Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/9/18, PVDFest

Weather: Hot and bright, then hazy

Number of people: 14 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who got the Peanuts reference: 3

Pictures taken with permission: 2

Dogs seen: 28

Dogs pet: 1 (this is obviously a bad ratio)

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $7.05

 

Observations:

This booth session took place during PVDFest, and most of the events in the park were events for kids. This meant that the music that made it hard to hear people talking with me was also incredibly irritating to adult ears. There was a ton of foot traffic, including many apparent out-of-towners, and I think the festival situation with many attractions meant that conversations were shorter than they otherwise might have been.

I saw a cop walk by at 1:05 but I’m sure there were many more around, even more than usual.

A bunch of people were out collecting signatures for candidates, and one of them said to me, “I’m feeling hopeful. Keep up the good work.”

A sweat bee and a tiny ant both visited my hand.

 

Some conversations:

India Point Park—at a corner of the park, we’re losing that to the water, and it doesn’t seem like anyone’s doing anything. I’ve been watching it over 24 months getting worse and worse. I would be surprised if [the city] doesn’t know about it, because it’s very obvious. Two-three years ago, I saw a pile of papers—books, looseleafs—fell in front of the [bus] tunnel and nobody cleaned it up. It took two-three months for the weather to work it out. Nobody does anything about that. All these events make me believe that the city needs to have better leadership, because it doesn’t cost a lot of money to do something about an obvious problem. But I’m a guilty person—I have not tried to do anything about that.

What would you do, if you did do something?

Maybe I would call the Parks Department, or the City Manager. But it’s crazy for them to need me to contact them. Also, because I was here as a new person, so I didn’t have that attitude I’ve been here for four-five years, and my attitude in the first years was I was an outsider, it’s not my problem. But now that I am no longer a tourist—if I were still a tourist, I wouldn’t even have stopped to talk to you.

*

I live down in Narragansett, and I’ve been trying to figure out some good groups that are more local. There’s the Surfriders, but I don’t surf. There’s also the Unitarian [Universalist] church in Peacedale—I did a march down with them in Wakefield against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I’d like to see a ban on plastic bags in Narragansett. There’s a lot of other stuff going on. I know—excuses, excuses.

*

Water. Water purity and cleanliness … I’m looking at offshore drilling, and also local swamp infrastructure. I’m from New Jersey, so there’s a lot of inland development—it’s not what some people are focusing on.

What do you feel when you think about these things?

Equal parts frustration and despair. Everyone recognizes it as a problem, but I don’t think there’s enough of a will. It doesn’t affect a large enough part of the community, and the people it does affect are relatively poor, people of color, on the outskirts. You get lip service from whoever’s running for Congress, but when you’re not in power, what are the things you can do? I’m not in a place where I even know who to talk to.

 

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I’m very concerned about climate change and I just love this. As Darth Vader I live in space, but as [THEIR CIVILIAN IDENTITY] I’m very concerned. When people ask me how Providence is, I say, “It’s falling into the ocean.”

Why do you say that? I mean, why is that the thing you say? Or what reaction are you hoping for?

Well, people ask you something, and then you disrupt their pattern of consciousness.

What about your consciousness? Of the falling into the ocean thing?

My everyday experience is influenced by that understanding.

Person 2: I have a lot of fear about what the future’s going to bring. A fear of what politicians are gonna do. A lot of deforestation.

Person 1: They’re saying the Syrian Civil War was due to instability caused by crop failures. So, also, resource scarcity in areas that don’t have them.

Does that feel close to you, though, or far from you?

Person 2: It fees more far. Because it’s physically remote, not immediately visible.

Person 1: But sometimes it is, and people ignore it. Like after [Superstorm] Sandy, in New York, everybody was like, “We need to do this and that,” but the city didn’t change anything that it was doing.

Person 2: I don’t think as much about stuff that’s further away. But like, Miami Beach is flooding, Cape Cod’s gonna be underwater. It’s not on my brain for a long period of time but I suppose it’s in the back of my mind.

*

I’m one of these Luddites who don’t believe in global warming. I think the planet’s been around for millions of years and we have such a tiny snapshot of what’s what.

*

Natural disasters coming all at once. I don’t have anxiety over it because I can’t control it and I don’t worry about things I can’t control … I’m an importer, I import from China. I used to be only made in the USA but you can’t do that anymore. I have to make a living.

*

Person 1: Right now? The impact of returns on online shipping, the financial and the climate impact. It’s poignant for me because I’m finishing my basement, I live in Chattanooga, and I bought an air conditioner online, and it was the wrong size. And they’re so heavy, you can’t even ship them UPS. I almost used it, even though it was the wrong size. I was like, “Why would we keep it,” but it weighed on me so heavy.

Person 2: There’s context that can completely negate what you think you’re doing. And you can do your research, but it’s a lot of time.

Person 1: If you’re gonna stay in the system, you have to make these decisions.

*

 

 

I don’t know if it’s anxiety, but concerns. What are our children’s children going to be dealing with—what’s gonna happen? And the loss of beauty.

Do you picture it?

This is just worst-case thinking. I don’t picture anything. I watch movies and that makes me go, “Oh my God.” I do a ton of research on current events as it pertains to clean energy—I own a solar company, so I’m doing everything that I can to change it and encourage other people to do the same thing. There are a lot of people who somewhat know it but they’re not convicted enough to take action.

map 6-9-18

On the map of worries/places in Rhode Island they’d like to protect, people have written:

STOP THE FRACKIN’ POWER PLANT!

Lanking [Lincoln] Woods

Stop violence and the shooting of people

Erosion at India Point Park

Johnston Landfill is getting too big

Jenks Point

BEACH

Blackstone Valley Bike Path

SAVE FOREST FROM SOLAR PANELS

Save the climate + beaches: allow windmills along the windy coast

[Next to Block Island] Underwater in 20 years

Advertisements

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/26/18

Weather: Hot and bright with occasional help from clouds, light wind

Number of people: 9 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5.5

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

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.25

 

Observations:

The part I played in a conversation today was epically bad, in many ways the opposite of what I want to be doing with Climate Anxiety Counseling. It was a conversation I didn’t get permission to take notes on, but I’ll post a reflection on it, and what was wrong with it, and what I could have done instead and would like to do next time, soon.

Much quieter today, emptier of human passersby. No food trucks, though the Del’s guy was out.

In general, I got permission to write down almost no conversations today.

I need to remember to invite people to add to the map.

Today, I saw the usual display of one pigeon puffing up his neck and chest in order to sexually impress another pigeon who increased their pace whenever he got near. But I also saw what looked very much like pigeon flirtation—one pigeon getting a little ahead, but then waiting for the other to catch up.

 

Some conversations:

 

Mansion Beach is the end of the sandy part of the northeast side [of Block Island]. Probably the best waves for bodysurfing—it’s nice and open. I’ve been working out there in the summers since the ’70s, and I lived there year-round for ten years. But I lost my housing and I was sleeping outside, so I got kicked off the island. Climate change out there will probably cut that into two islands—you know, there’s just that narrow stretch in the middle, road and beach and a little marshy area on one side and the Great Salt Pond on the other. During Hurricane Bob, the waves reached up on the road, and the north end got evacuated. I been reading a lot about global warming. In the past 30 years, there’s a lot less shoreline than there used to be.

*

Walking by the river and seeing how dirty it is, knowing that the kids have to see it, how bad it is. I feel sorry for the ducks. We recorded a video by the water in the summer, four months later we come back and it’s even worse. They only clean in up when the waterfront* happens. It doesn’t bother us, but we do see it—we only see it ’cause we’re walking by.

*I think this person was talking about Waterfire, but I didn’t double-check.

 

map 5-26a-18

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

I wrote, “No LNG Plant on Southside” to get things started.

Someone drew the river, wrote “river waterfront” and “help keep clean.”

The rest of the writings and drawings are by a group of kids. I was assured by the artist that the drawing in the middle is her “favorite mushroom,” but her cousins weren’t convinced.

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

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

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 1 walkby

Pages of notes: 7

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Photos taken without permission: 1

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

Dogs seen: 13

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.50

 

Observations:

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

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

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

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

 

 

Some conversations:

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

What do you feel when you read those articles?

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

*

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

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

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/24/17

Weather: Hot and bright

Number of people: 4 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 3

Peanuts references: 1

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous years: 1, a very special one

Photos taken with permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.25

 

Observations:

Occasionally, I got sprinkled or plopped on by leftover raindrops from the sycamore whose shade I sit in.

In the park, this season, it’s mainly masculine-presenting people who’ve come up to me.

This was the first Saturday stint this season, and the Kennedy Plaza crowds are definitely thinner.

Because it came up today, I might as well say unequivocally that I think Burnside Park should be for everyone, and that people who are homeless temporarily or more-or-less permanently should be able to be there.

 

Some conversations:

My biggest fear is a dead ocean. I understand that the ocean is vital to life, it’s the womb of life, and a lot of important things happen there that affect life on the surface. I do imagine it, but I don’t really do anything [when I think about it] other than try to think about something else. … To me that’s a nightmare, every living thing in the oceans, dead. I try to inform as many people as possible, because sitting around and doing nothing is something I can’t do. I adore fish … I believe that it is best for humans and sharks to not have interactions,but they’re very important to their ecosystems, just like grizzly bears are important to their ecosystems. I believe that God put us in the world to be caretakers of the Earth, not dominators.

*

Whatever you think about it, whether it’s cyclical or whether it’s man-made, and in my opinion it’s a mix of both–I was talking to a guy down on Narragansett Beach, he’s Native American and he’s lived here his whole life, he’s 72 years old. And he was telling me that on all the way on the right side of the beach, past Chair 1, that used to be sunbathing territory. Now it’s one and a half feet deep at high tide. It hits the seawall. Even at high tide there used to be 50 feet of beach there.

Alternate Histories by Other People: 10/15, 10/15

This is the second of two alternate histories from the Alliance of Artists’ Communities conference: the climate anxiety comes from one person, and the alternate history from another person, neither of whom are me. Here’s the first one.

10/15/15

All my favorite beaches are gonna disappear. I scuba-dive, and I can see that it’s already changing. The coral reefs are bleaching, the diversity is disappearing. I don’t see all the schools of fish that I used to see even ten years ago. And the other thing is in Colorado–the pine beetles, the dead trees.

*

10/15/15

While the building of islands in Dubai has seemed nothing but exploitative and blatantly, disrespectfully selfish, new technology for curbing erosion and inspiring reclamation of beaches and coral reefs is discovered. International relations are improved by this partnership to bring this new venture to other countries. Ecological restoration becomes lucrative and a driving force of industry–balance of resources the new paradigm.

Maps of Concern: May and June 2015

Before I went down to Washington St. for the Providence International Arts Festival, I took a picture of the whiteboard map that’s part of the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth. Adorned with a map of Rhode Island (carried out in electrical tape by James Kuo), it invites, “Put your worries on the map,” and asks, “Is there a place in RI you love?” and is equipped with dry-erase markers.

may map burnside park

That’s an Illuminati pyramid at the bottom. Like all opportunities to write on a vertical surface in public, it gathered its share of apparent irrelevancies that were in fact important (or at least appealing) to the writer at the time of writing.

may map soon to be soldier

People also accepted the first invitation (for worries) …

may map winters shorter

… and the second (for beloved places).

may map galileemay map still house cove

When I explain the booth, which is usually the first part of an interaction with a stranger, I often refer to Rhode Island as “on the coast” as a way of talking about sea level rise and its relationship with storms. It’s just as true to say that the coast is in us–if you look at a more detailed map of the state, you see land and water interlaced like the fingers of two hands.

For the Providence International Arts Festival, special guests Thompson Webb III and S. Hollis Mickey helped design a timeline of notable storms, to which we invited passersby to add storms they remember and storms they fear.

june storm timeline alljune storm timeline 1815

june storm timeline 1938june storm timeline woonsocket

Resilient Rhode Island, among others, stresses the interaction between storms, sea level rise and flooding as major ways Rhode Island is likely to suffer from a warming climate and its effects. Tom brought and showed a picture of post-hurricane flooding on Dorrance Street, a block away from where we were standing.

Visitors to the booth also marked the map.

june map washington st

They drew two kinds of ticks, WBRU (?), a nuclear research site, and ponds they love.

june map 2 ticksjune map mainly ponds

They marked more abstract fears and frustrations, too.

june map bordersjune map dirty and angry

In the right-hand image above, you can see the Biltmore Hotel reflected–the same place that the hurricane image showed with water up to its knees. On the maps, love and fear, preoccupation and distraction interlace, like the water and the land, like the fingers of hands.

Alternate Histories: 5/27, 6/10

5/27/15

My mother. She don’t talk now–she only got a few days to live. She got cancer and the doctors give up and send her home.

Can you go to be with her?

It’s hard, ’cause it’s far. She’s in Puerto Rico. It would be a waste of time, she wouldn’t even recognize me. I’m just waiting for that call and then I’ll go down.

6/10/15

Three days later, C’s phone rang at 4:13, just before the time he’d normally get up for work. It was his Tia Erica, his mother’s sister, and he didn’t need to be able to hear her words to understand her. He left a voicemail for his shift supervisor and flicked through his phone to find the tickets he’d bookmarked, free to someone flying for a funeral. He took the number 20 bus to the airport in a chilly dawn, and stood in the security line in the thin cold air of not-feeling-yet.

The funeral was what everyone needed it to be, with a song for each of his mother’s years of courage and cruelty, work and love, and plenty of wailing, rum, food, and dancing. People from the life squads, wearing their green armbands, talked about Gloria’s cancer and her work at the drug manufacturing plant and their plans to honor her life, and other people’s lives, by making it safer to work there. People need that medicine, they said, but what’s the point if putting it together makes you need it? They talked about shorter shifts and better safety; they talked about building other ways to make a living; they talked about older and newer forms of medicine and healing. They had sat by Gloria when her children and siblings had to be elsewhere; they had taken turns washing her; they had brought mofongo to the funeral, enough for three times as many people as were there.

As they described their plans, heat soaked into C’s bones. He felt like he was the same temperature inside as outside. He felt like he belonged to the place he was in.

Seven months later, the first of the walkouts; two years later, the last of the six State Guard murders; ten years later, the medicinal farms; twenty-four years later, the last shipment of drugs outside the country; thirty-nine years later, the epidemic and the hurricane in the same year; fifty-two years later, gardens in what was left of the parking garages; a hundred and nine years later, a third of the island fell into the sea, taking trees and plants and lizards and rats and insects and empty houses with it; a hundred and twenty-eight years later, C’s great-grandchildren walked in the land and swam in the water, time bombs quiescent in their genes, ever less likely to explode.