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.”]

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 8/29/18

Weather: Hot. Heat index over 100 at the start of my shift.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Dogs seen: 3

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.15

 

Observations:

I arrived late for my shift (combination of a late start, the heat, and a shortcut that wasn’t) and also stayed late sitting on the cool grass having a wonderful unofficial conversation about the relationship between community organizing, mental health, and care.

The market managers lent me a shade tent.

There’s a family of kids who lives around the corner, and they were much in evidence today. They all wanted to pretend to take the silver dollar I keep in the money jar for luck, and some of them added to the map. One of them reminded another one of the conversation she’d had with me about her grandmother, over a year ago.

A monarch butterfly flew past while I was sitting.

The second conversation here is with my friend Ash Sanders, who ran a project inspired by this one in Salt Lake City.

 

Some conversations:

My son gives me really bad anxiety. He’s really hyperactive and I can’t handle that sometimes … He likes to tell little white lies to get out of a situation, like, “Oh, I need to go peepee,” and he doesn’t need to go. And he gets really physical when we’re playing, he thinks we’re actually fighting.

What do you do when that happens?

I try to calm him down. But when I do that, he takes me as a joke and he goes to his father … He doesn’t give people their personal boundaries. You see him playing over there with that little girl, or if he’s playing with me he’ll be right up in my face … When I can’t handle it I’ll just walk away. But I have to do that constantly. I never get a break, it’s 24-7, it’s just go go go anxiety.

*

A big anxiety for me is how much I care about climate change and environmental stuff. I feel like it’s too intense. I can’t do it in a normal, more socially acceptable way, I have to do it in this way that’s more intense and—I guess darker. I feel like I’m holding back a lot. I’m not doing anything about it right now, and I’m scared to be my old out-there self, but I feel phony in a lot of ways. I’m scared of feeling exhausted all the time. I’m afraid I’ll open something up that will never stop hurting, and that I won’t know the difference between guilt and actions that I should take. I feel guilty all the time, and maybe I should. [I was raised Mormon] and you’re expected to be deeply obedient, and the extra politeness veiled a lot of evil and wrong things. I did push against that, but it exhausted me. And I’m scared that what this situation [of climate change] requires is unspeakable in public.

Who is your public, like which public are you thinking about when you say that?

I’ve been getting into conversations with friends in New York about whether or not to have kids because of what’s happening to the planet. And I am very opinionated, so I started saying more and more. I got tired of saying the “right” thing, so I said more and more what I felt, and I could see the discomfort in people’s eyes. Like I was implying that they weren’t good people. … I read and read things looking for somebody who thinks and feels like me, and they’re there, but they’re in the corners of the conversational world.

And another thing is that I’ve become concerned with animal rights really broadly, and that’s a hot-button topic among left-leaning people. I’ll hear a lot of people be like, “I’ll care about animal rights when human rights are accomplished.” Or like, “Fuck polar bears.” It makes sense, but it puts me at odds with people who I’m not otherwise at odds with.

… I started having these conversations hoping it would unstick me. I’m very tired of carrying around the bag of my cultural upbringing, and I want to know, where could I go if I weren’t carrying it? Mormons really believe in the power of language, the power of telling the truth, and a lot of the truths that they asked me to accept were quite boring but I did internalize that words can change people, and change the people who hear them … I’m pretty good at being brave, at being like, “Do it anyway, feel afraid but do it anyway,” but it never changed this basic really core part of me. And I think that might be beyond language, this thing that needs to shift.

… I’m really conscious about the passage of time. What time is mine to take when all this is happening in the world? I’m so exhausted by the rah-rah kinds of actions, I think they are required but I don’t necessarily feel capable of them right now. When I was doing [those kinds of actions] fast and well, I was depleting myself intensely and I was estranged from a lot of people, but it felt more true, and that’s confusing.

How does it feel reading the things by people who feel the way you do?

It’s intense, like some part of me is going out to meet them in the ether. A kinship thing. And I’m also thinking, “This person is so brave. I used to be like that.” So—relief and kinship, and maybe some jealousy and self-doubt. And then I’m like, Who’s reading them besides a few people? So I read this, and I feel more intensely, but…

Have you written back to them at all?

In a way I think the process of talking with [other] people has been a way of writing back to them. Maybe the reason I don’t just do that is because I feel like I should be honest with some of the hardest people for me to be honest with. Like with my parents, I’ve kind of given up on the idea that we can talk about this. And then I think, my dad will die and I won’t have said one honest thing to him. I would really like to be able to give them a bunch of books and articles and be like, “Let’s talk about it.” Mormonism teaches you that there’s one truth for the whole world, and it applies to every person, every time, every place, every situation, no variants. And [it teaches that] if you do say something different, you wound the person you’re saying it to irreparably. I realize that I think of my dad as an extremely fragile person, maybe more fragile than he actually is, and I’m terrified of but deeply want to talk to him in a real way. I’ve been protecting people, and I never have practiced saying what I meant [to him] in any honest way.

… It’s often been my role in a group to be the one who says that it’s okay to feel a lot of things, to have really strong opinions. … I’m good at being brave for others, honest for others, but I have to calculate how much energy something will cost me. I have chronic pain, and everything takes so much energy. I’m afraid of putting myself in high-energy situations. I’m afraid to put my foot across the line, I’m like, “Oh, God, I’m gonna get so tired again.” I don’t know how to say no, because I feel so guilty, and I was really trained to not have any boundaries as a way of showing love. When I’ve done things in the past, it can’t just be one thing—I have to be involved in six organizations and in charge of all of them. So maybe I have to give up my usual roles, let other people do those things.

*

On the map that asks people if there’s a place in Rhode Island they’d like to protect, kids wrote, “your though” (which might mean “your thoughts,” not sure), “place I care about is my country. (Ethiopia.)” and “I care about nauture living things,” with some pictures of trees.

map 8-29-18

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Sowing Place, 7/7/18

Weather: Bright, breezy, feels almost cool compared to the past week

Number of people: 7 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $0.15

 

Observations:

There weren’t a lot of vendors when I got there. Two came later.

Nonhuman animals: seagulls and pigeons overhead; bumblebees, cabbage white butterflies and a black swallowtail (?! I think) in the South Side Cultural Center’s flower garden.

Normally, I don’t include much of what I say in these conversations. But I had one on this day where I clarified something that a lot of people who talk to me seem unclear about, so I’m including the part of the conversation that has both the explanation and why I think it matters.

 

Some conversations:

I’m concerned about my grandson. When I went to pick him up from daycare, they told me he’s been play-fighting too much. We’re trying to help him learn to make good choices for himself, limiting TV time and time with the phone. And part of the problem is the daycare isn’t an exciting environment. He’s bored. There’s too much reading and sitting still for him, not enough playing … I’m the grandma, so I get him once a week. He wants to fight me! He’s getting bigger, so his punches hurt now. We used to play-fight, but now he doesn’t know his own strength. I wonder if that’s part of why—and then sometimes he goes to his dad’s, and that’s an uncontrollable environment. We just have to keep communication going with both his parents, and be diligent about getting results. I know he’s bored … And he’s good at school, he just needs an outlet.

(I give her a card with “small cranberry” on it.)

Oh, I know cranberries, I grew up on the Cape. I know the cranberry bogs. We used to skate on them, because they flood them in winter, and you’re not gonna fall through, ’cause where you gonna go? We used to try to cut through the bog to other places, but we’d get in trouble for that ’cause we’d be smashing the cranberries. We’re cranberry people. My family worked for Ocean Spray.

*

Why are people not more concerned about long-term change?

Do you have an opinion about it yourself?

Because people are built to live on a day-by-day basis.

*

It’s so pressing, it’s so stressful. I don’t know a lot of the science behind it, but it’s just so apparent—I don’t know how people can still be in denial about it. Look at Puerto Rico—what do you mean, this has nothing to do with what humans are doing? I think it has to happen to these people—the water has to rise up to their doorstep. If it’s not an issue for them, it’s not an issue. Just here in Providence, it’s gonna hit the more affluent parts, but there’s only so much further they can go. And people living in the West End—it’s not like they can go to the next town over—when you come in and take their land because you can? Right now they know that they’ll be fine, because they have the means to put their house on stilts or move somewhere else. Or Seattle’s banning plastic straws, which is great, but it has a lot of issues—you have people who use plastic straws, but then you have huge industries taking up so much. It’s like saying that people are poor because they get Dunkin’ Donuts every week, like there are no systemic issues keeping people poor. And there are folks with disabilities who need to use plastic straws.

Also like—here we are talking about plastic, and a lot of people come talking to me about that, but do you know the connection between plastic and climate change?

No, I don’t.

I can tell you if you want to know, but my point is that we’re all walking around putting these things together but we don’t necessarily know how they’re tied together. I do it too. Do you want to know?

Yeah.

So there are two things: the first thing is that plastic is made out of oil, petroleum, and all the work of extracting and making it uses fossil fuels. And the second way is that when plastic sits around in the ecosystem, it puts a strain on that ecosystem that’s already strained by climate change.

[This person had to go do something else and another person came up and spoke to me (I didn’t get permission to post that); later we resumed our conversation.]

So the plastic bag ban—that’s kind of regressive too, particularly with low-income communities. I definitely don’t want to be that person that’s like, “Every idea is bad,” but—and it’s not something that gets brought up in these conversations. It’s like, “Oh, we banned plastic bags and plastic straws but a coal lobbyist is the new head of the EPA.”

How do you think the conversation could go, or should go?

I guess it would be like: how are you going to address—for every initiative that you do, what are you going to do to change the structures that created a lot of these environmental damages? And the other thing is, what are you going to do to prepare communities that will be of course impacted? … In DC they also have a bag ban, where you pay a fee but they take it and they let you choose an organization to donate to, so it’s not perfect but maybe it’s better?

Yeah, especially if it’s an organization that benefits communities that might be strained by the ban, maybe? What about in the work that you do, where could you see these things happening?

At [WORKPLACE] it’s pretty easy. Like we were applying for a grant, and one of the questions was, “What are the green components of your work?” So I did some research on food transportation, and it made me actually think about it—it turns out food transportation takes up so much energy. But when I think about my other job … I can’t really think of a way that we could incorporate being green in what we do.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I guess I feel like there’s a downward spiral. As the heat rises, more energy is used in cooling. If we’re not generating that electricity in a sustainable way– I read that they’re trying out Syrian strains of wheat because they’re supposed to be more fly-resistant. They’re from this seed vault in Aleppo. It’s because flies are a much severer problem in the Midwest. But destabilizing our food raising regions is scary and weird. For a while, sure, but when it’s the Sahara, you’re not growing anything.

Person 2: Are you gonna forgo capitalism entirely? And if not, where are you gonna make your changes and set your boundaries? As long as you’re participating in capitalism, it’s a ripple-wave effect.

map 7-7-18

Today, kids decorated the map of Rhode Island with pictures of an angry monster and a more cheerful-looking monster.

Sankofa World Market at Southside Cultural Center, 5/5/18

Weather: Bright, breezy, a perfect day to be outside

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby, 1 bikeby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Photos taken with permission: 2

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.10

 

Observations:

The Sankofa World Market will be at the Southside Cultural Center on the first Saturday of every month as part of Sowing Place. This was the first of these; the next will be June 2nd.

I count someone as a “stopper” if they have a multi-sentence conversation with me, whether or not it functions as a “session” and whether or not they give me permission to post our conversation here (I only post conversations if I ask for and receive permission). A “walkby” or “bikeby” comments but doesn’t stop. This time, I only had two postable conversations, but a lot of people marked the map of Rhode Island with places they’d like to protect (see below).

A theme of the day was isolation—which is both a reason I started the booth and something it’s only medium-good at responding to—and the need to practice communication.

Nonhuman animals spotted: mockingbird, bumblebee, someone singing whose voice I should know but didn’t, pigeons in various configurations, cabbage white butterfly, a small flying insect (not biting) unknown to me, a couple of swallows high up at the very beginning.

 

Some conversations:

My main anxiety about climate change is related to sea level rise, and what it means to live in a coastal community that’s already had major sea level rise in the past. In Olneyville, you get a perfect storm of high tide and full moon and rainfall and the banks of the Woonasquatucket just wash over. I get some hope from the way people pull together when these things happen, but we shouldn’t need a crisis to pull together.

How do you feel when you think about these things?

I don’t want to keep thinking about it. You know you need to, but you don’t want to, so you push it away. I try to sort of stick my finger in the wound every once in a while so it doesn’t close up—answers may emerge over time if you don’t let it disappear.

And what do you do when you think about it?

Some of the smaller things. I take small actions to mitigate my own impact. Even if it’s not appreciable on a seismic scale, it makes you feel better, like, “At least I didn’t drive today.”

Is it also part of the stuff you do with other people, have you made it part of the collective stuff you do?

I feel like in the collective stuff I do it’s more of a constant undercurrent. Like on the board of the public library, we’re talking about how the building could be underwater, and how do you build all the systems that go into a building so they’re not destroyed? I feel like it’s moved into a place of acknowledging the inevitability and doing new thinking about how to respond to it, rather than denial. But denial is a comfortable place to be in, in some ways … How in the things I’m involved with with racial justice does climate justice play a part? How does that always have to include the injustice of climate change? Like this LNG facility, and whose neighborhood is most at risk. It’s not one of the things that you’re always gonna hear me bring up, but I’m always excited when someone else does.

… I think the shift from “global warming” to “climate change” is helpful. And I think that creative people have an important part to play in our conception of the terms, to put pressure on how we’re thinking about it. That’s what I admired so much about Holly Ewald’s work [with UPP Arts], how she’s like, “I’m an artist but I’m also a researcher and I’m a convener. How can I bring other people to this and not just bring it into my [artistic] practice?” … And then as someone with access to resources and how they’re dispersed, how can I support, spot, amplify what others are doing? Contribute to the thing, whatever the thing looks like?

What are some things you’d like to contribute to?

I think–people coming together in intergenerational spaces to build trust and vulnerability. It’s hard to find an affinity around a negative, like fighting something we don’t want—what are we fighting for that we do want?

What would you want to come out of these spaces?

I guess policy is the thing, but local? I feel really paralyzed by a lot of what comes out of the national level, like if the EPA decides it’s just going to take all the regulations off polluting vehicles. And like, what California does on the local level has a much bigger effect than anything we could do. But if we could be part of a groundswell in New England—that’s another kind of collectivity. These nested scales, like people thinking about these questions together, then taking that to the civic and municipal level, the state level—I’m more and more drawn to going block by block than trying to make change in Washington.

*

I’m worried about the soil. It gets more and more acidic all the time. I’m worried about neighborhoods in low-lying places, and I really worried that people are sort of isolated, so if disasters happen we won’t be prepared to take care of each other. If the communication technology that we use gets broken down, especially, I’m afraid we won’t know how to work together. I’m also worried about drought. When I’m farming, my anxiety has to do with what I’m seeing on the farm—unpredictable weather patterns stress me out more. I always thought the longer I farmed, the better I’d get at knowing the pattern, that I’d become someone who can predict weather. Now I’ve been farming for ten years, and it’s more like I’m just more in touch with the chaos. I have a bigger record of how much things have gotten wacky. I started out thinking that farmers were kind of a repository for climate patterns, but we’re just repositories for climate anxiety.

… I have found that paying that close attention also results in observing lots of moments of resilience. Seeing plants under insane conditions thrive—I’ve become more sensitive to wild plants that live in the city. And I know that a lot of them are medicinal, so that makes me happy. There are a few plant buddies that inspire me in particular. Mullein—it’s good for the lungs, and it often grows along the highway, so it’s like it’s the lungs of the highway. And St. John’s wort is abundant in the city, and that’s for depression. I’ve been learning a lot about plant medicine lately and the idea that plants pop up where we need them—partly because my dad is depressed, but also, there’s a pervading sense of anxiety on the planet, and I’ve been realizing that it doesn’t work to cure depression by saying, “It’s gonna get better.” We need a different set of mantras, and plants suggest some—the way plants grow in community.

…Right now I’m my dad’s main connection to the world. And as much as the farm teaches me about the compassionate end of things, it’s different and almost criminal to apply that to my own father. But another thing I do at the farm is let plants and animals pursue their own life cycles, and just try to create conditions that hopefully allow things to thrive, or mitigate the pressures—if it’s a drought, I try to water things. One of the big lessons that plants have for us is reciprocity—there are no sacrificing plants, or martyr plants, although when a tree is dying it shoves its resources down through the mycelium layer so that other plants can use them.

I’ve been learning, when I’m feeling a need, to ask for help. This is kind of what we were talking about at the beginning of this conversation, having the communication patterns in place to support each other. If we practice that in our major or minor crises in our private lives, maybe we’ll be better at it in an environmental crisis. I’ve also been trying to receive care by creating the gatherings that feed me, and going to the gatherings that other people create. I always forget that because I think, “Oh, I need quiet time.” … I’ve been yearning for clarity on what the role of artists is in the moment. I feel in myself that poets have an essential role, in documenting, in mitigating, in envisioning—but it’s not everyday-obvious to me.

20180505_143308

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. People have written:

I wish the water in Roger Williams Park was clean enough for wading/swimming by the bandstand

Trinity Sq Neighborhood!

SCC [Southside Community Center] RI

Waterman St dog park

Sabins Point

Scituate Reservoir

Lincoln State Park

Little Compton

Two children have also drawn on the map, and one of them has written, “No LNG in PVD or anywhere. Take care of our ancestors.”

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Providence Energy Fair, 6/24/17

Weather: POURING outside. The fair was inside, with big fans.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, no walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5.5

Peanuts references: 1

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous years: 1

Photos taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1 (this is the correct ratio, if anyone was wondering)

Number of people who asked some version of “Are you a real doctor?”: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.00

 

Observations:

This was an event specifically for people who work in energy efficiency, land conservation, and environmental justice, and for people interested in those things. I unsurprisingly get a higher incidence of stoppers whose anxieties are climate anxieties at such events, and that’s how today was.

There were people playing music, and they played “Moonlight Midnight”, a song I love.

I picked up a People’s Power and Light flyer.

Sometimes I try to get people from “weather” or “seasons” to “climate”, when they mistake the second for one of the first two, and sometimes I don’t. This was a time I tried but it didn’t really take.

All places are vulnerable places.

 

Some conversations:

I was woken this morning by notifications for an app that’s not on my phone, and it seems to be propaganda, a fake news website. I’m concerned who that’s going to who may not follow trusted sources. How did this get on my phone? I consider myself a moderate, but I think I know propaganda when I see it. When I think of the reduction of authority of the EPA, another four years of negative environmental activity—whether you believe in [climate change] or not, it’s pollution. I had to wear a surgical mask on my way here.

What do you do when you feel this anxiety?

Working with sustainability means it just adds to the things to worry about. I’m already worrying about my family and my kids. I thought we were going in a great direction, with [the city committed to sustainability measures], and all of a sudden—I resent the commmander-in-chief assigning people who want to take those regulations down to nothing …

In your job, does it give you energy, or does it take away your energy?

It’s definitely a morale killer. I would say it’s more anger than anxiety. A big WTF.

*

I’m anxious that I feel powerless. Whatever I do with my individual behavior, this is so monumental. It’s gonna take everyone. And my other anxiety is that I understand that it’s not everyone’s priority, and accepting that. People have a vast amount of other things that they have to worry about. I’ve seen that conflict between more militant environmentalists and people who maybe don’t care or have other things to worry about … I’m in school for environmental studies, and the determinants for environmental concern are like [socioeconomic status], exposure to nature as a child, certain demographic things.

So is your concern that there’s not enough listening going on between these two clumps of people?

Yes. I don’t even know if I would start that conversation. Who am I to impose this on you? Who am I to shape what they care about? I can give people my time, but I can’t give everyone everything.

*

You know what does make me anxious? The wintertime. I hate it, it makes me stiff, it makes me tired, it makes me anxious. I want to run into a safe warm place. I could be burning and I’m so happy—I’d rather that 50 times than my face being cut open from the cold. Winter’s abusive, it’s abusive, that’s what it is … For my son, I always wanna make sure he’s warm, because for me warm is safe, I wanna make sure he’s safe … I’m from the Dominican Republic, on the borderline of Haiti, and when the hurricane came through it knocked down all these trees so there was no shade, and I still prefer that. I let myself go in the winter—in the summer I wanna vibrate, I wanna shine. When you fly [to the Dominican Republic] everybody’s welcoming, everybody’s so nice, but when you fly into Boston or New York it’s so rigid, everybody’s like go here, do this. Everyone becomes cold. The sun gives you the whole vitamin D of happiness.

*

It’s been so long since I thought about climate change. I’ve just been buried in my work. When Trump was elected I had to focus, so I focused on immigrants, refugees, health care—and climate change was on there but it wasn’t at the top. I did make a list. There’s only so much energy that we all have.

So I guess a question with that for me is, how do we move it up people’s list without saying that the other stuff on their list doesn’t matter?

Finding the examples that are relevant—like the LNG plant … There’s a big learning curve.

*

I think everybody should be anxious. The way this country’s direction is going, denying that there is climate change—I’m just scared about this [political] climate. And the glaciers are melting, and people are ignoring science—not people, but the government. People like us are the people that care. I think it’s gonna take organizations and private citizens, nonprofits, to step up and take over what government has done in the past.

 

*

This company…just contracted to scout national parks, national monuments, protected lands that [the President] would be able to open up for resource excavation. There’s a national monument off the Northeast coast—those sites that people worked so hard to protect were so vulnerable, so much effort made just for those areas, so if they can be attacked, no place is safe no matter how much effort people make. It’ll do irrevocable damage, but it’s also what it means in terms of precedent.

How does it feel to think about this, and what do you do when you think about it?

I feel relieved to share just verbally. What I do is a good question, because I feel very helpless. The main thing I do is posting on social media, which is not effectual. It’s the same, but sort of remote, but maybe further-reaching? I don’t have any steps toward [doing something]. The conversation to have is possibly opening up to more conversations … Where I’m living now, there’s puddling in the yard from the rain and that is a first. With climate change, there’s more moisture in the atmosphere that falls at once. It’s unheard of that the place where I am is affected. It’s not even a vulnerable place.

Actual History: Refusal 8

I’m working to learn more from the stories of people who have refused and rejected attempts to exploit and tyrannize them, and I thought you might like to do that, too.

*

Women in the provinces of Calabar and Owerri fought the Women’s War, Ogu Umunwanyi or Ekong Eban, in the fall and winter of 1929.  British colonizers had appointed “warrant chiefs” in place of the chiefs that the Igbo people elected, and when these British-appointed chiefs and the colonizers who appointed them threatened to tax the women who sold food to the growing cities, and sacriligeously invaded their privacy with the excuse of calculating this tax, Andoni, Ibibio, Igbo, Ogoni, Bonny and Opobo women began to plan and discuss resistance.

Beginning in November of 1929, the women blockaded roads, knocked down telegraph poles and severed wires. They attacked the Essene “Native Court” and released people imprisoned there, burned down other Native Court buildings and attacked European-owned stores and banks. They chanted threatening songs and organized ceremonial mockery (“sitting on him”) of the warrant chiefs, wearing palm leaves as a symbol of the summons to action and a mark of protection. Between 15,000 and 25,o00 women resisted in this way, destroying property and attacking pride and status but killing  no one.

Colonial authorities, on the other hand, killed many of the women in fear and retaliation. They did ultimately abandon the plans for a tax, curb the power of the warrant chiefs, and acknowledge the necessity for women’s involvement in governing, but as we know, they did not leave.

*

As always, I’ve attempted to source this well, but if anyone has any corrections I will take them.

In learning this story I was particularly struck by the destruction of relevant property (businesses owned by colonizers, buildings that represented and inflicted the unjust law), the release of prisoners, the severing of one form of communication and the use of another, and the work done by mockery and shame.

If you want to honor the women of the Women’s War, you could start by learning about the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and their fight against Shell Oil, and get a North American you know who’s thinking about “volunteering in Africa” to do the same. (I’m looking for additional things you could do, but wanted to post this.)

 

 

Interdependence Days return: 10/4/16, 6-8pm

After a month of consideration and revision, Interdependence Days–community gatherings, based in (but not limited to) the Broadway neighborhood, free and open to the public–are back, every Tuesday night through December. The next one is TODAY, October 4th, 6-8pm at 186 Carpenter St., Providence.
Aria Boutet and Ada Smailbegovic will lead us in walking, noticing, and writing in the streets around 186 Carpenter St (there will be a stay-put version for people who arrive late or don’t walk well).
As always, we’ll use a brief ritual of voice to welcome each other to the gathering and to send each other out into the world at the end, and we’ll share stories and food. We’ll also outline a few additional guidelines for treating each other with respect while we’re there, and ask people about things we might work on together when we’re not there–group efforts that would meet a need or a desire within the community.
Again, that’s tomorrow (Tuesday), 6-8pm, 186 Carpenter St. Bring some food to share if you can and want to (you don’t have to).
Write to the organizers at the Facebook page or at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, if you have questions.

Alternate Histories: 7/15, 8/19

7/15/15

Do people have that, climate anxiety?

Yeah, some people do.

I don’t have that. I grew up in the Caribbean and we have hurricanes every year, natural disasters all the time, so I don’t have anxiety about that. One thing I do have anxiety about is we have had some tremors here, we have had severe tremors, so I worry about that. So you believe in global warming?

Well, it’s not really a “believe” thing–I know that it’s happening.

I didn’t know what to think about it, but my son, I have a younger son, and he said, “Mom, it is for real–if you look at the Arctic, all those animals, the ice they live on is melting.” Sometimes when you say what you worry about people will look at you like you’re dumb, but everybody has their anxiety.

[I give her a RI organisms card with a fish on it–she reads the words on it out loud.]

My ex-husband was Pisces, the fish.

Do you want a different one?

No, it doesn’t matter to me. There was abuse, but not physical abuse, but I had to go.

*

8/18/15

S had come through fear of many kinds, and through the things that brought the fear, many of which she’d never tell to this white stranger. Some still weighed on her life, and some did not. At home, she put on a pot of rice and peas and called her son, listened to his voicemail message before hanging up. She would have done this again, to hear him, but the last time she did that, she did it four times, and he called her back holding down panic an hour later.

There’s always something to fear. How could you possibly take it all away? Build all the houses on–S leveled her palm over the countertop, feeling the spilled grains roll –on dry rice? She smiled, but with one side of her mouth only. Put on music, started to hum and flick her hips.

S remained, not in place, but in balance on the axis of her spine in the troposphere of her apartment and the orbit of her day. Around her, people her son’s age and plants no more than a year old sucked the poison out of the ground so that she wouldn’t have to eat it, and the poison out of the air so that she wouldn’t have to breathe it. Further out from her, people a little older than herself carried their grandbabies into the offices of powerful men–carried them diaperless, gumming bagels or juicy mango pits, and put them down on the carpeted floors. Still further out, soldiers began to withdraw from their bases and administrators from their offices in countries where they were not born. Further yet, a satellite tossed back her son’s recorded voice, and sometimes his present voice, filtered through signals.

S stepped freely, doing and being, trading decorous nods or full warm smiles with people whose orbits crossed hers. She left a pattern on the air, and when she died, who can say that this pattern didn’t remain, a signal to follow, a reminder to keep recreating and revising an order that could sustain her? Who would dare to say such a thing where she might still be listening?

Alternate Histories: 6/13, 6/23

6/13/15

I remember in 1978 Louise and I were discussing, and I said, It’s justice, we gotta work on justice, and she said No, we gotta work on the planet. She said, If there’s no planet, what’s the goddamn point? Well, I went and worked in the justice system, in prisons, tried to clean things up a bit. I did good work, but now I think she was right. I’ll die before it’s dead. I’ve got about 15 years, I think. But it’s just getting more and more dead. My generation lives with it all the time–I don’t know about this generation, I don’t know how they see it. I can’t bear to see the trees being cut down. I can’t watch anything about the Amazon. It distresses me.

*

6/23/15

The next day, JL stood at his kitchen counter holding a framed picture of Louise in the same hand as one of her armbands, which he had kept, and asked for her help in thinking about the Amazon rainforest. He had never felt so foolish except in retrospect. Pointlessness, the fear of it, settled on him like a damp blanket. Thinking about it, his mind jeered at him, what good is thinking about it going to do? He felt the edges of the picture frame, the canvas seam of the armband. He turned his mind heavily toward the picture in his mind: a burnt brown stubble, ankle-high, bordering a tall green haze.

JL realized that he didn’t know what the Amazon was made of. Words like “canopy” and “understory” seeped into his thoughts: where did they come from? He did know enough to know that once he separated it into its parts, he would need to reassemble those parts again in order to know it, that a forest lives in relationships, in root-nodes, in flights and deaths. What good will knowing it do? sneered his mind. He blotted it out with green.

A week later, his head stuffed full of dams and farms and villages and cities, watersheds and weather patterns, symbionts and food webs and the sense that what almost overloaded his mind with green and brown and flashes of bright color was the tiniest, most inadequate scrap, JL quit his job. He signed his house over to the Narragansett tribe and cashed in his small 401K for his travels. He folded scratch paper together to make a book with fifteen pages.

In the first year, he stayed with a friend’s cousin and wept daily outside the Nike offices in the Flatiron building, picturing Mato Grosso forest cleared for cattle grazing. A small crowd gathered. The Humans of New York guy took pictures. But JL didn’t know about any of this. He was a statue with tears streaming down.

He used the second and third years to make his way toward the Vale Mining and BNDES offices in Rio de Janeiro. Sometimes people walked with him, and wept with him outside a Whole Foods or a lumberyard, a maquila or a superfarm. He worked on learning Portuguese on trains and buses, when he didn’t fall fast asleep with a skyline of brown stumps etching his inner eyelids. He lost his fifteen-page book back in northern Texas.

In the fourth year, he reached Rio. Someone said (in Portuguese), You’re the crying guy. Have you seen this? and handed him a phone with a cracked screen. As he slowly thumbed downward, puzzling out the sentences about weepers slowly seeping into corporate headquarters in San Francisco, in Houston, in Orlando, standing there eerily, like the walking dead, with ashes on their faces into which their tears carved rivulets, making it nearly impossible for the people who worked there to get anything done.

In the fifth year, while police and national guard forces were occupied with the weepers, Aweti, Kayapo and Wauja people sugared the gas tanks of building equipment, sent disabling lines of code to project computers, accepted donations of all the company food supplies from Belo Monte dam construction workers who were on their side. We turned around and it was gone, the men said, shrugging. No, we really couldn’t say what happened. We didn’t see it, but you know, we can’t work without anything to eat.

In the sixth year, JL was too sick to travel any more. Three families in Belem took turns taking care of him. A line of weepers moved southeastward to Bolivia, carefully picking up their trash as they went and occasionally, burying someone who died of hunger or snakebite or a bullet fired by a cop from a passing armored car. They learned from each other how to move well in the forest. They made lines and rings of human protection around the trees.

In the seventh year, JL died, worn out by hard travel and stress and grief. In China, people who couldn’t themselves go out to the shale gas fields in Sichuan Province to be weepers themselves tended old people and children, kept up farms and gardens, substitute-taught for third-grade classes, even stepped into factory shifts hoping devoutly that the shift bosses wouldn’t notice. Some didn’t; some did, but let it go.

In the eight year, microbes and beetles ate and digested and excreted JL’s coffin and body, and tree seedlings began to sprout undisturbed. Some died off, infected by blights and rusts, or eaten by tapirs and cows running loose after the people raising them had pulled up stakes and either joined the weepers or left the country in disgust. The cows and the tapirs were wary of one another but came to be companionable.

In the ninth year, the BNDES, unable to recoup its investments in Belo Monte and without the help of outside loans, collapsed in on itself. The weepers of Rio wiped their faces clean of ashes and took in many of the bank’s former employees, giving them a chance to let their old lives go. Some made the transition; one or two took their own lives; a few became violent and the young people of Rio drove them out of the city, where most died.

In the tenth, eleventh and twelfth years, small and very patient coalitions of forest families and their city cousins established indigenous settlements and mixed teaching settlements in and around Altamira, Fortaleza and Mujui dos Campos. Some of these thrived, others dissolved; cholera gutted one, one had to move because a spring dried up, one was washed away because it didn’t account for extreme flooding when a drought broke in three successive superstorms; a leading Matipu family lost patience and returned to their home. Babies were born, fevers cured, parasites adjusted to.

In the thirteenth year, weepers in Kuala Lumpur successfully shut down a logging company there, but this news didn’t reach Brazil and Bolivia until the fourteenth year, and spread only slowly, because many phone companies went under after BNDES and its affiliates collapsed, and people relied more and more on highly localized cell networks and runners.

In the fifteenth year, pacu and their food and their predators were thriving in the river, terra preta was forming again in some of the clearings, and in others, seedlings were bristling like hair.