Climate Anxiety Counseling: Bike to Work Day, 5/15/15

Weather: Cool but not cold, overcast, pleasant

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 1 bikeby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

People who remembered me from last time, and I remembered them: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1, if holding up the phone with a questioning look on your face counts (I think it does)

Flyers for related concerns handed out and accepted: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.05

Observations:

Bike people, or at least these bike people, were not substantially more interested in the booth than the average range of passersby.

For longtime followers of this blog or my Twitter account: today saw the triumphant return of SSI Dress Guy!

When people say, “I think it would take a major disaster in this country,” I understand where they’re coming from, but I’m kind of wondering what would make a disaster major if Katrina wasn’t, if Sandy wasn’t, if the Colorado floods weren’t, if the California drought isn’t.

As part of Bike to Work Day, there was a table with muffins and bagels and bananas. When I asked who the food was for, the person working the table responded very coldly that it was for people who were biking to work. I said I was participating in the event and she said, “Oh, in that case, you can have some of the food.”

A lot of the most direct statements I’ve heard about climate change and anthropogenic environmental degradation have been from people whose work shows them the effects directly, and I want to write more about that, maybe for this week’s reflections.

Some conversations:

Gases going into the air, that’s what I’m worried about. I got asthma, epilepsy, COPD, scoliosis–well, that last one I was born with, but the others. And the other thing is, they should have a law, there should be no smoking in the damn park. Exposing the kids to smoke–I was exposed when I was in my mother’s womb. I worry more about the kids. We been exposed to everything now. It’s the new generation.

*

[Person 2 joined this conversation halfway through.]

Person 1: The increase of severe weather. Hurricanes. More and more disruption, we’ll become more like the Third World [sic]–you see places like Bangladesh, huge areas get underwater. It’s only a matter of time before it comes here. And just a general trend of more bad weather–hurricane plus wind plus storm surge. People who build in the vulnerable areas have money and political clout.

But–were you here in 2010, do you remember the flooding then? That wasn’t rich people who got flooded out.

Person 1: No, that’s true. But along the coast–I think it would take a major disaster in this country. Policy is reactive rather than proactive. When the beachfront mansions get washed away…

Person 2: [Gives me a flyer for a rally on June 10th, “The Environment is Everyone’s Business.“] The environment is where we live and work. There is no business, no politics, without the environment. The poorest neighborhoods have the dirtiest industries, the least cleanup of garbage, and then the city’s like, “Why doesn’t anyone want to live there?” The climate has changed, and it disproportionately affects the poorest people first. … There’s political dimensions of global warming, too. The disproportionate responses of corrupt governments, taking the opportunity to create a global empire: “Oh, there’s a disaster, we better go in and lock it down. Oh, I guess we better lock down the Navy base there.” We had that in Charlestown [RI] during Sandy. For two weeks, I couldn’t go on a street in my own home.

*

The city–pollution. Buildings, cars, power plants. People just like to litter, it’s just fun to them. Like when I was younger and I did litter, I felt bad about it. Like why would you do that.

What do you think would make people change that, those habits?

More influence. More influences. Maybe through music–I’m a musician, reggae, hip-hop, percussion. Inspirational vibes and dancing. If it’s there, more broadcasting of it, something in there for children–the inspiration needs to be there. Rhode Island is very depressing, people hate it. It’s depressing, it’s boring, there’s nothing to do. All it really is, is an ocean, which, sure, if you have money.

*

It’s not like we see a whole bunch of climate change, but what we do see is trash everywhere. I’m a fisherman, and the garbage piles I see in the ocean–plastic bottles, fish tangled up in it–you would not believe. The USA does a little to clean it up, but countries like China, Indonesia, nobody’s doing anything about it.

What if you had, like, a bottomless bank account to respond to this, what would you do first?

There’s too much out there to haul out and bring in. The problem is just too great, but you have to start somewhere. I’m an ocean person, and it’s just astounding. It would literally take hundreds of millions of barges to even make a dent.

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/14/15

Weather: Sunny, breezy, pleasant. Little gusts like a cat knocking things off a table.

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Alternate Histories: 1, sort of, in a great way: see below

Dogs seen: 1

Ducks seen (and heard): 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Flyers for other concerns, accepted on a previous day, passed on to someone who seemed interested: 1

Instances of hat appreciation: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.35

Observations:

Lots of police activity in the bus station, and some in the park, today. One officer walked past the booth and asked what I was doing.

I made an effort to look up more today–not spend quite as much time drawing or otherwise looking down–and once again saw a lot of what appeared to be warm, genuine smiles.

One more resounding thanks to Dorinda Fong for recording (with permission), astutely observing, and coining the phrase “hat appreciation.”

Some conversations:

I went to the Climate March in New York and it was incredible. I’m starting to cry just thinking about it. My mom’s first protest was here, my grandma marched for the Civil Rights Movement, and my great-grandma chained herself to the White House–she was a suffragette. And my daughter is the president of SAGE at URI, she’s a junior. I was part of Occupy here … the Climate March was so amazing, so beautiful. I went with some people from here, it was a little Occupy reunion, we took the $10 bus down. We thought there was gonna be maybe 40,000 people and all of a sudden we see all these people coming out of nowhere [sic]. We didn’t even make it to the end, we were carrying this huge banner. I’ve done a bunch of Wal-Mart actions in the last three years. I’m in love with public speaking now, activism, speaking out. I think ’cause I saw my parents protesting–when they were doing it, I didn’t see change. My mom was protesting nuclear power plants when we lived in California. But they actually got a lot done. I used to sit here and do an info booth, I’m still an admin on the Occupy page.

What do you think you can do, activists can do, to keep grounded?

Like to keep from feeling defeated? I think I always feel slightly defeated. Especially with these Wal-Mart actions, I’d go to them and there’d only be a few people there. I always feel like one is better than none. If I stop, then who’s gonna be there? But I do think there’s been a lot going on. I’m trying to concentrate on mental health care, ’cause lack of mental health care can lead to drug addiction, homelessness, cuts to mental health care cause more violence–they cut back on the one thing, well not the one thing but a main thing, that would help. … There are 4 of us–the other 3 are over 60–we get together every month and read things. We just read the Communist Manifesto, we watch documentaries–we just watched a documentary about putting in a pipeline, the man who let people go climb in the trees to try to stop them from cutting them down. We need to get together, bring DARE together with Jobs With Justice… I think we’re moving towards that–I’ve seen it with the police marches, just a group of people coming together. If we all stand together–

*

I’m anxious about everything. I guess I’m anxious about the next big storm. We invest in stormwater management issues and infrastructure with the Coastal Resources Management Council, and given the rising sea levels, residents have really built too close to the water. Especially when hurricane season starts, I think about it. We bemoan the fact that Sandy hits and costs us billions of dollars and in terms of infrastructure and human lives. We need a long-term strategy as opposed to avoiding it.

What do you think would shift people, get them to stop avoiding it?

There’d need to be a change in the public sentiment that it only happens once in a blue moon … After the initial incident, people regroup and forget about it. And then that change would need to translate into political will, social will, to find the money to invest in long-term planning. Increased awareness in everybody’s mind, more particularly in people who are most impacted by that … And eventually it would have to become a priority for taxpayers. The type of housing, the money spent–people will say, “You choose to live there, so it’s your problem,” and it is a combination of all those things, the wisdom of choosing to be near the water, near the coast, wanting to live there. We’d need to rethink whatever zoning or regulations that determine that. Getting people to see that, to be that selfless.

*

To get old–no, to get adult.

What worries you about that?

Restriction of freedom. Freedom to have other possibilities–to be open to other possibilities.

*

[I’d talked with this person before and given him an alternate history.]

You didn’t finish that story–I noticed it doesn’t really have an end.

Yeah, that’s because I don’t really know how it ends. It’s made up, you know, it’s like a “what if” people did this or that.

Oh, I thought it really happened. So how does it end? ‘Cause there was some crazy shit going on. Are you gonna write more? It’s the one about F and O.

I honestly don’t know! You know what you could do, is you could write an ending for it. You could write what you think happens. Email it to me, or bring it back.

*

Cop: What are you guys doing here? Five cents, huh?

[I explain.]

Cop: No, I’m good. Thank you though.

*

The climate has changed a lot since I was a kid. Winters are a lot colder and summers–it’s like winter’s going into summer and summer’s going into winter. I’m 47, I’ve lived here all my life, I’m from Burrilville. [I give him a dogtooth violet card.] Oh–I love lady slippers.

Pink or yellow?

The pink ones.

*

I’m anxious because I’m graduating tomorrow, and my family’s driving up to see me, and they can’t drive, and I’m anxious about being nervous tomorrow, and I’m anxious about my dress being cute enough, and I’m anxious because I don’t have shoes. My sister’s bringing me shoes.

*

I didn’t write a poem for this day.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/13/15

Weather: Cool, sun & clouds, starting windy, turning calm

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 2 walkbys, 1 person driving right through the middle of the park

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

People who remembered me from last time, and I remembered them: 3

People who remembered me but I didn’t remember them: 1

Flyers for other concerns handed out and accepted: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.25

Observations:

Once again, thanks for recording assistance and patience from Dorinda Fong!

One white person said with their actual face, “My grandfather would say the N-word, I would never say that word, I don’t even know that word,” and then used the word itself about three minutes later to refer to a Black person they were angry at.

Sometimes the people whose attitude and understanding are most similar to my own are the people who frustrate me the most, and I don’t know why.

The new bus configuration means that people are often walking fast through the park, or even running, to make their transfer.

Lots of cops around again today, on foot and in cars.

Smells of today: patchouli, some kind of very clean musk perfume, cigarette smoke

Hair colors of today besides the usual ones: medium purple, bright pink, orange-and-brown ombre, turquoise, very close-cut maroon.

Some conversations:

My biggest concern is the impact it’s gonna be having on populations already impacted by environmental problems, especially poor communities of color. Neighborhoods with extremely toxic conditions, and on top of that, worrying about the other effects of climate change–erratic weather, changing shorelines, people on the move, the effect it’s gonna have on their well-being and livelihood.

What do you think is already present in the communities you’re talking about that they could enhance in order to survive?

People in the community coming together to make things happen for themselves. Things like food…but also issues of housing and work–trying to form collective powers with control over these things a little bit more. Tenants fighting to make sure their apartments and buildings aren’t falling apart, for living wages at work–but more than that, to have a say in the running of it, demanding control over these sorts of things. A participatory society, which is something we profoundly lack, and a community of care–at the basic level of households and neighborhoods and moving upwards. People do care about the well-being of other people, but the structures that are set up make it difficult to actively have a community of care. There’s so much bureaucratic procedure that gets in the way. If we wanted to make the environment better, we could choose to, but there are these bigger forces that say, “You can’t make that choice.” More autonomy as working people means a confrontation with those bigger forces–we can’t walk out of Planet Earth.

When you say “we”, do you mean you, too?

Yeah, I’d say this is a material thing in my life. I moved back to Providence in 2010 and I lived on Federal Hill. The landlord was all right, but what struck me is that when we were living a couple streets over, we found out that the building was covered in lead paint. We had no clue. People are always asking me, Is it okay to drink from the tap? And I’m like, Well, the Scituate Reservoir is really good, but Providence pipes can be really bad, and the landlord didn’t go out of his way to tell me if our pipes were lead or not … There are lots of moving parts, a matrix of these different issues. You can’t say that one is the pillar, they’re all connected.

*

Staying clean. I’m very open about this stuff. I’m one week sober, all drugs, and I’m actually very proud of that, but it’s tough to keep that up.

What helps you keep it up?

Not this job, which would be a lot more enjoyable if I was drunk. Counseling–I go to group counseling, which is better in my experience. Everyone is there for alcohol and I’m also there for cocaine addiction. What’s interesting is my core group of friends right now lives in a drug house–one roommate’s smoking pills, we play cards with the two guys who smoke weed, and half the guys drink, and every couple times a week there’s coke on the table. And there’s one guy who doesn’t do any of that. But they’re very accepting, and they don’t ever offer it to me. There’s one guy who probably will have to stop drinking eventually–I told him it’s kind of an issue but I’m not gonna pressure him, and he’s not gonna pressure me. Also I’m a musician, I play the guitar, bass, and drums, so I’m always gonna be around alcohol if nothing else. We play in bars, and I’ve done it when I’ve been sober, but … It does feel different this time. I quit everything. Last time I quit drinking but not cocaine. Sometimes just passing by a liquor store, like yesterday, it was hot, and I just wanted a drink–like any kind of drink, but I caught myself thinking, “A beer would be nice.” I laughed at myself, like, “Uh, yeah, that’s an option.” … Knowing that it’s right there is part of saying no to it. When something does bother me, it’s not gonna push me over.

*

It’s destroying a lot of things, and a lot of the problem is us. The weather’s changed over the years. I do landscaping, and I see it. We’re definitely the biggest problem. If people started worrying more, then things would probably change–I would like it to happen but I don’t see it happening.

What do you think would help with that?

If people would notice what they were actually doing, but to get the point across to everybody–I don’t know where you would get your point across. I’m redesigning the park, giving back to nature, and if we don’t do that, it’ll go to shit.

*

The winter went longer, do you think the summer’s gonna go longer? [Climate change] isn’t a source of anxiety, but I believe in it. Ask me a really weird question.

What do you think we can do for each other, to make things easier for each other?

Give each other space when another person seems like they need space, give people support when they need support. Like that woman that just ran by, you saw me ask her if she needed help. I would whip out my whole wallet to give her change, but not my whole wallet, but I would whip out 50 cents, but let’s say I had a thousand dollars in my wallet, nothing but big bills, I wouldn’t whip it out around here.

What do you think a fair world would look like?

We would not have huge skyscrapers. Everything would be equal. Houses, all the buildings would look the same. …You would have your own mural you put on them yourself, your own thing that you did, your work–maybe if you worked hard at your job, you would have more money and have a bigger house, kind of like now, but you would never look down on anyone.

*

I’m worried that I don’t know enough to know what I should be worrying about.

Today’s poem:

With anger

what you do you do

do you roar weakly upward

representative

feel your length leaking

out through your clenched teeth

dragged in half where

do you build your angry altar

distort your course take your toll

till it transforms you

when whoever’s closest

your rage reorders

with no reward

you are war-torn

unrecoverable

how can it be resource

I know it too well

I store it too whole

numb and robust

a robot of grief and more

and more hoarse under

a big political face

anger without reach

distrust and dismissal

shits its bed like a river

breaks its banks for nothing

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/12/15

Weather: Sun & clouds, warm, humid, blustery

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Conversations between people who didn’t previously know each other: 2

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.10

Observations:

I still can’t figure out how to get people who don’t know me to write an alternate history. Maybe this is just not the optimal structure for it, but I’m not giving up yet.

Dorinda Fong helped me again by recording conversations. Thanks, Dorinda!

A very tiny caterpillar–possibly an early instar of an ultimately larger caterpillar–crawled on my page of notes. Was it cute? Gross? A potential beautiful moth (probably a moth, it was hairy) or a voracious defoliator? WHO CAN SAY?

Smell of today: Egyptian Goddess perfume oil (which I wore myself, all through high school and college, and still wear occasionally, but it wasn’t me this time)

Some conversations:

The future. Parenting my son for a better America. How do I live off my job, with a child, and still do things? My relationship–I hope it lasts.

Just to go back for a second, how old is your son?

He’s one. And he’s such a smart kid, he doesn’t even need me, but I’m there, so–

What would be the ideal circumstances to raise him in, what would make it easy for you to be a good parent?

Running water. Smart people, a good crowd–the people that I hang out with, I don’t know what kind of influence they are. You never know about anyone else, what they’re thinking. People are scared to approach each other–they’re so evasive. Like if you didn’t have this sign, I wouldn’t have come up to you … If we trust each other we’ll be fine.

Who do you trust?

My mother. My mom and me are still talking, to this day. If I say to her, Mom, I’m gonna be the President, she’ll say okay. If I’m in trouble, in any situation, she’ll support me. And I’ll support her–she’s always trying new things. We laugh together, we cry together, we watch the world get older together. We live in this world, we have to evaluate this world. And the climate too–this calendar is utter bullshit, they need to make a new calendar. Maybe 20 years ago the calendar was right [to describe the seasons], but not anymore. This is like a ministry, what you’re doing, but for the earth?

*

My brother’s anxious. Usually ’cause of stress at work. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, I think that stresses him out. He starts getting panic attacks, he’s on medication for that but he still has them every now and then. He acts really nervous–it happens when he’s on the street a lot, if there’s traffic, a lot of cars. It has to do with climate in a way–heat and stuff, he’ll take off his shirt sometimes. He went to a doctor, he talked to the doctor, and that calmed him down a little. And he’s looking for another job. Also our dad isn’t feeling well, he’s got pain in his leg, and that stresses my brother out a lot.

It sounds like your family really has each other in mind, like you guys look out for each other.

Yeah, of course.

*

I have a lot of anxieties about existential destiny. I’m overly empathetic and that can sometimes lead to not understanding how I feel–I’m always responding to other people’s feelings, always part of something, even when I’m by myself. I’ve learned how to meditate through it–I’m very sensitive to other people’s energy and I’ve learned some visualizations that help, even though I know they don’t work for everyone–giving people back their energy in a loving way.

*

[Reads map] “Is there a place in Rhode Island you love?” Yes there is. Galilee. It’s a little tiny cove, and you can see all the way to the bottom. I didn’t go in the ocean for 20 years after I watched Jaws, but I went here and the water was so clean, I stayed in until my lips were blue. I wanna go tomorrow, all alone. It makes me feel good for a long time–well, about a week. My kids had to pull me out–you know, like when they’re little, you’re the one who has to pull them out. It was one of the best experiences I’ve had with my grown children. All I did was laugh, I was exhausted when I got home. I should really put the whole South Coast on [the map]–it’s a different world down there. You should do this down there–I don’t think people feel like that up here. … But some of [the beaches] are so polluted, it’s so sad. Down at the open beach, the water was brown, it was like seaweed soup, like escarole soup, and there were all these signs, “Water is not habitable to swim or fish.” And people throwing stuff everywhere–adults are the worst, kids’ll go throw it away.

*

At first I wasn’t gonna see An Inconvenient Truth because I thought it’ll just be preaching to the choir. When I saw it, I thought I got it before, but it was borderline terrifying. Huge swathes of Greenland, Antarctica, those places, where there were these thick deposits of ice 10 years ago–now they’re like this [points at the ground], like dirt, literally dirt. If that doesn’t make people act, I don’t think anything will. They’re talking about a tipping point, if we don’t do anything right now–and the California drought, we’ll be beyond the point of no return by the time people get the complacency shaken out of them. Not that I’m one of those apocalyptic doomsayers–I think it’s too easy to propagate and too easy to be taken in. But there’s institutional resistance to recognizing this. On 60 Minutes there was the guy that was studying climate change before it was cool, I think he was the world authority, studying since 1975, and he submitted an analysis of all the data to the White House, 3-5 years ago, and they literally doctored the report to water it down. There’s a concerted campaign to minimize this. … I’m sick of all this NASA crap. I hate NASA. They should put all of those resources, the research and development, the infrastructure toward the environment. Make it the central focus. “Oh, we sent a robot to the farthest reaches of the Milky Way–” who cares! It’s all too clear to me that we’re living in something that resembles a dictatorship more than a democracy. I heard someone say that the office of the presidency is for sale to the highest bidder. We need to put more power in the hands of the people.

*

I’m emotionally codependent. Very clingy. I don’t deal with loneliness well, especially at night–the sun goes down, so does my mood.

When you start to feel that way, what do you do?

My girlfriend comes over on occasion. Or I go on Facebook, on Messenger–I call my friend Charlie, he’ll talk to me. Or I’ll call a bunch of people, “I got food at my house, come over and I’ll cook for you. … I need touch all the time. “Oh, you’re a man, you shouldn’t need that.” Bullshit.

This might sound weird, but does being close to a non-human animal help, like a dog or a cat?

Yeah! I love dogs, I’ve had dogs all my life. One dog I had from 9 to 19. He’d just sit on the couch with me, I’d feed him small treats to keep him there. I’d get a dog, a golden–two goldens, for when I have to go to work, they won’t get lonely, and they could sleep in the bed with me, all around me. But it’s more money on the rent for dogs, per dog… I can’t even watch ASPCA commercials without crying. I like birds, too–sometimes I come down here and look at the birds. Have you heard of a king crested cockatoo? They get hooked on you–if you leave them alone too long they tear their feathers out, they’ll be totally naked. I don’t like cats, they’re snooty. I like an animal that’ll give me a hero’s welcome.

*

Today’s poem:

What are you thinking about in that brain

of yours ’cause I know you have one

meat nugget of nothing but connection

impulse succeeding impulse we’ve named

after the energy that can destroy it

gathering then flying up all at once

all the way in us shorting outward

deep nugget of charcoal we know

when someone’s died because we gather

around them and then we leave

it’s as simple as that

we’re proud to say we always

know which animal would do

what we do when we dodge

like a face caught in light

heaving without true motion

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Reflections on Week 1

The first time the evangelist came up to the booth, he made a rhetorical move he probably thought was clever: “You know what’s the worst climate anxiety? Heaven and Hell. You end up in the wrong place, there’s no counseling that’s gonna help you.” Later in the 20+ minutes of that encounter, he told the story of a similar rhetorical move he made to a woman he met on the street at night in Providence, right before he asked her how she’d feel if someone came up behind her, doused her with gasoline, and set her on fire.

That first encounter was mostly him telling stories he thought would move me–presumably to convert to Christianity right then and there? I’m not sure what I could have said to make him walk away satisfied, but I know what I did say to make him walk away: “I need a break from talking to you right now,” and then, when he kept talking, “You need to listen to me. I’m done talking to you.” He walked away, calling out, “You’ve received a warning today.”

Two days later as I was setting up, he came back, already talking. “If you pay attention to this foolishness,” indicating the booth, “instead of heaven and hell…”

“Please leave me alone,” I said. I kept saying it, over him, rhythmically and at high volume, though not actually shouting. A woman I didn’t know walked out of the park toward the bus station saying to him, “Leave her alone, she said to leave her alone, that’s harassment.” He kept talking and so did I, until a man I didn’t know took him by the elbow, gently, and led him away.

The people who intervened on my behalf were just people, as far as I could tell–no uniforms, no official status. I’m immeasurably grateful for their help, and relieved that they recognized me as helpable. I’ve seen people do worse things to other people in Kennedy Plaza with no intervention from anybody.

Gasoline story notwithstanding, I don’t think I was in any physical danger from this man, partly because of where I was–in broad daylight in a public place with many people passing by–and partly because of who I am, a white cisgender woman with the exterior trappings of someone who has a home to go to. My sister Rachel pointed out that while the evangelist was irritating, the people who stepped in may have recognized that he wasn’t likely to physically hurt them for intervening–like them, he had no official status, no state sanction.

There’s a resemblance between the evangelist and me. Like me, he is telling stories to strangers, stories that he hopes will change the way they think and behave. He offers what he sees as hope and transformation, and so do I. There are real differences between the evangelist and me, too, but I think those are easier to see and I won’t belabor them here.

Where is the place for the evangelist in the world I want to help to make? I’m not going to shed any tears over him–he’s an aggressive jerk who doesn’t listen to women. In that world, which is this world, he can’t have the place he wants. But there must be some place for him, because everyone has to be somewhere. If we are serious about this world, we have to think about the people in it: what will we do with people whose differences from other people seem to them to be an excuse for aggression? How do we take care of each other when “each other” is the source of menace?

There is a difference, too, between someone who will continue to talk at, or over, another person against their wishes, and people who will step in to defend those wishes. I’m grateful that the two people who spoke up for me saw my wishes as defendable. Maybe they see everyone as worth protecting. Maybe they “go out of their way”–maybe that is their way, as they see it. I hope I would spring to their defense, if someone were troubling them in my line of sight. I hope I would recognize that trouble when I saw it.

To learn to recognize, assess, respond to threats that aren’t directly to the self–that seems key, it seems central, to shifting the balance of this world. A transphobic attack, a trumped-up arrest, a wall of flaking lead paint, a flood of poison into a body of water: if the threat is not to you, how can you usefully interpose yourself, without yourself being destroyed?

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/8/15

Weather: Warm and breezy, cooler later.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 1: the evangelist from last time graduated to heckling

Pages of notes: 6

Alternate Histories: 0

People I met through the booth last year, who remembered me: 4

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Picture-takers with permission: 1

Puppies pet: 1

Flyers for other concerns proffered and accepted: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.45

Observations:

Two separate people, strangers to me, came to my aid when the heckler-evangelist wouldn’t leave me alone, and I am so very grateful to them. I’ll write more about this tomorrow.

So far this time around, there’ve been more people who give me money without even asking what the booth is about.

At around 4:30, the sprinklers came on all around me. I was able to adjust the booth to not get sprayed too much. They also popped up out of the ground within the park, which would soak anyone who was trying to lie peacefully on the grass.

Smells of today: Several colognes, pizza, booze breath, hot grass, wet grass.

Fashion theme of today: Stripy maxi dresses.

Some conversations:

I saw a thing in the paper about how a sea level rise of 3 feet is going to destroy the marshes and salt ponds, down in South County, that are breeding grounds for lots of fish and birds–plovers and stuff like that.

What do you think we can do to protect these places?

See, because it’s coming from the melting of the Antarctic and Arctic ice caps, I think that humanity has to learn a different way of doing a lotta shit. We need to get away from the use of fossil fuel. … Energy is what the power structure at the top of humanity uses to keep control. … I think the time is coming when humanity will rise up en masse, and that is the only way it’s gonna happen. I would hope that it would be a peaceful uprising. … When it comes to the future with climate change, where do we go from here? I was on a bus this morning and I saw a religious pamphlet, and it said, “Is the end near?” The same old fear crap–it keeps people embedded in the way things are, and that’s the way they control us. People gotta wake up and come to the conclusion that it’s all bullshit, that we have our own power, spirit power. I’ve been thinking more and more about moving back to the country. My dad was born in 1895 and my mother was born in 1909. I know how to garden, I know how to milk a cow, I know how to drive a tractor.

What do you imagine when you imagine that life?

Well, minus the cows–I’m not gettin’ up at four in the morning. Gardening, vegetables, maybe chickens for meat.

Would it be just you?

It’d be more than just me, more than likely. I’m a social animal. I’ve become one.

*

Just my pain. I was in a car accident so I can’t move around as much. Hopefully it’s gonna get better. But the climate too. Have a good day.

*

Like molten lava? Like earthquakes?

Here in RI it’s more likely to be flooding and storms that could wash away the beach, the shore–

And the houses.

And the houses. So that’s what freaks me out.

It freaks me out too.

So can I ask you, where did you hear about this stuff?

[At this point his mom called him, and he had to go.]

*

ISIS killing us and all that shit! I hear about it on the news.

Do you worry about that day-to-day?

Yeah!

What do you do when you feel worried?

Smoke some weed and take a drink.

Does it help?

Hell yeah.

*

I’m a counselor myself for teenagers with addictions, and I’m concerned that my kids aren’t improving.

What are the things that get in the way of their improving?

Lack of motivation, peer pressure–and they’re at a time in their life when life isn’t too serious. It’s just the arrested development, the developmental stage of being an adolescent. Impulsivity, immaturity.

What helps people become mature?

Age. Experience–for some of them, dire and serious experiences. In my community, those who are incarcerated, for example, are at the extreme end of the bell-shaped curve. That’s not the norm.

You’ve talked a lot about what’s inside them, and about doing the work on what’s inside them, that they can control. But what about the stuff outside them that they can’t control might be getting in their way when they try to make those changes?

Oh, we can talk about poverty, we can talk about gangs. The addiction itself is a barrier. Are you saying we should work on changing those things?

I guess I’m asking about this because, if someone is sinking in quicksand, you can tell them what to do to keep themselves from making their situation worse, like don’t thrash around, spread your body out, but it also helps if you can get them a tree branch to hold onto. So what could be the tree branch?

I don’t know if there is a tree branch.

*

Six months with six feet of snow. The other thing that worries me is when you click on those links that show what’s gonna flood, and they always say Oh, you don’t wanna live in New York, you don’t wanna live in Florida–but no matter where you live, if New York floods, you’re in trouble. But you were talking about tree branches–I think my tree branch is I went to the RISD thesis show, and I was looking at all the landscape design and urban planning displays, and they were strategizing about other ways to live in the world, to live in an altered world. And I thought the world is gonna be different, but creative people are thinking about how to live in it. I think about like the Romantics envisioning our world–“How could you live in such a place?” But we do. We love high-rises.

Today’s poem:

In a breeding ground for fish and birds

I’ve become a city

I don’t belong here

and yet I am built

and yet I can feel my feet sinking

and yet I think I’m an exception

who’s come a long way

whose worries are old

bedded down in thick rot mat

site of so many exchanges

we can’t name to know

and don’t ask and don’t come here

you come here

don’t come here

you digging machine, you accretion, withdraw

your power to change is no more

chemical than anything

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/7/15

Weather: Hot, sunny, occasional breezes turning into sharp gusts later.

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 5 walkbys, plus one person who thought I was selling hot dogs–we took an unusual amount of time to figure out what each other wanted.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Alternate Histories: 1, written collaboratively

People I met through the booth last year, who remembered me: 2

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1, but I sort of started it

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.46, plus one peppermint candy

Observations:

I tried facing east instead of west this time. Pros: sun on my back instead of in my eyes. Cons: the wind comes from the west and tries to blow the booth out from under me; people in cars, who can only drive east on Washington St., can’t see the sign; if there are cops in the park I can’t see them. It didn’t seem to make a difference in the number of stoppers.

It’s happened more than once that people have held up World War II resource-recovery practices as an alternative to how people throw things away now. I can tell that’s an oversimplification, but does anyone know how it became such a widespread and apparently appealing one?

It’s pigeon mating season again.

Some conversations:

My children. Four of them. They were taken from me for being homeless. I don’t think people know enough about homelessness. They’re with foster families.

Is there anything underway to get them back with you?

I’m doing everything I can.

*

I’m worried about my SSI check. I applied, I’m waiting to hear. Waiting is hard. It’s not the money, I mean, money’s tough, but my girlfriend got money, I can get $200 from her if something comes up, it’s the waiting, not knowing.

*

I live in the forest in southern Oregon and each year, we get less rain than the year before. Two summers ago, it was raining embers from the Brimstone Fire all summer long. They said if visibility was less than half a mile, the air quality was hazardous–I couldn’t see 50 feet through the smoke. I don’t have anxiety, I have straight-up PTSD from these fires. Two months ago in Portland, Portland normally gets tons of rain, but it was just like this, the cherry blossoms were just like these. In March. People were saying they enjoyed the weather but they couldn’t enjoy it because they knew what it meant. There’s no snow in the mountains, and that means extreme drought, and that means extreme fires–forest fires there are like blizzards here.

What do you think might help people change what they’re doing, to try to stop doing the things that make this worse?

I think if people were to look at our planet from space, and see how tiny and precious it is, they might start to realize there isn’t any other place we can live … What’s causing droughts is deforestation, because Reagan deregulated the timber industry. They liquidated the timber stands in five years that were supposed to last for centuries, and that’s what caused this whole cycle. We know if you deforest–that’s where the rain comes from.

What about reforesting, are people doing that?

No, they’re not reforesting–they’re logging, because after there’s a fire they try to salvage the timber. It does cause anxiety. I’ve lived in these conditions for 25 years. This year is gonna be the worst fire season in history. In 2002, the Biscuit Fire  took out half a million acres. I talked to the crew chief on that fire, and he told me their commander told them, when the lightning strike started it, to let it burn, because Bush had the Healthy Forest Act. He was sick about it. Mature trees are fire-resistant–leave those, take the small ones! Burn off the undergrowth every couple years–that’s what the Native Americans [sic]* did. That’s why the virgin forest was so beautiful. But they would do it in the fall when it was cool and damp–that’s the only thing that puts them out.

What would have to change for reforestation to really take hold?

The heads of the timber industry would have to not be in charge of it. It’s a conflict of interest. That’s what the Reagan deregulation did, it stopped everything that was preventing a conflict of interest.

*Doctor’s note: a little preliminary research suggests that he’s talking about the Takelma and Klamath people, but I welcome correction!

*

[These two were a couple.]

Girlfriend 1: Finding work. I have a job, I wanna find a better one. More money, more stability. I don’t mind dangerous–I used to work unloading the freight when it comes off the 18-wheeler, sometimes it shifts around, you can’t just take it off however. I worked with electrical and manual jacks–you have to be certified, you have to know what you’re doing. I’m not too concerned about global warming. I’m concerned about my sister’s pregnancy–she’s had three miscarriages. I’m concerned about my girlfriend’s health, she’s sick right now. My girlfriend smokes and I want her to quit. I call her a dirty smoker–she’s dirty smokin’.

Does that make you want to quit?

Girlfriend 2: Yes.

It sounds like you guys are taking care of each other.

Girlfriend 1: Yep. We’re getting married, she’s not going anywhere.

*

I lost my dad and I can’t get over it.

*

Life. My boyfriend. He’s stressing me out about my past. He tells me what he thinks it is, and then he listens to other people about what they think it is. It’s really getting aggressive.

One thing you could think about is–

Walk away?

Do you have anywhere to walk to?

The streets.

I’d concentrate on getting a place set up to go to, while they’re running their mouths.

I did it before.

*

Success. I’m trying to do good at carpentry. I got certificates from JobCorps, I graduated high school. I found $2700 on the floor–at the casino–and I got my license, my truck, I just gotta register it. I got my business plan, my references, my resume, in a book like this one [taps notes binder]. But I’m homeless, and that makes it harder. I got no mailing address.

Could you maybe ask someone you trust if you could use their mailing address?

I thought of that, but I don’t like owing people things. I don’t like asking people to do things for me.

Do you do things for other people if they need it though?

If anybody down here, if they ask for change, anything in my pocket, it’s theirs. But I don’t like it when it’s like … collateral, like, Oh, I did something for you, now you owe me.

*

I’m not feeling any anxiety right now because I just had a wonderful experience. I guess–difficulty believing in yourself. I try breathing, try to keep it at bay, I’ve learned all these techniques, but it never ceases to come back. Hanging on to solid fact is very helpful. I have a solid body of work, that’s a fact, but it won’t be a fact in three months because it needs to be better in three months. Right now it’s perfect. Nobody else is saying that, so I have to say it. People don’t really know how to read it. … I didn’t know I was gonna talk about myself, I thought this was about climate change, the end of the world.

It could be about that too.

What are some of the most common anxieties?

People worry about safe places to stay, about survival, about being able to make money, about taking care of the people in their life. For climate anxieties, a lot of people talk about their kids, worrying about how the world will be for their kids, and about the destruction of places they love–beaches, forests.

I worry about that too.

*

[When I said he didn’t need to give me a quarter:] I used to work for the circus. I set up for the g*psies, I know how it works. I put bikes together at the scrapyard, I fixed ski boats–I used to rent ’em out. I worked for everybody. I worked on that ship, Project Hope, went around picking up sick people, disabled people. I scraped it right down for everybody. We painted it different colors first, then we did whatever they wanted to do with it. I dropped out of school, I did everything, I was in the Peace Corps, Save the Whales … I’m 59 years old, I started when I was 13. I used to be a runner, like for a bakery company. Drunks would give you money to go buy ’em booze. I had so much money in my pocket …. I’d go into the bakery, get the broken cookies. I lived here all my life. I traveled to California, Mexico, Alaska–it’s beautiful. You get six months that’s darkness, then it’s always light.

Today’s poem:

What could I crumble

to bring you to me

to get your attention

the ground beneath you

could it be bad enough

unheld together

swearing by all that’s friable

insisting on all that drifts

out or slips over

in pity and horror

the first beats of summer

we share the secret

of being alive at

the moment when

the hot tide turns

the moment given

a gift of poise

stability, more money

a tilt that can’t be bought

a pitch that sickens

the pigeons’ pickings

the bread and its water

the clapping sound their

wings make going over

the same air turning

like a phrase churned

up and muddied by practice

through culverts of speaking

the same difference

the unsafe house

where you hear something that’s

not familiar and shrink

back toward the walls even if

they’re the source

of the sound

the wind blows me around

or more the built things

that are part of me

while I’m here

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/6/15

Weather: Cool, sunny, breezy, pleasant

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 7 walkbys, plus one person who read every word on the sign and map out loud

Number of hecklers: 0, unless you count Christian Proselytizing Dude

Pages of notes: 5

Alternate Histories: 1 blank taken home

People I met through the booth last year, who remembered me: 2

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Picture-takers WITHOUT permission: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.80

Observations:

Lots of police activity in Burnside Park today.

Sometimes people who don’t stop still give me the warmest smiles with, as far as I can tell, zero leer and zero eye-roll, and that happened a lot today.

One guy gave another guy 5 cents to give to me.

Thanks to Dorinda for recording again today, and to James Kuo for making the map!

Some conversations:

My daughter’s 12, and she said to me, “Dad, I wish I was your age so I didn’t have to worry about climate change.” And I worry that she’s inherited a terrible world.

Do you guys talk about it together?

We talk about it a lot. And I always have to be careful how we talk about it, because I want to share my work with her, and I want to talk to her about the worrisome parts, but I also want to talk about the positive things happening, the hope I see. When she said this, I said, We’re going to solve this, because we have to. I still have some hope that we will. The UN negotiations going on–this is a really important year, leading up to Paris in December–there’s a nice dynamic going on where countries are coming in with modestly ambitious pledges. There are problems with these pledges but they’re better than we feared. The U.S. and China were both unexpectedly good–they’re interesting because they’re different, they’re different because China said they’d peak, stop increasing carbon emissions, by 2030, and it may be sooner, and the U.S. committed to a percent–26-28% by 2025. China gives off 31% of the world’s carbon emissions and the U.S. is 16–that’s 47%, almost half the world’s emissions. The EU has come in with a good pledge, Mexico’s is good, they’ll peak in 2026. As long as countries don’t do awful things–Japan’s was weak … And then there’s renewables: the price of solar’s crashing, it’s dropping fast, it’s undercutting coal.

While these big things are going on, I think they seem kinda far away to people and I was wondering what people can do, not just personally, like insulating their house, but something that would be one step up from personal action.

Yes, we can reduce waste and we can do a lot. But more importantly we need to act collectively, act together. We can do that by joining organizations that deal with these issues, we can do it by putting pressure on state legislators, the governor, our congresspeople–they’re not doing much. Well, some are. Some need to do much more.

Are there some paths to that here in Rhode Island, resources people could use to find out who to put pressure on about what?

There’s Energize RI–they’re working with the idea of a price on carbon, essentially a carbon tax, and they have some links for action. There’s Resilient RI–they’re more about adaptation, how as it’s already happening we can plan for sea level rise and flooding. …Doing stuff locally helps it to feel not overwhelming. But I hope people can act on more than one level. I think people can.

*

[A second person came up in the middle of my conversation with the first person.]

Person 1: Right next to your sign, you should have another sign, “Save the Park.” They’re ruining it. There’s no attention to aesthetics. That part’s blocked off for no reason. They’re putting that fence up–they say Oh, you can have this little spot right in front of the police station. It’s like the stadium they’re building–nobody wants it, but nobody says anything about aesthetics. That’s the only beautiful view left in Providence, and all you’re gonna see is this big giant green thing. The people who are being disenfranchised don’t even say anything about it.

Person 2: Nothing now, ’cause I got my medication! I could go up and punch those two cops right in the face, and then I’d have a place to sleep tonight. But then all this work [holds up manila envelope] would be wasted.

What’s in there?

Housing applications. I applied for every housing for disabled people in this damn state. [Transition I didn’t note] If my granddaughter’s lost, she could ask a policeman.

Person 1: That building [indicates “Superman Building”] is a Tiffany. Let me explain what I mean. The Sterritt Brothers built that, and you know what else they built? The Empire State Building. And now they’re gonna tear this building down because nobody has the imagination, the creativity, to do anything with it. That’s where we should start. Fill it up with people who want freedom back. We lost it in 9/11 and it’s going away little by little. We should start here in the smallest state. That’s how a big wound heals, it heals from the bottom up.

*

[These two were friends and came up together.]

Friend 1: Girls.

Too many or too few?

Friend 1: I don’t know.

Friend 2: Too many!

What’s the difficulty?

Friend 1: I like both of them.

Do they like you? Is it that they each want you to be only with them?

Friend 1: I don’t like relationships like that.

Friend 2: He’s a one-night stand.

Friend 1: I’m not a one-night stand, they are.

It sounds like they don’t want what you want, and you don’t want what they want, so you might’ve just answered your own question.

Friend 1: They want what I get. They want what I get. They want what I get. … I like both of them though, I’ve known them a long time.

*

Life is so fast and crazy. Technology is gonna kill us one day. The world’s gonna go down. I just deal with it every day, nothing I can do about it. This country’s terrible, don’t you think? We’re gonna go down one day.

What’s one thing you’d like to be different?

Peace, world peace. Everybody’s killin’ everybody. Peace to everybody, whoever you are. peace. We need a global president who controls the whole world–a panel of people, they keep the peace within the whole world. Equal opportunity for everybody. …I live in Warwick now but I’m here taking the bus because I had a little problem with my license, but I was a kid in Providence, a young kid, I came from Providence. I’m 37 years old, I never smoked in my life, now I started smoking ’cause of stress.

Today’s poem:

I want to share my work with her shaking

its air down as the dandelion

shares its work with the topsoil

when cut off to rot and return

I don’t just want to look like I’m working

I want to lack everything

give it all up to her later

have I said too much

has everything I’ve said been perfect

Have I left a distinct perfect world

behind me like a trail of spit

a series of campsites perfectly decayed

look me in the eye

tell me you have slept

tell me you are on your way

even if it isn’t true

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/5/15

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

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 5 walkbys, plus one person who mentioned me to someone she was talking to on the phone

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Alternate Histories written: 0

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People I met through the booth last year, who remembered me: 4

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1, but she was a last-year person

Picture-takers with permission: 3

Flyers for other concerns proffered and accepted: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.65

Observations:

Dorinda Fong was with me, recording conversations, with the hope of creating a podcast. (As always, we won’t record you or write down your words without your permission.)

We were on the east side of the Burnside Park entrance facing west, and it seemed like more people were coming from the east, so I want to try the other side today.

I handed out a few completed Alternate Histories, but haven’t yet figured out a way to invite people to write one. I’ll work on that today too.

Some conversations:

I don’t wanna live on a planet where there’s no polar bears. I’m not a super animal rights person, I’m not a vegetarian or anything, but I think we’re going in a direction we can’t come back from. Everything, everything, losing all of our shoreline communities, low-lying countries … The scary thing is, it seems too that it’s not just the uneducated thinking these things.

Do you feel like there’s anything people can do to turn it around?

Did you go to the march, the climate march in New York? That got a lot more national press than I expected, and there were a lot more people than I thought there would be. That at least shows that people are ready to–at least ready to voice their opinions. There isn’t any reason in the world not to get ourselves off fossil fuels in the next–five years, not ten, not twenty. We just need the investment in infrastructure. If we gave 10% of what we give to the military-industrial complex–but it’s gonna take a lot of public pressure … Do you have what you need? I got a hot date. Bye!

*

Climate doesn’t bother me much. It’s the man in the White House. He’s ruining our country.

What are some things he’s done that you’ve had a problem with?

He hasn’t supported the military. He’s put them in harm’s way for no reason. And he stole money from the 9/11 fund to give to his friends in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Can I ask where you heard that?

I saw it online.

Yeah, but online’s a big place, you can see, like, Bat Boy online, and the two-headed baby. Did you see it from a site you trust?

Yes. The Democrats used to be for the people, but if Hillary gets in, forget it … I’m a veteran.

Where did you serve?

I served in Germany before the wall came down. I served in the states as well. And I’m a conservative, you can put that down. I’m vocal now, I’m very vocal, I’m political. I’m a registered voter, and I do vote.

*

I have anxiety. I’m on medication for it, Klonopin. When I’m around a lot of people, I’m [makes an overwhelmed noise]. I’m fine when I’m by myself. Also when there’s too much on my plate at one time. I don’t stop and do one thing at a time. I used to be a cutter, and I stopped that, so I’m doing good about that. And I got people to call. I’m in anger recovery, they call every week, how you doing, are you relapsing … The drugs don’t help either, I’ve been on drugs since I was 13. I’m on methadone now, I’m trying to get off that. And I just found out I got housing today. I never had a house–I been sleeping in abandoned buildings, we call ’em abandominiums, graveyards, shelters, I never had a house. I’m kinda scared, but I can do it.

*

I’m worried about the future, my daughters–I have two daughters. The kids are gonna have a lot harder time than we’ve had it, my generation.

What kind of future do you want for your daughters, what could we do now to help make that future?

There’s so many things. Certainly that people wake up, especially about the climate.

Do you talk to people about it?

Yeah, a fair amount. A lot of people don’t want to hear it. It’s amazing how many people, even people in your immediate family, can be so sure about something that’s so obvious to you.

*

I’m always mad at people who are happy when it’s warm in winter … In person I’ll be like, “Oh, I’m a winter girl,” or “I like having seasons, I’m from New England.” On Facebook it’s good and bad, because I’m far away and I can’t see their faces, and I get angrier, but I work myself into a frenzy and either I end up writing nothing, or I write something really angry and then I try to edit it so I can actually convince somebody, and then it ends up being too weak so I don’t write anything. Especially with my family, who are on the other side of the political spectrum … They’ll use something you said when you were six against you in a conversation about climate change. It gets so emotional so quickly. Then I want to say things like, “But my son!”

*

Absolutely. I’m a quahogger, and it’s changed the way the quahogs are. You used to be able to get ’em anywhere, and now you gotta hunt for ’em a lot harder. Now you gotta fight for ’em. You start quahogging over here, and yeah, the ocean’s open, but say you’re getting 200 pieces, and the guy next door isn’t getting any and he sees you coming in–next thing you know he’s right on top of you. They call it seagulling.

How many do you need to make it worth your while?

A good 2000 pieces would be nice.

*

I’m worried about spending too much before I pay my bills.

Today’s poem:

It’s amazing how many people

even in your immediate family

even hanging with nothing between you

even the surest desire

to see things differently

is the daughter of failure

running your feet as far

out of the ring of the conversation

the weight of the future

the inches of freeboard

the sway shelter holds over

all our survival

in fury on Facebook

end up saying nothing

and sweetening nothing

how swayed and how given

to inchless regret

free for all

at the point of a breath

to the wreck of your rest

take the sun down with you

into squeaky rapture

Climate Anxiety Counseling in Burnside Park/Kennedy Plaza starts TODAY!

Today is the first day of the 2015 Climate Anxiety Counseling … season? Sure.

I’ll be just at the middle entrance to Burnside Park on Washington St. in downtown Providence, complete with booth, 3-6 pm Tuesday-Friday this week.

If you’re in town, please come visit me–share an anxiety, write an Alternate History, or just keep me company. I have many fine RI Organism cards to share, including a Northern Moon Snail with its handsome mustache and dramatic eating habits, and a crab that wants to punch you.

Also, I made a Climate Anxiety Counseling Facebook page–updates to this site and to the schedule will appear there too.