Alternate Histories: 5/23, 4/11


I have these conversations all the time with my friends, because they want to understand what I do, and it always gets into this dismal place, and I feel like I’m bringing everybody down. They’re all like, “G, do we all have to get together and buy land in Canada?” My program is focused on adaptation, and something I struggle with and need to work on is changing the narrative around how we present these issues. I do a lot of presentations for state agencies, groups of professionals, and the look I get at the end is often a look of fear. I want to emphasize positive solutions, ways we can prepare. There’s so much we already know–flooding is a major issue in this state, and we know where the vulnerable places are, we know how development has contributed to that. We just need to know how to prioritize these solutions, talk to the DOT and Public Works, and create new regulations and new guidance that work with natural systems.

You want people to be energized, not paralyzed.

Yeah, but the issues seem so huge. So if we can bring it to a local level, an individual and neighborhood approach, people will feel less–alone. I wanna prevent them shutting down, but I feel like I’m contributing to it when I talk about the work I do.



The next day, G went to work. She made phone calls and sent emails. She was kind and polite and patient and methodical. She nudged two city departments a little closer toward a commitment. She scheduled meetings with a university vice-provost, the directors of a mental health crisis clinic and a shelter for transgender youth, and the HVAC division of the New England Mechanical Contractors Association. She came home. It was her partner’s night to cook dinner. He did. They ate it. They put their son to bed, and went to bed themselves soon after. In the shower the next morning, a shiver of fear struck through her body, and she stood there letting the water run over her.

At the NEMCA meeting, after she gave her presentation, she asked, “What do you do when something makes you nervous? Or afraid?”

A wall of eyes. She waited.

One said finally, “I go get a burger.”

“I think about something else,” said another.

“Why are you asking us this?” asked a third one.

“Because it’s fuckin’ scary,” said a fourth one, craning around in his seat. “If it’s true, it’s scary.”

“What if it isn’t true?” asked a fifth one.

G took a deep breath. “Look,” she said. “If it isn’t true, doing some of the stuff I’ve been talking about will still be helpful to people. It’ll still give more people ways to be more comfortable, ways to be safer, ways to save money, ways to look out for each other. It’ll maybe be a little inconvenient and a little expensive in the short run, but it’ll pay off in the long run. And if it is true, then we’ll really be glad we did it.” She felt the pressure of their eyes darkening the half-moons under hers, and the pressure of the floor pulling the bottoms of her feet toward it. She heard herself say, “We still get to decide a little bit what we give up and what we get to keep.” She felt like a bruise. She said, “I feel like a bruise.”

“What?” said a sixth one. Another shiver of fear struck through her. “Are you okay?” She shook her head. The fifth one said, “Can I get you a glass of water?” and the third one said, “Maybe you should sit down.” The fourth one said, “What were you saying about what we give up and what we get to keep?”

This is my weakness, G thought. I have to use it. And then she thought: I can’t use it against them. I can’t buy land in Canada. The people who are already here are us.

I don’t know what happens next in this story.





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