Notes from Windward: #70


A Writer Reflects

art within the context of commuity


March 8, 2010


     In the winter, a certain quiet settles over Windward. Many of the outdoor projects cease to buzz and whir, and we turn our attention inward, gathering indoors to talk, write, nest, and read. For example, Lindsay, Andrew, and I have utilized these slower days to reevaluate Windward's website and develop a plan to renovate and update it.

     We're lucky in this project, because we've got a lot to start with: Walt has crafted one of the most thorough intentional community websites out there, and we plan to maintain much of the current content. The new site, which will appear gradually over time, will rearrange the content into a new system of pages, and will offer a fresh new aesthetic combining hand-drawn elements with clean-lined digital design. And we're excited about all this!

     But what I'm really here to discuss is the process that my teammates and I undertook to arrive at our new organization of the site's content, because for me there's been magic in the work. Over a period of weeks we sat both individually and as a team with enormous lists of everything Windward is doing and studying. We generated these "project lists" with the input of the wider community, and then, temporarily forgetting the current website and other Windward writings, we started from scratch to organize, link, and categorize our many topics of inquiry.

     We predicted and quickly affirmed that a fully linear organization of Windward's research would be near impossible: everything we do is interconnected such that any topic in the "Food Systems" category would likely also be a topic in three other categories. This is one of the core lessons in building sustainable living systems.

Lindsay, Sarah and Andrew outside chipping branches

     As we pushed on, looking for the most intuitive way to organize our many complex research topics, it became clear to me that this project was the culmination of our "student" days at Windward. Lindsay, Andrew, and I have all spent about a year's time here, and this website work has been almost like writing a senior thesis.

     We dismantled the complex system that is Windward and put it back together again, one block at a time. We examined our definitions and understandings of each topic from the scientific to the social, and debated the verbal minutia of project and category titles. We identified our priorities and how to best communicate them; we considered our history, our now, and our future, and troubled over how a website could illustrate evolution in the present moment.

     For me, a writer whose highest skills aren't always needed "on the job" at Windward, the process was exhilarating. And we're now beginning to put together the actual content--a daunting task, but one that I'm sure I'll love when I find my rhythm and get into the nitty gritty of the words. When I reflect on our website meetings these past few months, I can't shake the thought of how relatively mundane this work would be were I doing it for any other cause. This is certainly the kind of job I might qualify for if I lived independently in the city: working in public relations for a corporation or non-profit, or even volunteering.

     But when you're working to communicate a project that literally is your life, your food and water, your friendships and your security for the future, writing becomes a whole other thing.

     The place of writing in communal life is something I've been learning (i.e. struggling with) for much of this year. In college I spent a lot of time writing poetry for and about myself, and for my teachers who said I was a good poet. And the other type of writing I did and saw professors do, was writing about external things: places, people, problems; how-to's, how-not-to's.

      In academia and in the media, enormous time is spent writing about issues rather than resolving them. I still cannot discount the power of self-reflective writing, or the extent to which we at Windward benefit from other people's written research, ideas, and histories, but I'm realizing more and more that writing as a part of actually building an alternative might be the confluence of wordplay and radical practicality that I've been looking for all along.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70