Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Sowing Place, 10/6/18

Weather: Cool and gray with heat waiting

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

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

Dogs seen: 3

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.10



Interpreter Eveling Vasquez was with me today; only one person, a walkby, briefly needed her services, but she engaged with some interlocutors in English as well.

Nonhuman animal presences: yellowjacket, carpenter been honeybee, cabbage white butterfly, tiniest spider, pigeons in flight.

Some conversations:

I’m scared. I got kids–26, 24 and 16. I’m scared that the planet is gonna be a horrific mess, that they’re not gonna have good air to breathe. That all the demands to turn things around are gonna fall on them. I’m scared of the chaos and destruction of society, and that there’s gonna be a wall betwen those who are directly impacted and those trying to hang onto their power and wealth. There’s going to be so much violence and suffering throughout–I’m not sure if it’s gonna be winners and losers. These delays for years and decades mean we all lose.

Do you talk with your kids about this?

We talk to them, but those conversations are hard too. They’re in their 20s, they’re trying to figure out their careers and lives and social relationships.

What makes the fear come up for you?

Definitely reading the news, ’cause you get horrified and scared. I have wonderful kids, but sometimes it’s scary what they really pay attention to.


I live in Los Angeles, and for the past three years it’s gotten 15 degrees hotter every year. And everything’s on fire. It impacts our air quality–it’s harder to do things outside. Dogs can’t go outside, there are times of day I can’t take my dog for a walk because the sidewalk’s too hot. And if something’s on fire nearby, that’s scary.

How do people talk about it?

It depends who you’re talking to. People will talk about how it’s scary that everything’s on fire, if it’s encroaching, if there’s currently a wildfire going on. People talk about how it’s hotter than it used to be, there are more fires than there used to be, it doesn’t rain anymore … It feels scary, sort of foreboding and sort of apocalyptic. It’s not so imminent that it’s really gonna impact me. I’m concerned more in the context of people who don’t care. The actual idea that the world’s gonna end doesn’t bother me that much, but it’s sad and disappointing that people don’t care about what’s gonna happen to the environment after they’re gone. I feel it all the time, and I think everybody feels it all the time–everything just feels a little bit worse.

… In my house in particular, we make a conscious effort to be positive so we don’t get mired down in it. We try to share one piece of good news every day. It forces you to be more conscious of things that are not destructive, and what you actually can do to do something constructive or counter the negativity. I think you can always be better–I’m a vegetarian, I’m trying to be a vegan, I spend more money for things that are sustainably produced. We try to use our graywater, we don’t do it as much as we could. I understand that there are structural constraints that prevent people from doing these things. It’s important for me personally to believe that the little things matter–I know sometimes you hear people saying they don’t matter. I do stuff that offsets my carbon footprint, to at least leave no trace, mitigate the impact of my existence.

What are some ways you work together with other people? 

There are many cool local vegan organizations in LA. There’s a lot of community based work. But also in LA, there’s this huge contrast because there’s all these really rich people with huge mansions that all have their sprinklers on, watering their green lawn that shouldn’t exist.


Global warming–you know what bugs me? It bugs me that I work in places where they think passive management of the environment is impractical. I work in a building from the ’60s, and they could have put in ventilation or skylights but they put in air conditioning. … That was how people thought 50 years ago, and they’re still thinking this way. Why is it so difficult?

I have 24 solar panels on my house. I generate more electricity than I use–National Grid has to pay me. I don’t know why more people don’t just cough it up [for solar panels].

Eveling: Was it too expensive?

In the end, it’ll be cheaper. So many people don’t want to think beyond a year or a month. … It’s money and also a sense of, “It’s still impractical.” My uncle–I’m like, “You live in Florida, why don’t more people do solar? It’s the Sunshine State!” I think it’s kind of a brainwashing. Reagan called them “solar socialists.”


I’m just concerned about the changes–like for example, this fall. Yesterday it was cold. The day before that it was hot, and then it was extremely cold. It’s just weird. And then being used to that transition, where you can prepare yourself to get ready for cold weather–you have to add another thing to the schedule, buecase you have to have the right gear.



[Image: map of Rhode Island marked with “Stillhouse Cove,” “Sankofa Market,” and some drawings by kids.]

The person who marked the map with “Stillhouse Cove” said, “There’s an effort to maintain the grasses and the plants, which attracts the birds and the proper fish. After a storm, when debris piles up, it’s gone the next day.”




Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/7/15

Weather: Hot, sunny, occasional breezes turning into sharp gusts later.

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 5 walkbys, plus one person who thought I was selling hot dogs–we took an unusual amount of time to figure out what each other wanted.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Alternate Histories: 1, written collaboratively

People I met through the booth last year, who remembered me: 2

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1, but I sort of started it

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.46, plus one peppermint candy


I tried facing east instead of west this time. Pros: sun on my back instead of in my eyes. Cons: the wind comes from the west and tries to blow the booth out from under me; people in cars, who can only drive east on Washington St., can’t see the sign; if there are cops in the park I can’t see them. It didn’t seem to make a difference in the number of stoppers.

It’s happened more than once that people have held up World War II resource-recovery practices as an alternative to how people throw things away now. I can tell that’s an oversimplification, but does anyone know how it became such a widespread and apparently appealing one?

It’s pigeon mating season again.

Some conversations:

My children. Four of them. They were taken from me for being homeless. I don’t think people know enough about homelessness. They’re with foster families.

Is there anything underway to get them back with you?

I’m doing everything I can.


I’m worried about my SSI check. I applied, I’m waiting to hear. Waiting is hard. It’s not the money, I mean, money’s tough, but my girlfriend got money, I can get $200 from her if something comes up, it’s the waiting, not knowing.


I live in the forest in southern Oregon and each year, we get less rain than the year before. Two summers ago, it was raining embers from the Brimstone Fire all summer long. They said if visibility was less than half a mile, the air quality was hazardous–I couldn’t see 50 feet through the smoke. I don’t have anxiety, I have straight-up PTSD from these fires. Two months ago in Portland, Portland normally gets tons of rain, but it was just like this, the cherry blossoms were just like these. In March. People were saying they enjoyed the weather but they couldn’t enjoy it because they knew what it meant. There’s no snow in the mountains, and that means extreme drought, and that means extreme fires–forest fires there are like blizzards here.

What do you think might help people change what they’re doing, to try to stop doing the things that make this worse?

I think if people were to look at our planet from space, and see how tiny and precious it is, they might start to realize there isn’t any other place we can live … What’s causing droughts is deforestation, because Reagan deregulated the timber industry. They liquidated the timber stands in five years that were supposed to last for centuries, and that’s what caused this whole cycle. We know if you deforest–that’s where the rain comes from.

What about reforesting, are people doing that?

No, they’re not reforesting–they’re logging, because after there’s a fire they try to salvage the timber. It does cause anxiety. I’ve lived in these conditions for 25 years. This year is gonna be the worst fire season in history. In 2002, the Biscuit Fire  took out half a million acres. I talked to the crew chief on that fire, and he told me their commander told them, when the lightning strike started it, to let it burn, because Bush had the Healthy Forest Act. He was sick about it. Mature trees are fire-resistant–leave those, take the small ones! Burn off the undergrowth every couple years–that’s what the Native Americans [sic]* did. That’s why the virgin forest was so beautiful. But they would do it in the fall when it was cool and damp–that’s the only thing that puts them out.

What would have to change for reforestation to really take hold?

The heads of the timber industry would have to not be in charge of it. It’s a conflict of interest. That’s what the Reagan deregulation did, it stopped everything that was preventing a conflict of interest.

*Doctor’s note: a little preliminary research suggests that he’s talking about the Takelma and Klamath people, but I welcome correction!


[These two were a couple.]

Girlfriend 1: Finding work. I have a job, I wanna find a better one. More money, more stability. I don’t mind dangerous–I used to work unloading the freight when it comes off the 18-wheeler, sometimes it shifts around, you can’t just take it off however. I worked with electrical and manual jacks–you have to be certified, you have to know what you’re doing. I’m not too concerned about global warming. I’m concerned about my sister’s pregnancy–she’s had three miscarriages. I’m concerned about my girlfriend’s health, she’s sick right now. My girlfriend smokes and I want her to quit. I call her a dirty smoker–she’s dirty smokin’.

Does that make you want to quit?

Girlfriend 2: Yes.

It sounds like you guys are taking care of each other.

Girlfriend 1: Yep. We’re getting married, she’s not going anywhere.


I lost my dad and I can’t get over it.


Life. My boyfriend. He’s stressing me out about my past. He tells me what he thinks it is, and then he listens to other people about what they think it is. It’s really getting aggressive.

One thing you could think about is–

Walk away?

Do you have anywhere to walk to?

The streets.

I’d concentrate on getting a place set up to go to, while they’re running their mouths.

I did it before.


Success. I’m trying to do good at carpentry. I got certificates from JobCorps, I graduated high school. I found $2700 on the floor–at the casino–and I got my license, my truck, I just gotta register it. I got my business plan, my references, my resume, in a book like this one [taps notes binder]. But I’m homeless, and that makes it harder. I got no mailing address.

Could you maybe ask someone you trust if you could use their mailing address?

I thought of that, but I don’t like owing people things. I don’t like asking people to do things for me.

Do you do things for other people if they need it though?

If anybody down here, if they ask for change, anything in my pocket, it’s theirs. But I don’t like it when it’s like … collateral, like, Oh, I did something for you, now you owe me.


I’m not feeling any anxiety right now because I just had a wonderful experience. I guess–difficulty believing in yourself. I try breathing, try to keep it at bay, I’ve learned all these techniques, but it never ceases to come back. Hanging on to solid fact is very helpful. I have a solid body of work, that’s a fact, but it won’t be a fact in three months because it needs to be better in three months. Right now it’s perfect. Nobody else is saying that, so I have to say it. People don’t really know how to read it. … I didn’t know I was gonna talk about myself, I thought this was about climate change, the end of the world.

It could be about that too.

What are some of the most common anxieties?

People worry about safe places to stay, about survival, about being able to make money, about taking care of the people in their life. For climate anxieties, a lot of people talk about their kids, worrying about how the world will be for their kids, and about the destruction of places they love–beaches, forests.

I worry about that too.


[When I said he didn’t need to give me a quarter:] I used to work for the circus. I set up for the g*psies, I know how it works. I put bikes together at the scrapyard, I fixed ski boats–I used to rent ’em out. I worked for everybody. I worked on that ship, Project Hope, went around picking up sick people, disabled people. I scraped it right down for everybody. We painted it different colors first, then we did whatever they wanted to do with it. I dropped out of school, I did everything, I was in the Peace Corps, Save the Whales … I’m 59 years old, I started when I was 13. I used to be a runner, like for a bakery company. Drunks would give you money to go buy ’em booze. I had so much money in my pocket …. I’d go into the bakery, get the broken cookies. I lived here all my life. I traveled to California, Mexico, Alaska–it’s beautiful. You get six months that’s darkness, then it’s always light.

Today’s poem:

What could I crumble

to bring you to me

to get your attention

the ground beneath you

could it be bad enough

unheld together

swearing by all that’s friable

insisting on all that drifts

out or slips over

in pity and horror

the first beats of summer

we share the secret

of being alive at

the moment when

the hot tide turns

the moment given

a gift of poise

stability, more money

a tilt that can’t be bought

a pitch that sickens

the pigeons’ pickings

the bread and its water

the clapping sound their

wings make going over

the same air turning

like a phrase churned

up and muddied by practice

through culverts of speaking

the same difference

the unsafe house

where you hear something that’s

not familiar and shrink

back toward the walls even if

they’re the source

of the sound

the wind blows me around

or more the built things

that are part of me

while I’m here