Children, Meaning, Transformations

A few things by me/with me in them and relevant to this project appeared online this week, so I thought I’d share them here.

I wrote about climate and political change, having or not having kids, and record-keeping for the present at Catapult.

Kate Colby and I talked about mattering, meaning, and ecology at Ploughshares.

And Jonah-Sutton Morse talked about stories, transformation, attention and Annihilation at Cabbages and Kings.



Alternate History: 5/12, 5/28, 6/8

[Here’s an explanation of alternate histories.]


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.



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.



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: 5/12/16

Weather: Warm, sunny, breezy, perfect in the shade; gusty at 4; warmer and stiller again toward the end

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 3 walkbys, 1 excellent couple double-take

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6

People known to me, and I to them, from past seasons: 3, one very important (see below)

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2, both voluble, walking together

Number of dogs seen: 3

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $3.35



One of the people I saw that I knew from a past season was the 3rd person who spoke to me on this day. She’s still in her apartment–the place she showed me the key to–and it’s going well, and she still has her cat. She said to me, “I’m finally out of boxes.”

Today went better than yesterday overall–the conversations were better, and I think I inhabited the booth better.

The booth’s complement includes a map of the state of Rhode Island that asks, “Is there a place in RI you’d like to protect?” (Used to say “Is there a place in RI you love?” but I think this works better.) It often doesn’t see a lot of use, but it did today.

There were some more evangelists today, a team of three. They were vocally homophobic and transphobic, and one of them gave me the same spiel to my face as I’d just heard him yell into the microphone, but none of them scared me personally this time.


Some conversations:

[Marks the Woonasquatucket River on the map]

The Woonasquatucket actually comes out of North Providence, then behind Manton and Route 6 it goes underground, and in Roger Williams Park there’s actually a freshwater spring. But it’s too clogged to recycle the water in the park, so it gets backed up. Then it splits off again just below the Providence VA, and the other part is that river you see downtown. And in the park, you know the Temple to Music? That water behind it is where the spring wells up. And then it runs into Pawcatuck. People don’t realize. My grandfather was Narragansett, and we use to walk the old way, all the rivers, up by 146, up where Purgatory Chasm runs into the Blackstone River. We’d go for two months in the summer, and you know what we’d do? If we found a tree down, we wouldn’t cut it, but we’d push it and use it like a canoe–just find something that floats and just get on either side. We used to fish in the river, brook trout and other kinds of fish, but there’s no longer any fish in the river. But I did see some fish in the park area that are maybe indigenous to the park.


My wife’s an RN and she just lost her job. So then you have bills, bills pile up, and that causes anxiety and stress.


I think I’ve found a way to be nimble and present in situations with multiple humans–that’s my role. I had some anxieties earlier this week: Am I listening hard enough? Am I listening to everything, listening to everyone? Sometimes it’s overwhelming in itself. I’ve been thinking about roles in life, roles, places, jobs. We have all these conversations, but we also need to act–it’s a luxury to be in conversation. It’s fulfilling, but it’s frustrating when it doesn’t lead to anything. What is action, how does change manifest?


I’m not that concerned with the environment. I think there’s not enough parks for the kids, we need more city parks, more places to play. In Providence there’s not a lot of people with backyards, so kids play in the street.

Are there places where you’d especially like to see more parks?

The South Side needs a lot more. But there’s no space to put them.

But there are some abandoned buildings and stuff, that maybe they could tear down.

Those are my same thoughts! They could just tear ’em down. But you know why they don’t? You see these abandoned houses, they don’t want to tear ’em down ’cause they want the taxes on it. They don’t have the money to fix it up, they might as well use it for taxes. …Everything [for kids] is far. Chucky Cheese is all the way in Warwick. You could put a swingset right here [indicates Burnside Park]. It’s for the kids that don’t have what normal kids have. And city pools, for kids in the summertime–I don’t have a car, that’s why I ride RIPTA, and when I was young I didn’t have a car, I was poor, I couldn’t bring my kids to the beach all the time. It doesn’t even have to be a pool, just a water thing in the park.


[Marks the South Side of Providence on the map]

Can you say what about the South Side you want to protect?

The people. Protect everyone.


I’m totally anxious about climate change. I usually have to dig a little to find out that what I’m anxious about is the survival of beautiful people and plants and animals. Usually it takes the form of more mundane stuff, like rent. But I particularly have anxiety about beasts and green things and water.

Do you imagine it, that changed world?

It’s really hard to put my mind there but I forced myself to. It’s almost impossible by myself. I kind of have to be with someone else, either it’s a lighthearted space or really trying to do it. I get temporarily hopeful, but it doesn’t–the kind of pall of discouragement rolls back in pretty quickly.

Oh, I get it–you’re talking about a brighter vision, but I was actually wondering if you also imagined a darker version of things.

Oh. Yeah. 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. The opposite of communication and love and ecology.


I take medicine for anxiety and depression. I lost my mother, my father, my brother, and my niece committed suicide. My sister’s got a brain tumor. I just come from the hospital right now. They’re doing surgery tomorrow. She said, Go home. She’s in good spirits, she got her girlfriends there, the pastor’s there. I don’t wanna be in the way … I got a good support system. Last time, I was isolated, that wasn’t good. I didn’t reach out. I got a good support system, I’m in a good place.


I’m worried about the economy in general. People getting jobs, people getting paid for the work that they do. [HER JOB] offered us this horrible health care plan this year, and it’s so bad that the staff agreed to make up the difference out of our own pocket, 12% out of pocket, when there’s no salary increase. Even with the last plan you had people going, “I just didn’t go to the doctor,” and this one’s even worse. … I see so many of our patrons and they have it so much worse, at least I have healthcare.




Alternate Histories: 4/22, 4/29

(If you’re a new visitor to the blog, you can read this explanation of alternate histories.)


Tipping points. Deforestation tipping points. Tipping points of rising seas, tipping points with ice melt.



The next day, C went to the library to return one book of dire predictions and take out another. On her way, she stopped the car by the salt inlet and looked out over the eelgrass and mudflats, the ways the water and soil and roots and dead matter and sand meshed with and ate at one another. She thought about the delicacy of their arrangements, the ways in which they were never still, growing and dying, eating and rotting, silting up and subsiding—the small changes that couldn’t survive a big change. She thought of the inlets swamped and choked by rising water and never coming back. Her mind didn’t even get as far as the wider world. She leaned against the warm hood of her car and sobbed.

C wasn’t afraid of loss or change in human civilization, or human culture. She was afraid of human disappearance; she knew that for that to happen, land, water and air would have to alter so drastically that they’d take hundreds, thousands, of other creatures and relationships with them. She knew that to prevent these alterations, other things would have to alter drastically instead: systems of production and exploitation, the supply chain of her wine and bread and salad greens, people’s imaginations of one another and of other living creatures. She wanted to support the second kind of alterations; hence the books, hence the conversations she tried to navigate, hence some of the small choices she knew didn’t do much but helped her feel connected to efforts of change.

What she feared, what she was crying for by the side of the road, was that no support she could give mattered—not just that she couldn’t do anything to hold off the deadly changes, but that no one could, that even the second kind of alterations would not replace the first. That the future was not a delicate and changing saltmarsh but a static, settling graveyard.

Why work toward changes that don’t matter, that won’t save anything you love, C thought? Why not just wait for the dead water to cover everything?

What is it too late for? To save ourselves. To keep ourselves going forever.

What is it not too late for?

In the weeks and the years that followed, C behaved like a person with an illness that they know will kill them soon, and so did many other people. They didn’t hoard much; rather, they gave things away. They made various kinds of amends, not just to human people, but to trees and insects, birds and waterways. They were kind. They sat down in strange places—in front of tanker trains, on the hoods of police cars, in front of the houses of lawmakers. They drank what was left of the wine, and didn’t ask for any more.

And the trains slowed and stopped, because the drivers didn’t know if they would live to collect their pensions. The cop cars rusted out, because there were so few years of human life left total; who’d risk their own, or take another’s? The lawmakers didn’t bother consolidating their power for their next term; they might not get to have one. They worked to make amends, to heal beyond damage, to nourish the present, while they waited for the dead water to cover everything.

Microbiology for All: 1/12 and 1/19

Cybele Collins is holding two events to introduce us to our tiniest tenants and neighbors.

Two workshops: 1/12/16 and 1/19/16, 7-9PM. Attendance of both or neither, walking in and out are fine

Microorganisms, the oldest and most diverse kinds of life, are visible through their actions. They make life possible but are also responsible for disease and decay. Bacteria, archaea, viruses and protists exist on a scale millions of times smaller than ours, in our bodies as the microbiome and in extreme conditions of heat, salt, pressure and cold. Most are one-celled organisms that share a common language of DNA and biochemistry with our cells. Our microbiome affects our health and mind, while pathogens can penetrate our cells with tiny motors or toxins and are in an arms race with antibiotics. Bacteria are used to ferment alcohol, make food, and to produce drugs and biofuel while the cyanobacteria and algae of the ocean produce most of the oxygen in the atmosphere.

In two sessions, we will see the microbes in their range of forms, habitats and behavior, cultivating our own microbial colonies from soil in a Winogradsky column (from mud, calcium from eggshells and cellulose from newspaper) and the mouth microbiome. We will cover the basics of biochemistry in order to see the world of beings that live in intimacy with molecules, as well as to understand issues with antibiotics and photosynthesis. Drawing as a way to learn is encouraged but experience in science and art are not necessary.

Soil bacteria have a complex relationship with the climate, and warming oceans threaten the oxygen-producing bacteria Cybele mentions in her description. I’m going to the 1/19 one. Learn more and say you’re coming!


Alternate History: 5/13, 4/1


I saw this story about ice shelves in Antarctica–did you see that? That they’re melting much quicker than scientists anticipated, and that we’ve passed the point of no return. This was two days ago, and it was just another reminder that we’re in deep trouble.

What does deep trouble mean here? What do you imagine when you imagine that kind of future?

Nothing good–I don’t even know. Projections I’ve seen of downtown Newport with two-three feet of sea level rise, the flooding in Cranston–if that kind of flooding is going to be more permanent and more frequent. In Cranston, people had to leave their homes.



P got on the number 60 bus early the next morning. In Newport, a higher sea washed around the wharfs and lapped at the damp sand; P looked up the beach, where he thought the water might come to, but wasn’t sure.

The day after that, P, who is a journalist, began researching titles to vacant houses in Cranston. The women working in the title office got to know him fairly well and so did the people researching ways to renovate houses using existing materials instead of newly manufactured ones, without turning everyone’s lungs into gross sponges for lead and dust and solvents.

We’ll help you rebuild your house away from the water, said P’s friends and the nephews of the women working in the title office to the people living at the edge of the seas and rivers, if you let us do it in a way that won’t mess up the ground and water more than they already are. Other than that, it’s up to you: how do you want it to look? How do you want it to feel? Who all needs to live there?

The skeletons of the old houses—the things they couldn’t move—they left, hoping they weren’t too poisonous, hoping that oysters and mussels and rockweeds and barnacles could grow on them—as they do even on the wharf pillars, green with arsenic.

In this story, the people of the city are eager to transform the houses they aren’t using. To renovate means “to make new” but what they’re doing is more like making something old. But they’re not returning, they won’t be returning to their houses; there is no return. There’s no way to stay the same, only a way to make the new house give them something the old house did not.

Mutual Interview: Devi Lockwood and Kate Schapira

This is the first of my interviews with other artists about public/participatory art, climate change, ecology and climate action. Poet, touring cyclist and storyteller Devi Lockwood is on the move, collecting stories of water and climate change. You can read more about her, her process and her travels at One Bike One Year. Devi and I emailed these questions and responses back and forth between Fiji and the U.S.

DL: First question for you: when did you first start becoming anxious about the climate?

KS: Your question has two answers. I started being … provoked, I guess … by the possible effects of climate change (mainly sea level rise) in 2010 or so. But I started feeling real fear and grief and helplessness in the fall and winter of 2013 after reading an article on ocean acidification–so not climate per se, but carbon-caused changes–and ecological decline. And then I started learning more and more about the fragility of ecosystems, and the ability even of smaller rises in temperature, for example, to disrupt them. I don’t know if people were writing and talking more about larger-scale ecosystem effects of a rise in global temp around that time, or if it was just like when you notice something and then you’re switched to noticing it, you see it everywhere.

Do you feel that fear and anxiety are part of what’s moving you to collect stories? What are the other things spurring you, and what do you hope the project will lead to or push for?

DL: I try not to let fear drive me. What’s moving me is a combination of my love of listening and raw curiosity. I just graduated in May with a B.A. in Folklore & Mythology, and so the act of listening, for me, is an act of love. this project is a love letter for me to the world. I’m not a scientist, but I am a listener. I can’t measure change, but I can document it through recording the words that people tell me. I am twenty-two years old and I think that water and climate change are and will continue to be the defining issues of my generation.

I was recently in NYC to record audio stories surrounding the People’s Climate March. 400,000 people flooded the streets to demand more meaningful measures to address climate change. I spoke to activists from Uganda, Mexico, Indiana, Toronto, and beyond. The energy in the march was electric. You know those moments in your life when you feel that you are doing something that is just right, both for yourself at this moment and for the world you are a part of? That’s what’s moving me. It’s hard to put into words, but I’m doing something that feels right for me at this time.

I am intrigued by the complexity of the problem, and also how it intersects along axes of race, gender, and class. I hope that this project will push for greater listening––that it will allow folks who listen to the stories I record an opportunity to get outside of themselves and their experiences and thoughts for a moment and to feel the weight of another’s story on their shoulders, to consider their point of view. Climate change is a global issue, and to address it we need globally-minded folks with open ears and small egos and open hearts. I believe that climate change poses a challenge to humans to reinvent our relationship to our surroundings and also to each other. I want to be a small part of that effort.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a wonderful talk called the “Dangers of a Single Story”. Listening to another’s story is a way of knowing. Listening is an act of love. If there’s one thing we need across lines of race, gender, sexuality, class, and nation right now, it is love. And if not love, at the very least openness and a willingness to listen.

Are you anxious yourself? How does this project help you temper that anxiety?

KS: I am very anxious! As a person, but also about the effects of climate change in particular. But what you’re saying about listening to people’s stories is resonating with me very much, because if I’m listening to a confidence I invited, then I’m concentrated on hearing what that person is saying to me and seeing what they’re showing me. They were real before, but now my acknowledgment of their reality is active and laborious–I recognize them and want them to feel that.

Being able to acknowledge the realities of others, shared and also different needs and desires and fears, seems like the small version–the seed version–of bigger political and practical changes that could help salvage something from the effects of climate change. I think love has power when it is an action, something we do, not something we feel. How can I love, actively, the inlet in Jamestown, RI where I go swimming? How can I love, actively, the guy who started out as a climate trivializer and may still be one, but I’m not sure, because he ended up talking a lot to me about his mother’s tomato plants? How can I love, actively, a tiny frog that only lives in a place where I’ve never been?

When the answer seems out of my power is when the anxiety comes back. But when I’m listening to people and we acknowledge each other as members of a shared world, I feel like I’m answering that question of active love in that moment.

That’s another thing that I think our projects share: their temporality. They’re not totally evanescent (we’re writing things down when people share them with us) but mine, at least at this stage, feels more like a pile of brief and powerful encounters that transform the moment and maybe seep into a longer-term state of mind than it feels like, for example, recruiting people to a sustained commitment to practical action. Can you talk about how you see these stories and your relationship to them and their tellers adding up and shifting over time?

DL: That is a great question. Right now I am enmeshed in editing the hours of audio that I have recorded so far. I’m only adding fades to the beginning and end of the piece, but it is slow going. I am doing my best to be fully present in the experience of listening.

There is a beauty in temporality. That’s what I love about people––we’re always changing. We’re moving. We’re dynamic. We’re unfixable. The me of today is both like and unlike the me of yesterday, the me of a few hours ago. The question of which stories I hear (and those that I don’t) is left mostly up to chance.

I know that I am changed by listening with the whole of my heart. I know that listening connects me to a sense of place in a way that simply looking and taking pictures does not. I have always been an auditory learner. I hope that the recordings I am making will become an audio archive that people can visit and revisit in the years to come. It’s a small trip, a small snapshot of life, but an archive nonetheless.

While recording, I am doing my best to be attentive to not only the content but also the rhythmic structures of the stories I collect. Anna Deavere Smith has this wonderful paragraph in her book “Talk to Me” where she says:

“Character, then, seemed to me to be an improvisation on given rhythms. The more successful you were at improvising on language, the more jazz you have, the more likely you could be found in your language, that is, if you wanted to be found in your language. Some people use language as a mask. And some want to create designed language that appears to reveal them but does not. Yet from time to time we are betrayed by language, if not in the words themselves, in the rhythm with which we deliver our words. Over time, I would learn to listen for those wonderful moments when people spoke a kind of personal music, which left a rhythmic architecture of who they were. I would be much more interested in those rhythmic architectures than in the information they might or might not reveal.”

I’m listening for “rhythmic architectures,” for iambs and trochees and dactyls and spondees. Ultimately, I want the stories I collect from around the world about water and climate change to be in conversation with one another. We can go nowhere without dialogue, and dialogue doesn’t just happen at the level of governments. If we entrust everything in authority, we are toast.

I believe that storytelling (and, perhaps more importantly, listening) are forms of activism.

This is a big question and I’m curious about your response, too: Can you talk about how you see these stories and your relationship to them and their tellers adding up and shifting over time?

KS: Now I want to read that Anna Deavere Smith book, too. The rhythmic architecture of who a person is, and how a person might build themself in speech, or build themself into speech–how listening, then, might make room for someone to do that.

The short answer is, I don’t know right now, and I’m feeling my way towards it. Here are a couple of things that have happened since the project’s beginning, in May:

A bunch of times downtown, I’ve run into people who spoke with me at the booth, and we’ve recognized each other, and asked how each other are.

I’ve collected a bunch of names and email addresses and skills/interests, in both formal and informal ways, of people who seem like they’d be interested in acting together or sharing with each other if they had some sort of plan for that.

Some people have invited me to talk about the booth, up to and including the North Kingstown Rotary Club, a class of Brown students who want to do a similar project around disability and access, and a group of Providence teens who are meeting to talk about the future of the city.

But how to bring all those things together? Climate change feels very near to me, very urgent. Because it’s already happening, because the sooner we make the large-scale decisions that could reduce the damage we’re doing, the better–and I agree with you in that my hopes are slim for people and entities making those large-scale decisions in any kind of protective way, or based on any acknowledgment of the reality of other beings–I sometimes get infected with that feeling of, “It’s really important for me to know what I’m doing with my tiny little project immediately, and do it immediately.” In fact, if this is going to work toward any shift in people’s attitudes toward anyone or anything other than themselves, it’s not going to work that way, and I want to offer people concrete options for action as well, so another part of “moving forward in time” is figuring that out. Part of my commitment to the booth was offering people what they wanted, not just taking what I wanted from them, and one thing that people did say they want was a way to act to protect what they love–sometimes that thing was threatened by climate change, sometimes by other things, like exploitation of their labor, or having no safe place to stay, or their own fears about asking for help.

I have a question that’s maybe a little more pushy. To make this trip, you have to fly a bunch in between biking stints, right? How did you decide on your methods and routes for the trip and weigh the damage of your travel against the benefits of listening and sharing?

It’s hard to ask this question without making it sound like a call for purity of behavior, which I think is not even a good goal, so I hope you won’t think I’m accusing you of not having it! I’ve been grappling with the idea of complicity, what it describes and how we use it, recently. I feel like “involvement” better describes what I see around me. We are involved with each other and with nonhuman systems and human-made systems in many and various ways, some of which are destructive. As people working in what we hope will be an art of connection, how can we navigate those involvements?

DL: I think that talking to people and listening, just listening, is one of the greatest gifts that a human can give. This needs to happen more across borders of nation, and I have set myself the task of doing that kind of work. Yes, the 10.5 hour flight that I took to Nadi, Fiji from LAX was doing nothing good for the climate. I hope that the work that I am doing offsets this ecological toll. Misconceptions about climate change come from a lack of awareness about the impact that these issues have on people: real living, breathing, and specific humans with their own stories to share. I am out to make a platform for these voices, to listen and to share what folks around the world have to share about those issues (and yes, even those who don’t believe that they exist).
I am not asking people to stop taking flights, to change their behavior. I am on a quest to document stories about water and climate change, and this necessitates putting my body in motion. If I had an infinite amount of time to do this project (and if I didn’t have a deep-seated fear of the open ocean) then I would take some kind of seafaring vessel instead. But this project isn’t about being on the water, it is about listening to and talking with as many people as I can. In order to do that kind of work, I have to take a few flights.

Another tough question: what good could come from climate change? We’ve talked about anxiety, but do you see any positives to this kind of shift?

KS: About your “across borders of nations” point: a lot of the conversations I’ve been having lately, about my project and about how to sustain one another, have had to do with methods that are portable, replicable and adaptable. I’ve been talking with Amy Walsh of the Apeiron Institute, and thinking about what I’ve learned from looking at Voices UnBroken’s model of setting up those who learn with them to teach and advocate for each other. Maybe the next phase of my project could become something like this: not just one person (me) listening to the people around me and, with them, talking and thinking about how we’ve been living and how we might live, but also explicitly equipping them to listen to others. That would be a different interaction than the kind I’ve had so far, which hasn’t been demanding in that way, and didn’t require anything of people that they didn’t offer. I would have to give up the openness of the interactions I’ve been having in order to move in a particular, more explicitly sharing / spreading direction. The people speaking with me would probably lose something, or give something up, as well.

With all of that in mind: I don’t see any positives in climate change or its effects as such. I do think that groups of humans will have the potential to respond to it anywhere from horribly to pretty well, and that the “pretty well” could be mutually nourishing and sustaining in ways that are maybe less common / widespread now. I’d like to be part of that if I can, and I want to learn more and think more and work more toward what it might be–how we might arrange and build it, and what we might gain depending on what we’re willing to give up or what we might have to give up, might no longer have access to.

Ecological disruption and its effects are the conditions of our present lives. If we live, we live with that. One thing I think our projects have in common is that we’re asking people to consciously inhabit, to be present in mind, in that reality. For me, and for a lot of the people who spoke with me, that’s hard to do and it feels bad. But the ability to do it is a necessary condition of responding to this reality and to each other, I think.

Is there anything you’d like to leave people with, that you’d like people to keep in mind, about your project that isn’t necessarily explicit in the way you’re doing or describing it?

DL: I think one thing that I didn’t take into account about my project is how it is, in many ways, an endurance event. I have never been involved with one project for so long (one year). It is both freeing and constraining at the same time. Travel can be exhausting. I am constantly adjusting to new people and places and foods and ways of communicating, all the while doing my best to prioritize self-care. I recently got sick for the first time on the trip–it wasn’t anything serious, just a 24-hour flu–but it definitely reminded me that in order to finish this project, I need to stay on top of taking great care of myself. A Buddhist chaplain I met in the cancer ward of the Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco told me that I need to treat my own body as well as I would if I was caring for someone else. I’m doing my best to live by those words, but it’s not easy. When I travel alone, there is no filter between me and the world around me. It is the strength and weakness of this project, I think, all at once.

What about you–is there anything else you’d like to add? I feel like we’re pretty near finished!

KS: I do too! I cosign the recommendation to take care of yourself, which includes the whole bodymind.

For me, the thing I need to constantly keep track of is the ways my project is and isn’t “about” me. Anything that has an element of making to it (the booth itself, the write-ups, the poems) is always about the maker at least a bit; I’m the one who had the idea and did the thing, and I had this particular idea and did this particular thing because of the person I am in the world. But there’s a mental trap where it’s almost like, “You should care about climate change because climate change makes me feel bad,” or like, “This person has a problem I can make a recommendation about. My advice is so good!” or even like, “I am a vile person because I can’t put even the tiniest halt on a centuries-long habit of exploitation and disregard.” All of that is so wholly beside the point–maybe there isn’t a “point”, exactly, but if there is one, it isn’t any of that. If there is one, it has to do with enacting a mutual, constant, flexible acknowledgment of the reality and importance of other beings besides the self–and that’s what this particular self has to keep in mind, and what I hope others will keep in mind too.


River of Words Tributary Workshops: November

Come and write the waters and watersheds of Rhode Island throughout the month of November, in affiliation with the RI Council for the Humanities, the RI Center for the Book, Climate Anxiety Counseling, and the River of Words contest!

Workshop leader: Kate Schapira
Location: Providence Place Mall
Workshop date: Sunday, November 16th, 2-3 pm
Open to the public: yes
Closest water: Providence River
NOTE: This workshop may involve costumes. We’ll see.


Workshop leader: Jennifer Romans
Location: Smith Hill Library, 31 Candace Street, Providence, RI
Workshop date: Thursday, November 20, 4 pm start time
Program: Read and Rap
Open to the public: Yes, to any interested children and teens
Contact: jromans AT provcomlib DOT org with interest and questions
Closest water: Woonasquatucket River, Providence River


Workshop leader: Amy Pickworth
Location: Slater Mill, 67 Roosevelt Ave., Pawtucket, RI
Workshop date: Sunday, November 23
Open to the public: Yes, and appropriate for families
Contact: amypickworth AT gmail DOT com with interest and questions
Closest water: Blackstone River


Workshop leader: Tina Cane
Location: Calcutt Middle School, Central Falls, RI
Workshop date: Tuesday, November 25
Program: Writers-in-the-Schools
Open to the public: no
Closest water: Blackstone River


Workshop leader: Kate Schapira
Location: 186 Carpenter St.
Workshop date: Sunday, November 30th, 12-2pm
Program: Frequency Writers (Open Hours)
Open to the public: yes
Contact: kjschapira AT hotmail DOT com
Closest water: Woonsquatucket River, Providence River


Workshop leader: Darcie Dennigan
Location: 186 Carpenter Street, Providence, RI
Workshop date: Sunday, Nov 30th
Program: Frequency Writers
Open to the public: no, but …
Contact: darciedennigan AT gmail DOT com if you’d like to do the exercises on your own
Closest water: Woonasquatucket River, Providence River


Participants’ work will be eligible for entry into the River of Words contest (if they’re under 18) or a companion publication of adult participants’ work (if they’re 18+).


All workshops are free. If you would like to lead or host one, please get in touch with Kate at the above address. Looking forward to writing the waters with you.