Alternate Histories: 5/29, 6/13, 9/30

[Note:  this is another alternate history for the same two people who evoked the one yesterday and the one the day before.]


[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.



But the soil wasn’t what they were worried about, you might be thinking, or it was just a small element of their worry. Their fear towers higher and their loss reaches deeper. So let’s imagine instead that W changes her direction. That every time someone says, “Beautiful day,” when she’s in line at the supermarket, she says, “It’s so unseasonably warm because the world is warming.” Every time someone asks how she’s doing, she says, “I’m sad and angry, because I can’t stop the polluting practices that are ruining the world.” When her sister calls from Houston to announce her promotion at work, she says, “We could lose between 20 to 50 percent of species out all life on earth, within the century, and that’s a conservative estimate.”

For T, it’s different. That’s too much work for us to ask a kid to do, so his family takes it on for him, and his teachers, and his grown cousins. But when he does speak about his worry and his loneliness, everyone listens, and they also listen when he talks about Minecraft, or shows them something he’s made. He gets into the habit of being heard, recognized, real to the people around him.

W never unbends, never cracks. Her presence as a mourner is total. She feels satisfaction, even peace, that comes from knowing what to do. What to do is this.

T and the kids he knows grow up–loved, recognized, embraced, curious, brave, and also confused, sad, lonely, frustrated, angry sometimes. What to do with sadness? What to do?

People do listen to W, and some emulate her. Every day they sit together for an hour and imagine their own deaths, and the deaths of everything they have ever loved. In the rest of their days, they attempt to alleviate present suffering. When people try to take care of them, to offer them food or shelter, they redirect it to someone else in greater need. They mark their faces with ashes. They are eerie, like the future.

And people, in awe of them, let them pass–into offices, into power plants, into factories. They tell the people inside the effects of their decisions, and then they leave. The next day they are back.

T and his friends let sadness make them kind and anger make them brave. They share everything they have. They run shining over the whole earth.

But what will happen, though? I hear you asking. What’s going to happen?


Alternate Histories: 5/31, 4/19


Yeah, I would say I’m definitely anxious about global warming. It’s an interesting problem — there’s a dichotomy of being really concerned and the knowledge that the horrible things about it are probably not going to affect me, so I want to enjoy the state that the world is in now while that’s possible. I mean, according to the predictions that scientists are making–I live in the first world [sic], so it may have dramatic but not life-threatening consequences. I’ll still be able to enjoy life in a way that most people aren’t going to be able to. I do have a fear of getting old and having a lot of things become huge problems around the time that I get old and can’t take care of myself. A fear of not being able to do anything about it — not being able to enjoy the world because you know this horrible thing is coming.

What if it was going to be sooner? You know, what if in the paper you read that instead of fifty years, it’s going to happen in thirty years or whatever?

I hate to say it, but I think that would — rather than wanting to immediately do something, I would be in the mode of trying to enjoy the world and [didn’t catch it] as much as possible. There’s a way to slow but not stop it, and I think a lot of people are like, “Well, fuck it.” If it did look that imminent, there are all these things I would want to do and see.

Do you really hate to say it?

A little bit, because I think it’s a reflection on my weakness as a person, where everyone’s out to have a good life, which got us into this — why should we stop it now?

What do you see yourself doing to look out for people in this harder world?

I think it’s going to require a radically different way of looking at resources that I don’t think anyone in the U.S. is at all used to. I’m a planner, and I try hard to live off not a lot, so that’s a skill I could maybe give to other people — like how not to use an obscene amount of water. I’ll be the jerk who’s like, You can’t take a 20 minute shower, you just can’t.

Are you the jerk now?

No, not really. I try to be mindful of what I use, where my food’s coming from, but Americans are conditioned to not pay attention to that because we don’t have to.



The next day, DD thought: the future is where everything bad happens, like the breakdown of ecologies and supply chains, like getting old and being helpless. It’s also where everything good happens, like seeing things and trying things. She thought, I’m good at doing with less, but I want more.

DD thought about places she would like to have seen. Seeing is having, she thought. She said goodbye to each of them, using the feathers from part of a pigeon wing she picked out of dead oak leaves and Dutch Masters wrappers blown against the side of her apartment house. She gave each feather the name of a place, laid them out on the windowsill, watched the wind lift them. When the last one was gone she washed her hands three times.

Two years later, tourism was down, way down, the bottom. People were still flying to see their families, to do science, for work sometimes, but almost no one, then no one, was flying to devour anyone else’s place. This was difficult for places that had built their living around influxes of expensive strangers. It took some people there a long time to unclench their fists. Skies got quieter, the water cleaner. The sand, too, was cleaner at first (not so many people to pick up after) then dirtier (no one paying money for picking things up) then cleaner again (when everyone got sick of it being dirty). Some of the fish, some of the birds, some of the mosses, and some of the santos started to come back, and then there was more to eat. Others were gone forever. People said goodbye to these in their own ways.

Back at the airports, a few families tried to live in the grounded planes but it turns out that the things that make airplanes good for flying make them bad for almost everything else: not enough light, not enough ventilation, plasticky, weird-shaped, cramped. Mostly people broke them down for materials and parts. The frameworks of wings made good roof supports and squash trellises. Kids took flotation devices to the swimming holes.

Some things we’ll never see because we killed them. Some things we can allow to flourish by never seeing them, letting them rest, secret from us, but not from themselves.