Alternate Histories: 5/29, 4/17


Social unrest and collapse because of food and water shortages. They’re saying corn is going to be a luxury. Especially with kids, it’s very concerning. If I were alone I wouldn’t mind so much, I could just jump in the river with rocks in my pockets.

Why is killing yourself better than dying in one of these other ways?

I think it’s a fear of what’s gonna happen. You can say well, we all die anyway, and if we die in a flood, we all just go at once, you don’t have to grieve … Part of having a kid is it’s forcing me to become more aware in the moment, more present, more spiritual, and consider spirituality even more. I think of spirituality as the bigger picture, bigger than economics or politics — it encompasses everything. I keep hoping for this worldwide awakening.

Do you feel like you work to bring it about?

Yeah, in art–all my paintings the last couple years have been about consciousness or crisis, a crisis of consciousness. It’s got me focused on the two sides of that coin. Making work is part of that awakening processes–it’s flowing through me, that greater collective unconscious, universal mind.



N recognized in himself the lust for enclave and siege, the stockpiler, the man who when the castle’s on the brink of capture by an enemy kills everyone in it and then himself. He countered this by trying to induce visions while he planted tomatoes and corn and tried to nurse an apple tree along in the shadow of his little yard, by meditating in between lessons on sucking chest wounds and keeping someone’s spine immobile in EMT training, by breathing through his older daughter’s desire for princess gear instead of warrior gear, by looking for signs and portents in the smears of sweet potato his younger daughter left on the floor.

The thing about N’s own neighborhood, the place where he lives, is that it’s on a hilltop, and as with most high ground in places near the sea, the people who live there have more money and more status than the people on the lower ground.

N painted spells. He painted at night, at first in his studio. Then on the sidewalks, every few nights, in harmless chalks, starting by the edge of the river. Come out and paint with me, he said to some other artists he knew–white men, feared and fearful. They painted the patterns the wind made in downtown Providence, blowing around the convention center and the Dunkin Donuts Center and the big hotels; they painted the future shadows of the municipal trees; they painted the tracks of animals that once walked there. They exchanged nods, wary at first, with people selling sex, people seeking doorways, people tagging walls and bridges; they worked around the tags, around the sprayed DigSafe instructions. They made nothing that anyone would have to work to clean up. They stashed their chalks in openings at the bottoms of lampposts; they trailed paths from the river’s edge back to higher ground on their way home.

When they went out again after a break of a few nights (it was N’s turn to make dinner and draw baths and read stories and soothe diaper rash and argue about lights-out and lay out school clothes, and he wanted to do it while he still could), sometimes the drawings had changed: the signs, the portents, the directions of the arrows. Sometimes the chalks stashed in the bases of lampposts were more worn down.

“Together” doesn’t always mean at the same time or in the same way. But a lot of people survived the next storm–a “surprising number,” WPRI Eyewitness News said, when they started broadcasting again.


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