Alternate Histories: 5/27, 5/29, 9/11

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.

*

5/29/15

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

*

9/11/15

[These are two anxieties from two different days; here’s an explanation of why they’re together.]

P and F don’t really want different things, but each brings his own knowledge, his other needs–met and unmet–and the net of others’ needs and knowledge he inhabits to this need, this desire for cool air. They bring their presumptions and their prejudices, the blank spots in their understanding and experience. If F has never been in a building cooled on a hot day not by chemical means but by its very construction, he may not know that’s possible. If P has never spent a day caring for a  child when neither of them have slept, he may not understand that cool air is more than a luxury, and heat more than a test of fortitude.

(Remember, I don’t know that they don’t know–I’m guessing, from what they said and what they left out.)

F and P now draw on other kinds of knowledge, other stores and stories. Thickening a wall is relatively easy, lining it or filling its empty spaces, but they need help and someone’s sense of materials: what will hold up? won’t offgas? can be easily replaced? Moving a window is harder: they need someone versed in structure, weight and angles, a tool-user and a measurer, and someone to be aware of light and wind, not just this day, or that day, but on any day. Someone to build shutters from reclaimed wood. Someone to germinate a screen of plants and the dirt they need to grow in and the story of their care, plants that give in the summer their necessary shade and die back in the winter to admit the necessary light.

As they offer this knowledge, they also accept some. They learn how to understand and be understood by F’s son, building with him common languages and perceptions. They learn from each other, borrowing methods and tactics–motions as small as the way to hold a nail to drive it in, skills that this task doesn’t need but that emerge in conversation or while they’re resting. They adjust to a matrix of work that’s more intermittent and slower, less taxing, with different rewards. It’s strange, to not be paid, to not have money as a marker of what you take away and what you’ve given, and yet have enough to eat well, a place to sleep safely, the certain knowledge–in some cases, based already on experience–that if you need to receive what you’re currently giving, it will come to you.

 

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Alternate Histories: 5/8, 5/15, 9/8

[These are two anxieties from two different days; here’s an explanation of why they’re together.]

5/8/15

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

*

5/15/15

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

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

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

*

9/8/15

The next day, I’m going to ask you to imagine, C listened to D and D listened to C. They saw that each other had said these things; they knew this much, at least, of what each other wanted.

The people living near the edge of the water broke their houses down to make room for some of the water–to make paths for it, to build rising bridges and floating marshes. D’s music gave shape to their work; he toured from site to site, and so did other musicians and bands (not everyone loves reggae, or early-’90s rock, or bachata). Back in the cities and inland towns, some couples in houses too big for them moved in with friends, opening their houses to people from the edge of the water, or people from over the water. Some, to preserve their ability to be alone, repaired houses that had stood empty. There was time to do all of this, time grouped and divided by music and silence.

Twenty-nine years later, the ocean is where music is, at certain times of day: a parade winding like a slow current, a circle pulsing around a performer like the devouring mouth of a starfish, a skein of song nourishing a difficult task. You take care of it because it takes care of you, or you take care of it because it’s where the music is, where the bus-boats fueled by algae stop to drop off people from the city, where the far-traveling boats still dock or rest from time to time. It’s on the platforms that sink and hover with the tide and that everyone works together to draw in or anchor when the storms get bad.

At other times of day, the music drops. It doesn’t stop completely–air doesn’t, water doesn’t–but ebbs to make room for terns and osprey to fish, sandpipers to stab for worms, the ears to recover their quiet. Some people learn the music, or the silence, because of the animals. Some people learn the changes of tide, the bugs, the tiny hungers, because of the silence, or the music.

Sometimes, the music turns somber. There are no more plovers. There are no more moon snails. Your home, your home, the place that you loved, the place where you learned to love, is no more, has become something else–you will never see it again, never. It will never again surround you, as this music does, as these people and other creatures do–known to you only so far, so much–as this air does, as this water does.

Alternate Histories: the month of September

This fall, I’m going to post one or two alternate histories a week. I teach college and I need to give some of my mind to it, but I also want to keep thinking this way–here’s why–and I believe that doing so will help me teach better as well.

Each of this month’s alternate histories will bring two anxieties together and write a future that’s responsive to both of them. Choosing our battles is important; so is recognizing when one isn’t really a battle, but a machine, or a school, or a navigational device, or open water.

Alternate Histories: Labor Day

Here’s a story about work that someone told me at the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth when I was set up in Kennedy Plaza (heads up, it has a slur in it):

5/8/15

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

*

And here are three alternate histories about the end of extractive wage labor.

Alternate History: 6/13, 6/23

Alternate History: 5/27, 6/10

Alternate History: 5/28, 4/16