Many Alarm Clocks: A Workaholic Reflects on Deadlines, Balance and the Afterlife

The founder and editor of “The Sun,” Sy Safransky, ruminates on love and loss, faith and doubt, writing and not writing.


| June 2015



Papers

“I’d pay my respects to the man who worked right up until the end, trying to save himself, or the world, even after he’d realized he couldn’t save either.”

Photo by Fotolia/lenetsnikolai

In 1974 Sy Safransky borrowed fifty dollars to start The Sun. As the magazine has grown, he’s become a busy editor and publisher, but he still gets up before sunrise to write in his journal, occasionally publishing excerpts. Many Alarm Clocks offers a selection of those excerpts from the last fifteen years: a lyrical, highly personal, often self-deprecating series of ruminations. Safransky writes about loving his wife and about eating too much and about not meditating enough and about getting older every day no matter how many vitamins he takes. Sometimes he talks to the dead. Sometimes he argues with God. He readily admits there’s a lot he’ll never understand, but he’s determined to honor this brief, mysterious existence by being awake for it.

To find more books that pique our interest, visit the Utne Reader Bookshelf.

I promise Norma I’m going to stop working so hard — after the next deadline. At the moment I say it, I’m as earnest as any religious fanatic convinced of his own ravings. But if I died today, I’d be too busy to attend my own funeral: there’s the next issue to get out, the next meeting to attend, the next stack of manuscripts to read. Maybe then I’d jump in my car and try to get to the memorial service before it was too late. I’d pay my respects to the man who worked right up until the end, trying to save himself, or the world, even after he’d realized he couldn’t save either.

When my daughter Mara calls me a workaholic, I tell her there’s a world of difference between being addicted to work and being dedicated to a labor of love. But I have to admit that even a labor of love exacts a price. It’s family lore that, after having stayed up all night to finish an issue, I took my young daughters to an art museum. While they looked at Italian paintings from the fifteenth century, I leaned against a wall, closed my eyes, and fell asleep.

I can’t blame the deadlines, or the e-mail, or the ringing phone. They’re not the reason I forget to pause, to breathe deeply, to remember who I am. I always have a choice: to stay grounded or to let myself be seduced. Busyness wraps her arms around my neck, tells me what a great guy I am, asks if I’d mind helping her with a few things. Oh, that perfume! 

Are busyness and ferment necessarily bad? In the movie The Third Man, a character observes that thirty years of turmoil in Italy under the Borgias produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance, while five hundred years of peace in Switzerland produced the cuckoo clock.