I Am Climate Anxiety Counseling And So Can You

… possibly. If you want to. But what you might really want to do is find your own version. 

I wrote at the end of the Kennedy Plaza stint about how Climate Anxiety Counseling, in more or less this form, makes fairly good use of the gifts, shortcomings and accidents I had when I went into it. And then recently, someone who spoke to me at Foo Fest was talking with me here about wanting to do something similar.

Over the next few weeks I plan to write more here about public/participatory — even “art” seems like not exactly the right word, so I’ll write about that too. We’ll consider how you might match up your own gifts (and shortcomings and accidents) with what you might want to offer people or call their attention to — and what happens when your goals and the things you want to make, or your inspiration and execution, don’t quite line up. There might even be some <gasp> GUEST POSTS.

I’ll also be posting RI-based, community-sized actions and sources of information, more or less as I find them, that could have a good ecological effect, especially ones relevant to climate mitigation and climate adaptation. If anyone has suggestions for these, send them my way and I will try to sort them out!

Lastly, the booth has three more for-sure public appearances coming up:

*At the Rhode Island Energy and Environmental Leaders Conference Showcase: Friday, September 5th, 3:30-4:30, on the fifth floor of the Convention Center in downtown Providence. You should probably come check this out anyway — there are speakers and discussions and smart, hardworking people to meet, all day, starting at 9.

*At Providence Park(ing) Day on Friday, September 19th. I’m sharing Parklet #8 with painter Carl Dimitri, and the booth will be in costume! Park(ing) Day runs 8-4, and Carl and I will be splitting the time — I’ll be there on either end.

*At Summer Street Dinner Theater on Friday, September 26th and Saturday, September 27th. Watch this space for details!

So that’s what you can expect to see here in the next little while. 

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International Coastal Cleanup: September 20th

Everyone who talked with me at the booth about trash: here’s a chance to make sure there’s (slightly) less of it in the ocean!

Save the Bay is coordinating RI’s coastal cleanup and you can sign up here. There’s a list of sites so you can choose one that’s easy for you to get to.

Especially if you live near the coast, this would be a great thing for you to do. I can’t do it because I’ve already committed to going to the People’s Climate March in NYC the following day, which — if you can get into NYC — would also be a great thing for you to do. 

 

BONUS MATERIAL from the Washington County Fair: The Map

The map is a map of Rhode Island. It’s not exactly a cartographer’s dream.

wcf817 - most of map

A few people who talked with me when I did the booth in Kennedy Plaza added their cherished places to an earlier incarnation of the map, but most didn’t. I wanted to make it more inviting and easier to understand, so on the second day of the fair, under “PUT YOUR WORRIES ON THE MAP” I wrote on it “IS THERE A PLACE IN RI YOU LOVE?” It turned out that there was.

People marked Ell Pond, Beach Pond, Arcadia, Pond, the Fair itself, Narragansett Salt Pond and Narragansett Beach (with a +1), Galilee. They wrote, “Protect the piping plovers at East Beach!” and “I want the birds to be safe!”

wcf817 - bottom of map 2

 

People marked Beaver Tail, the Save the Bay Exploration Center, Thibeault’s on Rose Island, their home, Newport Folk Fest, and their grandparents’ house.

 

 

wcf817 - lower right map

 

They marked Prudence Island, because they loved being the only person there.

wcf817 - prudence island on map

 

They marked Warwick (“So many people!”) and a view of the bay.

wcf817 - prov and bay on map

 

“Camping in Exeter” got a +1. Someone wrote “W.G. Maggie and Dad,” someone wrote “Greene RI.” Someone marked and drew a “beautiful tiny grove in the woods” near their home; someone circled “all of South County.”

wcf817 - middle left of map

 

For humans to protect a place, even out of love, is vexed, not simple. Protect what about it? Protect it from whom or what? What do you keep in, keep out? Who or what does protecting it harm or deprive? What role does money/power play in control/access? How do the visible stories tie into secret stories, and what are the different ways “value” and “use” come into play? How much do the protective ones, the ones who are up in arms, know about the place and what it needs (to survive) and wants (to thrive)?

In this excerpt from his book Don’t Even Think About It, which you can expect me to refer to again (though not always uncritically), George Marshall argues that tying discussions of global warming and climate change to the environmental movement is limiting and inaccurate: “DROP THE ECO-STUFF,” he exhorts, because “climate change does not belong to environmentalists and is not even environmental. Of course, it includes environmental concerns and impacts, but it is so much bigger than that.” The language of “saving the planet”, he says, the references to polar bears, make the work of mitigating climate change sound too distant, too noble, or too large for people to see themselves as actors for good or ill. He stresses, among other things, immediacy.

The places we live are immediate — we’re in them, they’re in us — and this is true whether they heal us or harm us or both. The Environmental Justice League of RI, where the first round of donations went, demonstrates the need for attention to place, to site, as strongly as does the South Kingstown Land Trust, where the second round of donations went.* And while I’m reluctant to draw too many large-scale conclusions from what people say and do at the booth — to put it gently, this is a low-methodology project — I think people often understand ecologies through places, their places, whether their places treat them like gold or like garbage. More about this to follow.

*You should all feel totally free to send money to either or both of those organizations, or the equivalents in your own cities or towns, and let me know about it — I will sing your praises here.

 

BONUS MATERIAL from the Washington County Fair: Notes to Self

Don’t forget walking in the woods with Stella (and Susana and Divinity the dog) down by the stream, her telling me about skunk radishes and how her grandpa taught her to recognize them

*

Listen listen listen listen listen listen listen listen listen listen listen listen listen listen ask questions listen listen listen listen listen

*

Don’t forget laughing with Stella, L. making her phone calls for the campaign against the Koch brothers’ influence at her university, Stella playing with Rachel’s hair, Susana putting Stella to bed, Susana grappling with Stella about brushing her hair, drinking tea, Stella’s mustache, talking with James on the phone about The Mikado — “Sakiko reminded me that it’s about compassion” — and asking him to bring down paper and card stock

*

I want this to be a narrative but NOT just of me. I’m learning but I don’t want it JUST to show me learning. How can I make it about the who and what?

*

Don’t forget walking in Potter’s Woods, looking at mushrooms with Stella, Susana looking up Potter’s Woods on her phone, Stella picking low-growing berries like mini blackberries (dewberries?) and Susana saying not to eat them because they were “fox berries” meaning animals could have peed on them

*

Dispatch: I ask four adults who are standing around, looking as though they’re waiting, if they’d keep an eye on the booth while I pee, as long as they’re there. They immediately look suspicious and closed and move away. I’m filled with anger and hatred instantly, like someone has to be the worst person in the world in any given situation. Someone has to be the worst person in the world, the magnet for rage, the market for hate, the person who if they just died in pain everything would be fine. The grasses would rise slowly. Return to topic of blame.

*

Don’t forget that Stella asked her dad for a wildlife guide and he got it for her, don’t forget seeing the deer behind the stone wall near the compost in the a.m.

*

Don’t forget how for five days I did very few things and did them for a long time and most of them were nice, don’t forget Divinity’s gray muzzle, her spay tattoo, her eating spaghetti

*

Theme of people who don’t want me to worry — they’re often older to me and the things they say are like they’re reassuring me, like the “all the same in a million years” people and the woman who said something that comforts her and then added, “I mean for you!”

*

Don’t forget the ways nature guide conventions have influenced the way I draw

*

What is up with wanting to be the only person in “nature”?

*

Don’t forget the line of moss where water drips off the roof in front of the booth bay

*

Don’t forget the smells of 2-cycle, armpit sweat, petrichor, barbecue sauce

*

Don’t forget big yellow gibbous moon rising over the road on the way to Susana’s on the first night

BONUS MATERIAL from Washington County Fair: Non-Booth Questions, Presented in Order and Without Comment

Do I know where the restrooms are from here?

Do I know where the RI Bee Association is?

Do I know where the bathroom is?

Do I know where the bathroom is?

Do I know where the bathroom is?

Do I know where the bathrooms are?

Do I know where they can find a restroom?

Do I know where the restroom is?

Do I know where there’s a bathroom around here?

Do I know when the world’s gonna end?

Do I know where’s the exit out of here?

Do I know where Hope Valley food is?

Can I point her toward the ladies’ room?

Do I know where the restrooms are?

Can I tell him where the restrooms are?

Do I know where the turkey legs are?

BONUS MATERIAL: Songs of the Washington County Fair Mainstage and PA

About halfway through my second day at the fair, I texted a friend who’s a former music critic, “Is there such a thing as butt-country? Like butt-rock, but country?”*

I am not allergic to twang. Further, many of the live performers at the fair’s mainstage, on which my booth looked out, were energetic and expert, and the fairgoers seemed to be having a really good time. Three girlfriends in little shorts and curly cowboy hats did a strut-walk in unison. A woman with Down Syndrome and a woman without it did the kind of dance where you swing your partner. A little kid did a butt-dance (it’s the dance where you stick your butt out as far as you can)**, a good look on dancers of any age. 

That said, there just isn’t any reason, for an energetic and expert songwriter to rhyme “hurt you” with “desert you.”***

By the end of the second day, I knew that the real challenge was going to come not from the live performers but from the recorded soundtrack to the fair that came over the PA system. I heard each of these songs, and several more that I couldn’t identify by searching but would have a severe systemic reaction if I ever heard again, at least 15 times in five days and some of them four or five times in a given day.

 

Alan Jackson, “Mercury Blues” 

Rhonda Vincent, “Bluegrass Express

Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was

A woman covering the Osborne Brothers’ “Rocky Top

 

At the beginning of Day 2, when passersby were sparse, I entertained myself by writing down lyrics that seemed relevant to the project, and here they are (they played a lot of Traveling Wilburys on Day 2 for some reason):

“I am a man of constant sorrow.” 

“I’m so tired of being lonely / I still have some love to give / Won’t you show me that you really care

Congratulations / For bringing me down”

“And when the rain came down I was nearly drowned / I barely knew the shape I was in”

“We are stronger together / than we could ever be alone” (no idea what this one is)

 

Postscript: I listened to M.I.A.’s Arular AND My Gay Banjo’s Country Boys in the City in the car on the way home.

 

*Results, thus far, are inconclusive.

**Marlys invented it. I tried to find an image of the strip in which she does it, but could not.

***I work with beginning writers. Though I try to wean them away from cliches and catchphrases, I’m not mean about it: we use the vocabulary that we know is available to us. Part of the reason I started this project was to increase people’s access, including my own, to vocabulary for talking about climate change and its present and projected effects, because we tend to reach for what’s closest, what we’ve heard before, until we know there’s something more precise, more moving, more pleasing to hear; until we’ve heard lots of those things and know what moves and pleases us, what lands, like a fly, right on the meat of the meaning we want. Especially with regard to grammar, I’m less of a prescriptivist than I’ve ever been: in teaching and in talking, I favor the clear, the evocative, the communicative and, where it’s possible, the inventive, the fun, and the surprising.

But if you write and perform songs for a living, you’ve probably heard lots of songs, and thought for more than one second about how to put words together, and you can probably come up with something that’s more inventive, fun and surprising than rhyming “hurt you” and “desert you,” and I’m still enough of a prescriptivist to say I think you should.

Bonus Material from Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Washington County Fair: Pride and Joy

The first day of the fair was rainy and there weren’t many people, so I took a small break and browsed the prize vegetables, flowers, and flower arrangements. 

 

I grew up going to the Dutchess County Fair and I like county fairs very much. I like that they offer people a chance to display their pride in what they grow, raise and make. Especially for things like flowers and vegetables, whose moments of perfection are fleeting — they grown, they bloom, they fruit, and then either they wilt and rot or (best-case scenario) someone eats them. All the work that goes into bringing them into being is often hidden, except to other growers, who can understand the path that led to the squash next to their squash:

wcf813 - prize squash

The search for perfection in a vegetable is also a little creepy, and speaks (to get pompous here for a second) to some cultural fears of / obsessions with blemish and decay. Apples that look perfect, however they taste and however many synthetic fertilizers and pesticides you need to make them so, sell better.* Judging vegetables is predicated on the assumption that there’s an ideal green bean and yours is almost there, is getting close.

wcf813 - prize green beans

A love of the unusual, the extreme, even the grotesque isn’t different from that — it’s another face of it. The biggest …

wcf813 - cabbages

..the heaviest … 

wcf813 - heaviest squash

… and the most “deformed.” 

wcf813 - misshapen veg

Competition creeps me out, although I feel its power. I don’t think there’s anything inherently good about it or that it has an automatic improving effect on results, and assuming either or both can lead to a lot of bad behavior. I wonder if humans at large could learn to recognize other kinds of rewards for work, for beauty, as well as multiple forms of both.

Well! That got a little heavy (sort of like a prizewinning squash), so here are the entries in the Decorated Vegetable contest (note distribution of prizes): 

wcf813 - decorated vegetable

 

*I actually don’t know how the vegetables in these contests were grown or what methods their growers used. 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 28 / Day 5 of the Washington County Fair

Weather: Warmest day yet. Sunny and slight breeze, downpour around 1pm, then clear again.

Time frame: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., so as not to get caught by end-of-fair traffic. At 5:30 I put up a sign that said, “I’m leaving at 6. If you want to know what this is, ask now!” but only two people stopped by after that.

Number of people: 14 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Pages of notes: 8

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of climate change deniers: 2

People who read the sign out loud in an incredulous, wondering, suspicious or amused voice, without stopping to talk: 30 

People who took a picture without permission: 1

TOTAL Money raised for South Kingstown Land Trust, all five days: $31.80! Thanks, people of the WCF!

 

Fair foods consumed: None. I wanted corn fritters but forgot to get them.

 

Best non-booth times today:

1) A little boy who walked by yesterday and said, “A map!” walked by again today and said, “There’s the map!” to the people he was with. I said, “Oh yeah, I remember you noticed that yesterday!” and he smiled a little smile.

2) Someone I met at the booth up in Providence stopped by and introduced me to their sister, brother-in-law and niece.

 

Observations:

Of course, the last day is when I realize I can put the “Out” sign over the “In” sign when I walk away from the booth, instead of taking out the pushpins, switching signs, putting the pushpins back.

 

I also realized only today the ways that the conventions of botanical illustration influence the way I draw on #RIorganisms of the plant variety. For example, when you look at a flower, usually you see the whole thing from the top (if it’s short and/or you’re standing or walking) or the side (if it’s tall or you’re squatting down). But nature guides will show you the stem and leaves as if from the side, the flower as if from the top.

 

Do I need to start redirecting people when they start talking about trash? I don’t like the oceanic garbage patches either, and some methods of mitigating climate change might also mean mitigating the amount of trash we produce, but the amount of conflation I’m hearing is starting to worry me.

 

*

 

Some conversations:

 

Not really, just takin’ it day by day. 

*

Him: You don’t think it’s just natural.

 

Her: I try not to think about it, which is stupid.

 

I think something can be natural and still be frightening. You think we’re arguing, but we’re really not. I do believe the science I’ve seen that says it’s caused by what people do.

 

Her: What do we do?

 

[I tell her a very basic version of how it works.]

*

Walkby, white, stout, older: There’s no such thing as climate change.

Me: Sorry, I can’t hear you, what?

Him: There’s no such thing as climate change.

Me: I’m sorry, I can’t hear you because of the music. If you want to tell me something you’ll have to come over here.

[He did not.]

*

[This is the first person who spoke to me at the fair — she said she loved it and wanted to take a picture, but didn’t come back … until today!]

This [the booth sign] reminds me of like — tonic you could buy in the Wild West that would cure everything. The color of the sign, everything — you could have a hat* and a big beard. The colors are out of that late 1800s palette. The sign, “The Doctor Is In” — they didn’t have pushpins, though. But it touches on the idea of panacea, and that’s what people want — they want something to make them feel better, something to make them feel like everything’s gonna be okay.

*

pH levels in the ocean. Whenever I think about it I freak out. I went Antarctica as part of these climate classes. It was really intense learning about it in Antarctica because it’s so extreme there, you can really see the changes.

Do you talk to people about it?

It depends on who the person is, what their argument is. A lot of people, you want to just throw statistics at them, but usually they won’t know what you’re talking about. You have to talk about it based on who the person is and figure out your argument. The main thing I try to tell people is that if we do things to promote the environment they’re not gonna hurt, they’re only gonna help us do better.

[I offer her a #RIorganisms card]

You don’t have any invasive species on there, do you?

 

*

[This young man was a volunteer firefighter, and gave extra $ when he found out it was going to the SKLT.]

I have Type 1 diabetes. I wanted to go into the military like a lot of people in my family, but they said do you got any medical issues, I said diabetes, they said nope. There’s a lot of things my friends do that I can’t do, and I have depression because of it. I see a psychiatrist, yeah. She gives me medicine, which I hate taking, but it helps — I hate to do it because it’s another thing I have to do when I get up in the morning, it stresses me out to remember. … We fight forest fires too. You remember that big fire in Bradford? I was there. 

*

I worry about it. I worry, where does all the trash go? We have a disposable environment — we throw away and throw away. We don’t think of the consequences, the impact it’s gonna have. It used to be one crib stayed in the family, everybody used that crib — now everybody gets a whole new set of furniture and leaves it on the side of the road. It’s more of a gripe than a worry.

*

Climate, definitely. The air we breathe — how bad or good is it for us.

 

How did you come to get worried about that?

 

Just breathing it in, and other people mentioning it to me.

 

Do you talk to people about it?

 

I start conversations about it with people, with friends, but mostly they’re like, “Yeah, that sucks.” I feel like everyone’s talking about it, but not everyone changes — and not everyone’s actually aware, or they’re aware of a little bit of what’s on top of the surface but they’re not fully educated. If people knew more, maybe they’d do more. Simple things like not wasting water, recycling — well, those aren’t really air things, but they’re things people could do in their towns.

 

*

The world’s going down. The media is a distraction so the government can do all these horrible things.

 

What do you think they want? What’s in it for them?

 

Power, money, the more they can get. There are more of us than there are of them — we could overpower them.

 

What would we do if we overpowered them? What would be the first thing we could do?

 

I haven’t thought that far.

 

*

 

Maybe you can tell me if this is true, what somebody told me. I’m a chef at [REDACTED] in Misquamicut and somebody told me that in 20, 25 years, it’s gonna be underwater because of global warming. Is that true?

 

All I can say is it could be true. One of the things that makes global warming so hard for people to think about is that we don’t know how bad it’s gonna get how fast.

 

Somebody was telling me that the property line, the owners own up to 10 feet out in the water because 80, 85 years ago the property line was there and now it’s 10 feet out in the water.

 

Today’s poem:

 

Can you tell me

if it’s natural

if it’ll all

be the same in

a million years or

wreak or wrack

such changes

to all our kin

with all our care

or almost none

the line may be

ten feet out in

the sour water

the sore air spit

out and sucked back

the more you start

at the taste in

your mouth the worse

it won’t bother to be

for you being ready

enough and more

bringing water in

lifeless and sipless

 

View from the booth:

wcf817 - fairgoers from booth

 

 I’ll be posting bonus material from the Fair throughout the week — including pictures of oversized and misshapen vegetables — as well as reflections at the end of next week. 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 26 / Day 4 of the Washington County Fair, 8/16/14

Weather: Sunny and calm, turning gusty and dusty and cooling off later.

Time frame: 10 a.m.-12:10 pm, 1:30 pm-9:45 p.m.

Number of people: 26 stoppers, 20 walkbys

Pages of notes: 12

Number of hecklers: 1, sort of

People who read the sign out loud in an incredulous, wondering, suspicious or amused voice, without stopping to talk: 41 (that is not a typo)

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 5

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

Money raised for South Kingstown Land Trust: $2.25

 

 

Fair foods consumed: A very long pulled pork sandwich.

 

 

Best non-booth times today: Another tie!

 

1: Walking in Potter’s Woods with Susana and Stella, looking at mushrooms with Stella, which I then drew for #RIorganisms cards.

 

2: Walking around with dreamboat James McShane and looking at the fair together.

 

 

Observations:

 

People really liked to say that the person they’re with “needs some counseling.”

 

A lot of people at the fair also had crowd claustrophobia that they wanted to talk with me about.

 

Hair theme: short, brightly dyed mohawks on kids and a few adults.

I’m not sure the heckler in question was really heckling, though both James and Susana thought so. I’ll tell you what she did: she walked by, laughing, which a lot of people do, and then she called back over her shoulder, “It’s too late!” I felt heckled, up to and including rage-crying, but what do you guys think? Leave a comment or tweet at @kateschapira.

 

 

Some conversations:

 

There’s no support for people with bipolar disorder in Rhode Island. I started one, but it shut down when I quit. There were 18 people in it, and I did it for three years, but you get fatigued. I’d committed to doing it every month, and I was ready for somebody else to take it on. But outside of NAMI, which is for everything, there’s nothing in RI.

 

[I give them a #RIorganisms card with an un-ID’ed mushroom on it, and explain the circumstances of its making.]

 

We’re mushroomers! [Looks at other mushroom cards] That’s just a common mushroom.

 

What about this one? It had a brown top and a brown stem.

Was the stem kind of spongy?

 

I think so.

 

If it has a brown top with a nice cap on it, kinda like a portabello, and you touch the bottom and it’s spongy, it’s a bolete

 

*

 

[These two were a couple.]

 

Him: I don’t worry.

 

Her: The kids going back to college. The money is an issue. Our daughter’s 24, our son’s 21, and our other daughter’s in law school, and she just got laid off from what was gonna be her job. You know, you worry about them when they’re little, and then they grow up and you worry about them. It doesn’t stop.

 

*

 

Prudence Island — is that on here [the map]? That’s my happy place. I like that you can be the only person on a beach the size of any beach in Rhode Island. Take the ferry out, and you can do some clamming, and just —

 

*

 

(A little boy and I look at a large black probably-bee or wasp. He says, “It must be called a pincher bee because it pinches with its fangs.” But it also sounds like he says, “It can’t be a bee, it’s not extinct.” Is this possible? )

 

*

 

I just finished a 6-week pre-college program at RISD, and it was intense. I don’t want to go to the wrong place and waste my parents’ money. My sister wants me to go to a therapist and I don’t want to talk about my issues, if you want something to write down.

 

*

 

Him: As far as climate, I have a couple concerns. It’s gonna be gradual, but the changes are gonna be horrific, because there’s gonna be more storms starting in more places. Like hurricanes are gonna start, instead of starting in the south Atlantic they’re gonna start in the north Atlantic and come through here. But on the positive side, Rhode Island is one of the best places with everything that’s going on. We haven’t had a tornado come through here — the one that came through Boston was a fluke.

 

*

 

Him: California, I was just there, it’s charred. And it stinks — where the water is channeled, it’s all muddy and it stinks.

 

Her: It doesn’t get me down, is that what you mean?

 

Him: When you’re talking alternative sources of energy, whether it’s wind — there’s not always gonna be wind, there’s not always gonna be sun. But still, in Europe, I was just there, they have wind and solar set up everywhere they can.

 

Why do you think we’re not doing that here?

Him: I think it’s wealthy people going, “Not in my backyard.” We could be getting power from a variety of sources, but we’re dependent upon coal, gas, oil. There’s too much wealth tied up in them — if we didn’t use that energy, they wouldn’t be wealthy … It’ll take a big catastrophe to tip the scales, and I think it’s coming up … I travel a lot for work — I work as a plastic injection molding technician. I see these 30-year-old machines, and people can cut their power consumption in half, or even to a fifth. We [the U.S.] had the edge in manufacturing and didn’t use it. We need better technology, better education.

 

*

 

What she loves about Block Island: Biking along the coast in the sunset. It gets me.

 

*

 

We have family property on the water, in Point Judith, that was damaged by Sandy. In 2010, our basement in another property we owned in South Kingstown flooded, and we lost a lot. Then our whole first floor in Narragansett was flooded, so we had two damaged properties to deal with. I’ll never forget it.

 

*

 

Job security. I just got a new job.

 

And it sounds like you’re worried about keeping it — a lot of jobs are fragile right now.

 

Especially in Rhode Island.

 

*

 

We’re in the process of purchasing a house. And the other thing that has me anxious is work on Monday. I’m dreading it.

 

*

 

I think the problem is overpopulation. I think that leads to everything else, all the other problems. Too many people.

 

*

 

Today’s poem:

I bet you’re making

a killing here

I would love a parabolic

microphone to pick

a bone of whisper

out of a crowd

seeded with people

who fear crowds

unless crowds are code

even to yourself

for something you keep

like a giant plushie

bigger than yourself

winning every time

running into code

finishing last and cast

into a state of confusion

scooping behind you with both

hands to bring the past

closer to catch yourself

up with drowning or being

buried while drawing

a snake remembering that

they’re thicker in the middle

and have blunt face-fronts

and wanting the cool-looking people

to come talk to me

which nobody needs

to know where the bathrooms

are and where

the exit is when

the world’s gonna end

 

View from the booth:

wcf816 - fairgoers from booth 3

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 26 / Day 3 of Washington County Fair, 8/15/14

Weather: Clear, sunny, pretty still, turning gray and cool.

Time frame: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Number of people: 22 stoppers, 7 walkbys

Pages of notes: 10 (fewer people-watching notes, this time)

Number of hecklers: 0!

People who read the sign out loud in an incredulous, wondering, suspicious or amused voice, without stopping to talk: 14

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 5

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

People who took a picture without permission: 2

People who asked for, and received, permission to hug me: 1

Money raised for South Kingstown Land Trust: $8.63

 

Fair foods consumed: None

 

Best non-booth times today: It’s a tie!

1: Chatted with a woman in a power chair about Bubba, her service pug, who was riding around with her. He helps her monitor her blood sugar (I’m not sure how and would appreciate input from readers, if any of you know — can he smell it?).

 

2: Saw a real-life junior Miles Morales walking with his dad: a 5-year-old Black boy with a Spider-Man mask painted on.

 

Observations:

This was the day I started keeping systematic track of people who read the sign out loud but didn’t come up to talk to me, something that hasn’t happened in other booth places / times.

 

Themes of the day: State government, beaches and coastal erosion, and something there’s probably a phrase for — global racism? displacement racism? provincial racism? (like, “Those people over there in that other country, they’re the ones with the problems”) — as well as plain old regional provincialism and its relationship with feeling personally responsible for a place.

 

Relatedly: I don’t fact-check the things people tell me before posting them here, though if in the conversation they say something I know to be untrue, I’ll say so to them (or ask a question). Many of this day’s conversations reminded me that in this work’s next incarnation I will have a lot of looking-up to do.

 

Some conversations:

 

My parents are getting older and I don’t want to watch them deteriorate. I work with the elderly, so I know what to look for. I look at people and I think, “You’re probably gonna get this disease, or this disease.” My residents’ children sometimes say to me, “I’m the mother now,” but the residents will also say, “My mom’s picking me up.” Sometimes they’re cool with it, sometimes it’s tough — the ones who are more with it will catch themselves, like, “I mean my daughter, my daughter.” … The Scituate Reservoir, you never see water like that, pristine, without beach homes. There are eagles there — some of my residents’ families live there and they’ve seen them.

 

*

[These three came up together.]

 

Person 1: Rhode Island is the most corrupt state. You can see it in loss of jobs, crime increasing, politicians doing whatever they want.

 

What would you like to see them doing that they’re not doing?

 

Person 1: Taking care of other people instead of worrying about themselves. Cianci always took care of his people. There were summer jobs for kids, enough police, a lower crime rate — he made sure people were taken care of. I moved away 17 years ago, and I moved back about a year ago. I’m retired, and now I’m kind of stuck here. I can’t afford to move. As far as environment goes, we have the dirtiest beaches — the DEM is responsible for that — and the water itself, I wouldn’t even go swimming anymore.

 

Person 2: I think there should be a limit, like a capacity at every beach. Nowadays you’re on top of each other. And people are like burying beer cans, cigarette butts in the sand. It’s not gonna disappear!

 

Person 1: I’m a smoker and I agree.

 

Person 2: Your child’s diaper is not biodegradable! There needs to be some committee, or some type of preservation control.

 

Person 3: Nobody wants government control. It should be volunteers that do it.

 

Person 2: If you think about where a beach is, there’s all kinds of attractions, because the town’s trying to make money. People in the city have to get past that. I work at a [REDACTED], and the owner will go around on his golf cart outside, picking up trash. He could ask the people who work for him to do it, but he does it himself to show it’s important, with his little cigar hanging out of his mouth. People think, I pay taxes, so someone else should do it. But it’s our house. I pay my taxes on my house but I still take care of it. Everyone should be responsible.

 

*

 

Daughter: So global warming?

 

Mother: It’s why we have hurricanes in July instead of —

 

Daughter: Yeah, it does worry me.

 

*

 

Options for health insurance. I would like to quit my job and create my own work. But starting something is a risk anyway, and I don’t want to put her [indicates small daughter] at risk too.

 

Why do you want to start your own business?

 

Freedom. I get a stifled feeling if I don’t express myself. I don’t want to teach her that you have to be stifled in order to survive. At my current job there’s a lack of expression, a lack of integrity. The way the business is run is hypocritical. I wouldn’t run it this way. It’s broken.

 

*

 

I’ve been here for 20 years, and RI is not welcoming to outsiders. When I visited North Carolina there were flowers, there was landscaping — here, the welcome center’s closed.

 

Who do you feel is being made unwelcome?

 

New businesses. My middle daughter moved out of Rhode Island because she couldn’t find work.

 

*

 

I live in Pawcatuck [CT], and living on the beaches you saw it happen with the storm. In Westerly [where she works] I think people are aware. They saw it happen after the superstorm, and it’ll probably happen again. They put in tons of sand, but where’s it gonna go if there’s another storm? Into the ocean, is where.

 

*

 

Daughter: I see pictures of flooding and it makes me anxious. And also about this firefly study — did you hear about this? They did this study with kids catching fireflies and they found out that every year there’s less fireflies. My boyfriend says, “What do you expect, it’s happening …” Not being surprised is part of the bigger context. I feel awful about Bangladesh and other countries with less infrastructure and high population density where there’s been flooding.

 

Father: Over time, populations change because they’re forced to change. Where there isn’t water, people will stop living there. Maybe there won’t be a lot of new large construction — sort of a status quo. You know, the world population is almost flat right now, 3.1 per family, which is just about replacement rate, other than in sub-Saharan Africa, where they’re really in trouble … California is in big trouble.

 

Daughter: It’s getting difficult to grow corn in the Midwest. There’s a really short planting season and if that slips, it doesn’t get established, and then it can hardly make it. It seems like it’s exacerbating other issues that need more thought, like a lot of people are like, “We’ll just use GMO corn!”

 

Father: Part of the problem is quantifying results. In California, they’ve been asking people to reduce their water use voluntarily and the reduction was less than 20%. Some even increased. Now they’re relying on people to turn in their neighbors. But unless they can measure the aquifer, using less water becomes just a sign of virtue — which does motivate some people, but it needs to be shown that this is about more than just being a good person, like the equivalent of overseas relief, where they make the results more vivid. I’d like to know what a ton of carbon looks like. Even growing food, importing food, uses carbon.

 

Daughter: 90% of Rhode Island’s electricity comes from natural gas.

 

Father: It still kills me that I put this stuff [gas] in my car and a week later it’s gone.

 

*

 

What she loves about RI: The little grove in the woods near where she lives. You have to take old deer trails to get to it. It’s beautiful.

 

*

 

Him: Making a living, especially with the excessive tax rate in Rhode Island. And what are they using it for?

 

What would you like to see the state spend tax money on?

 

Him: It’s not what they’re spending it on, it’s —

 

Her: Roads, how about roads?

 

Him: But it’s not that, they’re spending let’s say $2000 on roads when they should be spending $400. They’re not checking if they’re getting value for money — Oop! Time’s up! I can’t stand this much longer.

 

*

[These two came up together.]

 

Person 1: I would just like to draw a big circle around South County [on the map]. Narragansett Pond, where our boat is — I would really like to see that cleaned up.

 

Person 2: There’s a line in RI, and when you cross that line there’s a change in mentality. More relaxed, friendlier. I’ve lived here for over 25 years, and I’ve seen more of northern RI become interested in what we have down here. There’s a certain modicum of resentment. There’s more of a city rush, people are rushed, they don’t know where they’re going.

 

Person 1: I’ve seen more accidents with people from northern RI.

 

So like … if you could snap your fingers and make them all go away, would you?

 

Person 1: I would just make them care more.

 

Person 2: They don’t have to go away.

 

Person 1: [They think] “It’s not our area, we don’t care” — yeah, but it is. They’re not always here, they’re not always dealing with it.

 

Person 2: They don’t care here, but they don’t care there either — it’s all about ourselves.

 

How do people escape that attitude of not caring, down here? Why do you think people down here care?

 

Person 2: Open spaces.

 

Person 1: There’s more oxygen down here. Literally, you can breathe.

 

Person 2: There’s grass and trees. I don’t want my neighbors on top of me. They keep stuffing in houses and stores … I used to own a house just up the street.   The fair has evolved into this larger thing, with people from other parts of the state.

 

Person 1: They’re being bussed in.

 

Person 2: I’m glad that they come to enjoy it. I’ve gotten to my point in life where I used to try to make change, and now I try to write the wave.

 

Person 1: I can’t try to change the world, I can only do what I can do. I save plants, I saved a bird that was hurt at work. If everyone only did one thing — but they think their decisions don’t matter. 

 

*

 

What he loves about Narragansett Beach: Sunning and swimming, getting so hot you have to go in the water, then getting out and warming up again, and doing that all day.

 

*

 

There’s concerns, not worries.

 

For me those are the same.

 

I see Beach Pond’s on here [the map]. That’s all polluted now. Do you know why?

 

Someone told me it was from fertilizer runoff, making the algae grow.

 

Oh, so it’s algae bloom from nitrates, not bacteria?

 

I think so.

 

*

 

People are destroying it because it’s not important to them. There’s not gonna be four seasons, it’s gonna be too hot for animals to live, for people to live. You’ll have to stay inside 24 hours a day for the A/C, and what about when there’s a power outage? 

 

Today’s poem: 

There’s a lot of new species this year

moving jaws along the vein

reading essays about the Futurists

making a real show of it

in their festival gear pierced with many wounds

what makes this dream different in number

or numbered in favor of a code

encrypted by day and plotted by night

the comfort a lot of people feel

till their teeth split or whatever

it might be breaking down

whatever they use to cut through the cuticle

of waiting they devour

I’ve just moved back home

I was living but I had to leave

I was told that all I could do

but who told you who wants to know

I want to know who’s looking at me and why

I care and how it became my want

that weighed on what was eaten or cut through

or carried away into a cooling evening like my timing

was of import like that was very wise of me

having to be the one to do a lick of work

on the side of the ice lick with blades in it

 

View from the booth: 

wcf815 - fairgoers from booth