On the Road: New Orleans, LA to Austin, TX

 
 Lunch in Baton Rouge, LA.

Lunch in Baton Rouge, LA.

 

Summer sailed in and we unfurled our sails to ride along with it. Over the bridge, across the Mississippi, looking out at oil refineries, we were reminded. To see trees enrobed in brilliant green and a bald eagle defending its nest, we were reminded.

We left New Orleans with tears in our eyes. Leaving the embraces of loved ones is never easy and to drift towards the unknown ahead adds a queer blend of fear and hope. The future: diving in you see the surface of the water, attempt to read the ripples, understand the currents. But, we are terrestrial beings aware of how little we know, how vulnerable we are out there. Leaving beautiful friends we remember the ways they kept us afloat through spontaneous visits, bringing us to have fun sometimes, helping us with internet etiquette, helping us build and paint, giving us food and so, so much more. Thank you. But fear dissipates when, on the road, we find arms open wide for embraces larger than we ever imagined they could be.

 Lafayette, LA.

Lafayette, LA.

Tuesday we were in Lafayette, our first stop. Lafayette looked at us wide eyed and we looked back joyful and hopeful. “It’s hard for my students sometimes”, said a professor, “to be in a place so overcome with the oil industry, and to not feel alone”. She documented the museum to share with her students. No, you are not alone. None of us are alone in this fight. (Thank you Natalie and Walter for hosting us in Lafayette. Thank you Daniel’s Din for the delicious red beans and rice and, for providing this meal for the people every week.)

Yesterday we have left Beaumont, TX where we slept beneath the oak trees from which lime green spiders fell. Before falling asleep that night a truck passed by, showering the street in some saccharine liquid. Emma leapt up and slammed the windows shut. Now, we are in Austin, the city of rolling hills and cool water. We had such a successful showing at Zilker Park (thank you Matt and Connor for organizing this) that we believe we will stay for another showing Saturday night. Keep up with our plans on our facebook (and here when the wifi and time stars align) and send your friends! Send your families! Spread the news, the TIMESHIP is coming to town!

 
 Beaumont, TX.

Beaumont, TX.

 

Chapter Two: We Tore Down The Library

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Our followers haven't heard from us in a while.  It's been a long few months, and you probably all thought we were caravanning across the South with our library.  But alas, we were not.  The library is, in fact, dead. That’s a half-truth though, for in reality the library lives on, in our closets, behind our couch, and in our frenzied attempts to re-distribute our overwhelming number of books throughout New Orleans' tiny libraries. It lives too in our knowledge-scapes, richer now with the experiences we had. And it survives into our current project, which is just as much about stories as a library.

We decided to tear down the library in November, during a camping trip at the Kisatchie National Forest.  Cajun families had caravanned to the campsite we stumbled upon for their yearly Thanksgiving festivities. We were not expected at this party, but made welcome all the same with home-made fireball shots and ("trust me, dis'll work much better") logs of firewood. With laughter and the sound of music from RVs and the whinnying of horses all around us, the two of us discussed in hushed and then excited tones the thoughts we had both been mulling over for some time. By the next morning we were invigorated to move forth with our plans of destruction.

 The library in all its glory, the day after we decided to tear it down

The library in all its glory, the day after we decided to tear it down

And construction...of a museum. As it turns out, building a mobile museum is an even more daunting task than building a library.  Both exacerbated by New Orleans' potholes--but instead of the crushing sound of alphabetically and genre organized books crashing down all around us, we struggled with new sounds of mosaics popping off, toxic treasure chests flying about, and screams of "oh my god hold down the climate change board!"  If Goo-gone was our best friend during library construction, it seems as though we've made a new friend in modge podge for this round of building.  Hot glue, guerrilla glue, velcro, and "jesus, let's just screw it down," are also amongst our new found friends.  We've made curtains, strung lights, bought a printer, and scrounged the glitter-infested crevices of New Orleans for discarded treasures of all sorts.  Elena also found time to plant a garden, and it's of timely relevance that her flowers are blooming and arugula bursting as we put our final touches on the museum.

 Our work... in progress

Our work... in progress

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As one could probably guess, our museum is no ordinary museum.  It's from the future (you can read our full story on the About page).  The bus is now called TIMESHIP #39, and has a fresh new vinyl to show for it.  Inside her there are still stories, meant to harness imaginations into thinking about our collective future here on earth. By presenting this wacky story of ours the museum asks the twin questions: what will the future look like if we continue down this path and what could the future look like if we make changes now? 

 
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We have spent the last four months building exhibits on climate change, natural disasters, climate refugees, waste, and the death of our oceans.  We find it important to provide information on these subjects, as spreading awareness is always needed. We also know we must include hopeful and inspirational stories, those of revolutionary farmers, change-making politicians, and people confronting the U.S. government and large corporations, because we believe people have given up much of their power to scare stories.  

But what's more, our museum is participatory, meaning we hope people we meet weave their own stories into the bus' fabric. Our museum is inclusive, meaning we want everyone to be a part of it, because everyone is needed to create the harmonious future we envision. Our museum seeks to create a web of individuals across America ready to fight. Our museum is risky because we share what is uncomfortable and because we do not have all the answers. Our museum is a tragedy because we share those stories of environmental loss and destruction, those stories that we all know and have.  But we share them hoping that together, we can find ways of living through it all.  So, as we put our final touches on this project, Elena's garden begins to bloom.  Reminding us of the forest in the seed.

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It was just today, amidst our morning coffee, Anna was working on her puzzle, Emma was watching videos of Ibeyi, and Elena was reading the news.  She exclaimed with the sound of utmost hopelessness, "there's a Starbucks opening in Yosemite. All is lost.  We might as well lay down."  She laid down then and a long silence followed until her moans from the kitchen floor began, "that's tragic... How is that possible, ugh.  Oh god.  Oh god that's just so terrible."  But, she was up after a few moments and together we keep working.  The future is hard to build.  But at least there'll be coffee.

 
 Elena digging the TIMESHIP out of the mud in Kentucky

Elena digging the TIMESHIP out of the mud in Kentucky

 

We have hope that our bus will anger and inspire because we see life within death, flowers after wildfires, and stronger senses of community after disaster. We know we will still have many difficulties on the roads ahead, both figuratively and literally. But, as always, we are up for this challenge. We hope to see you all again, on this road, never stopping, never stopping.

 

Love,

Emma and Elena

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Chapter One: Paradox-Shock

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We are about two months into our project, and now find ourselves sitting (slouching, actually), trapped overnight at the JFK airport.  We’re on our way back to New Orleans from a conference, dripping with exhaustion under the florescent lights of this place that never sleeps—or at least, that never lets you sleep—bags and electronics and panhandled-bananas strewn about all around us.  Amidst all of this we are reflecting on all that has happened and all that is before us.  Marking this the moment that concludes the first chapter of what we have been toiling over, lovingly, which we call Delta Collaborative.

This movement began, as all movements do, with contention.  With a climactic convergence of events that sent us over the edge, blundering and bursting with revolution steaming out of our ears.  We were moved by Standing Rock and the BLM movements.  Trump was elected as president by a minority of Americans, for reasons too many to list here.  We were horror-struck by the subsequent upsurge in white supremacy, restrictive immigration policies, and blatant disregard and denial that this was happening all around us.  We had the international threats of climate change and neoliberal land relations—seemingly innocuous, slow-moving events for most—setting off sirens and high-level alerts in the forefront of our minds (as always).  How to proceed?  How do you stop climate change and pollution when an electoral majority of the country is opposed to such regulation?

Our solution was Delta Collaborative. We decided to move to a red state; to live and work alongside Trump supporters because we felt we needed to understand this other part of our country.  And, we had this crazy idea that the seemingly disparate groups of Americans needed to meet and talk about what they had in common, and that once they found that they share quite a lot (read: class consciousness), they could unite and do something about it to make the future that much better (read: revolution).  We’d do this with a mobile library which we'd take to suburban towns in Southeastern Louisiana.  In our minds, people would flock to our library and converse with us.  It was through these conversations that we would learn, and hopefully others too would learn.  From this we would be actively bridging America's divide while learning about how both sides could go forward in addressing environmental issues.  A heady university student utopian haze filled our minds indeed, for we had much to learn.

 
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Over the last few months, our most trusted companion has been a school bus.  She is twenty four feet long, bright yellow, and takes diesel (don’t forget).  She huffed across the country with us, across desert and into hurricane—a boat that moored up to the shores of gas station after gas station.  We have learned she can get close to 70 on the freeway but this is definitely not advised.  If you push her for too long she will slow down and start chugging, losing power until you are forced to pull over.  She has a driver’s seat and two bench seats behind, both covered in a plastic-y grey leather.  They are insanely comfortable and will surely rock you to sleep on a hot day (which is most days).  She has a flying bug infestation, but we don’t think anyone has noticed, yet.  We’ve painted her insides yellow, teal, and bright pink in the hopes that she will be welcoming.  She’s got seven shelves, each loaded with local, national and international fiction; fantasy, mystery, thriller, action, science fiction, dystopian, history, environmental science, popular science, reference, young adult, children’s, big ideas (which is really a catch all for all the other non-fiction we had no category for), memoir, and local non-fiction.  

As you may have guessed, the largest hurdle we encountered in the beginning was how to keep the books on the shelves of a moving library.  Our shelves went through four iterations before Emma braved Home Depot one day, pushing past disrespectful men, to buy wood to screw firmly to the shelves which acts as a wall. If you are curious, no, the books still don’t stay in place.

Metal on the outside with fountains of words inside, this is Choolie.  Named for the letters she donned as we crossed the country: chool.  Our little Choolita has become a friend.  We have sat on her roof, slept in her, put air in her tires and oil in her engine.  We have double parked with her many a time, using her distinguishing yellow color as an excuse.  We have (accidentally and otherwise) cut many people off as we drive through new territories.  We have woken our neighbors up with her backup beeping.  We drive her *tenderly* over New Orleans’ many potholed streets because now, she is a fully fledged ‘Library Bus’.

We stand by the notion that books move.  That they take one out of their self and help them to understand the life of someone else, somewhere else, another time.  If building empathy is done with building blocks, we assume reading is the big red piece at the bottom, holding it all up.  Growing hearts and opening minds.

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“People don’t want books,” complained Elena, “they want beer and football and fish.”  We sat under some trees in Des Allemandes, putting more labels in books, the wind blowing them out of our hands and folding the tape in on itself.  Flat bed trucks with ice chests passed by with families wearing rubber boots inside.  We got many looks but few would come talk with us.  This surely would not be the first difficulty we would have getting to know the people of Southern Louisiana.  

In these first few months we have felt like outsiders.  We dress different we talk different. We are asked where we are from.  Oh, California, why would you leave California?  And through this we have begun to feel the different values, opinions, and worldviews that permeate through this country.

And there is nothing like seeing yourself through the eyes of another.  We now ask: How do others perceive us?  What do our words mean?  How might our words deter people from talking to us?

We challenge our arguments too, wondering how people might respond to us.  We play devil’s advocate with each other, often coming to new conclusions, perhaps better conclusions than we had before.  This process of question asking, critical thinking, and reflection has led us to a paradox within our own worldview.

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It began as we tried to understand what has been called Louisiana’s "great paradox": that one of the poorest states in the country, one of the most unhealthy, polluted, incarcerated, and environmentally degraded, is also populated by a great majority of people who are opposed to government help or regulation for such issues.

However, the convictions of Southern conservatives are not to be disregarded with accusations against their ability to feel environmental degradation—they probably feel it far more personally than most environmentalists from the coasts.  Here, the pollution is so bad, you can see it peeling away at skin.  The land loss is so rapid, teenagers can point to places they used to play at that are now submerged, as if the land is being murdered by inundation, memories being drowned to nonexistence.  What does it mean to our world that water, giver of life, is now often so polluted we think it’s normal to stare at it on a hot summer day without jumping in, that it comes knocking evermore frequently in the form of hurricanes, and that it is creeping up our coasts and eroding our shores?  Water, bringer of life, here transformed into the patron saint of death.

Despite these premonitions, and staying afloat with stubborn pride, are the colorful communities in the Deep South.  If you were to ask one of them why on earth they put up with such abuses in their backyards, in return they might ask you what they’re supposed to do about it.  Corruption and government are synonymous words here, and fully comprehending this perception of government has made us stop and wonder why we’re even advocating for government fixes to obviously government sanctioned (and caused) problems in the first place.

Someone might tell you that conservative politicians are usually the only ones that speak their language, that care about the white working-class man, that don’t bow down to identity politics and minority snow-flaking.  Why would they vote for a democrat who told them to feel bad for black people and women, when they themselves are working hand to mouth?  Who's standard of living is a morsel of what their parents had, with just crumbs to pass on to their children?  Long ago, you probably would have gotten frustrated and stopped listening. 

So we find here, a place with little "environmentalism" that seems to badly need it.  But we are wrong to think that the environmentalism we know would ever work for people here—its language and solutions are foreign. We give up on advocating for this.  Instead, we have turned our focus to finding something new with people here.

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Something about this methodology has made this a truly transformative time for us.  While we left university so certain of ourselves, we are now stranded in this airport, riddled with paradoxes within our worldviews, faults within assumptions, and entirely new fights worth fighting for.  The Dunkin' Donuts workers at terminal four are not amused by our pleas to reuse cups, exaggerating this struggle for a better world into an evermore daunting task at this late hour.  We're tired, overwhelmed, and already, one of us wants to scrap this entire piece of writing, make it anew, express a different viewpoint.  But isn’t that the beauty of our project?  Or some sort of “measurable success”, that our opinions are changing—gears shifting—attitudes pirouetting too quickly to even put out a first blog post?  

 
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