Alternate Histories: the month of April

Every day this month, I’ll post an alternate history: a short story responding to one of the anxieties people shared with me at the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth last year.

Some of these stories are going to be pretty bad. I’ll make them better later, but right now I just want to get them going.

As certain humans and structures make many conditions of life increasingly impossible, I want to practice imagining futures that differ, that range, but that shift what we label possible or impossible.

If you find yourself rejecting them, ask what it is about them you’re rejecting–is that thing really any weirder, any less likely, than what some of us are doing now to the rest of us?

It’s been a little less than a year since I first set Climate Anxiety Counseling in motion. Some of my desires for it, some of my senses of its possibilities, have changed or faded or been replaced. My desire for us to take care of each other remains unslaked. If anybody wants to try to slake it, be my guest.


Public / Participatory Art Post #1: Wanna Make Something Of It?

So you have an urgent need to respond to something that’s harming the world, or an urgent desire to enact or enable a different way of living. We’ll take as part of our premise that you’re not content with sitting on the couch and crying, or however despair combines with inaction for you. You’ll want to ask yourself two major questions:

1) What thing do I want to do, and who might be glad I did it?

2) What parameters will make it most likely that I will do the thing?


And some subsidiary questions (I’ll tell you how I answered those for the first phase of this project):

What are you great at? List everything, even things that don’t “count”, and circle potentially useful items.

HOW I ANSWERED IT (useful items only): Writing, drawing, sewing, talking to strangers, keeping conversations going, doing unusual things in public, noticing animals and plants.

(Another stunning and relevant answer to “What are you great at?”: Rachel Schragis’s flowcharts)


What are you not great at, but willing and able to devote some time to learning? How much time? Can you learn concurrently with the things you’re already doing?

HOW I ANSWERED IT: Listening, building things, stopping conversations, keeping my temper (future things to learn: figuring out how the climate action resource library will need to work; asking people for information for it and making sure the information is accurate; designing a performance version of the booth). A few months. Yes.



What do you enjoy? I ask this because if there’s no pleasure, no reward in action for you, it’ll be hard to keep yourself doing whatever it is. Similarly, what can you tolerate and what do you not handle well?

HOW I ANSWERED IT: Enjoy: more or less the same answers as “What are you great at?” (and now you know a little more about me than you did before). Tolerate: People who talk at repetitive length, inclement weather, noise, police presence, hunger up to a point, muscular effort up to a point. Not handle well: People laughing at me, people needing me to express agreement (as distinct from acknowledgment) to what they’re saying, electronics not working perfectly, 


What kind of help can you draw on? Who has skills they can teach you, who can lend you their labor or time, who knows where you can get permission to do the thing … ?

HOW I ANSWERED IT: My husband knows how to build things. My friend was once in charge of programs and events for the spots I wanted to do my project in. (Again, this is going to have different answers for the project’s different next phases.) I work at a university where some of the students had worked to develop Resilient RI legislation, as well as having done activist work; they had some good suggestions for how to set up, and they came down and spoke with me and kept me company.


You may find that something like what I did with the booth, or what Lucia Monge did with Planton Movil, or what Devi Lockwood is doing with One Bike, One Year, is not the best use of your time, gifts, resources, knowledge, connections, and preferences. One person I spoke with at the booth is a visual artist and filmmaker who decided that working for a solar power installation company is more effective than what she can do with her films alone: “My greatest love is making things, but it’s hard to combine that with engendering any kind of change in a really pragmatic way.” Maybe, to quote the Kids in the Hall, you’re more of a scientist than a wiggler. I opted to create the booth because I had, as mentioned above:

*An urgent need to respond to something that is happening in the world

*Some pleasure in making things 

*A habit of, and some pleasure in, talking and listening to people

*The possibility (discussed at length in the first section of this post) of being in public with relative safety


So now is a good time to start figuring out whether you have those things, or what combination of things you do have. That will help you choose the mode you’re going to work in. If you choose a mode similar to mine, the next post may be of help in planning how (and where, and when) to do it. 

I Am Climate Anxiety Counseling And So Can You

… possibly. If you want to. But what you might really want to do is find your own version. 

I wrote at the end of the Kennedy Plaza stint about how Climate Anxiety Counseling, in more or less this form, makes fairly good use of the gifts, shortcomings and accidents I had when I went into it. And then recently, someone who spoke to me at Foo Fest was talking with me here about wanting to do something similar.

Over the next few weeks I plan to write more here about public/participatory — even “art” seems like not exactly the right word, so I’ll write about that too. We’ll consider how you might match up your own gifts (and shortcomings and accidents) with what you might want to offer people or call their attention to — and what happens when your goals and the things you want to make, or your inspiration and execution, don’t quite line up. There might even be some <gasp> GUEST POSTS.

I’ll also be posting RI-based, community-sized actions and sources of information, more or less as I find them, that could have a good ecological effect, especially ones relevant to climate mitigation and climate adaptation. If anyone has suggestions for these, send them my way and I will try to sort them out!

Lastly, the booth has three more for-sure public appearances coming up:

*At the Rhode Island Energy and Environmental Leaders Conference Showcase: Friday, September 5th, 3:30-4:30, on the fifth floor of the Convention Center in downtown Providence. You should probably come check this out anyway — there are speakers and discussions and smart, hardworking people to meet, all day, starting at 9.

*At Providence Park(ing) Day on Friday, September 19th. I’m sharing Parklet #8 with painter Carl Dimitri, and the booth will be in costume! Park(ing) Day runs 8-4, and Carl and I will be splitting the time — I’ll be there on either end.

*At Summer Street Dinner Theater on Friday, September 26th and Saturday, September 27th. Watch this space for details!

So that’s what you can expect to see here in the next little while. 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 28 / Day 5 of the Washington County Fair

Weather: Warmest day yet. Sunny and slight breeze, downpour around 1pm, then clear again.

Time frame: 10 a.m.-6 p.m., so as not to get caught by end-of-fair traffic. At 5:30 I put up a sign that said, “I’m leaving at 6. If you want to know what this is, ask now!” but only two people stopped by after that.

Number of people: 14 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Pages of notes: 8

Number of hecklers: 0!

Number of climate change deniers: 2

People who read the sign out loud in an incredulous, wondering, suspicious or amused voice, without stopping to talk: 30 

People who took a picture without permission: 1

TOTAL Money raised for South Kingstown Land Trust, all five days: $31.80! Thanks, people of the WCF!


Fair foods consumed: None. I wanted corn fritters but forgot to get them.


Best non-booth times today:

1) A little boy who walked by yesterday and said, “A map!” walked by again today and said, “There’s the map!” to the people he was with. I said, “Oh yeah, I remember you noticed that yesterday!” and he smiled a little smile.

2) Someone I met at the booth up in Providence stopped by and introduced me to their sister, brother-in-law and niece.



Of course, the last day is when I realize I can put the “Out” sign over the “In” sign when I walk away from the booth, instead of taking out the pushpins, switching signs, putting the pushpins back.


I also realized only today the ways that the conventions of botanical illustration influence the way I draw on #RIorganisms of the plant variety. For example, when you look at a flower, usually you see the whole thing from the top (if it’s short and/or you’re standing or walking) or the side (if it’s tall or you’re squatting down). But nature guides will show you the stem and leaves as if from the side, the flower as if from the top.


Do I need to start redirecting people when they start talking about trash? I don’t like the oceanic garbage patches either, and some methods of mitigating climate change might also mean mitigating the amount of trash we produce, but the amount of conflation I’m hearing is starting to worry me.




Some conversations:


Not really, just takin’ it day by day. 


Him: You don’t think it’s just natural.


Her: I try not to think about it, which is stupid.


I think something can be natural and still be frightening. You think we’re arguing, but we’re really not. I do believe the science I’ve seen that says it’s caused by what people do.


Her: What do we do?


[I tell her a very basic version of how it works.]


Walkby, white, stout, older: There’s no such thing as climate change.

Me: Sorry, I can’t hear you, what?

Him: There’s no such thing as climate change.

Me: I’m sorry, I can’t hear you because of the music. If you want to tell me something you’ll have to come over here.

[He did not.]


[This is the first person who spoke to me at the fair — she said she loved it and wanted to take a picture, but didn’t come back … until today!]

This [the booth sign] reminds me of like — tonic you could buy in the Wild West that would cure everything. The color of the sign, everything — you could have a hat* and a big beard. The colors are out of that late 1800s palette. The sign, “The Doctor Is In” — they didn’t have pushpins, though. But it touches on the idea of panacea, and that’s what people want — they want something to make them feel better, something to make them feel like everything’s gonna be okay.


pH levels in the ocean. Whenever I think about it I freak out. I went Antarctica as part of these climate classes. It was really intense learning about it in Antarctica because it’s so extreme there, you can really see the changes.

Do you talk to people about it?

It depends on who the person is, what their argument is. A lot of people, you want to just throw statistics at them, but usually they won’t know what you’re talking about. You have to talk about it based on who the person is and figure out your argument. The main thing I try to tell people is that if we do things to promote the environment they’re not gonna hurt, they’re only gonna help us do better.

[I offer her a #RIorganisms card]

You don’t have any invasive species on there, do you?



[This young man was a volunteer firefighter, and gave extra $ when he found out it was going to the SKLT.]

I have Type 1 diabetes. I wanted to go into the military like a lot of people in my family, but they said do you got any medical issues, I said diabetes, they said nope. There’s a lot of things my friends do that I can’t do, and I have depression because of it. I see a psychiatrist, yeah. She gives me medicine, which I hate taking, but it helps — I hate to do it because it’s another thing I have to do when I get up in the morning, it stresses me out to remember. … We fight forest fires too. You remember that big fire in Bradford? I was there. 


I worry about it. I worry, where does all the trash go? We have a disposable environment — we throw away and throw away. We don’t think of the consequences, the impact it’s gonna have. It used to be one crib stayed in the family, everybody used that crib — now everybody gets a whole new set of furniture and leaves it on the side of the road. It’s more of a gripe than a worry.


Climate, definitely. The air we breathe — how bad or good is it for us.


How did you come to get worried about that?


Just breathing it in, and other people mentioning it to me.


Do you talk to people about it?


I start conversations about it with people, with friends, but mostly they’re like, “Yeah, that sucks.” I feel like everyone’s talking about it, but not everyone changes — and not everyone’s actually aware, or they’re aware of a little bit of what’s on top of the surface but they’re not fully educated. If people knew more, maybe they’d do more. Simple things like not wasting water, recycling — well, those aren’t really air things, but they’re things people could do in their towns.



The world’s going down. The media is a distraction so the government can do all these horrible things.


What do you think they want? What’s in it for them?


Power, money, the more they can get. There are more of us than there are of them — we could overpower them.


What would we do if we overpowered them? What would be the first thing we could do?


I haven’t thought that far.




Maybe you can tell me if this is true, what somebody told me. I’m a chef at [REDACTED] in Misquamicut and somebody told me that in 20, 25 years, it’s gonna be underwater because of global warming. Is that true?


All I can say is it could be true. One of the things that makes global warming so hard for people to think about is that we don’t know how bad it’s gonna get how fast.


Somebody was telling me that the property line, the owners own up to 10 feet out in the water because 80, 85 years ago the property line was there and now it’s 10 feet out in the water.


Today’s poem:


Can you tell me

if it’s natural

if it’ll all

be the same in

a million years or

wreak or wrack

such changes

to all our kin

with all our care

or almost none

the line may be

ten feet out in

the sour water

the sore air spit

out and sucked back

the more you start

at the taste in

your mouth the worse

it won’t bother to be

for you being ready

enough and more

bringing water in

lifeless and sipless


View from the booth:

wcf817 - fairgoers from booth


 I’ll be posting bonus material from the Fair throughout the week — including pictures of oversized and misshapen vegetables — as well as reflections at the end of next week. 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 26 / Day 4 of the Washington County Fair, 8/16/14

Weather: Sunny and calm, turning gusty and dusty and cooling off later.

Time frame: 10 a.m.-12:10 pm, 1:30 pm-9:45 p.m.

Number of people: 26 stoppers, 20 walkbys

Pages of notes: 12

Number of hecklers: 1, sort of

People who read the sign out loud in an incredulous, wondering, suspicious or amused voice, without stopping to talk: 41 (that is not a typo)

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 5

People who asked for, and received, permission to take a picture: 1

Money raised for South Kingstown Land Trust: $2.25



Fair foods consumed: A very long pulled pork sandwich.



Best non-booth times today: Another tie!


1: Walking in Potter’s Woods with Susana and Stella, looking at mushrooms with Stella, which I then drew for #RIorganisms cards.


2: Walking around with dreamboat James McShane and looking at the fair together.





People really liked to say that the person they’re with “needs some counseling.”


A lot of people at the fair also had crowd claustrophobia that they wanted to talk with me about.


Hair theme: short, brightly dyed mohawks on kids and a few adults.

I’m not sure the heckler in question was really heckling, though both James and Susana thought so. I’ll tell you what she did: she walked by, laughing, which a lot of people do, and then she called back over her shoulder, “It’s too late!” I felt heckled, up to and including rage-crying, but what do you guys think? Leave a comment or tweet at @kateschapira.



Some conversations:


There’s no support for people with bipolar disorder in Rhode Island. I started one, but it shut down when I quit. There were 18 people in it, and I did it for three years, but you get fatigued. I’d committed to doing it every month, and I was ready for somebody else to take it on. But outside of NAMI, which is for everything, there’s nothing in RI.


[I give them a #RIorganisms card with an un-ID’ed mushroom on it, and explain the circumstances of its making.]


We’re mushroomers! [Looks at other mushroom cards] That’s just a common mushroom.


What about this one? It had a brown top and a brown stem.

Was the stem kind of spongy?


I think so.


If it has a brown top with a nice cap on it, kinda like a portabello, and you touch the bottom and it’s spongy, it’s a bolete




[These two were a couple.]


Him: I don’t worry.


Her: The kids going back to college. The money is an issue. Our daughter’s 24, our son’s 21, and our other daughter’s in law school, and she just got laid off from what was gonna be her job. You know, you worry about them when they’re little, and then they grow up and you worry about them. It doesn’t stop.




Prudence Island — is that on here [the map]? That’s my happy place. I like that you can be the only person on a beach the size of any beach in Rhode Island. Take the ferry out, and you can do some clamming, and just —




(A little boy and I look at a large black probably-bee or wasp. He says, “It must be called a pincher bee because it pinches with its fangs.” But it also sounds like he says, “It can’t be a bee, it’s not extinct.” Is this possible? )




I just finished a 6-week pre-college program at RISD, and it was intense. I don’t want to go to the wrong place and waste my parents’ money. My sister wants me to go to a therapist and I don’t want to talk about my issues, if you want something to write down.




Him: As far as climate, I have a couple concerns. It’s gonna be gradual, but the changes are gonna be horrific, because there’s gonna be more storms starting in more places. Like hurricanes are gonna start, instead of starting in the south Atlantic they’re gonna start in the north Atlantic and come through here. But on the positive side, Rhode Island is one of the best places with everything that’s going on. We haven’t had a tornado come through here — the one that came through Boston was a fluke.




Him: California, I was just there, it’s charred. And it stinks — where the water is channeled, it’s all muddy and it stinks.


Her: It doesn’t get me down, is that what you mean?


Him: When you’re talking alternative sources of energy, whether it’s wind — there’s not always gonna be wind, there’s not always gonna be sun. But still, in Europe, I was just there, they have wind and solar set up everywhere they can.


Why do you think we’re not doing that here?

Him: I think it’s wealthy people going, “Not in my backyard.” We could be getting power from a variety of sources, but we’re dependent upon coal, gas, oil. There’s too much wealth tied up in them — if we didn’t use that energy, they wouldn’t be wealthy … It’ll take a big catastrophe to tip the scales, and I think it’s coming up … I travel a lot for work — I work as a plastic injection molding technician. I see these 30-year-old machines, and people can cut their power consumption in half, or even to a fifth. We [the U.S.] had the edge in manufacturing and didn’t use it. We need better technology, better education.




What she loves about Block Island: Biking along the coast in the sunset. It gets me.




We have family property on the water, in Point Judith, that was damaged by Sandy. In 2010, our basement in another property we owned in South Kingstown flooded, and we lost a lot. Then our whole first floor in Narragansett was flooded, so we had two damaged properties to deal with. I’ll never forget it.




Job security. I just got a new job.


And it sounds like you’re worried about keeping it — a lot of jobs are fragile right now.


Especially in Rhode Island.




We’re in the process of purchasing a house. And the other thing that has me anxious is work on Monday. I’m dreading it.




I think the problem is overpopulation. I think that leads to everything else, all the other problems. Too many people.




Today’s poem:

I bet you’re making

a killing here

I would love a parabolic

microphone to pick

a bone of whisper

out of a crowd

seeded with people

who fear crowds

unless crowds are code

even to yourself

for something you keep

like a giant plushie

bigger than yourself

winning every time

running into code

finishing last and cast

into a state of confusion

scooping behind you with both

hands to bring the past

closer to catch yourself

up with drowning or being

buried while drawing

a snake remembering that

they’re thicker in the middle

and have blunt face-fronts

and wanting the cool-looking people

to come talk to me

which nobody needs

to know where the bathrooms

are and where

the exit is when

the world’s gonna end


View from the booth:

wcf816 - fairgoers from booth 3


Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 24 / Day 1 of Washington County Fair, 8/13

Weather: POURING for the first half of the session (including setup), clearer and cool for the second half.

Time frame: 10 am-9:45 pm

Number of people: 13 stoppers/interlocutors, 4 walkbys

Pages of notes: 18, but most of them are poems, or just me scribbling and blathering to stay alert.

Number of hecklers: 0!

People who read the sign out loud in an incredulous, wondering, suspicious or amused voice, without stopping to talk: 3

Money raised for South Kingstown Land Trust: $3.34


Fair foods consumed: Fried pickles

Best non-booth thing I did today: tried spinning on a drop-spindle with the help and instruction of a patient, expert and determined spinner.



From my spot (a bay at one end of a roofed-over structure with lattice partitions), I could see the following trees: red oak, white oak, eastern pine, and some kind of ornamental tree I didn’t recognize with a stout, silky, multi-lichened trunk.


If a kid is interested (even a fair-sized, talking kid) and they’re with a parent and the parent isn’t interested, no one’s stopping.


I can’t figure out what to do with my eyes when someone is standing and looking or pointing, but not approaching.


Some conversations:


The first interaction I have: a woman says, “I love it! I wanna take a picture!” but leaves and doesn’t come back.




[These two were a couple]


Her: Would you like me to help you with your attitude?


My attitude?


Her: You must have anxiety, there’s nobody here!


[I explain the booth.]


Him: Birds — I used to raise ’em. Then I used to shoot ’em, though I didn’t shoot too many. I hit one, I didn’t want to hit him, but I had a load of horses on , and I couldn’t stop.




My problem with the state is it’s not welcoming enough. We’re giving away donated resources, like Arcadia Pond and Beach Pond. They closed the Welcome Center, they closed the picnic stands, they took the trash cans out of the beaches. They wanted people to carry their trash out, which is a good idea, but they don’t offer services, and they don’t put money into recreational opportunities. My ex-husband was in wastewater treatment so I know they do look after that, they try to keep the waters clean. Our highways and our road systems — our towns aren’t wide enough, literally not wide enough to accommodate wider roads.

[After I give her the card] When I was a Girl Scout at camp, we all had to have a bird name and I was Red.




I grew up in RI, and why do all of a sudden we have all these flood alerts, all these flood warnings? 20 years ago we didn’t have these 10-foot puddles. Also Wood River for pollution. I could tell you things … I don’t have time.




I wish Robin Williams could’ve seen you.


That was a shame.


He must’ve had really bad depression.


He must’ve just thought things were never gonna get good again.


I know how he feels. I’ve had some of that, depression.




[These two were friends.]


Friend 1: World tensions — Iraq, Iran, Russia. Escalation. You never know when it could go.


Friend 2: What’s that thing, the cold places are gonna get cold and the hot places — no, they’re gonna reverse? There’s a name for it.


Friend 1: I have inherent faith in science to mitigate some of these privations. That’s the other thing, I think the changes are gonna be gradual.




[These three were friends.]


Friend 1: Being able to get jobs. It’s unsure.


How much of that is in your control versus not?


Friend 1: I can be super ambitious, harass [employers]. I wanna be a doctor, a physician’s assistant or a pediatrician.


Friend 2: What I wanna do — I just wanna have fun. I don’t wanna waste time in a profession I don’t like. I’m not gonna go into the National Guard, I wouldn’t enjoy sitting in an office, or government work. I want to help people, to work with people.


Friend 3: Transportation, overpopulation. Beach traffic. I don’t like feeling crowded.




I’m not anxious about much anymore. I’m 82, I’m a retired veteran, I’m just happy to see another day.




Like, big things? I guess the way communities react negatively to other cultures, other ideas entering [them]. I would like to be more supportive — I try to show support through music. Sometimes I’m silenced as a voice, I feel unable to inform others, or they won’t listen — their upbringing or their understanding doesn’t allow them to fully grasp why it’s a problem. And there can be repercussions if you speak up. My ultimate goal is to get out of there, get into a community with better ideas, more informed.


How did you gain the understanding and the accepting attitude you’re talking about?


I’ve kind of always had a broader spectrum, and I’ve always listened. If I’m talking, I’m also listening. I’ve always had the ability to take in others’ ideas.


Today’s poem:


All these flood alerts, flood warnings,

flood alerts, wandering around

our attention on their own gain

praying the same songs over and

over to test the system doing what we made

it to do or if not us the people

to the people even when they

made things were they even alert did they

constantly flash and gust all of them every

single time clear-cutting or donating

what seems so unlikely nothing

don’t hide the “about” in nothing

don’t hide behind that thick-seeming

multipurpose temporary structure

I look at the clock in my phone

to see when I can allow myself

to have some food to divide the time

between the people of now and

the people of never

keep it going a little longer

but going like doing is only for certain

or only for certainty as it passes

like minutes that feel more

able to be known by belaboring

a way of living that involves football

played in the mud and camping without electronics

overheard as though these things’ main place

or weight wet in time and if the times just changed

or were in some way hastened

prefabricated is the word I was looking for


The view from the booth:

 wcf813 - rain from booth




Climate Anxiety Counseling: Day 23 / Foo Fest (August 9th, 5:30-9 pm)

Weather: Cooling off from a hot day, a little sticky

Site: Empire Street, closed to motor traffic, many artist and vendor booths, paid admission

Number of people: 23 stoppers

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

Adorable toddlers held by me: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $9.50. Thanks to the guy who had no anxieties but put in $5 anyway.



When I get tired, I talk more, not less. I need to remember to listen and ask questions.

This setting was different than any I’d boothed in before, in a few ways:

– People had to pay ($10) to get into the Foo Fest. They also have to pay $10 to get into the Washington County Fair, which I think will be the last pay-to-get-in thing I do with the booth.

– Heretofore, when I’ve done the booth there’ve always been stretches of time between interlocutors when I can write the day’s poems or work on organism cards. That didn’t happen this time. Maybe because people had paid and were committed to hanging out in the territory of the Foo Fest, a lot of people waited their turn, or left and came back; I had maybe three minutes of down time in three and a half hours.

– I was under a large tent in one of several artist alcoves. This meant that people walking by could only see me from the front, and that people speaking with me were often in the alcove with me. If anyone who spoke to me that night is reading this, I would be curious to know if that measure of relative privacy made you more comfortable talking with me!

– It was INCREDIBLY LOUD. Both I and my interlocutors were bellowing the entire time. No disrespect to any of the bands, you guys were great and it’s normal for outdoor bands to be loud. Interlocutors, if I couldn’t hear what you were saying, I haven’t posted it here. 


Some conversations:


I’ve been waiting for three days for a callback from a job. They said they’d get back to me before the weekend, and nothing. I texted them, and I haven’t heard back.



I’m anxious about the upcoming year. I’m taking hard classes, and my parents are pressuring me about starting to look for colleges. I just feel like I’m dealing with a lot of expectations — from myself, and from other people too. It’s like now that I’ve set these high expectations for myself, other people have them too. I’m also worried about doing things I used to like, but maybe not so much anymore.




The hole in Siberia. I woke up thinking about it. I was reading in the Washington Post, which is an awful conservative paper, about how they figured out what it was and it’s not good: it’s permafrost that’s thawing and it’s supposed to be frozen, and it’s releasing methane gas, and I have this 20-month-old! I don’t want to leave him in a world where giant holes open up in the earth.


Do you talk to people about this?


I talk to my partner, I talk to my friends. You can’t just shut things down. But the reality is, I’m gonna get through my life, and my kid will probably get through his life, with relative privilege and safety. That’s a good long time. And we can raise him — not with a hero complex, but like, “Go out into the world and have a positive impact.” His generation, the younger generation is gonna be the one that figures out a way to turn the big floating garbage patches into an energy source.


How old are you?




The reason I’m asking is, you probably, hopefully, have 30 or 40 years left, and you can do something in those years–I mean, you’re going to be an active, thinking person, again hopefully.


That’s true. I’m not the greenest person on the planet, but I feel like the people who feel the biggest guilt, they’re not the ones who are doing the most damage. But how do you do something? I teach sculpture at [REDACTED], and I’m actively involved in a conversation about — sculptors are asking, “How do we be responsible for the choice of our materials?” and looking at something from the object’s point of view — not just, “How does this cup look?” but, “What is the lifespan of this cup going to be?” It’s a serious conversation that’s happening about resource usage. I can’t solve everybody’s problems, but I can try to get these MFA sculpture students to make responsible choices … How can I do what’s important to me and make changes in the way that I do it? I feel anxious because of my kid, but I also feel hopeful because of my kid. He’s gonna be raised as I wasn’t raised.




It’s already happening. I do my part: I recycle as much as possible, I use as little gas as possible, I turn off lights, I take short showers, cold showers. Other than that I’m not — it’s so inconvenient to be socially or environmentally conscious. I do my best.


If there was a thing that you could do as one of a bunch of people that was a mild pain in the ass, but you knew it would help, would you do it?


Like composting? Composting is a pain in the ass.




I talk about it, but more thoughts in general about climate change, not in terms of anxiety. I feel like I do this weird balancing act, between more conservative family and friends on the one hand, trying to get them to understand that this is actually happening, versus my friends who are like, “We’re all doomed,” I’ll try to reassure, or say we don’t actually know how it’s going to be. I don’t know that I imagine it — I tend to look at it from a systems perspective, its social impact — the impact it could have on other social problems. I don’t think much about how to help people survive. I guess I think people will find solutions for the day-to-day impacts, building boats or whatever, people’s ability to adapt and cope, based on the skills that they have.


Do you think maybe you could learn additional skills?


My skill is making art about it, so deepening that. When I work with organizations, I trust them to do their part.




Land use, the various ways it spirals down into other issues: agriculture, water quality, wildlife, urban living. I’ve been overwhelming myself by listening to climate news. I just want to curl up in my apartment and not do anything, I feel like I can’t do anything. I don’t even know what I would do. How do you narrow it down to a place where you can start? I can say, “Oh, I’ll become a vegetarian, that’s better for the planet,” but I can’t even convince my mom to think about what meat she’s buying, and if you can’t convince your mom … I have this really weird reaction which is that when I hear something really messed up, I get excited and energized. But then I make something about it — I’m a sculptor — and people say that it’s flat, that it has no affect. They say, “You’re just telling your story, you’re telling me everything, I don’t need to think about it,” like I’m being too literal. Super caring about something becomes flat.


Does the anxiety come from imagining the future or from thinking about the things people in the present are doing to make that future happen?


I think it’s more like, “people right now are making this happen and I can’t do anything” — I know what the future looks like because of what people are doing right now.




I have serious anxiety problems. It’s hard for me to just be myself. I thought my car was missing and I totally panicked. I shake, it’s like I’m in a trance. And I have social anxiety, it’s really awkward for me to be around people. People make me feel awkward. I’m not a fan of gossip, and I always feel like people are gossiping about me.


What do you do when you start to feel panicked?


I try to solve the problem.


Does that make the feeling less?


Sometimes. It takes a while for it to leave my system. I’ve been trying to meditate as much as possible. When I meditate I sometimes see people from my life, positive role models from my life, even someone I only met once. I think I need to move out of Fall River. I’m much happier in Providence, I feel much better about myself. I feel like I can talk to people I don’t know, strangers, and maybe it goes well or maybe it doesn’t, but it doesn’t matter.




I don’t worry about anything. It’s out of my control. People wanna have control over situations but the control you try to have, you gotta take it out of your hands.





In my own kitchen, I can’t say hello to my own father. I have trouble approaching people, however I know them. I saw my own uncle at Wal-Mart and I was like, “I should avoid him, I should go down the other aisle.” I hate feeling anxious. I touch my skin, bite my fingers, itch my elbows. I’m on medication, but it’s not helpful. I lose sleep, thinking about something weird I did when I was like five years old, thinking, “Why did I do that?” Even being honest about it gives me anxiety. I bring it up to feel comfortable with the fact, and talking about it feels awesome, but then after the conversation is over I beat myself up. It’s like talking about it exudes all the anxiety, but then later I’m like, “I can’t believe I was brutally honest.” 




I’m all for the environment. I think our generation is gonna make a change. We need to unite together and save the world. The Republicans can’t deny global warming anymore. We have to stand up and make a difference. I worry about food security — we need to stop letting big companies be in charge of what we eat, our health, the environment, and rely less on big farm lots. With more local, small-scale stuff, or growing our own, there’s less greenhouse gases. People need to learn how to cook, so when the economy drops, when the economic crisis hits, you’ll be able to help yourself.



[These two were father and son.]


Dad: Not enough people believe in it, are alarmed about it, doing something about it.


What should they be doing about it?


Dad: Using alternative energies. Reducing consumption generally. We need to sacrifice some of our lifestyle, use less electricity, even be poorer.


Kid: Nobody should smoke cigarettes.


Dad: I agree with you that smoking is bad, but that’s not really what we’re talking about. (To me) We need both behavioral changes and big structural changes. Maybe gas should cost four times what it does, maybe airline tickets should be more expensive. You want people to feel like they’re in the crisis, because with the absence of something in their face, they don’t wanna think about it.


Kid: Alternative transportation.


Like what?


Kid: Mag-lev trains, like the one from Beijing to Shanghai.


(To dad) How did you come to think of this as important?


Dad: I was an environmental lawyer for years, and all the people I worked with were these liberal environmental lawyer types, working on a bunch of environmental issues — I don’t think it was one thing, I think it was just like critical mass. I graduated from college in 1990, and I remember saying to my dad that climate change was more serious than any of the class and race issues he spent his life dealing with. He just looked at me.



[Three friends came up together. Friend 3 mentioned his own area of interest and work, but otherwise mostly listened.]


Friend 1: The world is burning. I’m from California, and there’s no water.


You said that in a really cheerful voice.


Friend 1: Talking about it cheerfully is my coping mechanism — I spend a lot of time thinking about how immovable the world is in terms of mass action.


When you think about the future, do you imagine it?


Friend 1: Sometimes I imagine it, not very often. I guess I imagine a disaster coming toward us and we’re not doing anything to stop it.


Do you talk with people you know about this?


Friend 1: Sometimes, with my family. Like when I was in California, it would have come up as we traveled the length of the state. But it’s so big, it’s hard to talk about it as a pressing thing.


Friend 2: I’m anxious about coalition-building between organizations working toward different kinds of justice. I work for an organization that shares space with, and sometimes I feel like we’re competing for students. And there are a lot of white people doing climate work. Is coal divestment really happening with the consent of front-line communities? The assumption that activists are there to help people, that some people help and others are helped.




My relationship. My boyfriend cheated in the past — not physically, but he was texting with someone. It was six months ago. We talked about it in the middle, it’s been conversated. He’s cheated on other girls. He screwed up once and he hasn’t screwed up since, but I don’t trust him. I just want him to be true to me.




My concerns are about food production and ecology. Many crops require a lot of water, and we expect things to grow in areas that don’t have enough water. Changes in weather patterns with rainfall, frost dates, less severe winters that let insects overwinter instead of dying off — and then with that, there’s not just the damage to plants, there’s the fact that the solution is often chemical warfare. The [pesticide] industry always has a response — they can always sell you another chemical for diseases, for pathogens, for insects. We have to somehow get off the idea that someone’s going to make a chemical next week to solve our current problems. And then there’s the inability to move food where it needs to be that accompanies our loss of energy and interacts with our dependence on nonrenewables. Agriculture is dependent on petroleum, [synthetic] fertilizers, transport — we rely on freezing for preserving things. We need more flexible agricultural systems, more locally centralized, more adaptable.

[I give her a #RIorganisms card and explain what it is.]


Is the scientific name on there?


Yeah, it’s right on there.


I can’t read it, I don’t have my glasses and the light’s not good.


Oh. Moneses uniflora.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”><p>For <a href=””>@wingeddangerous</a&gt;: <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; Kate Schapira (@kateschapira) <a href=”″>August 12, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Thanks. I’m a botanist.




I’m an inventor. My goal is to build little electronics for musicians, and they will be more efficient. But some factory is going to be churning out these parts and climate change is an issue — [what’s the relationship between] idealistic actions and daily actions? I’ve developed a variety of skills and gone through the process of applying them. I try to optimize what I have to be useful, to myself and to the world.




I feel guilty about having had children. I had this one boyfriend in 1989 and he said to me, “Having kids is like inviting someone to a part that you know is going to be a bad party, but you want someone to be there with you.” … What should I do? Tell me what to do.



Today’s poem:


Who did you say you were to be useful

to do nothing leaving nothing no

mark buzzing under a tent full of marks

handwaved and hardwired with pride

who aim to be ripe and fall

only given the time the lines took looking

like they converged and the scales

like future feathers given time to ferrule

and barbule farrier and knacker

meeting the needs of the past that now

are smaller you’d think that would make

sense but it’s happening without you

but it’s happening with you

happening what with you having a knack

for being ragged and harmless you made

yourself a machine for just that

just like that just look at you

just look at yourself as well

as can be expected considering







I’m back!

From the Washington County Fair, that is, where I sat behind the booth for five days.

Thanks a million to Roxanne Nelson for accepting the booth as a concession, and to the other fair volunteers. Thanks also to Susana Gardner for the idea and to her and her daughter Stella, equestrienne and woods investigator, for hosting me for four nights and walking in the woods with me. 

I still have to transcribe and post the Foo Fest booth stint and I’ll be doing that tonight / tomorrow, but thereafter you should watch this spot to learn about the people who spoke with me, the foodstuffs I ate (fried and otherwise), the number of climate change deniers I fielded, and the livestock I peered at. For the time being, I leave you with the best thing I saw at the fair, from a (probably very) Junior 4-H member’s research project on dogs. You’re looking at the text with the red border, at far left, which I imagine to be the presenter taking advantage of the just-realized possibilities of a public platform.


wcf - rainbow - lilly



Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Providence Fringe Festival (Day 22)

Weather: Cooling off from a hot day, humid, gusty at first then calm

Number of people: 16 stoppers

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

People who asked, and received, permission to take a picture: 2

Conversations between people previously unknown to one another: 1

People who recognized and commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Number of business cards or flyers proffered and received: 2

Leftover packages of Small State Seeds given away: 4

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $7.80. Thanks to whoever put in the 5-spot!




Many fewer people passed by than when I was in KP / Burnside Park. Could have been the location, could have been the time of day (6-9 pm as opposed to my usual 3-6).


There also weren’t a lot of walk-by commenters. Because traffic is slow on Westminster St., I could see a lot of people rubbernecking the sign from their cars.



Lots of couples. There was a weird pattern of one member of a couple volunteering the other for counseling, which is not allowed, so I had to re-ask the person if they actually wanted to do it.


Questions people asked that were not about the booth:


Do you have any money you could spare?

Does anyone think this is about Scientology?

Is there anyone in there? Is the door open?

Is it free parking here at night?

When does the show start?

Do you know of a place called DV8?

Do you know where Civil is?

What time does it kick off in there?


Some conversations:

[These two were a couple.]


Person 1: Recycling. I do it, not just bottles and stuff but old things being used again. not thrown away.


Person 2: Water. I worry that it’s not clean enough. There’s places in RI where it’s filtered, and places where it’s filtered less. 




— I think there needs to be a radical shift and I don’t think it’ll happen soon enough, because it’s people in power who will be least affected by a change in climate, or any change, and by the time it affects them it’ll be too late. People are already being affected, animals are being affected, but it’s not noticeable enough, and we don’t see things changing quickly enough. People’s rights are being ignored. Even something like these changes to the bus routes is affecting people, people are standing around and not being able to get places. But somebody has decided that it’s a good thing, so they just do it. It’s even affecting me, so imagine if I was someone who had five jobs, and I was trying to get to work. It’s noticeable when it’s you, so imagine how it is for people who have less privilege than you do.


How can people who don’t have much status take care of each other?


By spending the time that you have to help other people. I think there’s a problem, with environmental issues, where there’s an expectation that everyone should do the same amount. People should just take any time that they have. Like with the bus, if you see that a person is confused, you should point the way, if you know it. Share the information you have that someone else doesn’t. But I don’t really expect that of people. 


Do you expect it of yourself?


Yeah, but I don’t always live up to my expectations. If you have the time and the means–if you have privilege, use what you have. There’s that problem of people going into places and being like, “I’m trying to help you.” I think we really need a non-hierarchical society, but not anarchy. Democracy could work if it wasn’t tied to capitalism — we do need some sort of structure, some idea of what society should be.




I try not to worry about anything. And I’ve lived in RI my entire life.


Can you say one thing you love about RI?


It’s comfortable. I don’t have to think about it.




How to get a job — how to change my job. I recently quit a job on a cruise ship, it really wasn’t for me, and I have a bunch of questions, like, “Where the hell am I going?” I’m thinking about school, thinking about working for a nonprofit but that’s down the line … I took the cruise job, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be, and I’m like, “Am I gonna just keep picking things up and dropping them?”




I’m anxious about long-term goals, 20-year goals. Like, I can’t have kids, we’re all gonna be fighting for water!


How do you think people could take care of each other in a time like that?


I don’t know. People’s jobs right now aren’t set up for a future where we share more things. A lot of skills for jobs, if the systems we have now fall down, people won’t have a way to like grow food, or share food. I’m really glad my partner is a farmer, but I think, what if we ever break up? And not just survival, but leisure activities — people won’t be able to go to the cinema, or get Netflix. People will have to rethink the way they have fun and relax.




[These two were parent and child.]


Person 1: I have a friend with coastal property, and I was asking her, “Are you concerned about climate change, and she was like, ‘No.’ Just, ‘No.'”


Did you get into it with her?


Person 1: Well, we were drinking rose by the gallon, so no.


I think a lot of times people don’t want to be the one who pees on the conversational parade.


Person 1: Oh, no, we have these discussions with people.


Person 2: I had an issue with my roommate — they’re up here to help me move into a new place. She had so many plastic bottles she had her own gyre in the ocean. She bought bottled water by the case. And when I tried to sort it out for her, like trash, trash, recyling, she was all, ‘Are you going all Martha Stewart on me?’ How do you get through to people like that?




I just wanna vent the fact that we’re killing all the animals and there’s just so much fuckin’ garbage and it scares the shit out of me — the thing that hurts me is what we do to these poor fuckin’ animals, we kill the animals so we can be fat and ignorant, so I can sit and watch a football game and cut it up and be happy …


I really appreciate and am grateful for you saying, “This hurts me, this pisses me off.”


Well, with all the devastation, you’re gonna find people who are at the opposite extreme.



[These two were a couple; Person 2 joined the conversation later.]


Person 1: I actually work in solar — I do everything but install. I was just at this 3-4 hour regulation meeting about distributed generation. There are people who are spending time processing a path to a solarized RI, and I’m from just over the state line in MA, which has one of the top 3 state solar programs in the country.   I’m primarily a filmmaker and a painter, my greatest love is making things, but it’s hard to combine that with engendering any kind of change in a really pragmatic way. A lot of it is grunt work — any business has its finding, minding, grinding. And solar is a kind of Wild West. Rules change, and you have to relearn everything each time, and a lot of it seems obstructionist. But if you have part of a brain, you can apply that brain to power. The only thing is that you have less time, less energy, for making art, and at the end of the day you’re a nutjob. The most concerning thing for me is just human nature. It’s shocking that the species has survived at all …


Person 2: I have hope for the planet.


What’s the source of your hope?


Person 2: I don’t know what the source of my hope is. I try to be optimistic — I think that — yeah, I don’t know why. Maybe I’ll be different — represent the hope side a bi. If you don’t hope, why do anything?


Person 1: He balances me out. I’m kind of the Eeyore in the relationship. 


Person 2: I think I’m more Pooh. Eat honey, try to cheer up Eeyore when she’s depressed. Also, I have a daughter, and I would like her to have a world that’s okay.




[These two were a couple.]


Person 1: I commute to Boston, and I try to take the train, but it’s not a good experience. It doesn’t seem very healthy. I prefer to take it, but sometimes I wish I could just drive. It is nice to just be able to sit, and I feel good about not having to rely on a car for transportation. And once you get into Boston it’s not hard to get around — they have that bikeshare … Sometimes it does come down to convenience — sometimes it’s more convenient to drive.


Person 2: What’s that saying, when the pain of staying the same is more than the pain of changing?


I think one thing I worry about with climate change is that by the time the pain of staying the same reaches people, especially people who make big decisions, things will be really really bad.


Person 2: Yeah, ’cause it does feel abstract. We’re conditioned to be able to change the way we’re thinking about things — we always rationalize it. And then people feel safe, like, “Oh, the weatherman said it was okay.” It’d be interesting to do something about the rituals people do to make themselves feel safe. Sometimes it makes me feel safer to point out other people’s problems — like, “Look what they’re doing!” or, “Well, if I think about it, that will protect me against it …” When there are extreme arguments, it makes me feel like I’m being scolded, and I start getting defensive and thinking, “It couldn’t be that bad!”


What would give you the opposite reaction to that?


The option to do something practical. An article that’s like, This is how you can garden at home: “Oh, I can be a part of something.”




I’m worried about getting through the weekend. I’m working the whole festival, I’m performing, so I’m worried about how’s the performance gonna be, is the acting and writing gonna be good, are people gonna show up, what if something goes horribly wrong?




My biggest concern that nobody’s talking enough about is the change of crop patterns. I heard somebody talking about changing crop patterns on the radio, but I’ve really heard very little about it, and I’ve been concerned about it for 20 years. The breadbasket of our country is gonna move to Canada and our economy’s gonna be shot. Whether people believe it’s manmade or not, what can be grown in our country is gonna change, and people can’t just rebuild infrastructure. Land rights, water rights, everything’s geared toward the existing infrastructure. I mean, that’s just one thing. You read about it happening in other places. In the developing world, changes in insect patterns, malaria mosquitos showing up in areas that used to be safe. It’s not just that the water’s gonna rise, or we’re gonna have storms … There was one project that started 10, 15 years ago — I think the Ford Motor company was involved with it.


That’s funny.


It’s not funny. It was amazing that people at Ford were so concerned. It was called Ceres, an initiative out of Boston, and they were pulling together people, industries, investment funds to look at climate change and make the case that if you don’t divest from industries that put a lot of carbon into the air, then it’s going to come back to bite you. Quite a few pension plans were on board, city and state pension funds, and reinsurance companies — the insurance for the insurance, because insurance companies were saying, “We cannot continue to insure against storms, storm damage.” People doing some big-picture work that you didn’t think was possible. One thing I think is good that comes out of RI right now — this could be because of the lack of good-paying jobs — is the attention paid to urban agriculture. That seems to be growing in this area, cropping up more and more.


I have a car in Providence and I don’t really need one. In a lot of ways Providence even makes it hard to have a car. You have to fight for parking spots, you have to pay for parking. It’s bad for the environment and for your personal economy. I got one because I thought it would be hard to get around without one, but it really isn’t.


What do you use it for?


Grocery shopping. And to help other people move their shit, so me having a car is good for other people. Maybe I could share a car — some friends of mine were talking about that. I used to pay for a parking spot, but now I walk to work. It takes longer, but it’s nicer … What else?  It’s not so easy to compost in RI. Isn’t it illegal?


No, I think there’s a service you can hire to pick it up for you.




The day’s poem:


Didn’t you used to be a bruise

years ago what were you thinking of

leaning over your educational materials

from burnished to burning

the sun and the grain

we don’t grow here

we don’t crop up

along the roads

tough flora coated in oil

a list of acts past and gone

will you look at it again

will you ever look at it again

under your own steam

on your own dime

like a lie of the land