Climate Anxiety Counseling: Burnside Park/Kennedy Plaza, 6/12/19

Weather: Warm & bright, wind picking up

Number of people: 5 stoppers, 3 walkbys, 1 map marker

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7.5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 0

Postcards against the plant: 0

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.00

 

Observations:

Slow day today, not sure why; only got permission to post one conversation.

To the filmmaker who spoke with me, if you see this: You might like reading Brandon Taylor‘s and Keguro Macharia‘s writings. They are very different writers and thinkers, but what we talked about shares some elements with each of them. Good luck.

Noticed a cop car by the old Greyhound stop at 4:45 but have no idea how long it had been there; a second car arrived at 4:55, left soon after; two more marked cars and one unmarked drove through on Washington St but didn’t stop.

The map marker marked the map with “Hakuna Matata” and it is the only thing I have ever wiped off the map before taking a picture. If you’re not worried about climate change, okay (I mean, not okay, but I’m still going to treat your worry with respect) but you don’t get to tell people not to worry at a thing that’s about worries! This is not the thing for you! Go to the “no anxieties” booth!

 

A conversation: 

I think I feel anxious about how everything gears up toward not thinking about it. Our culture is one of denial, continuing to exist as if nothing needs to change.

Is this something you see in yourself, or you see it in other people and worry about that, or both, or what?

Yeah, it happens in me, but if it happens in me, everything in the world around me tells me it’s fine. It’s a first-world, not-in-current-climate-catastrophe privilege. It lets you be a doer of all the things you do as a consumer in fossil-fueled capitalism. There’s nothing that makes you uncomfortable about these decisions.

For you, what’s the relationship between feeling uncomfortable and what you do next?

I think I have my internal conversation about what I do. Things like bike [instead of drive], eat less meat. I make art about species loss and climate change. There are ways that I as a creature, as a person in the world try to consume less and question more. In my work I’m interested in what are ways that we can hear different conversations about climate change—there’s such crisis language about it, I feel like the emotive and the affective has no space. So having space for the emotional realities of climate change, and how it’s intertwined with global capitalism and poverty. We don’t have space in our culture for a public ritual of mourning.

So you mentioned the emotional reality of climate change, what is that reality for you?

Yeah. I’m like devastated about species loss—it feels irreversible and awful. That we’re a species amongst many—those of us engaged in capitalist structures—and we’re the worst stewards every of others, and other species, and of land. I’m desperate about the state of water. It’s this essential life force and we’ve toxified it and weaponized it against the poor, and changes in weather and temperature are making water dangerous, with flooding and storms. It’s the intersection of climate change and global capitalism—the precarity of poverty… Hurricane María was so devastating in Puerto Rico because of the lack of infrastucture and because the distribution of resources was profoundly inequitable.

What usually happens when you feel those things, or know about those things?

I feel heavy, I feel anxious. But I think we live in a world of such distractions that my environment is always inviting me to escape from that feeling. I can pick up my phone, look at something, or call someone. I’ve been trying to work on not doing that, on sitting with it. It’s good, but it’s really depressing! It feels so honest—I think that there’s devastating things happening in the world and I want to be honest about that devastation. … It feels kind of meditative. Sometimes it’s reading—my partner is currently reading the climate report and they’ve been telling about it, so not looking at anything else after that. Or writing in response, or just sitting in response. … I’m terrible at not being honest. But we’re all self-deceptive—we live in a very deceiving culture. Like the “right to work” law, which is the most anti-worker law. Or just propaganda, the way we’re lied to all the time. We self-deceive about so many things—maybe it’s necessary to deceive yourself a little bit, just to move on with your day.

Do you think about climate change every day?

I don’t do it every day. I guess I think about it—do you know the meditation practice tonglen? You breathe in suffering and breathe out relief. So you generally start with easy things, maybe an acquaintance who’s having a hard time. Then you can move through more complicated things, someone close to you, or a stranger. That’s maybe one of the ways I think about sitting with it—breathing in, taking in the suffering.

How do you interact with other people about it?

I teach about it with students. I talk about it with friends, but that often feels like a hard conversation to have—where does it go? What solutions are there? I’ve gone to protests and rallies, like the climate justice rally. I went to Standing Rock.

What was that like?

It was unsettling. Like [undoing] settler colonial structures. It was a very Indigenous space that I experienced strongly, being an ally but being a white person walking in, knowing it was not my space. It felt like a very—both like powerfully joyful and powerfully sorrowful space.

Are you looking to find that kind of powerfully joyful and sorrowful space again?

The thing that I’m really looking to find again that I felt there is the experience of being in powerful community, ’cause that is who you share joys and sorrows with. I was part of a worker-owned collective for five years, and that collective political existence, building and breaking in community—I miss that shared experience. What does it look like to be in a collective? Who would it be with? I’m engaging in a lot of collaborative projects right now and that feels good, like it could be the beginning of those things.

What are the environmental justice fights where you are? 

There’s the Line 5 fight, to interrupt a pipeline, and there’s mining in Superior National Forest, which is very complicated. I’m just now learning about it. I’ve given money but I haven’t done other things. I live in a city with the third largest Indigenous population in the country, and I know that for example on the White Earth reservation there’ve been struggles about getting land ownership back to members. For a project I’m working on now, I’m interviewing a few Indigenous folks who are doing work around food sovereignty, and interviews feel like a good way to begin getting to know the place.

booth interior 6-12-19

[Image: the interior of the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, a turquoise plywood tabletop with a binder for notes, a jar for donations and pens/markers, and a box of cards featuring Rhode Island organisms.]

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s