Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/23/18

Weather: Hot, breezy, bright, big moving clouds

Number of people: 12 stoppers, 4 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 9

People who got the Peanuts reference: 2

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 2

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 0

Conversations between people who didn’t know each other before: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1, but I didn’t recognize them at first

Money raised for the Environmental Justice League of RI: $9.30

 

Observations:

This day was my first in Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park this season. I didn’t know what to expect from the new time (11-2 instead of 3-6) or the presence of the food trucks. So far, what it’s come down to is that a higher percentage of strangers talking to me are people who have food truck money. The noise of the motors doesn’t seem to be a problem; I can hear everyone.

One person who spoke with me also shared her fries with me. I ate about half of them and then shared the rest with a guy who did not have food truck money. (I only touched the ones I ate.)

You need a permit to be a vendor in the park. The ranger came up to me near the beginning of my session and said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you know what I’m gonna say, don’t you?” (I have a permit; I showed it to him.)

Next time I need to come out with water and more finished organism cards.

This seems like a good moment to reiterate that I don’t agree with everyone whose conversations I post!

Some conversations:

The housing situation. We’re constantly having to move. We’ve had three houses sold out from underneath our feet, and the place we were just in got condemned for no apparent reason. Someone called the fire marshal and they were like, “Oh, you gotta update to the new fire codes,” this impossible renovation, so they misplaced families, they put us in a hotel. The landlord is depressed, his hair turned white in a week. This house has been in his family for generations. My children are straight-A students, but every time this happens it’s affected their grades, their attendance at school, they’re tardy—they should not have to deal with this.

I think they’re picking on him for renting to Black people. The fire department, when they saw it, 48 hours later they shut us all out. Changing the code—it’s like the police stopping a car, like, “This is a bus now. Everybody gotta get off, and you gotta get a bus license. If you don’t get a bus license, you gotta get off the road.”

*

It’s a really big issue. The current leadership of this country has me the most anxious. I can’t even listen to the radio anymore. I used to listen to NPR all the time, but now every time I hear the so-called President—I can’t even say his name—I have to change the station. I have a violent reaction—I want to yell, to drown out his voice. If they mention his name, I have to turn it off. Now I just listen to WCRB, just music, the classical station.

Where do you get your information now?

News apps and online—the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC. I’m interested more in a global perspective. This way it’s in my control if I choose to see his face, or read or hear what he said. He makes me want to do violence to myself or others—mostly others, mostly him.

What do you do when you feel that anger?

I drink alcohol. I joined a gym, I want to be more physically fit.

Have you been involved with any political stuff here in the state?

I haven’t. I used to be active in another state, around the 2004 election. I’ve been voting my whole life, and at first I registered independent, until I found out that in my state you had to be in a party to vote in the primary. I’ve since become disillusioned. I’m not a member of a party—I’m more progressive and left-leaning than most Democrats. There is a woman running for Congress in my district, but I haven’t signed up to volunteer. I think we need more women in positions of power.

What would smooth your path to volunteering?

If I had a sense that it would be time well spent. But if that was what it took, nobody would donate, nobody would volunteer. It’s difficult to fit in with my own personal business, but I’d probably feel better.

*

My wife and I noticed in East Providence, on Massasoit Avenue, there are these abandoned gas tanks, Getty tanks, and someone is building houses there. Who’s gonna want to live there? God knows what’s in the ground there.

*

Global warming trends. Weather patterns seem strange lately. I have some anxiety about cell phones and wireless—what long-term effects of that are there gonna be? Because it’s pretty pervasive.

What does the anxiety feel like, do you feel it physically?

I get a tension in my head, a tightness in my chest.

And what do you usually do after you feel it?

I try to distract myself with reading, doing work or chores around the house. I try to be conscientious, but I have anxiety about some of the things I have around the house that are going into the landfill system.

*

I heard 11 feet by the year 2100.

Where’d you hear it?

Some progressive politics meeting. That’s a good chunk of Rhode Island! I’m filled with anxiety, but it’s not present enough, I have to consciously think of it, and I think that’s why action doesn’t happen. There’s no immediate sign of it that you feel—it’s not like an asteroid heading towards Earth. But it’s gonna have really scary consequences that we haven’t really understood yet. The ecosystem is incredibly elegantly balanced, and because of climate change—I think the Lyme disease outbreak is a consequence of climate change. There’s sea level, there’s stupid simple things that we can picture, but we don’t picture how the rain falling over the wheat is gonna start falling over the Pacific. I’ve decided that this is the issue. Other political issues are just moving deck chairs on the Titanic—what does it matter about income inequality if the planet doesn’t work? I think people feel a bit of helplessness, like, “What can I do”– or they’re like, “Oh, I drive a Prius, I’ve done what I can.” Maybe it’s because I live in a liberal bubble, but I haven’t bumped into that many people who don’t think it’s a real thing, I guess that’s good.

*

I think it’s stressful how much we are consuming and [at the same time] talking about the natural world breaking. I don’t think I can imagine it. So much of my day-to-day life is relying on the Earth. We have this human saturation—not the amount of people but what we’re doing. That’s my new band name, Human Saturation.

What would they sound like?

Maybe really harsh noise. It feels like something down the road. We don’t want to think about it until we inevitably have to deal with it, and we pretend we’re not going to have to. … To have this huge thing that’s happening to everyone, to not acknowledge it is damaging, literally damaging. It’s hard to find one single answer. It has to happen on a huge level—I don’t think a few people biking to work every day is gonna cause change

*

 

I’m coming from a place of statistics. Overpopulation—more people means more waste, more use of natural resources, higher [carbon dioxide] levels. … It’s one of many things that’s gonna happen. Maybe the ice caps melt and we all drown. Maybe we die in a fuckin’ fiery mass of nuclear fallout. It could be a bunch of different things. Massive volcanic eruptions, the sun being blotted out by ash clouds. Who knows how long we have? We all could be living on fuckin’ boats. A massive Atlantis is what I see. There are people who live on water already. Or maybe [carbon dioxide] levels rise and our planet burns to a crisp and we’ll all go live on galactic space stations. Everything has its cycle—part of time is essentially death. … When you work out, you’re breaking your muscles. It takes death to incite growth. We’re all just figments of imagination, we’re specks of dust, a million atomic particles with the capabilities for love. If we pass—you can’t create or destroy energy. Our bodies die but the energy continues. You could wipe all the information off the face of the earth, science will still be science. We’ll be absorbed back into the Creator. Love is my higher power. It’s one way of sort of honoring God, God presents himself to me through the love of other people. … If you show love and be kind, you will be blessed by God. I’ve been clean for a couple of months. I was an addict for 10 years, and what I lacked was love—recognizing and applying love and living by it. Being an addict tends to absorb everything you love, all your interests, all your pleasures. A guy in recovery told me you can trade one thing for everything in your life or you can trade everything in your life for one thing. I’m blessed to have two beautiful children and it’s my duty to make sure that they love themselves first and foremost, but more importantly, that they’re accepting love from others.

map 5-23-18

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. People have written:

Woonsocket

The box of Eddie St

Coventry

Massasoit Ave

 

 

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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: Providence Energy Fair, 6/24/17

Weather: POURING outside. The fair was inside, with big fans.

Number of people: 6 stoppers, no walkbys.

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5.5

Peanuts references: 1

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

Photos taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1 (this is the correct ratio, if anyone was wondering)

Number of people who asked some version of “Are you a real doctor?”: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $2.00

 

Observations:

This was an event specifically for people who work in energy efficiency, land conservation, and environmental justice, and for people interested in those things. I unsurprisingly get a higher incidence of stoppers whose anxieties are climate anxieties at such events, and that’s how today was.

There were people playing music, and they played “Moonlight Midnight”, a song I love.

I picked up a People’s Power and Light flyer.

Sometimes I try to get people from “weather” or “seasons” to “climate”, when they mistake the second for one of the first two, and sometimes I don’t. This was a time I tried but it didn’t really take.

All places are vulnerable places.

 

Some conversations:

I was woken this morning by notifications for an app that’s not on my phone, and it seems to be propaganda, a fake news website. I’m concerned who that’s going to who may not follow trusted sources. How did this get on my phone? I consider myself a moderate, but I think I know propaganda when I see it. When I think of the reduction of authority of the EPA, another four years of negative environmental activity—whether you believe in [climate change] or not, it’s pollution. I had to wear a surgical mask on my way here.

What do you do when you feel this anxiety?

Working with sustainability means it just adds to the things to worry about. I’m already worrying about my family and my kids. I thought we were going in a great direction, with [the city committed to sustainability measures], and all of a sudden—I resent the commmander-in-chief assigning people who want to take those regulations down to nothing …

In your job, does it give you energy, or does it take away your energy?

It’s definitely a morale killer. I would say it’s more anger than anxiety. A big WTF.

*

I’m anxious that I feel powerless. Whatever I do with my individual behavior, this is so monumental. It’s gonna take everyone. And my other anxiety is that I understand that it’s not everyone’s priority, and accepting that. People have a vast amount of other things that they have to worry about. I’ve seen that conflict between more militant environmentalists and people who maybe don’t care or have other things to worry about … I’m in school for environmental studies, and the determinants for environmental concern are like [socioeconomic status], exposure to nature as a child, certain demographic things.

So is your concern that there’s not enough listening going on between these two clumps of people?

Yes. I don’t even know if I would start that conversation. Who am I to impose this on you? Who am I to shape what they care about? I can give people my time, but I can’t give everyone everything.

*

You know what does make me anxious? The wintertime. I hate it, it makes me stiff, it makes me tired, it makes me anxious. I want to run into a safe warm place. I could be burning and I’m so happy—I’d rather that 50 times than my face being cut open from the cold. Winter’s abusive, it’s abusive, that’s what it is … For my son, I always wanna make sure he’s warm, because for me warm is safe, I wanna make sure he’s safe … I’m from the Dominican Republic, on the borderline of Haiti, and when the hurricane came through it knocked down all these trees so there was no shade, and I still prefer that. I let myself go in the winter—in the summer I wanna vibrate, I wanna shine. When you fly [to the Dominican Republic] everybody’s welcoming, everybody’s so nice, but when you fly into Boston or New York it’s so rigid, everybody’s like go here, do this. Everyone becomes cold. The sun gives you the whole vitamin D of happiness.

*

It’s been so long since I thought about climate change. I’ve just been buried in my work. When Trump was elected I had to focus, so I focused on immigrants, refugees, health care—and climate change was on there but it wasn’t at the top. I did make a list. There’s only so much energy that we all have.

So I guess a question with that for me is, how do we move it up people’s list without saying that the other stuff on their list doesn’t matter?

Finding the examples that are relevant—like the LNG plant … There’s a big learning curve.

*

I think everybody should be anxious. The way this country’s direction is going, denying that there is climate change—I’m just scared about this [political] climate. And the glaciers are melting, and people are ignoring science—not people, but the government. People like us are the people that care. I think it’s gonna take organizations and private citizens, nonprofits, to step up and take over what government has done in the past.

 

*

This company…just contracted to scout national parks, national monuments, protected lands that [the President] would be able to open up for resource excavation. There’s a national monument off the Northeast coast—those sites that people worked so hard to protect were so vulnerable, so much effort made just for those areas, so if they can be attacked, no place is safe no matter how much effort people make. It’ll do irrevocable damage, but it’s also what it means in terms of precedent.

How does it feel to think about this, and what do you do when you think about it?

I feel relieved to share just verbally. What I do is a good question, because I feel very helpless. The main thing I do is posting on social media, which is not effectual. It’s the same, but sort of remote, but maybe further-reaching? I don’t have any steps toward [doing something]. The conversation to have is possibly opening up to more conversations … Where I’m living now, there’s puddling in the yard from the rain and that is a first. With climate change, there’s more moisture in the atmosphere that falls at once. It’s unheard of that the place where I am is affected. It’s not even a vulnerable place.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Armory Park Farmers’ Market, 10/6/16

Weather: Cool and sunny and dry, chilly toward twilight

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 10 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Dogs spotted: 13

Dogs pet: 0. That’s ZERO FOR THIRTEEN. A scandal and a shame, I tell you.

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island: $1:50

 

Observations:

I’d intended to be there till 7, but only stayed till 6:30, when it was getting too dark to write.

I had just enough Rhode Island organism cards to hand out to people who spoke with me.

Someone tried to ventriloquize their climate anxieties through their baby, which is the most extreme version of next-generation-ism I’ve seen yet.

 

Some conversations:

I’m anxious that the Republicans think that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, because that’s a major political party which is supposedly half of the country–that’s a lot of people that think climate change is not real.

What scares you about that?

If people don’t think it’s real, it will continue to get worse and before we can do anything about it, it’ll be too late–it already is too late.

Too late for what? 

Well, we can’t stop the polar ice caps from melting. In 30 years, we’ll be underwater. I’m not really sure, maybe. It’s really difficult to think about because no one wants to die and no one wants the world to die, but it might.

*

[These two knew each other, and mostly talked together with a little input from me.]

Person 1: In this community, I don’t know how many people worry about climate change. It’s concerning, yes, but people are worried about food in the stomach. I wonder if people will see [you] and think, What’s wrong with that person.

Person 2: I worry about the economy, the rate at which automation is going. There are already driverless cars–a lot of people are going to be put out of work. What 10 people used to do, now one person does it, and it’s going to be automated–no one’s talking about how it’s going to be managed … A lot of people are going to be out of work. It’s coming, it’s coming fast.

Person 1: This kind of conversation asks me to think about all of that. I might have been thinking otherwise, but now I have to think about it this way, and I am thinking: the way we know life will never be the same, because once technology and automation…get into the picture, life will be different–the larger population are not used to that, and who is having that conversation?

Person 2: Nobody!

Person 1: Who comes to this neighborhood and talks about automation? Who’s saying, “Your life is gonna change?”

*

Sickness. My pressure [touches chest]. My back hurting–I’m not able to stand.

*

We’re wasting our rainwater, we should save our rainwater, and we’re doing terrible things to our soil. We don’t take care of it at all, our Grandmother Earth. And they’re not enjoying it–it’s “supposed to” be used up and made into money, rather than this gift that we should love and take care of. The company doing landscaping at the East Side Market, they’re ripping up the shrubs. Those are living things! I can hear them crying–I know it’s ridiculous, but–and then it gets dumped. There’s a society against cruelty for animals, there should be one for cruelty against plants, the planet–it’s taken years for them to get the way they are. I’m a landscape designer, I educate people all the time … Leave the plants where they are, let them grow deep roots, and go and sit amongst them.

It’s wonderful to hear someone talk about plants with so much love, and the relationships between plants and humans.

It feeds each other, right, we do need to stick together.

*

High property taxes, and nobody gets anything for the money. What I would really like to see–the thing that irks me more than anything is that [while] property taxes are so high, out-of-town companies get tax stabilization agreements and that creates housing that takes away the tenant pool for the rest of us, and we foot the tax bill. It creates an enormous inequity and fleeces the rest of the city. If taxes make it impossible, if you can’t afford to build here without a TSA, you can’t afford to build here. But the companies all pay the prevailing wage, so it’s all union jobs, so the union supports them because they can’t get jobs anywhere else…Most of the construction guys I know who are in the union commute up to Boston, and they do have work up there, they are working.

*

[These two came up together and appeared to share a dog.]

Person 1: We moved here six months ago from Chicago, and we were really excited about this neighborhood. But there’s so much garbage in the streets … I think it’s related to the way we treat the climate.

Person 2: I picked up so much garbage the first few months, and then I’d come out the next morning and it’d be all dirty again, and I sort of gave up.

Do you still pick up garbage though? 

Oh yeah, and there’s kind of an unofficial group who walks through [the park] and picks up glass, and it’s comforting to see them and know I’m not the only one.

 

 

 

 

Providence 2050

The Providence Public Library, a place and institution that I love so much, invited people living and working in the city to imagine it in 2050, and this is what we said. I’m in there (though I don’t know that I would call myself an “emerging leader”) and so are a lot of people that I also love, and some I don’t know.

Thanks to Kate Wells and the PPL for inviting me to be part of this story.