What we see depends on where we look
When I first met Jay Walljasper, our departing editor-in-chief, just shy of 20 years ago, I was an at-home mother of a toddler and Jay was a handsome, unmarried, up-and-coming journalist who was interviewing to become the magazine's editor. His background and writing skills were impressive, and his interests were a good complement to those of my husband, Eric, who was the founder and editor-in-chief. Jay came to our house for dinner, and our son Sam took a major shine to him. At the time, Sam was being toilet trained (by happenstance, Sam just called from the airport in Venice, Italy, and gave me permission to use this story) and consequently spent most of his waking hours bare bottomed. He insisted on sitting in Jay's lap and then proceeded to demonstrate for Jay some of the more magical workings of his private parts. Jay's credentials were strong, but what put him ahead of the other candidates, in my book, were his graciousness, humor, and aplomb in dealing with a persistent toddler.
Since then, I have had ample opportunity to appreciate those qualities as well as his professional gifts. I have had the privilege of watching his life as a husband and father unfold; we've met challenges and grown together. After Eric left the company and I stepped in, Jay, who had become editor-at-large, took on a new role as editorial director. In the past four years, we have done a lot of soul-searching together, honed the magazine's mission, and discussed, during many walks around the lakes here in Minneapolis, what sorts of stories have the greatest potential for cultural transformation. He has been my ally and friend, giving me the peace of mind of knowing that his integrity, creativity, and craftsmanship were invested in every page of the magazine while I was getting a crash course on the business side of the company. I wish him all possible joy and success as he leaves the magazine.
You know this, Jay, but it bears public acknowledgment: We wouldn't be here without you. Eric and I both thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
The truth is that Jay can't get very far away, anyway. Not only do our families live across Lake Harriet from each other, but Julie Ristau, his wife, who was the associate publisher when Jay arrived two decades ago, and has more recently acted as interim publisher, is now spearheading the formation of the nonprofit Utne Institute and its pioneer project, Let's Talk America (see ad on page 26).
Meanwhile, we are delighted to name Karen Olson editor. Though we haven't given her the naked toddler hazing yet, she has already stepped gracefully into her new role, along with an editorial team that is bubbling with creativity. You'll be seeing an evolving vision in these pages in the months to come.
In many ways, evolving vision on all levels is what we're all about. Recently, I was in Chicago at the annual convention for the Church of Religious Science to give a speech. I talked about how essential it is for us to pay attention to what stories we choose to tell and how we tell them. I drew on the life and ideas of my friend Matt Sanford, who became a paraplegic at 13. Today, 25 years later, though he's still paralyzed, he's a yoga instructor as well as a writer who's been exploring the concept of 'healing stories.'
As Matt explains it, to make sense of our experience by creating a story is an essential human characteristic, and whatever story we tell at a given time reflects our level of consciousness. At one point we may tell a story of victim-hood or revenge, and later one of compassion and empowerment. It is the exercise, moment to moment, of free will, of doggedly looking for beauty, joy, and possibility, that offers us the greatest hope for generating stories that will contain the creativity and inspiration we need to solve otherwise insurmountable challenges. I can think of no better example than the response of Aqeela Sherrills and Azim Khamisa to the deaths of their sons, as told in our article on the power of forgiveness (page 26).
One of the things that makes us happiest here at the magazine is sharing and spreading such stories among our readers. We are like proud parents when something that appeared here is picked up and amplified. Therefore, we are particularly pleased to alert you to two new books that we at Utne played a part in launching. Kenny Ausubel's cover story 'The Future of Healing' (May/June 2001) has evolved into a book called Ecological Medicine, just out from Sierra Club Books -- and the first in a planned series of books inspired by the Bioneers movement, which Kenny co-founded with his wife, Nina Simons, in 1990. Meanwhile, an article by Sasha Cagen that we reprinted from her zine To-Do List in 2000 generated huge interest and led to Quirkyalone, her look at the lives and cultural history of 'deeply single' adults, recently published by HarperSanFrancisco.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then The Spirit of Gombe (right), artist Joan Solomon's homage to primatologist Jane Goodall, speaks volumes about how and where to look for healing stories. As Goodall writes in her book Reason for Hope: 'Each one of us matters, has a role to play, and makes a difference. Each one of us must take responsibility for our own lives, and above all show respect and love for living things around us, especially each other. Together we must reestablish our connections with the natural world and with the Spiritual Power that is around us. And then we can move triumphantly, joyously, into the final stage of human evolution -- spiritual evolution.'
Solomon's work is peopled by magical beings and fueled by the belief that 'the nature spirits are a kind of missing link, connecting the material world with the higher realm.' Her vision intersects with Goodall's in the refuge of The Spirit of Gombe, which was unveiled a few weeks ago at the falls in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, near the site where Goodall began her chimpanzee research more than 40 years ago.
And now, if I am sad, or filled
With sudden rage, I find some quiet place
With grass and leaves and earth, and sit there
Silently, and hope that they will come
And call me, with their silvery voices,
And make me clean again, those
Little angels of the trees and flowers.
May we all be renewed by the knowledge of our connectedness.
Assorted reproductions of 'The Spirit of Gombe' are available at www.janegoodall.net/news. All profits will go to the Jane Goodall Institute. To see more of Joan Solomon's work go to www.joansolomon.com