Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/29/16

Weather: Hot, but okay in the shade, even breezy and cool there at times.

Number of people: 13 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1, indirectly (see below)

People known to me, and I to them, from previous sessions:1

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.07, plus one Hershey’s Miniature Special Dark with Peanuts

 

Observations:

Sunday was Brown University’s graduation day, so there were a lot of families walking by carrying commencement programs. Almost none of these stopped, though.

I know people smoke weed in the park, but this is the first day I’ve actually been able to smell it, pretty strongly.

Lots of stories today that I and my interlocutors didn’t frame in the specific context of counseling, but that were great; I did note them after the fact but wasn’t able to get the specific wording, so I haven’t posted them here.

Today I spoke with someone whose spouse was translating for them, and it was definitely not an ideal setup–for example, if their spouse had been the source of their anxiety, they couldn’t have talked about it. It made me appreciate my students who have become medical interpreters.

In future, if someone who wants to talk to me is using a cane, I will offer them the stool I use to sit on.

 

Some conversations:

I think people make their own anxiety. I think people over-worry.

Do you have ways that you keep yourself from worrying?

I always put a check mark, like, “That’s gonna get taken care of.” I do it in my mind and I just keep moving forward from that. I don’t look back, I just keep going … When you have a plan, you worry less. Anxiety’s a disgusting disease, but some people do cause it themselves. They don’t want to focus on other things … They haven’t learned coping skills.

How did you learn yours?

Through treatment. The advice that I have, I learned from somebody else. I took it in.

*

[These two are friends who came up together]

Person 1: It’s hot out, it’s the first time it’s all of a sudden felt so hot. I spent the night at my parents’ house, and it was too hot to sleep without the air conditioner, so I went and got it from the attic at one in the morning…I meant to put it on in power-save mode, but it stayed on all night and it made the room freezing. Even the measures we take to control our own temperature control us. You can’t escape from the air, it’s the medium we all travel through. You can go to places, you can plan your life, like “I’m going to move to Alaska,” but there’s only so many things you can do to get away from the heat. In winter you can add more clothes to get warmer, but in summer there’s only so much you can take off.

Person 2: Unless you rip your own skin off.

[To Person 2] Do you have any anxieties of your own?

Person 2: Mostly what we’re doing to the animals kinda worries me a shit-ton. It’s like we’re invaders here on earth. We’re messing everything up for the animals that live here, and its their space, everything that’s happening with global warming and with the atmosphere. Everything, like their behavior’s falling apart and not enough people are worrying about it.

 

Person 1: I’ve been TA-ing again this year at [MIDDLE SCHOOL], and we just did a lesson about ecology, talking about bees as a keystone species, pollinating food–not just the food chain but a giant food web. And I’m worrying again about colony collapse disorder–there’s only 60%, 70% of the bees there were in the ’50s and ’60s*, and it’s because of these giant mass farming techniques, where they move the hives around. Whole colonies are dissipating because they don’t have a sense of place. We’re so used to transporting things, but what else is collapsing because it has no sense of home? How much of a solution is moving to a place when your climate gets destroyed?

 

I feel like a lot of talk about “environmentalism” or whatever focuses on not doing things, but I wanted to ask you guys to think about, how can we actively give back to the systems that we depend on, or nourish them? Like that sense of place?

 

Person 1: I want to go back to the not-doing-things: I went to temple for the first time in a while with my friend, and the rabbi [was talking about] Shabbat and relating it to a sabbatical–you rest, you give the land a rest and let it lie fallow. But it’s been corrupted by the weekend and the professional sabbatical, where you’re supposed to be more productive during your vacations, answering emails at night. Taking an actual rest, not doing anything, productivity in stopping.

 

*Doctor’s Note: I haven’t fact-checked this.

 

*

 

A man with a cane, who gets impatient with me: I can’t really understand him, except “My life. It sucks.”

 

 

*

 

 

I’ve just been diagnosed with COPD, and I’m really feeling it. I need to quit smoking but I don’t see it happening. There’s no cure for it. It’s like I’ve been given a time clock–I haven’t looked that far into it so I don’t know [how long I have].

 

*

 

 

I’m part of an advisory [committee? didn’t catch the word] for the EPA. It’s challenging. How to keep folks safe in their environments, especially indigenous communities, with the contamination in tribal territories and burial sites. We’re trying to … decrease a war from happening between civil society and the government, to work toward world peace collectively, by using tribal healing mechanisms, but we need help from the EPA and from state and federal agencies, and building relationships is challenging. But I think the government is ready as well. They see the stats and they see how their budgets will be affected, so we try to show them how it won’t be, but there’s gonna have to be some give and take.

 

 

 

 

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/28/16

Weather: Hot, but okay in the shade. Heavy wing of gray cloud to the north and east.

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Offers of food/drink: 3

Number of dogs seen: 1

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $6.32

 

Observations:

I saw the person who likes horseshoe crabs from my first season, and we chatted a bit to catch up. Here’s the alternate history I wrote for her.

Today, a pair of evangelists–neither of whom were this evangelist or these evangelists, or even from the same church or group, as far as I could gather–set up on the opposite side of the Burnside Park entrance. I did have a conversation with one of them, which I’ve excerpted below, and took a picture of them with a renewed acquaintance. Because I’m competitive, I also kept track of how many people spoke with them: they got 12 stoppers to my 11. Their approach was very different–they mostly didn’t buttonhole people either, but they had an “intelligence test” of trick questions (I overheard some of these but couldn’t see them) set up under a poster of the 10 Commandments and they used this to draw people in, and they seemed to be at least as interested in talking as they were in listening.

Please direct your well-wishes and your thoughts of calm and steadiness to Lucinda of the delicate feet, who spoke to me today.

 

Some conversations:

I just keep havin’ nightmares about strangling Donald Trump … My worst fear with Trump is that he is what he says he is, and he’s just gonna make money for himself. [After talking about John F. Kennedy for a bit, segued into speaking about the Vietnam War.] I had a brother over there.

Did he survive?

You could call it that, I guess. He won’t talk about it. Doesn’t like it when you bring it up. He was a guard at the airport. They blew it up … I guess all that shelling gets to you after awhile, among all the other things that happened.

*

I’m anxious about climate change. The polar ice caps are melting, they’re flooding everything, everything changing. And what can we do to stop it?

[After she ran out of things to say about that] I don’t like the way they have the police presence in the park. I want to be able to sit on a bench and smoke a cigarette.

*

Fracking, for starters. The amount of toxins being released into the ground, the air, and the groundwater.

How did you come to know about the damage that it causes?

I’m involved in a couple of different groups–most recently Democracy Spring. But I’ve always followed Greenpeace… [Fracking] was one of the things we were trying to pay attention to, not the main focus, but the leader of the Sierra Club got arrested with us.

What was the main focus?

Our group went down specifically for Bernie Sanders. His campaign’s been blacked out by the media…This election’s been rigged from the start. We were petitioning against the removal of children of illegal immigrants [sic], just trying to get corruption out of the government. 1400 people were arrested on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, and there was no media attention.

So do you feel like you didn’t achieve your goal, or–

No, I do. It’s gone viral on Facebook, and a lot of independent media covered it. It’s just that the mainstream media didn’t. I feel like we accomplished what we set out to do, and we have more actions planned. The same group is marching in Philadelphia at the [Democratic National Committee], more [to focus on] the media blackout of Bernie Sanders and by extension that that kind of corruption is legally allowed to continue. It’s a perfect example of how things are going down in this country right now.

Most of what you’ve told me so far is kind of the official, unified explanation of what you and the people you work with are concerned about. Is there anything that you, personally, are concerned about that doesn’t fit, that you guys are not focusing on? [I had to ask this twice in slightly different ways before it was clear; this is sort of a combination of the ways.

No. Not really. I feel like we’re getting pretty much everything … All these different groups came together. The Sierra Club and Greenpeace were there for what they’re doing to us with Monsanto and destruction of forests.

*

I’ve been down here 10 years working with the homeless. Last year they had a sign that said there was no smoking in the park, so then of course people came and smoked out here, but now people are smoking in the park again. … I’d like to see people down here motivated to clean up the park.

What do you think might motivate people?

I think people need to take ownership of it.

But what makes you take ownership of something? Like, do you own your house, what makes you feel like the owner of your house?

I think you have to tap into what people can do instead of what they can’t do.

*

I’m anxious to get on with my life farther, but I don’t wanna go too fast.

What might get in your way?

Old habits, old friends, old ways of thinking. You travel down that road so many times and you keep making the same mistakes. The same pattern is just destroying and ruining everything all over again … You gotta be on guard constantly, especially if you hang around down here. I try to hang around with positive people, pick and choose who I hang out with. Homeless people are a target for the police.

What do you do to help yourself keep your vision in sight?

There’s not much light out there in the vision. So I gotta focus on the smallest little things instead of the big picture. The fewer options you have, the harder it is to make it work … [Of people who get high/are addicted] They’re suffering from something inside and they’re covering it up.

What’s it like to come down here and see people in that state?

Honestly, it’s a relief, I’m like, “I’m glad I don’t have that person’s problems.” I’d rather be silent and sane.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/27/16

Weather: Hot in the sun, fine in the shade, light breeze, wind picked up around 5pm. Facing east.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0, but see below

Number of climate change deniers: 1

Pages of notes: 4

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

Number of dogs seen: 2

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.64

 

Observations:

Today I had one of the very, very few climate anxiety counseling conversations ever in which I might be in danger. I am fine and I’ll write more about it another time.

I came up with a pretty good spot definition of the weather vs. climate distinction, “Climate change is a change in weather all over the world and over a very long time,” but I’m still not totally happy with it.

I never think about the big beech tree in the center of the park when I’m not in the park

 

Some conversations:

Person 1: Actually, climate change is getting harder and harder. I’m starting to sweat more and more each day.

Have you noticed differences from year to year?

Yeah, it’s different this year. Instead of spring, we went from winter to summer. You see the change. I went from long pants to shorts. The seasons are off.

 

Person 2: It wasn’t that cold a winter and it was a very cold May.

 

Person 1: Two days ago I had a coat on. Yesterday, I had a coat on and I’m sweating. If I’m cold, I act a certain way and if I’m hot, I act a certain way.

*

I’m particularly worried about what we’re using for energy and water sources, and mass deforestation as a result of the agricultural industry. We think we’re getting smarter when we’re constantly repeating our mistakes, being aggressive toward each other and destroying everything … People try to distance themselves from the implications of their actions. I try to be conscious of how my actions impact other people around me. I know how capitalism works, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I see how businesses have to do it, but I don’t see how governments can buy into this. They’re thinking about short-term benefits, not long-term implications …

What do you think could help people work towards putting something else first, besides money?

There are cultures, I feel like there’s fewer and fewer, cultures that cling to a community sense of living, a relish in that your community is doing well. But that would require a complete change in our perceptions of ourselves and each other. I’m trying not to be pessimistic.

What would it be like to just be pessimistic?

I would consider that my spirit breaking. I’ve seen firsthand and through a lot of stories the shitty things that people do … but I’ve also seen a lot of good. To be who I am, to continue to be proud of who I am, I can’t give in to my negativity.

 

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/26/16

Weather: Hot and muggy at the beginning, cooler at the end. Small breeze. Faced east again for shade. This was a short shift, 3-5.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: Maybe 0.5? Very mild.

Pages of notes: 5

People known to me, and I to them, from previous sessions: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Number of dogs seen: 2

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.47

 

Observations:

There’s a face people make to protect themselves from me. I can’t describe it, but if you come visit me at the booth (I’ll be there today through Monday, 3-6pm), I’ll try to do it for you.

Lots of people said hi to me today without stopping, just being friendly; a few were people I’d seen yesterday.

Themes of the day: veganism and the movie Cowspiracy  which, I’m glad it was pivotal for you, but that is a terrible title. I have never seen it.

Two bike cops rode through at 4:30.

The person I screwed up the conversation with also stopped by. She had a great hat on, and she asked me what kind of data I was getting. I told her about the first conversation below, and it developed that she’s a math teacher. I’m so grateful to her for stopping and talking with me.

 

Some conversations:

[These two came up together, and are pretty clearly friends]

Person 1: I don’t like the hot. I get hot and aggravated and sticky and I wanna jump in the ocean.

Person 2: But the ocean’s mad cold!

Person 1: I want it to be cold!

Person 2: But you’re gonna tan!

Person 1: How I’m gonna tan under the water?

[There was a transition here that I didn’t note.]

Person 1: They say the water’s getting higher, the ice in Antarctica is melting.

Person 2: The penguins and the polar bears are all gonna die.

Is that something that bothers you a lot, or does it seem far away?

Person 2: No, it’s gonna happen mad soon! We’re not gonna be able to tell our kids about polar bears ’cause they’re gonna be extinct … The birds, they’re all dying. There’s mad crows, crows are everywhere.

Where did you guys learn about these things?

Person 1: My old science teacher. She was talking about winters getting warmer, summers getting hotter, snow when there shouldn’t be snow, or not enough snow so there’s a drought.

Do you talk to other people about it?

Person 1: I would talk to my science teacher.

Is she good to talk to about stuff like that?

Person 1: About anything.

Person 2 [laughing]: All the animals are dying!

Can I ask you, I’m not trying to be rude, but I notice that you’re laughing when you say all these things. Can you say why you’re laughing?

Person 2: It’s like a nervous laugh. Like, it’s gonna happen.

Do you imagine it? Do you picture it?

Person 1: It kinda resembles the apocalypse. It’s like this movie, The Book of Eli … he has to go through the desert and eat rats, through all these ghost towns.

Person 2: Because they’re gonna break out in war. It’s like this [gestures around] but it’s all gray, all the buildings broken, all the statues broken.

It sounds like you guys like watching movies like this. How come?

Person 2: It’s showing you what life’s gonna be later.

Person 1: And there’s usually a character trying to save life, save their family.

 

*

Basically animal agriculture is what I’m most concerned about. It’s kind of destroying the planet. It’s not sustainable at all. This is a new discovery for me: I watched this film Cowspiracy … It’s definitely a personal journey for me. I’ve used social media to put the message out there that we need to be concerned about what we’re doing on this planet. How could I have been so ignorant to this beforehand? We’re just part of a bigger system, and it’s hard to detach from that and see how things really are. There has to be a personal want and desire to take care of the planet.

When you make these changes, or try to encourage other people to make these changes, do you feel better?

Yeah … Even if your voice is not as strong, you still need to speak up.

Can you think about how you might help other people make some of these changes, how you might make that path smoother for people?

When I was going through this change, I had a lot of support from–not my family and friends, they think I’m crazy, but from people on YouTube, on the internet, a community of reassurance and support. Something to that effect is what I’d like to do for other people.

It sounds like you had almost a conversion experience, and I’m wondering if it’s possible for people to change what they’re doing without that conversion.

Well, they’re working on various technologies, like for scrubbing carbon from the atmosphere. They’re looking for ways to solve problems through engineering, but with engineering they’ll cost billions of dollars, and it wouldn’t cost [nearly as much] to change the way we eat.

*

People dying every other day.

Are these people who are dying close to you, are they people you love?

Cousins, people younger than me or a little older. They’re dying more regular now. They say, live a sober life, be sober and deal with this, but it’s not something that we as children are warned about. They tell you, Oh, you gotta go to college, you gotta get a good job, but they don’t tell you this.

*

I definitely am [anxious]. I’ve been vegan for 8 moths because of that. I worked on a dairy farm in New Zealand, and then I saw this film Cowspiracy and I found out that dairy farming is basically the worst thing we can do. Cows are so inefficient. New Zealand used to be 90% forest, now it’s almost all dairy farms. I’ve only been back for a week … If we don’t change, we’re fucked.

Can you say more about what “fucked” looks like here?

By 2050 we’re gonna have 9 billion people. They’re gonna have to eat the food we’ve been feeding the cows. It’s not sustainable.

But what do you imagine though?

Wars, climate wars. They’re saying 2 degrees Celsius, but around the equator it’s gonna be [much worse]. Places like Canada and Russia are gonna be full of rich people ’cause they’re colder. There’s gonna be a mass exodus from the equator–the war in Syria is pretty much directly caused by climate change, but they don’t say that on the news because it doesn’t feel good. We’re totally fucked unless we change, and we’re not gonna change.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/25/16

Weather: Hot in the sun, though I was shaded for most of my time there. Set up facing east instead of west so the sun wouldn’t be in my face.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People known to me, and I to them, from previous sessions: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2

Number of dogs seen: 2

Number of dogs pet: 0

Instances of shirtlessness: 7

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.81

 

 

Observations:

 

I can’t tell if facing the other way makes a difference–there were fewer stoppers today, but that could be because of all kinds of things. No one stopped to talk at all for almost the first hour.

 

A cop biked through the park at 3:10, and there was a police car parked beside some utility work starting at about 5.

 

Because it was warm, a lot of people had on their cute summer outfits, which is always pleasing.

 

Should I ask people who are obviously very drunk to come back another time when they’re less drunk?

 

 

Some conversations:

 

I believe it’s real, but I wouldn’t say I feel anxiety about it. If you look at it from a scientific point of view, the climate has always been changing, for millions of years, it’s only now that it’s being accelerated by human activities. It’s gonna happen, I just don’t wear myself out about it … I think people need to question their elected officials. The goal of any elected official, well, let’s say most of them, is to stay in power. I think people do care, so they need to hold their elected officials accountable, and then we’ll see some policy change. There’s an opportunity to do that tomorrow, a public hearing about the Burrillville Power Plant,  which is ridiculous–we’re going backwards! New solar power, new wind power, sure, but coal?* How can they do that? We’re a coastal state, so people need to pay attention to it.

 

*The proposed power plant in Burrillville would be natural-gas powered.

 

*

 

 

 

Money, paying bills. Rent, court, probation, food–they’re cuttin’ my food stamps and my social security now that I’m working. It’s not like I’m gonna die with no money, it’s more like what the hell I’m gonna do with my freakin’ money. It’s more like I do the wrong things with it.

 

Can you see what you would wanna do with it?

I can see it, it’s just tryna get to it. I told my caseworker, I can see the vision, I just don’t know how to get to it.

 

Did they have any ideas for how to help you keep your vision in sight?

Look, the Providence Center wouldn’t make money if they helped people keep their vision in sight. It’s like rehab, if it works, you won’t need them anymore. That’s why I’m talking to you, you have no interest in hand. …

 

I just wanna be financially stable. Not rich, but you see that shirt, you buy it, you see that pair of shoes, you buy it … This guy I’m working for, he pays me in cash, you can’t bank it, ’cause then the IRS is like, What are you hiding from us? I got this cut at work [shows me a deep but healing cut on his finger] and I had to tell ’em it was done at my house … My kids already work all the time. I said to my son, You don’t wanna be 47 like me and tired. My son said, Dad, I’m watching the best.

 

*

 

 

It has been changing. It’s getting longer to get hotter, warmer.

 

Have you noticed any effects that’s had on anything? Plants, other creatures, people’s moods?

 

Yeah, moods, definitely. People being like, Why isn’t it warm yet? People keep talking about it. You compare it to the last ones, from the year before–it’s been nicer sooner and that’s how I noticed that [this year] was different from last year … With fall, you don’t really noticed until you see all the colors popping out. You notice it and then everyone else notices it too.

 

We’ve been talking a lot about it in the present. Does it also make you think about the future at all

Yeah, ’cause next year I’m hoping it’ll be warmer sooner. To help the mood, the attitude. You feel better when it’s going according to plan. When it’s not, it throws people. But it does give people something to talk about. I don’t think people talk to each other enough. Just talking to somebody, just by you interacting with one person, it helps their day and your day. Which hopefully helps the world be a little better.

*

 

 

It’s definitely a very serious situation. Over the past 10 years I’ve noticed dramatic climate changes–from severe storms to irregular climate behavior. Look at these last few weeks, we’ve had snow, rain, cold, 80-degree days. If we look into geography there’s a lot going on, icebergs melting, situations with the carbon dioxide in the air, the chlorofluorocarbons. I see everything rapidly changing. I’d like to see a progression of the last 100 years–temperatures, months and days, I’d like to compare everything in the last 100 years* … My more concern is for my kids, my grandkids, great-grandkids. We’re gonna chew up all the resources. The United States uses up everybody else’s resources so we can be the last ones standing and we can have the power. It’s gonna be the end of the world. What’s gonna happen?

 

*Doctor’s note: If this person is reading this, you can see some of what you’re looking for here and here.

 

*

 

 

[Sees India Point Park marked on map of places to protect] It’s really about the water. I was there in September and there was a whole bunch of dead fish. It was really scary. I’m not talking about 10, 20 fish, I’m talking like 40, 50. And then later I wanted to kayak at India Point Park but I read that they were doing some research and there’s a lotta chemicals in the water. And a lotta people enjoy that park.

 

 

Rally at State House re: Burrillville Power Plant

Today (Thursday, 5/26) there will be a rally at the State House in Providence followed by a hearing on bill that would give the residents of Burrillville the power to reject any tax agreement agreed to between the town and Invenergy, the company proposing a natural-gas-fueled power plant in Burrillville. The bill would also make several fundamental changes to the EFSB. If this bill passes and becomes law, it could be an end to the power plant. You can read more about the bill here.

You can read the bill in its entirety here.

I don’t know enough about taxes or about the Energy Facilities Siting Board to know what the other repercussions of this bill might be down the road, but that is also worth investigating.

Rally and Hearing at the State House
Thursday, May 26th, 3pm
RI State House, 82 Smith Street Providence

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/24/16

Weather: Cool, gray, muggy. Started sprinkling around 5, full-on raining around 5:30.

Number of people: 13 stoppers, 3 walkbys, one bikeby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People known to me, and I to them, from previous sessions: 3

Conversations between people not previously known to each other: 3

Number of dogs seen: 3

Number of dogs pet: 0, not for lack of trying

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $3.30

 

Observations:

Because I screwed up a conversation last time, I made an extra effort to assert things as little as possible, but to listen and ask questions (the way I’m supposed to). I think it went well?

I can’t figure out if people are more likely to come up if they see someone else talking with me, or less. Maybe it depends on what they presume about the person based on what they see.

The guy who was worried about keeping his housing stopped by to tell me that they did, in fact, kick him out for smoking pot. On the other hand, K stopped by to tell me that her cat had diarrhea from eating lawn treatment chemicals but is getting better, and that she just signed her lease for another year.

The way people use the map (of places in RI they would like to protect) changes based on the way previous people use it, and the more that’s on there, the more people are likely to add.

A cop walked through the park around 5:05, and two more walked through around 5:15.

 

Some conversations:

Honestly, I’m living couch to couch. Without [the guy he’s staying with], I don’t know where I’d be … I’m coming over to people’s houses and I’m spending $20 on a bottle and then being like, “Oh, I’m too drunk to go home,” not like, “Oh, I need a place to stay.” You’re doing what you have to do but you’re really hurting the other person. You can’t just ask, you gotta have something they want. It’s hard out here. Family’s tough–everybody has their own issues, they have kids, they have their own lives. My friend could lose his place and I’d be back on the street … I come down here and I see how it is for people, I do, it’s hard out here. That’s why I wanna get rich, I wanna make like a hotel for people who want to help themselves to stay, so they don’t have to be homeless.

*

[Person 1 and Person 2 came up together; Person 3 was already talking with me]

Person 1: I’m anxious about taxes and I’m anxious about Trump becoming president. I heard on Facebook that he’s trying to start a cotton-picking program for Black children and–if he becomes president I’m moving away or hiding. In my free time I like to read and research government so when I get older I know more about it, like how taxes work and how to file taxes when I have to do it.

What do you do if someone is like, Oh, Donald Trump, blah blah blah?

Person 2: I laugh at ’em!

Person 1: If it’s someone older than me I’m gonna be polite, like, “Well, I disagree.” If it was a kid I would go all day.

Person 3: Do you vote?

Person 1: I’m 16 so I can vote in the city, like for Mayor.

Person 2, earnestly patting Person 1: When you’re 18 you can change the world. Every generation has a chance to change the world. [Changes tones] But ain’t nobody tryna do all that work!

*

[Writes on map] “Give a piece of land to be used for homeless camp & use as a temporary space until able to find rent.” [Speaks to me] There’s more to it. There could be some problems. There’d have to be–don’t cause trouble, be respectful, don’t make predicaments for other people. If we police it ourselves… People can come around and be like, Come do a day job, I’ll help you get where you want to go.

*

Bills–rent, utilities, I’m trying to save for a car ’cause the buses are killing me. I spend more time on the buses–I go in for four hours a shift, and I take one bus from almost South Attleboro and then I take the 28, Atwood Avenue. I’m training right now, so I’m getting $9.60 an hour for three and a half, four hours. But I’m grateful for the job. And I’m not anxious right now ’cause I have tomorrow off and it’s gonna be hot.

*

[Person 2 came up while Person 1 was talking]

Person 1: I feel bad for the animals. I feel like it’s really bad that people are destroying their environment, their habitat. Me and my grandma, we took a walk today and where the woods used to be, there’s all this development, these houses. I was telling my grandma how this is really messed up–whoever did it had no compassion for the birds, their homes, their families. The skunks, the squirrels–all their homes.

How did you get to have that compassion? It seems like you’re really aware of all these animals and their homes.

My first memories was in upstate New York, near Monticello. There was a lot of forest, a lot of nature out there. The house we lived in was out in the middle of nowhere and behind the house was all woods… We moved to Providence when I was four and it was a different environment, it was a different world. That’s what kept me in touch with nature, like I had a comfort with nature. I’m with all these city kids and I’m the one running around picking flowers and tryna catch bees, watching the ants… [Animals] have feelings too, and they have families. Like, they used to say on TV, Oh, animals can’t feel, and we believed it, but the more we’re watching them and analyzing them …

Do you talk about this with people?

I do share my opinions on things, about how I feel about the environment and animals, and I’m not afraid to speak my mind. On Facebook the other day I wrote, “The trees are sick, pay attention.” My friend was like, “You okay?” I was like, Yes, I’m okay, but people have to start paying attention to the vibes from trees, really looking at them–the trees are sick, they don’t feel good. They’re not growing as tall as they should, if I look at trees from when I was a kid and the trees right now, they’re not growing to their full potential.

Person 2: And the leaves are getting smaller ’cause they don’t need to be as big to absorb the carbon dioxide.

*

It changes the ecosystem, definitely. If it’s happening, things will die, species will probably go extinct, including us. But people try to sugarcoat it, like it’s not our fault. But it’s always gonna be there. Something drastic might happen, and scientists might predict it, but the consequences can never be for sur

Do you think about it a lot, does it freak you out?

I don’t really think about it. People are so secluded in their own lives. Some people make an effort to know what’s going on, it’s all on the internet–there’s someone, a senator or a governor, he’s been working on this since the ’70s and only this year people are taking him serious about it. Now that it’s getting serious all these industries, all these political people are taking him serious … We rely heavily on nature for our resources. There’s something about the bees, I don’t know what it is, nothing pollinates, there won’t be vegetation. We just take and take from it.

Why do you think people don’t take it seriously?
Because nature’s not bothering me, I’m standing here and it’s not doing anything to me–but it hasn’t been the same. Every year it gets crazier in New England … But it doesn’t bother [people] personally in their life. So these industries and people in political office, they’re trying to find ways to do something about it but they don’t have much support. “Someone else will do something about it.” It definitely goes on everywhere. … I feel very small compared to seeing this on the news–bigger people, people in power, our industries, they can do something, not me. But it’s never gonna–the power and resources we rely on, we try to reduce it, but we’re not gonna do that, because humans are always [demanding]. They say by 2050 there’s gonna be 10 billion people. How are the other species that we rely on gonna do? How are we gonna contribute to nature itself? We’re ever-growing, just taking and taking.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/16/16

Weather: Sunny, breezy, cool; hard gusts of wind now and then.

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 3 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People known to me, and I to them, from past seasons: 3

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Number of dogs seen: 1, from afar

Number of dogs pet: 0

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

Drawings added to my notes by another person: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.85

 

Observations:

An interlocutor accidentally knocked over my money jar today, so I will need a new one.

One of the hecklers from the previous day came back and didn’t heckle me at all.

I really screwed up a conversation today. When you read the conversations below, you’ll be able to tell which one it is, I think–rather than listening to the person and traveling with them from their starting point, I positioned myself against them, which seemed to have the effect of driving them further into their own position. I don’t want to do this again, but the damage with this person has been done, and I feel pretty terrible (not asking for reassurance here, but adding to the record in order to cement the lesson).

 

Some conversations:

I think climate change is definitely something big. This is our home–where we gonna go after this? We don’t wanna go into our house and have exhaust there. Or for our kids, our kids are everything.

Have you seen the climate changing during your life?

I don’t think I’ve seen it–I guess when I was a kid it snows when it’s supposed to snow, now it snows when it isn’t supposed to.

And that messes up things for plants and stuff.

Or animals! It was snowin’ on flamingos. Or on Mount Everest–I work with people from 26 different countries, so it’s like I travel without traveling. I work with a lotta people from Nepal, and they were saying there’s no more snow on Mount Everest. They’ve seen it change drastically.

*

Anxieties around people.

What have you tried that helps you deal with it?

I drink. It helps–I go to the Providence Center. You don’t know who’s the good people and who’s the bad people, you can’t trust somebody you don’t know. I mainly stick with my family, and I built some friends over the years, but I’m not gonna trust them like I trust my family. I don’t work, I get a check. The problem with the Providence Center is they’re not gonna give me the pill that works, because it’s addictive.

*

Not being homeless again. I don’t ever want to be homeless. I live in a sober house, but I smoke a lot of pot. I’m most worried about them smelling pot on me. They don’t like you smoking in the house at all. I have a prescription for it, but they don’t care. The apartment is just right where I can afford it. I think I need different friends–they’ll be like, “Let’s do this,” but it’s always, “Let’s go smoke,” it’s not like, “Let’s have a picnic” or “Let’s volunteer somewhere.” I can’t achieve anything where I’m at.

*

There’s definitely change going on and we’re kinda stuck in the middle with climate change–in my mind, the goal should be restorative efforts and for it to be discussed more often.

Do you talk about it with people?

I don’t talk about it too often. It’s just a matter of finding like minds. I’m kinda shaky on the subject. I would be willing to listen to others about it, I might seek out other information. I’d like to see more education on maybe gardening, when it comes to planting things–if I was trying to grow something, I wouldn’t know how to start.

[I recommended the South Side Community Land Trust to this person and the next person, who was also interested in growing things.]

 

*

Working to help said people start some type of farm–there’s not food growing here, why is that? It’s been stated many times that there’s a hunger problem. When I drive down the street and I see people’s lawns–grass doesn’t feed people! I feel like there’s a lot of red tape, it’s not as easy as buying some land. If you’re poor, you can’t afford a yard–you might get a cool landlord but otherwise…

What do you think might make landlords, for example, more willing to let people grow stuff in the front yard?

Maybe if you made it a cultural moment. You create a little bit of hype about it, you show that it is benefiting you, show that it is flourishing and make it something that a lot of people wanna do–“Hey, if you don’t like what the government’s doing…” Maybe not a lot people have the get up and go to do that? A good way would be to have a landlord incentive, see other people down your block doing it.

*

I talked to a meteorologist and he says he doesn’t think climate change is really happening. He says it’s gonna go a hundred years and then go back.

A lot of scientists are pretty sure it’s happening.

Well, he’s a meteorologist, so I think he would know.

Maybe. A meteorologist studies the weather in the short term, but do they study it over long, long periods of time?

Oh, like geologists?

Yeah, exactly. They look at the big patterns over time and they see these changes.

Well, he says it’s not a long enough time to know, and I’m sticking with him.

 

Alternate Histories: The Subway Series

I went to New York, realized that what I was seeing in the bottom of the subway tunnels was water, and wrote this story.

*

When we pried up some of the streets, we laid down metal grid and limestone and marble and peat moss and sharp sand and the bones of some of the dead and broken glass turned back to sand. We planted salt-tolerant grasses, beach peas, heathers, junipers. We left plenty of streets, don’t worry. The ambulances and the power chairs can still get through.

 

The negotiations between the builders’ and plumbers’ and electricians’ unions (whose representatives drove in from Queens and Staten Island each day), the water’s lawyers (arriving on foot and on bikes), the various tenants’ rights cadres (some of them armed and riding the city buses), the Doctors, Nurses and Patients’ Coalition (in wheelchair-compliant vans), the delegation from Riker’s Island–these took almost a year, even with everyone eager to be fair, to admit that they might have been wrong or done wrong, to outlive years and decades and centuries of mutual suspicion and uneven violence. Pain and anger and hatred all wash out slowly, slowly, and only when people stop renewing them.

 

Rainwater filters down through the grids of plant and sand and stone into what used to be the subway tunnels, diluting the dank sick dark-brown water with clearer, washed water. In the storms, on the wettest most tantrum days, the tunnels become flood tunnels: the seawater crashes in and the skywater pours down: we made a place for them, because everyone and everything needs a place to be, and sometimes more than one. Spillways open and when the storm subsides, they close; when the storm subsides, sunlight comes down through the light-and-ventilation shafts and makes the water steam up.

 

We don’t need the subway tunnels for the subway anymore because work doesn’t work the same way. Most people live pretty close to the work they do, and no one works for a living; people live and they work. This took a long time, almost as long as it took to pry up some of the streets. We started doing it, and some of us got tired, and lay down, and the rats and the dermestid beetles from the Museum became our undertakers, and we gave our bones to the water.

 

This is terrible, we hear you saying, how can you stand it? There are pilgrimages to the catacombs but there’s no horror, or rather, horror is a part of our lives, a neighbor. We combined a few of the many things that people have done with the dead, since the beginning of the world.

 

We admit that we smashed up some of the buildings to get the marble. Even the softest stone is still hard, and holds a lot of memory. We wanted it to communicate some of what it had known to the water; we wanted its power to be transformed. But we didn’t smash up any people, or trap them into smashing themselves. We worked slowly and we worked with care, and no one worked past or even close to the limits of their strength, to move the stone on rollers, we chanted rhythmic encouragement and carried cleaner water, water gathered before it hit the ground, in the heat. Our plant and animal neighbors fed us, or calmed our minds, or renewed the air, or shit fertilizer. That’s how they were to us. How we were to them: pruners, killers, renewers of air, cleaners of habitat.

 

The rats have their own routes; the light that filters in, the unpredictable waters, and the lack of dropped food–there isn’t nearly enough to waste, anymore–make it less of a place for them. They live there, and sometimes there are terrible rat stampedes–we feel disgust–we stand as still as we can, shuddering, while they flood our ankles. They stay out of the water, though, now, we don’t know why. Science works differently now, too, we cut fewer things open, we stop fewer processes. Its motion is even slower, making some of us feel crazy. Those of us who can write, write our findings up on the tunnel walls, and sometimes the floods wash them away. Depending on the changing levels of dampness, moss and fungi flourish or dry to dust and sift down.

In the tunnels a few bats live, refugees, but they’re shy of people. We found out about the crayfish when the first raccoons came down. We stay away from them: they carry rabies, and there’s no vaccine anymore, not anywhere in the city or the world. But they’re among the best at finding exits and entrances, so sometimes we follow them at a safe distance, to see if there are places we should be watching out for, places where we poorly understand the change from aboveground to underground, where they understand it well. We don’t eat the crayfish. You can go to another storyteller to find out more about how we feed each other and where we sleep, the various ways we decide about children or pray or joke or clean. This is about the way we know the water underground.

 

Year by year, decade by decade, century by century, the water in the tunnel bottoms becomes sweeter. We lay marble tile from the smashed-up buildings, with cracks between so it can seep back down into the cycle, what we used to call the water table but now call the belly. The tunnels are long throats. This metaphor will break down pretty soon, but that’s okay with us. We build things now to be breakable, reparable, to flood and subside. Sometimes the water that sinks back down is seawater, is salt. We know this slows renewal, poisons roots, just like it would make you sick to swallow. We hope for time to dilute it.

 

On the hottest, driest days, the former tunnels are cooler than the streets, and we walk down the long ramps to lower our temperature, and that’s how we notice–after some generations have passed–the stalactites starting to form on the roof, just little nubs with a drop of water glimmering. Their roots are deep tobacco-stained brown; their extremities are gray and pale tan with the slightest surface glitter, as the sediments work their way down. When you see them changing, you don’t know it’s change you’re seeing. They are made up of millions of years of the minute dead, in aggregate, now entering another form, moved by the requirements of matter. They aren’t beautiful yet. Neither are we.