Many things are very bad right now.
The first Existential Dread Club conversations happened in July, 2021. Things were bad, then, too.
In those conversations we talked about what was contributing to our experiences of existential dread.
Here’s some of what we said in our first meeting conversation;
I don’t know if existential dread is quite the right word for it, but like, a feeling of hopelessness and overwhelm and uncertainty about the future, because it seems like every time we do something to make some kind of progress – like we have the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and they generate this phenomenal body of work. We have the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2 Spirit final report and they generate this incredible body of work. And within that body of work, there is so much education, so much emotional labour of Indigenous communities, and then it does nothing! The government does nothing with it and that contributes to my feeling of like, “Why? And how? And what even is the future?”
We went through that historic heatwave just, you know, 10 days ago. And that left me feeling more intensified feelings. I’ve been thinking about what kind of world we’re leaving for the people who come after us, and what we have done to this planet.
I think capitalism and how to actually deal with capitalism so that we can do something about all of these different things. Because there’s not really any incentive under capitalism to stop making money quarterly.
I see a lot of initial momentum towards maybe challenging capitalism, but I fear that this is just people online, on social media saying ‘yes, this sucks,’ but thinking that there’s no actionable things attached to challenging it in any way. And so I fear that it’s this moment where it’s possible but probably not gonna happen. And that’s really tough.
Definitely the general feeling of, like, hopelessness that’s reflected back to me when I chat with folks… it’s a lot.
We talked about friendship and trust and hope, and the effect of feeling hopeless and despairing and lonely. And we talked about what helps.
We talked about not being able to control other people, and how that makes things hard – how the actions we see people taking that cause harm can invite us to feel both responsible and hopeless, and how turning our energies towards the relationships where we can make a difference feels more possible, more hopeful, more generative. In those spaces of relationship, where trust has been developed and care exists, it’s not about control, it’s about influence and connection.
One participant said, “The smallest things we can do are the things that just help us personally, that we can only do for ourselves not to feel so much dread. And then as you get bigger it’s about trying to affect maybe your friends and family. And then it gets to trying to affect society and that’s where it gets bigger and bigger, but it also gets harder and harder.”
A Weekend at the Existential Dread Club is my attempt to widen my circle of influence just a little bit, for just a little while.
I haven’t been doing much organizing lately. I have mostly been hanging on by my fingernails to this life. Doing what feels possible, acknowledging that what feels possible is most often the smallest, most personal thing.
But I feel an intense amount of dread these days.
Things are bad.
Things are so bad, in so many areas.
Issues around the pandemic, and how we are watching ‘the easing of protections’ (to use a phrase from a dear friend) sparked the idea for this second Existential Dread Club event. There is growing existential dread for those of us who are disabled, chronically ill, medically complex, or otherwise at increased medical risk (due to personal factors, sure, but also due to structural factors like medical racism, transphobia, fatphobia).
But between having the idea and actually organizing anything, so much more has happened. War in Ukraine. Floods in Australia. Cost of living shooting up fast enough that people I know and love can’t pay their bills. Texas coming after trans kids and anyone who tries to offer trans affirming care. The ‘convoy’. Anti-mask demonstrations every week.
Everything present in those first conversations, escalating. Colonialism. White supremacy. Climate change. Capitalism.
And alongside all of this, I really miss organizing. I miss facilitating events. I miss conferences and retreats. I miss community spaces and the conversations in those spaces and the documents that grow out of those spaces. I miss being the past version of me who had energy for that kind of work, time for that kind of work, space for it.
So, this is a virtual retreat. A weekend to talk about what we’re afraid of, what we’re holding onto, how we’re getting through.
There will be three facilitated conversations:
Friday, April 1 from 6:30-8 pm MST
Saturday, April 2 from 1:30-3 pm MST
Sunday, April 3 from 10-11:30 am MST
There will also be a gather.town set up for the weekend, where we can chat, post messages, maybe have a watch party together on Saturday evening. I’m hoping to capture a little bit of the casual conversation and social connection that I miss so much from facilitating retreats.
There will probably be a writing workshop, too.
You can join for whatever part of the events feels best for you and fits into your schedule. You can register here. There’s no cost, but there’s an option to donate if you want to.
For now, only the three facilitated conversations are formally scheduled, but as we get closer to the weekend, other events will be scheduled.
I think it will be nice.
In an ‘everything is awful’ kind of way.
Image description: Lake Ontario on a foggy day. A flock of geese is in the water, and a bird is flying overhead. The trees in the background are green.
100 love letters to this world. This one that we’re in right now.
(Content note on this first section for talking about some of what is happening in the world right now, including climate collapse, genocide, and starvation.)
Today, in this world, orcas, grey whales, polar bears are starving. Insect populations are collapsing. Forests are burning. Permafrost is melting.
Today, in this world, the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls releases their report, outlining the genocide, and asking for justice from this colonial government after generations of violence.
Today, right now, in this world, thousands of Yemeni children are dying of starvation in a civil war that is enabled by the US government. And the Canadian government sends aid, but sells arms into the conflict.
How can we love this world?
But maybe that is exactly why we should love this world. Because there is so much healing to be done. There is so much to stand vigil for, to witness, to resist.
And because there is so much to love.
Today, in this world, new species are evolving. The world will find a way to eat our plastic, and already mushrooms can digest plastic (both the oyster mushroom and the Pestalotiopsis microspora, which can survive entirely on plastic), wax worms can eat plastic bags, and researchers in Pakistan are studying landfill ecosystems. This world, much as we have fumbled our relationship with it, is majestic and determined. Life, as they say, uhh, finds a way. 😉
Today, in this world, Indigenous communities are preserving and passing down their cultures despite the ongoing violence of colonialism. In Australia, the Milan Dhiiyaan community posts regularly about their culture-saving (and joyful!) activities. In Canada, communities are doing the same. In every colonized space, Indigenous communities are holding the threads of their histories. They are weaving together new ways forward based on old knowledge. They know this world. The colonial project has never been successful.
Today, in this world, the African diaspora is stepping up in every creative space to offer hopeful Afrofuturisms and maps of response and resistance. In America and Canada, the Black Lives Matter movement continues to make a difference, showing us that something else is possible. Black filmmakers, musicians, writers, historians, professors, podcasters, bloggers, and performers are holding space for possible futures and holding powerful systems accountable for the harm that is ongoing.
In this world, crip communities are not only imagining but enacting disability justice. And disability justice means justice for everyone. This work is already being done, has already been done for generations among networks and communities of care. They know how to keep each other alive even when the context is hostile. They know how to get through apocalyptic conditions. And they are sharing their knowledge. Find the authors, the podcasters, the creators. The map-makers.
This world is more than grief and tragedy.
This world is more than collapse.
I’ve been thinking about this letter all weekend. I’ve written a dozen versions, and meant to send out a few pre-project letters, but I hesitated. This project, now that it is here, seems daunting.
It is hard to show up in love and grief. It is hard to hold love and anger in the same hand. It is hard to open up to love, knowing that despair will also find that open door.
On Thursday, I went for a walk along Lake Ontario. The fog was thick, and the birds were everywhere. I saw chipmunks and squirrels, mosquitoes, good puppers and so many green and growing things.
It felt magical. It was a gift. An invitation. An affirmation.
Today is the June New Moon. From the Many Moons Planner:
“This month could be an excellent time to reflect on relationships. Thinking about everything as a relationship can be helpful, as it opens us up to multiple possibilities, and highlights our perceptions, behaviour, and thought processes as agents enacting those possibilities. When we interrogate our relationship to ourself, our relationship to time, our relationship to friends, family, etc., it can take us out of the realm of rigidity, and into the real of possibilities. We are NOT just our behaviour, our thoughts, our mistakes, our harmful habits.
This month, try to treat yourself with more care, kindness, and compassion. Hold your own hand through your one and only life.”
So I begin this project with an invitation to reflect on my relationship with this world. To find the possibilities, and to think about this relationship in deep and meaningful ways.
I come into this project with grief and despair, searching for connection and possibility.
I don’t know how to be with you, dear world. I interact with you primarily through media, reading about soil more often than I touch the dirt, looking at pictures of animals more often than I sit quietly in their wild spaces.
Even my houseplants are struggling. I forget to feed myself, and I forget to water them, too.
I dream of making crow friends, and forget to put seeds in my pockets.
But I am here, and trying.
And when I show up, you are here, too. Every time I step out into this world, there it is. Bigger than I am, bigger than I can imagine. And I am in it, I am part of it.
I think that this project is, in some ways, 100 days of grieving and memorial. We are watching many species die, and we are watching many ecosystems transform in ways that are violent, tragic. We are watching collapse.
We are watching change.
But change offers possibility. I think of Octavia Butler, and her Earthseed principles.
From Parable of the Sower:
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
So, if part of this project is a memorial, let it be an Earthseed memorial. Octavia Butler knew just the way.
An excerpt from the Earthseed funeral in Parable of the Talents:
We give our dead
To the orchards
And the groves.
We give our dead
Is a great Change—
Is life’s greatest Change.
We honor our beloved dead.
As we mix their essence with the earth,
We remember them,
And within us,
Gives shape to the light
Shapes the darkness.
Gives shape to life
Share this wholeness,
Defining the other.
Gives shape to the universe
As the universe
We have lived before.
We will live again.
We will be silk,
We will be scattered,
We will live
And we will serve life.
We will shape God
And God will shape us
I start this project with grief, and also with remembering, and discovering. I am alive, and I will serve life. That’s my intention for this project.
I love you, world.
If you would like to receive the love letters in your inbox, you can join the email list here.
If you want to know more about this project, you can find the intro post here. You can participate in many ways, including on social media using the hashtag. You can also participate off social media, and if you would like your letters shared, you can send them to me to be included in the emails.
If you want to support my work, you can find my Patreon here.
content note: climate existential dread, mention of suicidality
An earlier version of this post was available last week to supporters of my Patreon.
The other day, I made a really delicious salad for dinner, and as I sat there eating it, and enjoying it, and thinking about all of its components, I was, again, overcome with dread about the future of food security as climate change worsens.
This is a post about how fears about climate change are showing up in my life these days, and about how I hope to use narrative practices to respond to these fears in my own life and in the lives of community members who consult me. Many people in my communities, myself included, are experiencing a pervasive sense of hopelessness and powerlessness.
Narrative therapy suggests that we are never passive recipients of hardship or trauma. That people are always responding to the problems in their lives. I believe this is true, even when the response is not outwardly (or sometimes inwardly) visible. I want to find ways to speak about climate grief, climate fear, climate anger, in ways that honour our values, our skills, and our legacies of response. This post is one effort in this direction. I hope that there will be more. I hope that you will join me on the journey.
I think about climate change, and about how it will impact food security and the necessities of life, so often.
I think about the wealth gap that already exists and is worsening globally, and I think about how so many of my communities are already living with financial precarity. I think about what the salad I made should cost if we paid what we need to for carbon, and I think about how drastically my diet would need to change. I think about self-sustainability and I feel my aching body and I know that I will not be able to grow food to feed my family.
And this line of thought draws me into thinking about sustainability and self-sustainability. Self-sufficiency. Independence. I think that “self-sustainability,” expressed as individualism, is just another tentacle of violent neoliberalism and I reject it. Community care forever. But still. How? And so, bumping up against another problem (the influence of individualism on our dominant narratives), I encounter again The Dread.
I have nightmares about the next generation starving. My stepkids, my neiphlings, the children in my extended community, and in the vulnerable communities I witness from a distance.
Starvation is the most frequent recurring nightmare I have when it comes to climate change. It haunts me at least once a week.
It also makes me think about how environmental racism and environmental violence are not new; how Indigenous children and Black children have already been facing the kind of food scarcity that I have nightmares about. How the Black Panthers instituted school meal programs to try and address these issues long before climate change became such an urgent issue. But even though environmental racism and violence are not new, the people who have already been facing these harms will also mostly likely face the escalating harms more quickly and more directly. We can’t look at the past through idealistic lenses and pretend that children haven’t already been starving, but we also can’t use that as an excuse to ignore how much worse it will likely get.
Again, the dread.
But also threads of hope, and delight. The Black Panthers have descendants in Black Lives Matter, and food justice efforts exist in projects like Food Not Bombs, and in the Health At Every Size movement, and in Black urban growers (some of whom you can read about here) and Indigenous communities who understand how to care for the Earth in ways that capitalism and colonialism have tried (and failed) to erase.
I just bought adrienne maree brown’s new book, Pleasure Activism, and I am starting to read it. I think that pleasure is necessary, joy is necessary. How will we resist oppression and injustice, and respond to the challenges in front of us, without pleasure, without joy, without hope?
I want both: the fear that tells me what is at stake, and the hope that allows me to keep moving forward.
Right now I have a disproportionate amount of fear, and not a lot of hope.
There are reasons for this, and I refuse to disavow or invalidate my own fear and distress, or the fear and distress of my community members. But as much as I resist the pressure towards “positive thinking” that says feeling fear is the “real” problem, the fact is that I want pleasure and hope, too. I want joy. I want the full range of my emotions, and I want to be able to imagine a future for myself, for my communities, for the children coming after us. I want that for all of us.
Lately I have noticed my thoughts sliding sideways over into, “it would be good if I just died right now,” more often than I am happy about.
Last week I sent a message to Nathan Fawaz, one of my beloved humans, and said:
“Do you have a spoon for a big but short vent? I don’t need a solution but it is just sitting in my chest.
I just really struggle when I think about climate change. I don’t want to live through what is coming. I feel so hopeless and sometimes even suicidal. I won’t, because I think there is a role for people with my skill set in getting through what’s coming and I want to help, and I also think about the impact of that on my communities, but my desire to live does not coexist with my awareness of climate crisis. They do not overlap. When I think about climate change, my desire to live is gone.”
They replied, generously offering me the same kind of response that I would hope to offer someone who brought that vulnerability to me:
I am seeing such a strong value for supportive environments and our roles in cocreating them.
And such an affinity between environment and lifeforce/vitality.
Such a keen and important sensitivity.
I am sorry you are sad and that this is so hard.
I am sorry that there is so much detritus — both human and human-made.
I am sorry for all the disequilibrium.
Every word you wrote resonates so strongly.
They shared an idea that part of what is happening is akin to “ecoableism” – not being able to imagine any future without some expectation of wholeness or perfection on the part of the planet. An inability to see value or hope in an injured and ill planet. As people who are both in “painbodies,” we have faced this kind of ableism and have valuable insider knowledges into how to resist it. We have both felt the pressure of ableist narratives that frame bodies like ours (trans bodies, pain bodies, ill bodies) as less vital, less worthy. We have both resisting those narratives. We resist those narratives on behalf of our communities and other groups, too. (In fact, we talked about this in episode two of Nathan’s podcast, which you can listen to here.)
We cannot deny that we are causing harm and destruction to the Earth through our actions, that we are making a painbody for the Earth, but maybe we can find ways forward from within the crip and disability communities. What becomes possible if we could, as Nathan suggests, “think about my painbody. Your painbody. And all the painbodied people I know. The shimmering that is there. The incandescent connections. The community. The care. The skills that are exclusive to us.”
What becomes possible if we imagine ourselves in relationship with this struggling and suffering and overheating planet, as collaborators as well as defenders and protectors and destroyers. What if we imagine that there is something unique that we can offer, some gift of care or presence.
What if we imagine the unique insider knowledges that each marginalized community brings; the knowledges of persistence, resistance, healing, nurturing, tending, defending, adapting, restoring, remembering?
I am still figuring out what to do with this conversation and with these feelings. I suspect that in practice, this will mean that I keep tending my house plants and thinking about climate change. I’ll keep reading and talking about it. I’ll keep reaching for hope. And now, with this new language, I’ll start watching for where my insider knowledges into ableism might offer me new paths forward, new life-affirming and life-sustaining choices.
Imagining myself into a story of relationship with this planet, even this planet in a new painbody of our thoughtless design, feels hopeful in a way I had not previously had access to. Maybe it will also feel hopeful for you.
Here is another hopeful thing – this article by George Monbiot, “The Earth is in a death spiral: It will take radical action to save us.” Despite the title, this is one of the most hopeful articles I’ve read recently.
I also wanted to share some narrative questions that you can answer on your own. These are some of the questions I might ask someone who is consulting me for narrative therapy and expressing the kinds of experiences and feelings I’ve been describing here.
- What is it about this situation that is causing you so much distress? Is there something that you hold to be precious or sacred that is at stake?
- How did you learn to cherish whatever it is that is at stake?
- What is your relationship with this cherished idea, location, person, or planet? What is one story that comes to your mind when you think about your relationship?
- Have you ever felt hopelessness or distress like this before? How did you get through that time?
- Is there a legacy of responding to hardships like the one you’re in right now, that you can join? Have other people also felt what you are feeling, or something like it?
- Do you have friends or family members or role models who know what you are experiencing, and may be experiencing similar?
- What is it that keeps you in this situation? What are you holding onto, what are you valuing, that has prevented you from ‘checking out’?
- Is there anyone in your life who knows how much you are struggling with this? Do you think it makes a difference to this person that you continue to resist the problem?
- What does your distress say about what you cherish or consider valuable?
I ask myself these questions, and they are not easy to answer.
But I also know that I have strong values of justice and access and collective action. I know that these values can sustain me. And I know that you, too, have strong values and that connecting to these values is possible.
And I know that we can choose to welcome our despair as much as we welcome our actions of resistance and resilience. We can bring curiosity to The Dread, and ask what matters, what’s at stake, and remind ourselves of why we care so deeply. We can honour the depth of our fear and our grief and our anger.
Our despair is as valid as our resistance and resilience. The two can coexist.
We are multi-storied people, with many equally true and sometimes contradictory stories. And this is a multi-storied time. There is no need to flatten it down to a single narrative. Hope and fear. Pleasure and despair.
There is space for all of it.
The whole complex salad of it.