Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 10/3/18

Weather: Cool, gray, then some blue skies but the sun still covered.

Number of people: 2 stoppers, 0 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.35

 

Observations:

I brought cookies today and shared them with the vendors. Rani shared a chicken empanada with me.

A person drove by blasting “Beat It,” which was good.

Nonhuman animal presences: yellowjacket, who landed on my notebook; honeybee, who flew past; seagulls and pigeons overhead; sparrows in the grass; ant crawling on my notebook too; squirrel posing on library steps.

 

Some conversations:

I feel like I’m gonna explode. I’m from Utah, and I keep thinking about how Utah is just on fire and nobody in the Northeast thinks about how the West is on fire. It feels like all the power is concentrated here, away from the impact, and all the impact is in the places that have no power. It’s so scary. Utah has less than one million people in it, but so much land and really really horrible politicians. It’s always sort of freaky to be in this part of the world [the Northeast US]… When I was a kid, we’d have to build our Halloween costumes over snowsuits. Now it doesn’t snow till mid-December.

How do people in Utah talk about it?

Not like it’s a futurity. Like it’s already happening. The tenor of it is apolitical. A lot of people are ranchers and farmers, and they’re noticing what’s going on. We have no water anymore. I think it’s more like people are adjusting to new normals—there’s not really the sense that there’s anything that’s possible to do about it in a substantial enough way, which I kind of think is right, I think that’s probably true.

So they think about it as something more concrete.

More concrete and less changeable. It’s almost a relief to be in it in that way. Like there [was] a fascist rally this Saturday here, and that’s freaky but these’s also a sense of relief. It uncovers things we know are already there. With the climate out West, it’s more alarming and visible and tangible, you can see it for what it really is, it’s not clogged by all this other stuff. There’s so much concrete—I feel disconnected from my body out here. Out West I feel like I have a relationship to the land. It’s fraught in all kinds of ways by whiteness and colonialism, but it’s also a real relationship to place. Here, I forget I have a body. But also, here, I sort of have to work for it and I think there’s something really beautiful and special about that. The Northeast doesn’t offer itself to you very easily. When I moved back to Salt Lake City I felt alienated in a different way because there are these very easy and superficial relationships to place: you can drive for ten minutes and be at the foot of a 12,000-foot peak. You don’t have to work for it in the same way and there’s something special about that spiky exterior.

How do we live with this feeling?

It feels like a disservice to not feel it … The question of scalability feels important. I want to resist individualizing crises, and also, what does it look like to live consistently [with your principles]? I don’t know if you know the book Joyful Militancy, by Carla Bergman, but she writes about prefigurative politics, the effort to build the world that you’re trying to live in in the immediate present.

What are some ways that you do that, or try to do that?

I work with [REDACTED]. That feels concrete and meaningful, helping people get access to BAs. I live in [a collective] house, and we grow a lot of our own food. Living collectively feels really important, practicing reciprocity that’s not one to one. Making bread for people.

What would you like to be doing?

I’d like to dance more. I’d like to find more somatic practices. I’m more able to do the work that I’m doing when I feel in my body … I’m thinking about adrienne maree brown saying, “A flexible body is a strong body.” Fight or flight makes our bodies rigid.

*

What’s the thing you can’t say in a public context but that you can say to me now?

We’re so fucked. We are losing. We are going to lose this.  In the movies, you always know that things are bad when the scientists are saying they’re bad. But scientists are saying that and nobody really cares …Miami is already flooding, California is already burning. You go about your business, you hang out with your friends, people come over for dinner, and then you check the weather report.  I think letting people know in enough time, so that displacement isn’t traumatic … The more sudden it is, the more traumatic it is. If you go to a psychic and they say, “In two years, your whole block’s gonna burn down,” if you believe them, you have time to prepare. But if they say, “Tomorrow your house is gonna burn down,” or if your house is already burning—How can we say this in a way that people might be able to use…?

[Image: a photo of sporangia on the bottom of a displaced fern, seen in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.]

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/31/18

Weather: Warm and bright and pleasant

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10.5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 5

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $3.30

 

Observations:

I sat facing east today, and it did seem like more people were walking westward than eastward. Both food trucks were also parked on the westward side, screening me from view for people who were walking eastward. I had my lowest number of conversations to date at this site in this season. This highly scientific comparison is thus far inconclusive.

Nonhuman animals present and visible: grackles, sparrows, pigeons, starlings. The grackles made a nice sound.

One of the people I spoke with brought up the method of agenda:hacking as a tool for organizers. I don’t know anything about it other than what that link says and haven’t (knowingly) been involved in any meetings that used it, but I thought I’d pass it on. This same speaker, as you’ll see, spoke a lot about their involvement with post-Trump organizing here in our state: I know that you all know I get permission to post what I post here, but I want to make it especially clear that I did get their permission, since they’re talking about their interactions with specific organizations.

I seeded the map with “Great Salt Pond.”

 

Some conversations:

 

 

I get anxious when things are supposed to happen. Like about seeing certain people—my kids, my girlfriend.

Before or during?

Before, sometimes during.

Do you have anything you do about it that you already know works?

Smoke weed. Most of the time it works.

It sounds like you already have a way of dealing with the anxiety, but is your goal to not ever get to the point where you feel it?

Yeah, I’d say that’s the goal. Music helps a lot—playing it and listening to it. I do music, that’s therapy for me.

 

*

 

 

I think one form my anxiety takes is the pervasive feeling that it’s too late in many ways. I’m thinking about the gross scale—individual communities do more or less great jobs trying to address this, but often people who are super passionate about the “environment,” or just the state of the world—how more intersection can be invited, how to network groups of people who are working on different aspects of the same thing. Supporting more mindful agricultural practices used by Black and Indigenous farmers, combining that with permaculture—how do people continue to meet each other? I guess that’s not an anxiety, it’s a curiosity about organizing and how can socializing be a deeper part of organizing?

A related anxiety is: post-Trump-election, how do people become aware of the fact that organizing is ongoing? A lot of people seemed eager to create something new and massive that is reiterative on a lot of issues–[I’m thinking of] the Working Families Party and Resist Hate Rhode Island, who have … a lot of very well-intentioned organizing around issues that could be described as “environmental” issues, but it’s not anti-racist or anti-oppressive, and when you try to get it to be, there’s pushback from white centers of power. Then you get people saying things like, “We don’t have any power, we’re volunteers,” when sitting on a steering committee [for an organization] confers power, at least in decision-making processes! How do people who come from a variety of relationships to work and labor—not just from corporate or even nonprofit structures—how do we learn to make decisions together more collectively?

Is that part of the “too late” feeling? Like, “If we can’t even do this…”

I feel like that sometimes. … I’ve been looking at the history of the ebb and flow of the orientation of separatism. I’ve had elder mentors who were in that space, and I used to not get it, but now I’m like, Damn, do we just need to go over here and do our thing? It’s not insurmountable, but it bogs people down, and it’s confusing because we are all oriented toward the same goal, of making a world that’s not only habitable but better than the one we know now. I’ve been thinking about this question of sustainability—maybe that’s not what we want to do, to sustain, but to refigure or to dismantle some things.

Working in PVD Fest as an artist, I’m noticing what is more or less profitable to talk about as an artist in such a space.  … Cultural influencers in this city could take a lot more stake and stock in what they put their name on—like what just happened at Local 121 with House Party Vibes, these overlapping spaces of parties and social events to [in this case] benefit relief efforts in Puerto Rico. But of course it’s based on what is captivating people’s attention currently, so we see “a crisis” rather than one moment in an ongoing crisis in occupied territory How do we connect dots, how do we show that crisis is not exceptional but sustained? The government has a knack for introducing people to crises as discrete.

After the election, there was this outpouring of empathy, and not like I want to say empathy is a bad thing, but it has to be coupled with intimacy … so that when truth is spoken in a space, you hear it. A lot of people of color who do organizing, or not, a lot of queer people are asking straight people, various generations are asking: how do people just gather their own and then emerge into community and relationship with each other? Difference in identity and experience is a blockage—that’s nothing to be ashamed about. We need people to gather and have the same kinds of rigorous conversations, and do this useful or necessary pulling apart before coming back together.

Do you have any experience with that kind of dismantlement, someplace you’ve seen it work well?

The thing is, I have more examples of the other thing. With Resist Hate, there was harm being done in meat and digital spaces. Specific and explicit harms were named and action asked for—really specific suggestions about how governance could be changed, base-building and decision-making. But the steering committee was unwilling to change their course. Power in these situations is extremely real and completely imagined.  … I’ve seen continually that people don’t know how to organize without engaging shame and punishment. It seems like [Resist Hate RI] couldn’t get away from that model of punishing and shaming each other into action or into modifying behavior, and I think we need less carceral approaches, more de-escalation.

Why do you think that happens?

The issues are too large, too confounding. People want rules instead of thinking about practices, instead of engaging the heart and mind or asking, “What is a way that I can approach with care?” … I think it has to do with agency and modes of control, seeking to control the situation, and to receive affirmation—it can be such a blow to be told, “That’s great, and you should also consider this whole bunch of other things,” or, “We’re just wondering how this approach is going to include racial justice.” It seemed like it was more important to them always that momentum be maintained than correcting course. Slowing down has so many potential impacts, creating the ability to organize, making sure people are seen and acknowledged.

… I feel anxiety too about—my pathway to learning better ways of organizing has a great deal to do with my own personal access, both to types of education but also just—I’ve been talking to my parents about situations that are real in the world, and their response has been like, “Well, we don’t live in New York,” or, “Well, we don’t live that lifestyle.” Like, “The way we live is so utterly different from the way you do it that we just don’t have any frame of reference.”… One of the people I’ve been really influenced by recently is adrienne maree brown–I’ve been loving her challenge to reconsider things that are deeply entrenched in my mind or entrenched culturally. How in whatever situation do you apply the ways that you think about it, the set of practices that you think about? There’s something rich in this set of values because it’s so literally about adaptation. I want to approach all things with so much more inquiry. A lot of my practice is rooted in teaching: you learn about something, then you want other people to know about it and experience it, so you try to deliver that experience, and that’s not maybe as successful as inquiry and invitation.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: Climate change makes me anxious. The denial of climate change in everyday practice, feeling abstracted from the land. I think the immediate consequences of it, we’re insulated from by infrastructure. I try to push myself to think about it but most of the time I kind of push it out of my head. I think about it, but I don’t feel much about it.

Why do you think that is?

It’s too big. The feelings available are, like, despair, which feels like a bad reaction, or hope, which doesn’t feel like it has much efficacy. I don’t feel like I have a third way that makes sense, or makes common sense. So in everyday life, my coping mechanism is refusing those two options, and that doesn’t do much.

Do you talk about it with other people?

Yeah. That tends to be more like, “This is exciting,” like how they’re making artificial reefs out of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Person 2: They do that with old subway cars, too. They’ve been doing that for a while now.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Armory Park Farmers’ Market, 7/27/17

Weather: Gray, warm, damp, then straight-down rain thinning and thickening throughout the shift

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby

Pages of notes: 7

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Photos taken without permission: 1

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

Dogs seen: 13

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.50

 

Observations:

It’s insulting of me to be at this particular market, a busy one where a lot of people attending speak Spanish more than English, without an interpreter. I apologize for this and will reach out to someone for my next stint here, in late August.

I asked a couple of good questions– “What do you already know about yourself that could help you?” and “What do you already know about the situation that could help you?”–that I want to make sure to use again.

One of the dogs I pet also lay down on my foot, which is a nice place for a dog to be.

One person who spoke to me mentioned current and upcoming attempts to clearcut Rhode Island forests to build solar farms. I think this is something that I need to talk about here, but I need to learn more about it first.

 

 

Some conversations:

I had a meeting today that was set up for me, but the other participants hadn’t been notified. I started crying at work. It’s a new job. I have a problem with crying at work, not ’cause I’m wimpy, it’s just the tears—I find it very difficult, especially in situations of authority.

What do you know about yourself that could help you prepare for these situations, like if something like this comes up again? How could your self-knowledge help you?

I get frustrated and I can’t blindly follow someone I know is doing the wrong thing. I get very angry, I get very upset when I’m not taken seriously.

Okay, and what do you know about the way this office works that could help you kind of prepare for these situations?

I don’t work in offices very often. I’m a chef, and I’ve mostly worked in kitchens, and you’re right, I don’t react like this in kitchens. They try to make you do dishes if you’re a woman, and they’re always ready for a fight. I have techniques to get past that moment without making me cry. You can’t let anything stop you. In an office it seems like all anyone wants to do is correct other people’s behavior, impact other people’s behavior. I’ve avoided working in situations where I have someone who’s my boss. I really bristle at people trying to take authority. I live a righteous life, there are certain things I do not do, and people think I think I’m better than other people, but I just don’t give a shit about what other people thing. I don’t think I’m better than other people. I think I’m pretty broken.

*

Living in a toxic relationship [and having] a child. Believing that it’s my reality. I never thought that would happen.

*

I feel like I’m getting used to the idea that the world is falling apart. I’m less reactive, I’m more complacent. I was wanting to talk about it more and be more active in different ways, to do stuff with organizations and change my behavior to be more conscientious about it. But more and more I’m just feeling like we’re fucked. I don’t have a lot of hope. It feels like numbness, like complacency. … I want more to take care of myself and take care of my community in whatever capacity I can—I’m drawn more to local efforts, hyperlocal, I’m less and less wanting to look at the news. I open it up and I’m just like, “No.” I’m seeking out tangible things—it’s too overwhelming to tackle the coral reef and the melting of the ice sheets. My ecosystem that I can impact is a hyperlocal one.

I think there’s a burnout. It’s difficult because in order to get things done, you need a good dynamic, you need to be able to put ego and personality aside—which is ironic because that’s why we’re in this mess to begin with! Even when there’s really good intentions, there’s a lack of accountability—people need to be pulling their weight [and] caring about the relationships, and the thing you’re not doing might add stress to [someone else’s] life. Even though it can be seen as kind of frou-frou, I think those things like team-building, spending time, can be really—Do senators have any relationship with each other? I feel like in the center is a huge ego. So many of us get distracted by ego …

It does spiral me downward. Some of my friends, and my sister, are thinking of having kids, but they don’t want to raise a child in this world because it’s going to be painful. After the [2016 US presidential] election, I would see a pregnant belly or a newborn baby in this grayness, this cloud that was cast over us all, this new life in such a somber setting. And I’d think about the shit hitting the fan for this fresh life who’s totally naïve to everything. It’s kind of mindblowing to me. One friend spent years saying she wants a kid, and it’s like, “What, are they gonna die of dehydration? Malnutrition?”

We don’t know even for our generation what it’s gonna be like, and I don’t think I’m being dramatic, I think I’m being extremely realistic. We’re looking at a pretty steep decline once we hit a certain point. The ecosystem, whatever it is that’s holding us together, is gonna crumble. My sister was visiting and one morning we woke up, we’re making eggs and toast, having a nice morning, and I’m like, “I wonder how many more mornings like this we’re gonna get to have.” Especially if you’re privileged in certain ways—are things gonna blow up in our face? How much longer are we as humans gonna have access to all these things?

… We have to say something, we have to think something. I used to climb a lot, and I’d see trees growing on the side of cliffs and be like, “How are you even doing this?” Like they’re saying, “You can’t tame me. This is where I’m meant to be.” How do we embrace it?

*

My worry today is that there’s been a lot on the news about [Secretary of the Interior] Ryan Zinke reducing the borders of national parks and monuments. You keep hearing and seeing things and it’s like, “Oh, almost forgot about that.” We don’t have enough untouched and wild land to begin with. I was just out in Colorado and Utah and I spent some time in national parks there, and it’s alarming that anyone thinks there’s too much of it, or they just see it as potnetial for more human exploitation.

What do you feel when you read those articles?

First I feel despair: what can I do, just me? It feels pointless to even react. It’s a full-time job just to react to everything. I have been writing to senators and congresspeople who are representing my interests– “Thanks for standing up to the administration”–and that makes me feel like I did a little something. My sister is in Colorado, my cousin is in Pennsylvania—I wish I was closer to people in red states.

*

I’ve been anxious lately not about the natural world but the built environment. If you look at downtown Newport, there are these structures from the 1600s that are gonna be underwater. They’ve been there such a long time—it’s such a stark thing. If you look at the sea level rise maps, the whole historic district in Newport—when you think about sea level rise along the coast, the beach, it’s not as tangible, but when you see 300 buildings that have been there for 400 years—that’s where I feel it. …

The natural environment is resilient in a way that the built environment isn’t. In the pre-settler time, hurricanes came through, and there was a certain level of impact—but now all the systems we depend on, pipes, utilities, raw sewage, buildings are facing utter destruction. My family has gone to Block Island since I was a kid, and I haven’t seen the maps that combine coastal erosion and sea level rise with additional wave action and storms. This has the power to erase our past—things that have survived for so long as permanent things in our history.

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

Weather: Sunny and hot with gusts of wind

Number of people: 4 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5.5

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 3

Dogs pet: 0, even the one that was right next to me!

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.16

 

Observations:

It was nice to see vendors I knew from last year.

The sun was so hot that I put up my umbrella, and then the wind was so fierce that I took it down. Repeat. Other vendors were very sweetly concerned for my well-being, and the market manager shared some raspberries with me.

I took a break 3:10-3:30 to call someone I have promised to call every day, and a break around 5 to get money from a nearby ATM to buy vegetables with.

Food was a major theme in my conversations as well as in what I did. Another theme: the power and the limits of personal habits / “lifestyle changes.”

 

Some conversations:

 

[These two knew each other; Person 2 came up a few minutes after Person 1]

I was watching What the Health on Netflix, and the number one vision, the thing I can’t get out of my head, was these floating dead fish on the edge of the shoreline. How the ocean’s environmentally been affected by our poor living habits. … I could close my eyes right now and see those floating dead fish on the edge—it’s real. All my life I’ve been a meat eater, but I haven’t eaten any meat since [last] Wednesday.

Have you talked about this movie with anybody?

Yeah, I’ve been going back to my staff members and colleagues–[Person 2, a colleague, came up]. I’m talking about that movie What the Health.

Person 2: Oh my God, I saw that! It freaked me out. I was already like, I’m gonna stay aaway from red meat, but at least I can eat chicken, and now I’m like, what the hell do I eat? What’s in the foods we eat? I don’t know as much as I need to.

Person 1: The other thing is, Providence has one of the largest lead contamination problems in the country. … [A MUTUAL ACQUAINTANCE] tested the lead in the ground in Dexter Park and there’s lead there, lead where the kids play. Probably not more than you have in your backyard, but–

*

I’m from New York, but the suburbs. Living in Providence, it’s kinda anxiety—being away from my family.

What do you do when you feel that anxiety or that frustration?

I just play some music. Or I cry a lot. I talk to my family on the phone, or texting. It feels good but not the same as face-to-face contact.

Is there anything good about being here?

Independence, and being away from everyday life back home. Getting to make my own decisions and mistakes without like, “What are you doing,” instead of getting in trouble. I’m not gonna be stupid about certain things. They would have screamed at me about it. I can deal with me screaming at myself, because it was my decision.

… Global warming is real, by the way, I believe in it. I think [people] don’t want to come to terms with the way life is and reality. If you’re not anxious about something, you’re not really living your life—are you just sitting at home and watching TV and not feeling anything? You’re not like, “Oh, I’m sad about this but I’m gonna make it better.”

For a lot of people who talk to me, the thing they have trouble with about global warming is they don’t know how to make it better .

You gotta get in the community and help, try to see what you can do for others. Speakers in schools, encouraging young people to do the right thing—I enjoyed that in school. That educated me more than my teachers. I wanna hear it from the expert: “I saved a million animals,” or whatever.

*

There are a lot of things I do that aren’t the most eco-conscious, because I have no other option. As much as I want to help put my part in, I don’t think the individual actions matter very much. I don’t have as much power in changing anything.

What do you think would have that kind of power?

Changing the social norms of how we interact with the world? I don’t know. To be more friendly to the Earth. I’m tring to fight this ingrained lifestyle and worldview that I’ve been brought up to live in. And being from an immigrant family means I’m struggling with that too—I’ve tried to get my mom to use reusable water bottles, but it’s just so normal to her to use plastic water bottles, so there’s that too. How do I respect her background? There’s a lot of—maybe not solutions but progressive things that people are doing but it’s hard to access it. So I guess more access? More education?

I guess another question is, if we’re not trying to stop it or slow it down, what are the things that we’re trying to do?

I guess talk about it? Have a discussion? I keep going to this question, “Is that enough?” But if you’re not looking for a solution, it could be. Anything that you can’t really change, you can at least be with people and process it. If all the humans just die, we release all the gases and destroy the planet anyway.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/21/17

Weather: Muggy, breezy, clouds and sun, humidity lifting as it got sunnier

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Pages of notes: 6.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous years: 4

Number of dogs seen: 4

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.80

 

Observations:

While I had a few conversations today, for a few different reasons I only ended up getting permission to post one, which is below.

I responded very disproportionately to someone today. I’ll reflect on it at greater length later, but what I’m taking from it at the moment is that the more responses I have prepared, the less likely I am to be a reactive dickhead whose mental habits lead me to use my power badly.

Beginning of shift, cop car parked at the Dorrance St. end of Kennedy Plaza. 3:03, bike cop ran through the park carrying a sandwich. 3:17, three cops in uniform walked through the park. 4:34, cop SUV drove down Washington St.

I saw 20+ skateboards today, some people riding them, some people carrying them.

Speaking of overcoming mental habits: C., if you’re reading this, I think my suggestions to you were okay and I stand by them, but I forgot another thing you could do and that we can all do: start learning about efforts and methods to abolish the police.

 

A conversation:

Probably I have five years to live. And I know my life doesn’t mean that much in the span of the Earth’s existence, but I just feel bad for all the families who are having children now. I totally get it, but it’s kind of selfish to have kids. I really wanna travel, but I don’t have enough money, because I live in this capitalist society where I have to make money to sustain a dying life. … Even if I started living eco-friendly in my regular life, it wouldn’t matter because the permafrost is just gonna come and kill everyone. I’ve grown so nihilistic. Human beings are just a cancer on the Earth. I just want to smoke as many cigarettes as possible and then die slowly and horribly, I’m sure Mother Earth will really enjoy that. I just put it really dramatically because … I coud be like, Oh, we’re all gonna do just fine, but no one’s gonna do just fine. I picked five [years] because I don’t know a ton of scientific evidence so I picked a low expectational number. I set my bar low so I can try to force myself to do the things I want.

… The way I was raised was super hedonistic, just monstrously gaining things. I live with my parents, and when I’m just living in my home it’s like, Enjoy this polished exterior that life has to offer—I’m really privileged but I live with people who [couldn’t] give less of a shit about the Earth. … But I’m not gonna run into my parents’ living room screaming, “We all have to kill ourselves. Hey, mom, wanna go out and get some cigarettes and smoke until we die?”

I love my family, they’re great, I wanna protect them. …Imagine trying to love someone to your fullest ability in the shortest amount of time. You can do it by communicating, expressing your love, and you can even do it by silence, but the people I’m dealing with don’t know silence. I just don’t want to have to do it. I don’t want to have to do it all now. I can do it, but I realize how much love I was gonna have to give when I was older—and I hate it that I’m not gonna get to do that—