Alternate Histories: 7/22, 8/4

[This is the third in a three-part sequence about, loosely, faith and practice. The first is here; the second is here; another, by Janaya Kizzie, is here.]

722/15

The indigenous concept of Mother Earth [has been] Disneyfied and trivialized, but it’s an important idea: the earth as a mother that feeds us, that gives us what we need. We need a change of consciousness that honors these ideas, these relationships. When I talk about this with my students, I can tell that they yearn for it, but they graduate and they’re in debt, they have to make compromises, and I cry for them.

*

8/4/15

When the teaching semester started again, A rented a biodiesel van and drove his students out to the Fisherville Pond Dam on the Blackstone River. Together, they watched and listened with skepticism turning to awe as the biologists, ecologists, chemists and engineers–some their own age–explained how the canal restorers work. One of A’s students squatted down and touched the tip of one deep-brown finger to the skin of the water. She looked a question at their guide, who nodded reassuringly; she dipped her finger, put it in her mouth, and started to cry.

The point, A said to his students on the way back to town, is not that you guys all need to drop what you’re doing and learn how to make these specific things. The point is that this is a form of living intimately and reverently, the way we were talking about in class. The people who are making these things are giving back to the earth that made them…

… And they’re getting paid, said A’s surliest student.

And they’re getting paid. Which means–we talked about what that means–

That society recognizes the value of what they’re doing, said A’s most eager student.

A smiled at her. We are society, he said. What nourishes the earth nourishes us, because we get all our nourishment from the earth. When your boss says he’s standing on his own two feet, he’s ignoring the fact that he’s standing on the earth, breathing in what the trees breathe out, and that his feet are made out of things the earth gave him.

But how can we act that out? demanded a student who was usually quiet. I mean it sounds really good, but.

How do you all think? A asked. Let’s write, and then we’ll pool our ideas and write a little more.

My mom always say she should get paid for raising us. Everybody say welfare is bad but isn’t that what that is? Except it should be more.

I want to be a nutritionist because helping more people be healthy is a public service.

You should get money if you DONT pollute not if you do.

My grandmothers gave me a bath in the river when I was born, in Liberia, wrote the student who’d sipped clean water off her fingertip. I want to give my grandchildren a bath in the river when they are born, here. I want them to be born.

A and his students shaped these writings into letters and sent them where they thought they’d be most relevant: to Blue Cross Blue Shield, to the Social Security office, to National Grid, to the Rhode Island Division of Agriculture, to Hasbro …

Think of an animal or a plant as a moment of great and temporary good luck, something that allows other things to help it build itself and allows other things to help it destroy itself. First we grow; we burgeon. And then, unless someone interrupts our arc with violent contempt, we begin to dismantle ourselves and to be dismantled. Why don’t we recognize that one is as beautiful as the other? Why shouldn’t a business do it as well as a body, when it reaches the turn of its natural life? Nothing else even tries to grow forever.

During the seven years that followed, the people and plants and animals whose lives were touched by these companies, and who had helped these companies grow, helped to take them apart–not violently, but as part of their arc. They used their assets to tide people over–the healers, the growers, the restorers–as they worked out ways to give and take in balance and to move away from money, toward honor and sustenance, as rewards for the business of living.

The dismantlers knew in their own ways of knowing things that they too were being disassembled and disarmed piece by piece, as well as nourished, by other living creatures they needed but could not see, by the cells of their own bodies, by time, in order to become a field for more and different people and plants and animals and ideas and possibilities to grow.

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RIPTA Fare Hike Public Meetings & RIPTA Riders Alliance Meeting, 7/14/15

Good public transportation helps the MOST people get where they need to go (without cars) when it is widespread, frequent, steadily and affordably priced, and safe to use. Especially in a city, better and more accessible bus service can mean fewer cars, and fewer cars mean lower greenhouse gas emissions, less heat, less traffic and road stress,  and potentially fewer paved/impermeable surfaces (because less need for parking lots) leading to better stormwater drainage and a cleaner water cycle.

Today, there are meetings about bus fares and bus infrastructure in Providence and Warwick. From the RIPTA Riders Alliance:

“RIPTA has more public meetings today about its ‘fare study’, which seems to be intended as a preliminary to getting more money from fares in addition to adjusting some of the details about fare structure and fare collection. There will be another round of meetings later.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015, 11am-1pm

Providence Public Library, 3rd floor meeting room

150 Empire St, Providence, RI

Tuesday, July 14, 2015, 1:30pm-4:30pm

Kennedy Plaza Intermodal Transportation Center

1 Kennedy Plaza, Providence, RI

Tuesday, July 14, 2015, 5:30pm-7:30pm

Warwick City Hall, Council Chambers

3275 Post Road, Warwick, RI”

There is also a RIPTA Riders Alliance meeting today at 3pm at the RI Foundation:

1 Union Station (Exchange Terrace betw. Exchange St and Francis St), Providence, RI.

Climate Anxiety Counseling at the Sankofa World Market: 7/8/15

Weather: swampy, then a cloudburst, then hot and bright, then another cloudburst

Number of people: 6 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Alternate Histories: 0

People who commented on the Peanuts reference: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.25

Observations:

It was generally a slow market day, maybe because of the heat and the rain.

Lots of people go into Knight Memorial Library from the side entrances rather than walk through the market to go in the front entrance.

I handled a couple of conversations … not badly, but not optimally, and I wish I’d done differently.

Multiple people opened their conversations with me by asking, “So did everyone come to you with their climate anxieties when it started raining?” or “Did everyone run to you in the downpour saying ‘climate change’?” There’s a little more information about climate change and rain in Rhode Island here, and here’s more about heavy rain and climate change generally.

Some conversations:

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.

Doctor’s note: could the friend be thinking of something like this?

*

A friend of mine’s son got shot and he died 15 minutes ago. And I have two sons, and one of them’s been shot twice. So violence and repercussions in this city. I just called the mother to say I have her paycheck, we work together, and she was still crying.

*

Things I should be doing that I don’t do. Like getting rid of my car, moving into very small square footage, buying only clothes made in America and meant to last. But the main reason I don’t get rid of my car is how will I move stuff around for projects? Do I get a UHaul, is that responsible? Is a car share responsible?

*

I’m kind of a neighborhood rabble-rouser. I helped bring this market to the library lawn. And [the people I work with and I] work with certain guiding principles: social justice, equity, inclusion, and environmental justice. We have less of a voice than other neighborhoods in the city, and why is that? We’re marginalized in public meetings–the South Side gets five minutes to speak, and the East Side gets 45 minutes … I can talk to anybody if they wanna talk, as long as they’re willing to build the conversation and stay in the conversation.

*

The world blowing up. My brother teases me about it. He says it’s gonna blow up in 2030.

Do you know what makes him think that?

He said he looked it up.

Have you looked it up to see if he’s telling the truth?

No, I don’t wanna.

What do you do when you think about it and you start to get scared?

I play with my dog and eat popcorn.

Does that help?

Sometimes.

So now I have a weird question. Suppose he was right and the world was gonna end in 2030. What would you want to spend your time doing?

Living life to the fullest. Going on a really fast ride, doing lots of fun stuff. And being rich too. I know how to sing, so I’m gonna be a singer.

Do you record your songs?

I’m gonna put music on YouTube and see if people like it. One more question.

My last question is, if you were gonna help other kids do what they want to do, how would you do it?

I would do a fund and a company–well, not a company, a program, kinda like a school, or like an after-school program. This sun is smacking me right in the back.

*

I was thinking about this walking over here: all the water everywhere is polluted. Even the water in the ocean, this water that feels so cleansing and refreshing and [mineralizing?] is polluted. We’re showering in chlorinated water, and I read that chlorine makes you sluggish*–I don’t want to be showering in less enlivening water every day. There’s the loss of species, and not many people even realize it–we’re separating ourselves from the essence of being alive. I don’t think being alive has anything to do with shopping malls and superhighways.

Do you feel this disconnection, or are you worried about other people feeling it, or–

I definitely feel it, and when I get to be in nature [sic], I’m more comfortable, more at peace, less stressed. I lived in a tent for four months, and it was the happiest I’ve ever been. But I like the city, I like people and art and–and restaurants, but I feel like it’s in our human potential to bring together the best of both worlds.

 

*Doctor’s note: I can’t find confirmation for this. Anyone?

Today’s poem:

Will I be here

will I be here again

will my clothes dry quickly

like this was an argument

will I walk out of here

with a grasp of finance

black cloth accruing heat

paper gathering water

in a good cause the tops

of the tents collecting

from scratch and dust

hanging in the hot air

what do you use

and how do you hover

filthy and drawn out

like all water

sooner or later

Alternate Histories: 5/15, 6/7

5/15/15

Being homeless, needing medication, needing food. They told me I need preauthorization for my meds and they wouldn’t give it to me. The doctor gave me 15 days supply, that’s nothing. … That’s my sister over there.

6/7/15

How does healing gather cost? Between the need and the idea, between the factories where people and machines synthesize or extract its ingredients and the factories where people and machines pack up what they’ve compounded, between the set of symptoms and the diagnosis, between the person who can’t pay for it and the company who can. The next time M went to the clinic, she brought her sister with her, and the doctor gave them 30 days’ worth of pills, two sweatshirts, 24 rolls of toilet paper, and bananas ranging from green to ripe. Then she and the two medical clerks opened up the Blue Cross Blue Shield windows on their respective computers and prepared to cheat, lie and steal.

Meanwhile, across town, seven or eight Orthodox Jewish women had begun building a mikvah for women with any kind of body and any kind of faith. It should be very, very easy to get clean, they said, looking hard and levelly at the men in their lives. A mikvah needs running or natural water, which meant that they had to work with the DEM and the Blackstone River Watershed Council to keep human-made poisons, fertilizers and waste out of the river.

Further south, in Groton, Connecticut, a woman reading order forms at Pfizer frowned and beckoned a colleague over to her computer. Do you see what I’m seeing? she said, pointing at the order codes, tracing with her finger a message reading down.

M was frowning too. I don’t want to get naked in public, she said,

No problem, said the women of Watershed. They started with a rain barrel on the roof of the high-rise, with a filter top and a length of tubing down the side of the building to M and her sister’s window. After some reflection, they left notes on every apartment door in the building, and several months later, the sides of the building were networks of glistening tubes, water troughs, and filtering plants. They left the scaffolding up, to make repairs easier.

Women throughout New England opened tributaries of Watershed, including one in Groton, at the mouth of the Thames River. The Pfizer buildings there are well-designed, supplying most of their own energy; when they laid off another round of people, some of those people came to work with Watershed Groton to plan an alternate operation: fewer medicines, costing less, with fewer toxic by-products, in case they got the chance.

M’s doctor became too sick to work, and she came to live in the high-rise. From far away, it looked like a tall cactus, covered in green fur and yellow spines. It looked like the hanging gardens of Babylon. The women of Watershed wrote a prayer to the water for taking endings away, making room for beginnings, and washing them again at the very end.

Alternate History: 5/13, 4/1

5/13/14

I saw this story about ice shelves in Antarctica–did you see that? That they’re melting much quicker than scientists anticipated, and that we’ve passed the point of no return. This was two days ago, and it was just another reminder that we’re in deep trouble.

What does deep trouble mean here? What do you imagine when you imagine that kind of future?

Nothing good–I don’t even know. Projections I’ve seen of downtown Newport with two-three feet of sea level rise, the flooding in Cranston–if that kind of flooding is going to be more permanent and more frequent. In Cranston, people had to leave their homes.

*

4/1/15

P got on the number 60 bus early the next morning. In Newport, a higher sea washed around the wharfs and lapped at the damp sand; P looked up the beach, where he thought the water might come to, but wasn’t sure.

The day after that, P, who is a journalist, began researching titles to vacant houses in Cranston. The women working in the title office got to know him fairly well and so did the people researching ways to renovate houses using existing materials instead of newly manufactured ones, without turning everyone’s lungs into gross sponges for lead and dust and solvents.

We’ll help you rebuild your house away from the water, said P’s friends and the nephews of the women working in the title office to the people living at the edge of the seas and rivers, if you let us do it in a way that won’t mess up the ground and water more than they already are. Other than that, it’s up to you: how do you want it to look? How do you want it to feel? Who all needs to live there?

The skeletons of the old houses—the things they couldn’t move—they left, hoping they weren’t too poisonous, hoping that oysters and mussels and rockweeds and barnacles could grow on them—as they do even on the wharf pillars, green with arsenic.

In this story, the people of the city are eager to transform the houses they aren’t using. To renovate means “to make new” but what they’re doing is more like making something old. But they’re not returning, they won’t be returning to their houses; there is no return. There’s no way to stay the same, only a way to make the new house give them something the old house did not.

Full Disclosure

I went to the Metcalf Institute’s Data Visualization Workshop yesterday, and so did a bunch of other people: it was neat to be there with oceanographers, designers, marine biologists, people from the EPA and the Coastal Resources Management Council, and people like me doing independent projects. I got to see Kathie Florsheim, whose project Living on the Edge and whose conversation at the beginning of Climate Anxiety Counseling helped shape it. Lynsy Smithson-Stanley, who worked on the climate change campaign for the Audubon Society, and sculptor Nathalie Miebach, who makes sculptures out of data, helped me think about how to get information and ideas all the way from the world, through someone’s mind, into someone else’s mind and back out into the world.

But my major takeaway from this workshop is that listening to people, working together, and agreeing on a plan of action–just agreeing! Not even doing it!–is slow.

After some panels and talks and things, people formed groups to do an exercise:

1) Look at this information about climate change in Narragansett Bay.

2) Choose an element of it.

3) Decide who you want to understand it that element and what you want them to do in response.

4) Based on all of that, decide how to present the information to them.

Well. These were all people who acknowledge climate change and its effects as present, complex, far-reaching, and frightening; people who are already working to respond to it well, and were there because they want to be doing more. I had to leave after an hour to go teach my class, and my group still hadn’t decided what element of information they wanted to talk about to whom.

In a way, an hour–or two hours, which is how long the workshops were–is nothing, a tiny shard of time in which to get from “this complex thing, intertwined with a bunch of other complex things, is happening” to “here’s what I want you, specific group of people, to know and do about it.” But two hours were what we had.

I, at least, had a lot of trouble finding the sweet spot between “doing it right” and “doing it soon” that’s crucial when time is short. I also know that without listening to what somebody thinks is important, you don’t have a chance of adding anything to their list of important things. That was true within our group of real humans sitting there, as true as it was for the hypothetical humans to whom we would have presented our hypothetical data campaign.

As I move into the next phase of Climate Anxiety Counseling, I’ll build in what Kathie said about evidence being necessary to move beyond narrative, what Lynsy said about deciding what I want the people who talk to me to tell someone elsewhat Nathalie said about how presenting information changes it. I also want to build in what I learned about false starts, dead ends, ways to fail, and the need to listen through frustration in my group’s first hour. Maybe they came up with something amazing after I left. Maybe I was the problem.

Mutual Interview: Devi Lockwood and Kate Schapira

This is the first of my interviews with other artists about public/participatory art, climate change, ecology and climate action. Poet, touring cyclist and storyteller Devi Lockwood is on the move, collecting stories of water and climate change. You can read more about her, her process and her travels at One Bike One Year. Devi and I emailed these questions and responses back and forth between Fiji and the U.S.

DL: First question for you: when did you first start becoming anxious about the climate?

KS: Your question has two answers. I started being … provoked, I guess … by the possible effects of climate change (mainly sea level rise) in 2010 or so. But I started feeling real fear and grief and helplessness in the fall and winter of 2013 after reading an article on ocean acidification–so not climate per se, but carbon-caused changes–and ecological decline. And then I started learning more and more about the fragility of ecosystems, and the ability even of smaller rises in temperature, for example, to disrupt them. I don’t know if people were writing and talking more about larger-scale ecosystem effects of a rise in global temp around that time, or if it was just like when you notice something and then you’re switched to noticing it, you see it everywhere.

Do you feel that fear and anxiety are part of what’s moving you to collect stories? What are the other things spurring you, and what do you hope the project will lead to or push for?

DL: I try not to let fear drive me. What’s moving me is a combination of my love of listening and raw curiosity. I just graduated in May with a B.A. in Folklore & Mythology, and so the act of listening, for me, is an act of love. this project is a love letter for me to the world. I’m not a scientist, but I am a listener. I can’t measure change, but I can document it through recording the words that people tell me. I am twenty-two years old and I think that water and climate change are and will continue to be the defining issues of my generation.

I was recently in NYC to record audio stories surrounding the People’s Climate March. 400,000 people flooded the streets to demand more meaningful measures to address climate change. I spoke to activists from Uganda, Mexico, Indiana, Toronto, and beyond. The energy in the march was electric. You know those moments in your life when you feel that you are doing something that is just right, both for yourself at this moment and for the world you are a part of? That’s what’s moving me. It’s hard to put into words, but I’m doing something that feels right for me at this time.

I am intrigued by the complexity of the problem, and also how it intersects along axes of race, gender, and class. I hope that this project will push for greater listening––that it will allow folks who listen to the stories I record an opportunity to get outside of themselves and their experiences and thoughts for a moment and to feel the weight of another’s story on their shoulders, to consider their point of view. Climate change is a global issue, and to address it we need globally-minded folks with open ears and small egos and open hearts. I believe that climate change poses a challenge to humans to reinvent our relationship to our surroundings and also to each other. I want to be a small part of that effort.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a wonderful talk called the “Dangers of a Single Story”. Listening to another’s story is a way of knowing. Listening is an act of love. If there’s one thing we need across lines of race, gender, sexuality, class, and nation right now, it is love. And if not love, at the very least openness and a willingness to listen.

Are you anxious yourself? How does this project help you temper that anxiety?

KS: I am very anxious! As a person, but also about the effects of climate change in particular. But what you’re saying about listening to people’s stories is resonating with me very much, because if I’m listening to a confidence I invited, then I’m concentrated on hearing what that person is saying to me and seeing what they’re showing me. They were real before, but now my acknowledgment of their reality is active and laborious–I recognize them and want them to feel that.

Being able to acknowledge the realities of others, shared and also different needs and desires and fears, seems like the small version–the seed version–of bigger political and practical changes that could help salvage something from the effects of climate change. I think love has power when it is an action, something we do, not something we feel. How can I love, actively, the inlet in Jamestown, RI where I go swimming? How can I love, actively, the guy who started out as a climate trivializer and may still be one, but I’m not sure, because he ended up talking a lot to me about his mother’s tomato plants? How can I love, actively, a tiny frog that only lives in a place where I’ve never been?

When the answer seems out of my power is when the anxiety comes back. But when I’m listening to people and we acknowledge each other as members of a shared world, I feel like I’m answering that question of active love in that moment.

That’s another thing that I think our projects share: their temporality. They’re not totally evanescent (we’re writing things down when people share them with us) but mine, at least at this stage, feels more like a pile of brief and powerful encounters that transform the moment and maybe seep into a longer-term state of mind than it feels like, for example, recruiting people to a sustained commitment to practical action. Can you talk about how you see these stories and your relationship to them and their tellers adding up and shifting over time?

DL: That is a great question. Right now I am enmeshed in editing the hours of audio that I have recorded so far. I’m only adding fades to the beginning and end of the piece, but it is slow going. I am doing my best to be fully present in the experience of listening.

There is a beauty in temporality. That’s what I love about people––we’re always changing. We’re moving. We’re dynamic. We’re unfixable. The me of today is both like and unlike the me of yesterday, the me of a few hours ago. The question of which stories I hear (and those that I don’t) is left mostly up to chance.

I know that I am changed by listening with the whole of my heart. I know that listening connects me to a sense of place in a way that simply looking and taking pictures does not. I have always been an auditory learner. I hope that the recordings I am making will become an audio archive that people can visit and revisit in the years to come. It’s a small trip, a small snapshot of life, but an archive nonetheless.

While recording, I am doing my best to be attentive to not only the content but also the rhythmic structures of the stories I collect. Anna Deavere Smith has this wonderful paragraph in her book “Talk to Me” where she says:

“Character, then, seemed to me to be an improvisation on given rhythms. The more successful you were at improvising on language, the more jazz you have, the more likely you could be found in your language, that is, if you wanted to be found in your language. Some people use language as a mask. And some want to create designed language that appears to reveal them but does not. Yet from time to time we are betrayed by language, if not in the words themselves, in the rhythm with which we deliver our words. Over time, I would learn to listen for those wonderful moments when people spoke a kind of personal music, which left a rhythmic architecture of who they were. I would be much more interested in those rhythmic architectures than in the information they might or might not reveal.”

I’m listening for “rhythmic architectures,” for iambs and trochees and dactyls and spondees. Ultimately, I want the stories I collect from around the world about water and climate change to be in conversation with one another. We can go nowhere without dialogue, and dialogue doesn’t just happen at the level of governments. If we entrust everything in authority, we are toast.

I believe that storytelling (and, perhaps more importantly, listening) are forms of activism.

This is a big question and I’m curious about your response, too: Can you talk about how you see these stories and your relationship to them and their tellers adding up and shifting over time?

KS: Now I want to read that Anna Deavere Smith book, too. The rhythmic architecture of who a person is, and how a person might build themself in speech, or build themself into speech–how listening, then, might make room for someone to do that.

The short answer is, I don’t know right now, and I’m feeling my way towards it. Here are a couple of things that have happened since the project’s beginning, in May:

A bunch of times downtown, I’ve run into people who spoke with me at the booth, and we’ve recognized each other, and asked how each other are.

I’ve collected a bunch of names and email addresses and skills/interests, in both formal and informal ways, of people who seem like they’d be interested in acting together or sharing with each other if they had some sort of plan for that.

Some people have invited me to talk about the booth, up to and including the North Kingstown Rotary Club, a class of Brown students who want to do a similar project around disability and access, and a group of Providence teens who are meeting to talk about the future of the city.

But how to bring all those things together? Climate change feels very near to me, very urgent. Because it’s already happening, because the sooner we make the large-scale decisions that could reduce the damage we’re doing, the better–and I agree with you in that my hopes are slim for people and entities making those large-scale decisions in any kind of protective way, or based on any acknowledgment of the reality of other beings–I sometimes get infected with that feeling of, “It’s really important for me to know what I’m doing with my tiny little project immediately, and do it immediately.” In fact, if this is going to work toward any shift in people’s attitudes toward anyone or anything other than themselves, it’s not going to work that way, and I want to offer people concrete options for action as well, so another part of “moving forward in time” is figuring that out. Part of my commitment to the booth was offering people what they wanted, not just taking what I wanted from them, and one thing that people did say they want was a way to act to protect what they love–sometimes that thing was threatened by climate change, sometimes by other things, like exploitation of their labor, or having no safe place to stay, or their own fears about asking for help.

I have a question that’s maybe a little more pushy. To make this trip, you have to fly a bunch in between biking stints, right? How did you decide on your methods and routes for the trip and weigh the damage of your travel against the benefits of listening and sharing?

It’s hard to ask this question without making it sound like a call for purity of behavior, which I think is not even a good goal, so I hope you won’t think I’m accusing you of not having it! I’ve been grappling with the idea of complicity, what it describes and how we use it, recently. I feel like “involvement” better describes what I see around me. We are involved with each other and with nonhuman systems and human-made systems in many and various ways, some of which are destructive. As people working in what we hope will be an art of connection, how can we navigate those involvements?

DL: I think that talking to people and listening, just listening, is one of the greatest gifts that a human can give. This needs to happen more across borders of nation, and I have set myself the task of doing that kind of work. Yes, the 10.5 hour flight that I took to Nadi, Fiji from LAX was doing nothing good for the climate. I hope that the work that I am doing offsets this ecological toll. Misconceptions about climate change come from a lack of awareness about the impact that these issues have on people: real living, breathing, and specific humans with their own stories to share. I am out to make a platform for these voices, to listen and to share what folks around the world have to share about those issues (and yes, even those who don’t believe that they exist).
I am not asking people to stop taking flights, to change their behavior. I am on a quest to document stories about water and climate change, and this necessitates putting my body in motion. If I had an infinite amount of time to do this project (and if I didn’t have a deep-seated fear of the open ocean) then I would take some kind of seafaring vessel instead. But this project isn’t about being on the water, it is about listening to and talking with as many people as I can. In order to do that kind of work, I have to take a few flights.

Another tough question: what good could come from climate change? We’ve talked about anxiety, but do you see any positives to this kind of shift?

KS: About your “across borders of nations” point: a lot of the conversations I’ve been having lately, about my project and about how to sustain one another, have had to do with methods that are portable, replicable and adaptable. I’ve been talking with Amy Walsh of the Apeiron Institute, and thinking about what I’ve learned from looking at Voices UnBroken’s model of setting up those who learn with them to teach and advocate for each other. Maybe the next phase of my project could become something like this: not just one person (me) listening to the people around me and, with them, talking and thinking about how we’ve been living and how we might live, but also explicitly equipping them to listen to others. That would be a different interaction than the kind I’ve had so far, which hasn’t been demanding in that way, and didn’t require anything of people that they didn’t offer. I would have to give up the openness of the interactions I’ve been having in order to move in a particular, more explicitly sharing / spreading direction. The people speaking with me would probably lose something, or give something up, as well.

With all of that in mind: I don’t see any positives in climate change or its effects as such. I do think that groups of humans will have the potential to respond to it anywhere from horribly to pretty well, and that the “pretty well” could be mutually nourishing and sustaining in ways that are maybe less common / widespread now. I’d like to be part of that if I can, and I want to learn more and think more and work more toward what it might be–how we might arrange and build it, and what we might gain depending on what we’re willing to give up or what we might have to give up, might no longer have access to.

Ecological disruption and its effects are the conditions of our present lives. If we live, we live with that. One thing I think our projects have in common is that we’re asking people to consciously inhabit, to be present in mind, in that reality. For me, and for a lot of the people who spoke with me, that’s hard to do and it feels bad. But the ability to do it is a necessary condition of responding to this reality and to each other, I think.

Is there anything you’d like to leave people with, that you’d like people to keep in mind, about your project that isn’t necessarily explicit in the way you’re doing or describing it?

DL: I think one thing that I didn’t take into account about my project is how it is, in many ways, an endurance event. I have never been involved with one project for so long (one year). It is both freeing and constraining at the same time. Travel can be exhausting. I am constantly adjusting to new people and places and foods and ways of communicating, all the while doing my best to prioritize self-care. I recently got sick for the first time on the trip–it wasn’t anything serious, just a 24-hour flu–but it definitely reminded me that in order to finish this project, I need to stay on top of taking great care of myself. A Buddhist chaplain I met in the cancer ward of the Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco told me that I need to treat my own body as well as I would if I was caring for someone else. I’m doing my best to live by those words, but it’s not easy. When I travel alone, there is no filter between me and the world around me. It is the strength and weakness of this project, I think, all at once.

What about you–is there anything else you’d like to add? I feel like we’re pretty near finished!

KS: I do too! I cosign the recommendation to take care of yourself, which includes the whole bodymind.

For me, the thing I need to constantly keep track of is the ways my project is and isn’t “about” me. Anything that has an element of making to it (the booth itself, the write-ups, the poems) is always about the maker at least a bit; I’m the one who had the idea and did the thing, and I had this particular idea and did this particular thing because of the person I am in the world. But there’s a mental trap where it’s almost like, “You should care about climate change because climate change makes me feel bad,” or like, “This person has a problem I can make a recommendation about. My advice is so good!” or even like, “I am a vile person because I can’t put even the tiniest halt on a centuries-long habit of exploitation and disregard.” All of that is so wholly beside the point–maybe there isn’t a “point”, exactly, but if there is one, it isn’t any of that. If there is one, it has to do with enacting a mutual, constant, flexible acknowledgment of the reality and importance of other beings besides the self–and that’s what this particular self has to keep in mind, and what I hope others will keep in mind too.

tellmeastory_peoplesclimate

River of Words Tributary Workshops: November 20, 22 and 23

Come and write the water.

Workshop leader: Jennifer Romans
Location: Smith Hill Library, 31 Candace Street, Providence, RI
Workshop date: Thursday, November 20, 4 pm start time (that’s TODAY)
Program: Read and Rap
Open to the public: Yes, to any interested children and teens
Contact: jromans AT provcomlib DOT org with interest and questions
Closest water: Woonasquatucket River, Providence River

Workshop leader: Kate Schapira
Location: Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit St., Providence, RI
Workshop date: Saturday, November 22nd, 10-12:30
Open to the public: Yes
Contact: kjschapira AT hotmail DOT com with interest and questions
Closest Water: Providence River

Workshop leader: Amy Pickworth
Location: Slater Mill, 67 Roosevelt Ave., Pawtucket, RI
Workshop date: Sunday, November 23
Open to the public: Yes, and appropriate for families
Contact: amypickworth AT gmail DOT com with interest and questions
Closest water: Blackstone River

Workshop leader: Katie Brunero
Location: Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit St., Providence, RI
Workshop date: Sunday, November 23, 11-12
Open to the public: Yes
Contact: opheliasfall AT gmail DOT com with interest and questions
Closest Water: Providence River

All workshops are gloriously free. Participants will have the option to submit their work to the River of Words contest (if they’re under 18) or for inclusion in an anthology of participant work to appear in the spring (if they’re over 18).  Please get in touch with us to find out more, or just show up!

Meet me at the mall today to write about water

River of Words Tributary Workshop TODAY at the Providence Place Mall. “But Kate,” I hear you saying, “Why are you having a workshop to write about water at the Providence Place Mall?” Come find out today at 2pm! Meet me just inside the mall proper, at the place where you come into the mall from the glass tunnel thing. If you want my phone number to make the meetup easier, DM me on Twitter (@kateschapira) or email me at kjschapira AT hotmail DOT com.

I will be wearing a cloak of wonders and I encourage you to bring a little piece of costuming, too, and a writing implement. I’ll have paper.