Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Sowing Place, 9/1/18

Weather: sticky heat underlying coolness, then hot bright sun

Number of people: 3 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.00

Observations:

I asked two of the teenage market helpers to write on the map. They wrote “Cranston” on top of “Smithfield” very neatly in the top corner. Later, they were doing gymnastics and one walked a few “steps” on her hands.

I had a long talk with one of the other vendors about adjunct teaching and dealing with her elderly father’s care. We know each other a little now, so I was familiar with both situations and able to ask about them. When does something cross over from counseling and into just knowing each other, though not well?

During a conversation that I didn’t get permission to post, I think I argued too much/got too defensive.

Spotted: big carpenter bees flying together; big brown dragonfly; ladybug hitting my wrist, falling on my thigh, flying away; cabbage white butterfly; two flies landing on my money jar. There were also tons of wasps and yellowjackets, and lots of humans reacting to them: “I got stung by my first bee like two weeks ago so I’m just not agreeing with anything that’s happening right now.”

The DJ played Aretha Franklin all through the second half of the market.

A conversation:

When politicians don’t accept the fact of climate change. Politics tries to interject itself into science. Evidence and theory directly affects policy. Science as an institution is being ignored recently. And also for children growing up, if science is dismissed as a discipline, if it’s something you can ignore—children in their nascent years should be growing up based on evidence [sic], as opposed to political influence in voting and decision-making.

That’s a hard topic. I have a degree in psychology, so when I saw your sign—I have an interest in counseling.

Do you see a psychological connection?

 Maybe on an individual level. It mostly deals with the individual. Maybe a child in school, if you’re studying the effects of climate change—under the present administration, if you’re getting an engineering degree, or something in the sciences, then your funding might be affected by a political body. If money is taken away, that particular person might be affected, or that might affect their decision-making process, but I doubt that it would create any high level of anxiety or discomfort.

Advertisements

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

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

Number of people: 7 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

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

 

Observations:

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

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

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

 

Some conversations:

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

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

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

*

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

Do you have an opinion about it yourself?

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

*

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

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

No, I don’t.

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

Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

[These two came up together.]

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

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

map 7-7-18

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

Climate Anxiety Counseling with the Manton Avenue Project, 6/29/18

The students and teachers of the Manton Avenue Project did me the honor and kindness of inviting me to do a guest workshop with them. As part of that, I did this model climate anxiety counseling session with one of their teachers, and some students asked her questions too.

They’re writing plays about climate change and “saving the world” this summer: you should go see them, on August 2nd and 3rd at 7pm at 95 Empire Street, and on August 4th at 6pm at the Waterfire Arts Center, both in Providence.

*

I look at weather patterns and I start feeling like, sad to the point of angry, because I feel like we’ve known [about climate change] for a long time, but there’s a large population of people that keeps insisting it’s not real, just because they want to keep driving cars and making money the way they’ve always done. I can’t believe we’re so shortsighted, with no sense of [how it will affect] the next generations. Our policies aren’t generous—it’s the policymakers. They have access to experts. They have control over how much information goes out, especially with social media. They should know better, but they’re on the side of a small population of very wealthy people who are probably not grounded in a lot of fact…

Do you talk with other people about this?

Yeah, but all we do is just voice our worries. I talk about it and then I try to get quiet. I try to think: how much space do I personally take up in the world? Even if I’m just one person, how can I pull back on fossil fuels, not live a live full of disposable things? I can write to companies and be like, “I love your product because it uses recycled material,” or whatever. When I talk to people, we’re complaining, but nothing gets done.

What would you like to see happen?

I’d love it if someone could tell me it was going to be okay, like, “Don’t worry.”  … It would be nice to be able to talk out plans and to be encouraged by actions we’re taking so that we can do more.

Can we go back for a second to what you’re feeling?

Sure. Especially about things I can’t exclusively control, I start feeling very alone. … It affects my energy to do things, my energy or willingness to try. I’m an anxious person anyway. When it gets really depressing, like a thing in the news makes me feel sad, I try to be what sometimes people call present. Petting my dog helps me do that—she doesn’t care, she doesn’t have an opinion other than, “Uh, it’s hot.” All they want to do is be with you …

I’m okay for the moment, I’m alright. I’m comfortable, I have clothes, I have food, I have a community of friends, and I realize that I can talk to them.

A student: How are you feeling right now?

I’m enjoying—it’s nice that it’s a nice day. Also the fact that it became summer. It was chilly earlier. I’m always feeling a complicated mix of feelings about that, but the smell of the air and the vitamin D make me feel good.

A student: What do you do to help with anxiety?

I try to look at the things that I feel I’ve been trying to do. After Christmas, for the New Year, I tried to get plastic bags out of my life, see how much I could use paper bags. I have cloth bags I keep in the car. I got compostable waste bags for the dog. So, what have I done [that is helpful]?

A student: What’s the connection between plastic bags and climate change?

It all gets bundled up to how our relationship to the world is. Plastic doesn’t break down when it goes in the garbage. And petroleum products, mining petroleum, those are unsustainable resources, just like the gas we put in our car, the fuel we use to heat our homes.

Me: What’s your takeaway from this conversation?

Taking it and keeping track of some sort of progress will encourage me to keep on with it or to explore different practices.

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: Sankofa World Market, 7/26/17

Weather: Hot (but not crushingly so) and bright, with a small breeze

Number of people: 10 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7.5

Pictures taken with permission: 1

People who recognized me, and I them, from a previous session: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.20

 

Observations:

I think I’ve figured out a good sunbrella configuration.

More people overall were shopping at the market today than during the previous weeks I’ve been there.

They mowed the library lawn and the clover, which was alive with honeybees last week, is gone. I saw one wasp butting against a dried flowerhead.

I still need to be better about switching from listening/questioning mode to talking/advice mode—I did it too soon twice today.

At one point, a giant bus with a graffiti painting on the side including “Powered by Youth, Run on Veggie Oil” pulled up and about 15 kids and a few adults got out. A couple of them did come over to talk with me, and many more clustered around to listen to one of the ones who was talking.

In the last conversation, I was out of my depth.

 

Some conversations:

I’ve been thinking about you! I saw you what, two years ago? My life has changed. My brother moved out, so now upstairs is my mom, my boyfriend and me, and downstairs is my sister and her kids, and it’s so much better, because we all have enough space. Now whenever I meet someone who’s going through it, the first question I ask is, “Do you have enough space?” I was ready to push my brother down the stairs and be like, “And don’t come back.”

*

My long beans are not growing this year. I’ve noticed this summer has not been as hot, but there’s extreme hot, like the last few days, and drastic cold. Last year there were so many veggies, but this year things aren’t growing.

*

 

 

I live by the bay and [the stretch where I live] is entirely controlled by Johnson and Wales. We can only go in the summertime. And the JWU students are destroying it, they eat there and then just dump everything on the ground. The blunt wrappers, I’ve seen so many blunt wrappers–When I first moved in, I saw our other neighbors picking up trash, and that’s how I started picking up trash. And now we can only go in during the summer. During the [year] we cannot get in there—and there’s an actual walkway, a state-run greenway … But the students are ruining that place.

*

A lot of the climate stuff I think about is more around food. I totally feel like I hear this all the time, talking to farmers, thinking about the resiliency of—things that people have done for years, start times for things, things that used to be indicators are now out the window. We haven’t gotten to the point where frost dates have shifted, but moisture, temperature, that’s where we’re seeing it, especially people who’ve been doing it for a while. It’s not even “a good season”, it’s just there’s no predictability. … Clearly there are always fluctuations in weather, but when it gets warm and a tree is starting to bud and then it freezes—a late frost will just wipe out the buds.

How do you see farmers reacting to this, are they just like, “We’re going to try to pull out of this in five years,” or are they like, “We’re going to try to figure out how this works…”

I don’t see that community being like, “Throw in the towel.” What’s hard is it affects—you try to look for patterns, but patterns are harder to see now. And for example, if there’s a warm winter, then pest pressure next year is much higher because they didn’t get killed off. How do you adapt to this? There are a good number of plants that can adapt to relative extremes, but they’re still gonna show signs of stress. I guess there’s the human comparison: yeah, we can tolerate it, but there’s these stresses, and at some point you’re gonna start to see shifts. There’s already been some talk of [growing] zones shifting, and then also we could see invasive [species] that [currently] can’t survive in New England—The plant profile will change. There’ll be stressors, and then at some point certain things won’t bounce back or won’t be able to survive in this microclimate. That, to me, is always the interesting one—you can say it’s “natural evolution,” but what’s hard is, it is not exactly a natural transition. It’s much more of a shock transition.

*

Oh, I’m anxious about everything today really. I just have to stop paying so much attention to the news. Today I’m anxious about transgender rights in the military. I heard an interview with this woman, she’d been in for 18 years, she was a staff sergeant. That’s her whole career. It’s tragic on a personal level but also for morale, for the people in the military who feel that they themselves could be the next target. It could be any group, anything. My dad was a military officer, a decorated pilot in the Second World War, so I grew up in that whole atmosphere. But you can’t let it ruin your day. There isn’t much I can do about it.*

… [My dog] Lucy has end-stage heart disease, and her medicine is so expensive. It’s been the best year of my life, having this incredible animal. I had to go all the way to Massachusetts today for her medicine—touring the countryside for dog medication.

*Doctor’s note: I wrote out a version of the list in this thread for her.

*

Education and school. They give us too much work, there’s too much pressure. They want us to get all As.

Why do they say they want that? I mean, why do they say that’s important?

They say, “Oh, if you don’t do this you gonna be like the people on Broad Street.”

They say that?

They don’t say that, but that’s what it sounds like. “Oh, you’re not gonna be anything, you’re never gonna succeed. Oh, you’re not gonna go nowhere in life.” It’s not me, they say it to other people. But they don’t know what’s going on in their daily lives.

*

My parents dying. Growing up, me and my parents don’t get along, and now I’m starting to get along with them, and I start thinking about how they’re not gonna be here. How when I need someone to talk to, they won’t be there. I have anxiety and I have depression, and I get panic attacks. Once in a while I try to commit suicide.

Do you know what brings the panic attacks on?

It just comes. I freeze and I just start crying, then I randomly just start laughing, like a crazy person. Then after it passes, I take deep breaths and listen to some music and just stay there, just frozen. And just thinking.

Do you see a counselor?

I went to the Providence Center, but they had no interpreter. I like to talk in both Spanish and English. I went to the guidance counselor at school, and they took me to the vice-principal and he said he would try to get me a therapist for the fall.

That’s great. Is this something you would tell your parents about or do you want to keep it private?

I keep it private. I only have two or three friends who try to keep me calm … I call my friend, and he breathes with me and talks with me. What I like about him is that he listens and he tries to help the best way he can. Not a lot of people would do that, they would talk about it. He keeps it to his self.

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.

Alternate History: Refusal 4

The next day, the students came into the well-appointed classroom, with its big windows and its new desks and its variously computerized boards and screens, and I sat there and said nothing.

I refused to teach them and my colleagues refused to teach them and the people who worked in the offices refused to explain anything to them or process their paperwork or even help them withdraw, and the custodians refused to empty the garbage cans and the groundskeepers refused to shovel the snow, and the people who ordinarily cooked for them refused to cook for them and turned the delivery trucks away, or unloaded them and then gave the food directly to their own and their neighbors’ families.

I lost my job and I went home, frightened, sick to my stomach, with less to lose–less status, less money, less safety–and free to do more, or do differently. They all did, we all did.

(There’s another version of this story where I was the only one to refuse, but I like this version better.)

*

I actually feel like teaching is one of the areas where I can be useful, but I could be wrong about that. The founders of the institution that employs me made some of their money by buying and selling human beings (which they have acknowledged) and they built it on land stolen from the Narragansett Tribe (which, as far as I know, the institution has not acknowledged).

The proposed “track straightening” of the Amtrak Northeast Corridor would pass through Narragansett tribal land and sacred sites, and members of the tribe have voiced their opposition to it. (It would also damage or destroy forests and wetlands, both of which can help Rhode Island weather climate change.) You can see the environmental impact statement here, and via email you can tell Amtrak/NEC Future not to build this track: info AT necfuture DOT com. They are supposedly taking comments until January 31st.

You can also call the office of Senator Jack Reed, who is in favor of building the new track, at (401) 943-3100, and tell him why you’re opposed to building it. I’ll post some words later today that you can use, if you want.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 9/1/16

Weather: Coolish, muggy. Rained earlier so everything was soggy. Sun came out and stayed out, mostly, around 4:15.

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 9 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0! I think one guy was messing with me, but not in a mean way

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Dogs seen: 21

Dogs pet: 2

Ferrets seen: 1, on a leash

Ferrets pet: No

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $6.35

 

Observations:

Maybe this is a good time to remind readers that A) I don’t call out to people from the booth–they choose to come up to me or not; 2) people can talk to me about whatever’s pressing most on their mind, even if it’s not climate-change-related; D) I try not to argue with people at the booth, though I may try to get them to see something from an angle they haven’t previously considered.

This market was extremely rich in both kids and dogs. There’s a playground in the park, and the fields of the park itself; lots of playing, running around, shrieking, and so on. One kid stood rapt as a human threw a frisbee for a dog and the dog caught it in the air.

I heard enough people speaking Spanish to each other that I think the next time I’m in this spot, on 10/6, I’m going to try to line up an English <–> Spanish translator.

An unusual number of people, including lots of kids, marked a map of the state with a place in Rhode Island they love and would like to protect. Some places they marked on the map: the coast (x2), the park (for riding her bike), the zoo, Block Island, CityFarm, Dimeo Farm and farmland in Johnston, Burger King, Brockton (Massachusetts, where her family and friends live), salt ponds, farmland in Portsmouth and Newport, his house. A kid with an orange slushie circled the whole state.

 

Some conversations

Kid 1: Are you a doctor?

No, not really, but I talk to people about their worries.

Kid 2: Can we talk to you?

Yeah, you can talk to me. 

Kid 2: [Throws me an extremely suspicious look, leaves]

*

[These two came up together; the first speaker is the second speaker’s son.]

Person 1: I’m waiting for a kidney transplant. I’ve been waiting for two years and eight months. My friend’s finishing up with the testing and it looks like it could be good.

Person 2: We’re hoping that he’s gonna be a good recipient and that she–that it’s gonna go well for both of them.

That is a transplant they do a lot.

Person 1: Yeah, you don’t realize it until you’re in the situation. Everyone at the party has had it … I have dialysis Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I’m grateful for the help that I’ve gotten, I’m happy to have Obamacare, I don’t care what anyone says. My medicine would be $2000–it would be $44, 000 a month for dialysis.

*

I worry about my children. They don’t do anything bad, it’s just concern. Like in school, are they okay, are they gonna be okay in the future in school, are they gonna be okay if they go to college, how will they deal with it? One goes to [NAME OF HIGH SCHOOL], one goes to middle school. I wonder if they put pressure on themselves. The one in high school, she’s gonna take three advanced classes, she’s just gonna be a junior–is that a lot of pressure? She says she likes the challenge … If they don’t get what they want are they gonna be disappointed in themselves, are they gonna be something wrong? She’s a cancer survivor when she’s four, now she’s sixteen and she says, “I want to be a doctor, a children’s cancer doctor,” and you don’t wanna say, “It’s kinda hard,” but … How do you approach that? Once they become adult, they don’t talk to you. She brings me her report card, in calculus I think she got a C, she said, “Oh, you gonna yell at me? You can yell at me, I’m already mad at myself.” I’m not gonna yell at her!

I teach college and I’m also an advisor for students, and a lot of students, especially if they’re the first generation in their family to go to college, they worry about making their parents proud, about giving back to their parents.

But that’s not what we want. We want them-we know how it is to survive, we don’t really care what we are. For us, we start with nothing, we want them to do good, not for us, not to help us, it’s more for themselves. We just want them to have their own easy life.

*

Black people being shot by angry white people, ’cause nowadays everybody seems to be shooting Black people. Education and job security for my children. Saving Black babies here in Rhode Island–maternal and infant health. I run a cloth diaper service, I’m trying to help the environment.

*

Smaller Sister: I’m scared of something.

What are you scared of? 

Smaller Sister: I’m scared of poisons, poisonous spiders.

Slightly Larger Sister: I’m scared that somebody poison my food and make me eat it.

[A few minutes later, Smaller Sister comes back with Smallest Sister]

Smaller Sister: She’s scared of dogs.

Little dogs or big dogs?

Smallest Sister: Big dogs.

*

The word, “Anthropocene.”* The idea that an entire stage in the planet’s existence could be defined by human destruction. I read this headline, “Scientists define the Anthropocene,” and that really made me anxious … When I was a kid I had this Reader’s Digest atlas, with all sorts of information in the back, and there was a list of geological epochs, and I always think of the Holocene as being the geological epoch in which I live. And that we’ve changed things so fundamentally that we can never go back to living in the Holocene–

How does that cause you to approach the world, how you perceive things?

Even if we get to the state where we’ve reduced emissions so that temperatures are back to what they were during the Holocene, we won’t be able to go back. We’ll have changed so much. I still have that optimism–it’s just who I am, the belief that millions of people will change their minds, that something will bring it home to people. But it’s so definite–one era ends and the other begins. It implies a tipping point. I suppose that’s why they use it.

*Doctor’s note: I hate this word too, but for different reasons, which I might outline here or somewhere.

*

I wanna be an adult and buy property, but I’m worried if I go too far south it’s gonna be dry, and I don’t wanna move too far north. I don’t wanna buy property along the coast. Should I think more about farming my own sustenance?

It sounds like you’re worried that you might not be able to have the life you imagined.

Yeah. The old models that my parents used to plan their future don’t apply anymore.

 

 

 

 

Alternate Histories: 7/1, 7/13

7/1/15

The government misspending money we pay toward taxes is huge. I have five kids, four in college, and I think people should be paying me, pretty much, because they’ve taken a good path. It shouldn’t be that colleges are costing so much. They’re like, “Too bad, you have to come up with the difference.” There should be a little help for people like me. For the longest time I was a single parent. My kids are not shooting houses up, my daughters aren’t prostitutes or drug addicts … But not just my kids, all kids. Us helping the youth is helping our future. It’s not the old people, all the old people who are in office now, they’re gonna be dead. It’s the kids. Who are they gonna be tomorrow? Education, educating our own, but then we can’t pay for it why? ‘Cause we’re spending our money on war? We send all this money to other countries, but how many kids go hungry here? How many people are homeless here? We should help ourselves first, and it starts with educating our children. Who are these people going to be if we don’t educate them now? I keep telling my kids, don’t worry, it’ll be okay, I’ll pay for it even if I have to panhandle or pole dance–I’m not really gonna do that. It should be easier, not harder.

*

7/13/15

Let’s break it down together, you and I (Y said the next day), let’s have a family meeting.

Are we family? Jalyndria at the bank said.

That’s what your sign says, Y said, pointing at the sign in the window, bright sun outside backlighting a model’s smile, like bad stained glass.

Mmm, said Jalyndria at the bank. So what can I do for you today?

Y said, I want my kids to go to college so they can get good jobs so they can earn money so they can survive without doing scary, ugly shit.

Mmmhmm, said Jalyndria at the bank. And maybe you want some acknowledgment that what you did so far was work. To get them to this point.

Yeah, said Y, surprised. Yes I do.

And you came here instead of the State House because–

–Because this is where the money is, Y said.

Jalyndria at the bank laughed. Okay, but lemme call someone from there, because this is their problem too.

So let me ask you this, Y, said David from the State House when he got to the bank, unrolling his pant leg and wiping his forehead. If your kids didn’t need to earn money to be safe, would they still want to go to college?

Probably, said Y, but I don’t know, but isn’t that like if they didn’t need air to breathe?

That’s true and not true, David from the State House said, and we want to make it less true.

The following year, Rhode Island began phasing in the basic living stipend in reverse order of current income*. For the two years until they were eligible, Y and her children studied and worked and ate and texted and cried and argued more or less as they had before. Y and her older daughter received their first checks in the third year, with room in Y’s check for her younger daughter too, and Y’s two sons received theirs in the fourth year.

Five years later, Y’s youngest signed on for her own basic income and semi-disappeared. Y thought she might be in one of the groups of wild kids who called themselves families and took over disused structures, painting them and planting them with vines. Were they having parties in there? Doing drugs? Performing rituals? Rumors abounded. Y’s older daughter, her girlfriend, and her girlfriend’s baby’s father, who were all living with Y at that point, tried to reassure her: She’ll be okay, Y, she’s smart, she got her shit together. You raised her well, Mama. Here, Stinky, go to your abuela, tell her your tía’s gonna be okay. The baby gurgled and stuck out her tongue.

Look, seriously, Mama (Y’s older daughter said, when they were alone setting tomato seedlings in the old bathtub), I know you’re worried she’s doing things you think are bad. But I don’t think she’ll do anything that’s bad for her. That’s the difference it makes.

If I could tell her that, Y said, hating herself a little, would she come back?

I don’t know, Mama. Family is still strange.

Seven years later, when all the money for the basic living stipend came from renewable energy because there were no more carbon and methane emissions to tax; twelve years after that, when Riverside finally became uninhabitable; a year following, when the grandbaby received her first check, she heard about her tía who had disappeared. Because she knew that no one and nothing really disappears, the year after that, she went to look for her.

*Doctor’s note: these are instances/explanations, NOT watertight plans.

Alternate Histories: 7/1, 7/8

7/1/15

Pollution in the ocean, and then fish eat it and then we eat the fish.

What kind of pollution?

Plastics, because they’re so small it’s hard to collect them, and that worries me. Wildlife in general. You read about whales or something washing up on shore and they choked on plastic, choked on fishing nets.

(Friend: And the turtle thing.)

Yeah, the turtle thing! It’s very unnecessary. As a nation, or in the world–we’re so advanced that we’re so ignorant. We’ve forgotten the basic rules of life.

Do you give people a hard time when they throw trash around?

Yeah, and my daughter does too. She’s always holding people accountable. She’s five! and she’s like, Mommy, how come that person just littered? Her dad isn’t like that so she’s always holding her dad accountable when she’s with him.

*

7/8/15

Because we live in the same world, everything finds its way to us.

Neither Z nor R, her mom, nor JR, her dad, have ever seen a sea turtle in real life–its real life or theirs. The next day, JR used his break at work to look up Mystic Aquarium–they released a healed sea turtle in 2014 and didn’t have any turtle guests at present–and Mass Audubon’s turtle rescue.

Assist a sea turtle and you give aid and comfort to a jellyfish eater, a long-range traveler, a potential elder, an animal that can live without a human story. This caught Z’s imagination. “They shouldn’t need us, but they do need us, mommy,” she said. She drew pictures for her friends. She got them into the spirit of it.

That winter, R’s and JR’s bosses gladly gave them the week off from work when they explained their plans. They bundled Z into so many layers that the outermost coat was a grownup’s parka with the sleeves rolled up, and braided her hair to fit under a tight wool hat. Because they were first-time turtle rescuers, they took the day shift, walking until they were too cold to think. While they walked, they filled their backpacks with washed-up garbage, and R and JR tried not to fight.

All week they didn’t see a single turtle. “Are you disappointed, baby?” R asked Z on their last day.

Z squinted into the bitter wind. “No,” she said finally. “Well, kinda. But no, because that means they’re not in trouble, they didn’t need us this time. That’s good, right?”

Or it means there aren’t any more, R thought but didn’t say. How can we be sure? Intimacy takes time, it takes so much time. We would need to watch for years, through seasons. We would need to go out on boats, and maybe that would stress the turtles out, or cut them up, or scare their food. How can we know enough to know how anything is supposed to live? What can we learn about the possible power of our hands in the water?

As the ocean got closer and closer, Z and her classmates learned more and more about it. They spent day after day alongside it and, when they could, in it, using their phones to monitor changes, weeping and praying together the week of the big bird kill, dragging a landfill’s worth of trash inland to dry out its stink in the sun before figuring out what to do with it. They drew national attention.

The rise of the water all along the east coast was so sharp that year, the storm damage so severe, that even Florida set zero-emissions goals and then, the following year, moved them up, and then, two years later, met them ahead of schedule. Hundreds of sea-turtle hatching sites there had already been washed away.

We know a little about what happens far away from us, and think we know a lot. Intimacy takes time, but if we don’t have time, we may be able to make do with concentration. We may learn to know what we are seeing; we may learn to know without seeing.

Doctor’s note: This climate anxiety is from a conversation at the Sankofa World Market. I’ll be there again today, 3-6:30 pm. Please come and talk with me.