed of truth in that thinking, as long as it doesn’t become overly simplified and gimmicky. I have found that it has been helpful to be as conscious as I can about what my beliefs are.
The Sun went through a real transition a few years ago from constantly being broke to being able to pay its bills in a reasonably timely manner. First I had to go through a change on an inner level. I had to examine my attachment to being broke. It was in part a political statement. I did not want to be identified with people who were successful. I distrusted it. I thought wealth was corrupting. I used to think that if The Sun became successful, it would be the equivalent of some kind of loss of integrity. Although I was committed to the survival of the magazine, and was therefore willing to do whatever it took to keep it going, success frightened me.
What I’ve discovered, to my surprise and great relief, was that The Sun’s success hasn’t compromised anything. Being able to pay the bills, and pay authors, or drive a car that isn’t always breaking down is a blessing, not a cop-out.
Learn more about The Sun Magazine.
Learn more about the book in which this interview appeared, Art as a Way of Life by Ann O’Shaughnessy.