Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/12/16

Weather: Warm, sunny, breezy, perfect in the shade; gusty at 4; warmer and stiller again toward the end

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 3 walkbys, 1 excellent couple double-take

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6

People known to me, and I to them, from past seasons: 3, one very important (see below)

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 2, both voluble, walking together

Number of dogs seen: 3

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $3.35

 

Observations:

One of the people I saw that I knew from a past season was the 3rd person who spoke to me on this day. She’s still in her apartment–the place she showed me the key to–and it’s going well, and she still has her cat. She said to me, “I’m finally out of boxes.”

Today went better than yesterday overall–the conversations were better, and I think I inhabited the booth better.

The booth’s complement includes a map of the state of Rhode Island that asks, “Is there a place in RI you’d like to protect?” (Used to say “Is there a place in RI you love?” but I think this works better.) It often doesn’t see a lot of use, but it did today.

There were some more evangelists today, a team of three. They were vocally homophobic and transphobic, and one of them gave me the same spiel to my face as I’d just heard him yell into the microphone, but none of them scared me personally this time.

 

Some conversations:

[Marks the Woonasquatucket River on the map]

The Woonasquatucket actually comes out of North Providence, then behind Manton and Route 6 it goes underground, and in Roger Williams Park there’s actually a freshwater spring. But it’s too clogged to recycle the water in the park, so it gets backed up. Then it splits off again just below the Providence VA, and the other part is that river you see downtown. And in the park, you know the Temple to Music? That water behind it is where the spring wells up. And then it runs into Pawcatuck. People don’t realize. My grandfather was Narragansett, and we use to walk the old way, all the rivers, up by 146, up where Purgatory Chasm runs into the Blackstone River. We’d go for two months in the summer, and you know what we’d do? If we found a tree down, we wouldn’t cut it, but we’d push it and use it like a canoe–just find something that floats and just get on either side. We used to fish in the river, brook trout and other kinds of fish, but there’s no longer any fish in the river. But I did see some fish in the park area that are maybe indigenous to the park.

*

My wife’s an RN and she just lost her job. So then you have bills, bills pile up, and that causes anxiety and stress.

*

I think I’ve found a way to be nimble and present in situations with multiple humans–that’s my role. I had some anxieties earlier this week: Am I listening hard enough? Am I listening to everything, listening to everyone? Sometimes it’s overwhelming in itself. I’ve been thinking about roles in life, roles, places, jobs. We have all these conversations, but we also need to act–it’s a luxury to be in conversation. It’s fulfilling, but it’s frustrating when it doesn’t lead to anything. What is action, how does change manifest?

*

I’m not that concerned with the environment. I think there’s not enough parks for the kids, we need more city parks, more places to play. In Providence there’s not a lot of people with backyards, so kids play in the street.

Are there places where you’d especially like to see more parks?

The South Side needs a lot more. But there’s no space to put them.

But there are some abandoned buildings and stuff, that maybe they could tear down.

Those are my same thoughts! They could just tear ’em down. But you know why they don’t? You see these abandoned houses, they don’t want to tear ’em down ’cause they want the taxes on it. They don’t have the money to fix it up, they might as well use it for taxes. …Everything [for kids] is far. Chucky Cheese is all the way in Warwick. You could put a swingset right here [indicates Burnside Park]. It’s for the kids that don’t have what normal kids have. And city pools, for kids in the summertime–I don’t have a car, that’s why I ride RIPTA, and when I was young I didn’t have a car, I was poor, I couldn’t bring my kids to the beach all the time. It doesn’t even have to be a pool, just a water thing in the park.

*

[Marks the South Side of Providence on the map]

Can you say what about the South Side you want to protect?

The people. Protect everyone.

*

I’m totally anxious about climate change. I usually have to dig a little to find out that what I’m anxious about is the survival of beautiful people and plants and animals. Usually it takes the form of more mundane stuff, like rent. But I particularly have anxiety about beasts and green things and water.

Do you imagine it, that changed world?

It’s really hard to put my mind there but I forced myself to. It’s almost impossible by myself. I kind of have to be with someone else, either it’s a lighthearted space or really trying to do it. I get temporarily hopeful, but it doesn’t–the kind of pall of discouragement rolls back in pretty quickly.

Oh, I get it–you’re talking about a brighter vision, but I was actually wondering if you also imagined a darker version of things.

Oh. Yeah. 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. The opposite of communication and love and ecology.

*

I take medicine for anxiety and depression. I lost my mother, my father, my brother, and my niece committed suicide. My sister’s got a brain tumor. I just come from the hospital right now. They’re doing surgery tomorrow. She said, Go home. She’s in good spirits, she got her girlfriends there, the pastor’s there. I don’t wanna be in the way … I got a good support system. Last time, I was isolated, that wasn’t good. I didn’t reach out. I got a good support system, I’m in a good place.

*

I’m worried about the economy in general. People getting jobs, people getting paid for the work that they do. [HER JOB] offered us this horrible health care plan this year, and it’s so bad that the staff agreed to make up the difference out of our own pocket, 12% out of pocket, when there’s no salary increase. Even with the last plan you had people going, “I just didn’t go to the doctor,” and this one’s even worse. … I see so many of our patrons and they have it so much worse, at least I have healthcare.

 

 

 

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Alternate Histories: 5/29, 6/13, 9/29

[Note:  this is another alternate history for the same two people who evoked yesterday’s.]

5/29/15

[After asking his nana for permission to talk to me]

I’m worried that I’ll never get to see my dad and he misses me and I miss him. And I miss nature, I miss everything.

Your nana’s over there, you don’t miss her, right?

No, she’s right over there, and my mom, and my auntie, except for my dad.

Are you guys in touch? [Shakes head.] Do you like to draw?

Yeah.

Maybe you could do some drawings and save them for him, I bet he’d like that.

I like to draw Minecraft. I make a comic book and I turn it into a comic book and all I do is make Minecraft, that’s all. Can I have a piece of paper? [I give him a piece of paper and he folds it.] Do you have a scissor or can you rip it? [He draws a line to show me where to rip, and unfolds a one-sheet booklet. He then goes and lugs his little cousin over to meet me and they draw together for a while on the backs of some of the alternate-history blanks, except he’s having a competition for how much paper he can cover and she’s not. I give him a marker, a clipboard, and the rest of the alternate-history blanks to take with him.]

*

6/13/15

I worked at Apeiron, I worked in Woonsocket. Life is so totally out of balance, so disconnected. We’re all implicated. It makes me so unutterably sad.

What do you do when you feel that sadness?

I try to put parts of my body on the grass and connect with Mother Earth … A lot will survive, but I think it might not be us. I try to breathe. I think about the bad things I do and how they contribute … I believe that everybody cares, given the opportunity to care.

I’ve been trying to think about what sadness might make possible.

Sadness leads to the desire for connection. Sadness informs reaching out. But I don’t share sadness often, because I want to make opportunities for people to perform their own responses, to facilitate a journey to authentic response.

*

9/29/15

Okay, you don’t believe in the bell in the sky, you don’t want to make the bell in the sky happen. How about this…

When you’re in pain it’s natural to throw yourself down on the breast of your mother, if she’s not your enemy. And so the slopes with their scrub, the sidewalks with their cracks, the parks and beaches and vacant lots and meadows become dotted, striped, coated with people in pain, W and T among them, in different places, their chests or fingertips seeking contact with the dark earth. They share their sorrow with her and they rise up replenished; they take her wounds into themselves. Because of where and when they are, they lie eye-to-eye with yellowjackets and ants, they look to the side and see acorn caps and plantain leaves, a loose feather or a fallen oak twig. They look to the other side and see someone’s shoulder, or their hair interweaving with the grass.

They know (and if they don’t, they tell each other) that a big group of people in a place has a tendency to leave a mark, so they are careful with the length of time they stay. They start by grooming the places they lie down for human-made debris, but then they start to ask: what counts? Is garbage in a trashcan or a landfill better for the skin of the earth than garbage in the leaves? Some of them bring trowels and pick meditatively at the asphalt or concrete.

Mostly people stay for a little less long than it takes their body and their bacteria to move food or water along, so as not to cause problems with their shit or piss. But a few people lie there all day, for days. Maybe they’re skipping work, or don’t have work. Maybe they’re ignoring their families, or have no families.  Their sorrow is profound, and the people who lie next to them sometimes begin to bring them food and water, help them to nearby toilets or latrines reserved for them, even bathe them. They become shrines.

The other thing that happens is that through the seasons and years of lying on the ground, people come to know it better. Their ears and noses, as well as their skin, become attuned to its shifts, its layers, its veins, the motion of creatures within it or water below it. Someone who lies on the ground all the time can tell whether the ground they lie on is rich in plastic sediment, or lime, or mycorrhizae, or aerobic bacteria. They can sense the degree and nature of its strain or plenty. More often, it’s strain, and they share that stress and sorrow. Sometimes they can even tell what it needs, and ask for that, or bring it there–manure, or charcoal, or certain kinds of plants, or better drainage–not to serve humans better, but to feel more itself, to steady its balance.

… Does this offer you what you need? Do you believe it? Do you want to make it happen?