Andrea Zhu interviewed me for WBRU

Remember a while back, Andrea Zhu interviewed me about the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth and I thought I missed it, or something?

Here are the fruits of that interview. Thanks, Andrea!

She writes, “It’s hard to say whether other communities around the world will adopt Schapira’s method to address the local effects of global climate change.” If you would like to do a version of climate anxiety counseling in your home city or town, watch this space: I’m putting a template up soon, and then maybe it will be a little easier to say.

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Providence 2050

The Providence Public Library, a place and institution that I love so much, invited people living and working in the city to imagine it in 2050, and this is what we said. I’m in there (though I don’t know that I would call myself an “emerging leader”) and so are a lot of people that I also love, and some I don’t know.

Thanks to Kate Wells and the PPL for inviting me to be part of this story.

Rally Against RIPTA Fare Increase, Thursday 11/19

From the RIPTA Riders’ Alliance:

A protest against bus fare hikes will be held
4pm Thursday Nov 19 (next week) at the Smith St
side of the State House.

We are also asking riders to call state leaders
to tell them to fund RIPTA and stop these fare hikes:
Speaker Nicholas Mattiello 401-⁠222-⁠2466,
Governor Gina Raimondo 401-⁠222-⁠2080,
Senate President Teresa Paiva-⁠Weed 401-⁠222-⁠6655.

The event page is here.

I posted RIPTA’s schedule of hearings about the increases here.

A Great Face for Radio

UPDATE: I apparently can’t read and don’t know what time is.

Andrea Zhu interviewed me for a story about Climate Anxiety Counseling, and this story AIRED at 11pm Eastern Time (U.S.) on WBRU 95.5 FM LAST NIGHT and I didn’t hear it.

I don’t know yet from Andrea whether you’ll be able to hear this at any other time or in any other way, but if I find out, I will tell you here.

Climate Anxiety Counseling AND Alternate Histories at a Creative Medicine Lecture, 10/14/15

At the end of this lecture, I invited the people in attendance to write down their own climate anxiety, trade with or pass to the person sitting next to them, and write an alternate history for that anxiety. I’d explained as part of the lecture what an alternate history is/does, and read a sample one–this one. Many more people wrote than handed me what they wrote.

This is a relatively new format for the booth (though I’ve invited people to do it before) and I’m still working out how to set it up well and not try to control it too much.

The people attending this free lecture included some Brown students, some Brown professors, some who were neither, some friends of mine, and some strangers; I was distracted/relieved by being done speaking and didn’t notice who handed in which writings.

CLIMATE ANXIETY: I fear that the world my children inherit from my generation will be overtaken by loss, violence, brutality, exploitation; and there will no longer be wild landscapes to which they can retreat.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: Have you ever read the book The Road by Cormac McCarthy? It’s a book of the apocalypse, in which a father and son try to survive in this “new world”–the only world the son has ever experienced. The son finds beauty in this world, because it’s all he has ever experienced, and in turn he makes the world that much more beautiful. I think with this mentality, we can create a society of sympathetic minds, which may slowly rebuild a new image of a wonderful world.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: I’m worried about the attitude toward refugees all over the First World [sic]–what’s happening in Syria and Europe right now–what’s happening here on our border with Mexico–Trump’s poll ratings and his idea for a “giant wall” on the border. Why can’t we accept fellow humans just because they are beyond an imaginary border? What will we do when more people are homeless and need a place to go because of climate, war or otherwise?

ALTERNATE HISTORY: Educational policy changes so that understandings of psychological and psychosocial dynamics are taught at early stages–especially the way people project internal anxieties onto others. And there is a genuine move to make international law more robust and to make national borders more practical than infused with bad patriotism.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY:

All of the environmental

changes associated

with global warming–

different coastlines

different weather

different wildlife

more life stress living

with these changes.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: You seem to be afraid of change. Maybe a place to start is to look at the possibility that change can be productive and positive instead of doom-filled. We don’t know yet how this will turn [around? can’t read their handwriting] but people who are creative and determined to “use the change” will help us realize our potential to change for the better.

*

CLIMATE ANXIETY: I fear the sensation of not being able to breathe clean air, someday soon, and of not trusting the water I drink is safe.

ALTERNATE HISTORY: The new world that could be possible will include more public awareness of the needs of our planet and how it supports us. Through faith leaders (Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, etc.) speaking on it, as well as civic leaders, more focus, effort and energy will be devoted to global health in a way that can improve life for individuals and environment. Better not to deny–

Points of Service: Responsive Art-Making & Intimate Public Discourse

Maybe you couldn’t come to the Creative Medicine Lecture I gave on October 14th. I thought you might like to see the basic words of it. Throughout the week I’ll post the collaborative climate anxieties and alternate histories that people wrote after the talk. Thanks to Jay Baruch, Kit Salisbury, the Cogut Center for the Humanities and everyone who asked such good questions.

*

In the fall of 2013, I read an article predicting the near-future extinction of coral reefs, and by the winter of 2013, I started feeling very bad all the time. I had no language for how bad I was feeling and why. When people asked me what I was crying about, I said, “I’m crying about climate change and ecosystem destruction,” and they were nice about it but they looked at me funny. One person said it wasn’t normal to feel as bad as I did about it, and that made me wonder if other people were feeling the same way, or if they were hiding it, or what was the thing that felt like this to them. I tried to think how I could find this out, and I thought of Lucy’s booth in Peanuts—I’m married with a cartoonist—and that’s how Climate Anxiety Counseling was born.

I now know that a lot of people are anxious about climate change, both from people who talked to me at the booth and from articles that people have written since then. Psychiatrist Lise Van Susteren described it as “pre-traumatic stress disorder,” with anger and panic and obsessive, intrusive thoughts. Climate scientists are expressing their anxiety at a website called Is This How You Feel?, and in interviews with Rolling Stone and Slate. Adults feel it, kids feel it. Organizations have sprung up to address it–the Rhode Island Dept of Health hosted a talk with someone from the Resource Innovation Group’s Transformational Resilience Program who spoke about the stresses of climate change, its effects, and the knowledge of it. There’s the deep terror that goes beyond fearing your own death, fearing the world will not go on without you. There’s the human-apocalyptic scenarios–food shortages, infectious water, desperate people turning violent. There’s the feared discomfort of hot summers, the inability to sleep. There are questions that feel aesthetic but that I think are actually our way of acknowledging our interdependence with the species and systems of our world–will we still have the crisp fall weather that I love, in which I can feel the world I live in saying certain things to me? Will this bird, which I’ve never seen in mutual personal presence, but which I find so beautiful, survive? And with all that there’s the helplessness, the sense that there’s nothing I, or I, or I can do to slow this down, to stop it, to reverse it–that it’s out of our hands.

People brought all of these up to me at the booth. They also, as I pretty much expected, brought up a lot of other sources of worry and anger and fear that might have the same roots as climate change but didn’t have to do with it specifically. Many of them already have no safe place to stay, already don’t know where their next meal is coming from, are already angry and potentially violent or the targets of violence. Many of them, many of us, live within a fearful state of mind and being, one that shrinks and hardens our personal borders–there are so many things to which we’re vulnerable no matter how hard we resist, and so many barriers that are raised against so many of us, that it’s tempting to raise barriers wherever we can.

From the very beginning I knew that I wanted it to be easy for people to talk to me, and that I wasn’t going to try to control too much what they said—I wanted them to be able to talk about whatever was pressing on their minds the most. I wanted to create a shared language for talking about climate change, and I also wanted to figure out what might prevent people from worrying about it and, thus, acting to try to minimize it—not that I really had any idea how they would do that. What might be paralyzing them, or causing them to feel stuck, as I did.

People told me all kinds of things, both climate-related and not, and if you want to know more about what they were you can definitely look at the project website where I keep a record of all the booth sessions, but what I want to focus on for the moment is the fact that I was there at all, and that they told me things at all. There were two things that happened with the booth—interactions with people I know, who were mainly there because it was me, and interactions with people I didn’t know, which mainly happened because they were intrigued or appealed to. Both of them resulted in me listening to and asking questions about things that I doubt they would have shared with me in any other context.

I made the booth small so I could move it without a car and so it would be nonthreatening, and I made it at all because I thought it would provide a framework, a kind of mini-room, for our conversation. Something that protected me, that armored me, but not completely; something that revealed me, that made me available, but not completely. Sort of like a doctor’s office, except that you don’t have to wrangle insurance or get yourself to an appointment or prove you need help. All you have to do is encounter me, by accident, in the space you inhabit, and decide to talk with me. If you don’t need to talk to me, fine—I won’t bother you. If you do need to talk to me, here I am, sitting behind a plywood-and-cardboard construction. And while you are talking with me, you are my focus–my attention is yours, and your distress is close to mine.

So that’s one thing the booth made me think about that I didn’t expect, which is how we can take care of each other differently by turning some of the dials of expertise, intimacy, effort and protection to different levels. My expertise is really low, but the sunk costs on both sides for talking to me are also really low. Talking with me at the booth is not a big investment of anyone’s time or energy or money. The booth’ s drop-in structure means that some of the things that are exhausting or demoralizing about feeling like you have to “keep up with” your own care are absent. It’s clear, because of what it’s about, that it doesn’t “all depend on you”—it can’t. If anything is happening, if anything is working, it’s happening while we’re talking at the booth together, in the moment of the interaction.

But what is it that’s happening and how do we know? I know that for me, becoming the person I am at the booth is good for my mind and body. That person’s fuse is longer; she asks more questions; she listens better. She’s more alert to interaction. Who does the person talking to me become, while they’re talking to me? Do they know that person, like that person? Do they feel eased? Our interactions are fleeting. It’s an upside—they’re low pressure. It’s a downside: I don’t know if they matter outside of the moment in which they take place. I don’t know if they allow anyone else to feel better, be kinder, be braver—these are the things want, the kinds of things I’d like to see happen, to enable if I can.

I do know that there may be people here in the audience who when they hear “easier access” or “fewer boundaries” or “availability” freeze up—maybe you can’t imagine giving more than you already give, have already carefully calibrated what you CAN give, or have had bad experiences with being “available” and “accessible”?

So much of the way we talk about care is the way we talk about food and land and water and space and time: a language of scarcity, of being grabbed at, protecting ourselves from a thousand hands. In some ways this is true and in some ways it feels true. Another way to say this is that there are more needs than any one of us can meet, and that each person who talks to us about one of their needs is bringing us all of their needs–a tremendous weight balanced on a tiny point of contact. And I think this is especially true when the pain is really bad, and it’s especially true when it’s been really hard to get to the person who you think can help you, and it’s especially true when that is or seems like your only chance for that kind of help, and it’s especially true when you think of yourself as alone, beleaguered, beset.

In my little cardboard ramshackle booth, I don’t look like I have a lot of power over other people—I don’t look official—and I think for some people that might be what frees them to stop, and to speak. On my side of the booth, it seems like the fleetingness and strangeness of the interaction also protect me–it shelters different parts of me than, for example, a receptionist might, or an obligation to serve a certain number of people each day. It allows me and the person speaking with me to share a different kind of moment, maybe more direct, less threatening–I have more power than some of them, but I have no power over them in that moment, nor am I responsible for them in the way I imagine I would feel if I had an ongoing, official relationship with them. The structure of the booth–and also my own great social good luck, the fact that I get to go home and eat something and that my home is relatively safe and filled with love–helps me walk between peace and intimacy, detachment and involvement.

So is all of this fake, then, just fake and feel-good? Calling something art sometimes makes people feel relieved, like, “Oh, it’s just a movie”–that feeling. The “gallery wall” feeling. Am I signaling to people that talking with me is enough, putting a stupid band-aid on energy that we could use for action and change? Talking with me about your addiction doesn’t help to ease the pressures and pains in your life that make that addiction appealing. Talking with me about your fears for warming seas, ecosystems gutted and homes washed away isn’t going to dismantle the economic and social practices that contribute to global warming, toxins entering the water supply, deforestation.

Saying that you miss and long for your mother doesn’t bring her back, but it acknowledges that the burden of her loss was never wholly yours to carry. Acknowledging those things together, even just saying them out loud, can–it does for me, it’s one reason why I keep doing the booth. I’m not saying it definitely works this way for everybody, but it does feel right to me to talk about our losses and our fears, even though I also totally hate it and resent it and wish it would go away–I do this because I know it can’t go away. Roy Scranton, who wrote Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, speaks of setting aside time and space in his day to fully, darkly imagine the worst, and the way this frees him to be more present, active and powerful in the rest of each day.

Just as we use art to matter and not matter, we use it to deal with what we can’t deal with. Ursula K. LeGuin wrote that “fiction says in words what cannot be said in words.” And it can also help model and imagine what we could do that we’re not doing right now. If moments like the ones I sometimes have with people at the booth were more widespread, more frequent, more possible, would we see a change? What if such moments, such structures, were a recognized part of a complex network of ways of dealing with your mind in the world that might also contain—depending on your life, your needs—family, doctors, religion or meditation, medication, education/learning, changes in other aspects of the world itself?

You might still be having a hard time, because some things are terrible, but maybe there would be room for you. Maybe some days the point-of-service counseling would be enough, maybe there’d be walk-in services in several places, maybe a guaranteed basic income or a single-payer health care system would make it easier to see someone with deep training. The booth is not set up for deep healing–if anything, it offers microhealings, sort of the opposite of microaggressions, things that are small on their own but that I hope have the potential to add up. Maybe because they are small there can be a lot of them. Maybe if they could be combined with access to deeper, more painful or joyful practices, they would free a person to engage in that deeper kind of healing–including for a person who already monitors and facilitates deeper healing for others. What kinds of structures, what kinds of houses, can we build for these various interactions? What kind of edifice, what kind of pattern, what kind of time?

These “maybes”, these imaginings are part of how I extend the booth: I write alternate histories, imagining near futures where the sources of people’s anxieties are undone, removed, changed; stories that show us shifting our social priorities, stretching out our hands to benefit different people and structures than the ones we benefit by default right now. If we can imagine it, maybe we can build it. A good thing to remember here is that how we feel is inside us, but how we act is outside of us. Responding to the feelings that climate change and other forms of distress instill in us is good, but responding directly to the distress is good too, if we can. The booth feels like action to me, but insufficient action, but maybe a way to model habits and interactions that can make our present more livable, more open, whatever it does for our future.

These ideas and practices are weak, partial, meant to be critiqued and picked up and adapted and adjusted and reimagined by other people. Nothing we do alone matters, but we don’t do anything alone. And we have the luxury of being in this room together, of shared space and time. So before we do questions, I want to take a moment to respond to each other’s climate anxieties. I’ve left a piece of paper and for each of you, and I want you to write your climate anxiety on the paper, at the top. Then pass it to your neighbor–all you need to do is end up with one you didn’t write–and write a vision of a future in which their fears are no longer necessary and their needs are met. Change whatever you have to to do that.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 7/1/15

Weather: Hot and bright, gusts of wind at first, quieting down later.

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

People who read the sign out loud from a distance: 3

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.10

Observations:

The sun was RIGHT in my face almost the entire time, which meant I was trying to keep my hat shading my eyes, which meant it was tough to look at passersby and for them to look at me. I need a better plan.

A roughly normal number of people spoke with me, but stretched over four hours instead of three, so I wrote a lot of poems.

Some conversations:

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: Violence. Everything that’s happening in Providence. I’m worried about my family, people I’m close to.

Are you worried that it’s gonna hurt them or that they’re gonna hurt someone else?

That they’re gonna be victims of something they had nothing to do with. It’s becoming so unpredictable.

Person 2: I think it’s both. It’s easy for people to be manipulated.

Why do you think that is?

Person 1: Nowadays it’s a trend. They think they have to prove themselves to other people to be popular, they wanna fit in, doing what the next person does. They wanna be seen as, “I’m down.”

This is a weird question, so let me know if you want me to ask it another way. What are other things that might help them feel cool that they would actually want to do?

There’s a lotta things that you can do and still feel cool. You can get a job. Having money in your pocket is better than standing on the corner, being a legend on the street and all that. I believe it’s the media.

Person 2: They’re just tryna be like, “Yeah, I did that.”

It is hard to get a job right now, though.

I’m tryna get a job right now and it sucks. Jobs require you have experience, you have to have a car. And it’s summer so you don’t get free bus passes ’cause school’s closed, so you gotta pay to take the bus anyway.

Person 1: Yeah but if somebody really wanted something bad enough they’re gonna go and do it. You’re not gonna be like, “It’s raining,” you do it and it’s raining. Get an umbrella.

*

The ozone layer, how we destroyed it. The sun is causing more damage to us and it’s because of us destroying the ozone layer. All these new cancers you hear about, people who wouldn’t have died if they just used a little sunscreen. What do other people talk about?

[I give her some examples.]

The government misspending money we pay toward taxes is huge. I have five kids, four in college, and I think people should be paying me, pretty much, because they’ve taken a good path. It shouldn’t be that colleges are costing so much. They’re like, “Too bad, you have to come up with the difference.” There should be a little help for people like me. For the longest time I was a single parent. My kids are not shooting houses up, my daughters aren’t prostitutes or drug addicts … But not just my kids, all kids. Us helping the youth is helping our future. It’s not the old people, all the old people who are in office now, they’re gonna be dead. It’s the kids. Who are they gonna be tomorrow? Education, educating our own, but then we can’t pay for it why? ‘Cause we’re spending our money on war? We send all this money to other countries, but how many kids go hungry here? How many people are homeless here? We should help ourselves first, and it starts with educating our children. Who are these people going to be if we don’t educate them now? I keep telling my kids, don’t worry, it’ll be okay, I’ll pay for it even if I have to panhandle or pole dance–I’m not really gonna do that. It should be easier, not harder.

*

Pollution in the ocean, and then fish eat it and then we eat the fish.

What kind of pollution?

Plastics, because they’re so small it’s hard to collect them, and that worries me. Wildlife in general. You read about whales or something washing up on shore and they choked on plastic, choked on fishing nets.

Friend: And the turtle thing.

Yeah, the turtle thing! It’s very unnecessary. As a nation, or in the world–we’re so advanced that we’re so ignorant. We’ve forgotten the basic rules of life.

Do you give people a hard time when they throw trash around?

Yeah, and my daughter does too. She’s always holding people accountable. She’s five! and she’s like, Mommy, how come that person just littered? Her dad isn’t like that so she’s always holding her dad accountable when she’s with him.

*

My main worry is getting a job, but that’s not fun to talk about. I don’t know how to approach–it’s so hard to describe. My generation started the recycle movement, and it’s making a difference kinda, but there’s so many people that aren’t doing it, and so much pollution on the street. We haven’t really made strides to reduce the waste. Why is there no place to get a shampoo refill at the store? We need to take it to the next level, like in Germany, in Sweden, they have really amazing recycling programs where they’re really reducing waste. We haven’t done enough. I saw someone in Providence take–I think it was leftovers–and just put it on the street out of their car, and I was like, it’s 2015! I can’t believe you’re doing that!

*

Just money. Financial assistance for people who don’t qualify for big bank loans. The security deposit on an apartment–or my storage unit’s about to get auctioned off if I can’t pay them. We need more financial resources here in Rhode Island. If the homeless had money to get a home, there’d be less people on the streets, the streets’d be less dirty–Are you gonna be here next week?

Yeah. So if you come back and tell me more of your anxieties, I’ll try to come back with some ideas for you.

Well, one thing that’s available is the Capital Good Fund. They give these small kinds of loans and they want to work with people who are, people who are less likely to get loans from the big banks. I’m trying to get a loan with them. [Gives me a card; I say I’ll recommend it to people who come to me with financial anxieties.]

*

Acidification of the ocean. Also, unrealistically, the earth and its gravity field somehow being altered. Basically, earth staying in the Goldilocks zone. But my other worry is that the solutions to climate change have too much hubris. Geoengineering, trying to change the climate change, could have a worse effect. I’m worried that the oceans will rise and probably fifty million people will be displaced, which’ll be a humanitarian crisis.

That’s a lot, so just to take that one, what are some things that we could do now to prepare for that displacement, to keep it from being a crisis?

We could prepare with vertical farming, vertical living spaces. This’d probably mean more urbanization in landlocked areas further inland, spaces that aren’t coastal, which would mean limitations on water resources. We’d need a water infrastructure that would support increased verticalization, and just doing as much as we can to sustainably protect water resources.

Okay, so the next question is, besides making room for more people, what would be the fringe benefits of taking these steps? What could we get out of it even if the additional people didn’t show up?

A greater sense of community? Decreased space in between–literally and perhaps figuratively bringing people closer. But how do you build that kind of structure? I think the goal is something not self-contained but self-containable, self-sustainable–the advantage of that would be stable food production, stable lifestyles, hopefully sustainable lifestyles. And I would hope also increased equity. Increased equity means that people of different socioeconomic classes would be able to enjoy liberties, luxurious liberties, that the richest people enjoy now. I’ve been going to the gym…and they have these hydromassage beds, and they feels so good. It’s a very simple luxury, but I didn’t know about it before. What do the wealthiest members of the world enjoy now that I can’t even imagine? At least being able to imagine it, and access it. Having access to the things that make people happy: what do enjoyment and happiness look like? There’s a distinction between pleasure and fulfillment.

*

What am I gonna do when my kids are grown? I think I know who I’ll be without them, and it’s not such a good guy. They make me better. I won’t be around them so much, so I won’t have to be on dad behavior. They’re a good gravitational pull.

*

I really do think there’s too many people on the planet and it’s not gonna work out, but I feel uncomfortable with like “Your children are wrong” or “Don’t have children”. I know a lot of radicals’ solution to this is to say we’ll have enough if resources are more efficient, more distributed and … yeah, maybe, but. And I’m worried about Providence turning into Atlanta. I don’t function in the heat. When it’s 90 degrees and humid, I just can’t, I get sick.

Today’s poem:

Everyone should have

what the worst people have first

the things we can’t even imagine are things

and we should have them in a world

so closed we can never be harmed

a poreless world sunless and worse

we should all be as bad as we can

and speak the first language

I can’t block the sun enough

can’t speak enough language

I won’t burn to travel

I want to stay something

and lie and lie and lie

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/27/15

Weather: Hot in the sun, pleasantly cool in the shade, very windy and gusty.

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Alternate Histories: 0

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People I recognized from last year who recognized me: 1

People who recognized me from last year whom I didn’t recognize: 1, sorry

Pictures taken without permission: 2

Dogs spotted: 1, in a carrier

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.34

Observations:

Wind so strong and uneven keeps me tense and alert to it instead of to other things and people–I have to really grip the booth (which, lest we forget, is made of cardboard and plywood) to keep it from blowing over.

Now I’m in dappled shade almost the entire time, where at the beginning of the month the sun was shining directly on my face.

The public transit demonstrators of yesterday were present again, as were 2 police SUVs and some cars convening at the Greyhound/Peter Pan stop and outside the skating rink.

Thanks to James Kuo for helping me figure out a way to end conversations that are based on people’s perception of me as a captive audience.

People had a lot of advice for me today: I should hand out candy (“Life Savers or those miniature Tootsie Rolls”), I should play Michael Jackson’s Earth Song, I should get 50 Cent in as a spokesperson about heat rage.

Today also really made me think about cognitive dissonance and failure to correlate–how when I see it in others I should also search for it in myself.

Some conversations:

When people are not kind because of difference. People don’t respect one another. I was taught to be respectful no matter what–I just see a human being.

How did you learn to be like that? I’m asking because I’m trying to think about how to get more people to do it.

I think you really have to be brought up like that. I grew up in Harlem in the ’60s, so things were very different, and my mother told me that. Once you’re kind, you treat everybody that way … I think what’s stopping them could be frustration. When I first got here it was Cape Verdean and Portuguese, everywhere, now it’s Hispanics [sic] everywhere, doing every job. Maybe some people are scared they’re gonna lose what they have, but there’s enough room and space for everyone. There’ll be a place for you, a spot somewhere. Unless it gets like NY–people there killing each other for space.

How do you think we can make it clear that that space is there for people?

Let it be known–just get the word out. Like in a garden, every flower has its purpose. You’re not gonna catch me working at Starbucks, McDonald’s, but there’s someone who’s not gonna have a problem with that. Or working in a garden, on a farm–my hands are gonna get dirty, no way. But some people would rather do that. There’s a job for everyone, a need for everyone, everybody has a purpose.

What do you do for work?

I work at [REDACTED], and before that, I worked at a training school with child molesters. And people said, “How can you do that, don’t you wanna kill ’em?” And I said no, it’s an illness, and it’s just my nine to five, I can separate it, I don’t let it affect me. But certain things I can’t separate. If there’s blood, things hangin’ out, I couldn’t do that. It’s a balance, it really is a balance, but a lot of people aren’t there yet.

*

Are you praying?

[I explain.]

My mother. She don’t talk now–she only got a few days to live. She got cancer and the doctors give up and send her home.

Can you go to be with her?

It’s hard, ’cause it’s far. She’s in Puerto Rico. It would be a waste of time, she wouldn’t even recognize me. I’m just waiting for that call and then I’ll go down.

*

I worrying about killing somebody, raping somebody, lying, cheating. I worry so much when people talk about other people–people always gonna talk. I pray to God to not let me worry about these things. I think about these things but I don’t do them. I try to think like God. I’m not God, but I try to think like him, I prefer to think like God than think like the Devil. These things that worry me, they coming from the thinking of the Devil. God thinks peace, peace, God don’t like raping, lying, killing people. But these bad stuff come to my mind. If I’m gonna preach, if I’m gonna witness, I gotta suffer.

Are there people you can pray with who can help you stay strong?

At the Providence Center–[names some people] help me in the name of Jesus.

*

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.

*

Corruption–thieves. When people who are low on the totem pole [sic] get the brunt of everything. Did you see about that guy that worked for Medicare, he and his son stole $23 million in 4 years. Meanwhile I get Medicare and I still gotta pay 20% [of each doctor’s bill]. No! You take everything his family’s got and you sell it and you give it to us. And here at City Hall, “Oh, we’re broke, we’re broke,” how did you have $150 million to lend to some guy in Boston and it disappeared?

What do you think people should do?

Don’t pay taxes. Or put taxes in a trust--if you need it for something, we have a meeting, yes we’ll do this, yes we’ll do that. … How can these people have so much wealth when we’re so poor? In City Hall you can’t even get a cold glass of water. We get tired becase we gotta go to this one, go to that one … Get a good group, things’ll be great, people who’ll take it upon themselves. Transparency in what we’re spending.

*

[Person 1 and Person 2 came up together, and were later joined by Person 3. Also, note to Providence Arts, Culture & Tourism: you should hire Person 1.]

Person 1: Climate in RI does affect everyone. All winter people are dull, they’re complaining. People let the weather affect their moods. I try to dress for it, adapt to my current situation, but everyone just complains pretty much. We’re in New England, we get all four seasons pretty hard.

What would you recommend to help people deal with the seasons, the stuff that affects their moods?

That’s a good question. Maybe organize a day where you give out popsicles, not like a protest, but let that be the topic? In the winter, let’s get together, let’s go out there and plow, let’s have a snowball fight–maybe plow so that you can have a snowball fight. If it’s really hot, maybe organize a day where you only go out after six? But no one likes to be told what to do, but I think you have to be open-minded. Rhode Islanders are not as open-minded. It’s what we’re used to. People never get to leave their block–I wish they could see that there’s more. My friends and I have been talking about how there’s no scene in RI, and we want to set the theme for ourselves. We need more people involved, more ideas–people who come from out of state love it here. We don’t appreciate it enough ourselves.

Person 2: I’m afraid that the government can control the weather …I’m scared that they will use it against us someday. We should fight against it by rioting. The goal would be to establish–the goal would be to respect the people and not make weapons like that. The earth is more valuable than that shit. They always want to reinforce some kind of order.

[I think I asked some kind of question here like] What should they do instead?

If the government invests more money on solar panels every year, instead of double the money they give to the military, take a cut from that and invest it in solar technology. The gases that we’re using for cars is fucking up the air. Companies that do research on technology, they should invest in those departments–I think they already do that, but it’s not as much as it should be. It should be more than the military.

Person 1: What’s the two things Rhode Island is known for? Dunkin Donuts and Cumberland Farms. They could help us out climatewise–in the summer they could make Coolattas cheaper instead of more expensive, and in the winter, they could make a Box of Joe cheaper, and with Cumberland Farms, the same thing with coffee. But instead they’re trying to make money, so they raise the prices.

Person 2: They got strategic people for that.

Person 1: They’re trying to make money off the climate. They should do the opposite. … There’ve been six homicides already in Providence this year. Kids get brainwashed by rap videos, kids try to imitate–Chiraq, you heard of Chiraq? Kids here try to imitate that. They rep their block. It’s in the summer that most people get killed. People need to keep their cool. The South Side is not that big, but people hate on each other, it’s always in their brain that they’re gonna have to watch their back. [Person 3 came up at this point.] If people maybe spoke to each other more–these kids are all in high school, freshmen and sophomores. They wanna die and be put on a t-shirt and their boys can rap about them.

Person 3: My cousin’s a victim of that. He traps, and he’s like, and my uncles are like, “You don’t know how to make a dollar.” They think I’m the stupid one.

Person 2: You go to school, you’ll get a good job–even if you don’t, just so you can be educated on a lot of things. The more you learn, the more you know about things, the more you’re worth.

[They talk a bunch together about reading a book a day, and about drugs.]

Before I forget, I wanna ask [Person 3] if he has any climate anxieties.

Person 3: I grew up in Saudi Arabia and it was really hot. I don’t know if it affects me–it does, ’cause when I’m in the car and it’s really hot I get more aggressive. Wherever it’s fall all the time, that’s where I wanna live. Springtime’s almost nonexistent anymore. [Transition I didn’t note.] I’m a business major.

How can we use the tools of business to make doing things that are better for the environment more appealing?

I think communism might not be a bad idea–not communism, socialism, socialism. But it’s impossible because there’s always someone who’s greedy.

Person 1: Capitalism just destroys shit. It eats it like a black hole.

Today’s poem:

I’m not the census and I’m not praying.

Wind bangs the handtruck on the fence.

I squirm to know where to place myself.

Just when it seems I know what to look to.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Reflections on Week 1

The first time the evangelist came up to the booth, he made a rhetorical move he probably thought was clever: “You know what’s the worst climate anxiety? Heaven and Hell. You end up in the wrong place, there’s no counseling that’s gonna help you.” Later in the 20+ minutes of that encounter, he told the story of a similar rhetorical move he made to a woman he met on the street at night in Providence, right before he asked her how she’d feel if someone came up behind her, doused her with gasoline, and set her on fire.

That first encounter was mostly him telling stories he thought would move me–presumably to convert to Christianity right then and there? I’m not sure what I could have said to make him walk away satisfied, but I know what I did say to make him walk away: “I need a break from talking to you right now,” and then, when he kept talking, “You need to listen to me. I’m done talking to you.” He walked away, calling out, “You’ve received a warning today.”

Two days later as I was setting up, he came back, already talking. “If you pay attention to this foolishness,” indicating the booth, “instead of heaven and hell…”

“Please leave me alone,” I said. I kept saying it, over him, rhythmically and at high volume, though not actually shouting. A woman I didn’t know walked out of the park toward the bus station saying to him, “Leave her alone, she said to leave her alone, that’s harassment.” He kept talking and so did I, until a man I didn’t know took him by the elbow, gently, and led him away.

The people who intervened on my behalf were just people, as far as I could tell–no uniforms, no official status. I’m immeasurably grateful for their help, and relieved that they recognized me as helpable. I’ve seen people do worse things to other people in Kennedy Plaza with no intervention from anybody.

Gasoline story notwithstanding, I don’t think I was in any physical danger from this man, partly because of where I was–in broad daylight in a public place with many people passing by–and partly because of who I am, a white cisgender woman with the exterior trappings of someone who has a home to go to. My sister Rachel pointed out that while the evangelist was irritating, the people who stepped in may have recognized that he wasn’t likely to physically hurt them for intervening–like them, he had no official status, no state sanction.

There’s a resemblance between the evangelist and me. Like me, he is telling stories to strangers, stories that he hopes will change the way they think and behave. He offers what he sees as hope and transformation, and so do I. There are real differences between the evangelist and me, too, but I think those are easier to see and I won’t belabor them here.

Where is the place for the evangelist in the world I want to help to make? I’m not going to shed any tears over him–he’s an aggressive jerk who doesn’t listen to women. In that world, which is this world, he can’t have the place he wants. But there must be some place for him, because everyone has to be somewhere. If we are serious about this world, we have to think about the people in it: what will we do with people whose differences from other people seem to them to be an excuse for aggression? How do we take care of each other when “each other” is the source of menace?

There is a difference, too, between someone who will continue to talk at, or over, another person against their wishes, and people who will step in to defend those wishes. I’m grateful that the two people who spoke up for me saw my wishes as defendable. Maybe they see everyone as worth protecting. Maybe they “go out of their way”–maybe that is their way, as they see it. I hope I would spring to their defense, if someone were troubling them in my line of sight. I hope I would recognize that trouble when I saw it.

To learn to recognize, assess, respond to threats that aren’t directly to the self–that seems key, it seems central, to shifting the balance of this world. A transphobic attack, a trumped-up arrest, a wall of flaking lead paint, a flood of poison into a body of water: if the threat is not to you, how can you usefully interpose yourself, without yourself being destroyed?

Alternate History: 5/17, 4/30

[Note: I took 2 days a week off during the first round of Climate Anxiety Counseling sessions, so this is an alternate history from a day I’ve already visited.]

5/17/14

I’m worried about the environment in the big picture, but I don’t have time to think about that in my own life right now. I have to hustle what I can to take care of my child and me. Recycling and what’s happening to our earth, it does bother me, but I’m not in a stable place where I can give time–what’s that called, to volunteer right now.

*

4/30/15

The next day, we took over the maternity ward of Women and Infants Hospital, and we made sure it had all the things we needed–the heart monitors and the disinfectant, the places to squat or pace. We took over the grocery store and got S some foods she wanted but couldn’t afford, and some vitamins and medicines we knew about. One of us turned a room in their house over to S so she had someplace to live–no lead paint, no mold–and when she couldn’t get along with that person, another person offered. S soaked her swollen feet in water gathered in rain barrels and cooled in the basement.

Three or four of us, one a midwife and one a nurse practitioner, went with her to the hospital and helped her give birth to the baby; we stayed with her while she tried to get it to nurse, and mixed formula and goat milk when after several days it couldn’t figure out how to latch on. She and the other people there to give birth or recover from it talked and griped and moved about freely, with plenty to eat, plenty of light, plenty of rest, plenty of people to take over so they could bathe or sleep. Some of them stayed there with their babies for months. Some of them left their babies there and never came back. Some left for part of the day and came back at night.

Our care of the person that S’s baby would become continued beyond their gestation, their birth, their childhood; our care of S, the people who’d had their babies alongside her, those babies and the people they became, each other, and the plants and animals among us ebbed and flowed, but never faltered. We took over labs and cultured more vaccines; we took over banks and tore up their offgassing plastic carpets; we built farms on great rafts of floating plants and shrines to laugh, cry and rage in; we buried or burned or devoured the dead, with reverence.

But before all that happened, S came back to the house–no lead paint, no mold–with her baby, a hookup for formula and goat milk, a brace to straighten out the turned-in feet, and a plan to go on the night watch when she got restless or consumed with the fury of being responsible for a helpless grub. The person whose house it had been went out back, where in the compost heap springtails and microbes were doing the work of turning the leaves and coffee grounds and potato peels into more dirt, to think about herself, and the child she had decided not to have, and the child and grown woman who lived in her house with her now, and her sisters, and the woman who had grown old and lost her mind slowly in that house long before; and all the other versions of the story.