Microbiology for All: 1/12 and 1/19

Cybele Collins is holding two events to introduce us to our tiniest tenants and neighbors.

Two workshops: 1/12/16 and 1/19/16, 7-9PM. Attendance of both or neither, walking in and out are fine

Microorganisms, the oldest and most diverse kinds of life, are visible through their actions. They make life possible but are also responsible for disease and decay. Bacteria, archaea, viruses and protists exist on a scale millions of times smaller than ours, in our bodies as the microbiome and in extreme conditions of heat, salt, pressure and cold. Most are one-celled organisms that share a common language of DNA and biochemistry with our cells. Our microbiome affects our health and mind, while pathogens can penetrate our cells with tiny motors or toxins and are in an arms race with antibiotics. Bacteria are used to ferment alcohol, make food, and to produce drugs and biofuel while the cyanobacteria and algae of the ocean produce most of the oxygen in the atmosphere.

In two sessions, we will see the microbes in their range of forms, habitats and behavior, cultivating our own microbial colonies from soil in a Winogradsky column (from mud, calcium from eggshells and cellulose from newspaper) and the mouth microbiome. We will cover the basics of biochemistry in order to see the world of beings that live in intimacy with molecules, as well as to understand issues with antibiotics and photosynthesis. Drawing as a way to learn is encouraged but experience in science and art are not necessary.

Soil bacteria have a complex relationship with the climate, and warming oceans threaten the oxygen-producing bacteria Cybele mentions in her description. I’m going to the 1/19 one. Learn more and say you’re coming!



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: 6/3, 4/20


[These are from conversations with two pairs of friends, at different times.]

Friend 1: The government. They’re frauds. Changing stuff around.

Like what?

They’re trying to lower the population, make it so there’s one world leader. There’s all these wars to reduce the population.

How does it affect you?

It affects me because I got love for everybody! I don’t want people to die for no reason.

Friend 2: Not only that, but the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor.

How can people help take care of each other?

Friend 1: People build themselves up. Helping the lower class become middle class.


The government’s controlling the weather. If you know how nature works, it usually has seasons, and it didn’t this year. There were no April showers, May had all the showers. And the birds left in March, they know how it’s supposed to be. It doesn’t add up to me. The way animals are behaving — and the trees and stuff, we’re not gonna have oxygen to breathe.



W and Y and K and A all live in the same city. W and Y are friends and so are K and A, but the two pairs don’t know each other. Here in the city, everyone dies for no reason–that is, no one dies for someone else’s bad reason. When there’s dangerous weather, there’s also a plan; when there’s sickness, there’s also care; when there’s not quite enough food, everyone’s hungry together. Everyone in the city, just about, is the same amount of endangered, and the same amount of safe, their whole lives long–not just from sudden changes, but from seeping changes. The ground and the water are low on unpleasant surprises. Cancer, asthma, nightmares, skin trouble are equally common in all areas of the city–which is to say, a little bit common.

Who is responsible for this? The government. It’s partly true to say the government control the weather–for a long time, they controlled it for the worse, by allowing the people and companies making it worse to continue. Having stopped this, they began to unravel themselves piece by piece, to distribute themselves, to share themselves out.

Who are the government now? Here in the city, most people’s sense of who the government are and what they do is pretty clear. They observe the need for large-scale work and organize its carrying out: they came out to help W and the people on his street remove an old tank of cyanide safely; they helped to plan, dig and plant up a heat shelter that K’s neighborhood council requested; they asked people from Y’s neighborhood to go to A’s neighborhood to pick defoliating bugs off trees. They protect and distribute some of the resources of place. They liaise with the governments of other cities, making sure the edges of the city are purposefully porous, and between neighborhood councils, if there’s a question about who gets what or who does what. They don’t respond to contention, or the need for justice and reparation–the neighborhood councils do that. They reinforce the city’s intention to meet the needs of its most fragile living creatures first, to keep its hands open and even. They foster science and observation; they believe what people tell them about what they see. They test soil bacteria and air quality. They keep an eye on salvage operations, the timing of bird migrations, dispatches from people mooring their boats in the harbor. When people ask them to, they make ways. They make paths.

Who is responsible? The ones who respond.