Alternate History: 7/22, 7/26

[Note: this is the first in a three-part sequence.]


I’m really glad Pope Francis is bringing this to the fore. The Catholic Church has been dismissive of environmental issues in the past, and he’s rightly relating them to social issues … My experience is that those things trickle down, like there’ll be a reading at a church service to try to rouse people up to some sort of action. You’d do that for the Bishop’s Relief Fund–you’d raise money for the poor [sic] that way. And climate change is definitely a social issue–it’s economic, it’s social, it’s environmental. And we keep on going ahead as if it doesn’t matter.



Two days later, as on every Tuesday and Friday, K went to visit her mother, who lived in an apartment complex for the elderly in East Providence. On Mondays and Thursdays, Violet the home health aide came to help K’s mother take a shower and get settled for the day; on Tuesdays and Fridays, K helped her mother bathe and dress, and took her out to lunch, usually in her wheelchair unless she was having an unusually pain-free day. K’s sister came on Wednesdays and weekends, and went to church with their mother, but didn’t usually stay for the whole day. As they walked and wheeled down the sidewalk to the diner, K asked: Mom, what do you and Sandy like about church?

K was never sure if her mother’s speech had gotten clearer again since the stroke, or if she’d just gotten better at listening to her. I don’t know that liking comes into it, K’s mother said. I guess I like knowing that I’m doing the right thing to do.

And you know it’s the right thing because the priests tell you, K said.

Don’t start that again.

Do you ever tell the priests what’s the right thing to do? K asked. Has that ever happened?

It’s probably happened, her mother said. I don’t know if it worked. She turned toward her left side, her good side, and caught K’s eye. Come with us on Sunday and see. So on Sunday, communicants’ heads–many of them gray or bald or both–turned unabashedly toward the three women, two walking one wheeling toward a pew. Mom, K said at the diner after the service, I don’t think I can tell these people to tell their priest to tell their bishop anything.

Sandy snorted. Because K always knows what’s the best for everybody, she said.

Girls, their mother said. Then she reached out with her good hand and patted K as if forty years had disappeared. Sandy’s right, sweetheart. You’d have to keep coming. Get to know everybody, get them to know you. But also, don’t think just because we’re old you can’t suggest anything to us once you know us. You don’t know what we’ve already dealt with and done.

This is just a ploy to get me to come to church, isn’t it? K said. The other two smiled at each other, thin lizard smiles.

Months later, on a dispiritingly warm and muggy day in early November, a circle of people using wheelchairs, walkers and canes–not including K and Sandy’s mother, who had had another stroke–formed around the construction equipment for the Spectra Energy pipeline. Their priest, sweating in his high collar, nodded coolly at the Unitarian Universalist minister who was there with her congregation. Their children and grandchildren were busy insulating people’s houses and installing pellet stoves on the diocese’s dime before the winter came, so that the pipeline gas would be less necessary, or planning a conference with priests and bishops in big farming states about how to approach their flocks.

K wasn’t there; she was helping one of the few young families in the congregation get disentangled from a predatory lender. Sandy wasn’t there; it was Wednesday, so she was with their mother.

The Providence Community Safety Act

Providence community groups and leaders have drawn up a plan for an alternate history for the police and the public, and if you live in Providence, you can encourage your councilperson to support it.

Read about the Providence Community Safety Act (Spanish at the top, scroll down for English).

If you live in Providence, please write to your city council member and ask them to support and pass the Providence Community Safety Act. If you don’t know who they are, there’s a list by ward here, including email addresses to use.

The “Who’s my councilperson?” button doesn’t seem to be working, but you can zoom in and look for your street on this map to find your ward.

I wrote to my councilperson yesterday and if you would like to use the letter I wrote as a template, please write to me at my gmail address, publiclycomplex.


Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 7/22/15

Weather: hot and bright, very pleasant when a cloud crossed the sun

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $14.27!


Thanks to Rolando for the mid-session offer of a tent (rejected), to Brendan for the offer of a recently purchased peach (accepted), and to Orale Tacos and Andrew for the offer of some fried plantains (also accepted).

Overheard near beginning of shift, simultaneously: blue jay yelling, single drum tapping (recorded, over speakers), splattery motor of a weedwhacker.

I’m never sorry when I draw plants slowly.

The idea of locality, of doing things locally as inherently good, came up a lot today–maybe I noticed it more because I just read this paper by Branden Born and Mark Purcell on the “local trap.” HIGHLY recommended reading, thanks to the Surly Urbanist for bringing it to my attention.

Some conversations:

My education. Going to law school–I’m going to Harvard Law. Being successful. With being successful, you want it to happen now, but you don’t always know when it will happen, or what to do to make it happen.

What can you do to make it happen that’s under your control, and what about it might not be under your control?

I’m very self-confident, but when it comes to other people in my space, I try to get them out. I don’t like people being in my business. I’m overprotective and sometimes it gets a little bit weird.

What do you do to try to protect yourself or get people out of your space when they get in it?

I have different ways to get them out. Sometimes I have a rough way, like, “You can stop right there.” When I do it in a moderate way, it doesn’t work, they don’t respect it. When I do it in a rough way, then they’re like, He looks scary. I have to stand firm–then they back up … but they do it in a scared way that can make me look bad. Sometimes I should build bridges but I build walls. If I go to the next person, they’re gonna get in my space, so I’d rather stick with myself, I’d rather stay home and watch a movie.

I guess one question I have is, is there anybody you trust in your space, people you know won’t take advantage?

There’s a saying I heard when I was an undergraduate: I trust everybody but I don’t trust the devil in them. The inside is deeper than the outside.


I’m definitely anxious about climate change. And I believe that what happened down at the beach had something to do with climate change. I was talking to a friend who works with the DEM down there and I was like, “What happened,” and she was like, “I can’t tell you,” and I was like, “Does it have something to do…”, you know, with the climate, and she just smiled.

Do you think it has something to do with the water getting warmer, or–

It could be gases–I know they close other beaches down there sometimes. There’s that waste place right near there … I went snorkeling down there 20 years ago, and I couldn’t believe all the crap I saw down there, and I never would’ve seen it if I hadn’t looked underwater. So maybe something with the water, the buildup of gases, pollution. But we’re never gonna hear about that. They’re never gonna tell us.

It sounds like you don’t trust a lot of the information you get, and I’m wondering what would make you trust something or believe it.

I don’t believe most things, frankly. I believe it if it fits in with what I know is going on. I’ve been worried about it for years. … I’m glad I’m not gonna be around in another fifty years to see what’s gonna happen. I don’t think we’re gonna have any nice oceans. You see those garbage barges, they’re just floating around full of garbage, and eventually they’re gonna sink, and what happens then? You should just stop making plastic–make everything out of paper. The same thing with people being out of jobs. I blame computers. Computers are taking people’s jobs. You can’t talk to anybody at the call center, it’s a computer. I could go on for hours. But that’s why I’m here–I’m going to buy from local people …


The thing that bothers me the most–well, I don’t know about the most, but a lot, is when I was growing up I was told to leave a place better than I found it. Well, I’m 66, and I’m not gonna leave the earth better than I found it, and that’s a source of sadness to me. I teach a course on places from an indigenous perspective–I’ve spent most of my working life working for and with indigenous people in RI–and I look out at my class, my students, most of them are 18, 19 years old, and I think, What’s gonna happen to them? So that bothers me. And that’s connected with wanting to leave the planet better than I found it. I was reading about why you started doing this and–I’m going to paraphrase you badly–you said something about you couldn’t carry the burden, it was too big, so you were trying to [word I didn’t catch] locally, and I think I try to do that too. I want to be able to tell my students specific things they can do. They write a series of papers that develop a sense of place from all different perspectives–ecology, geology, the stars, the moon, the soil. They do research, they talk to people. I try to get them to think about doing as part of a sense of place, how what we do in a place is part of it, at the root of it, and they want to know, What can I do? It’s hard, because they leave the classroom, they have to go out and make a living and drive their cars home … We stand here and we’re talking to each other because of things people we don’t know did, and the same thing’ll be true three, four, five generations from now. It’s important to be in touch with where we come from. … The indigenous concept of Mother Earth is Disneyfied and trivialized, but it’s an important idea: the earth as a mother that feeds us, that gives us what we need. We need a change of consciousness that honors these ideas, these relationships. When I talk about this with my students, I can tell that they yearn for it, but they graduate and they’re in debt, they have to make compromises, and I cry for them.


[This person talked with me last summer.]

We still haven’t really discussed the effects of climate change on food and food systems. I’m really glad Pope Francis is bringing this to the fore. The Catholic Church has been dismissive of environmental issues in the past, and he’s rightly relating them to social issues, which

One thing I’m wondering is what it means to Catholics–like, will people with the ability to do large-scale things do something differently because the Pope says so, or will there be a groundswell of actions or of demands from Catholics–like would people talk to their bishops and be like, This is what we wanna see in our diocese, or …

My experience is that those things trickle down, like there’ll be a reading at a church service to try to rouse people up to some sort of action. You’d do that for the Bishop’s Relief Fund–you’d raise money for the poor [sic] that way. And climate change is definitely a social issue–it’s economic, it’s social, it’s environmental. And we keep on going ahead as if it doesn’t matter. I just came back from 12 days in Iceland, where energy is cheap because it’s geothermal, sheep run freely over the countryside, eating lamb is probably healthy. Education is affordable, health care is affordable, and there’s a whole different vibe … With the bad economy here, I think it’s forced people to think more about community and neighborhood, and be more compassionate to people who are suffering. I like to think it spurred community gardening, and the people who promote that tend to promote organic gardening–I may just be imagining it, but I think since the economy tanked, people are a lot more [word I didn’t catch]. A woman I met in one of the guesthouses, she was from Germany, and she was interested in nutrition, and she realized that you can hardly talk about good nutrition without getting into the politics of agribusiness. She was concerned about GMOs. I was talking to her about something Michael Pollan said, that we need to eat real food–it’s true that now, it’s getting harder and harder to find real food. I’m concerned that the agricultural belt is possibly gonna move north and we’re not prepared for it. And then the drought in California, what’s that gonna do–certainly it affects prices, but will it eventually drive prices up so far that it’s more affordable to buy imported food?


[This person spoke with me on 7/8/15 as well]

All right, so, the environment and the economy. I get that buses need to run, hospitals need to stay open, but what if we all stopped and worked on developing the soil, on planting things in an urban landscape in a way that could foster healthy ecosystems?

You know what’s funny is I just wrote about this, because a lot of people have been talking to me about this. So there’s obviously some interest in it, and I think a good question is, since there’s some interest in it, what’s getting in the way of it?

What’s in the way for me is that there are only so many hours in the day. I have a mortgage, so I have to have a job. I’m lucky because I have a job that lets me have the most possible time to myself, and I use that to work on the piece of land I have to work on, but sometimes I just get frustrated with it. It’d be nice if there was more support and camaraderie, if this was recognized as a good thing–if there was more of a cushion for me to do it and have my needs met. Municipalities could create jobs that would support this, minimum–well, no, living wage jobs. It doesn’t seem like there’s a place for that that there would need to be in order to make these jobs happen, so everybody’s scrambling for that one job opening at [ORGANIZATION]. I did talk to the city about this last fall, and you can ask the city for one of the lots around the city to landscape at your own expense. I think it’s connected to Lots of Hope … It might go under climate change or it might go under city beautification–I’m thinking of after the Great Depression, Roosevelt created all these jobs, building roads and bridges. They could be federally funded or locally funded, but they’d be for everybody who has time on their hands and needs work. We’d have to start with building up the soil–we’re not going for quick easy landscaping. Nothing’s gonna happen in a year.


The first thought that came to me was putting God back in the schools. They would have to learn about what He wants from us–being kind to your neighbor, being kind to the earth. I think that would help out a lot with children and with society in general–I feel like there’s not a lot knowing about Him, I think it’s unfortunate that a lot of people don’t know about Him.

It sounds like a big part of how you understand how you want to act comes from your faith. Is that true?

I wasn’t brought up through faith. My main value was like, Family comes first. As I grew up, life happened, and I happened to find faith and I loved it–I was like, Cool, this works, I’m gonna stick with it. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s really hard, but you stick with it ’cause you know the benefits of it and you know the value of it.

Today’s poem


First I do it in a respectful way

then I do it in a forceful way

then I do it in a nightmare way

then I do it in a lightning way

if I could impose my will

I wouldn’t let you think

I haven’t thought about it

don’t think I haven’t done it

in smaller ways for worse things

this seems so unnavigable

that it could fill me with all

my hate and fear and I’ve

considered it but like all

my other ideas if it doesn’t work

everything might be worse and that

is what fear does to not just me

but to every failure making it

the biggest least free fallout

of every lack of action

what binds me to respect but fear

and what but fear binds me to force

the sun like a continuous fist

lingering like a bad name that hits

and clings and doesn’t dissipate

if there’s anyone left to name us

if names themselves boil away

that’d be poetic but the break

is fissure by fissure sifting us

out of the bowl of existence

sharing a split language that has

in it only words for helplessness

Alternate Histories: 7/15, 7/22


I don’t think I have climate anxiety but I think that’s because I don’t understand climate change as well. In New England, when the weather changes, they say, That’s just New England, that’s the way the weather is, but is it? Or is the weather changing along with the climate? … I have a fear of ants–they skeeve me out the most–and in my house every year there’s carpenter ants, and every year my dad has to spray them. And the other day I killed 33 ants, and someone said it was because of mild winters, the bugs don’t sleep well, so they’re out and about more. I was lying on the couch crying. I was gonna do some work, I was gonna clean, and I just couldn’t.



The next day, after checking her messages, S opened a new browser tab and typed in the Resilient RI address from the back of the card from the booth. She clicked on “Climate Challenges,” then on the links about sea level rise, health impacts, saltwater intrusion and threats to clean drinking water, then on some of the links at those links. She clicked, forgetting she had a body until her wrist began to ache, returning a sense of pain to her back, her hips, her feet. From the kitchen counter she moved over to the couch, slowly, numbly, like a very old person. She lay down facing the back of the couch and her tears began to seep into the fabric of the cushions. Her phone went off three times. At least one call was her boss, she was sure, and she recognized the special ringtone she had for her sister.

All the light went out of the room before S moved again. She stood up. Her body felt like something she was moving, a suit of armor. A spacesuit. A hazmat suit. Oh, god.

The next day she called in to work. Are you sick? her boss asked.

No, S said.

Do you want me to put it down as a personal day? her boss asked.

It’s not just personal, S, said, the tears starting to seep back into her voice, it’s everything.

S drove to Lincoln Woods. She parked her car and sat on the grass and tried to breathe slowly. It was a hot, heavy day; the grass itched her legs and the edge of the water was scummy with algae and mud. She tried not to think of anything very much, to look at the sky with its metallic hot-day sheen, to listen to the birdcall she always heard here–she didn’t know what bird.

S worked for a community organization serving a particular regional and ethnic group of people within the city, and the following week, she asked to meet with her boss.

What about? her boss asked.

Environmental justice as a component of our mission, said S, but when she got into her boss’s office she started to cry again. Her boss sat and said nothing and when S quieted down, her boss said, I feel terrible too. I’m not a crier, but if I were, I would cry about this. You know I love what we do. I love us. But I worry that there’s no point to it. And there’s no place in the kind of conversations we have and the plans we make for saying, Maybe there’s no point because we’re all gonna starve to death or be flooded out or go crazy.

But what we do is good, S said, wiping her nose. We match people up with services they need. We get old people fed, we get kids into school. Can’t we keep doing those things, shouldn’t we keep doing those things as long as we can?

Some of them, her boss said. But maybe some of them are more important in the present than in the future, and some of them will be more important in the future than in the present. They might not be the ones we’d think.

Alternate Histories: 5/31, 7/21

This alternate history is by my sister, Rachel Schapira.


I’m 22 years old. My entire life climate change has been in my awareness, it’s been on my mind. We don’t have too much longer of the weather patterns being the way they’ve been. My grandfather was a meteorologist, and he taught me how to read the signs of what weather was coming next, up to a month in advance sometimes. Those signs are no longer as predictable. Everything is changing. 3000 years of human writings that talk about weather patterns, and they’ve never shown it changing as fast as this. It’s going too fast for a natural evolution cycle. We’re acidifying the oceans, we’re leaking oxygen as well as letting in cosmic radiation, we’re building up this giant carbon layer. Rainwater used to be — you could drink it. Now if you drink rainwater, people look at you like you’re crazy.
You clearly know a lot about this. Does it worry you?
Yes, and I think it should worry everyone. We’ve forgotten that we’re just a creature. We’re changing the earth and making it unsustainable, not only unsustainable for us, but unsustainable for everything. We’re doing nothing but the things that are damaging.
Climate Organism bigger
Doctor’s note: If anyone would like a transcript of this, please let me know.

RIPTA Board Meeting TODAY, 1:30pm

I’m going to the RIPTA board meeting today to support the RIPTA Riders’ Alliance in speaking against the proposed increase in bus fare for senior and disabled bus riders. (For more about why, read here.)

It’s at 269 Melrose St., Providence, RI, in the Transportation Conference Room. The meeting starts at 1:30 but the RRA recommends that people show up at 1:15 because seats fill up. You can take the #20 bus to get there.

RRA President Don Rhodes has asked that someone make this statement on his behalf (he’s ill) at the meeting:


I know that this is during work hours for many people, but come if you can. This is a concrete thing that you can do to help transportation and access be more equitable in our city.

Alternate Histories: 5/31, 7/19

This alternate history is by my sister, Rachel Schapira.


I’ve been wondering what the strategic plan is — is there one for storms? I’ve been looking around for some sort of strategic solutions.



Twelve days later Notebook went alone to a Community Board Meeting.

On the first page of her notebook it said

What is the strategic plan?

Where is the strategic plan?

Minutes read the minutes. They had tabled the discussion about closing the clinic. Old business. Argument about the clinic. Someone had brought a petition and someone had brought a cardboard trifold.

New business. New guidelines for block party registration, the projected end date for the construction on the canal had been pushed back.

“What is the strategic plan?”

“It is in the public records. Make an appointment with the clerk.” Cardboard Trifold gave Notebook their number, “if you find out what the plan is, let me know”

Notebook made an appointment with The Clerk and in the records it said “in the case of a storm emergency, block party permits would be considered null and void.” The Clerk said “most of that planning happens at the state level.” Notebook called the the governors office, and was directed to a PDF pamphlet that said to Make Sure You Have A Plan. It is very important, it said, to make sure you have a plan.

Notebook called a meeting.

Purple Sweater said “can we trust that state and federal agencies are developing comprehensive plans for all kinds of contingencies?”

Cardboard Trifold said “but even say they are, how can all those plans be the best if they don’t involve us being informed and ready starting now?”

So they all said “Ok” and they started writing their own pieces, and sent them in to the governor’s office with notes that said “I don’t know what your plan is for a [hurricane][sheep illness][local drought][regional drought] but here is how I will be preparing [starting now][in the meantime][with my church][with my family][with the tools I have][in the time I have]. So [like it or not] add that into your plan as starting now.

And from there

“Well if you’re overnight housing for shuttled volunteers… I’ll make sure that’s on my informational fliers. Just tell me what it should say.

“And if you’re daycare and legal aid at the library I’ll make sure you have a bunch of fliers there.”

So when the hurricane got downgraded to a superstorm, then back up to a hurricane, then the phone lines got clogged up with emergency workers, a lot of people already knew what they were going to do.

The color system:

-Spanish/English translators wore blue shirts with “ESPAÑOL” in sharpie

-People who knew where you could find the heads of lots of different teams wore yellow

The mistakes:

-A kid got sick eating tautog fish from the river before Purple Sweater put up signs about how the storm had stirred up contaminated sediments.

-On Tuesday, Petition’s intake team ran out of room and stacked cases of water to the ceiling. Wednesday morning they burst under their own weight.

-Somebody threw out a lunch-worth of hardboiled eggs because they thought they’d gone bad.

What went right:

-The color system

-Sudden emergence of orange and green shirts translating ASL and Chinese

-The thing where the state relief workers showed up 2 days later from an area that was hit harder. They looked around, and talked to the yellow shirts, and talked to Notebook, and some of them changed into blue shirts, and someone could cook pots of chili, and someone could answer questions about replacement food stamps when everything in your fridge had gone with the power 3 times in 4 days. And Purple Sweater grinned like a tautog at Food Stamps, “I’m glad you’re here. You’re part of our strategy. You’re part of our plan.”

Alternate Histories: 7/15, 7/17


Honeybees. The wild honeybee population this year is really small. We lost a couple hives at City Farm. And without bees, without pollinators–

Are there things people can do to preserve their hives? I know some people say it’s a pesticide and some people say its like a mite, a parasite.

Yeah, I’ve heard both of those things too, but no one really knows.



The next day, T borrowed one of the City Farm trucks and drove out to Chase Farm Park. He walked up the steep hill, put a palm on the plane tree trunk so huge he couldn’t get his arms all the way around it. This is a living being, he thought. He walked carefully in the mown grasses and clover and plantain, detouring for the occasional sprig of poison ivy, and noting the honeybees and sweat bees and cellophane bees feeding there; noting, too, the patinaed backs of defoliating Japanese beetles. He breathed in the sweet air.

T went home and sent a group text to farm volunteers, friends, siblings, and his two neighbors with large, intimidating-looking pit bulls. For the next three weeks, as quietly as possible, in darkness and daylight, they tore down houses burned out by neglect or foreclosed on by damp, and used their boards and pipes to make fences around the lots. KEEP OUT, the younger volunteers spraypainted on the quilts of wood scraps and wire. DANGER. UNSAFE. Cops did their part by ignoring the changes. Neighbors did theirs by casually walking past with Hippo and Olaf, whose heavy feet and swinging jowls made an additional barrier. BEWARE OF DOG, the kids spraypainted.

Within the walls, they first planted sunflowers and mustard greens and blue sheep fescue and bladder campion, to draw up lead and other heavy metals in the soil. At this stage, they chased the bees away rather than let them feed, taking turns walking up and down the rows, smelling hot greenery around them with whiffs of garbage and dryer sheets from over the fence, maybe smoking a blunt to keep away boredom and mosquitoes, picking beetles off the leaves and drowning them in the rain barrels. It wasn’t until the third summer that they planted half phytoremediating plants and half broadleaf woodland plants that bees and butterflies like: clover, yarrow, pleurisy flower, bee balm, lobelia and sage, with young swamp maples in each lot’s lowest corner. The scent of the gardens began to rise above the walls. People changed their routes home from work, booty calls and the store in order to walk past them.

The practice spread to North Providence and to Silver Lake, both of which had their share of empty lots and orphaned buildings. As long-distance travel became less common and less reliable, people began to consolidate where they were living; many of the houses thus vacated went to people displaced by flooding or people who hadn’t had a home for a long time, but some of them were in bad enough shape that it wouldn’t have been fair to ask anyone to live in them. The fences were lined with PVC tubes for carpenter bees and hanging gardens for food plants; lots with poor drainage and a history of mold problems held skunk cabbage, for fly pollinators, and alders, which like to grow with their feet wet.

In the 15th or so year, when enough had changed that who owned these lots, who had a right to them, was the last of anyone’s worries, the walls came down, or went skeletal. The gardeners staggered plantings of windbreak saplings according to predicted changes in temperature: willow, catalpa, hardy banana. Some of the trees overshot their growth in the carbon-thicker air, but others survived and lived well in a living net of flies and wasps and moths and butterflies and bees.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 7/15/15

Weather: steamy hot, then clouding and cooling off.

Number of people: 11 stoppers

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Alternate Histories: 0

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1 (same dog as last time)

Dogs pet: 1 (same dog as last time)

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.60


The entire market packed up early (about 6:20) under the threat of rain.

I had a long conversation that I didn’t get full permission to write down, so you won’t see it here, but it made me so angry and exhausted about the giant, violent, bad logic of the world we’ve made, seen through the inhospitability it created for a particular person.

Some conversations:

My weight. It’s harder for me to play sports. I’m fast, but I could be faster. I play football–I play fullback and linebacker.

Does your coach give you a hard time?

One of them does. He tells me to lose ten pounds, so I did it, then he tells me to lose another ten pounds. But I like the sport.

How about your teammates, are they good?

Some of them. The captains are like the second coach. They say it like they’re perfect, but they’re not.


Family. We have a lot of issues–financial issues, space issues. My sister and her five kids moved into my house. Before that I was on the second floor and my mom and my brother were on the first floor. When they first moved in, different kids were living on different floors, but now it’s me, my mom and my brother on the second floor and my sister and the five kids downstairs. Before, it was more chaotic.

What kinds of things are you guys doing to make sure everybody has some space and time to themselves?

Well, on my floor we’re living large, there’s a bedroom for each person. Downstairs, the two oldest have their own room, their mom and the youngest who has autism have a room, and the two little girls are in the living room as their bedroom, so the only room that’s no one’s bedroom is the kitchen. As far as time, they pretty much have their own personal birthdays, they go to the lake, the two little girls go to summer camp and the older two have jobs, they’re 16, 17.

What about noise? Is it loud?

It’s loud. The oldest has headphones. She helps mow the lawn, I pay her, and she has her headphones on even when she’s doing that, so maybe that’s how she gets privacy for herself. For me, I’ve been staying a lot at my boyfriend’s house. Because it’s summer, with the kids being outside so much, the noise factor has dropped, but during the winter I couldn’t breathe, I was having chest pains. It was major. It was every day. I just started yoga again, I’m trying to take care of myself. The mom and the oldest daughter’s relationship is pretty bad, like police got involved bad.

I’m wondering if there’s some kind of free counseling they could get, separately. Maybe the daughter could get it through school?

I think it needs to be outside of school because some things that happened with that weren’t good. Also the youngest one has autism and she, the oldest, is like the one who takes care him the second most. It’s hard. People will say, kick ’em out, but–It was supposed to be temporary, and then after two years I was like, this is what’s happening. I didn’t talk to my brother from February till two weeks ago.


Do people have that, climate anxiety?

Yeah, some people do.

I don’t have that. I grew up in the Caribbean and we have hurricanes every year, natural disasters all the time, so I don’t have anxiety about that. One thing I do have anxiety about is we have had some tremors here, we have had severe tremors, so I worry about that. So you believe in global warming?

Well, it’s not really a “believe” thing–I know that it’s happening.

I didn’t know what to think about it, but my son, I have a younger son, and he said, “Mom, it is for real–if you look at the Arctic, all those animals, the ice they live on is melting.” Sometimes when you say what you worry about people will look at you like you’re dumb, but everybody has their anxiety.


Mom: The weather doesn’t bother me, so I’m not worried about climate change.

I think people are worried more about what changes in weather patterns are gonna do in the long run.

Daughter: I have five kids, and when it rains, I can’t take them to the park.

What do you do to keep everybody from going nuts?

I put ’em in front of the computer and put something on. Sometimes we can go to the library or the children’s museum, depending on what time of day it is. Sometimes we just have to power through it.


I love Lincoln Woods. I love to run there if I have time, I love to sit by the water. If I have lots of time, I sit in the field and read.  … I don’t think I have climate anxiety but I think that’s because I don’t understand climate change as well. In New England, when the weather changes, they say, That’s just New England, that’s the way the weather is, but is it? Or is the weather changing along with the climate? … I have a fear of ants–they skeeve me out the most–and in my house every year there’s carpenter ants, and every year my dad has to spray them. And the other day I killed 33 ants, and someone said it was because of mild winters, the bugs don’t sleep well, so they’re out and about more. I was lying on the couch crying. I was gonna do some work, I was gonna clean, and I just couldn’t.


Honeybees. The wild honeybee population this year is really small. We lost a couple hives at City Farm. And without bees, without pollinators–

Are there things people can do to preserve their hives? I know some people say it’s a pesticide and some people say its like a mite, a parasite.

Yeah, I’ve heard both of those things too, but no one really knows. The beekeepers’ association in RI is really strong, and they’re always trying to educate people. We could all be planting happy pollinator things. But–


I’ve been living with anxiety for 12 years. I let my mind control my whole body. I feel this turning in my stomach, and then it could be 100 degrees and I’m sweating because I’m cold, and then I’m in the bathroom for 2-3 hours until there’s nothing to come out. Then I’m dizzy, I’m dehydrated, and it takes me 2-3 days to recuperate.

Do you know what some things are that set it off, that make you start feeling the anxiety?

They say I have OCD? I know everything has to be clean, everything has to be straight. My family doesn’t always clean, they’ll be like, I want my room this way, and I’m like, No, it has to be clean, organized, in place. I can’t go outside because I take the risk that I’m gonna need the bathroom–I’m afraid of the bathroom because when I’m sick I have to be there, so when I take a shower, I’m like, Get out quick, I don’t even look in the mirror.


I don’t have it about RI, I’m not from here, but worldwide, yeah–because of humanity and what the people in the world are doing. We’re growing at a rate that’s gonna supersede our potential to grow, that is not in the manner that God wanted us to achieve. I guess I think that most people, when they come to the realization that their life will come to an end, they think, Well, my life’s gonna end, I don’t care what destruction I create–whatever they do to harm the world, they’re not gonna be there to see it.

Today’s poem:

“The Girl from Ipanema” is playing

the girl from Connecticut is telling

me the story of not wanting to go home

what the world has done there

is not simple but tangled and no one person knows

it all but if we put ourselves together exhaustively

the people with intimate knowledge

the people with many names

could we see lit up the rootbound

rock and dirt of history decisions and being

two women walk by carrying bursts of sunflowers

plastic bags of vegetables as the song gives way

something fast and hoarse in Spanish a style

whose name I don’t know the smallest thing

about and acting like I know is nothing

that I can do clearly but I do make one

good suggestion: see if you can stay

with your sister one night a week I said

maybe you can cook dinner or something

I’m a good cook too she said, Puerto Rican

food is good if you know how to cook it

Alternate Histories: 5/7, 7/15

This alternate history is by Ethan Robinson.


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.



C put a lot of the $2700 into his under-the-table carpentry business. He did all right, sometimes, but worried that the government might notice he was doing business without legal permission and take it all away. He couldn’t open a bank account without an address so they probably wouldn’t be able to find everything, but he worried. And it made him uncomfortable in other ways too. How is fixing a door so someone will pay you for it different from any other kind of obligation? Why take money today from someone who’ll probably need it tomorrow? He started to wish he could just live out in the wilderness, where there would be no debts. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. After all, he basically knew how to build a house.

One morning while it was still dark he took the 58 bus to Mineral Spring and lugged his tools to Peter Randall Park, which he chose because it seemed like no one ever went there. He was about to try to cut down a tree when he looked up and saw a family of roosting turkeys looking down at him. This was the birds’ home, and he realized there was a lot he’d have to learn to live in it. That, and he’d heard that wild turkey claws are razor sharp.

He hid his tools, went back to Providence, and asked around. Soon he found L, who seemed to know what she was talking about. When she went to see the park she laughed and said it was hardly wilderness, pointing out how from almost everywhere inside it you could see someone’s backyard fence. But they started planning. Like C, I don’t know how to live in the woods, so I can’t say what they planned. I’d have to find someone like L to tell me.

Problems kept cropping up. C could build the structure, but he didn’t know anything about the systems that make a house livable. Many times they had to go back to the city to find people who knew plumbing, or heating, or old-fashioned things like how to regulate air flow to keep temperatures down in summer. Eventually over twenty people were working on the house, which kept getting bigger and bigger because almost all of them wanted to live there. When they cut down trees they tried to pick ones with winter moth damage, burning the branches and hoping they were killing the larvae, not spreading them.

Meanwhile people were abandoning the suburbs. Even though a lot of trees were struggling with winter moths and the new harsher seasons and unreliable rainfall and stronger winds, forest was taking back the yards whose fences L had laughed about. By the time the house was ready, the thirty-one of them (some younger than the project) were really on their own, depending only on each other and the trees and the edible wild plants L knew about and the water and the turkeys (who they occasionally ate) and all the other parts of their ecosystem, so complex they couldn’t understand it fully, so unstable they had to keep finding new accommodations with it. Things were hard, but there was happiness too.

C lived, and the day he died the nineteen humans of the community sat up late around the fire talking about him. Most didn’t remember, or had never known, that C had started the whole thing, and those who did kept it to themselves because they felt he would have wanted them to. H, the plumber, now very old, sat quietly thinking about how different her life might have been if she hadn’t lost all that cash the year before she met C. She’d had big plans for that $2700 and losing it had seemed–no, had been–catastrophic. It had left her needing something to latch on to. She stared into the fire and as the larvae burned she lost herself in awe at how one thing can lead to another, at how every breath depends on the one before it, the ones around it.