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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!
Back in January, I wrote about this year becoming a Year About Me, making sure that I have what I need in my life and that I follow my own dreams. These are the things many people have thought about in their 40th year, no doubt.
At mid-career, with many skills built up, a family and a home, the question lingers: have you done everything you want to do? And if the answer is no, then get on it already!
Right at the beginning of the retreat, I checked my email for the last time before unplugging for the week. There was an email from a man I’d met and worked for on a small video shoot a year ago: he had just begun producing a documentary and he wondered if I’d be interested in working on it with him. I told him I would get back to him in a week, and promptly unplugged.
At the conference, surrounded by media makers of all kinds, my next career steps swiftly crystalized for me: I have a unique gift in being able to communicate stories in a wide variety of media. I have, in various ways over the years, used that talent to create positive behavior change in others. I have been working for a very long time toward accruing these talents and skills, and at long last I am ready to take my work to the next level!
Transformation happened in those woods, and I freed myself to do what I needed to do.
At the end of the week breathing in the beauty, I’d realized I was ready to move from my high-paying corporate anchor client back to the work I really set out to do in my life. I’d learned, I’d paid some of my loans, and it was time to move on.
It has been scary, but also comforting – like finding my way home.
When I got back home, I was re-energized. Like I was 25 again, excited at the possibilities and convicted in my dreams.
I worked hard to finish my website, to visualize my vision, to jump into the next phase. I started talking about my work with other people more, no longer bashful about it. Somehow the “what I do” conversation became so much easier.
Two days later I called the man with the documentary. We talked for 4 hours.
It turns out Jon has been on a similar journey, trying to figure out how to create sustainable change in the world. By the end of our 4 hours, we were discussing how to bring large environmental organizations together to empower them to do their work more efficiently and effectively. We were discussing how to incentivize businesses to operate more sustainably through community storytelling. And we dove deeply into how to take people beyond awareness of climate change, and help them get to the next stage: how do we help people change their lifestyles? What tools and guidance can we offer to make that transition easier and more effective?
We had our first day of shooting the documentary last week. It required Jon and I to be one on one together for 23 hours. We took each of those amazing topics and discussed them at two levels deeper. And so it goes…
For a week, I have been at a remote retreat on Cortes Island, British Columbia. I was able to gather with a group of media makers who are all looking to create social change with their work. I can’t tell you how rejuvenating and refocusing those moments were.
It was incredible to be among others on parallel journeys, each helping to catapult me to the next stage in my work.
I know some of you are in a similar life stage to me: seeking a way to utilize your skills and passion together to create change – personally, locally or globally. For those of you who are, I thought I’d share with you a few of my thoughts after this experience.
These are words that poured out of me over about 10 minutes as I rode the ferry home. After those 10 minutes, I fell into a blissful nap in the sunshine.
How To Find Your Way
Don’t try so hard to find perfection. It comes as it comes, when it comes, and how it comes.
Let perfection find you, and be open to new ways perfection reveals itself.
On Finding The Answer
What you think is the answer may just be the light that leads you to the answer.
If you are true to yourself and seek out what you want most, the answer will often appear on its own. Be true to yourself and your direction.
If your passion is for the Earth, and you follow your passion, the Earth just might help you along your path.
On Being Humbled
Stand tall, even as a dwarf among giants. Both dwarfs and giants are equally important to the ecosystem – and you need each other (as an ancient pine needs the ferns below).
Moments of nurturing the soul – and the intellect – are keys to continuing to follow your passion, and inciting change.
When you breathe in your surroundings, and root yourself there, suddenly it becomes clear that small frustrations just don’t matter.
If you live with small frustrations – rather than fight against them – you may find they lead to greater things.
It’s not that everything happens for a reason necessarily, but if you let things happen – and open the space for new things to happen – you may find that there lies a perfect catalyzing thought or action.
Walking into discomfort often contributes the most to great growth and reward.
If you speak the truth – and aren’t afraid of it – you will open yourself to a whole new universe of opportunity.
It’s ok to talk at length if you have an important or useful or emotionally-driven story. People will listen. And they will appreciate it greatly that you spent the time to communicate it to them.
On Finding The Answer, Part 2
Nuggets of knowledge can come from the least expected places.
Trying too hard to find the answer is often the worst method of searching. It comes from a combination of place, openness, relationships, work, and going within yourself.
The answer lies deep within your self.
(Self) love sometimes means doing things that are very difficult in the short term for greater, long-term betterment.
(History and) cultures are meant to change.
On Frustration, Part 2
When you’re frustrated or irritated, sit with it. Let it be without fighting it.
Allow yourself room for happy surprises.
Follow your passion.
Don’t worry if you’re doing good – or enough good. Deep within, you know you are.
Our work is not in vain. If you think the world is bad now, imagine how bad it would be if none of us did anything, sacrificed anything, or dreamed anything. The world needs us to be doing what we’re doing.
I have an email box full of marketers’ pleas to feature products on Earth Day. There are loads of conferences all over the world this week. And then there’s a huge backlash of bloggers coming out against Earth Day and all the bad it now stands for (over consumption, etc).
But don’t get caught reacting so hard against commercialization that you lose sight of the reason Earth Day began. Make it your own.
Take it back. Take Back Earth Day. Don’t use this day to buy stuff, but instead DO SOMETHING.
Sure, every day is (and should be) Earth Day. But today it’s official, so DO SOMETHING BIGGER than you normally would.
There is a song that has been inspiring me lately. I’ll share it here in case it inspires you.
Here are the lyrics:
Don’t they know that there’s something going on
What they’re harming with their indecision
But who will be left standing when I’m gone?
There’ll be nothing left but a vision
It’s too easy to turn a blind eye to the light
It’s too easy to bow your head and pray
There are some times when you should try to find your voice
This is one voice that you must find today
Are you hoping for a miracle
As the ice caps melt away?
No use hoping for a miracle
There’s a price we’ll have to pay
It’s too easy to turn a blind eye to the light
It’s too easy to bow your head and pray
There are some times when you should try to find your voice
This is one voice that you must find today
If this doesn’t inspire you, find something that does inspire you and then go do something. Because it won’t get any easier.
And then, try not to let a day pass where you don’t do something. No matter how small.
Take your kids to a park, call or write a Senator, compose a blog post or a letter to the editor, support a local non-profit, volunteer, read, unplug for a day, attend a local community gathering, cut down on your electric bill, … do something.
A few months ago, my husband and I created a video for Countywide Community Forums. It’s a program that brings policy makers and citizens together to talk about local issues – a really fabulous idea, don’t you think??
We’re creating another film now – I can’t wait to tell you about it. But in the meantime, I wanted to share the video we created about how local governments are suffering during the Recession – and how we all suffer as a result.
Most of these issues are not specific to our county, or our state. Most of these issues are not even particular to our country during the Recession.
For those of you who have somehow avoided the controversy until now, the Dervaes family has trademarked the term “Urban Homesteading.” I don’t know exactly what their intentions were for doing so – it may have started innocently as a way to protect the term from more insidious corporations, it may have been an honest belief that they coined the term and made it what it is, or it may have been for some other reason entirely.
The Dervaes are very press savvy. Full disclosure – back when I was in film school, I featured them in one of my thesis films about peak oil and climate change. I don’t want to violate any of the trust they put in me by revealing their innerworkings behind the scenes. So suffice it to say that it was clear to me that they have ambition and understand how the press can help them get where they want to go.
Trying (it seems twice) to trademark urban homesteading is something that they probably knew would make many fans more loyal, turn a few away, but in general give them some additional press to spread their word. I’m sure they had no idea how much press – actually I imagine they probably view it as a misstep now, but I don’t know.
But whatever the reasons they did it, it has divided us. Again.
We have a multitude of very real, very severe planetary problems around us. Yet we are fighting about a terminology, fighting about owning a thing that isn’t really a thing at all – just utterances in air and ink. Instead of uniting against much worse things out there: Congress that never passing much in the way of planetary protection, oil drilling in Alaska, butterflies and birds that are going extinct, terribly unpredictable weather around the world this season, wars that never cease, world poverty that is devastating whole cultures….
Don’t get me wrong – I think the Dervaes did make a mistake in taking a seriously bold step to trademark a lifestyle that so many people are proud of. I will use the term urban homesteading – along with permaculture, biodynamic, four square gardening, simple life, local living, and so on – because I believe it is more important for us to unite around such terms. These define our movement, the movement we have built together over many years. We are all in this together, hoping to impact the world in a positive way, as our predecessors did in the 70s, the 40s, and all those before them.
Let’s not lose sight all the many important reasons to harness our anger before it’s too late – before the planet changes irreversibly, our lives change irreparably, our children don’t have the same planet to grow up in.
Dervaes family, you know I respect you all for what you have done. I hope you, too, can see this controversy is leading us off our important track together. I wish you the best in making a decision that is good for the planet, good for the movement, and good for us all.
And for the rest of us, if this is really making you angry, ok – put your anger there. But reserve a bit of your anger for something bigger than all of us. Today, consider putting an equal amount of anger toward helping an important planetary cause that you really believe in.
It took me 45 minutes to write this post today. I will spend 45 minutes signing petitions, calling Congress, and finding other ways to inspire positive social change.
The following post is written by one of my lovely and talented writers at Re-Vision Labs, Martina Welke. Look for more of these posts in the coming months, as we aggressively build our Environment Lab to help environmental organizations to do their work better, faster, and more effectively.
Waste Not, Want Not
This week, Director Mai Iskander’s film Garbage Dreams will premier on PBS as part of the station’s Independent Lensseries. The documentary features three adolescent young men “raised in the trash trade” in Cairo. Adham, Osama, and Nabil are part of the Zaballen community, which is one of the oldest urban recycling cultures in the world.
The Zaballeen people saw economic opportunity in trash collection over a century ago, and have built their livelihood around the business. Since there is not much money in garbage pickup, the Zaballeen make the majority of their revenue from recycling. About 80% of the trash they collect is recycled by hand and then sold as raw materials.
The film chronicles the Zaballeen struggle to maintain their recycling program after the city of Cairo hires foreign corporations to take over garbage disposal in the city. Although the corporate program recycles only a small fraction compared the to Zaballeen, the city government prefers the foreign companies because they are perceived as modern.
In an effort to combat the foreign competition, the Zaballeen community launches a grassroots campaign to organize the enterprise, modernize their services, and educate the surrounding community. The community sponsors a Recycling School that teaches reading , writing and computer skills as well as safe recycling practices. Iskander includes a few community meetings and some footage of door-to-door canvassing efforts, but I found myself wanting to see more scenes focused on Zaballeen community organizing than the one-hour time frame would allow.
One of the most interesting segments of Garbage Dreams is when two of the young boys, Adham and Nabil, are selected to travel to the United Kingdom in order to study modern waste management. The boys are appalled at how much garbage is wasted at the high-tech plant they visit. Adham tellingly remarks, “Here there’s technology but no precision.”
In a very brief segment near the film’s conclusion, Iskander included updates two years after the launch of the Zaballeen campaign. Unfortunately, the foreign corporations seem to be winning the battle. Yet there are still signs of hope, as one community member notes that people around the globe are finally starting to care about trash and understand its environmental, political and economic importance.
Garbage Dreams is the kind of documentary that left me wanting to see more, learn more, and do more. Luckily, there is a fantastic interactive website that allows viewers to do just that. The site is packed with additional information, discussion guides, and lesson plans to help people learn from the film. There’s even a game that simulates the Zaballeen business process and challenges players to match the 80% recycling rate they have achieved (no easy feat, even for a die hard recycler like myself—I only reached a 32% on my first attempt.)
Garbage Dreams premieres tomorrow, April 27th on PBS. Check local listings here.
Recently I asked you all what was the most difficult part of your path toward sustainability (there were great responses on Facebook as well as on the blog). There were a surprising number of answers that focused around people giving us a hard time for living the lifestyles we live.
All right, y’all: I’m back online, here’s my rallying call!
Right here, right now, I want to encourage you all to turn the conversation around. Show everyone around you how normal your lifestyle is relative to theirs! You are the normal one. You are living more like humans have lived for thousands of years, and how most humans in the rest of the world still live. Most people don’t use the heap of beauty products and packaged goods that we Americans consume. We are abnormal as a society.
I mean really, is it normal to…
Be ok with who you are, put only a few pure ingredients in and on your body, nurture your health and strive for a gratifying life of longevity?
OR is it normal to…
Be embarrassed about who we are and cover it up with harsh chemicals and fragrances that we buy at a store for generally a lot of money, which are not good for us and often send us to the doctor for medical care (or force us to buy more products to cover up the issues the original products caused), both of which force us to work long hours and make lots of money to pay for it, which makes us not have time to focus on what we put in our bodies, which perpetuates a vicious unhealthy and unhappy cycle?
The other day a coworker told me she’d never thought she needed eye cream to stave off wrinkles, until she saw an ad in the store that convinced her.
There are lots of ads out there, convincing us that we need things:
We need to cover our wrinkles (which are often created by the makeup we use to cover them), we want that take-out hamburger because we’re hungry now and it’s convenient (but it was the sign on the side of the road that made us want the hamburger – what if you’d seen a sign that pictured a luscious homemade meal?), we need a big diamond ring to show others that we are in love (rather than the smile on my face and a little heirloom ring that show it so much more)…
Here’s another: is it normal to…
Drive to work, sit all day working hard (so you can pay for your car and other things to give you comfort after a stressful day at work), drive home, watch television, take your pills to treat coronary issues or diabetes, and sleep?
OR is it normal to….
Get enough exercise and be healthy and fit and live long because you walk and garden?
What should be normal here? Most people in the world don’t live the way we do in America.
So I encourage you all, the next time someone gives you crap, to very politely acknowledge to yourself that you are the normal one. You are the one who has not bought into the last 50 years of advertising in America, which tells us we need to buy things to make us happy. You are the one who is living more like most people in the world, and most people over many generations.
Whether or not you say this to your friends is your choice. Just as you don’t take kindly to being told you aren’t normal, your friends won’t either. But you know your friends best – try to open their eyes in a way that doesn’t push them away. It might be a very slow process. However, keep in mind during that whole process that you are the normal one.