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.

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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

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/24/18

Weather: Bright, hot sun, stiff cool breeze

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 4

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

Dogs seen: 5 (4 tiny, 1 big)

Dogs pet: 0

Narcan shared: 1

 

Observations:

The park ranger and the parking meter enforcer hang out together.

Nonhuman organisms in the park: yellowjacket, starlings, hairy defoliating caterpillars.

Today I had lots of conversations with people that I didn’t get permission to write down. Sometimes this was because I asked and they didn’t give it; sometimes because they were in full flood of speaking and I didn’t have a chance to ask.

One such person had a blue jay feather tucked behind their ear, and I showed them the one I keep in the RI Organism card box.

People often ask me about trends from year to year. I’ve already noticed a slight uptick this year in anti-immigrant rhetoric, and I need to figure out how I want to respond to that (haven’t been satisfied with the ways I’ve handled it so far).

 

Some conversations:

I moved up here from Florida in ’86. Thirty years ago we never needed air conditioning. Now we need to put it in every summer, usually by May. Winter [used to start] in October. Everybody who says it isn’t happening has their head in the sand.

 

*

Well, I did read about Greenland. There was a huge article in the New Yorker—I felt almost traumatized. It’s just coming unglued. There are huge crevasses, it’s melting at such a rapid rate, and ice reflects sunlight but water absorbs it. It’s such a rapid pace that they can’t even [measure?] the rate of melt. It was a very powerful experience reading the piece. These people that have dedicated their lives to being on the front lines of global awareness of climate change—it just kind of blows me away …

Boston flooded, there were like, floating cars, and it was vastly underreported. I didn’t see it in the national news. I try not to be a huge conspiracy theorist, but I felt like it was deliberate. [The Greenland article] really woke me up—I was really aware of it before, but not feeling it personally. I think we’re going to see rapid changes coming down the pike in the next five years. I think people are gonna be up to their waists in water, I think people are in denial.

What do you think people would do if they recognized this reality? 

I’m moving inland. I’m visiting a friend in New Mexico, Santa Fe, and I’ll see what happens. I feel like I kind of go over better west of the Mississippi. My daughters have moved away, Lucy [the dog] finally died a few months ago—I’ve had a lot of loss and a lot of completion …

Have you talked to your daughters about it?

I haven’t talked to them about this. They think I’m nuts anyway. My friend who’s moving to Oregon, she’ll say, “If there’s a tsunami, I’ll just hop in the car.” If there’s a tsunami, you’re not getting in any car! I think it is hard to grasp, I don’t know. … If you love where you are and you have a good life, you wanna stay where you are. I think people are like, “Well, the weather certainly has been erratic,” and older people remember very different weather patterns, but people just think it’s weather. I remember these really cold winters, my boots getting full of ice. …

How does it feel, when you think about it?

It’s awful. I have a friend who’s a master of permaculture. She’s got a self-sustaining quarter-acre, where she can grow enough food to feed herself and her family—it’s like two backyard lots, and we’ve talked a lot about issues of food scarcity. She was pretty dire. Her feeling is that we’ve just really gone too far. And I kind of had to not have that conversation. I honestly don’t know much good it would do to have a garden if people around you were suffering from a shortage of food. … Sometimes there are things that are just too painful to discuss, too huge to wrap my brain around. There are times in the day that I’m more open to confront difficult things.

*

 

[I know both of these people, and have spoken to them at the climate booth before, but they don’t know each other. They came up to me one at a time, but also spoke to each other.]

Person 1: I guess I’ve been thinking about water. I was watching the weather on TV, which is not something I normally do, and they were talking about El Niño and La Niña, and I learned how the moisture that the soil absorbs in spring affects how rainy the season will be—the rainier a spring is, the more likely thunderstorms are, and that’s weird to think about.  A lot of things come and go—human matter is the same carbon that’s been around forever but it’s in different forms—but water doesn’t decompose, it’s the same water, and we only have so much of the water we have—I mean, we have so much and so much of it is not usable, a fraction of one percent of it is actually usable.  The rest of it, we can’t use it or it’s hard to use it. I don’t know how to turn that into an anxiety—well, it is an anxiety that—what if we don’t have water someday?

Maybe my anxiety is that I feel a little fatalist. Growing up as a child of global warming, I recognize that the Earth is dying and I want to make changes, but people who really know what’s going on are like, “We’re fucked.” Ten, twenty, thirty years—I think in thirty years we’re not gonna have energy. You have to put energy into getting energy: people talk about solar and wind power but it takes a massive amount of energy to make a metal turbine. Solar panels are made with all these rare materials.

… I tell my sister, she’s talking about what she wants to be doing thirty years from now, and I’m like, “Do you really think things are gonna be the same in thirty years?” Or people are like, “Our children’s children,” and I’m like, “I don’t know if there are gonna be ‘our children’–or they’re not gonna live like this.” We can take steps to preserve some things, but other things have already been lost. It doesn’t make me want to destroy—it makes me want to liberate things in the short term. I don’t think I would be as radical as I am [without the knowledge of climate change], and I think a lot of people have been radicalized. Soon, even the capitalists will suffer. Desperate times call for desperate measures. But I think it also has made me numb … Sometimes, I feel like I’m not doing anything, or I’m just working on my own things because I feel like it’s all gonna be gone in 20 years.

[Person 2 came up around this point.]

You can be delusional and think things can keep going the way they are, or keep going with just a few minor changes, but we’ll be transformed by this, so we can either be radicalized and work really hard, or take the sad way and just be passive.

One thing I’ve been thinking of is—people do things, or one of the reasons people do things is because they feel good, not just because they’re trying to avoid feeling bad, so in a time like this, how do you move toward joy?

Person 2: I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. I feel like there’s no future right now, but I’m just gonna keep producing plays, keep writing the things that I want to see in the world.

Person 1: I feel like that a lot. Does it feel worthwhile to you?

Person 2: What feels worthwhile is that I find my tribe. People who I relate to and I relate to them.

Person 1: I think about how much fun I had on the night Trump was elected. We were all like, “I don’t know, fuck it, let’s get drunk in Worcester,” just breaking things and being like, “Nothing matters.”

Person 2: These days, I’m waiting for a cop to talk to me. That’s when I’m gonna be like, “Nothing matters.”

Person 1: Does it scare you?

Person 2: No, I’ve had ’em. I’ll have more. The more I learn about policing and social justice, the more I find if we can grow out of slavery we can grow out of guns. That’s the other thing that feels worthwhile, connecting with the youth and teaching classes—my art doesn’t exist without that. That’s how I move toward joy. I just applied for a grant, but if I don’t get it, I’m teaching this class anyway. Art through social justice—I get excited about that stuff.

Person 1: I don’t think people realize the mental health toll of living in the world where nothing is certain.

I was wondering if people who—you know, the more marginalized you are, the more likely you are to face upheaval every day, and I was wondering if people who have had to face that might have wisdom for those who haven’t.

Person 2: I wish. This is a cultural issue. I remember during the stock market crash, and black people were like, “Just another day. You’re stressed out over something that we’ve been living.” Most black people will tell you, “Welcome to my world.” You make the move when where you’re at is so uncomfortable that you can no longer bear it. You either think we’re crazy, or you join in.

map 5-25-18

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. Someone has drawn a circle around the entire state.

Sankofa World Market at Southside Cultural Center, 5/5/18

Weather: Bright, breezy, a perfect day to be outside

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 1 walkby, 1 bikeby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 6.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Photos taken with permission: 2

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.10

 

Observations:

The Sankofa World Market will be at the Southside Cultural Center on the first Saturday of every month as part of Sowing Place. This was the first of these; the next will be June 2nd.

I count someone as a “stopper” if they have a multi-sentence conversation with me, whether or not it functions as a “session” and whether or not they give me permission to post our conversation here (I only post conversations if I ask for and receive permission). A “walkby” or “bikeby” comments but doesn’t stop. This time, I only had two postable conversations, but a lot of people marked the map of Rhode Island with places they’d like to protect (see below).

A theme of the day was isolation—which is both a reason I started the booth and something it’s only medium-good at responding to—and the need to practice communication.

Nonhuman animals spotted: mockingbird, bumblebee, someone singing whose voice I should know but didn’t, pigeons in various configurations, cabbage white butterfly, a small flying insect (not biting) unknown to me, a couple of swallows high up at the very beginning.

 

Some conversations:

My main anxiety about climate change is related to sea level rise, and what it means to live in a coastal community that’s already had major sea level rise in the past. In Olneyville, you get a perfect storm of high tide and full moon and rainfall and the banks of the Woonasquatucket just wash over. I get some hope from the way people pull together when these things happen, but we shouldn’t need a crisis to pull together.

How do you feel when you think about these things?

I don’t want to keep thinking about it. You know you need to, but you don’t want to, so you push it away. I try to sort of stick my finger in the wound every once in a while so it doesn’t close up—answers may emerge over time if you don’t let it disappear.

And what do you do when you think about it?

Some of the smaller things. I take small actions to mitigate my own impact. Even if it’s not appreciable on a seismic scale, it makes you feel better, like, “At least I didn’t drive today.”

Is it also part of the stuff you do with other people, have you made it part of the collective stuff you do?

I feel like in the collective stuff I do it’s more of a constant undercurrent. Like on the board of the public library, we’re talking about how the building could be underwater, and how do you build all the systems that go into a building so they’re not destroyed? I feel like it’s moved into a place of acknowledging the inevitability and doing new thinking about how to respond to it, rather than denial. But denial is a comfortable place to be in, in some ways … How in the things I’m involved with with racial justice does climate justice play a part? How does that always have to include the injustice of climate change? Like this LNG facility, and whose neighborhood is most at risk. It’s not one of the things that you’re always gonna hear me bring up, but I’m always excited when someone else does.

… I think the shift from “global warming” to “climate change” is helpful. And I think that creative people have an important part to play in our conception of the terms, to put pressure on how we’re thinking about it. That’s what I admired so much about Holly Ewald’s work [with UPP Arts], how she’s like, “I’m an artist but I’m also a researcher and I’m a convener. How can I bring other people to this and not just bring it into my [artistic] practice?” … And then as someone with access to resources and how they’re dispersed, how can I support, spot, amplify what others are doing? Contribute to the thing, whatever the thing looks like?

What are some things you’d like to contribute to?

I think–people coming together in intergenerational spaces to build trust and vulnerability. It’s hard to find an affinity around a negative, like fighting something we don’t want—what are we fighting for that we do want?

What would you want to come out of these spaces?

I guess policy is the thing, but local? I feel really paralyzed by a lot of what comes out of the national level, like if the EPA decides it’s just going to take all the regulations off polluting vehicles. And like, what California does on the local level has a much bigger effect than anything we could do. But if we could be part of a groundswell in New England—that’s another kind of collectivity. These nested scales, like people thinking about these questions together, then taking that to the civic and municipal level, the state level—I’m more and more drawn to going block by block than trying to make change in Washington.

*

I’m worried about the soil. It gets more and more acidic all the time. I’m worried about neighborhoods in low-lying places, and I really worried that people are sort of isolated, so if disasters happen we won’t be prepared to take care of each other. If the communication technology that we use gets broken down, especially, I’m afraid we won’t know how to work together. I’m also worried about drought. When I’m farming, my anxiety has to do with what I’m seeing on the farm—unpredictable weather patterns stress me out more. I always thought the longer I farmed, the better I’d get at knowing the pattern, that I’d become someone who can predict weather. Now I’ve been farming for ten years, and it’s more like I’m just more in touch with the chaos. I have a bigger record of how much things have gotten wacky. I started out thinking that farmers were kind of a repository for climate patterns, but we’re just repositories for climate anxiety.

… I have found that paying that close attention also results in observing lots of moments of resilience. Seeing plants under insane conditions thrive—I’ve become more sensitive to wild plants that live in the city. And I know that a lot of them are medicinal, so that makes me happy. There are a few plant buddies that inspire me in particular. Mullein—it’s good for the lungs, and it often grows along the highway, so it’s like it’s the lungs of the highway. And St. John’s wort is abundant in the city, and that’s for depression. I’ve been learning a lot about plant medicine lately and the idea that plants pop up where we need them—partly because my dad is depressed, but also, there’s a pervading sense of anxiety on the planet, and I’ve been realizing that it doesn’t work to cure depression by saying, “It’s gonna get better.” We need a different set of mantras, and plants suggest some—the way plants grow in community.

…Right now I’m my dad’s main connection to the world. And as much as the farm teaches me about the compassionate end of things, it’s different and almost criminal to apply that to my own father. But another thing I do at the farm is let plants and animals pursue their own life cycles, and just try to create conditions that hopefully allow things to thrive, or mitigate the pressures—if it’s a drought, I try to water things. One of the big lessons that plants have for us is reciprocity—there are no sacrificing plants, or martyr plants, although when a tree is dying it shoves its resources down through the mycelium layer so that other plants can use them.

I’ve been learning, when I’m feeling a need, to ask for help. This is kind of what we were talking about at the beginning of this conversation, having the communication patterns in place to support each other. If we practice that in our major or minor crises in our private lives, maybe we’ll be better at it in an environmental crisis. I’ve also been trying to receive care by creating the gatherings that feed me, and going to the gatherings that other people create. I always forget that because I think, “Oh, I need quiet time.” … I’ve been yearning for clarity on what the role of artists is in the moment. I feel in myself that poets have an essential role, in documenting, in mitigating, in envisioning—but it’s not everyday-obvious to me.

20180505_143308

Description: This (somewhat impressionistic) map of the state of Rhode Island says, “Put your worries on the map,” at the top, and “Is there a place in Rhode Island you’d like to protect?” at the bottom. People have written:

I wish the water in Roger Williams Park was clean enough for wading/swimming by the bandstand

Trinity Sq Neighborhood!

SCC [Southside Community Center] RI

Waterman St dog park

Sabins Point

Scituate Reservoir

Lincoln State Park

Little Compton

Two children have also drawn on the map, and one of them has written, “No LNG in PVD or anywhere. Take care of our ancestors.”

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market, 8/30/17

Weather: Sun & clouds, fresh. No need for sunbrella.

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 1 walkby.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous sessions: 4

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 2

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.05

 

Observations:

Today was my last day at this market this season. A major theme of the day was the need for structural action, and for personal conversations as a path to that, and I think that’s a good theme to end the season on. Watch this space for more about that path.

Mobile nonhuman organisms seen and heard: cabbage white butterfly, small ant crawling on notebook (which I killed), sparrows, cicadas in trees, crickets in bushes, pigeons in the clear light sky and a bug that an interlocutor removed from my shoulder for me.

The Food4Good free meal truck saw a lot of action today. If you have some money to spare, consider sharing it with them.

 

Some conversations:

Any new anxieties since I saw you last?

I hate the world more. I don’t know if that counts as anxiety. That’s what I like about [TOWN]–my girlfriend and I are living in the woods out there. I don’t come around here anymore. My girlfriend got hooked on heroin down here, I’d get jumped every now and then ’cause I’m homeless, you wake up and your bag is gone, your stuff is gone. In [TOWN], nobody bothers us, we’re the only ones there. We work the off-ramps. I’m up here because I got picked up by the cops for unpaid fines. I was in the ACI and now I have to go back there and get my stuff—my blankets, bus pass, my clothes, my wallet.

We get corn, tomatoes, put ’em on the fire—we make a fire out of just brush and leaves. Sometimes people give us cases of food. Lotta granola bars. Someone gave us a five-pound block of cheese, but there’s only so much of that you can eat, we had to throw some out. If you go to Taco Bell at 4am, they’re getting rid of stuff.

I’m a country boy. I grew up on a 27-acre farm. That got repossessed, foreclosed on, that’s why I’m homeless. We’re the only ones out there, me and my girlfriend. We’re not trying to set the world on fire. Sometimes we sleep in a graveyard, a graveyard’s nice and peaceful. If we make enough to take a day off work, we’ll go to the ocean. We’d rather be freezing our butts off together than apart.

What are you thinking for the winter?

If it’s cold cold we head over to [REDACTED]. They have these steam pipes—you put cardboard down, then a blanket over, and then we sweat. You can do better with panhandling in the winter because people feel sorry for you.

*

I’d think there would be more need now. Not necessarily climate-related, but [people] got other anxieties. Half the people like the job that the anxiety is doing—most of the people I spend time around are Trump supporters.

What are they like?

They tend to be mostly Caucasian. Some of them are people who voted for Obama—maybe they just go wherever the wind is blowing, whoever gets buzz is who they jump on. Unanimously, people who dislike him are people who pay more attention to what’s going on…

…I still have the [RI organism] card you gave me. I believe it was a plant. I come here [to the market] once a year, when I get the free voucher from the senior center. If I had more money I would come more often. I don’t fault any of the small farms—they’re doing what they’re doing to make a living. But a lot of people around here are working with convenience meals. And the end of the month is a bad time.

*

That’s funny. I mean, “funny.”

Do you want to do it?

Sure. My anxiety is that it’s out of anyone’s control at this point. Like is it too far gone? When you see things like the flood [in Houston]–I don’t know if it’s that I’m worried. It’s depressing and terrifying.

What are you afraid of?

Survival. The future. That’s the last question, I don’t want to talk anymore.

Okay.

No, you can ask me questions. One more.

You’re talking about the future, being afraid of the future. What about the present?

We can only change the present, so we do what we can. That’s a good question.

*

How much of this do you think we’re really confronting, as opposed to just verbalizing?

Confronting how? Like, in our perceptions, or in our actions?

There could be many verbs—challenge, disrupt. Making it uncomfortable, taking it out of our experience, our comfort zone. There’s certainly something about talking about stuff, unloading what’s on your mind or your heart, but is there another step to take it into personal action, social action, justice action? There are a few points in clinical work and therapy, ideas and systems [that acknowledge that] everything happens in relationship to everything else. Real change doesn’t come until there’s change in the system. Do you do that, and how, and still maintain friendships so you’re not throwing people aside? … There’s therapy that brings people to action and then there’s therapy that helps people maintain where they are. The goal is not necessarily to gain more mastery or to hold onto what we are. How do we in this state of dynamic flux hold onto what we have, which is maybe a myth? How do we handle what’s there so it doesn’t apoliticize, a-seek change for us? If we are always changing and growing, why are we always holding on, instead of stepping forward and taking risks?

*

I’m really worried about global warming. It seems really clear that it’s gonna be a problem for everybody, and nobody’s doing anything about it, and I can’t—I can reduce my carbon footprint, but I feel disillusioned about it, because it’s not gonna make a difference as long as the larger structural things don’t change. It’s more than Trump—his predecessors didn’t do any better. They took some steps but it’s still a mess. And I’m sitting in this privileged country, I’ve enjoyed the benefits—do I get to say, “No no, Africa, no no, Asia, you can’t enjoy life”?

How do you feel when you think about this?

I’m gonna have to think about that. Sometimes I’m just like, “The earth will survive.” I’m not that tied to the human race. I’d prefer that we don’t blow the place up—then the next species to take over will do what they do. But that doesn’t help me know what I want to be doing now.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market TODAY, 7/26, 2-6pm!

Come and see me! The market is outside the Knight Memorial Library, 275 Elmwood Avenue in Providence. I’ll be there to hear your climate anxieties and other anxieties 2-6pm today.

In other news, if you live in the U.S. and you want people to be able to get actual mental (and physical) health care and not just well-intentioned listening from some lady in a booth made of cardboard and plywood, call your senators today. You can also encourage other people, in states where a senator’s vote might be moved, to call theirs.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park 6/23/17

Weather: Hot, thick air, windy; heavily clouding up later

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 1 walkby

Pages of notes: 5

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous years: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.35

 

Observations:

I left at 5pm because it was clouding up heavily and looked like it was going to pour, and I didn’t have my umbrella because it’s busted from the last time it poured. It did not, in fact, pour.

When I walked up to start my shift, three white or white-appearing cops were arresting a Black man. Another cop car pulled up around where the Greyhound and Peter Pan buses come, around 3:30, but didn’t stay long. Yet another cop walked by at 4:17.

The downtown Providence “safety” team takes the tables and chairs—which are set up in the shade—away at around 2:30pm, when the food trucks leave. If you can’t or don’t want to sit on the grass, the benches are left, but they’re mostly in the hot sun.

This was the second time I chickened out and didn’t tell an interlocutor the real reason why I won’t be having kids. I’m not sure why, but I want to tell the truth next time.

 

A conversation:

I get sick sometimes, I have no money, there’s drama with my girlfriend. I’m thinking of going down to the compassion center [for medical marijuana], but sometimes I think I have to go through the anxiety, putting what’s inside in front of me in order to overcome it. It’s hard to even have heavier conversations. People ask me about money, how they can help out—it’s hard to have time to spend with my son … There’s been good things recently, but I’m so used to negative things.

What are the good things?

I’m getting money from the government every month, so I have income. I’ve been good, clean, but– Things have never been good with [my son’s] mom, we started on mistrust, so even though it’s been good, I can’t talk to her. I feel like I should be with them but at the same time I shouldn’t. If I get a manic episode—you know about that? People recognize it too late. At first it doesn’t look like anything’s different. Everyone’s on my case to get help. [When I’m in that state] I’m so innocent, I’m so naïve, that I get in trouble, I accidentally do something.

What do you know about what sets it off for you?

I tried doing everything, meditating, exercising, doing everything good, and it still happens. It’s like you have control, you don’t have control. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I run from the place where I stay. I don’t want to have to go to the hospital every time I’m changing. Every time I think I’m doing the right thing, it’s not working. It’s been ten years.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/22/17

Weather: Hot and bright

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Pages of notes: 7

Peanuts references: 2

People who recognized me, and I them, from previous years: 3

Photos taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Rabbits seen: 1, a well-known rabbit-about-town

Total number of animals pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $6.15

 

Observations:

A cop SUV pulled up into the middle of Kennedy Plaza at 3:24. When I next looked over there were seven cops standing near it, talking with a short man who walked with crutches. An ambulance came up, sat for a while, and left with no sirens; I couldn’t see who was in it or how they got there. The cops left around 4:15.

As with yesterday, I had a few conversations that I didn’t get permission (for various reasons) to publish here.

Two young women carrying a sign that said “Free Water” offered me a bottle of water.

People getting on my case, either seriously or teasingly, about not being a real doctor seems to be happening more lately. On the other hand, a friendly woman having a cigarette by the fence told me I should raise my prices: “You know how they keep raising the taxes.”

Someone who’s walked by and noticed the booth twice already stopped on this day and talked to me a bit, which makes me feel like being in the same place for many days in a row is worth it because it gives people time to get used to me.

 

Some conversations:

I think it’s stability. Humans feel like when you get a certain age, you’re gonna have a certain stability, things are gonna happen in a certain way. Climate change affects that. Hurricanes could come—Hurricane Katrina, that was about climate change, and people had to leave their homes, they were spread out all across America. And their lives were changed long after that. I was living in Hawai’i when the Japan earthquake happened, and on the island I was living on, people from the island were not worried. They were relaxed. Everybody else was panicking, running to the stores, leaving their beach houses and moving inland. The locals went down to the beach and had a celebration. It affects different people [different ways]. Maybe older, local people, they accept it, maybe it’s religion, like God wants this to happen.

*

I don’t feel like I’m caring for myself, anxiety-wise. I’m always in people’s faces, always talking to and diagnosing people—it’s probably codependent. I’m bipolar, so I always get the shit end of the stick. But I can’t stop helping people … I’m not a fucking doctor. I’ve had doctors distrust me, misdiagnose me, call me a hypochondriac. There should be a league of doctors with ailments similar to ours, who know where we come from. I already know what [my illness] is. I have trouble getting people to listen. And the meds they gave me made me flip out. I was diagnosed in 2009, and the last five years I screwed myself up with charges, but in the last three years I’ve gotten better at managing it. I do breathing exercises, I talk myself out of situations I know the answer to. I know the consequences from last time, I’m in full control of the result. I don’t think [bipolar disorder] is a bad thing. There’s a lot to be learned.

*

What’s up with the climate? I’m new to it. I saw—before Wonder Woman I saw a movie on climate change coming up, a preview, they had Al Gore, Donald Trump—he thinks it’s a hoax. It’s real?

*

I got a niece but I don’t have kids. I’m gonna die, they’re gonna die, I don’t care. But you know what? Them that came before me, they fought for civil rights and shit. They didn’t do that for us to–

What worries me is, we’re going down. We were down for so long, then Obama, I didn’t like everything he did, but we were starting to go up, and we just went back. I tried to give [Donald Trump] the benefit of the doubt, but this first six months, it’s not looking good … If he says, Go to war right now, I’m gonna go—I’m not fighting for Donald Trump, I’m fighting for America. But even with Obama, they say, Oh, it’s gonna trickle down, but it never trickled down to me like that. It trickles down to people making 40 Gs, 50 Gs, not the people making 15 Gs, not the people in the housing project. He’s not starting a war with North Korea, he’s starting a war with Iraq, Afghanistan–’cause they’re poor! … I don’t like to talk politics with nobody, but I get frustrated. What’s it gonna take for me to prosper? I never prosper.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: World Oceans Day Eco Fest, 6/8/17

Weather: Cool and gray

Number of people: 9 stoppers, 0 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 1

Conversations between people who didn’t already know each other: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 0

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $9.84

 

Observations:

I expected attendance at this event to skew fairly white, and it did, but my interlocutors were from a range of apparent demographics.

The theme of this event was the ocean and marine pollution, and I did get a higher percentage of people with climate/environmental anxieties than I usually get on a normal downtown day.

When I can, I connect people with local efforts to fight climate change and sustain ecosystems. I brought the No LNG in PVD campaign to a couple of people’s attention during this session. If you attended (or wanted to attend) this event and are concerned with the amount of plastic in the supply chain in particular, you might want to come to this action about reducing plastics production on June 19th in Newport.

I also really wanted to argue—you’ll see who with—but I successfully refrained. This is in line with the terms of the counseling booth, but I’m not sure it’s in line with my principles at large. (This is also probably the point where I remind you that I don’t post the things that people tell me because I agree with them or think they’re accurate, but because I’m trying to create a portrait of what people in Rhode Island think—at least the ones who are willing to talk with me.)

 

Some conversations:

I get freaked out about what you can really do if the government isn’t helping. I feel good about the things that I do, but I’d like the macrocosm to feel good. We live on the fuckin’ water! I can’t believe we’re not the bar. I feel embarrassed by our government.

When you try to go beyond the things that you do yourself, where do you hit the wall?

I hit the wall close, with my own father, people really close to me of certain generations. They trust the government—with recycling, he was like, “Why would I do that,” but if someone else says you gotta put the can in front of the thing he just does it. I start at home, but there’s just so much resistance there. I do things—I reuse containers, I turn out the lights, I make it myself—but I get pissed off about politics. I do my vote, but it’s like, You guys gotta say something! We gotta put it in a way they understand, like, You’re gonna lose money this way. And we gotta do more in communities of color. There’s not enough outreach. They’re not getting that information, and this affects them the most.

*

I have anxiety about the place where I collect all my amazing trash for my art. There’s all these really special objects, and it’s being redeveloped—there’s a big driveway where they want to bring trucks in to develop it, and it’s locked up. I have to boat around from Bolt Point Park to get to it. Anytime they could start developing that land, and then the shoreline will actually be dirty—right now all the trash is washed from being in the water. This started 7, 8 months ago, but I’ve been going there since 2002.

What do you find there?

Lots of plastic, tons of bottles out there. I found a lot of my performance objects there—a blowup doll face, I found an American flag from a ship. I call it my free store.

What have you learned about it in the time that you’ve been going there?

It’s a totally amazing space. I learned that it was built in the ’70s, artificial land built up, like a football field of flat land, by the Providence-Worcester Railroad. They wanted to use it as a shipping place but East Providence shut it down, and it’s been abandoned since the ’70s. It’s just a big rectangle that sticks out into the bay, so it’s like a sieve on three sides for trash—it collects and keeps it. And it’s all grown really beautifully with plants—there’s bunnies, there’s cats, you see predator birds … I contacted the Providence-Worcester Railroad about buying it, but they wouldn’t even get back to me because of how much it probably is worth—but so what, I feel like I could get the money. It’s not sold yet, but the other side is developed, Tockwotton is developed, so this is the only place left undeveloped that close to the city.

Who else loves it besides you?

A lot of different artists. Friends have gone with me to canoe there. I tried a couple years ago to get a grant to turn it into an art space. I’d really like to turn it into a giant sculpture park, with large-scale sculptures. But now that I’ve gotten a firm no from the company, it seems like I’ll have to let it go.

*

I’m entirely wrapped up in the fact of the United States being on the verge of terminal decline. We can no longer trust elections, and there’s a very large minority of the population unwilling to consider a different point of view in the face of obvious facts. We have a group that understands one thing, and that is winning elections. For me, climate is a symptom of that rather than the main concern—more outcome than cause. Nothing is going to matter if the US becomes a bystander nation. …. Russia’s trying to effectively destroy the Baltic countries and Montenegro, aided by Mr. Trump who has turned NATO into a dead letter. It won’t be long before that’s true of nations that used to shelter behind American might … I don’t think we’re going to have any allies at this rate. The United States has been a shining star to the world, even when people within the American bubble have been unaware of that. And now, we’re acting like we don’t give a flying you-know-what. [We’re becoming] just another country full of hypocritical views and nonsense.

How does it feel to be from just another country?

Well, I’ve lived in other countries that were just other countries.

Maybe “a citizen of”, then.

It doesn’t particularly bother me. But if miscreants were happy with the way things were going then I wouldn’t be terribly surprised. The United States created the architecture for trade, for settling disputes, for promoting various ideals. The impact has been to push lots of countries in the right kind of direction.

Why does Russia frighten you?

Well, let’s say they move beyond killing dissidents abroad to kiling editors of newspapers—let’s say a British editor, to give an extreme situation. Then Britain has to be terrified. Freedom of speech dies, freedom of expression is gone. I can’t think of anything more [didn’t catch the word] than Russia having a veto on politics.

*

It’s alarming, there’s no doubt about that. I just think I have a lot of faith in humanity. For people to wake up to values—I think there’s a natural purging that leads to a coming into awareness as a problem gets worse. It’s like a fever means your body’s working, unless it’s really serious. At the end of the day, the heart’s more powerful than the mind. If you don’t address a person’s anxiety, find out how to connect it with your rationale—how can you acknowledge their anxiety and shift them towards action? When I hear, “It doesn’t matter,”–okay, I get that—now what do we do? Sit down? Go to the party? What little small thing can I do today?

*

We’re killing all the fish with all the products that we’re creating. My anxiety comes from seeing animals suffer for our ignorance. I was at an event the other night and one of the servers was like, Can I take your plate? And I was like, Is it reusable, and he was like, No, it’s styrafoam. I’m not able to not see it anymore. My next project is about plastics in the ocean. I’m flying to Florida and kayaking to Rhode Island from Florida to raise awareness and funds for cleanup projects. I want to do something ridiculous to hopefully start a conversation.

*

(These two came up together.)

 

Person 1 (putting money in the jar): The environment gives so much to me, I can’t even pay it! I love kids, and I wanna have kids but I’m so worried about my kids’ future. What’s the world gonna look like when they’re my age? It’s already bad now.

How do you feel when you think about not having kids?

Empty. Without a purpose.

You’re not a parent yet—what gives your life purpose now?

Working with kids, and doing some stuff for the environment.

And if you found out that you couldn’t have kids, or did decide not to have them?

I would adopt. I would help the kids that are here. I just really love giving back what I was given—people in my life have been so helpful, they’ve helped me find purpose and confidence.

Person 2: Having kids is something you feel like you need to do. With me, I’m not good with kids. I’m not patient … I know the world is pretty much collapsing. There’s lots of things going on with climate change, people not being aware of the impact and how we’re all connected. I’m a fashion designer and I’m learning how messed up the industry can be. It’s one of the biggest contributors to waste. Sometimes I feel guilty—well, everybody feels guilty in a way. But I can’t clutter everything up just because of the environment. But [clothing] doesn’t really end up being recycled—I mean, it can go to the Salvation Army, Savers, but you can only use it so many times, and what happens then? They haven’t figured out a good way of recycling fiber.

Person 1: I’m so happy that you’re—not the guilt, but that you’re taking this into account for what you do.

Person 2: I enjoy buying stuff. And fast fashion is horrible, but it’s cute stuff. If [they make it] and nobody buys it, it’s gonna go to waste anyway, unless everybody stops buying it.

Person 1: As an economist, I studied economics, I can tell you that when information is given to people, that changes people’s decisions. You’re gonna be a pioneer and innovator at that time.

Person 2: Obviously one person can change the world, but there’s levels to it. I don’t have the money right now to make my own company. But just bringing awareness, knowing we’re moving somewhere. Like some companies, instead of buying a new one, you can bring it in and they’ll fix it for you.

*

My mother-in-law’s in hospice. She’s on morphine, heavy morphine. [My wife’s] been down there a lot, and I’m left holding the fort here. She’s got the harder work, but changes are hard, finding a new equilibrium is hard. And then the world—so it feels like there’s a lot of transition, both personally and in a larger way … You put on the armor and there’ll be a moment, right, where you can grieve. And [my mother-in-law’s] in pain, so there’s that, and there’s mourning difficult relationships, what could’ve been and wasn’t. The way we handle death in this culture is awful. People wanna keep it hidden. But we were able to get her home, she’s gonna die at home. So that’s—good? As good as it could be … I don’t think she knows it’s the end. And denial means you’re not living in the same space, you’re not agreeing on what’s the reality.

That perfunctory “I’m fine”–at what point do you acknowledge that you’re not fine? People shy away from discomfort, nobody likes vulnerability.

*

I am afraid that our democratic institutions are under attack, and that Congress is not going to do what it’s supposed to do, acting as a check against unfettered executive power. I am afraid that [Donald Trump] is going to be dismantling the administrative structures of government. Departments like the EPA are being unfunded or dismantled. They’ve already got permission to dump coal sludge into rivers. I’m afraid of no healthcare for anybody except wealthy people—I can see that starting to happen to me and my friends.

What do you do when you feel this fear?

I’ve painted my living room and I have painted my kitchen. I’ve been scraping and spackling and sanding and caulking. Making myself exhausted so I can sleep at night. I’m basically a fairly optimistic person. I’ve been calling my reps, I’ve been calling other people’s reps, I go to town hall meetings and demonstrations. That makes me feel like I’m doing something. I’m pushing hardest on impeachment—getting rid of that man as soon as possible—and on the 2018 election.

*

In 2025 there’ll be more plastic in the ocean than wildlife, by weight. The permafrost fields becoming no longer permafrosted and release methane. Ocean currents stopping because of the warming of the oceans, and how that’s going to cause massive disruptions in human society and nonhumans. We’re killing ourselves, which I’m kind of okay with, but we’re taking out so many incredible creatures that do nothing wrong.

Do you talk to people about this? How do you talk about it?

I’m still figuring it out. Mostly I try to present positives, suggest things that could be done. But it’s hard to think about changing lightbulbs when all these [environmental] protections are being stripped away. I’m a physician, and I try to incorporate this into muy day job—I haven’t been trying for very long, but there are a couple of good organizations, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Healthcare Without Harm. I work for Lifespan and they really don’t do anything. The amount of waste they generate every day—if you close a cut, you fill a garbage can. It’s heartbreaking. And they’re going more toward that because it’s cheaper and easier and it reduces the risk of contamination. But there are other risks we don’t talk about.