Climate Anxiety Counseling, Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 6/15/18

Weather: Gray and cool

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 5 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 8

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 2

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1

Dogs seen: 1

Dogs pet: 0

Naloxone distributed: 1

Money raised for Environmental Justice league of RI: $0.90

 

Observations:

Last day of the season in this location! I put a sign on the booth to that effect.

No food trucks upon arrival. The first one arrived at 11:13 and parked on the east side of the park entrance, followed closely by the second which parked on the west side. I was facing east.

A security guy walked through at 11:37.

A leafhopper of some sort visited the page I was writing on, and a teen starling ran by very close to me.

Semi-relatedly, I like seeing the teen human skateboarders sail around like swallows.

 

Some conversations:

 

Past experiences. The future. I deal with it every single day.

Is it the same anxiety or are they different things?

Two different things. Stuff in the past is what gave me anxiety about what I’m gonna do and how I’m gonna get there. I wanna go to school to be a doctor, a pediatrician. So I’m gonna go to CNA classes for 6-8 months, then after I become a CNA I’m gonna work with people a little bit and then I’m gonna go to nursing school, and then I’m gonna go to school to become a doctor. I’m anxious about finances—I don’t have much. It consumes my life. I got problem on top of problem. I have really bad depression too. Everything piles on top of each other…

Do you have a way to see a real counselor right now?

I go to Day 1 counseling two days a week. She’s amazing. I don’t have family, so I’m kinda dealing on my own. So many people are like, “Oh, well, you control your destiny,” and that’s bullshit. I’ve had so many suicide attempts. Depression kills people. That’s where I’m at right now, a couple days ago. But I was like, “Fuck you to the people who are kicking me when I’m already down.”

… [With my counselor] I’m mostly figuring out trauma in the past and how to face it head on and not ignore it. It kind of comes on sudden and random, so I want to work on that part first. We talk about how there’s different parts of yourself, like the Firefighter—I call him Bob, Bob the Firefighter, he’s the one who wants me to use drugs, drink alcohol, hurt myself. So I try to get in touch with my emotions, to say, “I see you, I know you wanna do that.” I’ve had a lot of therapists, but some of them had a hard time understanding and they weren’t so good at teaching. It took a little over a year to lead myself into trusting her. She’s like, common-sense smart. She has a good way of describing things.

… CCRI has a lot of programs [for CNA training] but I’m afraid to do presentations. I’m scared of talking in front of a load of people. I get—not really mood swings, but I go through phases during the day, a few hours anxious, a few hours sad or angry, and then in the middle of the night—it’s just constant battering, fighting with myself. Helping people gives me a little bit of a purpose and a reason to stay, but sometimes I just want it all to go away. When you start feeling disconnected—My boyfriend, because of my past, he can’t touch me, and I’m just like, how come I can’t work, how come I can’t do anything. That word “anxiety” is such an understatement.

 

*

[These two came up together and may have been family.]

Person 1: I’m worried that Trump is gonna end the world because of his narcissism and delusions of grandeur.

Person 2: Lies.

Person 1: Lies and admiration for dictatorial regimes. His relationship with Russia and North Korea is absolutely disturbing. Starting fights with Canada is insane. Taking his anger out on children.

What do you see as the potential outcome of all of this?

Do you work for the government?

No.

I’m concerned that he’s been assigned by foreign heads of state to break the union. They’re gonna feed into his delusions of grandeur.

What would their goal be in that case?

To remove us from the playing field. Divide and conquer, so they can run the world. Take our land, take our money, take our kids. Take Alaska–

Person 2: They can have Alaska.

Person 1: No.

So the nightmare for you is this takeover?

No, the nightmare is atomic apocalypse. Someone sparks a nuke and everyone else freaks out and sparks theirs.

Person 2: His narcissism is so overwhelming that it allows other people to control him through flattery.

Person 1: Just a big chicken game, so that under threat of apocalypse we’ll be forced to submit to the settlement of the US. Republicans used to understand [what???] but no more.

How do you feel, when you think about these things?

I feel inspired and I get to know people around me, in my community. It’s the only good choice—really ever, but now epecially.

Do you talk with them about this stuff?

I’m usually more toward listening. I think there’s an appropriate time to vent.

*

 

The lack of concern. Everyone’s going about their days like they don’t feel a difference. And then the [federal] administration is saying it doesn’t exist. When someone with that kind of power does that, how can anyone else make any changes?

… If you watch Planet Earth, you see how it’s so beautiful and how it has a system, and we just come in and mess it up.

How do you feel when you think about it?

Kind of hopeless. Helpless. You can only do your small part to try and reduce your ecological footprint.

A lot of people say that, and I mean, absolutely, do those things, but people don’t always think in terms of doing things together.

I almost interned with this water project, they have an office right next to Classical. It’s like a grassroots organization, they teach people. You’re right, it’s not just individual, it’s collective—but you do feel very alone.

[I mention the No LNG in PVD campaign.]

What do you think about that wind farm?

I mostly think it’s a good thing. It’s not perfect—they still have to build those turbines out of metal that they have to dig out of the ground, they still have an impact, but we really need them.

I worked for a person in the governor’s office and I saw people protesting about that installation in South Providence. And yeah, absolutely, but I also think we need resources to make the transition.

[We talked a little bit about the need to combine new renewable sources with getting rid of fossil fuel sources, but I didn’t write that part of the conversation down.]

*

 

 

My only thing, and I think I learned this from you, is just to be as aggressively local as possible. Everything else feels so nebulous. For a while that was my thing with literary communities. The day of the gun rally, the kids and I just stood on the boulevard with our signs. … I have these neighbors in my sights, I want to change them. They’re Catholic, and there’s so much social justice in that! [They] just forgot because [they] got rich.

 

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TODAY: No LNG in PVD, 10am, 35 Terminal Rd, Providence

Join No LNG in PVD at 10am TODAY at 35 Terminal Road to tell elected officials that renewable energy infrastructure MUST go hand in hand with environmental justice and ending fossil fuels.

Governor Raimondo, Representative Cicilline and other elected officials are holding a press conference to announce plans for a new offshore wind farm. Which is great! But it’s pointless unless we also stop poisoning the people of the Southside of Providence and building new climate-warming infrastructure.

No LNG in PVD is a coalition of organizations & residents fighting a toxic fossil fuel project on the Southside of Providence. All you have to do today is show up, with or without a sign that says “No LNG in PVD.” There’s another action next week if you can’t make this one.

(This may make me a little late to today’s Climate Anxiety Counseling session, but that’s okay because this is more important. )

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/25/18

Weather: Hot and getting hotter, little restless breeze

Number of people: 11 stoppers, 1 walkby

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Dogs seen: 2

Dogs pet: 0

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.20

 

Observations:

A cop car drove by at 11:10.

I “seeded” the map with “The air in WP/Southside.”

I remembered my sunscreen and wore auntie pants for the heat, but forgot water .

A couple of people were napping on the grass. One of them woke up, and it looked to me like the park ranger asked her to leave, but let the still-sleeping one sleep.

 

Some conversations:

Trump—that’s all you need to know. Scott Pruitt. I don’t think what some states, like what California is doing, will be sufficient. I’ve seriously cut back on my news. I used to be a news junkie. Now I ration the news feed—it’s probably down to about 1/3 of what it used to be.

What’s included?

BBC, Reuters, Washington Post, New York Times, NPR.

What happens when you listen or read too much?

I can feel my blood pressure rising.

What do you do then?

If possible, I turn off all sound and I listen to the birds in the backyard.

Who do you have back there?

Ruby-throated hummingbirds, nesting robins, a flicker. Downy woodpeckers, of course. Purple finches, goldfinches. My backyard is state land, so nothing will ever be built there.

*

 

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I’ve noticed an odd change in the weather pattern.

Person 2: It went from 70 to 30 in three hours. I don’t know what to wear. The people in the office all make the same complaints about the weather.

[I hand them a card and explain the things on it, including No LNG in PVD.]

Person 1: The state just approved a wind farm. It’s stupid [to use more fossil fuels], we should be moving in the opposite direction.

*

 

[These two came up together.]

Person 1: I’m from halfway across the world, so this heat is normal to me.

Where exactly?

Mumbai.

Have you noticed climate change having any effects there?

The monsoon is getting worse. When the monsoon hits, the roads flood.

Person 2: Summers are hotter, winters are colder.

*

Climate change confuses me because I don’t know what to believe. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Both sides seem to have an agenda.

One thing you might want to look for is what interest the person has in having what they’re saying be true, like what they get out of it. Do you have a science background?

Yeah, I do. And that’s another thing, I saw someone referencing a study, but you can’t see the actual study without paying $20.

 

*

My sister would be proud of you, and you’d be proud of her. Look, this is what she does. Straws are another thing, just trying to get rid of plastic straws. My lips work fine! We’ve made some progress. Ken’s Ramen has plastic cups out so you can get your own water, but when I asked, they gave me a reusable cup. … I’m president of [A BEACH ASSOCIATION] in [SOUTH COUNTY], and we hire kids to pick up garbage on the beach and send it back to Proctor and Gamble—they call it “storied plastics.” But then they said we weren’t collecting enough. There’s a board meeting tomorrow and I’m going to propose covering the cost of the shipments.

 

map 5-26-18

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. On the map I wrote “the air in WP/Southside,” and another person has put dots all over to indicate that they’d like to protect the land and water.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: Kennedy Plaza/Burnside Park, 5/24/18

Weather: Bright, hot sun, stiff cool breeze

Number of people: 10 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 10

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

Pictures taken with permission: 4

Pictures taken without permission: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 3

Dogs seen: 5 (4 tiny, 1 big)

Dogs pet: 0

Narcan shared: 1

 

Observations:

The park ranger and the parking meter enforcer hang out together.

Nonhuman organisms in the park: yellowjacket, starlings, hairy defoliating caterpillars.

Today I had lots of conversations with people that I didn’t get permission to write down. Sometimes this was because I asked and they didn’t give it; sometimes because they were in full flood of speaking and I didn’t have a chance to ask.

One such person had a blue jay feather tucked behind their ear, and I showed them the one I keep in the RI Organism card box.

People often ask me about trends from year to year. I’ve already noticed a slight uptick this year in anti-immigrant rhetoric, and I need to figure out how I want to respond to that (haven’t been satisfied with the ways I’ve handled it so far).

 

Some conversations:

I moved up here from Florida in ’86. Thirty years ago we never needed air conditioning. Now we need to put it in every summer, usually by May. Winter [used to start] in October. Everybody who says it isn’t happening has their head in the sand.

 

*

Well, I did read about Greenland. There was a huge article in the New Yorker—I felt almost traumatized. It’s just coming unglued. There are huge crevasses, it’s melting at such a rapid rate, and ice reflects sunlight but water absorbs it. It’s such a rapid pace that they can’t even [measure?] the rate of melt. It was a very powerful experience reading the piece. These people that have dedicated their lives to being on the front lines of global awareness of climate change—it just kind of blows me away …

Boston flooded, there were like, floating cars, and it was vastly underreported. I didn’t see it in the national news. I try not to be a huge conspiracy theorist, but I felt like it was deliberate. [The Greenland article] really woke me up—I was really aware of it before, but not feeling it personally. I think we’re going to see rapid changes coming down the pike in the next five years. I think people are gonna be up to their waists in water, I think people are in denial.

What do you think people would do if they recognized this reality? 

I’m moving inland. I’m visiting a friend in New Mexico, Santa Fe, and I’ll see what happens. I feel like I kind of go over better west of the Mississippi. My daughters have moved away, Lucy [the dog] finally died a few months ago—I’ve had a lot of loss and a lot of completion …

Have you talked to your daughters about it?

I haven’t talked to them about this. They think I’m nuts anyway. My friend who’s moving to Oregon, she’ll say, “If there’s a tsunami, I’ll just hop in the car.” If there’s a tsunami, you’re not getting in any car! I think it is hard to grasp, I don’t know. … If you love where you are and you have a good life, you wanna stay where you are. I think people are like, “Well, the weather certainly has been erratic,” and older people remember very different weather patterns, but people just think it’s weather. I remember these really cold winters, my boots getting full of ice. …

How does it feel, when you think about it?

It’s awful. I have a friend who’s a master of permaculture. She’s got a self-sustaining quarter-acre, where she can grow enough food to feed herself and her family—it’s like two backyard lots, and we’ve talked a lot about issues of food scarcity. She was pretty dire. Her feeling is that we’ve just really gone too far. And I kind of had to not have that conversation. I honestly don’t know much good it would do to have a garden if people around you were suffering from a shortage of food. … Sometimes there are things that are just too painful to discuss, too huge to wrap my brain around. There are times in the day that I’m more open to confront difficult things.

*

 

[I know both of these people, and have spoken to them at the climate booth before, but they don’t know each other. They came up to me one at a time, but also spoke to each other.]

Person 1: I guess I’ve been thinking about water. I was watching the weather on TV, which is not something I normally do, and they were talking about El Niño and La Niña, and I learned how the moisture that the soil absorbs in spring affects how rainy the season will be—the rainier a spring is, the more likely thunderstorms are, and that’s weird to think about.  A lot of things come and go—human matter is the same carbon that’s been around forever but it’s in different forms—but water doesn’t decompose, it’s the same water, and we only have so much of the water we have—I mean, we have so much and so much of it is not usable, a fraction of one percent of it is actually usable.  The rest of it, we can’t use it or it’s hard to use it. I don’t know how to turn that into an anxiety—well, it is an anxiety that—what if we don’t have water someday?

Maybe my anxiety is that I feel a little fatalist. Growing up as a child of global warming, I recognize that the Earth is dying and I want to make changes, but people who really know what’s going on are like, “We’re fucked.” Ten, twenty, thirty years—I think in thirty years we’re not gonna have energy. You have to put energy into getting energy: people talk about solar and wind power but it takes a massive amount of energy to make a metal turbine. Solar panels are made with all these rare materials.

… I tell my sister, she’s talking about what she wants to be doing thirty years from now, and I’m like, “Do you really think things are gonna be the same in thirty years?” Or people are like, “Our children’s children,” and I’m like, “I don’t know if there are gonna be ‘our children’–or they’re not gonna live like this.” We can take steps to preserve some things, but other things have already been lost. It doesn’t make me want to destroy—it makes me want to liberate things in the short term. I don’t think I would be as radical as I am [without the knowledge of climate change], and I think a lot of people have been radicalized. Soon, even the capitalists will suffer. Desperate times call for desperate measures. But I think it also has made me numb … Sometimes, I feel like I’m not doing anything, or I’m just working on my own things because I feel like it’s all gonna be gone in 20 years.

[Person 2 came up around this point.]

You can be delusional and think things can keep going the way they are, or keep going with just a few minor changes, but we’ll be transformed by this, so we can either be radicalized and work really hard, or take the sad way and just be passive.

One thing I’ve been thinking of is—people do things, or one of the reasons people do things is because they feel good, not just because they’re trying to avoid feeling bad, so in a time like this, how do you move toward joy?

Person 2: I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. I feel like there’s no future right now, but I’m just gonna keep producing plays, keep writing the things that I want to see in the world.

Person 1: I feel like that a lot. Does it feel worthwhile to you?

Person 2: What feels worthwhile is that I find my tribe. People who I relate to and I relate to them.

Person 1: I think about how much fun I had on the night Trump was elected. We were all like, “I don’t know, fuck it, let’s get drunk in Worcester,” just breaking things and being like, “Nothing matters.”

Person 2: These days, I’m waiting for a cop to talk to me. That’s when I’m gonna be like, “Nothing matters.”

Person 1: Does it scare you?

Person 2: No, I’ve had ’em. I’ll have more. The more I learn about policing and social justice, the more I find if we can grow out of slavery we can grow out of guns. That’s the other thing that feels worthwhile, connecting with the youth and teaching classes—my art doesn’t exist without that. That’s how I move toward joy. I just applied for a grant, but if I don’t get it, I’m teaching this class anyway. Art through social justice—I get excited about that stuff.

Person 1: I don’t think people realize the mental health toll of living in the world where nothing is certain.

I was wondering if people who—you know, the more marginalized you are, the more likely you are to face upheaval every day, and I was wondering if people who have had to face that might have wisdom for those who haven’t.

Person 2: I wish. This is a cultural issue. I remember during the stock market crash, and black people were like, “Just another day. You’re stressed out over something that we’ve been living.” Most black people will tell you, “Welcome to my world.” You make the move when where you’re at is so uncomfortable that you can no longer bear it. You either think we’re crazy, or you join in.

map 5-25-18

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. Someone has drawn a circle around the entire state.