Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/28/17

Weather: Warm, bright, breezy

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

Peanuts references: 1

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous years: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.25

 

Observations:

I need to be more mindful of and purposeful about power dynamics in the questions I ask and the possibilities I raise—both between me and the person I’m talking with, and between the person I’m talking with and other people in the situation. I had a conversation today about a bad situation where I don’t think I made anything worse, but I missed the chance to point out a power dynamic that—if the person I was talking to recognized it—could’ve made things less worse for someone who wasn’t there. (I know that’s vague—I didn’t get permission to post this one. But I think making it vague is also good because it can help me to remember to apply it to other situations.)

Today was really busy, especially toward the beginning. I don’t know why, except that it was beautiful out. Because of the busy-ness, I didn’t notice much in the way of police activity, other than seeing two police cards parked at the Dorrance St. end of the park as I was leaving.

One person who spoke to me was really happy about the restoration of free bus passes for elderly and disabled people, and gave me detailed instructions for how to get one if you’re eligible and don’t have one. I want to check these and make sure they don’t leave anything out before posting them here, but I will post them in case any of you knows someone who could use one.

 

Some conversations:

I’m not anxious about climate change because I feel like it’s pretty inevitable. There’s nothing we can—well, there’s some things we can do, but there are so many people contributing to it, you can’t change everyone’s mind. I don’t get anxious about death. I’ve come to grips with the idea that everybody dies. If you’re just worrying about death all the time it’ll prevent you from living. But what I am anxious about is the everyday struggle of getting through life, working your life away in order to get somewhere.

Where is that somewhere, for you?

To live in a home and know that my work fully covers my expenses. Not living paycheck-to-paycheck in order to support myself. I’m not talking about a luxury home, I’m talking about a one-bedroom apartment and being able to eat, what everybody has—well, not everybody.

What everybody needs, anyway, and some people don’t have that, and some people have way more than that.

My own father is an example. He makes over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year, and he wouldn’t let his own son live with him. He was scared that my mom would start coming around to his house.

Do you take care of her?

No. If she needs food, I’ll buy my mom and my siblings food, I’m not gonna let them go hungry. But I don’t support her. But my dad still didn’t allow me to stay in the house because I have contact with her. I even offered to pay my own rent … He works very hard, sixty hours a week. So I got the hardworking side from him, but other than that, I haven’t really gotten anything from having him as a dad. All he does is work and money’s more important to him than family. He takes one day off a week, and I maybe talk to him once a month. He asks how I’m doing, and I tell him I’m able to get by and that’s about it.The funny thing is, he’s in counseling for that stuff—to be able to connect with people, especially people dealing with drug abuse. My older brother’s an addict. [My father] took classes to try to change himself, but it did nothing. He looks like a stone brick all the time, he always acts the same. My grandfather was an alcoholic, and he didn’t give my father any love or any attention, so he doesn’t know how to give it himself.

Do you feel like you’ve been able to give love to the people in your life?

Yes. I have the example of my mom. She doesn’t have much but she’s always able to give with her heart. Then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum with my dad. I think I’ve learned a happy medium.

*

I work in the [REDACTED] library, and there’s a guy who comes in who’s majoring in something to try to make [climate change] better. Sometimes he comes in and we look at each other, and we don’t really speak but we know each other’s thoughts. A lot of people don’t even really want to talk about it, because what are you gonna do? I mean, there’s a lot to do but there’s so much, it’s overwhelming. We need specific ideas for specific things to do… And there’s another issue I have, well, there’s so many issues, but some people don’t have hope for their own life. So what are we doing asking them to have hope for the future? You need some hope, some connection to family—they need to associate some kind of hope for the future, for the earth, because a lot of people don’t even have hope for today. How do you get somebody out of where they’re at right now?

…And then like, let’s say I have something to recycle, and it’s dirty. Do I waste the water to clean this can, or what do I do? It’s a lot, man. I think people do want to work for a better world…the way we’re living, it’s just not a sustainable thing. We will die if something doesn’t change. That’s a fact, and we know, and we look at the [can’t read it]. You go down here and try to breathe, it’s not good air. I didn’t want to breathe down here! Do I bring my daughter down here? And I think about how life expectancy in my family isn’t that high. What is it in the water, in the air, that’s making us die so soon?

*

I’m worried about my hip.

Are you gonna get surgery on it?

I’m debating on that, but I think I’m too old. I’m 68. And I can get along, but if I do that surgery, a whole hip replacement, I might not be able to get around at all. I don’t want to be confined.

Does it give you a lot of pain?

No, no. Only in the bad weather, you know when it’s bad weather—I can tell when a storm’s coming. I got my cane, but I never shoulda picked up this cane, now I can’t get along without it. I don’t wanna get stuck down here with no way to get home.

*

My family’s in the construction business. And I have a problem, because the company is an asphalt company and asphalt is a petroleum product, there’s gonna be runoff, it does damage. But it’s money, and you gotta live. And I love trucks, I wanna buy them and drive them. But I feel guilty. When I charge my phone, I feel guilty. But you need it, it’s a necessity, but when I charge my phone I’m like, I’m fucking it up. I’m actually thinking about changing my career, being an electrician and doing solar panels. It’d be easier on me, but you can’t make as much as fast… But everything always has some type of negative outcomes.

I think a lot of the time that’s true, the way things are set up it’s hard to do anything without doing some damage. So sometimes I ask people: what could you to do sustain and help the natural world and the natural systems that you depend on?

Swallow your pride. It’s demeaning to be a guy ’cause you’re brought up—you don’t just have to pay for dinner, you have to pick her up in a truck. I take the bus ’cause the bus is easy, but [can’t read my own writing] for a guy in a Prius, compared to a lifted Chevy. If you play video games, it’s not enough to just get the Xbox, you have to buy all the new things that come with the games. We have too many accessories … Nobody wants to live in a big apartment building, they want the white picket fence, the two-car garage, I know ’cause I want it too.

*

I basically talked to you [last year] during the peak of my veganism. I’ve calmed down quite a bit. There’s definitely a lot of things about climate change that aren’t being addressed and need to be talked about. I’ve traveled the world this year. I went to Albania for a school project … on the Vjosa River, the last undammed river in Europe. There’s like four thousand species of plants that grow along this river and 250 of them are found nowhere else. The natural beauty was healing.

Do the people there feel proud of it?

They do, but they also take it for granted. We took a ferry ride through a gorge, and all the tourists were outside taking pictures, and all the Albanians were inside, they were commuting to go to work. The government wanted to put a dam on the river and this organization, Eco Albania, was like, People’s lives depend on this river in its natural free-flowing state. They fought against it and they won.* There are no dams on the river. They work harder than anyone I’ve ever encountered. I’m studying biomedical engineering and after I pay off an enormous amount of loans I want to go into nonprofit work and feel like my work matters.

*They may have another fight on their hands.

*

 

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: Yesterday there was supposed to be a hailstorm. Last night there was this dark cloud, the sky went from pink to black. There was all this thunder and lightning. There’s mudslides and tornadoes–

Person 2: Those gaping holes, sinkholes–

Person 1: It gives me anxieties. And the water in Pawtucket is disgusting. My friend drank the water and he threw up for 45 minutes. The air quality, if the water is like that, what’s the air like? Kids, asthma. … In 10-20 years our weather’s gonna be like Florida. There’s gonna be a lot more water everywhere. It’s gonna rise up. It is scary.

What do you do when you feel that scared feeling?

I just act like it’s not gonna happen to me. That’s the only way I can get out of it. My safety is at risk, but it’s not gonna happen to me. Oh, it’s gonna happen somewhere else.

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