Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market!

I’ll be staffing the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth at the Sankofa World Market starting TOMORROW, July 1st, 3-7 pm!

The market is outside Knight Memorial Library, Elmwood Avenue, Providence, RI.

As always, I’ll be listening to your climate-related and other anxieties, writing them down/posting them here with your permission, and giving you a small piece of art in exchange. Sometimes there’ll be special guests, but this time I think it’ll just be me–and you, I hope.

Tremendous gratitude to, the Sankofa Market, to Rolando Huerta for raising this possibility and Adeline Newbold for organizing it into a reality.

Some days at the market, I’ll have special guests, but for this first one, it’s just me. Please come and see me, and buy yourself some vegetables!

Alternate Histories: 5/7, 6/28

5/7/15

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.

Do you know what would help you quit?

Girlfriend 2: Vaping.

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

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

*

6/28/15

Throughout the following week, DD tried to pay attention to when she wanted a cigarette and when she actually smoked: on breaks in her workday, after she and M fucked, between dinner and dishes, when she was angry or lonely. Frankly, she thought those little vaping things looked stupid and smelled sickening; they eased the cravings but didn’t feel the same as lighting up. Lighting up? DD started carrying matches, dropping them only at the last second, or letting her lighter burn until it got too hot for her fingers. She looked into the flame and while it lasted tried to be as angry as she could, or as satisfied, or as sad. She used the vaping thing only when she absolutely needed a nicotine hit, and then she did it furtively, in the bathroom, because it looked so stupid. “You’re crazy, baby,” M said, hugging her.

By the time M’s sister reached the end of her pregnancy and had to go on bed rest, both M and her sister could take time away from work without penalty–M to take care of her sister, and M’s sister to take care of herself. M’s work was changing–her shifts were less frequent because of the scarcity and cost of fuel and the drop in imports. Her hours were longer because when shipments came in they tended to be bigger, and the things she was unloading were different–no more vegetables from California, different kinds of machines, medicines for new sicknesses. “Maybe you don’t care about climate change,” DD joked, a little bitterly, “but it cares about you.” They held off the wedding until the new nibling was old enough to walk with them and strew brightly dyed grass and plant seeds in their path, since no one would be crass enough to pick and kill that many flowers. The dyes wouldn’t hurt the seeds or the soil, but who knew if the seeds would take.

Getting to see M for longer at a time made DD need less nicotine, and so did her new job on the coast, treating the land for salt after storm surges. The job was just whatever, but being near the water felt good to her, even after it came up too high and left a stinking mark on the land, and everyone she worked with understood her need to take frequent breaks, look out past the tideline and take big, harsh breaths of salt-and-seaweed air.

By the time DD’s diagnosis of lung cancer came down ten years later, M saw her every day during her hospital stays, and so could M’s sister, her boyfriend, their other boyfriend, the nibling, and three of DD and M’s oldest friends. The basic living stipend was in place by then, and of course DD’s care didn’t cost them any extra money, but M went into work twice a week to have something to do. The hospital itself was small, one floor–it used to be a big-box store–and smelled like vinegar. One of DD’s co-workers from the salt plant took the bus up to visit and brought her a little bottle of salt water to smell. They all watched her take the top off and inhale.

Alternate Histories: 6/13, 6/25

6/13/15

It would be very sad, because we’re of the generation that actually had a chance to have an engineering impact for future generations. Cheap agricultural production is gonna collapse, and there’s gonna be an expansion of people who are denied their basic human rights.

Do you think there’s structures we could set up now that would reduce the chance of that?

When I was younger, I went to Cuba and I looked at agricultural reform that was part of the reaction of the government to Russia’s collapse. All the imports of things like grain stopped. So they had to move from an agriculture that was focused on producing coffee, sugar and tobacco to a diversified local agriculture that could feed the population of the island. They were overall able to adapt the food supply, shift away from state-run agriculture. If we could facilitate such a shift–but agriculture runs off fossil fuels and glacial meltwater … I got burnt out on international development. Now I’m just trying to make money enough to make sure my family is safe. I’m building nonmilitary drones–they make 3D plans of buildings … I don’t see a total extinction event, I just see a very rough period for human rights. We have a tendency to hunt till there’s no more, drill till there’s no more. I personally think that humans are awesome, because humans make awesome things–humans are grasping the fundamental nature of reality in a way that no other creature has [sic].

6/25/15

Two days later, when Q went to work, he turned on his computers and began going over his schematics. Not everyone can think in shapes and relationships in space, but Q was good at this: shapes unfolded in his mind like wings, like insect legs, like leaves, along their own plans.

A leaf still “works”, up to a certain point, if it has fewer than a certain number of holes munched in it by insect jaws; it does leaflike things still, if not as efficiently. Ants can appear crushed but a few minutes later, unfold and limp away.

Q sees through the seductions of designer-as-savior. He knows those plans go up like the rocket and down like the stick, as people go bug-eyed over the next big thing, and the next, and the next. His imagination moves so smoothly, almost smugly, almost comfortably, from construction to collapse. Shifting it away is a heave, and not just one–periodic, grinding effort. Still, he made it that day, and the next. What’s that? asked his co-worker, stretching out her neck.

Self-raising hydroponic bridge stimulated by rising floodwater, Q said, a little embarrassed.

She frowned. Where are you getting the materials? Look, come over here, I’m working on this map–it’s got the relationship of resource recovery sites to places where people might need to build things out of those materials, and routes, so you don’t have to go as far.

I didn’t know you were working on that, Q said.

I didn’t know you’d be interested. Look, this is the team in Lagos I’m talking with, that’s my brother’s friend from seminary and his cousin and his fiancee, and the man from Ben’s congregation whose idea it was. We still ship a lot of e-waste there and so does Europe, and they have plenty of their own. They’re doing what I said plus also better working conditions for the people who actually take the things apart–that’s what Christopher does, the man from the congregation. And they’re on creeks and inlets and just generally speaking a lot of water, so they might like your bridge idea.

Would this really make sense for a watershed that includes a big city? Q said.

Oh, that’s true. Not for downstream, but for upstream. For the coast you’d need more of a floating estuary. I don’t know anything about that. But someone does.

Fifty years later, all the spring rains fell at once, and late. The growing bridges stretched and arched themselves like cats; the waters dragged at their undercarriages, tearing sections loose to float on their long cords. A few tore loose and drifted into the lagoon, to be recovered later by the people of the city, all of whom were similarly safe and similarly in danger, then and from then on.

Alternate Histories: 6/13, 6/24

6/13/15

Mom: Warming in general. Typical stuff that you hear all the time. We’re connected together, so once one thing gets out of sync, the whole thing falls apart. I live in Pennsylvania, and this past winter was so cold, and a lot of people in the neighborhood suffered–they lost plants or trees. Nobody has any time to do anything. I just keep on going. But–I know how it sounds to say this, but I have faith in the next generation coming up.

Daughter: They say you’ve already screwed it for us.

Mom: Anything they tell me to do, I would do.

Daughter: We learn the limitations of humanity. In Rochester, the winter there every year is like this winter tenfold. I live up here, and this winter, we had federal emergency aid, we ran out of sand twice–if something actually catastrophic happens, we’re hosed. We’re not ready. We’re comfortable.

How can we get better at being ready?

Daughter: We’ve been conditioned out of it. It’s not an education issue, it’s an agility issue. “Here are the things that are in my capacity to do.” … And the media hype–I was at the grocery store before one of the big snowstorms, not because of that, I was just like, “I need some food, let’s go to the grocery store,” and there was someone from ABC in the parking lot asking me, “So, are you terrified of the big snowstorm?” We have the tools we need, it’s a mental thing.

Mom: I turn off lights, I do those kinds of things. It’s just the scientific things–now this is approaching, what am I gonna do? Now they’re saying that ethanol is not the solution because they may not want to use corn for fuel if they can use it for food–

Daughter: What, because you read one article? We’re really uninformed, and there’s not somewhere to get informed about this stuff clearly. We’re being slackers.

Mom: I’m being serious, I’m not being funny.

*

6/24/14

The next day, T said to her daughter: I love you, and I’m so afraid for you. When you were small, I told you we’d be safe, I’d keep you safe. Before you understood words, before you breathed air even, my body was telling you I would protect you. I loved you then, I love who you’ve become. How carefully I chose the books we read together! How hard I bit back everything I’d learned that would make it harder for you to be who you are! I don’t blame you for blaming me for not keeping that promise. I’m proud of you for challenging me, for asking questions, for being angry instead of sad. I feel I’ve failed you, and now I’m asking for your comfort.

The next day, Y said to her mother: I love you too, and I’m so scared. That’s why I’m angry. I want you to be like, It’s not your problem. I want you to be like, You’ll be okay. But it is and I won’t, and if you’re there with me, that’ll be bad because I’ll want to look out for you and I’ll want you to look out for me, and if you’re not there with me, that’ll be bad because what’ll I do without you? A lot of why I’m smart and brave is because of me, but a lot of it is because of you. I’m so grateful for what you’ve given me and what you’ve asked of me. It’s saved me before. But being smart and brave isn’t helping me know what to do, how to save myself and everybody and everything.

T said: Maybe we can learn some things together. We’re all babies in the face of this. We don’t know what comes next. We can show each other things, not to scare or shame each other, but to learn more of what we need to know.

Y said: Babies die all the time, Ma.

T said: Not my baby. And then, quickly: I was joking.

Y said: You were not. It could happen. We have to really, really know that it could happen. It will happen, I mean, like, eventually. But not today. Probably. But I think if we know that, we can do it, whatever it is. We can actually hear what it might be.

Alternate Histories: 6/13, 6/23

6/13/15

I remember in 1978 Louise and I were discussing, and I said, It’s justice, we gotta work on justice, and she said No, we gotta work on the planet. She said, If there’s no planet, what’s the goddamn point? Well, I went and worked in the justice system, in prisons, tried to clean things up a bit. I did good work, but now I think she was right. I’ll die before it’s dead. I’ve got about 15 years, I think. But it’s just getting more and more dead. My generation lives with it all the time–I don’t know about this generation, I don’t know how they see it. I can’t bear to see the trees being cut down. I can’t watch anything about the Amazon. It distresses me.

*

6/23/15

The next day, JL stood at his kitchen counter holding a framed picture of Louise in the same hand as one of her armbands, which he had kept, and asked for her help in thinking about the Amazon rainforest. He had never felt so foolish except in retrospect. Pointlessness, the fear of it, settled on him like a damp blanket. Thinking about it, his mind jeered at him, what good is thinking about it going to do? He felt the edges of the picture frame, the canvas seam of the armband. He turned his mind heavily toward the picture in his mind: a burnt brown stubble, ankle-high, bordering a tall green haze.

JL realized that he didn’t know what the Amazon was made of. Words like “canopy” and “understory” seeped into his thoughts: where did they come from? He did know enough to know that once he separated it into its parts, he would need to reassemble those parts again in order to know it, that a forest lives in relationships, in root-nodes, in flights and deaths. What good will knowing it do? sneered his mind. He blotted it out with green.

A week later, his head stuffed full of dams and farms and villages and cities, watersheds and weather patterns, symbionts and food webs and the sense that what almost overloaded his mind with green and brown and flashes of bright color was the tiniest, most inadequate scrap, JL quit his job. He signed his house over to the Narragansett tribe and cashed in his small 401K for his travels. He folded scratch paper together to make a book with fifteen pages.

In the first year, he stayed with a friend’s cousin and wept daily outside the Nike offices in the Flatiron building, picturing Mato Grosso forest cleared for cattle grazing. A small crowd gathered. The Humans of New York guy took pictures. But JL didn’t know about any of this. He was a statue with tears streaming down.

He used the second and third years to make his way toward the Vale Mining and BNDES offices in Rio de Janeiro. Sometimes people walked with him, and wept with him outside a Whole Foods or a lumberyard, a maquila or a superfarm. He worked on learning Portuguese on trains and buses, when he didn’t fall fast asleep with a skyline of brown stumps etching his inner eyelids. He lost his fifteen-page book back in northern Texas.

In the fourth year, he reached Rio. Someone said (in Portuguese), You’re the crying guy. Have you seen this? and handed him a phone with a cracked screen. As he slowly thumbed downward, puzzling out the sentences about weepers slowly seeping into corporate headquarters in San Francisco, in Houston, in Orlando, standing there eerily, like the walking dead, with ashes on their faces into which their tears carved rivulets, making it nearly impossible for the people who worked there to get anything done.

In the fifth year, while police and national guard forces were occupied with the weepers, Aweti, Kayapo and Wauja people sugared the gas tanks of building equipment, sent disabling lines of code to project computers, accepted donations of all the company food supplies from Belo Monte dam construction workers who were on their side. We turned around and it was gone, the men said, shrugging. No, we really couldn’t say what happened. We didn’t see it, but you know, we can’t work without anything to eat.

In the sixth year, JL was too sick to travel any more. Three families in Belem took turns taking care of him. A line of weepers moved southeastward to Bolivia, carefully picking up their trash as they went and occasionally, burying someone who died of hunger or snakebite or a bullet fired by a cop from a passing armored car. They learned from each other how to move well in the forest. They made lines and rings of human protection around the trees.

In the seventh year, JL died, worn out by hard travel and stress and grief. In China, people who couldn’t themselves go out to the shale gas fields in Sichuan Province to be weepers themselves tended old people and children, kept up farms and gardens, substitute-taught for third-grade classes, even stepped into factory shifts hoping devoutly that the shift bosses wouldn’t notice. Some didn’t; some did, but let it go.

In the eight year, microbes and beetles ate and digested and excreted JL’s coffin and body, and tree seedlings began to sprout undisturbed. Some died off, infected by blights and rusts, or eaten by tapirs and cows running loose after the people raising them had pulled up stakes and either joined the weepers or left the country in disgust. The cows and the tapirs were wary of one another but came to be companionable.

In the ninth year, the BNDES, unable to recoup its investments in Belo Monte and without the help of outside loans, collapsed in on itself. The weepers of Rio wiped their faces clean of ashes and took in many of the bank’s former employees, giving them a chance to let their old lives go. Some made the transition; one or two took their own lives; a few became violent and the young people of Rio drove them out of the city, where most died.

In the tenth, eleventh and twelfth years, small and very patient coalitions of forest families and their city cousins established indigenous settlements and mixed teaching settlements in and around Altamira, Fortaleza and Mujui dos Campos. Some of these thrived, others dissolved; cholera gutted one, one had to move because a spring dried up, one was washed away because it didn’t account for extreme flooding when a drought broke in three successive superstorms; a leading Matipu family lost patience and returned to their home. Babies were born, fevers cured, parasites adjusted to.

In the thirteenth year, weepers in Kuala Lumpur successfully shut down a logging company there, but this news didn’t reach Brazil and Bolivia until the fourteenth year, and spread only slowly, because many phone companies went under after BNDES and its affiliates collapsed, and people relied more and more on highly localized cell networks and runners.

In the fifteenth year, pacu and their food and their predators were thriving in the river, terra preta was forming again in some of the clearings, and in others, seedlings were bristling like hair.

Alternate Histories: 5/15, 5/27, 6/21

[These people spoke to me in Burnside Park on two different days.]

5/15/15

I just thank God. I just give thanks. So many things happened–so many things. I just look what the Lord has given me.

What are some of the things that you thank God for?

I thank Him for living, thank Him for waking me up, giving me a new day that I never seen before. Thank Him that I was able to get up this morning, put on my own clothes. If you go to the hospital, you see what those people have to deal with, you’re gonna be thankful. People need our prayers, our friendship.

5/27/15

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.

*

6/21/15

In the days that followed, C did no one any harm, not even himself. The sound of voices praying in loud unison helped hold up the weight of his anger and his fear, the surge of voices praying in loud unison carried him past his urge to violence, like a wave. He felt aligned and not alone. His work at this stage was healing himself. He needed no one else to suffer for him.

In the weeks that followed, A prayed steadily when her heart was low, when her grief was great, when her way seemed dark. With the other people in her congregation, she prayed her anger into a tower. She prayed steadily through the fear of violence and gave thanks when the first offer of reparations came.

In the months that followed, the people of his church practiced insistence on C’s behalf. He accounted to them, and so did his landlords, his doctors, his neighbors. He began to hear the similarities between the divine in himself and the divine in others, to know he was important and necessary but not special. He grew able to see what others needed from him without resenting them.

In the years that followed, there were no fresh murders for A to mourn or to endure. She did not need to use her ingenuity for today’s survival; she was free to be more broadly ingenious. She was grateful for another day–grateful to God, not to an armed man or an insufficient law.

In the decades that followed, the houses of praise and grief and resistance found new ways to be hospitals, strategy rooms, nursery beds for plants and people, training grounds. In the centuries that followed, though they were not alone in this, they became arks; they became oases.

Doctor’s note: this alternate history was most instantly inspired by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Father’s Day 2015

Here are some anxieties that people speaking as fathers have shared with me. Support the fathers in your life; help them be good at a task the world makes hard for them.

5/16/14

I have a daughter who’s three. What sort of world she’s gonna live in. Outbreaks of violence — shortages of water, shortages of food, competing for scarcer resources. People are aware of and willing to make changes, live a more sustainable lifestyle, but the political system is gamed against any kind of change. They stop, they slow down any kind of meaningful action. I’m afraid we’ll run out of time.

*

5/20/14

I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter. I worry if she’s gonna be able to breathe by the time she’s 20. I had a friend who used to work with Greenpeace, she doesn’t anymore, and she said that there are these piles of plastic, 2-3 feet deep, in the ocean, the size of Maine. Fish get caught in them, animals get caught. They’re never gonna be gone, they’re never gonna be clean.

*

5/21/14

We’re the closest to the ocean, the Ocean State. How much is gonna be under water? I don’t understand why people don’t believe it … Just take the precaution! I have a son, he’s turning three in a week and I worry about what kind of life he’s gonna have. I don’t have time to put any thought into my future, I’m too busy thinking about his future … People [object], then they get caught up with something else like in 3 years. How do you not at least care to not make it worse!

*

5/29/14

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

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

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

*

5/30/14

I worry about the future. More than the weather, I worry about the population getting out of control and causing effects on the planet. There’ll be more people to provide for. For a while, I didn’t even know if I wanted to have kids.

*

8/14/15

My son sent me over here. How do we convince the masses to be more aware of climate change issues? … I drive a [small efficient car]*, I don’t take as many unnecessary rides. I’m in the trades, and the majority of people I work with pooh-pooh climate concerns. I almost feel that it’s a losing battle. I see some progress, but I don’t see the tables turning. My youngest son rides his bike everywhere — he drives only if there’s surf.

*

8/15/15

I can’t get a job because of panic attacks. It feels like I’m swallowing my tongue. Once it starts, it’s going, and I have to go to the hospital. Anything can set it off — we were watching a movie, a comedy, we were laughing. I’ve had ’em since I was 15. I had to drop out of school, I can’t keep a job. I’ve [looks at kids, lowers voice] thought about suicide. I’m worried my kids will get it, I’m worried about what’ll happen to them when I’m having one. [Indicates gf] Her and me fight all the time.

*

5/5/15

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.

*

5/6/15

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.

*

5/27/15

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.

*

5/28/15

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.

*

5/29/15

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. My grandfather was the main person in our family, and he passed away from cancer. It took time for me to move on, not get over it, but move on, and what he taught me, I’ll never forget it. He taught me to always say “Thank you, sir,” and “Yes ma’am”–you’re not just saying it, you’re giving respect. Your respect and your word goes a long way in life. Say you have it easy–you’re gonna be naive unless you have somebody to teach you the right way. If you have [a] choice, you have the decision to be kind or be the other way. I went to school for psychology and I did a paper on this–I asked a lot of people. 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.

Alternate Histories: 6/4, 6/13

Two people wrote alternate histories at the Providence International Arts Festival. This is the second one, by Robin.

6/4/14

Her: I worry about gas prices going up, that this suburban lifestyle we’ve been living–

Him:–is unsustainable.

Her: Is unsustainable. We need to change our way of living. We should consider public transit–though sometimes you do need a car.

6/13/15

Her (cont’d): –But private transportation, the ability to drive a car, is a luxury–a privilege, not a given. Just like most important things. We need to treat life in general as such, so that not only us, our children, but generations after, can flourish.

Alternate History: 8/15, 6/13

Two booth visitors at the Providence International Arts Festival wrote alternate histories. This is the first one, by Gabriella Corvese.

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.”

6/13/15

As we grow with our families, our relationships morph. We know who raised us and who we are raising, but these connections are based more on reciprocal nurture than power. We also know that the nurture and care we need changes as we get older and that’s okay. We receive care from the ones we raised into caring creatures. It doesn’t matter who or what or how old. What matters is returning care.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Providence International Arts Festival, 6/13/15

Weather: Hot and bright, windy at times.

Number of people: 38 stoppers, too crowded to really hear walkbys

Number of people who read the sign out loud without coming close: at least 13

Pages of notes: 18, but I had to use the fat blue marker again because I forgot to bring down spare ink cartridges for my usual pen

Alternate histories: 2!

Pictures taken with permission: 3

Pictures taken without permission: at least 8

Dogs spotted: too many to count

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Flyers for other concerns proffered and accepted: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $16.85

Also contributed: a handful of chamomile flowers

Observations:

The parade included many beautifully costumed contingents, marching and dancing; even more delightful for me was seeing people in their costumes after the parade was over, walking regular, back to wherever they wanted to be.

Something I noticed in another context was also striking here: when some people feel overloaded and helpless, their attention jumps around, so that they start talking about one thing they can’t really handle and then, when I try to respond to that, jump to another thing they can’t really handle either. I’d be interested to hear if there’s anything other than anecdata that has tracked or studied this response.

I got more irritated with more people than I usually get, and showed it. This may have been partly a volume problem. I apologize. I also got very, very sad and helpless-feeling again toward the end of the shift. My poet-friend Brenda Iijima and I have been trying to talk about sadness and stillness as potentially generative, potentially fertile, instead of just something to try to avoid; I tried to bring those ideas into a couple of conversations, but I don’t think it worked very well.

I saw the Mayor, but he didn’t see me.

Special thanks to Thompson Webb III and S. Hollis Mickey for being part of this day’s session in multiple illuminating ways; to Rachel of the Free Pass Project for the generous and unprompted gift of a blueberry lemonade; to Yesica of the Avenue Concept for incredible facilitation; to Jen Long for holding onto the umbrella for me, for the loan of your jambox, and for your lovely and lengthy company.

Some conversations:

Money. The fact that I–obviously we need it to survive. I’m afraid that I won’t have a dime in my pocket again, it’s happened before, and I have to figure that out. But sometimes you have to question it–some people have so much, and some people have to decide whether or not to buy food.

Can you imagine what a world without that worry would look like?

It would be more primitive [sic], more focused on sharing each other’s talents, instead of being such a self-centered society. But if you just started doing it by yourself, it wouldn’t work–you need other people to join with you. They need to see how they can benefit too …

What are you good at, what could you contribute to something like that?

My time, my art. I’m good at writing, listening, dancing.

*

Climate change doesn’t bother me that much, but then I think, I wanna move to parts of the country that are close to water, and when I’m thinking about that I don’t think about the fact that the sea level is rising and that the coastlines will be–not where they were.

When you start thinking about it, why do you stop thinking about it? Or like, what if instead of stopping, you kept thinking about it?

I feel hopeless, like, Well that’s a thing that’s probably going to happen. If I thought about it more, then I think it would become this dystopian fantasy, and then it might get exciting, kind of morbidly thrilling because then I could write a story about it.

*

You wanna do it?

Well, I did it before.

That’s right, I forgot. Do you wanna give me an update on your anxieties?

There’s still so much trash. I was on the east side when Brown and RISD students were moving out, and they were just throwing out so, so much, and that’s just one or two small schools in one small city. I’ve been out to the landfill before, that’s not getting any smaller. I know that the Johnston landfill upgraded their recycling so you can just put everything in the bin together, and that improved recycling by like 25% or something. I think it’s about tackling stupidity, how do you do that?

Well, how come you aren’t–like you obviously don’t do this thing you’re noticing, how come?

My mother is something of a packrat, but she would always be like, This goes in the recycling. I can’t say what’s keeping people from doing it. Maybe there’s a stigma, like it’s like a hippie thing? A lot of [why people change things] comes down to cost. Like in manufacturing facilities I’ve been to, the distance between 2 machines will be more efficient because it saves money, not because of some holistic [didn’t catch the word]. How can we make it cheaper to recycle?

*

The drought in California. I joked about it, but then I was like, Maybe I shouldn’t joke about that. Maybe joking is my way of coping or maybe of being ignorant, using jokes as a way to hide my ignorance.

*

[This was a family who came up together]

Daughter: I know it’s the Ocean State, but I don’t want it to be an ocean state. It’s hard to evolve the ability to breathe underwater–it’ll take us at least four, five generations. I can’t swim very well. I can doggie paddle but I can’t swim, like, strokes. I’ll just have to sit on a log raft for the rest of my life.

Dad: I’m gonna put Mashapaug Pond on the map.

Mom: It’s already a toxic waste dump.

Dad: I know, I wanna protect it.

Can I ask–since you know that the things you just described are probably not what’s gonna happen, why do you bring them up that way, instead of things that are more likely to happen?

Daughter. Because a lot of people are very complacent, people aren’t paying attention. Hyperbole is a way to get them to see that it’s totally affecting them, it already has affected them. Maybe they don’t need it, but maybe they should.

*

Little Compton would be an awesome place to start conserving.

Can you say why Little Compton in particular?

Personal reasons. My brother and I used to go there together in the summer, and we called it the Shire, from the Lord of the Rings. It looks like the Shire in summer bloom. I hope it stays that way.

What could you do to help it stay that way?

My life is full–I could make more room in my life [for conservation].

*

I worked at Apeiron, I worked in Woonsocket. Life is so totally out of balance, so disconnected. We’re all implicated. It makes me so unutterably sad.

What do you do when you feel that sadness?

I try to put parts of my body on the grass and connect with Mother Earth … A lot will survive, but I think it might not be us. I try to breathe. I think about the bad things I do and how they contribute … I believe that everybody cares, given the opportunity to care.

I’ve been trying to think about what sadness might make possible.

Sadness leads to the desire for connection. Sadness informs reaching out. But I don’t share sadness often, because I want to make opportunities for people to perform their own responses, to facilitate a journey to authentic response. I want to be careful how I influence people–to promote why it’s good to be green [sic].

*

Once I dreamed that penguins were walking on the frozen ice of Lake Erie. They were zombie penguins, and they were hunting. People–not other penguins … There are a few dreams stashed in my memory about Lake Erie–I grew up on Lake Erie, and it usually registers strongly in my dreams. I like the name, Erie, the eeriness of it. I remember seeing something on TV about a place above Toronto that was melting, and people were seeing the opportunity to create economic profit from climate change, like, Bring on climate change, it’s gonna be good economically. My dream did the opposite–it froze the lake. I also dream about tornadoes, and when I dream about them, the air pressure in my ears always pops. I don’t know if that happens in a tornado, but I know the air pressure change can blow out windows. I’ve seen a lot of tornado aftermath–I remember working one night in the design office [in Ohio], I heard something, and I came out and there were trees all over the road. There was a lot of tornado anxiety–we lived in a ranch house with no basement. One took off my grandparents’ porch, and a fireball from a tornado burned the house across the street from my aunt’s house … Tornado season in Ohio is mainly in the spring–warm air and cool air just collide together and the sky just starts to roll over itself. That’s something every Ohio kid knows–the sign is that the sky turns green and it turns sideways.

*

Not having water, and burning from the heat. I come from another country, and in my village, we show respect to nature. We make sure that we use the land in a proper way. I’m quite aware that it isn’t done the same way here–the same level of respect is not applied. People here make fun of me–I even save my dishwater, and put it on my plants. Now I see that people are actually doing these things here more, and it makes me happy. I’m not such a weirdo after all … I’m not going to let ridicule undermine me. I do it out of love and care. If I can influence one person I will have won. Only for them I feel bad–I’m okay! I have Mother Nature’s approval and that’s much more.

*

[These two were mother and daughter.]

Mom: Warming in general. Typical stuff that you hear all the time. We’re connected together, so once one thing gets out of sync, the whole thing falls apart. I live in Pennsylvania, and this past winter was so cold, and a lot of people in the neighborhood suffered–they lost plants or trees. Nobody has any time to do anything. I just keep on going. But–I know how it sounds to say this, but I have faith in the next generation coming up.

Daughter: They say you’ve already screwed it for us.

Mom: Anything they tell me to do, I would do.

Daughter: We learn the limitations of humanity. In Rochester, the winter there every year is like this winter tenfold. I live up here, and this winter, we had federal emergency aid, we ran out of sand twice–if something actually catastrophic happens, we’re hosed. We’re not ready. We’re comfortable.

How can we get better at being ready?

Daughter: We’ve been conditioned out of it. It’s not an education issue, it’s an agility issue. “Here are the things that are in my capacity to do.” … And the media hype–I was at the grocery store before one of the big snowstorms, not because of that, I was just like, “I need some food, let’s go to the grocery store,” and there was someone from ABC in the parking lot asking me, “So, are you terrified of the big snowstorm?” We have the tools we need, it’s a mental thing.

Mom: I turn off lights, I do those kinds of things. It’s just the scientific things–now this is approaching, what am I gonna do? Now they’re saying that ethanol is not the solution because they may not want to use corn for fuel if they can use it for food–

Daughter: What, because you read one article? We’re really uninformed, and there’s not somewhere to get informed about this stuff clearly. We’re being slackers.

Mom: I’m being serious, I’m not being funny.

*

[These two came up together.]

Him: My big anxiety is that if you look back 65 million years, when the temperature jumped, it jumped in a span not of 100 but of 15 years, 8 degrees Celsius. We couldn’t adjust for it.

Her: The sea level rise from that–

Him: Basically if you melt all of [the] Greenland [Ice Sheet]* you get 8 meters of rise. If you melt East and West Antarctica, you get an automatic 300 feet. Countries other than the U.S. are gonna push for geoengineering, but that has massive negative consequences. And the other thing is methane. There’s a tipping point with methane release as polar ice melts, and it’s greenhouse gas with 27 times the power of carbon dioxide. That’s really the thing that’s gonna put us over the edge. No policy can stop that. Barring geoengineering, this will happen.

Her: Based on the models.

So if this is definitely happening, what does that mean–

Him: For civilization?

I don’t think you know that. For you.

Him: It would be very sad, because we’re of the generation that actually had a chance to have an engineering impact for future generations. Cheap agricultural production is gonna collapse, and there’s gonna be an expansion of people who are denied their basic human rights.

Her [to him]: I’m done, I’ll see you later. [Leaves.]

Do you think there’s structures we could set up now that would reduce the chance of that?

Him: When I was younger, I went to Cuba and I looked at agricultural reform that was part of the reaction of the government to Russia’s collapse. All the imports of things like grain stopped. So they had to move from an agriculture that was focused on producing coffee, sugar and tobacco to a diversified local agriculture that could feed the population of the island. They were overall able to adapt the food supply, shift away from state-run agriculture. If we could facilitate such a shift–but agriculture runs off fossil fuels and glacial meltwater … I got burnt out on international development. Now I’m just trying to make money enough to make sure my family is safe. I’m building nonmilitary drones–they make 3D plans of buildings … I don’t see a total extinction event, I just see a very rough period for human rights. We have a tendency to hunt till there’s no more, drill till there’s no more. I personally think that humans are awesome, because humans make awesome things–humans are grasping the fundamental nature of reality in a way that no other creature has.

*Doctor’s note: Follow Ruth Mottram on Twitter to learn more about the Greenland Ice Sheet.

*

I work with fishermen–for example, I try to develop different fishing gear to solve some sort of problem, ways to catch this but not that. So one guy tells me that the times when he’s allowed to fish for whiting have shifted away from when the whiting are actually running–he wants me to help him shift the season so he can target these fish.

So let’s say you were successful in doing that. What other changes might you expect to see?

I can’t answer that, because if the population is changing because of something other than what he’s doing–there’s just too many factors. There needs to be a step back before that question. One of the buzzwords right now [in the fishery] is switching from population-based management to ecosystem-based management, but no one has defined the ecosystem they want. First you need to define that–if you don’t know where you’re going, what are you doing? So in fisheries management, we know historically the highest population of cod, and we also know the highest population of dogfish. But were they ever the same? Can they both be at their peak at the same time? Instead of the maximum sustainable yield, what do you want your world to look like? We have a strong dogfish population right now, but we have problems with other species–it’s not even necessarily that one’s eating the other. They could be competing for the same food. As a fisheries guy I try to take an unbiased stance–not saying this is good or this is bad, but let’s make things sustainable … if it’s not sustainable, it’s a losing game for everybody.

*

My sons are gonna be adopted. I have two sets of twins and they’re all gonna be adopted, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop drinking every day. Other than that–I just got a job, I’m okay.

You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want, but is it the kind of adoption where you can see them?

I can see them one day every month, and that day I can see them all day long. I’m friends with the lady who has them–she’s my babysitter.

*

I have several anxieties. I can’t grow stuff in my garden–there’s too much lead in the soil. I just got a notice from the water department about lead in my water at the same time as a notice about a rate increase. The environment is so compromised that it’s beyond repair. But then there’s the people who rebuild Jacob’s [Point] Saltmarsh–they rejuvenated a thousand-year-old ecosystem. I wanna be involved with something like that.

*

Person 1: I recently decided not to have children, and I’m worried that no one will be able to take care of me. I think it’s partly the influence of society–when I tell people this, they’re all, “Who’s gonna take care of you when you’re old?” I have two elderly friends, and I’m actually their caregiver. I’ve been a CNA before, and one of the things that made it hardest for me was actually the lack of compassion and creativity in my colleagues–and losing friends.

Person 2: There are a lot of professional caregivers in my family, and I’ve learned that the caregivers need as much stress relief as the patients do. The people in my family who do it have high blood pressure, they’re overweight, a lot of them smoke–

Person 1: I’ve started and quit smoking several times.

*

I have a job interview on Monday in account management.

What are you doing to get ready for it?

I’ve talked to someone who’s a current employee, and I’ve been doing meditations. I’ve been listening to those subliminal ones about confidence.

*

When people can’t afford to just move away from problems–like, when the sea levels rise and you can’t afford to just leave your beach house because that’s your house … Have you done anything with iSeeChange.org? You could send some of this stuff in to them.

*

More storms. But it doesn’t feel personal to me, not like a personal fear. It’s more like the collective weight of an increasing level of disaster. It feels like a heavy weight, a collective weight of too much–too much happening at once. I have some sense of the fallout of that kind of [event]. I think there’s a lot of people that would vanish, would fall away, would die, and then the few people who are left would have to sort it out.

*

I remember in 1978 Louise and I were discussing, and I said, It’s justice, we gotta work on justice, and she said, No, we gotta work on the planet. She said, If there’s no planet, what’s the goddamn point? Well, I went and worked in the justice system, in prisons, tried to clean things up a bit. I did good work, but now I think she was right. I’ll die before it’s dead. I’ve got about 15 years, I think. But it’s just getting more and more dead. My generation lives with it all the time–I don’t know about this generation, I don’t know how they see it. I can’t bear to see the trees being cut down. I can’t watch anything about the Amazon. It distresses me.

*

[While talking with me, Person 1 saw her friend, Person 2, and called her over.]

Person 1: Are all the trees gonna go away?

I don’t know. That’s one of the things that scares me the most, and I have the hardest time thinking about it.

Person 1: It’s even hard to be in New York, where there are trees, but just so few. It feels like dying when I think about it.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to do when I feel sad and scared like that.

Person 1: I personally have to heal first and then do things. Sadness is not an action on its own for me–I’m still, I can be quiet, I can listening, feel whatever I can–but I can’t act out of that. I wish I could desensitize a little.

Person 2: Today there was a dead seal on the beach, and it didn’t have a head. I think maybe some scientists came down and decapitated it? Would a human decapitate a seal? I feel helpless when I think about [climate change], I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.

Person 1: When I’m in traffic to Boston, for my job, I feel so helpless. How many trees am I killing, just sitting here? Like who am I now? That’s when I get angry.

Person 2: I just landed this lifetime in this world, I didn’t make it this way. I can’t allow what I’m not doing to [didn’t catch the word].

Person 1: I feel so overwhelmed by all these years of, Let’s have a garden! Let’s ride our bikes! I don’t wanna say I wanna give up, but I’m exhausted.

*

The East Bay Bike Path is done for. It’s too close to the water, and it is my daily commute. I think about it a lot. … I think it’s not really valued enough–these are the types of things we’re gonna lose first, because things that can be profitable, people who can profit from them will protect them.

I didn’t write a poem for this day.