Sarah Ruth van Gelder is the executive editor of YES! a Journal of Positive Futures and a resident of Winslow Cohousing on Bainbridge Island, Wash.
Sunday, 27 Jun 1999
Tonight was a forum in our cohousing group, and it was my turn to facilitate. We are going through a difficult transition, which has created an unusual divide in the community of thirty families. We spent 90 minutes listening to each person describe their feelings, perspectives, hopes, and requests for the rest of the community. We haven’t healed all the hurt feelings yet, but when we share from our hearts, I am always amazed what extraordinary people I have for neighbors. I know that we are not a terribly unusual group of people, but when we share deeply I always learn so much about the subtlety and complexity of each person’s life and relationships and vulnerabilities. Listening to my neighbors helps me to understand that this enormous gift of heart, intelligence, and spirit that we are all born with is everywhere among our population of 6 billion people — and that with that capacity, it is well within our grasp to deal with the quandaries we find ourselves in as we approach the next century. We just need to tap that enormous reservoir of our humanity.
Lisa from Earth Day asked me to write a diary to share with those of you who log on to the Earth Day website. It feels a bit odd to be writing to all of you, since I’m a notoriously bad correspondent and since I don’t know who you are.
My name is Sarah Ruth van Gelder. I am co-founder and editor of YES! a Journal of Positive Futures, published quarterly from Bainbridge Island, Wash. Bainbridge is an island located in the Puget Sound about a half hour by ferry from Seattle. I live about a mile away from the YES! office in the cohousing community I was just talking about, Winslow Cohousing (which by the way has an opening). I am one of the people who helped to form the community some 10 years ago. We live in separate apartments and townhouse-style homes, but there is a large common house where we share five meals a week. Besides the kitchen and dining/living room, the common house also has a recreation room for our two dozen kids, a guest room, laundry facilities, and meeting space. We keep all the cars at the outskirts of the community and since the homes are clustered closely together, we also have space on our five acres for woods, a play field, an organic garden, an orchard, and a wood-working shop and pottery studio.
Monday, 28 Jun 1999
This is the beginning of summer, but there’s a steady light rain outside. Except that it got light before 5 a.m. and won’t get completely dark until 10:30 p.m., and that flowers are in full bloom, it could be the middle of winter. I had to wear rain pants when I biked to work today, but the cool rain felt good on my face as I rode.
I’ve been writing a preview of our upcoming issue on global climate change, which we are tentatively calling Fire and Ice. It’s not hard to see how some part of the issue will come together — the part that deals with the possible devastation of agriculture, the spreading of disease, the destruction of critical habitat and wildlife, and wild card possibilities that could arise as a result of major changes in the ice caps, ocean currents, rain forest coverage, sea levels, and so on.
The part that is more difficult is at the very foundation of our purpose as an organization. After reading some coverage of climate change I find myself in despair and feeling incapacitated. We launched YES! in order to encourage, support, and empower people to get involved in creating a joyful and life-sustaining society for themselves and all life, present and future. While we won’t pull any punches on just how devastating climate change could be, we want people to read the magazine and feel hopeful and powerful about making a difference.
We humans do have the ingenuity, gumption, and caring to take responsibility for our impacts on the planet. The challenge has probably never been greater. Previous peoples have in some cases caused localized environmental devastation and in some cases learned to live in balance with their surroundings. No previous civilization has had the opportunity to destroy living systems planetwide. So we have the challenge to take our capacity to live sustainably to a global scale. We have to act with imperfect knowledge, and across borders and interest groups. We also have to work during a time of impoverished politics, when leaders in the U.S. and many other countries are far too well attuned to the needs of “money” and far too removed from the needs of people and the planet. Nonetheless, we have to act and are capable of acting.
With the help of Earth Day 2000 and others working on climate change and clean energy, we will gather stories of the extraordinary work being done in cities, businesses, communities, and households to reduce climate impacts. We’ll also have extensive resources and ideas for actions that can be taken at all levels. We know that reaching the Kyoto accord levels is very doable — it’s a first step, but a terribly important one. And we don’t have much time.
Tuesday, 29 Jun 1999
There are just a few days to wrap up as much as I can for the upcoming issue before I head off for a two-week “sabbatical.” I’m assembling responses to the dialogue we did in the last issue between Paul Hawken and David Korten. The question was on the future of markets, corporations, and sustainability. We got a number of thoughtful responses from people with somewhat different perspectives, all of whom agree on the critical nature of the business/sustainability nexus. I’m also wrapping up pieces on spirituality and leadership, how to make investments that are in sync with our values, and what makes a person decide to go outside the status quo to take a stand for the common good.
Today we visited a building that might house Positive Futures Network, the nonprofit organization that publishes YES! We are outgrowing the house we’ve occupied since we began publishing YES! and are looking for another house or affordable office space. We find ourselves deep in the dilemmas we write about. Can we stay close to town so that most of us could walk or bike? Or do we move to a place with a bit more of a yard that we could grow into? Does this building feel sterile and institutional? Or will it provide a work environment that will be conducive to creativity and joyous interaction for staff, interns, and volunteers?
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999
The day began at 6 a.m. and ended at 1:30 a.m. It will be great to be away at a writers’ retreat on “sabbatical,” but I always pay for these absences in advance. My two children, ages 9 and 13, are going to be at camp for one of the two weeks I’ll be gone, so my husband and I were getting them ready to go off as I was doing my own packing. I did manage to get through my list of must-do’s before leaving, so I depart feeling confident that everything is as it should be.
Thursday, 13 May 1999
I flew out of Seattle this morning for two weeks in the Bay area. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to spend two weeks at a writers’ retreat center north of San Francisco. It has been difficult to comprehend this gift I’ve been given. For two weeks, I’ll have nothing I need to do except write. I’ve been editing YES!, and before that In Context, for seven years now, so I’m thinking of this as a mini-sabbatical.
I plan to work to put together the outline of a book I’d like to work on over the next year. I’ll be exploring the possibilities for a new world view, new set of values, new ways of life, new relationships
, and new institutions to emerge as the modern/industrial era reaches the limits of its effectiveness and possibilities.
One of the reasons the modern industrial era is hitting a wall is because of its success. We’ve been able to harness the world’s resources to provide us with unheard-of levels of prosperity. We’ve spread ourselves throughout the globe, developed powerful technologies, and spewed the resulting wastes into air, water, and soil. Now the question is, will we develop the capacity to not only be clever but wise? It seems to me there are indications that we are in fact developing that capacity and that people are experimenting at all levels and around the world with a way of living in harmony with the planet.
Some friends south of San Francisco are launching a monthly series of Thursday evening dinners with speakers, following on a successful series of Friday lunches that Sergio Lub of Walnut Creek has been hosting. Tonight I speak at the first of these about the topics I’ll be writing on at the retreat. It promises to be a time to get some good feedback on some of these approaches. Tomorrow I will speak at a Friday lunch.
Friday, 2 Jul 1999
I’ve just arrived at the writers’ retreat center where I’ll be spending the next couple of weeks — mostly in solitude. I’m in what is called The Tower, a single room on the second floor of the house with a bed, a desk for writing, a chair looking out over the valley. It is a beautiful room full of peace — the perfect setting for getting some real work done. Two other women are staying here during the same time, but I plan to be alone most of the time. Solitude — time to think, to walk, to let my mind clear of the daily realities of phone calls, emails, meetings, and deadlines — is something I’ve been craving for a long time. Now I have it and I am like a kid in a candy store. I can’t decide whether to sit out on the balcony with a pen and paper or take a long walk. I guess I’ll do both.
My talk at the Friday lunch went well. The room was packed with people who are all doing wonderful work in business, cohousing, sustainability, consulting, community building, and so on. As always, the opportunity for people to connect with each other was as valuable as any information or ideas I might have provided. I do think that there is far more potential energy for strengthening the environment, for community, for a more compassionate world than is evident in most media. People are looking for next steps, hope, things that work. They are out there. The status quo is far from monolithic or secure. In fact, in a time with as much fluidity as now, things could change very fast. Each of us can contribute to furthering that change — the opportunities range from being genuinely respectful of each person we encounter to providing leadership in any organization or community we are part of. If you are reading this, you are a needed part of the solution.
The sun has set leaving a bit of light at the horizon. The moon is just rising. I pray that I can keep this peace with me and make it part of everything I do, and that the coming two weeks will be a time for deepening and strengthening my contribution. Good night.