Public/Participatory Art Post #3: What I did, it turns out (part 1)

Here’s how I answered some of the structural / project design questions I asked last time.

I wanted Climate Anxiety Counseling to help break me out of my paralysis of fear and grief. I wanted to hear what people who share Providence / RI with me were worried about — just in general, because people’s worries affect how they act (mine were certainly affecting how I acted). I also wanted to know what might be keeping people from worrying about or acting to reduce global warming, and if they imagined it (I imagine it), and how they thought about it. And I wanted, as I’ve said a couple of times, to build better ways of talking about it at all — to untie my own tongue …

… and maybe help other people untie theirs. I did want to listen to the people who spoke with me, to hear them, to recognize them, however and whoever they were while they were talking to me, which I believe can be a feature of actual counseling. I wasn’t looking for anybody to feel “better” necessarily, but closer, less isolated, more regarded. Eventually, this also developed into wanting to offer people a way to act to protect and boost the ecologies that keep us and other creatures alive.

I tried to get that offer across in a few ways: by the smallness and unpolished-ness of my booth (inviting?); by my sign, which was legible but not wholly self-explanatory (intriguing?); through an answer to the question “What is this?” that changed with time and also in response to the tone of the question and the demeanor of the person asking it. The different versions of the answer / explanation overlap a bunch, but I’m still not thrilled with any of them; I am a long-winded person, as you’ve no doubt figured out by now, and I think they take too long, and if I make them shorter I end up leaving something out.

Similarly, the ratio of me talking and other people talking is out of whack and was even worse (more weighted toward me talking) in the beginning of the project. I know that not everybody wants or needs to hear what I have to say, especially advice, but I don’t really believe that. It was especially tempting to give advice when the person’s worry was something I knew about / had lived through a version of, like not knowing how to ask for help at school, or had an idea about. I had less trouble refraining from suggestions about climate anxiety and climate change, because I didn’t know what to do about those either. You can see the relevant questions I asked regularly here.

After asking permission (“Can I write down what you say?’) I noted what people said in handwritten notes that are currently bulking out a three-ring binder; what’s appeared on this site is a sampling. I was a little less strenuous about asking whether I could post what I wrote down, and I regret that, although I did make it clear that the website exists and displays what people said to me. My notes describe my interlocutors (and name the ones whose names I know) but this site doesn’t, and won’t; no public venue will show anyone’s name unless it’s someone I know and they give their permission. But that still feels like ass coverage, a little bit.

Writing as a tool for understanding has become more firmly lodged in me with each passing year, and I knew I wanted to write something with, or about, the project. I still do, and I’m still not sure whether it’s “with” or “about” or what form it will take.

I tried not to think too hard about — not to expect — what people would say to me, but I did prepare, a little, for what I would say to them. I decided I wouldn’t argue (I broke this self-imposed rule, at least twice, mostly with climate change trivializers) but I didn’t have a plan for what I’d do if someone threatened me or sexually harassed me or even tried to physically hurt me. (As it turns out, none of those things happened.) I also decided to talk with the person I was talking with as long as they wanted to talk, even when they were repeating themselves or talking with zero listening, rather than shunt them off for somebody else; I broke this rule once. I got very mildly nervous for my safety only twice. I cried on the job once.

Tune in next time for more practical considerations!

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