I’ve never been someone who talks much. I still remember my mom telling me about her meeting with my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Sias. “Melissa’s not shy, she’s just very quiet”. The best times of day were those I had to myself, on the bus watching out the window, drawing. I now describe this same thing a little differently. The baseline of the world operates on the energy spectrum in the visual wavelengths of light. My baseline operates in radio waves. Certainly observer, certainly introvert. Most of my memories from early childhood are tied to music. Even the ones that aren’t, I’m actually quite sure there was music playing at the time. There is something about music that provides a place for my mind to think freely. To observe through music has caused me to view much of my interactions and others interactions from a 3rd party perspective. To step out of the picture entirely. Not all good, not all bad. But I’m thankful for this, as it did allow me to ask why, and continue to ask why.
When I finished high school I had no idea what I wanted to do in college – the only thing that mattered was that I wouldn’t get bored doing it for four years. So I picked astronomy, based on a calendar I got from my parents one year. It was full of photos of space, with short explanations about the photo. One photo blurb was about dark matter. This stuff that nobody knew what it was. OK, I can totally not get bored of that for four years. Simple idea, but it didn’t end up translating. Eventually studies turned to just physics, because that seemed to be the boiled down part of astronomy that was about asking questions we didn’t have answers to. The thing with physics is that it wasn’t just asking questions about a part of something, it was asking the most basic questions. The questions that all the other questions seemed to build from. This was the part that was so interesting. In my mind, I couldn’t begin to try to understand chemistry or biology or human nature unless I understood physics first. It seemed to be asking the question of how everything is the way that it is. Which was, and still is, the most interesting and important question. Physics and philosophy is actually a pretty common double major. There are a lot of people who are asking this question and looking for it this way.
I soon grew out of physics as the end all answer. I signed up for a semester abroad in Hawaii, which turned into a transfer to University of Hawaii. I met my husband. He knew what I knew, and we recognized that in each other instantly. The world was much bigger than the life put in front of us by society. Having someone else who saw what I saw accelerated the understanding of what the world really was like, not just what I was told it was like and was able to convince myself of. The world around us was so unnatural. Humans had challenged Mother Nature, like a dust particle challenging the wind. We were not listening. I met people who hunted instead of buying their meat in saran wrap at the grocery store. I used to think that hunting was awful, terrible, something only truly mean spirited people would do. But the people I met were not hunting for the antlers. They are hunting because at some level they want to understand what it means to eat what they eat, what it means and what is required to be alive. This is now so immensely honorable and beautiful to me. Its one way of actually understanding our impact on the world. After living on a goat farm where the goats were raised mostly for meat, I saw the other side of things. When things are done at a scale where the animals can each day make eye contact with those raising them, and their death is treated with the great respect it deserves, and when animals struggle and you must struggle with them and experience the pain when they don’t make it.
Impact is what drew me back to school. With more skills I could make the world better, and at the time that meant renewable energy. I like the term passive energy better at this point. Finding energy sources that impact the world as little as possible. The term renewable has gotten in the hands of people with personal agendas, twisting them so that they can mean what they want. This lead me back to Hawaii. Thinking from a physics background, thinking about renewable energy meant everything is interconnected, so the thought of doing things for the sake of a single cause seemed to eliminate most of the variables, like the way physics problems are discussed initially in a vacuum. But we are all human, and we will quickly suffocate in a vacuum.
It soon became clear I was solving problems within an already broken place. Like replacing the tires on a car only to drive over spike strips. The most difficult part was that I actually knew the spike strips were there, but still replaced the tires.
All along, I was becoming more and more aware that there was an energy underneath that could answer my initial questions as a child of what life was truly about and what path to follow. I had suppressed that feeling in exchange for external validation. Now, I am attempting to reverse it. Which is scary because it feels like I am removing good things, too. It’s much harder than any other thing I have done, and also quite hard to explain externally, as the traditional struggles of work and school and money do not apply here, so to bring it up in conversation mostly results in silence on the other end. We never learned to talk about this. But I want to talk about it. I am so excited to try.