Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Southside Cultural Center Holiday Market and Extravaganza! 12/15

A rare winter booth appearance (indoors, indoors)! The Southside Cultural Center is holding a Holiday Market and Extravaganza TOMORROW, 12/15, and the booth and I will be there to listen to your climate anxieties and other anxieties as we stumble together toward the end of 2018. There will also be performances, craft vendors, and music. 12-4pm, 393 Broad St., Providence. Come on by!


[Image: tree roots that have displaced bricks and gathered soil, grass and moss, all in winter sunlight.]


Climate Anxiety Counseling/Call to the Dead TODAY, and Call to Action

Today is the last Sankofa World Market. I’ll be there starting at 3pm and going till sunset. Come and share your climate-change-related anxieties and other anxieties with me.

At the end of my stint I’ll lead a brief ritual honoring all the humans and nonhumans who have already died because of climate change and its effects, and inviting them to speak to the people who have knowingly caused the worst damage.

In the wake of FERC’s decision to allow the LNG plant in Providence to go forward, the FANG Collective is calling for people to participate in a range of direct actions to stop both this and the fracked-gas Invenergy plant in Burrillville, RI. Please read this pledge and see if there’s anything on it that you are willing to commit to; if you want to talk that decision through with me today, I will try to help.


[Image: a Black girl in a parka, drawing on the Rhode Island map of worries, next to the Providence Community Library sign for Knight Memorial Library.]

Interdependence Days return: 10/4/16, 6-8pm

After a month of consideration and revision, Interdependence Days–community gatherings, based in (but not limited to) the Broadway neighborhood, free and open to the public–are back, every Tuesday night through December. The next one is TODAY, October 4th, 6-8pm at 186 Carpenter St., Providence.
Aria Boutet and Ada Smailbegovic will lead us in walking, noticing, and writing in the streets around 186 Carpenter St (there will be a stay-put version for people who arrive late or don’t walk well).
As always, we’ll use a brief ritual of voice to welcome each other to the gathering and to send each other out into the world at the end, and we’ll share stories and food. We’ll also outline a few additional guidelines for treating each other with respect while we’re there, and ask people about things we might work on together when we’re not there–group efforts that would meet a need or a desire within the community.
Again, that’s tomorrow (Tuesday), 6-8pm, 186 Carpenter St. Bring some food to share if you can and want to (you don’t have to).
Write to the organizers at the Facebook page or at my gmail address, publiclycomplex, if you have questions.

Alternate Histories: The Subway Series

I went to New York, realized that what I was seeing in the bottom of the subway tunnels was water, and wrote this story.


When we pried up some of the streets, we laid down metal grid and limestone and marble and peat moss and sharp sand and the bones of some of the dead and broken glass turned back to sand. We planted salt-tolerant grasses, beach peas, heathers, junipers. We left plenty of streets, don’t worry. The ambulances and the power chairs can still get through.


The negotiations between the builders’ and plumbers’ and electricians’ unions (whose representatives drove in from Queens and Staten Island each day), the water’s lawyers (arriving on foot and on bikes), the various tenants’ rights cadres (some of them armed and riding the city buses), the Doctors, Nurses and Patients’ Coalition (in wheelchair-compliant vans), the delegation from Riker’s Island–these took almost a year, even with everyone eager to be fair, to admit that they might have been wrong or done wrong, to outlive years and decades and centuries of mutual suspicion and uneven violence. Pain and anger and hatred all wash out slowly, slowly, and only when people stop renewing them.


Rainwater filters down through the grids of plant and sand and stone into what used to be the subway tunnels, diluting the dank sick dark-brown water with clearer, washed water. In the storms, on the wettest most tantrum days, the tunnels become flood tunnels: the seawater crashes in and the skywater pours down: we made a place for them, because everyone and everything needs a place to be, and sometimes more than one. Spillways open and when the storm subsides, they close; when the storm subsides, sunlight comes down through the light-and-ventilation shafts and makes the water steam up.


We don’t need the subway tunnels for the subway anymore because work doesn’t work the same way. Most people live pretty close to the work they do, and no one works for a living; people live and they work. This took a long time, almost as long as it took to pry up some of the streets. We started doing it, and some of us got tired, and lay down, and the rats and the dermestid beetles from the Museum became our undertakers, and we gave our bones to the water.


This is terrible, we hear you saying, how can you stand it? There are pilgrimages to the catacombs but there’s no horror, or rather, horror is a part of our lives, a neighbor. We combined a few of the many things that people have done with the dead, since the beginning of the world.


We admit that we smashed up some of the buildings to get the marble. Even the softest stone is still hard, and holds a lot of memory. We wanted it to communicate some of what it had known to the water; we wanted its power to be transformed. But we didn’t smash up any people, or trap them into smashing themselves. We worked slowly and we worked with care, and no one worked past or even close to the limits of their strength, to move the stone on rollers, we chanted rhythmic encouragement and carried cleaner water, water gathered before it hit the ground, in the heat. Our plant and animal neighbors fed us, or calmed our minds, or renewed the air, or shit fertilizer. That’s how they were to us. How we were to them: pruners, killers, renewers of air, cleaners of habitat.


The rats have their own routes; the light that filters in, the unpredictable waters, and the lack of dropped food–there isn’t nearly enough to waste, anymore–make it less of a place for them. They live there, and sometimes there are terrible rat stampedes–we feel disgust–we stand as still as we can, shuddering, while they flood our ankles. They stay out of the water, though, now, we don’t know why. Science works differently now, too, we cut fewer things open, we stop fewer processes. Its motion is even slower, making some of us feel crazy. Those of us who can write, write our findings up on the tunnel walls, and sometimes the floods wash them away. Depending on the changing levels of dampness, moss and fungi flourish or dry to dust and sift down.

In the tunnels a few bats live, refugees, but they’re shy of people. We found out about the crayfish when the first raccoons came down. We stay away from them: they carry rabies, and there’s no vaccine anymore, not anywhere in the city or the world. But they’re among the best at finding exits and entrances, so sometimes we follow them at a safe distance, to see if there are places we should be watching out for, places where we poorly understand the change from aboveground to underground, where they understand it well. We don’t eat the crayfish. You can go to another storyteller to find out more about how we feed each other and where we sleep, the various ways we decide about children or pray or joke or clean. This is about the way we know the water underground.


Year by year, decade by decade, century by century, the water in the tunnel bottoms becomes sweeter. We lay marble tile from the smashed-up buildings, with cracks between so it can seep back down into the cycle, what we used to call the water table but now call the belly. The tunnels are long throats. This metaphor will break down pretty soon, but that’s okay with us. We build things now to be breakable, reparable, to flood and subside. Sometimes the water that sinks back down is seawater, is salt. We know this slows renewal, poisons roots, just like it would make you sick to swallow. We hope for time to dilute it.


On the hottest, driest days, the former tunnels are cooler than the streets, and we walk down the long ramps to lower our temperature, and that’s how we notice–after some generations have passed–the stalactites starting to form on the roof, just little nubs with a drop of water glimmering. Their roots are deep tobacco-stained brown; their extremities are gray and pale tan with the slightest surface glitter, as the sediments work their way down. When you see them changing, you don’t know it’s change you’re seeing. They are made up of millions of years of the minute dead, in aggregate, now entering another form, moved by the requirements of matter. They aren’t beautiful yet. Neither are we.

Alternate Histories: 10/14, 10/14, 10/15, 10/31


Because of where I live, the disappearance of my home. I live in Wellfleet–we’re not on a FEMA flood zone, but we’re damn close.


I live in Gloucester, MA, right on the edge of a river and there’s the ocean on the other side. I realize the disappearance of the cove, being swallowed up by water. I can’t see it but I know it’s happening … It’s just a beautiful place. It’s just insane to think about.


I’m anxious about changing weather patterns and disappearing coastal wetlands. I grew up on the Gulf Coast and that’ll disappear if climate change continues.



As soon as they got home, G and V and O walked the bounds of the places they loved. O had to take a plane to do it, and then walk through water and muck, ankle-deep, knee-deep. He took a garbage bag with him, collecting plastic debris and crying as he went. V touched rocks at the waterline. G picked ticks from her skin after brushing past the beach grasses. Each year they do this now, walking the new line and the old line, noting the growing distances between them, learning their scabs and leaks, their places of surprising strength.

The ghosts of places replace places. At the hallow of the year, the old contours of the land and water hover over the new ones, almost solid, almost real, and that’s where people go. If they have to wade, the able-bodied carry on their backs anyone who can’t keep upright in the heavy surf. If they have to go in boats, they go in boats–more people who live on the coast are better at boats now, more intimate with the unruly muscle of the water, the big live animal that sometimes lashes out in pain.

When they reach the sites of their old homes, or their grandparents’ homes, or their great-great-grandparents’ homes, they let down the sounding lines. As the weights touch the bottom, the hills, the inlets, the insects, the clam flats, the bird tracks, the blades of grass become present to them, known to them. The air smells like soil as well as salt. They stay as long as the old land stays, rocking with the water. When it subsides, they leave their home to go home.

Alternate Histories: 5/29, 6/13, 9/29

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


[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?


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.]



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.



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?

Alternate Histories: 8/5, 8/7


I’m always anxious about the climate, always. I’m working on not getting anxious about it because it doesn’t do any good. My anxieties hit me typically if I wake up at three in the morning. If I catch a whiff of them, I just get going–not just climate, general ecological catastrophe. You forget about it enough and then it’s like, Oh damn it, I forgot about that.



The next night, W woke at 3:17, right on schedule. She got up quietly, shifting her weight away from the center of the mattress first so as not to wake her husband when she stood.

She wheeled out her bike and thought, as always, about leaving her blinker and helmet and reflective vest at home, leaving it up to fate or chance. As in the past, it wasn’t the thought of her daughter or her husband or her dogs or her garden that drew her hands to the buckles and straps. She just didn’t want to hurry up the process. The East Bay Bike Path curled out in front of her and even over the wind from her motion, she could hear the sound of the night woods.

A few people were already there when she got to the gravel beach in Barrington, and more arrived as she helped them light the fire. Its smoke wove into the smells of rotting algae and cooling bike sweat. Each of them said the name of something they were preparing to grieve for, something vulnerable to saline intrusion or shrinking ranges or the loss of its food plant, and the others around the fire repeated it after them, their voices swelling. W’s list was so long, and so many things on it were more essential to living, but, “The cool morning,” W said. “Every cool morning I wonder if it’s the last cool morning.” Her phrase echoed in several timbres: the cool morning, the cool morning. Anything can sound mournful if many voices say it in unison enough times.

As their vigil ended and their face of the earth turned out of its own shadow, others began in the country and the world: vigils for women with environmental cancers in Gary and Lima, for the corpses of salmon in the Nooksack River and the conifers their eventual absence would starve of fertilizer and the Nooksack people whose pride and history and survival were bound up with the salmon run, for children downwind of Fukushima whose spirits were cramped and contorted because they could not go outside. W thought of them while she was biking home, rinsing off, easing back into bed so that her daughter would find her when she came in for a morning curl-up.

People who went to vigils in the night brought their memories with them into the mornings. They behaved differently at work and with their relatives. They eased off on certain demands and made others more vehemently. Some of them were caught whispering ‘devotchka moya’ to the bees in the flowerpots on Nevksy Prospekt. Some of them were caught disabling coal-mining equipment in New South Wales. And in states and countries with many vigils, policies and practices began to change. It happened slowly–not fast enough to save some tracts of old-growth forest before they tipped into stumps and drought, not fast enough to allow the babies born that year or the following year to live asthma-free. There was always more to mourn for, more to rage about, more to resist. There was always more to praise, more to tend carefully, more to embrace.

Alternate Histories: 5/22, 4/10


Are the poles really melting, and it’s gonna raise the seas? So we’re gonna lose Manhattan, Nag’s Head? It doesn’t matter! There’s no anxiety–you’ll be dead, I’ll be dead, and new life will come.

I guess I’m thinking about what happens before that, the people who–

[Laughing] The galaxy dies, a new galaxy will come!

But before that happens, the plants, the animals that we’re familiar with—

[Laughing] It doesn’t matter, the dinosaurs died, everything will die!

You keep interrupting me, stop interrupting me. When you laugh, it’s like you’re making fun of me.

[He keeps laughing and I keep giving him stoneface.]

I’ve enjoyed talking with you.



Too many people to count easily form a slow tide that fills the street. Their voices rise to the traffic lights, to the signal towers, to the helicopters, in rage, in grief, in unity, calling for justice for the dead and the living.

A circle of grown people, their faces marked with soot, lay small stones on a circle of dried moss. They say the names of the dead species: the Wopanaak names, the English names, the Spanish names, the Latin names, each according to their knowledge of the dead. I am grieved for you, they say, grieved and in bitterness.

Seven or eight human adults and children, and three dogs, visit a flat stone amid hundreds of other flat stones, between clumps of trees and interlaced with thyme, lichen, moss, bouncing bet and dandelions. There are no bodies under the stones; we have found new uses for human substance, for its elements and components, that we are resigned to because our relation with the dead person has not ceased. The dogs nose around dutifully while the humans speak to their dead friend, telling her about recent triumphs, discoveries, other griefs. Two of the friends announce that one of them is pregnant. They sing a song to her. They pour a little beer over her grave and drink the rest themselves. They leave offerings that they know the graveyard skunks and sparrows and ants and possums and wasps and starlings will eat.

The procession stretches along the sand and back from the edge of the water as far as the eye can see. Each person bends down to the water’s edge and dumps a small packet of what looks like pale sand. It is bone meal, the bones of the dead. They are seeing if it will restore the balance of the ions in that water, to make it less acidic and give the shelled animals living in it more to work with. As each person spills the bones into the inlet, they say the name of a person or a kind of plant or animal they miss.

The family dabs honey on the brow of the new baby and kisses it off, each naming the new baby with ten beloved names.

A person bundled in shawl and coat walks down into the city. “Hey sweetpeas,” they murmur to the fat red buds on the municipal trees in the cold cold morning, “it’s gonna be soon,” saying something they can’t prove or make true, like a doula, like a person who loves a dying person, or even an animal, across that gulf, that opening.