Alternate Histories: 6/6, 4/29

[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.]


[These three were a couple and their friend who came up together.]

How do you imagine helping other people, sustaining other people?

Person 1: That’s both a really specific and a really abstract question.

Person 2: Well, on a really concrete level we would shelter people if we had to. [Hugs Person 3.] We have a lot of room.

Person 1: It assumes we’ll be the ones who have the shelter.

Person 3: Well, it’s fair to assume we’ll be more likely to have it than some other people.

Person 2: That’s true. People who are on the coast, who are on the floodplain —

Person 3: I was thinking more of people in island nations. And I’m thinking about California. … My building would probably be fucked, but I’m on the 3rd floor. I’ll have to go in and out through the window.

Person 2: We think we have more protection than we do.



Between them, W and GG and K had named one thing that turns the middle of these stories to fog: when you can think about them, they’re far away and somewhere else. When you’re in the middle of them, it’s harder to think about them, because you’re trying to keep afloat. Yet in a disaster, a crisis—they knew, because they’d seen it–many people behave beautifully, generously, turning not just themselves but their institutions and premises over to response.

W and GG and K said to each other: what if we switched the order in time? A crisis is a moment of intensification and change: for better, for worse. Or better for some and worse for others.

Because there is no away, because it makes the most sense to start where you are, W and GG and K began to take their premises and their institutions apart with the help of their colleagues, who listened to them; with the help of their students, who asked them questions; with the help of the people who had once worked invisibly for them, who stopped working.

Their plans changed. They’d thought to make the university into a house of refuge, and that worked for a while, until it exceeded its capacity; they wanted to make it a training center for survival, and to some extent it was; they’d thought to make it a place of inquiry again, but all people had were questions. So they made it into a place of resource, a fountain that poured out everything it had until it was gone, a spring that ran for a while and then ran dry, while people who had been nourished by it took their nourishment elsewhere to do other things, and the bramble and the rat snake and the vole and the poison ivy and the fox and the wild rose—early inhabitants and entrenched colonizers—began to uproot and to wander.

If something ends, still it was there once.


Alternate Histories: 6/7, 4/24


When the world ends, there isn’t anything you’re gonna do. I don’t dwell on it like that, but I do think about it. What are you gonna do, walk around with masks on? There’s gotta be airflow from somewhere! But I mean, what are you really gonna do? The most important thing is air. You gonna make filters? You can’t even drink the water. The water supplies, the machines, ain’t nobody gonna filter the water. People are starting to be like, “We’re gonna kill him and drink his blood, we’re thirsty.” If I get a toothache, who’s gonna pull my tooth? If I get these plastic boobs, one pop, who’s gonna be my doctor? And medical — there’s certain people that depend on insulin, what are they gonna do? They’re just gonna die, there’s no two ways about it. Like me, I’m insulin dependent. The biggest thing is air … “Close your eyes and we’ll pretend that’s not [BB] we eatin’.” There’s gonna be the eaters and the — eaters and the entrees. I’ll be a good entree. One leg alone will feed five families. That lady over there, she’ll be a good meal.



About 18 years later, BB died.

Before she died, she and her nieces had talked about what she wanted them to do with her corpse. They had walked and wheeled out together to sit in the groveyards. They’d looked at pictures of the raptor platforms, though most of them were too far away from where the family lived. And they’d gone to the rendering house when a niece’s friend died.

When BB died, her nieces and their neighbors washed her and wrapped her in a sheet, singing to her. When the songs were over, what they held was no longer BB, but a corpse. Corpses are strange, and it is fearful to make them useful, but when BB was alive, no one made use of her body and mind.

BB’s nieces brought the corpse to the rendering house and helped to cut it into pieces that humans could eat. The bones they would grind up and pour into the ocean in a year. They cooked and ate the pieces of the corpse, a little each day, during that year. After they poured the dust of the bones into the ocean, they could talk to BB again, and they often did, telling her what the grandnephews, who were alive, were doing and how BB’s old friend, who was alive, was just as rude as ever.

Public / Participatory Art Post #5: A conversation with Linda Russo

I went to the People’s Climate March, and I walked, and then I came home. I may or may not write something about it here; I will certainly link to things other people write about it, but not right now.

In the meantime, here’s a conversation I had with poet Linda Russo — sort of a semi-mutual interview — about Climate Anxiety Counseling, public making and public listening, and vulnerability.

Thanks to Linda and to Steven Karl of Coldfront.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 10

Weather: clouds and sun, with a big heavy gray cloud coming in from the north

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People who asked (and received) permission to take a picture: 1

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Mentions of the Industrial Revolution: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $6.30



A sample size of 2 suggests that Saturdays are slower than weekdays.

I may have missed a potential stopper while responding to a logistical text. Let that be a lesson.


Some conversations: 

[Small girls to whom I gave a snapping turtle card and a blue cohosh card yesterday]

Can we use your chalk?


 [They take it into the park and start drawing. Later they’re joined by 2 other girls, around the same age. Later still, girls and chalk are nowhere to be seen. I mentally bid farewell to chalk. About an hour later, one of the original girls brings the box back, chalk sticks well used.]


I don’t know that there’s anything we can do to help. We try to think as human beings that we have control over certain things, but we really don’t.

I think we’re talking about different things. I’m talking about like, if there was bad flooding, would you give someone a ride in your car?) No. I’d like to say I’d like to help all these people, but I think when it’s in complete survival mode, it gets to be every man for himself.

So you don’t think people depend on each other.

No, I do think people depend on each other … …  It’s something that needs looking into, and we’re not doing enough about it. There’s enough methane on the ocean floor–you know about this? What happens when the ocean warms up and releases that methane into the atmosphere? It’ll be a global catastrophe that–[he looks over and sees the girls drawing within earshot]–we’ll all be in trouble.


I don’t want to grow up. I don’t want to have to be responsible–I don’t want to become an angry old adult and hate the world.

What do you like about the world now?

I like that everything is magical … I’m afraid I’m gonna be hurt. I’m in a state of transition. I don’t want to let myself drown in responsibilities, having a job.

What could you do to hold onto that feeling of magic?

Trying to learn how to be still and enjoy moments. Like today it was supposed to rain, and it didn’t, and I’m really thankful for that. I was raised by a conservative family, with the idea of a fairy-tale wedding and stuff like that, and I’m afraid of finding out that things aren’t really like that. 


[These two were friends.]

Friend 1: I’m anxious that we’ve passed the point at which anything other than geoengineering will make sense, and that it will become necessary seems like this huge problem in itself–whether it’ll work, what the side effects will be, will it stop working in a catastrophic way? And in a way that makes me feel more helpless, like what’s the point of doing other stuff, we should just jump straight to trying to block the sun with tiny mirrors.

Friend 2: Tiny mirrors? I don’t know anything about this.

Friend 1: They’re not really mirrors, they’re reflective particles.

Friend 2: My high school education was totally focused on the environment, on climate an conservation. [Friend 1] and I actually met at an action–was it about cap and trade?

Friend 1: Yeah–no, we were trying to get Barack Obama to go to Copenhagen in person.

Friend 2: Then I stopped. I turned more toward local work, work that’s more immediate, like helping someone [redacted for privacy]–I believe it’s important work, but I do it because it’s more satisfying to me. It’s easier to put my arms around. And the climate is so hard to put your arms around. We did that action where we stand where the water would rise–

Friend 1: By the end of the century, they’re saying sea levels will be 1-4 feet higher, probably more toward the high end of that. But the real thing, I think, is storm surges–not like a permanent thing, but what happens in a big hurricane … In the next few years I think I’m going to have to either stop working on climate issues or become a deeply religious person. I can’t sustain hope on my own anymore. I need a group of people for whom hope is built in — hope in the literal sense that we will do something or figure something out, that human civilization isn’t gonna collapse, and in a bigger sense that the world will continue to become better, more just, more peaceful, in the very longest term.

Friend 2: That we’ll make progress. Do you think we’ve made progress?

Friend 1: This is the Industrial Revolution question. I think so.

Friend 2: I do too. You were saying–a big part of your hope involved the future generation. Do you think people who are motivated to try to do something about this are motivated because of that?

Friend 1: I don’t know, it varies. I think in this climate context, 95% of the American public doesn’t understand what it means —

Friend 2: Or it’s not that urgent.

Friend 1: Or it’s not that urgent. Americans put climate change dead last on a list of things they were worried about, they put it after “moral decline.” 

Friend 2: Or they mix it up with like, recycling, and the ozone layer.

Friend 1: I think it sort of lumps together in this category of “We’ve done something bad to the air. Now we’re in trouble.”  … The policies in question have costs. This isn’t anyone’s, quote, problem. There’s always something that’s gonna be easier for you to do.

Friend 2: And everything’s just so connected. 


From the beginning of time–I believe in the Creation and what He created. I believe in trying to restore that, taking away all the sorrow and pain and death. I believe in the Lord.

How does your faith affect the way you live your life?

I try to study, I study the Bible every day … You end up praying for relationship, Heaven and Earth. We’re part of that Creation. It’s just finding it, I guess, divine.


[I give her the card with angelica on it.] This is a flower that grows here in RI.

Oh, I know! This is one of my favorite plants.


Today’s poem: 

Tiny mirrors reflecting light

back into space are under discussion

a flicker we can always hope for

because they are moving away

hope as progress, air as mirror

we did something bad to and now

we’re in trouble we’re drawing the dark

fur of an animal now that absorbs

without gloss or that reflects like

particulate matter my whole body works

with writing my face works with rage

self-heard and induced helplessness

I tilt and tilt myself toward and away

from the sun I tilt and tilt

my umbrella toward and away from the rain

“Not only that but” people keep saying

not only that but another thing

and no things but others

or no other things but us

on the land and in the water

the clouds boiling up in fast motion

because regular motion isn’t

scary enough I sit here without

my umbrella hoping to outwait the rain