Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/29/15

Weather: hot but not gross, light breeze

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Picture-takers with permission: 1

Picture-takers without permission: 3

Flyers for other concerns proffered and accepted: 1

Dogs spotted: 2, one regular puppy and one dog in a stroller thing

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $7.85

Also contributed: one paper-fold box and surprise inside

Observations:

When I got there, I didn’t see any police (people or vehicles); the SUV showed up at the Greyhound/Peter Pan stop soon after.

A couple people today expressed regret that this was my last day, and I’m feeling it too–there are stories whose next stages I may never get to know (apparently the interview went well but she won’t find out till next week if she has the job) and people I enjoy seeing, like my stroller friend who ate chips at me.

Two conversations in particular today made me think of this alternate history about who we serve.

Also, someone gave me a banana, which I later gave to someone else.

Some conversations:

All this air conditioning–too much of it. We don’t condition ourselves to higher temperatures. I was on the coast in [KwaZulu] Natal, South Africa, when I was a teenager, and there was no air conditioning, full stop. One day I remember was 80 degrees Fahrenheit at 8 a.m. and there was 80% humidity, and we just went to school, we went home, nobody talked about the heat. And in the middle of Harare, in Zimbabwe, there’s a building that is cooled entirely through the use of air currents. We need to go and ask hot countries how they do it.

*

My work is pressing on me the most right now. I have a temporary job that ends at the end of June, so there’s the pressure of a deadline, and also, who knows what happens after that. I kinda worry about how much I’m driving my car back and forth to work. Sometimes I think that all the Rhode Island and Massachusetts people who do the same jobs should just switch jobs, and then nobody would have to do that. My dream would be to walk to work and enjoy the place that I live in while I do it–theoretically I like the place where I live.

I guess if you don’t like the place where you live, or it doesn’t like you–like it’s hostile to you–that’s harder. I’d still really like to do your Rhode Island-Mass switch, even though it feels like it’d be really hard.

It feels impossible. You’d have to put a lot of effort and deal with a lot of no’s, you’d face a lot of resistance. I did the math–my parents live in New Jersey, and I drive the distance to New Jersey every week. I’d much rather see my parents if I’m gonna drive that much–I’d rather go to extremes for stuff that I really really love. I looked at other jobs, and they’re all in Boston, but at least I could take the train and sleep instead of road rage.

I’m imagining a mass car abandonment at the 95-93 interchange, everybody just turns their cars off and gets out.

People could talk to each other!

Yeah, and they might like each other or they might not, but at least they’d see each other as people, not like …

… Like an obstacle. That’s what I feel like [when I’m there], I feel like an obstacle.

*

[Looking at the map] I was living in Westerly–I wish I could afford to move down there … No more being stopped by the police over small things.

Like what?

Things that aren’t even directed toward the state or government. Things they have no business being involved in … Maybe not just climate, but social climate. Why do we have a BCI system? It prevents people from getting ahead. We’ve got every government but a people’s government.

How would a people’s government be different?

No bombs and guns. No punitive procedures or solutions for infractions against the state or individuals. It’s generally not in me to hurt someone first. Common decency.

What does decency look like? How do decent people behave

That goes without saying.

No it doesn’t. [I give a couple examples of why it’s not. He thinks and stares, thinks and stares.] How do you behave, when you behave decently?

Well, I guess you got it all figured out. [Walks away.]

*

Where I’m going, what I’m doing next. I was happily married for 35 years, now I’m divorced. My life’s been turned upside down.

Are there people who you could sort of check with to figure out about what’s next for you?

Counselors can help you figure out what you’re doing. I’m not looking for work, I’m disabled. I need a safe place to stay. What I wanna do is spend the warm weather here, this is tolerable, and then go to Florida for the winter. I’m on a fixed income and the money goes farther down there.

*

For sure right now the thing that’s giving me the most anxiety is actually my job. For a while it hasn’t been as fulfilling as I want it to be. I don’t get to do enough of the parts I care about, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to make those parts more present, more major, but I’m worried about what I might lose. It’s not clear to me where my boundaries are–how my needs would be met in various scenarios and where I’m willing to compromise.

*

[After asking his nana for permission to talk to me]

I’m worried that I’ll never get to see my dad and he misses me and I miss him. And I miss nature, I miss everything.

Your nana’s over there, you don’t miss her, right?

No, she’s right over there, and my mom, and my auntie, except for my dad.

Are you guys in touch? [Shakes head.] Do you like to draw?

Yeah.

Maybe you could do some drawings and save them for him, I bet he’d like that.

I like to draw Minecraft. I make a comic book and I turn it into a comic book and all I do is make Minecraft, that’s all. Can I have a piece of paper? [I give him a piece of paper and he folds it.] Do you have a scissor or can you rip it? [He draws a line to show me where to rip, and unfolds a one-sheet booklet. He then goes and lugs his little cousin over to meet me and they draw together for a while on the backs of some of the alternate-history blanks, except he’s having a competition for how much paper he can cover and she’s not. I give him a marker, a clipboard, and the rest of the alternate-history blanks to take with him.]

*

I went to RISD. I used to paint portraits up by the white church and sell ’em, just paint people who’d walk by.

[Sees me using an illustrated nature guide as a reference for an organism card]

Oh, I love this, I used to do that too.

[I give him the king rail #RIorganisms card I just finished.]

You don’t see these around anymore. Waterfowl. See, it’s a good thing we came across each other.

*

My kids and their future. Just the way the world is going right now, what is their future gonna look like? Terrorism, people killing each other.

When you imagine a good future for them, what does that look like?

College, becoming something that’s worth something. Not having to worry about being shot in the street. I never had to grow up with that, but my kids are gonna have to deal with it.

What would get us toward that future you want?

Everybody, every day, do something kind. You see high school kids on the bus, they won’t get up for elderly people. Little things, like picking up trash–I think little things add up to big things.

Who taught you to be respectful to people?

My mom and my grandmother, and they’re still the leading ladies in my life, they’re still teaching me. I try to do that for my kids too. I have a son who’s seven and a daughter who’s two and a half. It’s hard with the age difference but I’m trying. And they see my mom and grandma too, every single day. We’re Dominican and Lebanese–family’s important. My son is at that stage where I’ll tell him something and he’ll say, “Dad, I know that,” and I’ll be like, you don’t know, you know but you don’t know. But I was the same way. …If you have kids and never grew up in a rough situation, it’s tough for you to teach them about the world. I’m telling [my son] this, but do I really know? Everything he wanted, he got, and he never had to work for it. Now he has to do chores for his allowance, he has a puppy and he has to walk it, take it out. I do volunteer work, I feed the homeless. My grandma cooks and she brings food down, she collects extra clothes during the week and everybody can have something, and he’s been down here with us passing out food. I want to teach him he has it good. There’s people down here digging through the garbage–I’m not gonna give them $10 but I will buy them something to eat. This is America, nobody should be hungry. Before I had my kids I was so naive it was ridiculous–now I notice everything, where I bring my kids, what I see around me.

Today’s poem:

I don’t have any of it figured out

I hate you for hating me for asking

you to think about it and say it

where did you get stuck

in the thinking or the saying

in the imagining or the word-assembly

what made you say the exact opposite

of what you just heard evidentially

and apparently hated or what if it’s true

I didn’t want to tell you

I wanted you to tell me

that’s all I want is for you

to know what you know and tell

me that’s not all I want

you to bring it together

up to the extreme edge of play

that’s all I want is for you to unfurl

and to be part of the unfurling that’s

too much for you and all of us

it’s the end of May most things that are

going to grow are growing but not all

I want

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/28/15

Weather: Hot in the sun, nice in the shade, gusts of wind.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Picture-takers with permission: 1

Inquiries as to whether I’m a real doctor: 1

Conversations between people who didn’t know each other previously: 1

Flyers for other concerns proffered and accepted: 1

Dogs spotted: 1, that same puppy I see frequently being walked by several different people

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $3.30 (also contributed: 1 special rock)

Observations:

Two bike officers rode by at the beginning of the shift, and the usual police SUV was by the Greyhound/Peter Pan stop. Toward the end of the shift, I saw two officers walking around, separately then together.

Three Metro PCS employees, also on bikes, gathered near the park entrance at the beginning of the shift, making me think of Heriberto Yepez’s notes on co-optation (which I’ve been thinking of a lot anyway). I assured a guy leaning against the fence in my normal booth spot that he didn’t have to move, and his response was, “I’m done.” What does my presence upset or stir besides what I want it to stir?

Another interlocutor also drew me out about how much this work is something I’m doing for myself, which is a good reminder.

Two people asked what I’m selling, which is unusual, and I didn’t have a good answer.

Also, someone cleaned his thumbnail on the booth sign.

***IMPORTANT*** A woman who talked to me about interviewing to make her temporary job full-time passed by and reminded me that she has her interview TODAY, 5/29. Please keep her in your thoughts!

Some conversations:

The water. Anybody can go into the water anywhere. Some things you can’t control. Anybody can put poison in the water over there, like the Islams, they wanna kill all the Christians. I watch a lotta TV, about war and everything about that. China can put something in the air and it can come all the way to America, and nobody know–it’s some stuff that nobody can do anything about. Everybody trying experiment for kill other people–so somebody can poison the air … If you see it coming closer, I’m living far from the population. If something happen over here, the US don’t have shelter. Sometime I ask, What if a tornado come? Nobody know where the shelter is. I bet a lotta people gonna die too. What we can do? Some people got money but a lotta people don’t got money–they not gonna build a bunker. In that situation I save myself, because nobody can help.

You don’t think you would help other people?

In the first moment, yeah, I help you, but if I see the danger grow and grow and grow, I’m gonna go far from the population. It’s gonna be a lot of disease in those moments too.

What do you do when you start thinking about these things, when you get anxious?

I come out for a walk because I’m too stressed in the house. I live over here in the city. One explosion happened–they plan already for that. You gotta help yourself, you can’t help nobody else. If something happen right now, but I’m talking about something big. Population coming here for shelter, people coming here get danger after days and days that nothing is good. … California don’t have water–you can see it, other times you can’t see it, in different places, you see it–what happen in the future, in 10 years, other states aren’t going to have water either, and the water left is going to be poison.

*

Trying to find a roommate. I have a sister so I’m not worried about living with someone. But I worry about like, Do you want a roommate that’s your best friend, or do you not want that? What if you become best friends and she’s a mess?

What do you like when you live with someone, what’s a good situation for you? Like from living with your sister, you probably have a good sense of what you prefer.

I like when she’s quiet and I’m quiet. We don’t have to interact, but if I need to, they’re there. But that might be asking a lot–like, I want you to be here when I want you to be here, and not when I don’t.

*

Fear. General fear of life closing in–worrying about life closing in on top of you. Not being able to provide and show up every day. I have important people depending on me–my son. If I don’t get out of myself, if I don’t start helping other people, I’ll be consumed by my own problems.

What help do you think you can give?

That’s a broad spectrum. Somebody comes up and asks for help, I could say yes, but then you’re just a doormat.

Maybe it would help to think of it in terms of what you’re good at?

I’m good at fundraising. I’m good at working with people, I’m good with kids I believe. I have a big heart, I’m compassionate. But I get caught up in my life and daily I ask God, I say, Let me not be selfish. But I am selfish, and it sickens me. I forget about other people. My problems distract me from what I’m trying to achieve.

[I suggested that he try working through an organization, maybe a church organization, so that he’d be accountable. At this point, a guy from yesterday came up.]

Person 2: God open the door for me to preach out loud. I’m over there preaching, a police officer came up to me and say you gotta quiet down, I say I gotta preach God’s word, he say okay just do it a little quieter.

Person 1: Nobody can tell you you can’t preach. That’s your first amendment right.

Person 2: You just confirmed that for me. I wanna go all over the world to preach the word of God.

*

[This person marked Still House Cove on the map.]

It’s a rocky cove that makes tidepools when the tide goes out. Swans nest there, and there are marshy areas, so there’s a huge diversity of life. [My son and I] have a fish hotel in our house, a bay tank, so we pick up periwinkles and mummichogs and observe them overnight and put them back the next day. There are a lot of migrating birds that come through. And you can also see sailboats, other kinds of boats, so there are people enjoying the water and it seems like it’s sort of in balance. But it’s also somewhat distressing, because if you look upward in the Providence Bay, you can see the industry that’s there, and even the windmills look scary, even though you know that they’re for something better. So there’s industry in the background of this placid cove–there’s some littering there too, some trash, but it’s limited compared to some other spaces, and people are better about picking it up–and I usually try to keep it outside my frame of vision. No place is a refuge. Also, I want to tell you more of my anxieties, I’m convinced that the zombie apocalypse is going to come through allergies, in the form of some sort of [autoimmune collapse? she couldn’t think of the word]. Everyone is experiencing ridiculous allergies, it’s totally pervasive, and I feel like that’s gonna be the weird silent killer. You can’t send your kids outside! … Extreme weather, things like wind, sudden deluges of water so that it’s not actually feeding plant life–these things are gonna affect our ability to go outside and be in nature. I hope our adaptations don’t just fuel the problem, like Oh, it’s hot, I’ll just turn on the air conditioning. Sustainable adaptations.

*

My biggest anxiety at the moment is harm to the trees. My hope is that more trees will be planted. Right now I have a troubled spirit, and the most peace I find is found sitting underneath a tree. Tree medicine and bird medicine is the most helpful to me right now–of course they’re connected. I’d be lost without trees, they’re so calming. And other than that I have anxiety about my livelihood, my survival. I have a haunted consciousness and [I didn’t have time to note this but it was something about the ghosts overwhelming him]. What helps is aligning my energy with the energy of the tree.

Is there something you could do to give back to the trees for the help they’ve given you?

I try to pick up rubbish when I see it around trees, although I don’t know how much good that does. It’d be good to plant trees, but I don’t know where I would do that.

What about working with an organization that does forestry, or habitat restoration–like Audubon? You mentioned birds too.*

That’s a good idea. My parents live near the Norman Bird Sanctuary.

*Doctor’s note: Michael, you could also look into volunteering for parks conservancies, parks’ friends groups, community land trusts (these are just samples to get you started): Blackstone Parks Conservancy, Friends of Dexter Training Ground, Aquidneck Land Trust. There’s also Groundwork Providence.

*

Everybody’s worried about that if you have any intelligence. It’s happening, it’s stupid to say it’s not happening. I think there’s no stopping it, nothing you can do. A small group may make a small dent in a lot of things but I don’t see it happening on a majority level. People are too cynical. … I’m homeless right now, I live in a tent, and I clean up after myself, but not everybody does that. It’s gonna happen, so there’s not much point in worrying about it. You can control your anxiety, you can only deal with you.
Today’s poem:

Part of me says thief of healing, thief of beauty, breaker, enterer, you want what you despoiled to comfort you for your spoliation, for the leaflessness you brought into the world. Part of me says anyone who wants healing should seek it where they can. Part of me says murderer, scavenger, poisoner. Part of me says an injured mammal is a dangerous mammal. Part of me says no more milk for you, not a drop, eat your thirst, drink your ash. There’s what I know and what I also know. There’s what I want and also what I want.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/27/15

Weather: Hot in the sun, pleasantly cool in the shade, very windy and gusty.

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Alternate Histories: 0

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People I recognized from last year who recognized me: 1

People who recognized me from last year whom I didn’t recognize: 1, sorry

Pictures taken without permission: 2

Dogs spotted: 1, in a carrier

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.34

Observations:

Wind so strong and uneven keeps me tense and alert to it instead of to other things and people–I have to really grip the booth (which, lest we forget, is made of cardboard and plywood) to keep it from blowing over.

Now I’m in dappled shade almost the entire time, where at the beginning of the month the sun was shining directly on my face.

The public transit demonstrators of yesterday were present again, as were 2 police SUVs and some cars convening at the Greyhound/Peter Pan stop and outside the skating rink.

Thanks to James Kuo for helping me figure out a way to end conversations that are based on people’s perception of me as a captive audience.

People had a lot of advice for me today: I should hand out candy (“Life Savers or those miniature Tootsie Rolls”), I should play Michael Jackson’s Earth Song, I should get 50 Cent in as a spokesperson about heat rage.

Today also really made me think about cognitive dissonance and failure to correlate–how when I see it in others I should also search for it in myself.

Some conversations:

When people are not kind because of difference. People don’t respect one another. I was taught to be respectful no matter what–I just see a human being.

How did you learn to be like that? I’m asking because I’m trying to think about how to get more people to do it.

I think you really have to be brought up like that. I grew up in Harlem in the ’60s, so things were very different, and my mother told me that. Once you’re kind, you treat everybody that way … I think what’s stopping them could be frustration. When I first got here it was Cape Verdean and Portuguese, everywhere, now it’s Hispanics [sic] everywhere, doing every job. Maybe some people are scared they’re gonna lose what they have, but there’s enough room and space for everyone. There’ll be a place for you, a spot somewhere. Unless it gets like NY–people there killing each other for space.

How do you think we can make it clear that that space is there for people?

Let it be known–just get the word out. Like in a garden, every flower has its purpose. You’re not gonna catch me working at Starbucks, McDonald’s, but there’s someone who’s not gonna have a problem with that. Or working in a garden, on a farm–my hands are gonna get dirty, no way. But some people would rather do that. There’s a job for everyone, a need for everyone, everybody has a purpose.

What do you do for work?

I work at [REDACTED], and before that, I worked at a training school with child molesters. And people said, “How can you do that, don’t you wanna kill ’em?” And I said no, it’s an illness, and it’s just my nine to five, I can separate it, I don’t let it affect me. But certain things I can’t separate. If there’s blood, things hangin’ out, I couldn’t do that. It’s a balance, it really is a balance, but a lot of people aren’t there yet.

*

Are you praying?

[I explain.]

My mother. She don’t talk now–she only got a few days to live. She got cancer and the doctors give up and send her home.

Can you go to be with her?

It’s hard, ’cause it’s far. She’s in Puerto Rico. It would be a waste of time, she wouldn’t even recognize me. I’m just waiting for that call and then I’ll go down.

*

I worrying about killing somebody, raping somebody, lying, cheating. I worry so much when people talk about other people–people always gonna talk. I pray to God to not let me worry about these things. I think about these things but I don’t do them. I try to think like God. I’m not God, but I try to think like him, I prefer to think like God than think like the Devil. These things that worry me, they coming from the thinking of the Devil. God thinks peace, peace, God don’t like raping, lying, killing people. But these bad stuff come to my mind. If I’m gonna preach, if I’m gonna witness, I gotta suffer.

Are there people you can pray with who can help you stay strong?

At the Providence Center–[names some people] help me in the name of Jesus.

*

Bringing my son out to swim, which he’s been wanting to do. He’s autistic, and I get anxious when I wanna bring him outta the water–I had a lot of problems with that today. And last night we had a little trouble sleeping ’cause we have no electricity, so no A/C. I had to take like a wet rag.

Any chance of getting it turned back on soon?

I’m hoping in the next six months. I work over here at the mall and they’re not giving me enough hours. Matter of fact, climate change messed up my hours at work. I work at [REDACTED] and no one wants to be inside playing games.

*

Corruption–thieves. When people who are low on the totem pole [sic] get the brunt of everything. Did you see about that guy that worked for Medicare, he and his son stole $23 million in 4 years. Meanwhile I get Medicare and I still gotta pay 20% [of each doctor’s bill]. No! You take everything his family’s got and you sell it and you give it to us. And here at City Hall, “Oh, we’re broke, we’re broke,” how did you have $150 million to lend to some guy in Boston and it disappeared?

What do you think people should do?

Don’t pay taxes. Or put taxes in a trust--if you need it for something, we have a meeting, yes we’ll do this, yes we’ll do that. … How can these people have so much wealth when we’re so poor? In City Hall you can’t even get a cold glass of water. We get tired becase we gotta go to this one, go to that one … Get a good group, things’ll be great, people who’ll take it upon themselves. Transparency in what we’re spending.

*

[Person 1 and Person 2 came up together, and were later joined by Person 3. Also, note to Providence Arts, Culture & Tourism: you should hire Person 1.]

Person 1: Climate in RI does affect everyone. All winter people are dull, they’re complaining. People let the weather affect their moods. I try to dress for it, adapt to my current situation, but everyone just complains pretty much. We’re in New England, we get all four seasons pretty hard.

What would you recommend to help people deal with the seasons, the stuff that affects their moods?

That’s a good question. Maybe organize a day where you give out popsicles, not like a protest, but let that be the topic? In the winter, let’s get together, let’s go out there and plow, let’s have a snowball fight–maybe plow so that you can have a snowball fight. If it’s really hot, maybe organize a day where you only go out after six? But no one likes to be told what to do, but I think you have to be open-minded. Rhode Islanders are not as open-minded. It’s what we’re used to. People never get to leave their block–I wish they could see that there’s more. My friends and I have been talking about how there’s no scene in RI, and we want to set the theme for ourselves. We need more people involved, more ideas–people who come from out of state love it here. We don’t appreciate it enough ourselves.

Person 2: I’m afraid that the government can control the weather …I’m scared that they will use it against us someday. We should fight against it by rioting. The goal would be to establish–the goal would be to respect the people and not make weapons like that. The earth is more valuable than that shit. They always want to reinforce some kind of order.

[I think I asked some kind of question here like] What should they do instead?

If the government invests more money on solar panels every year, instead of double the money they give to the military, take a cut from that and invest it in solar technology. The gases that we’re using for cars is fucking up the air. Companies that do research on technology, they should invest in those departments–I think they already do that, but it’s not as much as it should be. It should be more than the military.

Person 1: What’s the two things Rhode Island is known for? Dunkin Donuts and Cumberland Farms. They could help us out climatewise–in the summer they could make Coolattas cheaper instead of more expensive, and in the winter, they could make a Box of Joe cheaper, and with Cumberland Farms, the same thing with coffee. But instead they’re trying to make money, so they raise the prices.

Person 2: They got strategic people for that.

Person 1: They’re trying to make money off the climate. They should do the opposite. … There’ve been six homicides already in Providence this year. Kids get brainwashed by rap videos, kids try to imitate–Chiraq, you heard of Chiraq? Kids here try to imitate that. They rep their block. It’s in the summer that most people get killed. People need to keep their cool. The South Side is not that big, but people hate on each other, it’s always in their brain that they’re gonna have to watch their back. [Person 3 came up at this point.] If people maybe spoke to each other more–these kids are all in high school, freshmen and sophomores. They wanna die and be put on a t-shirt and their boys can rap about them.

Person 3: My cousin’s a victim of that. He traps, and he’s like, and my uncles are like, “You don’t know how to make a dollar.” They think I’m the stupid one.

Person 2: You go to school, you’ll get a good job–even if you don’t, just so you can be educated on a lot of things. The more you learn, the more you know about things, the more you’re worth.

[They talk a bunch together about reading a book a day, and about drugs.]

Before I forget, I wanna ask [Person 3] if he has any climate anxieties.

Person 3: I grew up in Saudi Arabia and it was really hot. I don’t know if it affects me–it does, ’cause when I’m in the car and it’s really hot I get more aggressive. Wherever it’s fall all the time, that’s where I wanna live. Springtime’s almost nonexistent anymore. [Transition I didn’t note.] I’m a business major.

How can we use the tools of business to make doing things that are better for the environment more appealing?

I think communism might not be a bad idea–not communism, socialism, socialism. But it’s impossible because there’s always someone who’s greedy.

Person 1: Capitalism just destroys shit. It eats it like a black hole.

Today’s poem:

I’m not the census and I’m not praying.

Wind bangs the handtruck on the fence.

I squirm to know where to place myself.

Just when it seems I know what to look to.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/26/15

Weather: Warm, sunny, muggy, cooling off a little later.

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 9 walkbys, 2 bike-bys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7, but I forgot my normal pen and had to use a fat green pen

Alternate Histories: 0

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3, including 1 teenager

Inquiries as to whether I’m a real doctor: 1

Dogs spotted: 2, both from afar

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.35

Observations:

It seems like the more people see on the map of worries and beloved places, the more they want to add to it. Three or four people added to the map today. One wrote, “Winters are going to get shorter–my favorite season.”

Lots of sign-readers-out-loud today, too.

There were people demonstrating with signs on the steps of city hall while I was talking to Kevin, a booth acquaintance of long standing.

Me: They’re exercising their freedom of speech.

Him: More like freedom of too much time on their hands.

Me: Well, I’m here. You’re here.

While the demonstrators were demonstrating, I saw two police cars and an SUV pulled up by the Greyhound/Peter Pan stop; after the demonstrators disperse, so did the two cars, while the SUV remained.

Saw three very nice warm open smiles and got a thumbs-up from a person on a bike.

Some conversations:

I just came out of court. I gotta get a certain treatment–if not, I’m gonna have bad results.

Is it gonna be hard to do?

A little bit. It’s gonna be a challenge.

Do you have some ideas about what will help you get through it?

Counseling, I have counseling.

What about people and places that make you feel better?

Yeah, I have my friend’s house I can stay at.

Are there things that might make it harder for you to do the program?

If I fail, I’m looking at possible jail time.

Oh, I meant more like things that might happen while you’re doing it that might make it harder to finish doing it.

No. No.

*

Anxiety. I got a lotta that.

What’s the biggest source of it right now?

This. [Points to big wheelie-suitcase with a blanket in a plastic bag on top of it.] Just luggin’ it around. I was homeless, but I had an apartment for seven years. Then the landlord lost the house, and all the tenants were the victims. My girlfriend’s on oxygen and she has to go back to our friend’s house every few hours to refill our tanks. It’s just stressful.

*

College. Growing up kills me! My whole life I’ve lived with my mom, I’ve depended on her. I’m scared.

*

Is this with the census?

[I explain what it is.]

You gotta pay for that?

You gotta pay a nickel for it.

[Puts nickel in jar] The treatment of aboriginal and indigenous people.

*

[Person 2 came up while I was in the middle of a long, non-climate-related conversation with Person 1.]

Person 2: There’s not that much that I can do about it, except the stuff that I do. As scary as they might be, these climate denier people are not gonna change their tune because it’s based on greed. They don’t care about the future.

Person 1: They won’t have to, because the flow of hot and cold water in the ocean is stopping.

Person 2: Did you ever see AI? They’re going to desalinate the oceans and they’ll freeze. The whole planet will turn into a cue ball.

Person 1: The planet’s gonna enter an ice age to try and cool itself. The earth has the ability to rebalance itself.

Person 2: I think the earth’s ability to rebalance itself can be balanced out with enough carbon dioxide. I’m not ready to hand the planet over to the cockroaches just yet.

*Doctor’s note: He was probably talking about this.

Today’s poem:

It’s a challenge

it’s a sign you can’t read

inimical out there

you’re careful with your wording

worlds come with you

from the high halls out

into the red and green street

the dominant light

admitting no failure

but the last failure

no way but the last station

I can do nothing for anyone

who says there’ll be

more days like this

my resting face resistant

but not torrential

after you leave

should I have been more

should I have said should

or you will or you can

in the court of personal

recognizance only

all ranged against

your just release

if you don’t move

it might be perfect

the options are total

stillness and total destruction

you think and feel

animal of both

when it’s exactly inverse

a funnel of darkness

from sameness to absence

or endurance only

in your deadest form

where horror is proud

to tower the future

opening into elsewhere

the world-split, the wind

the crevasse you know better

than to look into and grow

monstrously unreachable

swollen and alone

we are on your water

we can’t say floating

we can say surrounded

we can say succumb

can we say besieged

who would give us permission

here in the wave we expect

daily hourly never at all

how could it be possible

such a wave here

on dry land under

the still fresh sun

how could we be possible

ever at all

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Reflections on Week 2 + 5/19

Over the past two weeks (I only spent one day at the booth last week), I had two climate anxiety counseling sessions that I didn’t post to the blog. Both laid out, in some detail with some missing parts, worlds fairly different than “the world,” the one we think we share. Both raised some questions for me about surveillance, risk, perception, planning.

There are more police around the park and bus station this year than there were last year, at nearly the same time, when I first held climate anxiety counseling sessions. At most times I can look up and see a police car or SUV, or a uniformed officer on a bike or on foot. One passerby responded angrily and suspiciously when I told her that Dorinda was recording my conversation with another person, even though we had that person’s permission; another passerby said that people in the park might think I was an undercover cop.

And another, the person I’m thinking of now, asked if I was a government drug dealer. I said that I am not a drug dealer and I don’t work for the government. They said, “You don’t need to work for the government to be a government drug dealer,” and proceeded to tell me about the drugs that were in everything–the food, the water, coating the seats of their truck and giving their cat seizures. They described a car chase in which the car behind them slowed down when they slowed down and sped up when they sped up. They showed me their arm, which had no marks on it, and a rash on their knees. Everything they offered as evidence had another and more likely explanation. “If this is true, and if it’s as pervasive as you say it is,” I asked. “what do you think our responsibility is–just ordinary people?”

“I was hoping you could tell me that,” they said.

I wish I’d asked them what they wanted me, specifically, to do–why they had chosen to speak to me–although that’s not usually a question I ask interlocutors at the booth. This person saw everything through the lens of their fear of a malevolent force of which they were aware and from which everyone suffered. They felt infinitely threatened and, in a way, they’re right.

The second person who came to me with a deeply developed vision was thinking not of the present but of a path to a potential future. “The government is a co-op, we pay taxes,” they said, “and it could be hard to tax ourselves again, but we’d directly address the needs of specific places … So one day, everybody takes a little bit of money, like instead of a six-pack or a t-shirt, and throw it together in a co-op till you have enough money to buy a portion of land to grow a massive amount of food … The people own it, everybody pays into it, everybody who pays into there gets to eat off it.” They described a supermarket stocked with this food, serving the people of the neighborhood, making political and ethical decisions about what they wouldn’t carry, as a pathway to “poor people joining together and taking control, writing our own bylaws, making our own rules … That building over there, it’s boarded up, why not petition the city to turn it into vertical farms?”

I want to describe this person, because some of the things about them go to make them extra vulnerable; I want to include more elements of their ideas, because I think they’re good ideas. but But I don’t want to describe them or include those elements, because I don’t want to put them or their ideas at risk. The risk is real, but could I really be its conduit? Am I seeing ghosts?

In writing the alternate histories, I’ve tried to envision versions of our work with some radical displacements and emplacements–some deep heaves in who serves, who cares for, who works for whom and what. I’ve tried to make those versions coherent, because the dream must be vivid and continuous, as vivid and as continuous as the world we know. The dream of drugs that make you anxious and depressed, coating every surface you touch, entering your body at every point, is a vivid and continuous dream from which the person who shared it with me has no desire to escape because he doesn’t think it’s a dream. The dream of shared resources and vertical farms is a dream that the person who shared it with me seems eager to commit to. What about the dream of this world, the one we reinforce every time we say, “It is what it is?” I don’t mean to say that we can “change the world” by changing our minds, but I believe that changing our minds is a necessary component; I think we should face and also question both the beatific and the miserific visions.

Both of these versions of the world are useful and important to listen to, but in different ways. The miserific vision is useful as a metaphor: there really are systems which many people serve unwillingly or unknowingly and which some people prosecute with gusto, which do pervasive harm to the people and other living beings of the world. My interlocutor made the nightmare literal, which can help us see it. My other interlocutor showed how the beatific vision is useful as a goad, a lever: something to help us upheave certain foundations. “As soon as we give it a name and a face, people will chip away at it,” they pointed out, “but like a snowball rolling downhill, we can start.”

Climate Anxiety Counseling, 5/19/15

Weather: Gray and damp. Actually rained for a short while about 3:30.

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1 really good one

Picture-takers WITHOUT permission: 1

Ducks seen: 1 American black duck

Dogs seen: 1

Cats seen: 1, being carried along with a computer monitor

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.35

Observations:

First umbrella day! It protected the booth and me, partly because the rain was not that heavy and there wasn’t much wind.

A white-appearing woman walked toward 2 police cars parked near the Greyhound stop, yelling (not at them, I don’t think). One of them said through a megaphone, “Take it somewhere else.” She yelled something (at them), and the same person responded, “Have a good day.” She walked back the other way, still yelling.

Smells of today: wet sycamore, cigarette smoke, flowery perfume, mud, sandalwood cologne.

A few people I know stopped to chat with me but didn’t tell me their anxieties.

Today was the ONLY booth day this week. I will be back on Tuesday, May 26th. 

Some conversations:

My future husband’s in the hospital having surgery for his legs, the back of his butt cheek and his stomach to see if they can get him to walk again. He hasn’t been able to walk for about a year. I was just over there visiting him–he’s out of surgery, he had it yesterday, and they’re taking him back down tomorrow. I’m asking people if they can pray for him.

*

[These three were three of six friends who came up together.]

Person 1: Plane rides. I’m terrified of flying. I’m worried the plane is just gonna drop out of the sky, and if that happens, if anything goes wrong with a plane, you’re just dead. There’s no possibility of survival. … I can talk about it, but I get scared when I start thinking about it and mentally transporting myself.

Person 2: The future. Basically growing up. You’re supposed to do all this stuff and I don’t want to.

Who says you’re supposed to?

The world. Society.

What happens if you don’t do it?

Nothing. You don’t get money, I guess.

If you could live a grownup life that you would actually like, what would it be? How do you see yourself?

Living on a farm in New Zealand, with horses. We’re just hanging out, I do what I want. They’re old little guys–maybe I’ll take one and explore. …But there’s other stuff I want to do first. I want to explore neuroscience and educate my mind first.

Person 3: Reading. I have dyslexia, so I can’t read well. Sentences switch around, words switch around and sometimes I jump lines and have to go back. I have to be able to read long texts, and I want to–well, I want to be able to read street signs but I can’t. Sometimes slowing down helps, but it makes the process of reading slower … Usually I get people to read things to me, which isn’t that bad.

*

I believe in that kind of thing. Fortunately for the environment, I stopped smoking because Jesus wanted me to, so I’m not polluting the environment. I don’t care much for all this litter lying around. They should have a bottle bill in this state. Plastic bags in the trees–then all that stuff falls into the ocean and then it’s bad news. The Great Pumpkin will have more to say when he shows up.

*

If people don’t prepare for it, they’re gonna starve. I think it’s Mother Nature trying to set things right again. It’s gonna be one extreme or the other–really cold or really hot, it’ll work its way back. It’ll mess with the world financially. The severe heat and cold will screw with different areas of the world–make people more apt to fight, more depression.

What can you imagine doing to help other people in the tough times you described?

You know the thing about you give someone a fish, they have dinner that night, you teach them how to fish, they can eat forever? Same thing–show people how to make small gardens, inside the house. It’ll help them because of the changes, not knowing how the food supply is gonna be, and growing things helps people survive and maybe a little more. If you live in a high-rise, you get enough people together and make a little window garden or something like that, for herbs and stuff, also you can find tomatoes, work off the afternoon sunshine. It does two things, it refreshes the oxygen inside the house and it gives you food.

I think taking care of something can also help you, like you have to keep the plant alive–if you have a dog, you have to stick around, because you have to feed it, you have to take it out–

Taking responsibility for an animal doesn’t mean just feeding it and bathing it. If it’s a female and it has babies, you have to take care of the babies, and if the babies are sickly you have to put them down. I had to do that with a kitten–it had two spines and I had to put it down myself. I’m used to bringing life into the world, not taking it away. I cried all the way there and all the way back. The other one was stillborn, and it had no spine, the other one had its spine.

[I give her the pickerel weed card.]

Can you eat this?

I think you can eat, not the flower or the leaves, but the pod. I’d check with someone though who knows the plants around here.*

I drive my friends crazy picking wild mushrooms.

How did you learn which ones you could eat?

I’m a midwife. My grandmother taught me some, I learned some from my ex’s aunt–but she was more about mountain climates than marshy ones like we’ve got here in RI. And I read a lot. The best way is to pick one and look up what it looks like. If it looks similar to something that you can eat, experiment with it a little bit–just try a little bit.** You know the dandelions that grow all around? You can eat those. They’re probably a little juicier in the spring, but the big ones are more substantial–you can try ’em in a salad, but if you don’t like that, you can cook them like other greens. A lot of nuts that fall from trees, if you roast them, you can eat most of them. The best thing to do is find out about this area–what used to grow, what still grows and what variations there are on it.

*Doctor’s note: You can eat the pods.

**Doctor’s note: There are bold mushroom hunters and there are old mushroom hunters, but there are no bold old mushroom hunters. If you want to try this, it’s probably better to go out with someone who knows, like these guys.

Today’s poem:

Don’t get your hopes up

my voice will protect you

from your strange self

it’s your sound

that I wish to hear over

the pigeon traffic

and liquid courage, bus kneels

like a camel and rises

emergency burdens

heaved up from the knees

if the rain should curtain me

look where you last saw

the worst information avialable

that won’t come from me

that won’t be what I’m here for

that I who have been gone

will have gotten underway

will be filled with all your air

all you should’ve had

don’t hold out hope like

a gift at a shrine if you give

the right amount of the right kind

you will live a long time

and never shuffle slowly

during all that time

with you like a sentence

you wrote till it lost

its birthright meaning becoming

just the sentence you were writing

watch the puddle surface

for impacts and the paper

surface for blisters

a set of whispers

the rain you can see   through

when it falls and can’t

at all when it rises

Alternate Histories: 8/15, 5/17 (A Group Effort from Frequency Writers)

The story of how this alternate history came to be is here. This one had two contributors.

8/15/14

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.”

5/17/15

We share the responsibility of children, of parents. We allow each other to be children and parents. If we don’t give birth to children, we are not without children. If our parents are gone, we are not without parents. We take care of each other.

It’s because of two first names. Only one name can be first, Lee or Harvey–choose.

Alternate Histories: 8/9, 5/17 (A Group Effort From Frequency Writers)

“What if you were in charge of everything in the world?” I’ll ask the students in Invisible Cities, my summer teen writers’ workshop for Frequency Writers on utopias and intentional communities. Last night people who attended the Frequency Open House had a chance to write mini alternate histories on the spot, with several people working from the same climate anxiety.

I asked for one responsive sentence from each person. I didn’t specify some of the constraints I used when writing the first alternate histories, and writers didn’t get a chance to correlate their responses, so some of these are more magical, gadgetary, contemptuous or apocalyptic than I allowed myself to be.

I’ll post them throughout the week. Here’s the first batch, by 3 different people.

8/9/14

The hole in Siberia. I wake up thinking about it. I was reading in the Washington Post … 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 [the greenhouse gas] methane, 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.

5/17/15

They figured out how to plug the hole–all the discarded pacifiers of the world congealed together–the baby saliva a new kind of permafrost, a sticky layer trapping the methane.

Everyone plugs up the hole (and all subsequent holes) with copies of the Washington Post.

Fox News would address climate change and the environment in a weekly televised forum. This would be the “New Reality Movement.” The Kardashians would slip from collective consciousness and general interest as we know it.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Regular Shift, 5/15/15

Weather: A little feverish without the breeze, pleasant with it

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 2 very very mildly sexual comments that wouldn’t even be a big deal if they didn’t stem from the same place that more aggressive and frightening comments come from

Pages of notes: 8, 4 from one person

Alternate Histories: 1, sort of

Dogs seen: 1, briefly from a distance

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.75

Observations:

Hair colors of today: bright purple; streaky lavender, pink and green like the mane of a magical unicorn.

A lot of people used the “stupid voice” rhetorical strategy today. Lots of TV hate, too.

The “sort of” alternate history came from a very long and detailed conversation that I’ve excerpted part of here, but that really deserves (and will get) its own post.

The little boy whose family walks by most days now starts the face-making and looks at me to make a face back.

Some conversations:

I was anxious in the winter. It was brutal. Definitely my mood changes with the seasons. Once the weather broke, I felt better. You get to the point where you’re just exhausted–the cold’s exhausting, the snow is exhausting. We actually had a spring this year–last year we just went from winter to summer. [Marks Wickford on the map.]

Do you want to say something about why you love it?

Serenity. I went to grammar school there, but I didn’t really appreciate it when I was a kid. It makes me feel serene, and that’s very important to me, because I’m in recovery.

*

Being homeless, needing medication, needing food. They told me I need preauthorization for my meds and they wouldn’t give it to me. The doctor gave me 15 days supply, that’s nothing.

*

[These two came up together.]

Her: I’m most anxious that we will keep limping along, just barely enough that no one ever has to really give a shit, that it’ll seem not quite that bad until it’s just over.

What do you mean when you say “over”, like total destruction of planet?

Her: Not even that. That we’ll just limp along in shitty ways, destroying cities, more people living without food and water, nobody ever doing anything real about it.

Him: Not the planet, the planet doesn’t give a fuck.

Her: The planet will be better after we’re gone–our destruction would probably be productive for the planet.

What do you think doing something real about it would be?

Her: There’s gonna have to be some sort of fairly major global solutions, intergovernmental cooperative efforts. My own inclination is to encourage these piecemeal solutions, permaculture, local actions, but that’s very limited.

What do you think we’d have to be willing to give up for those global solutions?

Him: Convenience.

I feel like that’s one of those piecemeal, personal things though–what about on a global level like you were talking about?

Him: Our autonomy as a nation. Other countries too, but Americans are more egocentric–“Oh, we’re an exception, we’re so special.”

Her: The opaque nature of our own complicit behavior, and where our money comes from and what it goes toward, how it contributes to these issues, how they’re interconnected. Governments would need to be much more transparent.

*

[Doctor’s note: this is the conversation that turned into a very detailed, concrete set of ideas for an alternate way of proceeding, and I want to give those ideas their own post.]

It’s fear porn–don’t go out of your house, don’t go out in the street, be afraid to live. That’s what they want anyway. As humanity we have to protect each other and love each other until the end. Nothing lasts forever. What matters is each other and how we treat each other. There’s schools in this city that are built with toxic chemicals, toxic sites on either side. It’s eugenics. And people are like, “Well, gotta go to work. At some point we’ll get back to you.” And then all of a sudden that was thirty years ago and people are all, “We shoulda done something about that.” [At other times in history], people would come after you with pitchforks and torches and a puppet of yourself, and they’d be like, “This is you,” and set that shit on fire. And you’d be like, “Holy crap, they’re pissed, let’s back off.” … People get a hostile vibe from me ’cause I’m like, What’s wrong with you–’cause shit’s fucked up. I’m like Debbie Downer with my friends … they’ll be like, “Uh, still working on that job search, talk to you later.”

*

What’s making me anxious is finding out if I’ll get permanently the job I’ve been temping for. I have an interview on the 29th with [REDACTED].

Do you get a good sense from the people there?

Yes, especially the boss I’m working with now. He wrote me a letter of recommendation to apply. It’s a good office, I like the people, I’m good at the work. It would be perfect, but they won’t confirm it. They’re interviewing 36 people, and … all it takes is one niece, one cousin of a politician.

Today’s poems (two because I didn’t do one on Thursday):

The quivering jaw

the soft sign

hunted under

normal levels

how to recognize

your other future as a horror

spell it out for me

the business of your metal

bike frames and rubber tires

to wear out and sell

today’s bad it’s a bad day

how are you today

I’m so bad today

I’m full sore today

I can’t seem to remember today

or run out of horror

it won’t exhaust

its deep source in me

spring of dust

I don’t really believe

surely I don’t really

bear it if I did

I couldn’t if I really

could restore it

what the rule would be

after collapse

feel the path cut out

for me on the ground

walk over my growing

grave the worst of it

we can’t name or know

but can only read

till our eyes are sore

without ever showing

that we weren’t looking

*

I don’t want to feel a terrible hope

I want to feel a regular hope like this

will work or work out not like this

will transform and tear through

there is always a leap a last

step to be taken the story says

it but not what it was and not

whether it worked once

the story part was past and I thought

it was real he said I thought

it was something that happened

he said this yesterday so today

we can talk about it in the past

we can know that much and see

that furthered out so still of stature

are we that every shadow

of every pebble looks like

it could be the dark fall

waiting for our leap