Wednesday, 18 March 2009

My Struggle With Saving The World

Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

I went to high school during the Cold War. There was a fear of nuclear war then - not unlike the fear of terrorism in the 90s, only it was EVERYWHERE. Because in the case of a nuclear war, no one was safe. Life on Earth could essentially be obliterated.

So that was a good motivation for me to begin my lifelong quest to learn how to save the world. I created a sister school committee in my high school, and we traveled to the (then) USSR to promote peace and understanding. The Cold War ended soon afterward - I'm sure it had something to do with my small work! ; )

Seeking Solutions In School
It took me 9 years to finish my undergraduate degree in college, because for the life of me I could not figure out the perfect way to save the world! I went from environmental studies to language studies to Middle Eastern studies to literature to dance (how I thought dance would save the world I have no idea), and then I finally settled on Cultural Anthropology. In a way, it incorporates all of these things. Here I could study and preserve dying cultures, I could figure out what is wrong with the thriving cultures, I could do a number of things.

That sustained me almost until I finished my degree. When I decided writing books was not enough. I wanted to use a more widespread medium. And so it was that I came to realize that I was good at photography and art. And so... I traveled to Manhattan for a second undergraduate degree in art. And I learned to convey ideas.

Graduating From The School of Visual Arts, NY

But the art world, I found, was insular and small, and it was much about preaching to the choir. Obviously that was not going to save the world, so I went to Los Angeles to work in the film world. Ah, there was my mass audience, there was the way to get the message to the world. Pretty soon I realized I couldn't save the world by working on talk shows about reality television, or independent films, or pretty much anything but a very few select projects that were hard to come by.

Of course I needed to learn how to make films myself! And so I went to film school, and learned how to make the most world-changing of media: documentary films. Aha! Finally, that was it.

Me (center) On the set of The West Wing

Seeking Solutions In Work
I worked on documentaries right out of college. Good ones. Lucrative and potentially world changing for sure. Do you know that documentaries are usually created over a period of 2-5 years? And that in that time, you work 12-16 hours per day, 5-7 days/week?

World changing, but completely and utterly personally depleting. And also, unfortunately, quite environmentally depleting - far too many resources are used in films. I won't tell you more about it, because it has the potential to ruin film for you all, dear readers!

Is that the way it has to be? To save the world I have to destroy part of it and myself?

In an extreme way, I reacted against this: Two years ago I left my film career and home of 10 years, and moved with my new husband to the country. We rented a home in Northern California wine country, on 1/2 acre surrounded by vineyards on every side. Our hope was to begin living a truly sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle.

Our First Zucchinis

We spent many grueling +100F days creating a food garden big enough to sustain us. We learned to make all our own food, preserved for the winter, began making our own cleaning and personal products, reduced our water and electric resource use substantially, our waste was minimal... and I'm sure I'm forgetting other things....

But it wasn't the personal sustainability that would change the world, and it wasn't what I ultimately found most rewarding...

You see, I also began writing, cataloging our journey in an online form for others to read and learn from. It became addicting, self-fulfilling ... and -gasp- world changing. Indeed, on a small scale, but it was something good and sustainable and very powerful.

For the life of me, I could not find a way to make it a career.

Matt and I moved back to my hometown in the city. And here I searched for a career: world changing, self-fulfilling, and lucrative. No small task to be sure!

I started a business with other people who are looking to accomplish these 3 things (world changing, self-fulfilling, and lucrative). It has yet to be any of the 3, as we are still in the start up phase where I'm working too hard for no money and haven't done a thing to change the world yet. Frustrating to be sure, but there is potential. (We have a website, and a blog if you'd like to check them out!)

Here I Am Now

Are Solutions To Be Found?
Well, I've been out of high school for 20 years. Have I saved the world yet? I haven't. I have positively impacted many lives through film and writing. I have also done a fair amount of volunteer work throughout my life, changing individual lives here and there.

I wonder at times if there is a big, fundamental way to change the world. Or is it through small steps? Inch by inch, row by row, person by person... is this how the world changes? Can a person really hope to change the world, or can they just focus on doing their small part and hope others do their parts as well?

I will say that in 20 years of searching, I'd hoped to have found the perfect way to change lives and substantially change the world. But life is complicated, the world is full of billions of people with different motivations. I'm now sure there is no perfect answer.

Try as I might, I can't stop searching, looking, hoping. But in the meantime, I do what I can. I live my life as sustainably as possible, I help others do the same, I participate in making my own local community stronger, and I am still seeking work that works to change the world.

Maybe it is in all these small ways that we all begin to save the world... I would love to know what you think!