Earth Day!

images and text by @MelissaOMeekssv flower 4

Hey, remember that time when you were little and chasing lightening bugs in your grandmother’s backyard at dusk? The grass was cool under your bare feet, but the air was still thick and heavy from the hot summer day. Pulses of yellow up rose up from the ground toward the purple outlines of trees against the sky. You reached up higher, higher, and grasped one of these little lights between your cupped palms. Then you slowly cracked open your pudgy fingers and peered down at the tiny creature tickling its way across your lifeline before he lifted off in a brilliant little shot of green.

Remember when you were walking the beach? The sand was rushing and swirling against your ankles leaving little bits of foam and brine on your calves. Beneath you the earth seemed to be breathing with the rhythmic in and out of the waves on the shore. At home, at your desk, you might think that the ocean is the most cliched of metaphors, the most tired of symbols, but there, at the water’s edge you felt something resembling hope and faith rising up in your chest and understood completely why so many poets and painters have tried to capture its power.

Remember the electricity in your first kiss? The satisfaction of the best meal you ever ate? The smiles on everyone’s faces on the first warm day after this unusually long winter?

All these moments — the substance of your body, the breath in your lungs, the energy streaming from your heart — were brought to you by our beautiful, bountiful earth.

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I’ve never gotten that into Earth Day, but, maybe because I dreamed about watching Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life last night, I’ll be looking around at the planet with a little more awareness today.

I want to take Junie for an afternoon walk and marvel at how hot it’s getting here already. It’s supposed to get up to 90 today! I love to watch her eyes following the sunlight filtering through the trees and hear her breath catch when the breeze picks up. How exciting it must be to experience the world for the first time.

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I’m also really thrilled about my slow change-over to homemade cleaning products. Thanks to all the tips I got from facebook friends and Ford and O’Brien’s Homemade Cleaners, I’m on my way! I’ve been amazed at how simple and cheap these cleaners are to make. My favorite is the all-purpose solution of white distilled vinegar and water (1:1) mixed with lemon essential oil — so that the vinegar smell isn’t quite so strong. It’s definitely worth trying out!

Are you going to celebrate Earth Day this weekend? I’d love to hear what you have planned.

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How Austin has made me crunchier…

no motorized vehicles

When Chris and I arrived in Austin last August it felt like we were entering the plot line of some feel-good romantic comedy. As though we had just been taken in by some ex-hippy aunt to work on her organic farm while finding our feet — it was only a matter of time before we would fall in love with the handsome single dad at the weekend produce stand and watch eternal happiness ensue.

I mean this in a figurative sense, of course. But seriously we are kind of enamored. There’s a laid-back quality to the city, like a happy dive bar or a t-shirt that is super soft from years of washing. The people, who are increasingly, overwhelmingly transplants (sorry natives) are incredibly friendly and we’ve felt enveloped in the warmth of the place all through the winter. (A remarkably harsh one in Austin terms, but after Berlin and years growing up in the midwest, we barely noticed).

In December I gave birth here and felt myself casting out roots for my little growing family, reaching down into the soil and the history of this place and hoping to watch our lives flourish. Now the place is dotted with vibrant wildflowers all along the sides of the interstates — glowing, as Conor Oberst says ‘like a wall of new tvs.” It’s difficult to be unhappy here.

olive in flowersStill, no place is perfect. That interstate is full of traffic most times of the day, despite the city’s commitment to green living. And my inquiries into Texas’s history have revealed a legacy violent enough to make your heart sink with shame. Just read Philipp Meyer’s recent well-researched novel The Son, or Fehrenbach’s history of texas Lone Star and you’ll know what I mean.

On the other hand, the civil rights summit hosted in Austin last week reminds me that the human story is capable of changing directions.

Being in this ‘wild’ west has made me more aware of the world that we are helping to create now. And acknowledging that my little baby will inherit that world has made me more open to adapting our lifestyle to make it more sustainable. I’m grateful to be in Austin, where it seems that the opportunities for doing so are particularly great.

It’s not just about the city’s support for local businesses, or its ban on plastic grocery bags, or the commitment to sustainable gardening practices encouraged at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center down the road from our house. There is a creative energy here that makes me feel like the world is still becoming. . . what?

olive explorerSo, yes, I’ve gotten a little crunchier since being here. I wash out every recyclable and am making my own eco-friendly cleaning products. I’ve cut way back on eating meat again — not a very Texas thing to do! They are small changes, but I hope they mean something.

Has your community inspired you to change your lifestyle? How do you maintain the commitment to ‘creative’ living in your own city?

Creativity as Practice: honing a craft can mean letting go of expectations

Studio by John Lambert Pearson

Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. ― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

With every chapter that I write in this dissertation, I am conducting a second area of research. I am constantly evaluating and refining my own creative process. In the past year have identified how many hours I can write reliably per day without burning out (4-6), what times of day are best for working (mornings), what outlets I need during the rest of my day in order to feel energized during working hours (exercise, eating, time connecting with friends and family). I have learned to watch myself power through my own doubts and fears about completing a chapter, have learned to work my way through an argument allowing it to transform into something unexpected, and to trust that, as I write, the insights that I can only intuit at the beginning of a project will eventually find their shape by the conclusion.

I’ve noticed that I sometimes enjoy the process of honing my craft more than I do the finished product.

In part, that’s because I rarely, if ever, meet my own expectations for a project, perfectionist that I am. But recognizing how much I enjoy the process of creating something allows me to let go of the inevitable mistakes I make along the way — critical for getting around writer’s block and getting down to the business of actually working!

Lily Percy’s post this morning for my favorite npr program On Being, reminded me of how often times great accomplishments require us to let go of expectations of greatness. She advocates striving for curiosity instead of success — following our own impulses to learn new things, play new instruments, essentially to live creative lives — without attaching ourselves too fervently to the outcomes of our work.

We too often give up projects because we fear that we lack the talent to create the masterpieces we see around us, but in doing so we not only form barriers that inhibit our innate urge for personal growth, we also detach ourselves from the joy of pursuing our various goals.

I’ve found that my hobbies are the perfect place to remind myself of the joy of sustained practice for its own sake. I wrote about how running informs my writing last year, but artistic endeavors are especially good for supporting the creative mind.

What hobbies and interests do you have an interest in pursuing for their own sake? How do they inform your work and enrich your life?