Climate Anxiety Counseling: Exit Interview

Weather: muggy and warm, with sun and clouds

Number of people: 13 stoppers, plus a few people who remembered me from last time and stopped to chat

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of climate change deniers: 0

Pages of notes: 8

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

People who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 2, 3 if you count Carla Ricci, who filmed us for the first hour!

People who did not ask permission and took a picture anyway: 1

Business cards proffered and received: 1

Tracts proffered and received: 1, in exchange for an organism card

People who want to know more about the climate action resource library: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $13.65. One person put in $10! Don’t forget that if you donate to a local ecological organization, you should let me know and I’ll post it here.

 

Some conversations: 

What do you love about Rhode Island?

I love it that Roger Williams’s spirit is alive and well. He was an independent thinker and he wanted to make sure that other people could be independent thinkers. Maybe that’s why we all disagree so much. But you know, as often as Rhode Islanders complain, you’ll notice they don’t move. Independent thinking means more creative thinking, and we need some creative solutions. All ideas should be considered.

*

I was in DC in the ’90s, working on [the] Kyoto [Protocol]. We got crushed like bugs. … I was going around the world with the undersecretary of state, talking to people in these town halls who thought ozone was the same as carbon, trying to figure out the law part of it. Those conversations — people go home and what, they change their light bulbs? So I thought I’d go with the cities, take a city like this, it’s the right scale, it’s near water. 7 billion people on earth and what, 4 billion of them are in urban areas? You can make dense places a nice place to live, but you gotta have infrastructure. You gotta make it pleasant, because cities are the best bet. You’re not gonna get money for green spaces because they’re carbon sinks, you’re gonna get money because the community wants them. 

*

I grew up in RI, and where we used to play on the beach is now water. I’m now thinking if it gets bad, I’m gonna gather my most favorite people and say, let’s go live somewhere landlocked for a while. I think our planet kind of recycles itself — once humans damage it it kinda fixes itself. When it’s safe enough to come back, we’ll come back. … I love it that in 10 minutes, I can go to the ocean or go to the woods. I love both. That’s pretty much what runs everything — the ocean and the woods.

*

More education is key — a sense of hope and that we can actually make a difference. The possibility is there to address emissions. But it’s frustrating — when we were working on the legislation and talking to Republican senators and representatives, a few of them were denying climate change existed, though they were a minority — only six reps voted against the bill. But the bill is watered down. It’s not perfect.

*

Jobs — I have a business right now, but who knows. Jobs, working. The rest is less important to me.

You mean if you have a job, you’re making enough money to live, you’re happy?

Yeah. I don’t wanna get rich — well, I can dream.

Do you share what you make with your family?

Well, it’s a family business, so if they do good, I do good. But I wanna do better. I’m a hairdresser, and eventually I wanna have a spa, that’s my main dream. Right now we gotta work, save some money. Rhode Island isn’t that good for jobs — I thought about moving, but now I’m working with my family.

*

[This was the child of someone really terrific I’ve come to know through the booth]

The grass around here looks like it never gets watered, or if it gets watered, maybe global warming is heating it up too much.

How can we take care of our stuff, like grass and trees?

Maybe take more time out of our day to care for it?

*

The reason I don’t worry about it is whatever happens to me is gonna happen to everybody, so we’re all in it together.

*

I’m collecting community. That tipping point everybody talks about, it’s gonna happen like that. Everybody thinks we’re still gonna have farms, we’re still gonna grow food, and it’s not gonna be like that. We’re gonna be looking at our neighbors for fresh water, for anything we can eat. We’re building a community root cellar — it’s very bunker-like — and we’re guerilla farming, sowing seeds in public places so instead of having lawns we will have food … Transition towns, that’s another thing. Who in your town is a seamstress, who’s got the horses if we need to move things — reskilling, learning the skills that our grandparents had. We’re going to have a town toolshed.

These sound like things people could do right now.

Yes, we’re doing them right now.

 

The day’s poem:

My own sanity which is somehow

dependent upon hers he said

with an arm around her and an attempt

to put the fear on someone else

the fear dependent upon

everyone not being already dead

we hope the dead fear nothing

we hope the dead need no one

and we may think of this with longing

a continuous state wingless

the world you want to bring out

the dead world out of the living

the searchless out of the seeking

I feel it waiting like a twin

like it too is already here

I want to feel toward my emergent world

I want to push until I feel its bones

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Exit Interview

THE DOCTOR IS BACK
 
Climate Anxiety Counseling: Exit Interview
Thursday, June 26th, 4:30-7 pm
at the Burnside Music Series and Beer Garden in Kennedy Plaza
 
Hear what other Rhode Islanders said about the changing climate! 
Add to the conversation! 
Learn more about what you can do!
 
The Climate Anxiety Counseling booth RETURNS to Burnside Park in Greater Kennedy Plaza. I’ll share some highlights from earlier conversations, invite people to join the discussion, and share some plans for what’s next for the climatically anxious!
Here’s more about the event itself, for the curious.

Thanks, Jon Mukand!

Jon Mukand donated $25.00 to the Environmental Justice League of RI!

If YOU, Rhode Island readers of the blog, want to donate to them also, send me a copy or scan of the acknowledgment and I will post it here. 

If you’re a non-RI reader of the blog, see what your own state has that’s similar and I’ll post your donation here, sure, why not?

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Donations for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island!

The EJLRI’s mission is “to build power in the communities most affected by environmental burdens by developing leaders to take action to promote safe and healthy environments for all; so that we all have a healthy place to live, work, and play regardless of race, ethnicity, or income.”

The full count of donations for the Environmental Justice League of RI was $77.56, collected in a jar over 20 days in Kennedy Plaza. I just Paypal’d them that amount.

Many of the people who donated appeared to be, themselves, strapped for cash, and based on their stories they were hurting or stymied in other ways that money might have helped. 

If you missed the booth this time and still want to donate, you can do so here. Send me the acknowledgment and I’ll post it on the blog!

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Part 1: I Want to Hear Whatever You Have to Say

 

Kennedy Plaza is the transit hub for Providence. You can catch any RIPTA bus there, and if you have to transfer, that’s probably where. People of many (apparent) races, ages, economic situations and genders walk and bike along its sidewalks: singly, in pairs, in gaggles. Individuals, couples, families, and groups of acquaintances or friends spend big swathes of time in Burnside Park when the weather’s nice. Some of them seemed like, or told me, they had nowhere else good to go.

I sat behind a booth made of plywood and cardboard for a total of 20 days: three hours a day for 16 days and two hours a day for four days (with two-day breaks). Some people, I saw multiple times: a woman at the end of her workday walking to pick up her daughter at preschool, a man picking up food at Saturday’s outdoor church service and free meal program. By the end of my month on-site, I was waving to people working the hot-dog and Del’s carts as I wheeled my booth into position, and they were waving back.

When I was designing this project, I decided I would listen to any kind of anxieties, not just climate-change-related ones. I wanted to know what was most pressing on people’s minds, the people I share the city with, partly because whatever is most pressing presses other stuff out. In fact, a few people did say, explicitly, that the damage global warming and environmental degradation might inflict is in the back of their minds, but that more immediate and personal concerns of survival are in the foreground; other people said they’ve redirected their activist energies toward areas where strategies are more clear and practiced, and where person-scale actions produce concrete, person-scale results.

Some people, as I noted in my first reflections, skipped right over the “climate” part of the sign and went straight to the “anxieties” part; other people wanted (and got) confirmation that I was interested in hearing and writing down anything they had to say. My other reason for not insisting on the direction of conversations was a little more nebulous: I wanted to listen to who the people talking to me actually were, not who I wanted them to be; I didn’t want to say, in effect, “Well, if you don’t have anything to say about climate change, you’re no use to me.” Listening to all kinds of anxieties was supposed to make our interaction more inter, more mutual, and I think it did, though you’d have to ask the other people to be sure.

People talked to me often about their long searches for safe places to stay. They talked to me, and sometimes to each other, about their addictions, their deceased family members, a girlfriend in Sweden who owns her own island. High school students shared worries about math and sex and needing financial help from their parents. Many people were worried about jobs — finding them, keeping them. Some spoke, powerfully, about their love of the ecosystems that felt like home to them. They ranged from eloquent to incoherent (most, by far, were somewhere between).

On-the-nose climate anxieties ranged, too: threats to specific people or places; human health-and-safety threats like scarce food, contaminated water and weather-related dangers like flooding and drought; ways that changes in landscape or access to resources might exacerbate existing imbalances in power; total ecosystem destruction, my personal nightmare. Many people, as I’ve mentioned, conflated “climate” with “environment” and “climate change” with “threats to ecology in general”–pollution and garbage, for example, or extinction through habitat loss. Partly because I think these things (and, indeed, many of the non-climate anxieties people shared) have the same root, I didn’t try to correct them.

As booth time went on, I found myself asking some versions of the following questions most, directing the conversation thus far:

 

Do you imagine this hard future? What do you imagine?

How do you imagine helping other people and things survive?

Who do you help now? Who helps you?

Do you talk to other people about this stuff? What do you say?

 

            You can probably see where this has been, and where it’s going.

 

 

Part 2: The Perfect Person

 

Disclaimers have become a commonish practice among opinion writers and bloggers of goodwill: I’m not the best person to do this. I haven’t done the thing I’m writing about, or had it done to me; I can’t know what it’s like. I’m not a member of this group, I’m writing about them from the outside. I am not a lawyer, but.

As several articles about this project, and commenters thereon, have pointed out, I am not a doctor. (I don’t even have a Ph.D.) I’m not a counselor. But I have a few accidental and a few acquired characteristics that made me the perfect person for this project. I’m cisgendered, female, white, and small — a quadruple nonthreat in mainstream U.S. culture. Many people might look at me and think, “I don’t trust her,” but few people would look at me and think, “I should avoid this person because she might harm me physically or sexually harass me,” and I only have a few “OKAY TO ATTACK” categories written on my forehead in letters only jerks can read.

No one sexually harassed me. No one physically threatened me. If you read over the daily blog entries, you’ll see that the heckler count hovered between 0 and 1.5, and mainly rested at 0. I felt slightly intimidated twice, once when I pushed back (about someone’s vocal homophobia) and once when I remained quiet (about someone’s vocal racism) (in my defense, this person also spent a lot of time telling me that he didn’t like to fight and then telling me about all the fights he was in). A couple of people’s attitudes towards climate change irritated me, and I allowed myself to get into a couple of wrangles before renewing my commitment to not do that; a couple of people were extremely determined conspiracy theorists, and I admit that I didn’t write down everything they said.

Generally, though, I brought with me a habit of listening, of not rejecting out of hand, because I’m a teacher. Specifically, I’m a professor between my spring classes and my summer classes, with an employer unlikely to fire me for putting on a floppy hat and talking in public about a contentious topic. (Could someone who worked for the state do this project? For General Electric? For Morgan Stanley?) My grades are in. I have time right now, and I don’t need to use every second of that time to work a second or third job in order to pay for food and shelter. I live close to the project site, and my body works well enough to trundle a handtruck down and back, with or without the sand-filled umbrella stand (which didn’t work very well), and to perch on a backless stool for three hours at a time. And I received the patient practical and emotional support of a loving partner who helped me design the booth, lent me tools, and encouraged me daily. My friends and relations far afield asked intelligent questions. My friends, colleagues and acquaintances in town showed up in Kennedy Plaza, notably with hot tea and muffins. And my beloved city was generous with me, offering everything from official permission (represented by a tiny badge to hang off the bottom of the map, later glazed with non-waterproof yellow paint), through to online and word-of-mouth publicity, to the willingness to stop and figure out what on earth this thing was, what on earth this person was doing.

Because of these things, as well as because of my love of words and their many over- and undertones, this was the perfect project for the person I am — which includes my history, my present setting, my intimates, my community, my skills, my abilities, my contexts. It made me take stock of all those things, and now it makes me ask you: what effort to preserve or to adapt, to sustain or to protect, to illuminate or even to grieve, are you the perfect person for?

Sometimes I like to watch shows about spaceships. The thing I’m about to say is not about Goldilocks Planets, or about giant spheres of dirt in which a select few might one day burrow like earthworms, or utopias or dystopias or visions of the future. Those might come later. (Ursula K. LeGuin has a nicely ambiguous story called “Newton’s Sleep” about how they might go.) On the spaceship, everyone’s there for a reason, everyone’s good at something: you’re the weapons expert or the pilot or the medic or the mechanic or, in a fabulously late ’80s/early ’90s way, the ship’s counselor. Alongside the fantasy of flying gloriously solo, there’s a fantasy of being unable to do without each other, of having something indispensable to give and of needing a number of complex systems to work in order to thrive long enough to give it.

Here we are; we’re on the spaceship. What do we need from us, in order to keep us alive and thriving? The next phase of this project will be devoted to answering that question. I’m looking for advice from ecologists, climate modelers, and urban planners on the best places for our efforts; advice from activists, lobbyists and marketing folks on strategy; help from copywriters designers on presentation.

Creating the resource library of possible actions that I’m dreaming of is going to take a while. In the meantime, I’m planning two shorter-term continuations of the project; online “office hours” of some sort, and one-day appearances in seacoast towns in RI. Check back here for updates on those plans! I’ll continue to write poems and essays in response to what I heard over my month in Kennedy Plaza; some of those will appear here and some, I hope, elsewhere. Stay with me.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Reflections on Week 4

Part 1: Exhaustion

At the end of each shift, I packed the booth components onto the handtruck and trundled westward and upward. Back on home ground, I wheeled the booth into the garage. After a dry day, I left it packed up; after a wet day, I unpacked it and wiped off the components, leaving them to finish air-drying overnight. Then I went into the house and washed my hands, which were covered in sweat, ink, and grit from the ground on which the booth rested. I turned the tap. The water came on. I squeezed liquid soap onto my hands, rubbed them together, rinsed them, turned the tap off.

I walked you through that last part not because I think you don’t know how washing your hands goes (I very much hope you do), but because you probably know so well how it goes that you don’t think about it very much. Now, I don’t know your life. You may be careful and reserved about your water use; you may not turn that knob very often. But if you live in the U.S. you are probably confident that when you do turn it, water that you can use will come out  …

… unless you live in an area with periodic or ongoing water rationing, or have a delinquent landlord who hasn’t paid the water bill, or live downstream from something like the Elk River chemical spill. Many people predict that those exceptions are likely to become more common in upcoming years, and some people, as an interlocutor pointed out on Day 19, are already drooling over ways to profit from that. But at the moment, we turn the knob and out comes the water, and the moment is hard to get away from. On Day 17, another interlocutor said she sometimes “catches herself” letting the water run while she steps away from the dishes she’s washing in order to do another task. “It’s true,” she reflected, “if you live as though there’s a water shortage, you use less water. I wish I had more of that mindset on a daily level.” She spoke of her grandparents, who carried habits formed in a time of scarcity into a time of plenty.

When I got home from a shift, I was exhausted. I had used most of my physical energy and emotional responsiveness. Also, I was usually hungry and either in urgent need of a bathroom (because I couldn’t leave the booth long enough to pee) or very thirsty (because I shortchanged myself on fluids so I wouldn’t have to pee). Because I live in a safe place with not only clean and ample water but a loving partner, food on hand, and an ample stock of mystery novels with dapper detectives and YA novels with beleaguered-but-brave heroines, I eventually was replenished and restored. A longer shift, or a project involving more physical or emotional activity and risk, would have required more replenishment and restoration, and if those weren’t available, would require me to either give up the work or damage myself (probably not before being a real shit to other people, unless I was very careful). When we think about how to do things more fully or more completely or even more quickly, we need, also, to think about how long we want to be able to do them.

 

Part 2: Chains

The counsel of inexhaustibility is very, very profitable for a few people. As we look outward and downward from them in money and status, it’s fairly profitable for some, mildly profitable for many, and actively detrimental and destructive–even if we think just in terms of money, which at least in the U.S. tends to be how we think first–for many, many more. When we use other standards besides that of money (safety, dignity, range, pleasure, possibility) the unevenness is worse. When we use a longer timescale and a wider, of course, they’re robbing themselves along with everybody and everything else, maybe calculating that their lives will run out before they’ve burned everything they need.

Many people who stopped by the booth spoke of their own complicity in this system of profit, even when they were on the low-benefits end — the damage they couldn’t help doing. Many others spoke of the small actions they try to take to do less damage, or to actively benefit ecosystems on a local level. Sometimes these two ways of seeing and naming were united in one person.

The soap I bought to wash my hands with is a link in a chain that leads up to the robbers, the blankeners of the ocean and the land. But it’s a mistake, and can be a paralyzing one, to squint and crane your neck until all the links look like they’re the same size. Similarly, if–like one of my interlocutors from Day 20–you plant a garden of things that pollinators like, that is great, but it’s great in the way that buying soap is terrible. Small, individual restorative actions are the same size as small, individual destructive actions; they’re at the most tapered end of the chain. One of this project’s next phases, if I can manage it, will focus on how to take actions — both in restoration, and against destruction — toward the bigger links in the chain.

I say, “If I can manage it,” but like everything else, it’s more of a “we” situation.  Check back towards the end of this week for some notes on how you can be part of that “we”, as well as a master list of RI-specific worries people shared with me, a full count of money donated for the Environmental Justice League of RI, and an outtro to this phase — including more about my loving partner, the food I have on hand, and other things that made me a good person to do this project.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 20 (Last Kennedy Plaza Day)

Weather: First hot (but not blistering) day, nice in the shade

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walk-bys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who took a picture without permission: 2, friends with each other

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 2

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.45

 

Observations:

At least two people, when I told them today was my last day in KP, responded with some form of, “Why? You should come back!”

As I was setting up, SSI drag guy came up to say, “I got my check!” I was so pleased. He said, “Next time I’ll bring you a chair, I make these little chairs out of clothespins. No glue, no glue, I make ’em, I stain ’em, they’re beautiful.” The making of things was a theme today — one person said if he had his portfolio of drawings there he would give them to me, another person wants to write her autobiography.

Other themes today: religion (there was an outdoor church service and food giveaway — people were singing “In the Everlasting Arms”) and conspiracy theories, also a big feature yesterday. I did start getting a little impatient with people who mentioned the Illuminati.

At least three people who are avowedly in a bad way have come back — sometimes the following day — to put money in the donation jar. 

*

Some conversations: 

I definitely think about it all the time. When I was a kid the winters were cold. Now it gets hotter and hotter every winter. I myself am a conspiracy theory kinda guy — I don’t think this is a conspiracy, I just think of things that way. Yeah, I think about global warming a lot.

*

Icecaps melting and flooding everywhere. Skin cancer because of holes in the ozone layer. And all the various forms of wildlife that are going extinct because of climate change.

Do you talk to other people about this?

I don’t think I meet people who aren’t on the same page about this. The people I know accept it as a serious issue. It’s strange about America, there are so many people that are unaware that it’s an issue. The corporations that control the media — the left-wing media is a myth, it’s all corporations — it’s quite pathetic, we make decisions on the information we’re given. I don’t know how you stop the corporate media, the root problem is getting them to stop only saying what’s on their agenda. 

*

I’m anxious about a lot of things right now. The climate isn’t at the top of my list, but it should be. I have a lot of things going on in my life right now. I just moved into an apartment for the first time in my life. I went from my parents to– [Her phone rings and she answers it, then resumes talking with me.] I’m empty nesting, my kids moved out. Just a lot of things. I had to be hospitalized — every bone in my body hurt. They discharged me with a diagnosis of depression and adjustment disorder. I’m getting my license back after 18 years.

That’s great, a little more mobility. 

Independence.

*

I don’t know if I have specific anxieties. I had four when I heard you were starting this, but I forgot them. I have a climate anxiety story: when I was in high school I had a friend whose sister was the resident goth — she had a girlfriend and they would put collars on each other and walk each other around. We weren’t close. I ran into this guy when I was working at [redacted], and … he started telling me that in the meantime, his sister had decided she didn’t like women got married to some kind of secret military somebody, and apparently his job was preparing for the climate wars. In 10 years they thought things would change enough that there would be a civil war for resources. He had theories about geographical divisions. That was more than 10 years ago, and I don’t really wonder if any of it was true. But I wonder how many people are thinking about crazy stuff like that.

Do you?

Sometimes. 

*

[This person talked very fast, and I didn’t get everything they said.]

If I move somewhere, like in the mountains, I think about what if those volcanoes blow up and lava comes down. Now I’m in the Ocean State, we’re probably gonna die by drowning. What’s the possible way we’re gonna be taken out? My last apartment — I always accumulate. My last landlord stole everything in my apartment, right down to the cat. I had enough food to feed the whole block, at least for a couple weeks. I’m sorry but I’d rather die up here, up top. I don’t want to die underground. When the world ends, there isn’t anything you’re gonna do. I don’t dwell on it like that, but I do think about it. What are you gonna do, walk around with masks on? There’s gotta be airflow from somewhere! But I mean, what are you really gonna do? The most important thing is air. You gonna make filters? You can’t even drink the water. The water supplies, the machines, ain’t nobody gonna filter the water. People are starting to be like, “We’re gonna kill him and drink his blood, we’re thirsty.” If I get a toothache, who’s gonna pull my tooth? If I get these plastic boobs, one pop, who’s gonna be my doctor? And medical — there’s certain people that depend on insulin, what are they gonna do? They’re just gonna die, there’s no two ways about it … There’s gonna be the eaters and the — eaters and the entrees.  “Close your eyes and we’ll pretend that’s not [her] we eatin’.” I’ll be a good entree. One leg alone will feed five families. That lady over there, she’ll be a good meal.

*

[I didn’t have time to write a poem on site today, so here’s one from another day this week.]

Today’s poem: 

I said to James I wish

I could transform into

a sunburst of energy

pictured it yellow

and orange and beyond praise

a chemical swagger

something my own size I

could undergo

a tremendous conversion

at first to convince but then

I thought to be fed upon

to power everyone

someone whose head is down

could already be mourning

we don’t know

the names of the dead

that they use for themselves

they could be glowing

on a tiny charged screen

leaving their green traces

charred into what if you look

at them for a long time light

your neck a slope

your face a burial

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 19

Weather: Warm and pleasant, cloudy with blue sky patches; looked and felt like it might rain, but didn’t

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 1 walk-by

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who asked for, and received, permission to take a picture: 1

Fistbumps offered and received: 1

People who wanted a reenactment of the fistbump for a picture: 1

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 3, roughly

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $8.25

 

Observations:

The end-in-sight effect is very strong. I feel more impatient and tired than at the beginning or middle.

Themes of the day: Pawtucket, climate change profiteers, people living in island nations vulnerable to sea level rise.

 

Some conversations: 

This tree’s immaculate, it’s immaculate, it’s so sexy. I’m a tree hugger from way back. 

*

I have two things. There’s not enough meal sites for the hungry in Pawtucket. There’s only one, and it’s open six days a week but it’s only open for a very short time, and people get utrned away. And the other thing is ticketing and arresting people who ask for money on the street. I’m a recovering addict, and I’m attempting advocacy for people who are addicts, recovering or not. I want to be a voice for those who are often reluctant to use their voice, reluctant to advocate for themselves.

*

[These two met at the booth and discovered that someone close to each of them died recently.]

Her: I don’t know who I am anymore. When my mother died, I went into shock. I see people I knew before she died, I’m like, I don’t know you. It’s a process.

Him: It’s new to me.

[Later, she spoke more to me about her mom’s death.]

Five and a half years I took care of her, all by myself. My mother was healthy, so when I see these things about “don’t eat this and you won’t get cancer,” that’s bullshit. I don’t know anybody that ate better than her. You see somebody weighs over 200 pounds go down to 100, your world just crashes.

Do you have anybody now to help you or anybody you can go to?

I have five kids, but when my mother died, they all went crazy, ’cause she helped to raise them. The whole family was destroyed over this. With everything you see in movies and shows and stuff, death is supposed to bring a family together, but it tore my family apart.

*

Just overall society. Like the way people go about treating each other — the lack of common courtesy and the acknowledgement of each other’s views and feelings.

*

[This group, of 2 partners and 2 friends, came up together.]

Partner 1: it seems like every few years there’s some very popular happy song, or something that insists we not worry. The culture doesn’t provide us with an opportunity or a venue or a languae for what it means to be afraid. Outside of church, which provides an opiate, or psychoanalysis–and then we have these people who are licensed to respond to anxiety with firearms. It has to do with language and availability. What’s mainly available is this consolatory or redemptive discourse, or silence. In the midst of the AIDS crisis this was very much on our minds, and even now, with soldiers who are killed, we don’t get to see their bodies. 

Partner 2: I guess I have anxiety about the fantasy of being able to reach people in power. They’ve been reached, but they don’t have incentive, or motivation, to change what they’re doing. 

Friend 1: People think global warming means warming generally, not just greater severity. But what I noticed this year is that a lot of things came into flower, popped up, then blackened and died. I used to have nightmares about that, that spring had come but everything had blackened and died. 

Do you imagine the future?

Partner 2: The future is here. I don’t have to imagine it. There are extreme environmental events right now that are happening to people I know. The flood in Boulder — cataclysmic. Nothing like that had happened during my lifetime. I think in terms of water movement, flood water, estuarial water, and what I imagine is a worsening and a picking up of tempo. It happens gradually — though less gradually — and people adapt to it. It’s not noticeable enough.

How do you imagine helping other people, sustaining other people?

Partner 2: That’s both a really specific and a really abstract question.

Partner 1: Well, on a really concrete level we would shelter people if we had to. [Hugs Friend 2.] We have a lot of room.

Partner 2: It assumes we’ll be the ones who have the shelter.

Friend 2: Well, it’s fair to assume we’ll be more likely to have it than some other people.

Partner 1: That’s true. People who are on the coast, who are on the floodplain —

Friend 2: I was thinking more of people in island nations. And I’m thinking about California. … My building would probably be fucked, but I’m on the 3rd floor. I’ll have to go in and out through the window.

Partner 2: It shouldn’t be about individuals sharing what they have, it should be about changing structures so that nobody has to rely on somebody else’s goodwill.

*

I have to talk about it? Auuugh! I just wanna shred things! I think the most impending one seems to be that there are a lot of people and places that could quickly be gone and nobody seems to give a shit about that. Like is this just another form of watching people die because they’re different from you. What island cultures will be gone? and people are just like, “Yup, that’s the deal.” And the other thing is seeing people talking enthusiastically about the profits to be made from water. Like, “How can we monetize this? Here’s the opportunities in this.”

What do you think people can do to sustain each other in that tough time?

Well, I feel like when people are confronted with people who are tangible, they come through. It’s when people are more distant, more dehumanized … like how things went down in Sandy, it wasn’t perfect, a lot went wrong, but people looked out for each other. 

*

One of the first things that comes to mind is how many issues there are. I feel so small in the whole thing that even if I work on something, how far does it go? … My mind keeps going back to the bees and their role being taken out of the equation. Nature is resilient, but if man keeps taking things away — does my little flower garden help the bees at all? Do these little steps make a difference? Because I’m one person. Does me paying attention to these little things help? I feel like it has to, like it’s slowing the inevitable maybe? I feel like I help people in the work I do on a daily basis, but what about spending more time on these larger things? All the things we do are so reactionary. You need to handle the garbage at the level of design, you need to answer all these questions at the beginning. I feel like I pay attention to what’s going on, but I don’t know where to begin. There are so many parts of the system that need attention — where would it be smartest to start? … Are you gonna gather folks for this conversation? Staying motivated to do things is hard, but I need to get it out beyond my own borders. 

*

Today’s poem:

 

What counts

what counts us down

what yarn we spin

what tongue we tie

feeling for the end

in our dreams and waking

waiting for the shift

to swell us out

from under and

to take us down

at once a real day

and a blank day

carroted and stuck

and studded with stars

and taste buds and papillae

and feelings and feelers