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

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

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 2 walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 7

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

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

Pictures taken with permission: 1.5

Pictures taken without permission: 0.5

Conversations between strangers: 2

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

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

 

Observations:

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

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

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

 

Some conversations:

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

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

*

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

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

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

How do we move away from that?

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

map 6-6-19

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

 

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Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/13/18

Weather: Cool, gray, breezy, sprinkling rain; later sunnier and windier, then back to sprinkling

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 4

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

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

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.15

 

Observations:

Today, artist Becci Davis ran a beauty shop in the park as well.

I made some janky repairs to the booth—replaced the “IN” sign for “THE DOCTOR IS IN”, repaired the big lower sign piece with duct tape, replaced a broken dowel on the small upper sign piece.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a slight rise in people saying, “I have anxiety,” instead of, “I’m anxious about…” (The number of people who mentally edit out “climate” from the sign and just see “anxiety counseling” is about the same.)

I noticed the horse cop in the park behind me at 12:24, but I don’t know when he got there. An older Black lady asked the cop how old the horse was. A park ranger drove by at 12:50.

Someone asked me, “What is anxiety?” on this day, and I should have asked, “Do you have anything you want to talk with someone about?” On the other hand, “I’m not a real doctor, I just listen” is a pretty good short version. Also, I need to remember that while the form of the question matters, there is no magic unlocking question.

 

Some conversations:

 

I just got a job at Wal-Mart. My mom, when I called her to tell her, she was so happy for me, I never heard her so happy. … I gotta not drink vodka. Sometimes I drink vodka to deal with the anxiety and to forget things that happened to me. But then I wake up with a headache, my stomach hurts, I’m vomiting, my stools…

What are you going to do if you want to forget and you can’t drink vodka?

I can text or call my friends. But they’re busy, they have things to do. I can drink a beer. Beer doesn’t have as bad of an effect on me … I want to save some of my money, not for drugs and alcohol but for like, soap and stuff. And I want to give. If I see someone in need, I want to give them money for food, or buy them food. If I had sacks of money under my car, I’d wanna just stop by a person with a sign and give them $900–$500–let’s say $900, and I would say, “Here you go, have a good day, a blessed day.” My friends and I, we give to each other and we give to other people. It makes me happy, too. It feels good to give.

Is it okay to post our conversation online? 

Yes, absolutely. If I had a website I’d put that up there.

 

*

 

[This person has spoken to me before.]

The plastic cleanup continues! You know what I’m thinking about today? Those fluorescent nip bottles. They got like a prismatic thing on them. And here comes a pod of Wright’s porpoises, the babies are gonna eat that and it’s gonna kill them. I took a fishing pole and I threw one in among the lily pads—everything that was alive in that pond came to see what it was about, because of the color.

But I was down in the Bay at low tide and I saw species I haven’t seen in years. Bay scallops! [He makes the size of them with his hands: about as big as an Oreo.]

*

 

 

What anxieties do people have about climate change?

There’s a really wide range. Some people talk about flooding, sea level rise, stuff like that, because we have so much coastline here. Some people are worried about the way it’s going to affect the way we get our food, because of the way changes in the weather are going to affect food production. Stuff like that.

What’s your main anxiety?

Honestly? Ecosystem collapse. That so many things will die that the ones that are left won’t be able to keep going.

That’s something to be anxious about. What should we be doing?

Well—there’s a lot of things to do.

What’s the easiest thing I could do?

Okay, so, none of it is all that easy, but to know what’s going to be easiest for you I have to ask you a couple of questions. Is this something that’s been on your mind a lot?

No, not really. Ten years ago, when Al Gore was making a big deal about it…

Is there something you would like to set right?

Yes. I’d like to see equity across all genders and races.

 

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/30/17

Weather: Hot, bright, breezy, cooling and graying toward the end

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $3.11

 

Observations:

At 2:13, two cops in uniform and a cop in button-down and tie demanded ID from a man resting in the shade. They looked at his ID, then left. At 2:50, a cop in a suit and a cop in uniform walked by with a man in handcuffs between him, and the person talking to me told me that the man they arrested had exposed himself to a kid—I don’t know how they knew.

So far my booth repair—a new piece of cardboard to firm up part of the sign so it can hold the other part of the sign in place—mostly works, except in a sharp gust of wind.

A non-zero number of people read the “¢” on the sign as “$”, and I don’t know why.

 

 

Some conversations:

 

I feel like I’m chasing my tail. I’m shoveling shit against the tide. I’m trying to get back with my family. I went up to DCYF today and I stayed for an hour, I ain’t no deadbeat dad, but my appointment never showed. I’m trying to get back with my girl. I just got an apartment, but I’m on SSI and SSDI, and it takes almost all my money for rent. I have to struggle, I’m struggling.

What would make a difference?

If my girl dropped the restraining order. But her mother don’t like me, and she’s holding the house over her head.

Like, “You can’t live here if you get back together with him?”

Yeah. I got a one bedroom apartment, but there’s a parlor that could be made into a bedroom. I don’t think she wants to live in [REDACTED]. We were living in [REDACTED], then [REDACTED], then I went to jail, came out. I’ve met her on the DL a couple times. People are barking down her throat about me. I told her, When two people are in love, a lot of people are jealous. It’s easier for her to just rise out of the [can’t read what I wrote] and just patronize her mother. When the cops came and DCYF came, she lied to them for me—I didn’t ask her to. She says she’s proud of me, but she changed her number, or she didn’t pay her bill. I haven’t talked to her in over a week and I’m starting to get worried. My little boy is with her, and she already lost him once, drinking and not thinking. She drinks, she goes to AA meetings and to a group, but she still drinks. It’s not fair to my little boy, it’s robbing him of his father and mother.  … My [other] son’s in for ten years for gangbanging. I let my first son down—he got in a fight, he retaliated, and I’m sitting in the ACI. I wanna be there for all my kids …

(Seeing that someone marked the park’s beech tree on the map of beloved places yesterday)

I been going under that tree since I was a little boy, 7, 8 years old, when I started riding the bus. I got a history with that tree.

*

That fricking global warming shit is crazy. How much it’s changing! All the smoke that goes in the air, it does make a difference. I watched a movie about global warming. The South Pole already dropped so much—who knows if it’s gonna flood, if the North Pole is already breaking up. Look at all the stuff that’s going on already.

*

What are you anxious about today?

Money. I’m so stressed out about money. I wanna start school but I don’t wanna put myself into debt. I wanna be a teacher. My parents don’t have college funds, we’re regular middle class, we struggle sometimes. I get good grades but not enough for scholarships. I wanna go to CC[RI] but I didn’t want to ask my parents for help. I can’t even afford a car. Insurance is so expensive. How are they saying you have to have a car, pay taxes, go to school—How? How? Don’t even get me started on health insurance.

Now I’m gonna get started on health insurance. My parents are immigrants from Portugal. They didn’t have papers at first, and the process takes decades. They’re still waiting on their papers and they’ve been here since I was two. People are like, Why don’t you try to get papers? We have been trying but there’s millions and millions of people! My mom’s paid a lawyer thousands of dollars to move us up on the list and we still have to wait five more years. So they’ve been here almost 20 years and they haven’t had health insurance. My mom’s teeth are falling apart, she’s in pain 24/7, it would cost thousands of dollars to fix. She had one cavity, and to fix a cavity it costs $454.67. That was both my parents’ paychecks for one cavity, and she had three young children. That one created another cavity and another cavity, and now her mouth is decaying. And now I have a cavity and I can’t afford to fix it.

… So when my parents came here they signed me up for DACA. I get a social security card, I can get a job and a license while I’m waiting for my papers. But it doesn’t give me health insurance! If I get sick, I can’t miss a day of work because I can’t afford to go to the doctor. I can’t afford birth control. I went to the pharmacy, they said I had to go to a doctor. I asked what could they give me over the counter, it was thirty bucks for a month’s supply. I know that doesn’t sound expensive, but when you have to pay for food and bills and Ubers every day–

… When you’re an immigrant you don’t tell people. You’re scared 24/7. I got pulled over, and I have a license, but I was so scared, because if you’re an immigrant they can send you away.

… My mom started her own [REDACTED] company, under the table … She’s my biggest role model. She’s the biggest entrepreneur that I have ever known … After we got here, my dad was the family’s only source of income, so if dad’s not working, we’re not eating. My mom was like, I gotta do something. So she built up her client base, she got references. Now she just hired two girls to work for her. She’s becoming a boss a little bit. As soon as she gets her paperwork she’s gonna make her business legal. My mom dreams of owning her own house one day. My dream is becoming a preschool teacher.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/21/17

Weather: Muggy, breezy, clouds and sun, humidity lifting as it got sunnier

Number of people: 7 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Pages of notes: 6.5

People who recognized the Peanuts reference: 2

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

Number of dogs seen: 4

Number of dogs pet: 0

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.80

 

Observations:

While I had a few conversations today, for a few different reasons I only ended up getting permission to post one, which is below.

I responded very disproportionately to someone today. I’ll reflect on it at greater length later, but what I’m taking from it at the moment is that the more responses I have prepared, the less likely I am to be a reactive dickhead whose mental habits lead me to use my power badly.

Beginning of shift, cop car parked at the Dorrance St. end of Kennedy Plaza. 3:03, bike cop ran through the park carrying a sandwich. 3:17, three cops in uniform walked through the park. 4:34, cop SUV drove down Washington St.

I saw 20+ skateboards today, some people riding them, some people carrying them.

Speaking of overcoming mental habits: C., if you’re reading this, I think my suggestions to you were okay and I stand by them, but I forgot another thing you could do and that we can all do: start learning about efforts and methods to abolish the police.

 

A conversation:

Probably I have five years to live. And I know my life doesn’t mean that much in the span of the Earth’s existence, but I just feel bad for all the families who are having children now. I totally get it, but it’s kind of selfish to have kids. I really wanna travel, but I don’t have enough money, because I live in this capitalist society where I have to make money to sustain a dying life. … Even if I started living eco-friendly in my regular life, it wouldn’t matter because the permafrost is just gonna come and kill everyone. I’ve grown so nihilistic. Human beings are just a cancer on the Earth. I just want to smoke as many cigarettes as possible and then die slowly and horribly, I’m sure Mother Earth will really enjoy that. I just put it really dramatically because … I coud be like, Oh, we’re all gonna do just fine, but no one’s gonna do just fine. I picked five [years] because I don’t know a ton of scientific evidence so I picked a low expectational number. I set my bar low so I can try to force myself to do the things I want.

… The way I was raised was super hedonistic, just monstrously gaining things. I live with my parents, and when I’m just living in my home it’s like, Enjoy this polished exterior that life has to offer—I’m really privileged but I live with people who [couldn’t] give less of a shit about the Earth. … But I’m not gonna run into my parents’ living room screaming, “We all have to kill ourselves. Hey, mom, wanna go out and get some cigarettes and smoke until we die?”

I love my family, they’re great, I wanna protect them. …Imagine trying to love someone to your fullest ability in the shortest amount of time. You can do it by communicating, expressing your love, and you can even do it by silence, but the people I’m dealing with don’t know silence. I just don’t want to have to do it. I don’t want to have to do it all now. I can do it, but I realize how much love I was gonna have to give when I was older—and I hate it that I’m not gonna get to do that—

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/14/17

Weather: Hot, bright, breezy

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 4 walkbys, 1 bikeby

Number of hecklers: A man tried to get me to admire his (clothed) butt?

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: 2

Pictures taken without permission: 0

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $4.71

 

Observations:

This was my first non-event booth day of the year—nothing particular to draw people to the park except what usually draws them there.

Because of food trucks and municipal plantings, I’m now inside the park fence (I used to be outside the fence at the entrance). People waiting for buses and I can’t see each other as well as we used to.

A few of the stoppers didn’t talk about anxieties at all—just wanted to chat. Others did talk about anxieties, but I wasn’t able to get permission to share them here (or didn’t feel like the person was in a state to give that permission).

One cop walked through the park at 2:27. There were emergency vehicles on the far side of the bus station at 2:53 and a cop car at the Dorrance St. end of the bus station at 4:25.

My dry-erase map invites people to mark places in Rhode Island they’d like to protect. One person today said, to me, “Shouldn’t it be the whole globe?” Another person said, in passing to their friend, “Like to protect, I’d like to send Rhode Island to fucking hell.”

I mashed a defoliating caterpillar that was crawling on my sign.

 

Some conversations:

There’s this big yellow snowflake in Washington.

Are he and his administration the source of your biggest anxieties?

For climate, yeah. It’s not what they’re doing, it’s the lack of it. And I guess they’re selling off land to all the big companies that drill and mine. But that’s good for all of us, right?

Does the sarcasm help?

Yeah, sometimes.

Do you talk about this with people?

On Facebook. Sometimes in person—I got a brother-in-law who’s a complete Trumpkin, or Trumpette, he doesn’t think it’s caused by humans. “Oh, a volcano adds more to the atmosphere…” I don’t think I’ll ever get through to him—he kind of just talks and talks …

… I biked here from West Warwick.

[I give him a card with a hickory tree on it]

You might see this on your ride.

I see ginseng all the time. In late August, there’s this cluster of red berries between the leaves, and that’s the root that holds all the power. The trouble with finding that particular one is that it’s associated with poison ivy and wild roses.

It’s probably protecting itself! I know it grows here but I’ve never seen it.

It’s all through the woods in Rhode Island. Get on the bike path and go west.

*

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: Tyring to quit smoking. I’ve been trying to quit on and off for ten years—but recently, I haven’t smoked since yesterday morning.

What do you do when you really want a cigarette?

Run, walk, hug her, kiss her—anything physical that keeps my mind going.

What about when you smoke when you’re trying not to, how do you talk to yourself about it?

After an hour or two of being pretty upset at myself, disappointed in myself for not following through, I can usually move on.

Person 2: When I was trying to quit—I have depression and anxiety, so sometimes I would go a few weeks or a month and then I would start back up, but I would be like, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Person 1: We tried quitting together but it didn’t work out.

Person 2: When you’re both on edge, it’s not so easy. I had a panic attack earlier today. I have a fear of being out in public in a closed-off area. It just hit me out of nowhere—my heart just dropped, I was having trouble breathing. … And the other thing is I have a fear of death itself: Last year I suffered the loss of someone very important to me … and now my mind just runs. Sometimes it’s hard to stop. I have this indescribable need to try to understand why certain things happen, not to prevent them but to try to slow them down. And then I think this isn’t a normal thing for a twenty-one-year-old to worry about, and that makes me worry even more.

What do you do when your mind is running like that?

I do a lot of artwork, try to sing, take a walk, call him (indicating Person 1). But it’s hard to focus on doing what I wanna do. I’ve flipped out on him, I’ve yelled at him. I get really angry—normally I try to be calm and composed. I was raised around being calm, and when I feel like I’m doing the opposite, I feel like there’s something wrong with me and I try to fix it right away. I try to read about what I’m diagnosed with, and if I catch myself it’s easier to handle myself. But the only time I have complete peace is when I’m sleeping.

… I do kinda punish myself when I do something like that [getting angry]. But I feel like I’ve gained acceptance of the suffering, and when I go through it it’s just part of the process, an everyday part of the solution. Trying to find the right medication is very difficult. My dad used to tell me I didn’t need medication, I could do it myself. So when I start taking it I never finish it, I don’t see the change and I just stop taking it. And a lot of the time I can do it myself—I think that not taking it is part of the reason I have the control that I do.

*

The money. People who actually need it aren’t getting it, and people who don’t need it have too much of it. I work in retail, and when we get a quality assessment, even if it’s positive, we don’t get the bonus, the top heads will get the bonus. Not the people who’s actually doing the work—they don’t get credit for it … Every company’s owned by a family, and they have the people who they’ll pay and then minions, let’s say minions, to do all their work. And then if you’re trying to sell something, let’s say you want to sell something out of your house, you need a license, you gotta pay for a license, you gotta follow their criteria if you wanna try to go legit. I was making these little bikes, repairing people’s bikes, I don’t have a shop so I was doing it out of my house. And they said, “Oh, you need a license.” ‘Cause they don’t get a cut.

*

The fact that it’s getting so hot at a time of year when it shouldn’t be so hot means that the world is probably falling apart, and it also means that there are a ton of pantry moths in my house.

 

Interdependence Days return in February!

Interdependence Days are starting up again in February! Let’s meet our neighbors, share food and stories, learn from each other, and learn to work together on what’s important to us.
 
We’ll do our standard opening and closing rituals, story circle, and sharing of opportunities for community participation. We also have variable workshops scheduled through mid-March (which is, frankly, amazing)–look ahead and see if any of these particularly appeal to you! We meet 6-8pm on Tuesday nights.
 
2/7: Sharing our strengths: what are we good at?
2/14: Naxalone/opioid overdose prevention training
2/21: Mapping our networks of help and shelter
2/28: Imagining food justice & food systems that work
3/7: Conceivable Future: climate change, kids & fighting for the future
3/14: Introduction to grant writing
 
As always, these are free and open to the public. They’re somewhat Broadway-centric, but anyone can come on any day; you can also arrive and leave at any time during a gathering, if you want or need to. You can bring some food to share if you want to and can, but you don’t have to.
 
Kate, Emily, Aria, Addie, MacKenzie and Ada are the Interdependence Days planners right now. Write to us at interdependencedays@gmail.com if you have questions, or ask them here!

Alternate Histories: 5/7, 7/8, 9/16

[These are anxieties from two different people; here’s an explanation of why they’re together.]

5/7/15

Finding work. I have a job, I wanna find a better one. More money, more stability. I don’t mind dangerous–I used to work unloading the freight when it comes off the 18-wheeler, sometimes it shifts around, you can’t just take it off however. I worked with electrical and manual jacks–you have to be certified, you have to know what you’re doing. I’m not too concerned about global warming.

*

7/8/15

How we’re gonna make the transition into a new kind of world. I can feel the vision of the new world–I’m ready, a lot of people I know are more than ready, but we don’t know how to make smooth transitions from the way things are now. And I hope there won’t have to be a crisis or a tragedy in order to change people’s habits, which are deeply engrained. I’ve been trying to live my way into it, and I can see the structures crumbling. No one I know has any money, everyone I know is broke. They say the economy’s fine but it’s not fine for anyone I know. I have a lot of things I can offer the world, but I can’t figure out how to monetize them. We have to figure out how to put other structures in place. A friend of mine’s trying to start a Rhode Island mutual aid network*, where people who have real skills could share them with each other. But I owe [a very large amount of money] to National Grid and I can’t barter my skills with them.

*

9/16/15

In this story, Y and V are able to work around their apparent similarities and differences long enough to listen to each other, to hear each other’s frustrations–what feels to them like an impassable rift in the earth. It feels like if you could just fill the rift with money, you could walk across it to a good life, or a new world.

Through talking together, it comes to them that this isn’t the case. They begin to sort out when money is a convenience, and when it’s a leash. This gives them two questions to answer: how can they get the things they need? and how can they get loose?

They (and  their neighbors, their families, people they went to high school with, the local ombudspeople and state house clerks and linemen and engineers that are those people’s cousins, spouses, friends) combine the utility payment strike with templates for lower electricity use, solar clotheslines, charging stations; practice and training in operating small and large-scale ways to generate electricity.  Electricity isn’t the goal; electricity is an arena. It’s one way they question and enact and redistribute power. It’s one place they recognize and make use of relations, of bonds.

Y’s grandniece dries her clothes in the sun and charges her insulin pump at a station just down the street. V’s best friend’s great-grandchild spends their days unraveling old wires with the greatest care, disturbing the hyphae and the ground-feeding birds as little as they may. Someone wearing a headwrap containing a patch of Y’s great-great-granddaughter’s old dress climbs to her aboveground home (for flooding) in a disused power tower. Electricity sings through the brain stems of shrews and squirrels, sparks in the conversations among protists in the soil. It’s loose and bound, loose and bound.

 

 

Alternate Histories: 5/27, 5/29, 9/11

5/27/15

Bringing my son out to swim, which he’s been wanting to do. He’s autistic, and I get anxious when I wanna bring him outta the water–I had a lot of problems with that today. And last night we had a little trouble sleeping ’cause we have no electricity, so no A/C. I had to take like a wet rag.

Any chance of getting it turned back on soon?

I’m hoping in the next six months. I work over here at the mall and they’re not giving me enough hours. Matter of fact, climate change messed up my hours at work. I work at [REDACTED] and no one wants to be inside playing games.

*

5/29/15

All this air conditioning–too much of it. We don’t condition ourselves to higher temperatures. I was on the coast in [KwaZulu] Natal, South Africa, when I was a teenager, and there was no air conditioning, full stop. One day I remember was 80 degrees Fahrenheit at 8 a.m. and there was 80% humidity, and we just went to school, we went home, nobody talked about the heat. And in the middle of Harare, in Zimbabwe, there’s a building that is cooled entirely through the use of air currents. We need to go and ask hot countries how they do it.

*

9/11/15

[These are two anxieties from two different days; here’s an explanation of why they’re together.]

P and F don’t really want different things, but each brings his own knowledge, his other needs–met and unmet–and the net of others’ needs and knowledge he inhabits to this need, this desire for cool air. They bring their presumptions and their prejudices, the blank spots in their understanding and experience. If F has never been in a building cooled on a hot day not by chemical means but by its very construction, he may not know that’s possible. If P has never spent a day caring for a  child when neither of them have slept, he may not understand that cool air is more than a luxury, and heat more than a test of fortitude.

(Remember, I don’t know that they don’t know–I’m guessing, from what they said and what they left out.)

F and P now draw on other kinds of knowledge, other stores and stories. Thickening a wall is relatively easy, lining it or filling its empty spaces, but they need help and someone’s sense of materials: what will hold up? won’t offgas? can be easily replaced? Moving a window is harder: they need someone versed in structure, weight and angles, a tool-user and a measurer, and someone to be aware of light and wind, not just this day, or that day, but on any day. Someone to build shutters from reclaimed wood. Someone to germinate a screen of plants and the dirt they need to grow in and the story of their care, plants that give in the summer their necessary shade and die back in the winter to admit the necessary light.

As they offer this knowledge, they also accept some. They learn how to understand and be understood by F’s son, building with him common languages and perceptions. They learn from each other, borrowing methods and tactics–motions as small as the way to hold a nail to drive it in, skills that this task doesn’t need but that emerge in conversation or while they’re resting. They adjust to a matrix of work that’s more intermittent and slower, less taxing, with different rewards. It’s strange, to not be paid, to not have money as a marker of what you take away and what you’ve given, and yet have enough to eat well, a place to sleep safely, the certain knowledge–in some cases, based already on experience–that if you need to receive what you’re currently giving, it will come to you.

 

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Reflections on May in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park

This season, I found myself paying the most attention to people whose views of the world were marginal or heightened, people for whom the center of the circle of their consciousness was definitely not the one our culture assumes we have. They’re in the grip of a powerful state of mind and being–evangelism, revolution, fear, childhood–that shapes the way they understand and feel everything that happens to them. They know things in these ways. Even correcting for the fact that what we call “normal” consciousness or awareness is actually a wide and various map in itself, these four people’s variation was extreme.

U.S. culture as it presently exists forces us to view every action and interaction through the lens of money*; by default, it centers money, and by default, it serves the people who are best at getting money out of other people, animals, plants, or things, by every means at their disposal. Money as equivalent to access (to survival, to pleasure, to power) is presumptive; money as equivalent to access is a given. And that’s relevant to ecology and climate anxiety because this vision reduces everything and everyone other than the self to a “resource” for the self to exploit. It creates false scarcities where there could be abundance; it creates a mind of scarcity, and makes real abundance hard to see.

People who vehemently oppose money’s uneven distribution still often find it very hard to imagine a world with a different center. This is not an accident.

That’s one reason I found myself listening to people who for various reasons–some articulated, some inferred, and many invisible to me–saw their world in other ways. For some, it seemed that extreme suffering and violence had wrenched them into their visions; for some, their visions seemed likely to interact with other aspects of their lives and situations to make them more vulnerable; one or two of them hadn’t spent as much time in the normative vision, because they were kids, and were more able to have other kinds of interactions and transactions. I thought maybe they could help me understand other ways of entering, or creating, other worlds, of letting go deliberately of certain aspects of this one.

As a teenager, I encountered and latched onto the platitude, “If what you’re doing isn’t working, do anything else.” That’s helped me a time or two and even influenced the alternate histories, but my interlocutors brought me up against its limits. The evangelist’s world has no place for me in it; the fearful man’s world is helpful as a metaphor but living as though it were factually true would not be an improvement. Still, listening to them reminded me that to some extent, what we think can shape what we say and do. It also reminded me that whatever version of the world we make will need to have room for them in it–some kind of room, some version of them.

Some notes about what made this project possible for me specifically, from the first round, are here. My mom recently commented on my “willingness” (thanks Mom, I love you) as a key component of the booth sessions, and that willingness is a direct result of my being protected in certain ways. It may be those protections, too, that have led me to believe that variety–of life, of stories, of ideas, of terrain–is inherently lovely. I get really frustrated with narratives of purity and people who say there’s one true way to do this or that. But there are places on the map of variety of action that I fear, and that I want an end to. When we say that a world we want to make has “no place” for certain actions, we may be coming from a place of control, or a place of protection; a place of fear, or a place of salvation.

I don’t just want to make the world different; I want to make it better for (more) different living beings, human and nonhuman beings different from the ones it’s mainly good for right now. To do that, I have to imagine my way out of what I’ve often heard–including about myself and what I deserve–and question my new imaginations, to be sure they’re serving more than me.

In the coming weeks and months, you’ll see more alternate histories responding to the climate-related and other anxieties that people shared with me throughout the month of May. Like the first ones, these will be attempts to imagine different centers for our lives, different responses to each others’ needs. In July and August, some people I know will join me in creating alternate histories that I’ll share here and they’ll share elsewhere.

I haven’t forgotten my resolve to help connect people with each other, with nonhuman living beings, and with collective, restorative actions–the latter is one of the hardest things to imagine, as people’s responses to my questions often show. While I seek more concrete ways to do this, I want to expand the process of imagining worlds that we–the biggest, most expansive “we”, which still excludes some actions–would actually want to work towards and could actually stand to live in.

*Doctor’s note: I am oversimplifying this slightly on purpose.