Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 6/19/19

Weather: Muggy, alternating cloudy and bright

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

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

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 1, a lot

Postcards Against the Plant: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.15

 

Observations:

On this day, someone came by the booth in need of immediate and very specific help. I connected her with the one resource I knew about, but that didn’t lead her to what she needed, and I chose not to put down everything else I was doing to address her immediate need. Since no one else was doing that either, her need didn’t get met.

Nonhuman animal presences: sparrows, a wasp, a red mite running in circles on my booth table.

Is there a way to get people to harness their neoliberal hyperawareness as a kind of mindfulness practice?

 

Some conversations:

I’m anxious about the way our culture engages with things. We ask, “What can I do?” when it’s a problem of the collective. Different cultures are better at that.

What has taught you that it’s possible to think in a collective way?

It might seem trite but I feel like there are some things—like team activities. In high school, I was in all the bands, and you feel that, like your voice or instrument is contributing to a larger sound. In a work setting it’s harder to see that.

*

I’m more obsessed with plastic, I guess.

Why does it bother you?

Because it’s everywhere. And because of the ocean. There’s micro amounts of plastic in almost everything we eat!

How does it feel when you hear something about it in the news, or learn more about it?

The first time I heard it, I was very surprised, because I didn’t think there was—I knew that fish had it in their bodies, they die from it, but I didn’t think it had carried its way into me and affected me personally. It’s in what I eat. It’s constant. When you go shopping, it’s all around you—you’re living in a nightmare. It’s not like I go to therapy for it, but I’m very much aware of it. It makes me angry. I tried to buy a jar of mayonnaise the other day and I couldn’t find any in glass. You have to break down and use plastic. Every piece of plastic I throw away I’m aware of it.

Do you do beach cleanups, stuff like that? How’s that feel?

It feels good, but it’s very frustrating because I don’t want to throw things away that are plastic—or anything, even garbage in general. I found out that it’s not good to use our garbage disposal because food gets in with the water. So now I’ve been, I live in a condo, but I’ve been bringing my compost up to a friend. But I’ve still been using the disposal minimally because we’re selling the house and I want it to work.

Where you live, is there town pickup for compost?

We had a community farm, but there were problems with it and they closed it. But that’s where the compost used to go. It’s overwhelming. Our condo association is pretty good about recycling.

Does that feel like the spot where you could maybe push for change?

Not really.

Why not?

I guess because of the way I am. I’m an artist, I try to do art. I have a hard time doing art. It doesn’t bother me to the point where—my art comes first. And my family, because of my age—when I do things that take time from my regular time that I go to my studio, I’m going to take my granddaughter out while I can. I feel that’s more important.

*

… I have a friend in Alaska, she’s lived there for 20 years, and she’s seen the glaciers melting. They’re getting hummingbirds up there now. Even here, we’re getting species that we’d usually see down in the Gulf of Mexico or the Carolinas. It’s why I’m vegan—even with fish you put back, once they get that hook in their mouth they don’t recover from it. And the poor polar bears losing their livelihood… I’m concerned about greenhouse gases. I take the bus everywhere, I plant my own garden, I put in plants for bees. I just think everybody should try it for a week—bike to work one day a week, something.

Why do you think people don’t?

Convenience. People are lazy.

Do you talk about it with people?

I do here and there. It depends on the demographics, who I’m around. But [with some people] I will be like, “Why don’t you just try biking?” I did when I lived in Boston, I’d bike down the river on my way to work. It was like my meditation for the day.

What do you think made the difference for you?

Awareness. You have to read. They have material out there. Or being directly impacted by something. I’d hear about things from friends… I think a lot of methane gases come out of cows. I saw some movies, documentaries. People don’t know, people have no clue about these slaughterhouses and corporate farms. They need to be more regulated…This whole administration is going backwards. These kids, they’re the generation—they’re gonna end up, their children are gonna end up living in a hot mess. I’m not scared for myself, I’m scared for the generation after me. We gotta stop it. With deforestation in Brazil—I’m a trained diver and I went diving in Ambergris Cay five years ago, it was just trees and water. I went back five years later and it was all resorts. I’ve done the whole “owned a house, this and that,” thing—I was more materialistic in my 20s. Now I’m like, “Screw the house.” They want to drill for more oil in the Gulf. I’ve been diving in the Gulf—you know how that affects the fish?

*

For now I think—I saw plastic doesn’t go away for like 700 years. And the fact that it is—I think most plastic is recyclable, but even if it’s not, people can do reusable or renewable things with plastic. … One person in a million is building houses out of plastic and there’s a whole coastline full of garbage in these poor places [sic]–why aren’t they using—why aren’t homeless shelters being built? You see the same thing with tires.

Okay, well, make it a real question, why aren’t they?

I assume because of money. …I wouldn’t be the person to do this.

*

Block Island is eroding … I think a lot of the people who live there are wealthy enough to buy a house on an eroding cliff and go, “Well, I get 25, 30 years out of this and then it’s over, I guess.” I’m guessing these people are also betting that FEMA will come to their rescue …

Barrington [RI] is going to get hit hardest in terms of roads. The head of town planning there gets it, the head of DEM…but the head of DOT doesn’t get it. He’s so caught up in infrastructure that’s crumbling now … There’s that one road that goes along the water, there’s literally no other place for it to go. In [Hurricane] Sandy, people here weren’t hit hard enough [to make them consider leaving]–plenty of people were like, “We’ll just rebuild.” And then my sister-in-law and my brother were hit hard by Sandy, their basement was flooded out, they had a finished basement with all their memorabilia down there and it they lost all of that. And my sister-in-law can’t even talk about it. It’s gonna happen again to them, but you can’t go there with them, ’cause they’re so traumatized by it.

Advertisements

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/15/19

Weather: Bright and fiercely windy

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 1 walkby, 1 map marker

Number of hecklers: 0!

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 3

Pages of notes: 4

Dogs seen: 16

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $0.15

 

Observations:

Downtown was tooling up for the Pride parade. There were lots of people wearing or carrying one-use plastic rainbow objects, which infuriated me. There was also one person wearing a rainbow clown wig that looked like it had seen a few seasons of service, and another person carrying a little made-at-home trans pride flag, both of which I found touching. Older couples and groups were nice to see.

While eight people spoke with me at length today, none of them wanted me to take notes or share the conversations (which were also not about climate change but about other concerns and strains in their lives). So I won’t.

Today also had an unusually large number of people saying that they thought the booth was cool, a great idea, etc., but not stopping.

Around 4:25, one of four white people I’d seen walking around together with a muzzled dog beckoned a cop car over to the park. That cop and two others searched a Black man with an orange-striped shirt and made him get in the car, then stayed around questioning other people. Three white women (not me) went over together to speak up for the guy they arrested, but with no success. Later, someone else told me that the dog was biting people and that the guy they arrested had tried to defend himself.

Someone wrote, “My kids’ safety” on the whiteboard map of Rhode Island, where I ask people to “put their worries on the map,” but I can’t get the picture of it off my phone. So here, instead, is a picture of a small friend of mine feeding blazing star to his shark. Let’s work together to make sure that joy, not violence, is waiting for him. Let’s work for the thriving of the plants, the sharks, and the humans.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: PVDFest 2019, Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park

Weather: Hot and bright and clear, cooler and breezier toward evening

Number of people: 30 stoppers, 10 walkbys, 5 map markers

Number of (vocal) climate change deniers: 2

Pages of notes: 16

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 6

Pictures taken without permission: 5

Conversations between strangers: 2

Repeat interlocutors: 2

Dogs seen: 51

Dogs pet: 2

Snakes seen: 1, very large

Postcards against the plant: 26

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $28.16!

 

Observations:

I was set up as part of PVDFest, which meant not only that there were a lot more people around, but a larger percentage of them were ready to stop and look at things, including me. On the minus side, people were also there to have a good time and maybe didn’t want to engage with something that would be a downer.

Interlocutors today had a wide age range but were/appeared to be overwhelmingly white, which didn’t reflect the composition of the crowd at all.

For future reference: there is a relationship between climate change and plastic waste, both of them come from fossil fuels and both of them contribute to ecological degradation, using one as as shorthand for the other is not a great idea, and I need to figure out a simple and quick way to clarify this for people without talking down or arguing.

A noticeable number of people had read the article asserting that 90% of humanity will be dead by 2050 (which would mean of course that most of us will die much earlier). One thing I need to remember is to ask both, “How does it feel to read that?” and “What do you want to do if that’s true?”

Many people also said some version of, “I don’t know how to get more involved.” Depending on the other things they said, I recommended that they explore the Land and Water Sovereignty Campaign (with whom I also work), Sunrise RI, the fight against the power plant in Burrillville, and Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective (where the donations will go); in a couple of cases I also pointed people toward Uprose and Occupy Sandy.

There’s this thing that people sometimes do where they try really hard to prove how much smarter they are than everybody else and if everybody would just listen to them it would be okay. I didn’t get a ton of this today, but there was a very marked instance of it. It seems connected to what Diane Exavier calls the “innocence project” of white America: the notion the important thing is to prove that you’re above the mess, not to figure out how to live in the mess with others, and the actions or inactions that result from that notion.

 

Some conversations:

I don’t know how to get involved in climate change groups—and I’m a librarian, I know how to do research! But I work full time, and everything I’ve found out so far has been very vague. When I’m working with very young children, three- and four-year-olds, I think, What kind of future are they gonna be having? I’m older, it’s not going to be as drastic for me.

*

I usually say, “The earth is hot, don’t litter.” Paris Hilton once tweeted that and it just really spoke to me. Those three [sic] simple words, “The earth is hot”–it’s not “global warming,” not something people hear all the time.

How do you feel when you think about it—sad? Angry?

It makes me so sad. I’m not really an angry person. [It] makes me want to do something. I always recycle, I choose glass over plastic. I’m educating myself and then educating others. I try to be positive.

Is it hard to do that?

No. I feel so empowered. The more that [I] look at it, the more I wanna help.

*

Person 1: We live pretty close to the water and I’m always hearing about sea level rise.

Person 2: People talk about it over social media but no one does anything about it. It just makes people feel better about themselves.

Person 1: It’s feeling more urgent.

Person 2: Because of that congressional report.

Person 1: Everyone’s sharing this article saying that 2050 will be the last habitable year for people.

How do you feel when you read that?

Person 1: I get stressed but I also get frustrated. The previous generation screwed us over, and we have to live with what they did.

Does it piss you off?

Person 2: Yes.

Person 1: A little bit. Corporate America is making these decisions–

Person 2: –For oil money, and they’re not going to have to live with these decisions, we are.

*

I heard something about how we’re all done for by 2050.

How’d it feel to read that?

Deflating. Horrifically sad. But like anybody sentient, I’m trying to enjoy things that don’t cost money and don’t produce waste. I just joined [a local marching band]–it’s so nice to do something with a bunch of people…that doesn’t use any resources—well, I guess we drive to get to the practices—and that creates beauty. Nothing on its own sounds so good, but together it’s beautiful.

*

I was reading the study that was all over the internet about how the world is basically ending in 2050.

How’d you feel when you read that?

Sad and angry. I don’t know how to help at an institutionalized level. On an individual level I don’t eat red meat, I recycle, I compost, I try not to use plastic. I monitor my friends and try to get them to not use plastic, and they don’t at least when I’m around. Sometimes I yell at people [who are trying to throw things in landfill trash]–“That’s recycling.”

Have you looked into doing stuff at the institutional level?

No—I’ve explored it a bit but there’s not a lot that I can do here in the US. There’s maybe more that I could do back where I’m from, which is Puerto Rico. My parents had to move off the island because my dad lost his job. And a lot of people had to leave because the health care system was in shambles. My dad found a job in the US, in Missouri, in St. Louis. It’s interesting, because it’s Trump country over there. My parents are the only people of color in a predominantly white neighborhood. All these women that are wanting to engage with my mother are treating her like an exotic toy…

… If [climate change] were having an effect on people who are rich and have influence, we would have made these changes, like we would have all gone solar so long ago. But it’s true for them too, like, you’re dying, you’re dying, your children are gonna die! I did get my dad to stop using plastic water bottles. I was like, “You’re so into recycling but they’re still manufacturing the plastic. You’re not really doing anything good, you’re just giving yourself peace of mind for no reason.”

*

Have you read Emergent Strategy? You have to read it. She got me reading Parable of the Sower , and there’s this part where [the main character’s] dad is talking about: how do you talk to people about future threats without making them write it off and dismiss you? How do you actually prepare yourself for the next climate disaster? I’m trying to stop fossil fuel projects and support renewable energy, but on a community level we need to be preparing for adaptive strategies, and how do I talk to my mom who doesn’t read the news because she doesn’t want to think about it? She lives on the thirteenth floor of our apartment building. What will she do if there’s a disaster? What do I do for our elderly neighbors who live on the upper floors? There are these moments where I’ve been actually letting it hit me, especially about New York. I saw where someone marked on the side of a building how high the waters came up during Sandy, and it was as tall as me. There still aren’t proper flood plans, and these are in places that are mostly public housing, affordable housing. People don’t have places to go. It’s scary—how do you talk to people who are really afraid, but we have to have a plan for what we’re gonna do?

Is anyone working on this in your neighborhood that you know of?

I don’t know, that’s a good question. There are some environmental organizations and I think they’re mostly pushing the city to have formal plans, but I don’t know if there’s anything on the community level. … Every time I bring it up [to my mom] she’s like, “If I talk about it I’m gonna have nightmares.”

What if you said something to her like, “I’m okay with you having nightmares if it means you’re gonna be safer?”

It’s hard, because it’s still possible for us to walk around, have festivals, have dinner. I was reading an article by someone who heard about a school shooting, and he was like, “I compartmentalized it so I could have dinner with my kids. And this is what it’s like to be in America.” Climate change is like that too. If we let the whole weight of it be felt constantly, we couldn’t live our lives.

I guess I have two things I want to think about in there. One is the “constantly”–what if we didn’t feel it constantly but we made times to really feel it? And the other one is the “living our lives”–which parts of our lives does it make sense to keep living?

I’ve been trying to be more thoughtful about trying to use less—how do I use less energy? How do I train myself to use less? Trying to keep in mind, “This is an energy thing that I’m doing right now.”

*Some of the Department of Health’s Health Equity Zones are beginning to try to set this up for at least some Rhode Island communities. I will look into this and make a separate post.

*

I do have climate change anxieties, mostly about the city as a whole. I’ve been hearing from real estate people with the city, developers talking about building in flood plains—it’s kind of like a rich people inside scoop, not something I feel like is talked about in policy meetings. But then you hear from the city’s director of real estate, “Oh, we probably shouldn’t build there.” It feels slimy, because these conversations are happening amongst people who are probably gonna be okay with things like that happening. I’m just one elected official, and I feel like we all need to be thinking about it.

Have you already tried to talk with your colleagues about it?

I have. And there’s a lot of, “Oh, we already tried that and it didn’t work,” or, “We’ll never be allowed to do that.”

Is this how you thought it would be when you started this position?

No. Not at all. But then I think, if I were a representative or a senator, I would still have to contend with bad people in leadership.

So with all of that in mind, what do you think is the way out of that?

Honestly, I think education. …With climate change, we’re seeing the effects but they’re not impacting our lives in a restrictive way.

What would be a good place to start with that?

Maybe the river. Everyone loves Waterfire*, but it’s starting to become really difficult. In the next five years, it’s regularly going to be flooded. And the coastline—in Charlestown, they’re no longer insuring houses in those areas.

*I wouldn’t say “everyone.”

*

I worry that I don’t worry enough, partially. People are saying there’s no place for recycling anymore. And if there’s nothing else being solved on a macro scale—this thing that it took the USA a decade or more to do—what kind of solution is going to be found for anything else? I keep putting things in bins because it’s a habit.

Are there other ways of participating that you’ve tried, or looked into?

I feel like there were parts of my life where I was more in tune with that. In the last few years I’ve concentrated more on building the power to do what’s best for myself, building a career, consolidating my position to do more. But I feel like time is slipping away—there’s not a someday to work towards. It’s good to remember that there are tangible, actual ways.

*

Person 1: I’m worried I’m choosing a career path that I’m not going to be able to support my family.

Person 2: It’s disturbing that access to stuff in the face of climate change depends on having enough money.

What are you thinking of doing for work?

Person 1: I’m not sure yet. But I’m seeing a lot of people go into finance, these lucrative jobs that I do not want to go into, but I’m worried that I’m setting myself up for greater difficulty.

What if there weren’t going to be jobs anymore?

Person 2: Like focusing more on learning basic survival skills.

Person 1: It depends on if we’re talking about a cooperative jobless world or an individualistic jobless world.

Person 2: I feel like sea level rise and climate change in general could make that landscape completely different. But you can’t really plan for that—it’s unimaginable, there are so many different possibilities. When I’m being rational, I prefer to think about things I can do to help [with] climate change now. My anxieties lie with stuff beyond the present.

Person 1: There’s a lot of control issues.

How do you live with lack of control?

Person 2: Everyone just kind of goes about their daily routine. But you could get run over, you could find out that you have Stage 4 cancer. You kind of have to ignore it—it’s a mental health thing. A lot of mental illness comes from not being able to put those worries away.

Person 1: I worry, and I think certain things I get a little obsessive-compulsive tendencies over. Sometimes I deal with it by trying to pretend that I know things—like, Oh, if I read enough about it, I’ll understand it, even though that doesn’t change the unpredictability of it.

What is the cost of thinking about it? I mean, what do you have to give up if you think about it?

Person 1: Ignorant bliss and self-indulgence.

Person 2: What makes it so much more difficult is that industry has made it about shifting the guilt onto individual people. Like, yes, plastic is bad for sea turtles, but plastic straws are not that big a deal.

*

[This was from a group of four who came up together; person 4 was quiet.]

Person 1: We were just talking about the plastic bag ban. It seems like a good thing!

Person 2: I’m just bothered that people are so ignorant about [climate change].

Which people?

Person 2: People on the internet. Apparently it’s not a problem. If it doesn’t affect you now, why bother?

Person 1: People who don’t have small children, they don’t have to look as far forward.

Person 3: I just learned about fast fashion and it’s stressing me out. I’ve been trying to go through my closet and get rid of stuff.

Person 1: I feel like it’s that subtle guilt that you give yourself.

Person 3: I start thinking about every little action I do—seven billion people are doing the same thing.

*

What are you anxious about?

Person 1 (indicates very small daughter): She’s on my shoulders.

Have you talked with her about it at all?

Person 1: Not that much so far. She’s a little young for it.

Person 2: I know that she and I have had some conversations about it.

Person 1: We do talk about the importance of conservation and recycling, we have talked about that.

Person 2: I know we were talking the other day about diminished habitats for animals. And we’re going to Narragansett Bay next weekend—this isn’t climate change so much, but there’s that area preserved for the [piping plovers].

That’s definitely connected to taking care of the rest of the world, the living world.

Person 1: And making her realize that it’s worth it. Of course it’s all in the news—that the environment is gonna be irreparably damaged by 2030, 2050. Well, she’s three years old and it’s 2020. By the time she’s my age, things will have come to this point. And I don’t feel like timetables for remediation are realistic.It can be really paralyzing. We can do individual things, but if it’s not accompanied by universal effort—I’m not gonna stop doing the individual things, but–

What about doing things with other people?

Person 1: Not really. We’re pretty atomized as a culture. I’m in school with people who are working on this, and I support them in their work. I’m planning to work on employment, community development, land use. I’m in law school, and to some extent I rely on social scientists to inform me about some of these things, like how we might bring people together with a better plan…

What do you do when you start thinking about these things?

I have a cigarette, or I drink a beer, or I get some food—some kind of quotidian pleasure. But also I think about these things late at night, when I’m alone and my family has gone to bed. I don’t know what it takes to focus people’s energy.

What would it take to focus your energy?

I mean, if there was something, I would show up and lend my voice. If I got an email, a call, I don’t use much social media but if [my partner] were to see something on Facebook, I’d show up.

*

Person 1: My anxiety is that people who are most affected are not causing it. A lot of it has to do with people who have a lot of wealth, and they’ll be able to survive….That the whole thing will be very unjust. In wealthy countries, the focus is on sustainable development, the focus isn’t on big impact things.

Person 2: A lot of the things that people do, like electric cars, the popular trendy things to do, in the system the money goes back into using more resources. You’re not really reducing the use of things. People need to be okay with consuming less, not just with resources being redirected.

How do you feel about all of this? Like, are you pissed about it?

Person 1: Anger is directed toward someone or something. This just feels inevitable. …

What are some things you do about this with other people?

Person 1: I don’t drive to work, but my coworkers do, so I try to talk to them, to encourage them to try other things.

Person 2: I do see people being less wasteful, and I think, how can I be more like them? Bying used clothing and furniture, making food at home instead of going out to eat—having more discipline.

*

I have a lot of guilt because there’s no way to overcome the amount of shit that we have on this earth. I’m somewhat of a hoarder, and when I’m trying to donate things, I’m like, “Oh, I should try to donate this, I should try to share this,” but then sometimes I just have to get rid of all of it. If I’m stressed, I shop.

What does that do for you?

I think it’s the rush of something new …

What else gives you that feeling?

Connecting with people. When I connect with someone, I like to know everything about them … But then if I try to [make these changes], there are still so many people doing nothing.

So is it fair to say that even as you’re feeling guilty for the amount you’re doing, you’re also feeling resentful of people who are doing less?

Yes, and I wanna know, is it gonna make a difference? Will me finding all these little piece of plastic make a difference?

What if—I’m not telling you this, I’m just saying if you definitively knew that it wouldn’t make a difference, what would you do differently?

I think I would just say, “Then let’s find a way to make it make a difference. We need to do better.” I wouldn’t just be like, “Fuck it.”

20190608_112157

[Image: A postcard addressed to the Army Corps of Engineers, asking that they reject a permit for the fracked-gas power plant proposed for Burrillville, RI.]

I’ll have more postcards like this at my booth sessions next week, Wednesday 6/12 through Monday 6/17, 2-5pm, in Burnside Park opposite Kennedy Plaza. Come and fill one out!

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/6/19

Weather: Cloudy and muggy at the start, shifting between that and sunny.

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

People who got the Peanuts reference despite the “doctor” part of the sign being gone: 2

People who asked me for Xanax despite the “doctor” part of the sign being gone: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1.5

Pictures taken without permission: 0.5

Conversations between strangers: 2

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Tooth and Nail Community Support Collective: $11.07!

 

Observations:

I either never knew or have forgotten when “catching a passerby’s eye” crosses over into “creepily staring.” Anyway, I don’t think I have the balance right.

No visible cops or cop vehicles at the beginning of my shift. I noticed one on the park side at 3:30, leaving at 3:55, and another by the Greyhound stop around 4.

Had a couple conversations today that I’m kind of bummed I didn’t get permission to post.

 

Some conversations:

Winters no longer start. I used to go trick or treating with my kids, there would be snow on the ground in October. Now it doesn’t snow till February. We don’t have spring anymore—you know, how you think of three months slowly coming into summer. We just have winter and summer, and for winter you just get one giant snowstorm. It’s a really tight time frame—you remember that blizzard we had, it didn’t come till February and then it came and it came and it came. I do notice it, and it’s bizarre. In the fall, the foliage comes and goes very fast. It used to be you could pick a weekend, go and look at it. Now the window is so short you can’t enjoy it anymore.

My sisters live in Tennessee and Georgia, and they got snow, their first snow in twelve years. Nobody has a shovel—my sister had to have a shovel sent to her in Tennessee. But what do you do? I try to be minimalistic and not even make trash. But I don’t know what to do. I’m one person. This planet is huge—what can you do in little Rhode Island, the most politically and financially corrupt state?

*

Plants are our brothers … Trees, plants, climate. Every animal has the same type of organ basis as a human. If you scrape your knee, it scabs up, and that’s like the bark of the tree, it’s a scab protecting what’s inside from foul stuff in the atmosphere. Plants are living just like us …

So with all of these relationships in mind, how can we take care of them? Show our gratitude?

By respecting their time. A plant has a flowering time and a bedding time. Respect them like a human—but people don’t really respect humans that well. People are confused, it makes them judgmental, it leads to favoritism.

How do we move away from that?

Openmindedness. I think it just needs generations of time. People from older times are still stuck in their ways. You’ll hear somebody old say some racist stuff, it’s because they lived by it. The next generation gets to choose whether they follow that. But if you have a family that’s wealthy, people are gonna have to choose whether to agree with them and take the money, or argue with them. People would rather do the wrong thing and get value for it. Doing the wrong thing is easy in every aspect of life, it’s doing the right thing that’s hard.

map 6-6-19

[Image: Somewhat impressionistic map of Rhode Island, made out of tape on a dry-erase board. It says, “Put your worries on the map,” and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” Today, people added “The Neighborhoods” in the vicinity of Providence, and a ZIP code, “02840.”]

 

Guest Post! Climate Anxiety Counseling with Julie Beman: City Wide Open Studios, New Haven, CT, 10/14/28

[Note from Kate: Julie Beman held her first ever Climate Anxiety Counseling session last week in New Haven, on the sidewalk next to Violet Harlow‘s studio sale and across from Edgewood Park Farmer’s Market. Here is her account of the day.]

 

Weather: Sunny and cool

Number of people: 7 stoppers (3 sitters) and many walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0

 Pages of notes: 0

 Dogs seen: many

 Dogs pet: 2 goldendoodles

 

 

Some conversation recollections:

 

1. Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re here! I need to talk to someone like you! I just bought this painting of a whale, I’m upset about the report that came out, I use so many plastic pens and I saw all those animals with stomachs full of plastic and there are so many plastic pens in my office…

I was thinking about the pens and remembering that I have fountain pens from my father and grandfather and I’m going to have them cleaned up and give them to younger people in my family and say “here’s a gift from your ancestors.”

(Then we talked about how ancestors don’t have to be from ancient times. Just a generation or two ago people didn’t use plastic, cooked at home, tried not to waste food, used hankies…)

*

2. What’s wrong with the climate? Why should I be anxious about it?

Well, some people think that the climate is changing and causing a lot of problems, and some people don’t. Have you thought about that?

I don’t care about anyone here. I saw a video of people in a cafe and then a tsunami came in and flooded everything. I cared about those people.

So you feel compassion for those people?

Yeah, people on islands. Not here. I think about the environment. I try not to buy a lot of things. I don’t need a lot of things. People buy too many things. We don’t need that many things.

(And that was about how it went until he said “Yeah, I see why you’re doing this. Cool. You made me think. Cool.”)

*

3. A man and a woman. He talked about the government and multinationals and career politicians and “follow the money.” She talked about all of the things she’s trying to do – organizing, making donations, calling/writing politicians. He just kept going and going – very ‘splainy – and concluded with “Well, are you supposed to give us advice before we leave?” I asked if that’s what he wanted, and he said yes, so I said “OK. Try to spend some time with your feelings.”

 

Other folks stopped by who didn’t have time to sit and talk, but said that they would have if they could. A couple of people said they were moved by the question. One bicycler shouted that she’d be back later.

 

On Instagram a woman asked if I’d be doing something similar locally (Hartford area rather than New Haven), and I said I was trying to figure out where to do it.

 

 [This is Kate again. If you’re interested in figuring out a version of Climate Anxiety Counseling that works for you and the people in a place where you live or spend much of your time, let me know at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, and I will help you get set up.]

 

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

 

Observations:

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.

 

20181006_145121

[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: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 9/26/18

Weather: Gray, humid, sprinkling rain. Later, breezy and cooling off some.

Number of people: 4 stoppers, no walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.00

 

Observations:

Short shift (4-6pm) today because of a meeting.

It’s pretty common for me to have conversations about farming and food when I do the booth at the farmers’ market. I think the three different ways these three different people are talking about them are illuminating.

Yellowjackets; cricket sounds.

 

Some conversations:

It’s a big world out there. It feels like a lot of things are ending, which, what do we do about that?

What do you do about it?

 I grow more plants, I learn about growing plants. I come to things like this.

 When is it that you feel anxious?

 Reading a new piece of news about, oh, the ways that communities are experiencing the world changing around them.

What does it feel like, when you read that or see that?

 Some kind of dread. But in many  cases it’s very removed from my actual life. It’s like I get an echo of what’s happening.

 Are there times when it feels more immediate?

 Looking around—my grandfather is a big gardener, and talking with him about things that have changed in his lifetime, like, he can grow these peppers for longer. It kinda feels positive—he feels like he can grow more stuff. English is not his first language, and he doesn’t read that much, so what he knows is mostly what my sisters and I talk to him about. So it’s one step removed, the dread—he gets it filtered through us. He’s good at focusing on the here and now.

 Is that something you can kind of learn from him?

 It feels like it’s something out of reach, but it’s good to tap into—to work in the here and now.

Do you have conversations with other people about this?

 Yeah, but a lot of the conversations I have are not very productive. Some of them end in like a feeling of dread or incapacitation—it doesn’t go anywhere and I kind of feel like it’s a copout, but how to move past that?

 What would happen if you moved past it by going through it?

 Often it’s either been with people or in spaces where we’re not able to be intentional about moving past that. It needs a devotion of time and energy, and you can’t do that individually, and the stars gotta align to have what you need to do it communally.

What would that look like?

 It would look like something that if it exists—it should look different from anything that we’re used to.

* 

It’s a bigger thing than me recycling. I do all the good things that people should do, I have dreams of owning my own little piece of land. But it’s no use doing my part unless I can get other people to do their part. The work I do, the nature of my work, kinda goes in that direction. I grow sunflowers at my house, I give ’em away to my neighbors—the other day there was a big group, a big bunch of middle schoolers, and I offered them sunflowers and they were all like ugh, you’re a dork, like my nephew’s that age. But there was this one, she didn’t want to admit that she wanted one, but she came back later.

… I feel guilty when I’m driving a car. On an individual level I do what I can, but on a macro level it’s too big for just me. Even if push comes to shove and we have to deal with some kind of environmental tragedy, we’ll handle it, hopefully. “Okay, what do we do now that the world’s underwater?” One thing that does worry me is that a lot of people close to me live in food deserts, food insecurity. Like one of the kids I was talking to [at CityFarm], she was like, “My family are farmers, but I go hungry sometimes.” So yeah, we’re giving food to the neighborhood, but what’s happening on the other side of the table? … I’m always mindful of it. I’ve gotten friends involved … It’s dope to meet people and get them interested in your interests. I’m much more into the personal interactions than I am in leading a movement. Empowering people to grow their own food– “You know what a ton of mint you can grow in this little pot? Try it!” People like to start with succulents. Something that stuck with me from childhood: Rich Petersen from CityFarm, he’s been my mentor, and he was like, “Food is one thing everybody has in common, ’cause everybody has to eat.” You can use food as a connecting tool. This one guy, I gave him a handful of huskcherries. He didn’t wanna try ’em but eventually I’ll get him.

 *

I have a lot of concern about farmers and how they’re impacted by climate change. There was some crop I was reading about recently where there was a blight, it was a very poor crop this year, and it was related to climate change. Oh, corn. One clue after the next, that’s something. With seafood—seafood is very affected by the warming of the waters. Jonah crab is becoming a thing here, and it’s great to have jonah crab, but it’s also a symbol of warming waters. How it’s affecting lobsters, other shellfish—I’m in the food business so I think about it from that point of view.

 And also the things that eat lobsters, the things that lobsters eat—

 Of course, it’s a whole ecosystem getting disrupted.

 When was this first brought to your attention?

I’m personally not engaged in any advocacy for climate change. I have a lot of colleagues who—that’s much more in their wheelhouse, and I support the work that theyre doing. Water, energy, the environment—food is the nexus of a lot of things … I’m worried and frustrated because not everybody in the political world is as excited about this. That’s what we need, to change a lot of things. And it’s hard when you come from a state that’s pretty democratic. If I was in a purple state I might be more involved.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 8/29/18

Weather: Hot. Heat index over 100 at the start of my shift.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Dogs seen: 3

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.15

 

Observations:

I arrived late for my shift (combination of a late start, the heat, and a shortcut that wasn’t) and also stayed late sitting on the cool grass having a wonderful unofficial conversation about the relationship between community organizing, mental health, and care.

The market managers lent me a shade tent.

There’s a family of kids who lives around the corner, and they were much in evidence today. They all wanted to pretend to take the silver dollar I keep in the money jar for luck, and some of them added to the map. One of them reminded another one of the conversation she’d had with me about her grandmother, over a year ago.

A monarch butterfly flew past while I was sitting.

The second conversation here is with my friend Ash Sanders, who ran a project inspired by this one in Salt Lake City.

 

Some conversations:

My son gives me really bad anxiety. He’s really hyperactive and I can’t handle that sometimes … He likes to tell little white lies to get out of a situation, like, “Oh, I need to go peepee,” and he doesn’t need to go. And he gets really physical when we’re playing, he thinks we’re actually fighting.

What do you do when that happens?

I try to calm him down. But when I do that, he takes me as a joke and he goes to his father … He doesn’t give people their personal boundaries. You see him playing over there with that little girl, or if he’s playing with me he’ll be right up in my face … When I can’t handle it I’ll just walk away. But I have to do that constantly. I never get a break, it’s 24-7, it’s just go go go anxiety.

*

A big anxiety for me is how much I care about climate change and environmental stuff. I feel like it’s too intense. I can’t do it in a normal, more socially acceptable way, I have to do it in this way that’s more intense and—I guess darker. I feel like I’m holding back a lot. I’m not doing anything about it right now, and I’m scared to be my old out-there self, but I feel phony in a lot of ways. I’m scared of feeling exhausted all the time. I’m afraid I’ll open something up that will never stop hurting, and that I won’t know the difference between guilt and actions that I should take. I feel guilty all the time, and maybe I should. [I was raised Mormon] and you’re expected to be deeply obedient, and the extra politeness veiled a lot of evil and wrong things. I did push against that, but it exhausted me. And I’m scared that what this situation [of climate change] requires is unspeakable in public.

Who is your public, like which public are you thinking about when you say that?

I’ve been getting into conversations with friends in New York about whether or not to have kids because of what’s happening to the planet. And I am very opinionated, so I started saying more and more. I got tired of saying the “right” thing, so I said more and more what I felt, and I could see the discomfort in people’s eyes. Like I was implying that they weren’t good people. … I read and read things looking for somebody who thinks and feels like me, and they’re there, but they’re in the corners of the conversational world.

And another thing is that I’ve become concerned with animal rights really broadly, and that’s a hot-button topic among left-leaning people. I’ll hear a lot of people be like, “I’ll care about animal rights when human rights are accomplished.” Or like, “Fuck polar bears.” It makes sense, but it puts me at odds with people who I’m not otherwise at odds with.

… I started having these conversations hoping it would unstick me. I’m very tired of carrying around the bag of my cultural upbringing, and I want to know, where could I go if I weren’t carrying it? Mormons really believe in the power of language, the power of telling the truth, and a lot of the truths that they asked me to accept were quite boring but I did internalize that words can change people, and change the people who hear them … I’m pretty good at being brave, at being like, “Do it anyway, feel afraid but do it anyway,” but it never changed this basic really core part of me. And I think that might be beyond language, this thing that needs to shift.

… I’m really conscious about the passage of time. What time is mine to take when all this is happening in the world? I’m so exhausted by the rah-rah kinds of actions, I think they are required but I don’t necessarily feel capable of them right now. When I was doing [those kinds of actions] fast and well, I was depleting myself intensely and I was estranged from a lot of people, but it felt more true, and that’s confusing.

How does it feel reading the things by people who feel the way you do?

It’s intense, like some part of me is going out to meet them in the ether. A kinship thing. And I’m also thinking, “This person is so brave. I used to be like that.” So—relief and kinship, and maybe some jealousy and self-doubt. And then I’m like, Who’s reading them besides a few people? So I read this, and I feel more intensely, but…

Have you written back to them at all?

In a way I think the process of talking with [other] people has been a way of writing back to them. Maybe the reason I don’t just do that is because I feel like I should be honest with some of the hardest people for me to be honest with. Like with my parents, I’ve kind of given up on the idea that we can talk about this. And then I think, my dad will die and I won’t have said one honest thing to him. I would really like to be able to give them a bunch of books and articles and be like, “Let’s talk about it.” Mormonism teaches you that there’s one truth for the whole world, and it applies to every person, every time, every place, every situation, no variants. And [it teaches that] if you do say something different, you wound the person you’re saying it to irreparably. I realize that I think of my dad as an extremely fragile person, maybe more fragile than he actually is, and I’m terrified of but deeply want to talk to him in a real way. I’ve been protecting people, and I never have practiced saying what I meant [to him] in any honest way.

… It’s often been my role in a group to be the one who says that it’s okay to feel a lot of things, to have really strong opinions. … I’m good at being brave for others, honest for others, but I have to calculate how much energy something will cost me. I have chronic pain, and everything takes so much energy. I’m afraid of putting myself in high-energy situations. I’m afraid to put my foot across the line, I’m like, “Oh, God, I’m gonna get so tired again.” I don’t know how to say no, because I feel so guilty, and I was really trained to not have any boundaries as a way of showing love. When I’ve done things in the past, it can’t just be one thing—I have to be involved in six organizations and in charge of all of them. So maybe I have to give up my usual roles, let other people do those things.

*

On the map that asks people if there’s a place in Rhode Island they’d like to protect, kids wrote, “your though” (which might mean “your thoughts,” not sure), “place I care about is my country. (Ethiopia.)” and “I care about nauture living things,” with some pictures of trees.

map 8-29-18

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 8/15/18

Weather: Hot and clinging, okay when clouds covered the sun

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.40

 

Observations:

I’ve said before that people seem to be shopping at this market. I noticed today that at least some of them are also hanging out, slowly circulating, talking with the vendors and with each other.

Lots of people had questions for me (because of where the booth is set up, toward the front) about how WIC and SNAP worked at the market.

People really want to volunteer their friends– “She needs it!” “You’re the one who needs it!”–but you can’t do that.

Relatedly: when someone comes to me with something that I absolutely do NOT have the skills to respond usefully to, I try to point them in the direction of someone or someones with those skills.

A wasp landed on the cardboard part of the booth and maybe tried to eat it? A bumblebee and a honeybee also visited, hovering nearby and/or landing.

 

Some conversations:

What have you been noticing?

A lot of heat, disruption of food flow. And also how that’s been developing a lot of groups popping up in different communities, low-income communities, communities of color. We’re actually here doing this survey about the factors facing women of color, what people are dealing with. I hate the label of the food desert because it’s about food never being accessible to us due to structural things, structural colonialism. A lot of people don’t know what’s even in their water.

What are people telling you about as you do the survey?

A lot about food affordability, housing, mental health stuff. Working full time or working multiple jobs in order to sustain your household. Gentrification, pushing people out to the outskirts. Economic separation of the rich and the poor.

Where do you see climate change interacting with all of these things?

With everything. It’s at the intersection. Your environment and where you come from, how many trees are there, how many birds, not getting the right amount of sunlight, fertile land to grow food—all of that intersects with your quality of life. But we’re also seeing new alternatives coming up. Cooperative work, an increase in farmers’ markets, individual entrepreneurship—social enterprise, all these social enterprise models are coming into mainstream language in the business world.

Are you saying that they’re getting excited about something that’s been going on?

Yeah, in response to underground and grassroots stuff that’s been happening. There’s a deeper need for it because of this division [between wealthier and poorer people]–the economic support systems are breaking down.

*

My husband has PTSD, and that puts a lot of emotional and mental stress on him and myself. Some days I feel anxious myself. I want to know on a day-to-day basis what we can do to help ease those stresses. I’m learning what his triggers are, and I’m trying to be supportive and have a listening ear about things that cause him to have episodes. I also worry how it would affect our toddler, our one-year-old son. What are some preventative things I can do for him being in that environment? We’ve been figuring out what are the resources that we have, we try to stay close-knit to them, friends, family, our church family. I worry how it will affect his work life, how we can maintain financial stability. And even more so, despite his PTSD, we want to keep our relationship healthy, not toxic. We really focus on spending time together, getting a babysitter, doing things that we both enjoy.

Who else does he reach out to, besides you, or what are the other things he does to take care of himself?

He goes to our pastor—he’ll text him in the middle of a crisis. He’ll spend time at the gym. He’s a musician, so he’ll spend time recording. He’ll spend time playing basketball—things he enjoys that make him feel better. But then for a week or two those things won’t happen without him doing anything. I like that he talks about things he enjoys to do. And I like that he talks about his past traumas—he opens up to me about things in his childhood, sexual abuse and physical abuse. I feel like that’s a good relief for him. I don’t like when he’s having a really angry moment and it might come out in other ways. He doesn’t enjoy taking his medication and he hates the way he feels when he gets upset, he hates how it affects me, he wishes that he didn’t have this [condition].*

He has a psychiatrist that prescribes his medication, but he has to be consistent with appointments and open with her about the dosage and how it affects him. He took a long vacation from getting his medication and there were a lot of troubling things that happened. Now we’re glad that he’s able to get his medication, but he has mixed feelings about it. He doesn’t like the way that it makes him feel. I’m trying to help him see that the medication helps balance him out, make him who he would be, they’re not controlling him…

You’ve talked a lot about all the work you’ve done to care for him and all the work you’ve done together. What are you doing to take care of you?

There are periods where I can just go go go, trying to keep everything together. But being around close friends, people who care about me and are able to listen. Exercise, I love the outdoors. I love art, creating something, cooking a meal. And I’m seeking a therapist.

You also wanted to talk about your son.

He feels the energy. The shouting the punching the wall, I don’t want these things affecting him in any negative way. I try to just remove him, or me and him will remove ourselves, I’ll take him for a walk. And [my husband’s] learning to take space too when he feels this way.

*I neglected to write down what word she used, that’s why this is in brackets.

*

Gentrification. Seeing it over here, in Washington Park, Providence in general. I was driving my son for ice cream to this place we like to go in East Providence and seeing all the lights, the lights they have for traffic speeding here—I don’t see any over there! I saw in the paper they’re going to add more.

What are the worries you have about gentrification?

That we’re gonna get priced out, that the rent is gonna go up so high that we’ll have to leave. … I saw that the city a few years ago sued Santander for redlining—when Angel Taveres was mayor, the city sued and they won. They settled, but that’s admitting they did something wrong.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 7/18/18

Weather: Hot, bright, breezy.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 2

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

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $1.00

I didn’t get permission to post any of the conversations I had today. I think they were okay conversations, though, and one of them I hope will make the idea of counseling feel normal and doable to the person I spoke with (a fairly young person) if they ever want it.

Although it was a relatively slow day for me, it seemed like it was a good day for the market in general. People were buying vegetables and—crucially—they were coming prepared to shop, making the market a part of their food plans.

Nonhuman passersby: monarch butterfly, little beetle climbing on the booth, giant black-winged beetle with orange body.

I also took a short shift today, 3-5pm, because my parents were visiting. I couldn’t find my sun hat, so my mom lent me hers. Here it is, with my face under it.

my face mom hat