Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 23 / Foo Fest (August 9th, 5:30-9 pm)

Weather: Cooling off from a hot day, a little sticky

Site: Empire Street, closed to motor traffic, many artist and vendor booths, paid admission

Number of people: 23 stoppers

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

Adorable toddlers held by me: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $9.50. Thanks to the guy who had no anxieties but put in $5 anyway.

 

Observations:

When I get tired, I talk more, not less. I need to remember to listen and ask questions.

This setting was different than any I’d boothed in before, in a few ways:

– People had to pay ($10) to get into the Foo Fest. They also have to pay $10 to get into the Washington County Fair, which I think will be the last pay-to-get-in thing I do with the booth.

– Heretofore, when I’ve done the booth there’ve always been stretches of time between interlocutors when I can write the day’s poems or work on organism cards. That didn’t happen this time. Maybe because people had paid and were committed to hanging out in the territory of the Foo Fest, a lot of people waited their turn, or left and came back; I had maybe three minutes of down time in three and a half hours.

– I was under a large tent in one of several artist alcoves. This meant that people walking by could only see me from the front, and that people speaking with me were often in the alcove with me. If anyone who spoke to me that night is reading this, I would be curious to know if that measure of relative privacy made you more comfortable talking with me!

– It was INCREDIBLY LOUD. Both I and my interlocutors were bellowing the entire time. No disrespect to any of the bands, you guys were great and it’s normal for outdoor bands to be loud. Interlocutors, if I couldn’t hear what you were saying, I haven’t posted it here. 

 

Some conversations:

 

I’ve been waiting for three days for a callback from a job. They said they’d get back to me before the weekend, and nothing. I texted them, and I haven’t heard back.

 

*

I’m anxious about the upcoming year. I’m taking hard classes, and my parents are pressuring me about starting to look for colleges. I just feel like I’m dealing with a lot of expectations — from myself, and from other people too. It’s like now that I’ve set these high expectations for myself, other people have them too. I’m also worried about doing things I used to like, but maybe not so much anymore.

 

*

 

The hole in Siberia. I woke up thinking about it. I was reading in the Washington Post, which is an awful conservative paper, about how they figured out what it was and it’s not good: it’s permafrost that’s thawing and it’s supposed to be frozen, and it’s releasing methane gas, and I have this 20-month-old! I don’t want to leave him in a world where giant holes open up in the earth.

 

Do you talk to people about this?

 

I talk to my partner, I talk to my friends. You can’t just shut things down. But the reality is, I’m gonna get through my life, and my kid will probably get through his life, with relative privilege and safety. That’s a good long time. And we can raise him — not with a hero complex, but like, “Go out into the world and have a positive impact.” His generation, the younger generation is gonna be the one that figures out a way to turn the big floating garbage patches into an energy source.

 

How old are you?

 

39.

 

The reason I’m asking is, you probably, hopefully, have 30 or 40 years left, and you can do something in those years–I mean, you’re going to be an active, thinking person, again hopefully.

 

That’s true. I’m not the greenest person on the planet, but I feel like the people who feel the biggest guilt, they’re not the ones who are doing the most damage. But how do you do something? I teach sculpture at [REDACTED], and I’m actively involved in a conversation about — sculptors are asking, “How do we be responsible for the choice of our materials?” and looking at something from the object’s point of view — not just, “How does this cup look?” but, “What is the lifespan of this cup going to be?” It’s a serious conversation that’s happening about resource usage. I can’t solve everybody’s problems, but I can try to get these MFA sculpture students to make responsible choices … How can I do what’s important to me and make changes in the way that I do it? I feel anxious because of my kid, but I also feel hopeful because of my kid. He’s gonna be raised as I wasn’t raised.

 

*

 

It’s already happening. I do my part: I recycle as much as possible, I use as little gas as possible, I turn off lights, I take short showers, cold showers. Other than that I’m not — it’s so inconvenient to be socially or environmentally conscious. I do my best.

 

If there was a thing that you could do as one of a bunch of people that was a mild pain in the ass, but you knew it would help, would you do it?

 

Like composting? Composting is a pain in the ass.

 

*

 

I talk about it, but more thoughts in general about climate change, not in terms of anxiety. I feel like I do this weird balancing act, between more conservative family and friends on the one hand, trying to get them to understand that this is actually happening, versus my friends who are like, “We’re all doomed,” I’ll try to reassure, or say we don’t actually know how it’s going to be. I don’t know that I imagine it — I tend to look at it from a systems perspective, its social impact — the impact it could have on other social problems. I don’t think much about how to help people survive. I guess I think people will find solutions for the day-to-day impacts, building boats or whatever, people’s ability to adapt and cope, based on the skills that they have.

 

Do you think maybe you could learn additional skills?

 

My skill is making art about it, so deepening that. When I work with organizations, I trust them to do their part.

 

*

 

Land use, the various ways it spirals down into other issues: agriculture, water quality, wildlife, urban living. I’ve been overwhelming myself by listening to climate news. I just want to curl up in my apartment and not do anything, I feel like I can’t do anything. I don’t even know what I would do. How do you narrow it down to a place where you can start? I can say, “Oh, I’ll become a vegetarian, that’s better for the planet,” but I can’t even convince my mom to think about what meat she’s buying, and if you can’t convince your mom … I have this really weird reaction which is that when I hear something really messed up, I get excited and energized. But then I make something about it — I’m a sculptor — and people say that it’s flat, that it has no affect. They say, “You’re just telling your story, you’re telling me everything, I don’t need to think about it,” like I’m being too literal. Super caring about something becomes flat.

 

Does the anxiety come from imagining the future or from thinking about the things people in the present are doing to make that future happen?

 

I think it’s more like, “people right now are making this happen and I can’t do anything” — I know what the future looks like because of what people are doing right now.

 

*

 

I have serious anxiety problems. It’s hard for me to just be myself. I thought my car was missing and I totally panicked. I shake, it’s like I’m in a trance. And I have social anxiety, it’s really awkward for me to be around people. People make me feel awkward. I’m not a fan of gossip, and I always feel like people are gossiping about me.

 

What do you do when you start to feel panicked?

 

I try to solve the problem.

 

Does that make the feeling less?

 

Sometimes. It takes a while for it to leave my system. I’ve been trying to meditate as much as possible. When I meditate I sometimes see people from my life, positive role models from my life, even someone I only met once. I think I need to move out of Fall River. I’m much happier in Providence, I feel much better about myself. I feel like I can talk to people I don’t know, strangers, and maybe it goes well or maybe it doesn’t, but it doesn’t matter.

 

*

 

I don’t worry about anything. It’s out of my control. People wanna have control over situations but the control you try to have, you gotta take it out of your hands.

 

*

*

 

In my own kitchen, I can’t say hello to my own father. I have trouble approaching people, however I know them. I saw my own uncle at Wal-Mart and I was like, “I should avoid him, I should go down the other aisle.” I hate feeling anxious. I touch my skin, bite my fingers, itch my elbows. I’m on medication, but it’s not helpful. I lose sleep, thinking about something weird I did when I was like five years old, thinking, “Why did I do that?” Even being honest about it gives me anxiety. I bring it up to feel comfortable with the fact, and talking about it feels awesome, but then after the conversation is over I beat myself up. It’s like talking about it exudes all the anxiety, but then later I’m like, “I can’t believe I was brutally honest.” 

 

*

 

I’m all for the environment. I think our generation is gonna make a change. We need to unite together and save the world. The Republicans can’t deny global warming anymore. We have to stand up and make a difference. I worry about food security — we need to stop letting big companies be in charge of what we eat, our health, the environment, and rely less on big farm lots. With more local, small-scale stuff, or growing our own, there’s less greenhouse gases. People need to learn how to cook, so when the economy drops, when the economic crisis hits, you’ll be able to help yourself.

 

*

[These two were father and son.]

 

Dad: Not enough people believe in it, are alarmed about it, doing something about it.

 

What should they be doing about it?

 

Dad: Using alternative energies. Reducing consumption generally. We need to sacrifice some of our lifestyle, use less electricity, even be poorer.

 

Kid: Nobody should smoke cigarettes.

 

Dad: I agree with you that smoking is bad, but that’s not really what we’re talking about. (To me) We need both behavioral changes and big structural changes. Maybe gas should cost four times what it does, maybe airline tickets should be more expensive. You want people to feel like they’re in the crisis, because with the absence of something in their face, they don’t wanna think about it.

 

Kid: Alternative transportation.

 

Like what?

 

Kid: Mag-lev trains, like the one from Beijing to Shanghai.

 

(To dad) How did you come to think of this as important?

 

Dad: I was an environmental lawyer for years, and all the people I worked with were these liberal environmental lawyer types, working on a bunch of environmental issues — I don’t think it was one thing, I think it was just like critical mass. I graduated from college in 1990, and I remember saying to my dad that climate change was more serious than any of the class and race issues he spent his life dealing with. He just looked at me.

 

*

[Three friends came up together. Friend 3 mentioned his own area of interest and work, but otherwise mostly listened.]

 

Friend 1: The world is burning. I’m from California, and there’s no water.

 

You said that in a really cheerful voice.

 

Friend 1: Talking about it cheerfully is my coping mechanism — I spend a lot of time thinking about how immovable the world is in terms of mass action.

 

When you think about the future, do you imagine it?

 

Friend 1: Sometimes I imagine it, not very often. I guess I imagine a disaster coming toward us and we’re not doing anything to stop it.

 

Do you talk with people you know about this?

 

Friend 1: Sometimes, with my family. Like when I was in California, it would have come up as we traveled the length of the state. But it’s so big, it’s hard to talk about it as a pressing thing.

 

Friend 2: I’m anxious about coalition-building between organizations working toward different kinds of justice. I work for an organization that shares space with 350.org, and sometimes I feel like we’re competing for students. And there are a lot of white people doing climate work. Is coal divestment really happening with the consent of front-line communities? The assumption that activists are there to help people, that some people help and others are helped.

 

*

 

My relationship. My boyfriend cheated in the past — not physically, but he was texting with someone. It was six months ago. We talked about it in the middle, it’s been conversated. He’s cheated on other girls. He screwed up once and he hasn’t screwed up since, but I don’t trust him. I just want him to be true to me.

 

*

 

My concerns are about food production and ecology. Many crops require a lot of water, and we expect things to grow in areas that don’t have enough water. Changes in weather patterns with rainfall, frost dates, less severe winters that let insects overwinter instead of dying off — and then with that, there’s not just the damage to plants, there’s the fact that the solution is often chemical warfare. The [pesticide] industry always has a response — they can always sell you another chemical for diseases, for pathogens, for insects. We have to somehow get off the idea that someone’s going to make a chemical next week to solve our current problems. And then there’s the inability to move food where it needs to be that accompanies our loss of energy and interacts with our dependence on nonrenewables. Agriculture is dependent on petroleum, [synthetic] fertilizers, transport — we rely on freezing for preserving things. We need more flexible agricultural systems, more locally centralized, more adaptable.

[I give her a #RIorganisms card and explain what it is.]

 

Is the scientific name on there?

 

Yeah, it’s right on there.

 

I can’t read it, I don’t have my glasses and the light’s not good.

 

Oh. Moneses uniflora.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p>For <a href=”https://twitter.com/wingeddangerous”>@wingeddangerous</a&gt;: <a href=”http://t.co/iVkqlWEsNA”>pic.twitter.com/iVkqlWEsNA</a></p>&mdash; Kate Schapira (@kateschapira) <a href=”https://twitter.com/kateschapira/statuses/499260654130573312″>August 12, 2014</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

 

Thanks. I’m a botanist.

 

*

 

I’m an inventor. My goal is to build little electronics for musicians, and they will be more efficient. But some factory is going to be churning out these parts and climate change is an issue — [what’s the relationship between] idealistic actions and daily actions? I’ve developed a variety of skills and gone through the process of applying them. I try to optimize what I have to be useful, to myself and to the world.

 

*

 

I feel guilty about having had children. I had this one boyfriend in 1989 and he said to me, “Having kids is like inviting someone to a part that you know is going to be a bad party, but you want someone to be there with you.” … What should I do? Tell me what to do.

 

 

Today’s poem:

 

Who did you say you were to be useful

to do nothing leaving nothing no

mark buzzing under a tent full of marks

handwaved and hardwired with pride

who aim to be ripe and fall

only given the time the lines took looking

like they converged and the scales

like future feathers given time to ferrule

and barbule farrier and knacker

meeting the needs of the past that now

are smaller you’d think that would make

sense but it’s happening without you

but it’s happening with you

happening what with you having a knack

for being ragged and harmless you made

yourself a machine for just that

just like that just look at you

just look at yourself as well

as can be expected considering

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 23 / Foo Fest (August 9th, 5:30-9 pm)

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