Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 7/17/19

Weather: Hot and muggy, a couple spatters of rain

Number of people: 4 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 2

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.00

Observations:

I only got permission to share one conversation today. Everyone working the market agrees that it’s been a slow season so far, and no one is sure why. If you live in Providence and it’s not hard for you to get to 275 Elmwood Ave, come buy your vegetables at the Sankofa Market next week (7/24, 2-6pm)! The farmers live nearby, and SNAP is double!

Nonhuman animal passersby: cabbage white butterfly, pigeons, bronze-colored dragonfly (maybe an eastern amberwing?), monarch butterfly, sparrow, gnat, housefly, white egret flying over.

Non-rhetorical question to ask next time someone’s anxious about finding work: Why do you think it’s so hard to find work?

Some conversations:

I’m anxious about flooding because I hear that global warming is raising the sea level. Rising sea temperatures are bringing predatory fish closer to the shore. The whole polar ice cap thing, the whole ice cap melting.

How do you feel when you read or hear about all this?

Unlike some people, I believe it. I don’t feel good about it, but I don’t know how to actually reverse it.

So when you feel stressed out about it–

I don’t feel stress, but I am concerned. And we’re seeing it in our weather patterns: summer comes later and winter comes later. The weather is diffferent than the weather I grew up with.

Did you grow up in Rhode Island?

Here in Providence. There are effects on the bats, [climate change] feeds infection and diseases, so there are more insects—I don’t know how their recovery is going. Very rarely do I see a monarch butterfly.

Did you used to?

They were commonplace. I think it’s affecting the navigational systems of birds. Canada geese don’t migrate, they stay here all year now. And we’ve got these species coming over, invasive species.

*

Come next time and help this market grow!

[IMAGE: A tiny cucumber growing on a chain-link fence.]

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Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY in Newport’s North End!

If you’re in or around Newport, RI today, you can visit me and the booth at Miantonomi Park on Hillside Avenue, 2-6pm. Share your climate-change-related and other anxieties, griefs, fears and desires; mark a place you’d like to protect on the map of worries; and maybe take home this little card depicting one of our Rhode Island neighbors.

[IMAGE: A small drawing, on cardboard, of a fungus called “omnipresent laccaria,” or Laccaria bicolor, which has the classic umbrella-like mushroom shape, growing at the foot of an aspen.]

“Omnipresent” is big talk, but these mushrooms do grow in companionship with aspens (the ones that look like birches but aren’t, with the trembly leaves). So if you want to meet them you can look for them there, and if you want to meet me, come to Miantonomi Park between 2 and 6 today. I haven’t seen any aspens there, but there is a tree that looks like a butt.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Miantonomi Farmers’ Market, 7/15/19

Weather: Hot and bright

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 5

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $1.35

Observations:

Non-rhetorical question to ask next time someone says they’re heartbroken: How do you live with a broken heart?

The map made someone think and question about someone else’s worry! Specifically, an Australian wondered if underwater noise from wind turbines is really a problem.

[IMAGE: “offshore wind farm: will underwater life (dolphins, seals) be able to hear anything else?” written in pink marker on a whiteboard map.]

I suggested that they look it up, and I looked it up also, but haven’t read that study (the most recent one I found) in detail. It seems like construction noise is the most harmful, but that animals return once the turbines are in operation.

Nonhuman animal passersby: housefly, seagull, cabbage white butterfly, shiny fly, red admiral butterfly, small black ants.

Some conversations:

That’s my biggest problem, is that it’s melting. Polar bears, seals, mountain goats—where are they going? That’s my problem. All the animals, where are they gonna go? Pretty soon they’ll be knocking on the front door. We got coyotes now, soon we’re gonna be talking about wolves. Foxes and stuff, real wild animals, you don’t see as much.

It’s changed the states. People shifts, the ground shifts, everything changes. Volcanoes erupting. But people don’t know about it until it hits you. Everybody’s like, “Yo, what should we have been doing?” But now it’s here. … “Okay, so what do you want us to do—” not what do you want us to, but what can we do to stop it. You can’t stop it.

Does it stress you out?

Yes. We’re trying to figure it out on paper. Where’s the different elements. We don’t just say it’s a whole, we gotta break it down to the elements that are in it … but if they don’t break it down like that it’s gonna go nowhere.

*

I was heartbroken when the US decide to pull out of the [Paris Accords]. It was so exciting when we saw that people from all over the globe were talking seriously about these problems, and for us as a nation that produces so much of a problem—it breaks my heart. I have grandchildren, I hope to have great-grandchildren.

Do you talk about this with them?

We talk about what we can do in terms of—my older granddaughter, in terms of voting and participation. The younger generation feels powerless, so I try to tell them about my own experiences: protesting, contacting senators, insisting that change can happen.

I’m from Arizona, and I’m going to spend the next year in Rhode Island helping family. But in Arizona, my church composts, we have a community garden. In the coming year—I’m going to see if I can do it—I’m going to try to do without a car while I’m here. I’m not sure if it’s going to be possible. The next year is a year of simplicity for me … This park, this market, is in walking distance, so I’m going to see how long I can keep it up. … I recently went to a new church here and asked if I could meet with the pastor, and they were, “What for?” And I said, “I want to know what kind of efforts you’re making—perhaps your church is working with other churches in the community—for social justice issues.” It’s different here, but for the last fourteen years I’ve been living with a group of people for whom justice and health are really important. I’m trying to find like-minded people and ways in which I can do that here.*

*Newport readers, if you’re out there—any ideas for this person? Recall that they’re trying to live without a car so the opportunities must be in Newport or easily accessible from there via public transit.

*

I’m just trying to understand what climate change is, how it affects me and my community. In some areas, for instance, when it rains we get the water puddles—if there was a horrific flood, what is the protocol? What’s our emergency response? How do we activate it? We don’t even have good communication.

I know you guys had some experience of this when the gas was off this winter.

Yes we did. There was false advertising—someplace offering help and then you get there and they turn you away. We tried to be the middleperson, connect people with what they needed. But even placing residents in hotels, for example, that scatters families. People didn’t have access to food pantries. There were issues with transportation. We had a lady who was blind and needed someone with her in person … There was a lot of gaps that was missing. I’m hoping that now there’s a different method to it. It was scary, it was frustrating. People putting you on hold, putting out numbers that did not work, that you’re not getting nowhere with. Somewhere it would say that you could call a 1-800 number, and there was nothing at the other end.

*

My mom is always talking about how we’re all gonna die from climate change. She does do some actual actions, but she’s always whining, and I stop listening. It’s this kind of desperation, as if she could solve the whole problem herself. I mean, sure, we can go to the farmers’ market instead of buying all our vegetables in cans and trucking them in from, like, Minnesota, but it’s gonna be big top-down policy decisions that are gonna make a splash. The grassroots stuff is great but you’re not gonna solve it with that.

Does she do any of that stuff?

She’s afraid of people, so she doesn’t really get out of the house and do anything. She’s more like, “I’m gonna get a low-flow toilet.” I’m trying to get her to sell her house, because it’s below sea level, but she won’t listen to me.

*

I have a lot of anxieties, especially living by the water. Not just here, but a lot. People who’ve lost their homes and had to move—and frustration that there’s so many powerful millionaires who are doing nothing. People are putting money into this, but it’s not enough. It seems like the clearest idea, that we will not exist without our planet. Why are people ignoring this truth?

Why do you think?

I think it’s a lack of—not a lack of education, but a lack of wanting to hear the education. The younger generation is fighting, but it’s people with money who will make the big difference. We can make little differences. … I was really frustrated last weekend: there were fifteen people on the beach, and eight of them were on their phones, and I was picking up trash ’cause I do this, and I was like, “Why are you on your phones? Why are you not conscious?”

I stopped eating fish because of the microplastics. I work at a restaurant and people are always like, “Where can I get the best fish,” and I wanna be like, “Well…” But I know it’s not just plastic, it’s deforestation, it’s our overall carbon output. Deforestation is eliminating not only what’s storing the carbon but then burning it to release more carbon. I taught my [students] how trees absorb water and carbon dioxide.

Whatever makes us anxious, we shove it down … I saw an ad for the most recent election where it was a bunch of old people sitting around going, “I don’t care who wins. It’s gonna flood? I’m not even gonna be here in 20 years.”

Climate Anxiety Counseling and Future Mapping with Rejin Leys on Governor’s Island, NY: 7/13/19

Weather: hot and bright and muggy; not bad in the shade

Number of people: 9 stoppers

Pages of notes: 20, but a smaller notebook than usual, so ~12 normal-sized pages

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 3

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: I didn’t collect money this time.

Observations:

This was during a scheduled, arts-and-culture-related time, in front of a house where artists were gathered to make art about water (the link goes to a record of last year’s residency) and where other organizing and informational efforts related to climate change were going on in the houses nearby. The island is a slight, though not huge, pain in the ass to get to—you have to make a point of it, and some people were making a point of getting there to see the arts-and-culture-related things; some people were also there mainly to picnic and have a good time. Many of the people who spoke with us were residents or participants in the houses.

In that post, I’ll also write more about the way that Rejin Leys (artist-in-residence, collaborator, and friend) and I planned this collaboration, what actually happened, and what we learned from that. For now I will say that either before or instead of talking with me, people who stopped by our table were being invited (by Rejin) to draw a “blind contour” map of the continental US in order to think about borders, coastlines, and change. Here are two:

[IMAGE: two drawings of the map of the continental US, drawn while looking at the map but without looking at the drawing, on paper handmade with Poland Spring labels.]

The upcoming post will include more and better examples of the maps. Because of this exercise, I started many (but not all) conversations by asking, “How did it feel to do that drawing?” Note that in the conversations, italics are me, plain type is the interlocutor, and R (also in italics) is Rejin speaking.

Some conversations:

How did it feel to do that drawing?

I liked it actually. I already knew starting out that it was going to be totally inaccurate. I wanted to draw in the shapes of the places. It was a chance for me to practice nonattachment–[attachment] makes my life more difficult. It’s nice to feel like I didn’t need [the drawing] to be anything.

Does attachment affect the way you think about the future?

Yes. I have really severe anxiety and depression and they [contribute to] an inability to live in the present. I’m always looking to the future—not just 30 years from now when everything is horrible, but little things that are happening in the next few days, and every mistake I’ve made in my past. It’s obsessive and it’s bad—I can’t sleep. So having a moment to let go of all that is really nice.

What are some ways that you look for moments to let go of it?

That’s a hard question to answer, because when you’re so deep in it, any attempt to get out of it results in feeling guilty for taking time—like, “I need to rest, but do I deserve that?” I know that, I do recognize that, and I try and hold that but I don’t know how. I’m here and I’m recognizing that [moment]. But I think more to the point is the acknowledging that it’s happening–”This is a moment when I felt this—how do I keep this moment?”

What’s a change in the world that would free you?

Knowing that people cared more about, in particular about things like climate change but in general that you could count on people for more empathy. … So many people are all, “I have mine and screw you, unless it actually impacts me—my sister, my mother, my brother.” And maybe not even then. It’s hard to get people to care if they can’t personally go, “It affects me,” yet.

How is caring about it part of your day?

You have of course your little things that you do, like recycling—

I’m gonna stop you for a second. We can come back to the things that you do, but I also want to know how it feels. How the caring feels on the day-to-day.

I think about it a lot, especially because I’m from Florida, which will be underwater. I mean, the form it takes is anxiety, because I start to be very anxious about the loss. It kills me. It absolutely kills me. I’m so stymied by the fact that people don’t care. I feel so impotent to do anything. It’s very frustrating. I’m just this one little person, and I do what I can, but I’m not always doing what I can.

What are the things you do with other people that have to do with this?

I make art with other people a lot. I’m a big fan of collaboration. When I make art it’s generally to impart something to people about stuff based in the environment. I love to teach and to make things entertaining but also hopefully make people think about stuff more than they would have. My sculptures are all made of garbage, I try to have as little impact as possible—art can be super toxic too. 

Can you tell me more about Florida?

There was just a bad red tide. There are dead things washing up all the time, and it stinks. And then you contrast that with the constant need to be pristine for the tourists—there are trucks that come and pick up the seaweed. It feeds itself. I’d love to see less attachment to the idea of perfection, this ideal. They keep replenishing the beach—they dredge the waterways, and there are all these beautiful shells, but it’s because we’re killing these creatures. But nobody says anything and they keep doing it because people want their beautiful shells.

R: It seems like they see the coastline less as a part of nature and more as someone’s garden.

As a theme park. They want to be able to use it an unlimited amount, then they leave and don’t ever think about it again. That’s something that I try to deal with in my work. I want people to care. If the world were a smaller place– It’s cheesy, but the Mad Max apocalypse, something like that is the direct consequence that will cleanse the Earth. We’ve been here for nothing, no time.

How does thinking about that play into your trouble with attachment?

Cataclysmic change is actually comforting to me. When I get really crazy it helps me, to think I’m nothing. If you’re watching an animal documentary, it’s like, “This blue-footed booby doesn’t give a shit about me.” It helps me to zoom out and go, “We’ll be gone and that’ll be the best thing that could’ve happened.” Because we’re such a speck, such a small kind of meaningless speck.

So it sort of sounds like—a lot of people, with climate change, they feel like they don’t matter enough, and you said some stuff like that too earlier, but with this it seems like you’re trying not to feel like you matter too much.

If we matter too much then we think, we follow this Great Chain of Being…we think everything else is here to serve us. I get so frustrated alone in my house: Why do we think we’re more important than this grass?

So with that in mind then, you said you like to collaborate. How could you collaborate not just with other humans but with the rest of the living world?

Cultivating the wild, cultivating wild spaces. This is really hard for me. There’s a value in being uncomfortable. We can have less and we can survive. That’s something that everybody, that a lot of people, myself included, could benefit from, is accepting less in the way of comfort. You’ll get used to it, you’ll get over it.

*

I work in environmental policy and I am dealing very frequently with having to be very aware of the very terrible forecast. Climate anxiety is very real for me and my colleagues. Office conversation in other places, you think of it as light and easy, and it might start out that way but then it’ll take a turn toward some article that someone saw. It’s strange having conversations about terrible things in this casual way. I think you’re forced to ignore it to a large extent.

Can you leave it at work?

Not really. I try not to take it over into too many of my conversations with my wife and other people.

Have you seen any motion while you’ve been doing the work that you’re doing or does it mostly feel like spinning your wheels?

There’s been some motion in that there are different ways to think about these things. It’s hard to feel that something productive is happening—there are sometimes small victories, but they’re a drop in this ocean.

How about the literal ocean?

Obviously some of the changes that will happen will be in the ocean. I’ve only been a handful of times, but scuba diving was amazing—to see all those amazing things, but then I think, “Is this the last time?”

What if it was the last time?

There are times where I can sort of take that, like, “This is a fact in the world,” and then there are times when it’s incredibly depressing. It depends on whether I’m in a situation to talk about the sadder parts of these things or not.

*

[Person 1 and Person 2 came up together. Person 3 came up toward the end of that conversation.]

How did it feel to do that drawing?

Person 1: I was extremely confident when I was drawing it, and now I’m kind of amazed at how inaccurate it is.

R: What makes it correct or incorrect?

Person 1: I was trying to replicate [the map]. I can see places where I did that. I like the way it looks, but it was not what was intended.

R: Of course the coastline is always changing.

Person 1: My aunt lives down in southern New Jersey on a barrier island, and since Sandy—there’s a nature preserve there that’s all dunes, and since Sandy the sand is collecting much further out and forming a new island. They were thinking about dredging it, but they just left it there to be a new island.

R: We’re always thinking about what we’re losing, but this is just something that changed.

Person 1: It’s just further down. What’s interesting is that no one has a claim to it—it’s not part of any township.

R: It’s a truly free space.

Person 1: Well, and on the rest of the island, they’ve got the Army Corps of Engineers pumping sand back onto the beach. They can only [leave the new island in place] because it wasn’t developed. My aunt works for an arts and science foundation, and people just developed right up to the water, but the place where she works was less affected by Sandy and it’s because of the preserved wetlands around it. So she gives tours and explains how wetlands are supposed to be a natural barrier.

How does this idea of letting it go, just letting the island form, play into your anxieties about change?

Person 1: What if letting things take their natural course—things might get a little bit unwieldy, there might be blowback. But…if I don’t have awareness of what’s happening, that vulnerability is scary to me. My reflex then is to try to exert control, which I intellectually know is futile, to have control over all possible outcomes or even have awareness of all possible outcomes. My instinct in that case is to use mindfulness to come back to right now, see what’s actually present. Things that are maybe going to happen but haven’t yet—what are the things I do have control over in this moment? I can pay attention to the breath. If I’m in an activated, anxious state, that might be valid but I’m probably not going to think about things clearly.

What are the coastlines that are important to you?

The Jersey Shore. My grandfather built a house on Long Beach Island, and my aunt lives there full time. Her husband is a fisherman, a bayman. And we just moved to Cobble Hill, so we’re right near Red Hook and Buttermilk Channel. Red Hook feels like a little seaside town. And the Hudson River—I grew up in Northern New Jersey up where the Hudson gets a little bit narrower. And [to Person 2] you’ve got Florida.

Person 2: Yeah, but I don’t claim it. I don’t feel connected to Florida. It wasn’t my choice to live there, and as soon as I had a choice I left.

Person 1: Do you want to feel a connection to it?

Person 2: I prefer rivers. Rivers with mountains or cities—they give me a sense of scale.

What are some ways to take care of the rivers in this city?

Person 1: … I’ve been learning about the Billion Oyster Project–not only are they using oysters to rehabilitate the waterways, but they’re creating these community reefs, where people can be involved in rehabilitation in their neighborhoods. I look at something like the Gowanus Canal—it’s so polluted, what can an oyster reef do? But people now have a relationship with the waterway. There’s also the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club–you can sign up to go out and take trash out of the water … But I think with the canal, a lot of people are like, “It’s too gross to think about.” So anything that changes that—I haven’t signed up with them yet, but I’m trying to make it a priority … I’ve been holding a weekly climate grief support group Wednesday nights, and it’s good to have that time, but one of the other people involved pointed out that we could also be using that time to be doing stuff.

Can you tell me more about the support group?

Person 1: For two months we were having it every Wednesday. There’s a core group of three, sometimes it grows to seven, and we’re open for drop-ins. I try to combine contemplative arts and talking about climate change, because I noticed that if I just start talking about it, I start talking faster, and then the people I’m talking to pick up on that. So we start with contemplative practices and share some of the physical tools of slowing down. If we start getting breathless, slowing the breath down a little bit. We try to keep it casual, make it a little bit informal. People have such a wide variety of responses. Getting together in one place lets us not feel so alone. Climate change is something I’ve been concerned about for years—when I was at Hunter College taking an [environmental studies] class, my teacher cried in class and said, “I’m so sorry your generation has to deal with this.”  … For me, knowing that other people are concerned about it instead of being at home by myself and stewing about it is important.

Do you feel like the support group has affected the way you deal with it or talk about it outside of the support group?

Person 1: Yes. I don’t want people to be—I want people to care about climate change and be curious about it. I don’t want people to be so panicked about it that they [DIDN’T WRITE DOWN THE END OF THIS SENTENCE]. I turned to Buddhism because of climate change, and a lot of that is about preparing for death. … A teacher, a Buddhist chaplain, has talked about how when someone is dying, they might forget, and start making a plan for the future—I vacillate between, “Oh, these are the facts of things,” and going back to my planning. How do I internalize the reality so it isn’t so jarring?

We knew about each other and were in touch before this, so: is there anything that you hoped to talk about during our conversation that we haven’t yet?

Person 1: Somebody was saying that the way that we respond to climate change comes from templates that we established as children. …  Things always feel more manageable when I’m talking about it with someone else—it’s like, “Right, people do care.” I want to seek that out as I try to internalize it.

[Person 3 came and sat down at this point.]

[To Person 3] What would you like to say or hear in the work that you’re doing?

Person 3: I’d like to hear more and more interest in saying, “Yes, I’d like to become involved.” Today, there were quite a number of people who wanted information about our next meeting, and I hope they’ll come to see what it was like and then get more involved. I’m very optimistic. There was only one person who came in, and I couldn’t do anything about it: I asked, “Are you involved at all?” and he said, “ I read about it,” and I asked if he wanted to be involved and he just [mimes a shrug]. And I wanted to say, “We’re not talking about climate change, we’re talking about a climate crisis.” But there was nothing that I could say to him. That’s sad, and it feels not great. I’d like to be able to say [things like that], but I think you can’t go directly, you have to go through something else. I give talks, and something I’ve tried is starting with bamboo. [HERE SHE SUNG THE PRAISES OF BAMBOO FOR A LITTLE WHILE.] I want to be able to talk about that—it’s best to go through something positive if you can, to get to the issues.

Person 1: I feel that too. Like, “Why don’t you care about this, are you crazy?!” What’s the other way besides that—mostly questions and mostly experiential. Can I be communicating safety through my voice and body languge, even when I feel like I should be raising my voice?

Person 3: I’ve been involved with a [Project] Drawdown group—we just had our last session. One guy in the group lives part of the year here, part of the year in New Zealand, and he’s going to India to help farmers there with their soil,* and he’s begun to get on the subway and when there’s a long enough distance between stops, he gets up and says, “I don’t want your money, I just want two minutes of your time to talk about climate change.” And people ask him for literature. People say thank you. I don’t think I’m ready to do that. I want to, but I don’t know if I could.

[Person 3 went back to her station in one of the climate activism houses at this point]

Person 1: I would just say that I felt my breathing start to slow while I’ve been sitting here talking with you. When I feel alone with it, I feel like I have to be responsible for so much. Sometimes I feel resentful—why did these instructors at Hunter College burden me with this knowledge?

R: What [Person 3] was talking about might not be what I think of as the priority, but I’m glad that people are dealing with different aspects.

Person 1: I’m accepting that I’ll never be able to think about all of it or do all of it. When I’m trying to get people activated, there’s no one way—if you want to chain yourself to a pipeline, I can connect you with people who will help you do that.

*If you’re making a slight face about this guy, I am too. I would need to know a little more about him, his work, and how he’s behaving toward the other people on those trains before I could comment well on how this fits into the question of how we carry out our responsibilities to the world we share.

*

How did it feel to do that drawing?

It felt like I was not doing a good job. I was trying to sort of like get the shape, but I was getting anxious because I knew that the paper was finishing. 

Also, the coastline changes.

I don’t know how fast it changes. I mean, you can’t really tell unless you really go to the coastline. My family lives on the Mediterranean, in Greece, and I spent a lot of time in the northern islands. A big problem there is pollution—boats unloading their graywater in the harbor. There have been changes because of erosion and earthquakes that you can see from year to year. I’m now 30 years old, 32, and I see rocks that have fallen off. My grandfather had a little hut near the edge of a cliff, and this is leaning now—there’s a crack on the cement, and this year, everything is falling off. It happened slow—there were rains, there was hail, this corrosion is just natural. It was just like this forever. Nature takes its course, I guess. In a different place, it could be different. A few days ago, it rained so much in a place in Greece —when they built the city, they didn’t think about how if there’s [much] more rain it’s gonna be mayhem, it’s gonna be like the world is ending.

It’s not spontaneous, it’s just just earth’s moods anymore. We’re affecting it a lot. People don’t know what to do to prepare for seasons. It’s also about survival in some places. We [in the US, I think they meant] have other people growing our food for us—in other places there are more wars and famine, places that rely on a really tiny source of water. It’s crazy. I get goosebumps. And it’s a global phenomenon.

… I think for now, people know better, but rectifying those mistakes is very hard. People don’t generally react well. When you try to do work with the environment you will always get some resistance. It’s more difficult to convince older generations—they’re not used to thinking long-term or thinking, “What I do affects how other people live.” Individualism is hurting people.

… My grandfather has a garden and trees, fruit trees and olive trees, and he was loving what he was doing, so the things [he grew] were always delicious. When you grow something with love it always tastes better. I’ve been lucky to witness how to work the earth with your hands—you love it as a kid and it’s something normal, it comes out instinctively.

How are you feeling about all of this?

Emotional. But I can only just keep doing what I’m doing. I have scientific knowledge to share, I work with biofuels, and through my relationships around me, family and friends.

Are there ways you could give back to the place you’re living now?

People can’t change. If you live in the countryside, you don’t get enough information. I would change the mindset—maybe be selectively insensitive, maybe it’s the first step to people realizing they need to change.

*

I do this climate storytelling project and I’ve been working on it for the last few years. How do you actually engage people in a deep way? The organization is set up as a public engagement tool, and it’s tapped into something that isn’t really available to people: how to express yourself on climate change, but also how to make this kind of work matter more—to build an ecosystem for it. I’m very connected to the practitioner community and the traditional climate community—less so in terms of climate art … My life is totally different than it was before. I’ve had to learn how to be an entrepreneur, how do you raise money. I used to work in climate spaces, but it was the kind of thing where there was a paid staff position, you’d establish a position and get funding for it. Entering into creative spaces has a personal hesitancy for me. 

What’s your desire for these stories?

I want them to help transform people’s thinking, and to provide people with an outlet for expression. If I actually spend the time reflecting on climate—because I’m a parent, because I’m relatively young and I’ll be living in the future, because I care about my community—I need to deepen my competence [in communicating about it]. On the cultural level and the bigger picture, people need to talk about climate more. Giving them these tools has potential to unleash action at a much higher level. I see this as part of a series of projects that shifts or changes our cultural understanding of climate change. The personal hesitancy is so much more for me than—not in all cases, but in some cases, the letters [we collected] are so beautiful and personal that I want to do [them] justice. I feel like I’m holding people’s feelings and emotions and there aren’t that many other places where that can happen. I feel a deep sense of responsibility toward them that it will be beautiful and it will be moving and it will be helping other people to transform their thinking. I feel the weight of their concerns and I want to do a good job. … It’s so overwhelming, I’m already doing so much on it—I’m trying to build the parts that I’m good at and that I can do, and to farm out the parts I can’t do to people who are good at it. But there’s also a lack of resources to get [projects like this] attention, to fund the project in its entirety. Every piece or component is a full-time job. … How does a whole body of work get attention and funding? There are organizers, artists, social entrepreneurs doing this work—how can they get the support to sustain it?

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY at Miantonomi Farmer’s Market in Newport! 2-5pm!

This will be my second stint at this market in Newport’s North End. If you’re around, come share your climate and other anxieties with me, think  through some paths to action, and get a little piece of art to keep.

Also buy some vegetables! I got peas last time.

Before: newport market peas before

[IMAGE: Many cartons of fresh shell peas displayed on a folding table, also the open back of a red truck.]

And after:

newport market peas after

[IMAGE: A carton of empty pea shells at the Climate Anxiety Counseling Booth.]

The peas may be over, but there are plenty of other good things. 2-5pm in Miantonomi Park (Hillside Ave, Newport RI).

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Miantonomi Farmer’s Market, 7/1/19

Weather: bright, warm, breezy, delightful

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 2 walkbys, 1 map marker

Pages of notes: 9

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 3

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $10.30

 

Observations:

This was my first time at this market and my first time doing the booth in Newport.

 

Not everyone at the market was white, but almost everyone who talked with me at length was.

Nonhuman animal presences included seagulls, a tiny iridescent fly, a wasp, a flying beetle, another tiny fly with patterned wings, a green fly and a regular little housefly.

There’s a tree in Miantonomi Park that looks like a butt.

newport market

[IMAGE: People setting up tents and tables on the grass, on either side of a concrete path and under trees in leaf, on a sunny day.]

Some conversations:

I live in Burrillville and I’m also in the fire department. Being a paramedic, I see the effect climate change is having on people with asthma, people with respiratory issues  … We need to educate people so they’re prepared for it. There’s always the question of talking to local government, your state representative, but at the end of the day it’s always the people’s voice. The people are always gonna win. That’s one of the things we found in Burrillville. Eventually the politicians get on board.

Do you think people in Burrillville are activated to do more about other things like this now, or are they more relieved?

I think, more relieved, and dealing with other crap. We already have [another power plant] in town. These things usually operate for 25-30 years, so what happens at the end of that time?

Do you worry about climate change?

Yeah, I do. There’s always that sense of—what can you do anyway? What can we do?

*

Person 1: I was watching an ad for those silly [BRAND] razors for women that go up and down. When you think of all the things that are going wrong in the world, and this company is trying to sell us razors that go up and down! I don’t know—I’d like to see what the percentage of people in 2019 is that’s really concerned enough about it to do something. You’ve got a lot of people thinking, “That’s not gonna happen in my lifetime.”

Are you concerned?

Person 1: I’m concerned. I don’t lose sleep over it, but it certainly is there, I do have concerns about it certainly. All the political yeah yeah yeah and blah blah blah.

Person 2, catching up with Person 1: Do you have climate anxiety?

Person 1: Well, not anxiety but concern.

*

I don’t know if you know about the terrapin turtles in Barrington—I’ve been working with them since I was ten. Their habitat is disappearing. The marsh where they live has halved in size, and there are a lot more roads. I also work with Save the Bay—the water temperature [in Narragansett Bay] is rising.

How are you feeling about all of that?

Not good. Not good. I definitely have my work cut out for me when I’m out of school for sure. People just think they can build whatever they want, wherever they want. It’s not like the Earth can say, “No, you can’t build on me.” I want to speak up for the Earth.

*

I thought you were going to tell me to get lost! I’m interested in the park and housing here. I advocate for activity in the park … My fears and concerns are that the city [of Newport] has ignored the North End and this beautiful park. They plan activities in other parks in Newport, but there’s nothing here. I advocated for this farmers’ market, but there were some people who said no, if we let the farmers’ market come into this neighborhood they’ll be serving themselves, not the neighborhood. So we had a document written up about who can be at the market.  …Some people would say, “Oh, it would be nice to have a craft show,” but those people would be there to make profit for them, nothing for the community.

What do people in the community want more of?

They want more activities. We’re trying to get a flag football program established … A lot of really hardworking people live in this neighborhood. Not enough Newporters realize how important housing is. They think people up here are on welfare. How many people do you think are on welfare here?

I couldn’t even guess.

It’s between 1 and 2 percent.* I grew up on Bedloe Avenue. I went to Sheffield School. All these kids, I knew them and grew up with them… We’re trying like hell to maintain this housing, to make sure physical livability is maintained. These houses date from the Second World War. Some of them are totally empty. And then the rates go up. If you talk to nurses at the hospital, none of them live in Newport. They can’t afford to… It’s pretty sad when a teacher or a nurse can’t live in the community where they work.

*Being on welfare doesn’t mean anything bad about you, and everybody should be able to live in the community where they work. **

**Also ending wage labor would be good, let’s do that.

*

They keep building these gigantic hotels. They’re blocking the view—you’ll have this gigantic hotel and then in the background there’s this tiny sliver of ocean. They’re taking Newport away from regular people, and I’m a regular person. I’ve lived here since I was 16. My daughter and granddaughter were raised here. I’m Newport except I wasn’t born in Newport Hospital.

I have a lot of climate anxieties. Why are people not concentrating on this? People running for office—why are they not even discussing it? The most important thing is the world. … I just see a whole lot of people dying—in fact they actually are … I don’t even have anybody to vote for and I have no idea where to turn. Why? Why are they—how many times do you have to be told? Maybe it’s too late—we pulled out of the Paris Accords.

What does it mean to be too late?

So much damage has been done. It’s as if [to politicians] it’s not real. To me they’re not real. I want some direction. I can’t do this alone, it’s driving me nuts. … Nobody in my family gives a shit. I [suffer from] mental illness—there was a group discussion, but I’m afraid to go. I’m not a professional that can give ideas.* But it’s been a cause for me since I was at least 18—it was apparent, it was quite apparent. I didn’t expect it to happen. I’m leaving a child and grandchildren.

*If anybody has ideas for how this person could participate climate activism in ways that wouldn’t require them to show up in person or talk on the phone, please let me know at my gmail address, publiclycomplex—I have their contact information and will share the ideas with them.

*

I was just listening to someone I work with getting more of an explanation of what climate change is… I heard him break it down to [her], and I watched her face as what he said registered. He really got a good [background] explanation about how gas gets into the atmosphere and everything gets out of whack, how it changes food and where it can grow. And as she was listening, she was looking more and more sad and thoughtful, and she said, “So much suffering.” I think people need to hear it not as a lecture, not in a way that’s “you should,” but it’s so complicated. What’s the right way to come into this conversation? What’s the right kind of information? …Watching her absorb the information on her terms—she asked a question and I watched the answer wash through her. [This is someone who is] quiet, she listens more than people understand, so people underestimate her. She went right to the heart of the matter. I was underestimating her.

*

I have gone past climate anxiety, I am in climate despair. The shit’s gonna hit the fan and people aren’t gonna know how to deal with it. They don’t know how to recognize and respond to the threat, and that’s unfortunately so human. Now we’re all gonna suffer from it. … As it is in most human affairs, it’s going to take the dysfunction to be very consequential before people are willing to deal with it as communities. What I’m used to seeing is people who aren’t addressing it. They may recognize it as an issue but their lives are overwhelming. I really see my power in accepting the limitations of things that are around me, and considering the fact that the question of what can be done when the status quo doesn’t work. How do people stay connected rather than disconnected? It’s gonna get hairy. Probably not in my lifetime.

How does it feel to let your mind go there?

I don’t know what to say. It’s just training me to accept that I can neither predict the future nor control very much. And that’s a good way to live.

How do we build the connection you were talking about?

Doing a lot of it. Promoting it. Again, I recognize the limits. Participating in local community in Newport. In [working with] Aquidneck Community Table, I did it with the expectation that they’d connect people. That’s the thing that they’d really do. Their core issues can’t move at the speed of events. The outcome is not community gardens but connections between people, so that they can maybe cooperate under more dire circumstances.

map 7-1-19

[IMAGE: Map of Rhode Island with people’s localized worries marked on it in dry-erase marker. The new entry is “Too many hotels – not enough parking.”]

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY, Sankofa Market, 2-5pm! & Two Climate Action Opportunities!

Come and visit me at the Sankofa Market today (Wednesday, 7/10) between 2 and 5:30pm. The market is outside the Knight Memorial Library (275 Elmwood Ave, Providence), which now has air conditioning on the ground floor!!! You can talk with me, buy vegetables and baked goods from neighborhood farmers and vendors, and then step inside and cool off.

At the Climate Anxiety Counseling Booth, can share your climate-change-related and other anxieties, get a little piece of art to keep, and potentially find some paths to action that work for you. There are also a couple of things you can do TODAY to contribute to climate and environmental justice:

TODAY, 12-2pm, 234 Thayer St, Providence: Community rally to protest Chase Bank’s practices of bankrolling fossil fuel industries and contributing to climate change. Details at the link; email shutdownchaseri AT gmail DOT com for more information.

TONIGHT, 6-7:30pm, CCRI, 1 Hilton St, Providence: The Shell Oil terminal is reapplying for an air quality permit that they shouldn’t have: the legal limits for chemicals released into the air are higher than the quantities of those chemicals that make people sick. Let’s go to the RI DEM hearing and point this out to them. Childcare, snacks & talking points provided.

*

My sister and I found these Rhode Island neighbors, (what we think are) black trumpet mushrooms, on a walk in Roger Williams Park. Send me pictures of the mushrooms & fungi near you, if you want!

black trumpet mushrooms

[IMAGE: Black, brown and gray mushrooms shaped sort of like curly funnels, growing on the ground among moss, dead oak leaves, grass, and tiny broadleaved plants.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling TODAY at the Sankofa World Market! With special guest!

Today I’ll be at the Sankofa World Market (275 Elmwood Ave, Providence) 2-6pm, and so will my youngest sister. (We may be a little late getting there if her bus is late.)

My sister is the best: a maker of theater, an educator, a noticer of plants, a mender of clothes, someone who through care contributes to justice. I learn from her and look up to her every day. Here’s the pea fence we put up in her front yard planter boxes.

pea fence

[IMAGE: a wooden planter box on a city street, with garlic coming up on one side, and a pea fence made of old curtain rods and yellow yarn.]

Climate Anxiety Counseling: One-on-One, 6/27/19

(This person reached out to me a few weeks ago via email. “Before, climate change was an abstract concept to me,” they wrote. “I knew it was real, but it was somehow ‘out there’ somewhere, out of sight out of mind. Now, I am witnessing the undeniable consequences of it with my own two eyes. It has truly hit home and I am in shock.” 

At that time, they were feeling too raw to come to the booth and talk in public, so we made a plan to meet one-on-one. They brought $10.00 to donate to the Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective, and mint from their garden. Here are some of the things we talked about.)

I’ve sort of had some time to calm down since I wrote to you, to go from, “Oh my God,” to, “Well, we’re in this.” My concern always goes back to the animals. They’re innocent and defenseless against all this. I’ve been sorting through things in my mind about how to make sense of it. It’s like a huge tsunami wave—it’s way off in the background, but I can sort of see the crest. But it’s easy to sort of go on with your life, like, “Maybe it won’t happen,” or, “Maybe it won’t be so bad.” … It’s just so enormous that it’s hard to get a grip on it—for lots of people, including myself.

What was the first feeling you had when you heard how bad [climate change] is?

Shock. When I was finding out about that, when I realized that, I was sitting in my yard, and there was not a bee and not a butterfly in sight. My husband heard all about it, my friends and my neighbors, Instagram—but that’s just not a tenable solution because you’re just kinda spreading this stuff. I have not accepted it, but I can’t go around alienating people. I’d rather gain their interest … When I first became vegan I was like that. I was like a loaded cannon. I would cry, I would be, “Nobody’s paying attention, nobody cares!” I drove myself crazy for probably two years. I didn’t know how to deal with this, how to see all these animals suffering. Even when we would go to protest in Boston, I couldn’t look at the signs. I guess I was glad we were out there—I’m not sure.

What does it feel like to think about it now?

Painful and scary and sad. But I’m an artist, and I started making paintings about this. I want to use paintings and my blog to start reaching people. They’re mostly about the beautiful side—I did some that were about the tragic side but I don’t think that does much for people. They’re of the world before the Fall, before people started polluting. Holding that image in my mind when I meditate helps me a lot. As I go along, I want to kind of just branch out with it, show the paintings, have people respond to them. It’s a unique way that I can express what’s going on, and I look forward to that. That sounds like something I can do.

How does it feel when you’re painting?

I just feel like the sense—Finally, I can express this. I don’t have to walk around with it stuck in my throat all the time. I feel optimism and excitement. …

What was the moment, for you, with veganism, where you realized that you needed to stop what you were doing and do something else?

I was a vegetarian for fourteen years before I became a vegan. Probably I just started doing my own research. Do you know the artist Sue Coe? I went to an exhibit of her work, and I just couldn’t believe what I saw. I don’t know how she’s able to even put those images on paper. It’s just, “Well, there it is, I was there, I’m just painting what I saw, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty.” Then I started getting books out of the library—this was before the internet—and I changed my diet. Turning to veganism is a very emotional thing for people. You have to give up not just comfort foods, but emotional foods, the foods that your family had.

So that brings up—what are some things that you might lose because of climate change that are hard to let go of? … Either because you are voluntarily giving them up, or because they’re gone?

I don’t know. We have a very economical car, it’s nine—no, fourteen years old. The only thing I can think of is that we have a very small air conditioner.

I’m also thinking about stuff like—you know, maybe climate change means that you don’t have kids, or that you stop bugging your kids about grandkids. Or maybe it means you can’t live where you live, either because living there takes too much energy or because it’s not safe to live there anymore.

If I knew something I was doing was really harmful, I probably wouldn’t have a problem—not moving, that’s a different story. We don’t even use the air conditioner that much. We have a lot of shade, and there are wetlands behind our house. But I don’t want to stay in a bubble.

Tell me about the wetlands.

I have a studio on the ground floor and the windows look out onto the wetlands. I can see all the little creatures…it’s a complete joy to me. And it’s regulated, so that at least for now, nobody can dredge it and build on it. We and all the neighbors share it.

How else might you help to maintain living creatures, living systems?

I wanted to plant something for bees and butterflies, and I keep reading little articles, but if there’s no bees then what are you attracting? Yes, there may be a few bees, but when I walk around my neighborhood I’ve only see one or two. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved insects—I was gonna be an entomologist—and I would always turn over stones and see all kinds of insects, earthworms, pill bugs… now when I see a rock and I lift it up there’s maybe one kind of teeny tiny microscopic millipede. I sit outside on the concrete slab in front of our house and there’s almost no insects. That’s weird. And I see baby robins in our yard, but when I see the adults hunting for them, what are they finding? Usually I ‘d see them pulling up an earthworm, but the earthworms are probably going the same route.

mint

[IMAGE: Mint leaves and stems in a damp paper towel to keep them fresh.]