I believe in the forest floor: Fauna Obscura at 7pm TONIGHT

My friends Janaya Kizzie, Rachel Hughes, Mike Duffy and I are making a night forest with you, at 7pm TONIGHT (8/3), at 40 Sonoma Court.

We crave home, safety, sanctuary, but at times one finds the way home is obscured. For the wanderers and the weary, a sacred space awaits on the forest floor. Through light, projections, wood, and textiles, a forest shrine emerges.

Enter the forest. You may wander, or seek a guide, who will be holding a lantern. They’ll show you the seeds of stories in the leaf litter. You can choose one to take with you. If the firelit tent is empty, you can go inside and speak the story seed aloud. If there is someone in the firelit tent already, or if you don’t want to speak aloud, stand outside the tent and listen.

When you hear the crows or owls calling, a story is about to begin.

Everyone is part of this play. Make room for the people around you in the forest. Pay attention to how they are moving. If you want, you can move too.

Why is this on the Climate Anxiety Counseling blog, you ask?

It’s part of this effort to co-germinate fables for the time we find ourselves in.

It’s part of the small practices of improvising, collaborating and taking risks that I’m trying to embrace in order to be more responsive to the world as it is and as it’s coming to be.

It’s a reminder that the forest floor has lessons for us about how to live and die together, to meet fear, to be small in darkness together. That life and death are going on around us all the time. That lives that don’t do damage, and deaths that aren’t unjust, are possible, even though they may seem far from us. That we can walk in the forest together.

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 6/27/18

Weather: Hazy, windy, heavy; later cooler and grayer

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby

Pages of notes: 10.5

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.05

 

Observations:

I was in a different spot today, closer to Elmwood Avenue and next to the food. Unclear whether it was helpful in getting people’s attention, but I felt more visible. Thanks to Julius and Greg and everybody else for lending me the shopping cart to hold up the map in the wind.

I had company for the first hour, a former student of mine who’s interested in “learning the business.”

Someone mowed the lawn since last time and the clover is dull and dry. I saw one wasp, and an interlocutor spotted (as it were) one ladybug.

People continue to sort of…blur together…“climate” and “environment.” I can sort of see why that’s happening but I haven’t figured out how to reset it or if that’s my job.

I made some efforts to connect interlocutors with opportunities to work in concert with their neighbors today. Don’t know if they’ll come to anything.

 

Some conversations:

We can’t stop it—no, we can maintain it now that they wrecked it. It’s like that Billy Joel song. … We need to educate—I don’t think a lot of people know, we have to educate them. And people have to stop listening to this news, that news, and start listening to the earth. Feel the grass—why is this part mushy, why is this part dry? Get to know it! When I visited Thailand, everyone actually talked about the earth. There was recycling on every corner. Every foreign place I went to. We’re the last ones, do you know how sad that is?

… Knowledge is power. Research things yourself, and compare. Nobody does research anymore. Don’t just be like, “Google, what is…” Go out and do it yourself. You cannot change earth, you can’t fix it—no, you can fix it. Look at the ozone, it came down. It may not be quick. No, you can’t fix earth, but you can heal it.

*

Mostly stuff that I try not to think about. I took an environmental science class in 10th grade, and somehow I got the idea that all these policies seemed really clear. Like scrubbers in factories—if that’s implemented, that can fix everything. Then I went into college and literally a few weeks into college, I took this anthropology course, and what I took away from it is that everything is much more complicated. And that applies to climate as well: there’s not one thing that could happen that would change everything. It’s nature, and people are interacting with it in crazy wonky ways—for their own comfort, with gas and air conditioning and stuff, and then also trying to survive and have people here way beyond the time that we’re here. It’s hard to ask people to change their ways. Even just doing a fundraiser. You’re asking people to give up their comforts and a certain worldview, and I just don’t see that that’s gonna happen.

Okay, so, how do you feel when you think about that?

It really, really terrifies me. …It’s kind of discouraging to think that if all of us changed our everyday ways, there are also bigger things that are preventing action in terms of climate change. That’s not to say that I’m just going to give up, but…

What are some of the bigger things?

They’re almost nebulous to me. Things that happen in the seedy underworld of whatever we eat at the grocery store—the sense that there’s something bad out there but I don’t know what I can do about it, or if there’s anything I can do about it. It’s hard to see how being against something collectively can do anything—I wish there could be an alternative solution.

Have you looked? 

I’ve just been in this nebulous state of everything is really complicated and I’m scared.

Do you have a sense of what the qualities of an alternative solution would be, like what would it have in it?

Working against climate change or whatever we’re putting out into the world. Something to collectively change the mindset of people to think beyond themselves…All our actions seem so contradictory. People will go to their environmental science class, then they’ll stay in someone’s room till late and then say, “Let’s go to Wendy’s.” I’ve become kind of discouraged in a way—I’ll say, “No, I’m not going,” but now I’m in this weird space where I’m just sad. … It seems like whatever policy is implemented is harmful to somebody.

Okay, well, if that’s the case, who do we want to suffer?

I just don’t like the idea of suffering at all. I’m not really in-your-face to anybody. I’ve been in these communities where people have no idea. It almost seems unfair to be like, “Fuck you, you can take this.” They can’t fathom how much harm they might be causing.

Well, you changed your thinking about it. How did you do that?

Without an academic setting, I guess it was family and friends caring about stuff. And personal connections are important for me and everything, but people are too afraid to talk about politics at the dinner table . Especially if they’re older than you—in Korean you even use a different tense to talk to people who are older than you, and even though I consider myself Korean-American, that part of it stays alive in me. … As someone who doesn’t want to be confrontational, this is a hard thing to be passionate about.

*

I just got a text saying that Anthony Kennedy is retiring. For another generation, we’re gonna have conservative justices. There’s already the abortion thing–and then also, climate change. My dad lives right on the water and I worry about him in hurricane season. He has good windows and everything—I saw another house down the street that looked close to falling down. He’s 82. I was gonna volunteer somewhere—I was looking at Dorcas, I’ve done library ESL classes, and then on the East Side I was looking at The Providence Village, for elderly people who want to stay in their homes. I want to volunteer, but I also need to make some money. I live near [the market] but I don’t feel connected to people around here.

*

I know it’s gonna happen and I know it’s gonna hit the poor the worst, the first. We have enough people to respond in these crises. My hope is that fear isn’t gonna come down—from the state, from the military—before we create the organic structures that’ll help us through. We’re the power. We’ve been convinced by these others, by the state primarily, that it’s the opposite. This is where change is gonna come from. But when the power structure gets challenged it always rears its ugly head. When the “wonderful” structures that globalization and militarization have given us fall apart, I hope we have enough of a running start to help others so they don’t get picked off.

Where do you see examples of this kind of running start?

[Points at the Southside Community Land Trust tables] Growing in our yards! The integration of white activist culture with the [strengths] of different populations here in the West Broadway and West Elmwood neighborhoods. I don’t think it would be very hard to transplant that* to the Cape Verdean Association, have them disseminate it to all their population. I think in these types of cultural pockets, people have working community where a lot of white neighborhoods don’t. Everybody has more capacity because you know who has strengths and who has needs.

*I wasn’t totally clear on what the “that” was here and neglected to follow up.

*

War. I’m so scared to go to war. I’m thinking about our country going to war, about these kids out here going to war with each other—they send a bullet through my store—the smallest war to the biggest war.

*

Year over year, I think my own pending mortality becomes closer. My anxiety about the environment is replaced by my own fears about the afterlife. The way I have to give it all up. It’s a cruel joke. Mother Nature allows us to be parasites and enjoy it all, but at the end you gotta give.

Has thinking about this changed the way you try to live your life?

I try to be present. Take a cue from the animals that live long, the turtles—they stay pretty cool. Try to slow time through meditation. Just be. I enjoy the rain a little more, getting caught in the rain. Of all the souls that are out there, you got to be a person for a little under a hundred years. Eat good, drink good, live good—and you still gotta make room for all the other ones. Did you see Annihilation?

Yeah, I did. I really love the book.

We rub off on the things around us and those things rub off on us. You remember, out of the four of them, one wanted to kill it, one was scared of it, and there was the one that just wanted to be a part of it. Like cancer, the beauty of things that grow. You see a beautiful yellow flower and you like it, but then if there’s a beautiful yellow flower growing inside of us—it was meant to grow. It’s just our perspective.

… That’s why these rich guys get into politics—they’ve made all their money, and they’re like, “I’m still gonna die.” … People are scared, they try to get control. People that aren’t scared, they’re comfortable with their situation—they’ve seen things happen enough times that they know things are gonna be okay. But scared people need to feel some control. These garages I rent out for storage, I’m in the storage business, and it’s all about people not being able to recognize their mistakes. Rather than recognize it and get rid of it, they keep it—everything they put in storage is an attempt for them to push off recognition for their mistake. “Oh, I never needed it, I just bought it for the feeling,” but they pay for storage until they reach that.

…[When you change your life], it’s different because you don’t know that the next thing is gonna be the right thing. With what you’re doing now, you lose a little bit, but if you change you could lose a lot.

 

*

 

What do we do about it? Once the climate is like polluted, it’s like the water—when they polluted the water, like the oil where all the birds died. But it takes a lot of people to do that work for the climate. It takes more than one person. … People don’t care about that and then they wonder why everything’s so dirty. A lot of people gotta get involved.

[After making a circuit of the vendors and coming back] They don’t have that much at the market today. Last year they had a better selection.

I’ve been hearing people say it’s a bad season.

That’s the climate, that’s global warming. The strawberries are not growing right…a lot of things.

map 6-27-18

On the map of worries, people have written:

Fair Housing

air pollution

Equal Rights

clean water

THE POOREST AMONG US

Bird sanctuary

My family’s house in a future flood zone

A Good Time to Support the Providence Community Safety Act

Today is an excellent day to write to your city council urging community oversight of police conduct, and to research and support any initiatives in your city whose goal is to reduce police violence.

In Providence, we have such an initiative: the Providence Community Safety Act. Below the asterisk is the letter I wrote to my councilperson today urging him to support it; please feel free to borrow this text and adapt it as needed to write to yours.

If you aren’t in Providence, but are in the U.S., you can still use this letter to support a local initiative or act; if your city doesn’t have one, consider urging your councilperson to sponsor one.

For Providence residents, here is a list of councilpeople by ward, with email addresses; here is a map of the wards, so if you don’t know yours you can look for your street. This is a way to let your city government know that black lives matter to you, their constituent, who votes them in or out of office.

*

Dear [Councilmember]:

This week, two police officers in Baton Rouge, LA and Minneapolis, MN shot and killed two black men who had committed no crime. This is an important moment to insist on accountability and oversight for police in American cities: without it, Providence could be the next city in the news for police violence.

As a resident of your ward, I urge you once again to support community oversight of the Providence Police Department via the Providence Community Safety Act. Police officers doing their job fairly and responsibly will not be constrained by it, and it has the potential to prevent the pointless, tragic, wrongful injury and death of Providence residents–including your constituents–such as we have seen in other cities.

Please do your best for our community by supporting the Providence Community Safety Act.

Sincerely,

[Your name and address]

 

Alternate History: 5/12, 5/28, 6/8

[Here’s an explanation of alternate histories.]

5/12/16

Heat, dryness, really sick people, kind of barren landscapes. A lot of–as I’m listing things off it looks a little bit like what’s happening right now, in terms of economic and cultural devastation. A lot more complete separation of folks with resources and folks without resources, a lot more violence and globalization from below–people joining forces, people finding commonness where they couldn’t before because they thought they were in competition.

That part sounds–not exactly hopeful, but like something that you would like to see.

Yeah, that is.

So what’s the fear part?

Starvation?…but when you go to identify it, it’s different than what you think. I like to think of the world as an ecological system. Basically the fear is that turned on its head and nothing being able to sustain anything else. I don’t even know how to file that, where to put that.

*

5/28/16

I’ve been down here 10 years working with the homeless. Last year they had a sign that said there was no smoking in the park, so then of course people came and smoked out here, but now people are smoking in the park again. … I’d like to see people down here motivated to clean up the park.

What do you think might motivate people?

I think people need to take ownership of it.

But what makes you take ownership of something? Like, do you own your house, what makes you feel like the owner of your house?

I think you have to tap into what people can do instead of what they can’t do.

*

6/8/16

The story of competition is only one story.

D hangs laundry in his backyard, bees rocking and rummaging in the rhododendron pollen. He has a backyard, at the moment, that he can say “his” about. If he’s honest, it belongs also to the bees, to the rhododendron, to the grass; to the native trees that the rhododendron and grass replaced, to the Native people that his ancestors displaced, to the slaves that cleared the land of trees the first time; to the bugs that thread through the grass and the worms and grubs that tunnel through the dirt; to the microfauna in their guts and the fungal hyphae laced around them. All those whose speech is in their operation. The living and the dead. There’s enough backyard for all of them, if he does it right.

Until now, the other meaning of ownership has trumped this shared meaning in his mind: the getting of what you pay for, the holding of what you have. The recognition that he is always taking part takes him apart.

He does a few things. He and his neighbors on the one side work together on a pass-through through his yard between theirs and the street, breaking up the concrete of his driveway into pavingstones with moss between them, leaving half the fence to slow down noise and building the rest of its boards into a trellis. When he waters the plants or digs in compost, he treats it like an offering; when he poisons the carpenter ants that are gnawing down his house, he holds a funeral for them. When his neighbor on the other side comes out running from his other neighbor, her girlfriend, he sits with her on the porch and helps her make a plan about what to do next. Later he says to the girlfriend, “If you want to hit her, come talk to me instead. Whatever it takes for you to not hit her. Don’t do it again.”

“Or what?”

“What do you mean, or what? Don’t do it.”

The girlfriends break up and move away, taking advantage of the northward convoys. D doesn’t know what they do, what happens to them. Other people move in, turn the house next door into what turns out to be one of the first free clinics and build out a giant trellis to let the ivy and grapevine make it a superstructure of shade, stabilize its temperature in the increasingly sharp spells of dry heat and downpour. D chats with the people waiting to pick up their doses of hormones and makes tea for the people dying of cancer to wash down their painkillers–iced tea would probably be better, but he needs to repair the connection between the refrigerator and the solar cell. If the next storm doesn’t rip this house away, if food poisoning or accident doesn’t nab him on one of his work trips out into the countryside, he’ll probably die here, too. He belongs here, and so do the plants that scaffold or strangle each other, the tiny animal deaths that feed into insect and fungal life, the remnants of the dead, the visiting birds (ever fewer), the relations among all of these.

Many years later, on that same spot, circle of people sit in a dry and ragged landscape, a stretch of dust punctuated by tree stumps and a few ragged foundations, in whose shelter the weeds grow and they can sleep. They are tired and dying, looking for the end of the wasteland. They pass an old thermos around. Each of them takes about half a sip. In the morning three of them are dead. The others form a circle, pass an old thermos around, each taking about half a sip. Then they keep walking, the slightly stronger ones bolstering the slightly weaker.

It doesn’t have to last forever, whatever it is, for you to be tender to it, for you to share with it; you won’t last forever, either.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/26/16

Weather: Hot and muggy at the beginning, cooler at the end. Small breeze. Faced east again for shade. This was a short shift, 3-5.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: Maybe 0.5? Very mild.

Pages of notes: 5

People known to me, and I to them, from previous sessions: 1

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Number of dogs seen: 2

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.47

 

Observations:

There’s a face people make to protect themselves from me. I can’t describe it, but if you come visit me at the booth (I’ll be there today through Monday, 3-6pm), I’ll try to do it for you.

Lots of people said hi to me today without stopping, just being friendly; a few were people I’d seen yesterday.

Themes of the day: veganism and the movie Cowspiracy  which, I’m glad it was pivotal for you, but that is a terrible title. I have never seen it.

Two bike cops rode through at 4:30.

The person I screwed up the conversation with also stopped by. She had a great hat on, and she asked me what kind of data I was getting. I told her about the first conversation below, and it developed that she’s a math teacher. I’m so grateful to her for stopping and talking with me.

 

Some conversations:

[These two came up together, and are pretty clearly friends]

Person 1: I don’t like the hot. I get hot and aggravated and sticky and I wanna jump in the ocean.

Person 2: But the ocean’s mad cold!

Person 1: I want it to be cold!

Person 2: But you’re gonna tan!

Person 1: How I’m gonna tan under the water?

[There was a transition here that I didn’t note.]

Person 1: They say the water’s getting higher, the ice in Antarctica is melting.

Person 2: The penguins and the polar bears are all gonna die.

Is that something that bothers you a lot, or does it seem far away?

Person 2: No, it’s gonna happen mad soon! We’re not gonna be able to tell our kids about polar bears ’cause they’re gonna be extinct … The birds, they’re all dying. There’s mad crows, crows are everywhere.

Where did you guys learn about these things?

Person 1: My old science teacher. She was talking about winters getting warmer, summers getting hotter, snow when there shouldn’t be snow, or not enough snow so there’s a drought.

Do you talk to other people about it?

Person 1: I would talk to my science teacher.

Is she good to talk to about stuff like that?

Person 1: About anything.

Person 2 [laughing]: All the animals are dying!

Can I ask you, I’m not trying to be rude, but I notice that you’re laughing when you say all these things. Can you say why you’re laughing?

Person 2: It’s like a nervous laugh. Like, it’s gonna happen.

Do you imagine it? Do you picture it?

Person 1: It kinda resembles the apocalypse. It’s like this movie, The Book of Eli … he has to go through the desert and eat rats, through all these ghost towns.

Person 2: Because they’re gonna break out in war. It’s like this [gestures around] but it’s all gray, all the buildings broken, all the statues broken.

It sounds like you guys like watching movies like this. How come?

Person 2: It’s showing you what life’s gonna be later.

Person 1: And there’s usually a character trying to save life, save their family.

 

*

Basically animal agriculture is what I’m most concerned about. It’s kind of destroying the planet. It’s not sustainable at all. This is a new discovery for me: I watched this film Cowspiracy … It’s definitely a personal journey for me. I’ve used social media to put the message out there that we need to be concerned about what we’re doing on this planet. How could I have been so ignorant to this beforehand? We’re just part of a bigger system, and it’s hard to detach from that and see how things really are. There has to be a personal want and desire to take care of the planet.

When you make these changes, or try to encourage other people to make these changes, do you feel better?

Yeah … Even if your voice is not as strong, you still need to speak up.

Can you think about how you might help other people make some of these changes, how you might make that path smoother for people?

When I was going through this change, I had a lot of support from–not my family and friends, they think I’m crazy, but from people on YouTube, on the internet, a community of reassurance and support. Something to that effect is what I’d like to do for other people.

It sounds like you had almost a conversion experience, and I’m wondering if it’s possible for people to change what they’re doing without that conversion.

Well, they’re working on various technologies, like for scrubbing carbon from the atmosphere. They’re looking for ways to solve problems through engineering, but with engineering they’ll cost billions of dollars, and it wouldn’t cost [nearly as much] to change the way we eat.

*

People dying every other day.

Are these people who are dying close to you, are they people you love?

Cousins, people younger than me or a little older. They’re dying more regular now. They say, live a sober life, be sober and deal with this, but it’s not something that we as children are warned about. They tell you, Oh, you gotta go to college, you gotta get a good job, but they don’t tell you this.

*

I definitely am [anxious]. I’ve been vegan for 8 moths because of that. I worked on a dairy farm in New Zealand, and then I saw this film Cowspiracy and I found out that dairy farming is basically the worst thing we can do. Cows are so inefficient. New Zealand used to be 90% forest, now it’s almost all dairy farms. I’ve only been back for a week … If we don’t change, we’re fucked.

Can you say more about what “fucked” looks like here?

By 2050 we’re gonna have 9 billion people. They’re gonna have to eat the food we’ve been feeding the cows. It’s not sustainable.

But what do you imagine though?

Wars, climate wars. They’re saying 2 degrees Celsius, but around the equator it’s gonna be [much worse]. Places like Canada and Russia are gonna be full of rich people ’cause they’re colder. There’s gonna be a mass exodus from the equator–the war in Syria is pretty much directly caused by climate change, but they don’t say that on the news because it doesn’t feel good. We’re totally fucked unless we change, and we’re not gonna change.

Alternate Histories: 5/5, 6/13, 9/21

5/5/15

I’m always mad at people who are happy when it’s warm in winter … In person I’ll be like, “Oh, I’m a winter girl,” or “I like having seasons, I’m from New England.” On Facebook it’s good and bad, because I’m far away and I can’t see their faces, and I get angrier, but I work myself into a frenzy and either I end up writing nothing, or I write something really angry and then I try to edit it so I can actually convince somebody, and then it ends up being too weak so I don’t write anything. Especially with my family, who are on the other side of the political spectrum … They’ll use something you said when you were six against you in a conversation about climate change. It gets so emotional so quickly. Then I want to say things like, “My son!”

Like, “Don’t you want your grandchild to have a future?”

*

6/13/15

Mom: Warming in general. Typical stuff that you hear all the time. We’re connected together, so once one thing gets out of sync, the whole thing falls apart. I live in Pennsylvania, and this past winter was so cold, and a lot of people in the neighborhood suffered–they lost plants or trees. Nobody has any time to do anything. I just keep on going. But–I know how it sounds to say this, but I have faith in the next generation coming up.

Daughter: They say you’ve already screwed it for us.

Mom: Anything they tell me to do, I would do.

Daughter: We learn the limitations of humanity. In Rochester, the winter there every year is like this winter tenfold. I live up here, and this winter, we had federal emergency aid, we ran out of sand twice–if something actually catastrophic happens, we’re hosed. We’re not ready. We’re comfortable.

*

9/21/15

Talking together, B and H and K begin to do something unthinkable: they begin to change the quality of their expectations, the way they expect. It’s hard. It’s like prying up pavement: it wrecks what you had, and it hurts your whole body, and you don’t know what’s underneath. It could be useless. It could be terrible. You could die anyway.

But they are coming to understand that they will die anyway, and the parents among them, B and K, are beginning to know–know isn’t the right word, it’s like a miniature black hole in their flesh–that their children will die. That they can’t protect their children and their children can’t protect them in the way that they thought. That the spring may not come in the way that they thought, that the fall might not cool, that the heat might not fade, that the snow might not melt. And this is what they begin to say to the people they know.

Not surprisingly, the person with cancer writes back I fucking know that, and the person who police flung to the ground only two nights ago writes what do you think I think about?  But the world is changing itself and us, shifting its distribution of matter and its ways of mattering. Here, it manifests as parties, short pilgrimages, where you go outside in the season and listen to its insects and eat whatever it offers and tell it you are willing to hear its new name.  There, it shows up as a wall that doubles as a gravestone, acknowledging on the outside people who’ve already died of heat or flood or famine while on the inside sheltering, for now, people who may not die today.

The person with cancer receives their care for free, and dies quietly without much pain; there is no time to hoard, no reason to withhold. The person who traced a tattoo around the maps of their bruises knows it will be the last mark the police leave on them, because there are no more police: that’s not a good use of resources. The night watch prowls and sings, walking off their anger from the time before. Fear is a companion, the jumpy, sad companion for whom there is no permanent soothing, no lasting comfort. The world really is dangerous and life really is brief. The world really is rich, complex, fragrant, and life really is full. Whether B buries her daughter or H buries her mother (or burns her, eats her, gives her to the scavengers) their sorrow will be full, and it will be real, and they will live in it.