Alternate History: 5/12, 5/28, 6/8

[Here’s an explanation of alternate histories.]

5/12/16

Heat, dryness, really sick people, kind of barren landscapes. A lot of–as I’m listing things off it looks a little bit like what’s happening right now, in terms of economic and cultural devastation. A lot more complete separation of folks with resources and folks without resources, a lot more violence and globalization from below–people joining forces, people finding commonness where they couldn’t before because they thought they were in competition.

That part sounds–not exactly hopeful, but like something that you would like to see.

Yeah, that is.

So what’s the fear part?

Starvation?…but when you go to identify it, it’s different than what you think. I like to think of the world as an ecological system. Basically the fear is that turned on its head and nothing being able to sustain anything else. I don’t even know how to file that, where to put that.

*

5/28/16

I’ve been down here 10 years working with the homeless. Last year they had a sign that said there was no smoking in the park, so then of course people came and smoked out here, but now people are smoking in the park again. … I’d like to see people down here motivated to clean up the park.

What do you think might motivate people?

I think people need to take ownership of it.

But what makes you take ownership of something? Like, do you own your house, what makes you feel like the owner of your house?

I think you have to tap into what people can do instead of what they can’t do.

*

6/8/16

The story of competition is only one story.

D hangs laundry in his backyard, bees rocking and rummaging in the rhododendron pollen. He has a backyard, at the moment, that he can say “his” about. If he’s honest, it belongs also to the bees, to the rhododendron, to the grass; to the native trees that the rhododendron and grass replaced, to the Native people that his ancestors displaced, to the slaves that cleared the land of trees the first time; to the bugs that thread through the grass and the worms and grubs that tunnel through the dirt; to the microfauna in their guts and the fungal hyphae laced around them. All those whose speech is in their operation. The living and the dead. There’s enough backyard for all of them, if he does it right.

Until now, the other meaning of ownership has trumped this shared meaning in his mind: the getting of what you pay for, the holding of what you have. The recognition that he is always taking part takes him apart.

He does a few things. He and his neighbors on the one side work together on a pass-through through his yard between theirs and the street, breaking up the concrete of his driveway into pavingstones with moss between them, leaving half the fence to slow down noise and building the rest of its boards into a trellis. When he waters the plants or digs in compost, he treats it like an offering; when he poisons the carpenter ants that are gnawing down his house, he holds a funeral for them. When his neighbor on the other side comes out running from his other neighbor, her girlfriend, he sits with her on the porch and helps her make a plan about what to do next. Later he says to the girlfriend, “If you want to hit her, come talk to me instead. Whatever it takes for you to not hit her. Don’t do it again.”

“Or what?”

“What do you mean, or what? Don’t do it.”

The girlfriends break up and move away, taking advantage of the northward convoys. D doesn’t know what they do, what happens to them. Other people move in, turn the house next door into what turns out to be one of the first free clinics and build out a giant trellis to let the ivy and grapevine make it a superstructure of shade, stabilize its temperature in the increasingly sharp spells of dry heat and downpour. D chats with the people waiting to pick up their doses of hormones and makes tea for the people dying of cancer to wash down their painkillers–iced tea would probably be better, but he needs to repair the connection between the refrigerator and the solar cell. If the next storm doesn’t rip this house away, if food poisoning or accident doesn’t nab him on one of his work trips out into the countryside, he’ll probably die here, too. He belongs here, and so do the plants that scaffold or strangle each other, the tiny animal deaths that feed into insect and fungal life, the remnants of the dead, the visiting birds (ever fewer), the relations among all of these.

Many years later, on that same spot, circle of people sit in a dry and ragged landscape, a stretch of dust punctuated by tree stumps and a few ragged foundations, in whose shelter the weeds grow and they can sleep. They are tired and dying, looking for the end of the wasteland. They pass an old thermos around. Each of them takes about half a sip. In the morning three of them are dead. The others form a circle, pass an old thermos around, each taking about half a sip. Then they keep walking, the slightly stronger ones bolstering the slightly weaker.

It doesn’t have to last forever, whatever it is, for you to be tender to it, for you to share with it; you won’t last forever, either.

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/28/16

Weather: Hot, but okay in the shade. Heavy wing of gray cloud to the north and east.

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 3

Offers of food/drink: 3

Number of dogs seen: 1

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $6.32

 

Observations:

I saw the person who likes horseshoe crabs from my first season, and we chatted a bit to catch up. Here’s the alternate history I wrote for her.

Today, a pair of evangelists–neither of whom were this evangelist or these evangelists, or even from the same church or group, as far as I could gather–set up on the opposite side of the Burnside Park entrance. I did have a conversation with one of them, which I’ve excerpted below, and took a picture of them with a renewed acquaintance. Because I’m competitive, I also kept track of how many people spoke with them: they got 12 stoppers to my 11. Their approach was very different–they mostly didn’t buttonhole people either, but they had an “intelligence test” of trick questions (I overheard some of these but couldn’t see them) set up under a poster of the 10 Commandments and they used this to draw people in, and they seemed to be at least as interested in talking as they were in listening.

Please direct your well-wishes and your thoughts of calm and steadiness to Lucinda of the delicate feet, who spoke to me today.

 

Some conversations:

I just keep havin’ nightmares about strangling Donald Trump … My worst fear with Trump is that he is what he says he is, and he’s just gonna make money for himself. [After talking about John F. Kennedy for a bit, segued into speaking about the Vietnam War.] I had a brother over there.

Did he survive?

You could call it that, I guess. He won’t talk about it. Doesn’t like it when you bring it up. He was a guard at the airport. They blew it up … I guess all that shelling gets to you after awhile, among all the other things that happened.

*

I’m anxious about climate change. The polar ice caps are melting, they’re flooding everything, everything changing. And what can we do to stop it?

[After she ran out of things to say about that] I don’t like the way they have the police presence in the park. I want to be able to sit on a bench and smoke a cigarette.

*

Fracking, for starters. The amount of toxins being released into the ground, the air, and the groundwater.

How did you come to know about the damage that it causes?

I’m involved in a couple of different groups–most recently Democracy Spring. But I’ve always followed Greenpeace… [Fracking] was one of the things we were trying to pay attention to, not the main focus, but the leader of the Sierra Club got arrested with us.

What was the main focus?

Our group went down specifically for Bernie Sanders. His campaign’s been blacked out by the media…This election’s been rigged from the start. We were petitioning against the removal of children of illegal immigrants [sic], just trying to get corruption out of the government. 1400 people were arrested on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, and there was no media attention.

So do you feel like you didn’t achieve your goal, or–

No, I do. It’s gone viral on Facebook, and a lot of independent media covered it. It’s just that the mainstream media didn’t. I feel like we accomplished what we set out to do, and we have more actions planned. The same group is marching in Philadelphia at the [Democratic National Committee], more [to focus on] the media blackout of Bernie Sanders and by extension that that kind of corruption is legally allowed to continue. It’s a perfect example of how things are going down in this country right now.

Most of what you’ve told me so far is kind of the official, unified explanation of what you and the people you work with are concerned about. Is there anything that you, personally, are concerned about that doesn’t fit, that you guys are not focusing on? [I had to ask this twice in slightly different ways before it was clear; this is sort of a combination of the ways.

No. Not really. I feel like we’re getting pretty much everything … All these different groups came together. The Sierra Club and Greenpeace were there for what they’re doing to us with Monsanto and destruction of forests.

*

I’ve been down here 10 years working with the homeless. Last year they had a sign that said there was no smoking in the park, so then of course people came and smoked out here, but now people are smoking in the park again. … I’d like to see people down here motivated to clean up the park.

What do you think might motivate people?

I think people need to take ownership of it.

But what makes you take ownership of something? Like, do you own your house, what makes you feel like the owner of your house?

I think you have to tap into what people can do instead of what they can’t do.

*

I’m anxious to get on with my life farther, but I don’t wanna go too fast.

What might get in your way?

Old habits, old friends, old ways of thinking. You travel down that road so many times and you keep making the same mistakes. The same pattern is just destroying and ruining everything all over again … You gotta be on guard constantly, especially if you hang around down here. I try to hang around with positive people, pick and choose who I hang out with. Homeless people are a target for the police.

What do you do to help yourself keep your vision in sight?

There’s not much light out there in the vision. So I gotta focus on the smallest little things instead of the big picture. The fewer options you have, the harder it is to make it work … [Of people who get high/are addicted] They’re suffering from something inside and they’re covering it up.

What’s it like to come down here and see people in that state?

Honestly, it’s a relief, I’m like, “I’m glad I don’t have that person’s problems.” I’d rather be silent and sane.