4 Weird & Wonderful Ways For Artists To Better Protect Our Mental Health Courtesy of Writer and Scientist Rachel Carson
“Life is a miracle beyond our comprehension, and we should reverence it even where we have to struggle against it […]”
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, Ph.D
Biologist and author Rachel Carson didn’t have an easy life but she had a luminous one.
Despite having the good fortune of being recognized as arguably the greatest nature writer of her generation – Carson sure didn’t win the luck lottery.
I just finished reading Linda Lear’s stunning biography, Rachel Carson: Witness to Nature.
And while I read I noticed four things Carson did to preserve her mental health so she could drink deeply of the beauty of life, and speak truth to power.
According to SAMHSA: “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act, and helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”
The thing I love about these four options is that they are different, creative, and in my experience powerfully effective.
To take these in the best way, see yourself as a mad, genius scientist.
Imagine each of the following four tips as experiments.
Life leaps and swirls when we give ourselves permission to experiment.
4 Weird and Wonderful Ways to Better Protect Your Mental Health Courtesy of Rachel Carson
How Artists Can Better Protect Their Mental Health; Weird Experiment #1
Remember a Wonder-Inducing Object of Your Childhood
Residents of Carson’s hometown in landlocked Pennsylvania tell a story about how Carson’s love affair with the sea began the day she discovered a fossilized fish she had dug out of a rocky outcropping on the family’s hillside property there.
“It provoked questions that Rachel wanted answers to,” wrote Lear.
“She wondered where it had come from, what animal had made it and lived within it, where it had gone, and what happened to the sea that had nurtured it long ago.” (Lear, 8,44)
Carson inspires me because she preserved the fire of wonder and curiosity ignited by that fossilized fish find of her childhood.
And she allowed that fire to keep burning in her heart her entire life.
(Check out my post-Rachel Carson: A Fairy Godmother for Artists and Writers.)
And we can do the same.
Journal on it or make art about it to explore and reveal its past hold on you.
Remembering the wonder of your smaller wild and free self from long ago and honoring what she loved and believed in then, can help you reignite your curiosity.
And it’s hard to be sad and curious at the same time.
This brings us to weird action step number two.
How Artists Can Better Protect Their Mental Health; Weird Experiment # 2
Try Lying Down and Looking Up
Carson was a well-respected biologist but what kept her sane, and stimulated her biggest ideas weren’t things to be found in the four walls of a laboratory.
“Carson walked the beach at all hours, at high tides and low, watching the comings and goings of shorebirds, observing the smaller shore creatures and collecting material,” wrote Lear.
“Sometimes she simply lay in the sandy dunes on her back, arms behind her head, watching and listening to the birds as they circled and dived overhead (Lear,94).
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth, as scientists or layman, are never alone or weary of life.”
— Rachel Carson
Being quiet in nature allows us to come home to ourselves.
Dusting off and inhabiting our soul center (and metaphorically putting up some cute new curtains there) always helps us stay positive and better protect our mental health.
How Artists Can Better Protect Their Mental Health; Weird Experiment # 3
Write a Friend a Long Letter On Paper (And Include Hand Drawings in the Margins)
When was the last time you excitedly opened up a handwritten letter from a friend?
When was the last time you wrote one?
Can you recall how you slowed down and smiled and pondered and relaxed when you wrote a real letter to someone you loved?
Many famous artists and scientists including Van Gogh, Maria Sybilla Merrian and Rachel Carson included little sketches or illustrations in their letters to friends.
These drawings were NOT finished masterpieces.
The purpose of these casual drawings was to help the letter writer think and dream WITH their friend on paper.
The letters from Dorothy Freeman, Carson’s neighbor turned beloved friend, illuminated the final dozen years of Carson’s life.
For a look into the two’s unclassifiable relationship, peek at The Carson/Freeman letters by Brain Picking’s Maria Popova.
The near-daily correspondence between Carson and her best friend:
- Stimulated Carson’s intellectual and creative imagination.
- Helped Carson develop academic arguments and gauge the emotional impact of her writing drafts.
- Supported Rachel to stay positive and keep writing despite her debilitating bouts of loss and illness.
- Allowed Carson to overcome fear, to keep believing in, writing about, and fighting for, her vision for a better world.
I believe the giving and receiving of real letters (especially ones with hand-drawn illustrations in them) is a healing ritual for both the writer and the receiver participate in.
How True Friends Help You Better Protect Your Mental Health
When all feels lost, true friends remember (and remind us of) our best selves.
They tell us to never give up.
And if you don’t have a true friend at the moment, or they are taking a nap, I will say it to you;
Don’t give up, OK? This too shall pass.
Our final way to stay positive involves Carson’s ability to thrive with the help of another kind of true friend- the kind with whiskers.
How Artists Can Better Protect Their Mental Health; Weird Experiment # 4
Remember The Solace and Magic of Cats
We know writing and making art can be lonely businesses.
Carson, like many of us artists and writers, found cats to be excellent companions in her quest.
She had several special cats over the course of her professional writing life.
I believe cats (and all animals) help us heal us emotionally and physically if we share our studios, desks, and lives with them.
Dalí had his ocelot. (To see Dalí’s ocelot and read how Dali can help artists make more money, go here.)
O’Keeffe had her Chows. (To read my piece, Why O’Keeffe Thought Happiness Was For the Birds and What You Should Shoot For Instead, go here.)
Our companion animals love us and try to teach us to stay present if we will stop spinning about and listen.
Because they wake us up to the blessing of living in just this moment, with all its wonder. Spend even ten short minutes today paying full attention to your cat.
What have you not noticed about them before?
What can they teach you today?
Hope those tips help, if you have another please add it in the comments.
I read and answer every one of them.
I’ll close with one last quote from my hero Rachel Carson.
“One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?'” –Rachel Carson
Have you ever had a cat or dog who helped you?
You might like the following Charmed Studio Posts:Free Resources
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