On the Road: Wyoming to Michigan

 Grand Rapids, MI

Grand Rapids, MI

From Wyoming we floated across the long open Dakotas where fields stretched on interminably, punctuated only by a few visits to bars in tiny towns and museum openings. Along the way we lost some hope for our cause. Long faces looked at us with all the disdain in the world, while some laughed, and others ran off scared. It was not long before we found ourselves fleeing eastwards faster and faster.

And then, Fargo, ND. This town took us in as a refuge of hope--young people! Artists! Environmentalists! Workers! After our bleak openings in Wyoming and North Dakota, where we had some museum showings that only brought in 10-15 people, we rocketed upwards in Fargo to have over 100 museum visitors in one night! Our faith in humanity was restored. We met Tony who was making changes in his workplace to foster sustainability, and Brandon who recommends his favorite books to other people to inspire them, and we spoke with a teacher who was excitedly revising her curriculum to incorporate environmental art.

 North Dakota

North Dakota

We continued east towards Minnesota (land of 10,000 lakes and 10,000 fish). Thank god for family and fireflies, and never ending french fries. Yes, you read that right, never ending french fries. While in Grand Rapids, MN we happened upon the summer festivities that also just so happened to be catered that day by the Minnesota based Mcdonald's french fry factory.

It was here too that we encountered the top of the Mississippi river, a huge milestone on our trip. Unlike the river we knew down in New Orleans, this Mississippi was clean. In fact, we visited the headwaters. Standing knee high in its cool waters we were rejuvenated and joyful. And, as we spotted birds hopping on branches and gliding through the sky overhead, birds we imagine migrate through the swamps of the south and the spongy land that is Louisiana’s coast, we remembered our earthly connections and responsibilities.

 At Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi!

At Itasca, the headwaters of the Mississippi!

 Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis, MN

Since arriving in this watery region, we have encountered a new foe. This is a foe to rival all the ants and STPD (Space-Time Police Department) in the world. It is the clan of mosquitoes that fear not citronella, deet, or the merciless slapping of Elena’s trained hands. They seem to like our museum. They flock to it like nobody else in the midwest has dared to. And once they come, they settle, filling the bus with a chorus of buzzing that keeps us awake, maniacally laughing and screaming and tossing, and changing clothes, and waving burning sage through the air, and rubbing toothpaste and tea tree oil and deet all over our bodies until 2, 3, 4, oh-lord is that the sunrise, in the morning.

 Sheet Tents, the new, the innovative mosquito protection! Sure to make you sweat, but there to protect! The Sheet Tent [patent pending].   Review: 3 out of 5 stars  Elena woke up in the darkness to Emma offering a hand fan. We were sprawled on our backs beneath a hand built sheet tent that was suspended from the ceiling with hooks, rope, and clothespins. We believed the sheet tent was working, and it was indeed keeping the mosquitoes out, but it was also keeping the fresh air out and the hot air in, on a 70 degree night. We laid, basking in our sweat, suffocating in our jailhouse sauna. Emma eventually evacuated to sleep on the roof of the bus one night, and, in utter desperation, on the sidewalk another night.

Sheet Tents, the new, the innovative mosquito protection! Sure to make you sweat, but there to protect! The Sheet Tent [patent pending]. 

Review: 3 out of 5 stars

Elena woke up in the darkness to Emma offering a hand fan. We were sprawled on our backs beneath a hand built sheet tent that was suspended from the ceiling with hooks, rope, and clothespins. We believed the sheet tent was working, and it was indeed keeping the mosquitoes out, but it was also keeping the fresh air out and the hot air in, on a 70 degree night. We laid, basking in our sweat, suffocating in our jailhouse sauna. Emma eventually evacuated to sleep on the roof of the bus one night, and, in utter desperation, on the sidewalk another night.

 We have a mosquito net now. A quality invention!

We have a mosquito net now. A quality invention!

From land of french fries we headed to land of the cheese curd and custard and unconscionably hot days: Wisconsin. Madison and Milwaukee were easy and breezy, maybe too much so. And now we are in Michigan (our home for the next month), finding ever increasing hope for community activism and political awareness. People have been thanking us for what we’re doing, and for coming to their town. And we are reminded that, although we are happier in places that are kind to us, we are also needed in those places which are not kind to us. Talking to people we disagree with every day, about the environment, is unbelievably hard. And unbelievably important. George Marshall’s Ted Talk about having these difficult conversations is a must watch. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvsUHL9IQRs&t=207s)

Marshall is a long-time environmentalist and activist. After years of yelling, he now advocates listening.  The way we talk about climate change, he says, is dominated by narratives, relying little on the facts. So, if we listen to the narratives of the opposition we just might come to understand their views. In this way we can remake narratives that are congruent with the morals, interests, needs, and cultures of those who deny climate change. For example, conversing about jobs or earth stewardship might be more appealing to a conservative. Marshall recommends talking to one person every day about climate change. 

Now, while we are advocating you listen to something (and someone), now we advocate you take an action: get involved in the midterm elections! Talk about voting. Make sure your neighbors can make it to the polls. Know who and what is on the ballot. Don’t let your partner forget to mail in their vote by mail. Register voters even (it's easy as pie)! Of eligible voters only 58% showed up for the 2016 election meaning, 42% did not. These numbers are worse for the midterms.  Can we change that?

 Flint, MI. 

Flint, MI. 

On the Road: Coal and Gun Country

 Buffalo in Wyoming

Buffalo in Wyoming

We are in Gillette, WY. Emma stands across third street with a giant white coat hanger when she sees me here, in the coffee shop. As she clutches two bags of fabric, wearing a clunky necklace of faux turquoise and coral, she begins to waddle toward me, half of the coat hanger falling off midway across the street. Bending over to pick it up I see Emma’s got a large fake daisy plant tucked into the back of her shorts, springing up like a tail. The gal in the coffee shop peers over her phone from where she leans on the counter. Eyes like this seem to follow us everywhere around here. From the American flag patterned fabric in Emma's hand, and the coat-hanger, you can see we are trying hard just to be accepted.

In the mornings we wake up and put away our sleeping mats.  We make coffee and oat bran, find the nearest gas station bathrooms, and plot out our days.  Usually, we spend the mornings reading, and often come to headlines like this.  But, we are immersed in places that would never even run across a headline like that. They read headlines like this instead.

In Wyoming, there is coal and oil and not many people unattached to them in some way. There are beautiful landscapes of rolling hills smothered in wildflowers, red rock canyons, and bone chilling gulches to sweep you off your feet. People are often mean, and fearful of us outsiders. Families roam towns on vacation from school, buying tourist t-shirts that bemoan PETA and praise our 2nd amendment.

 Yellowstone National Park, WY

Yellowstone National Park, WY

 Lead, SD

Lead, SD

We spoke with one family in Cody, Wyoming who was on vacation from Pennsylvania. We were lucky to find them, as they were the nicest and most conversational conservative folk we've found yet. They liked a lot of the exhibits on the left side of the bus (the change-making side), but nothing on the "global warming side" (which is way more than global warming, for the record). When pressed on the issue, they said they were opposed to notions of climate change because the earth has been on a constant cycle of cooling and warming, and in any case the issue had become too politicized. They asked: how is one supposed to believe anything either side says when the back and forth is so contentious? We asked them what would need to happen for their views on climate change to shift, and they responded that the research would have to become depoliticized. Pressed and pressed, there is no discernible example or description of what that would actually look like, and we came to the conclusion that anti-climate change is part of their worldview, and it will not budge.

But are there other issues surrounding earth stewardship that you believe in, we asked? Of course, there's waste to be concerned with, and pollution--but we don't want the government to meddle, they said. Of course, of course. Advocating for issues should be done through screaming and organizing, community efforts. That sort of thing. Of course.

These conversations are common enough, though never quite as long.  People would seem to rather talk about anything else, to keep these issues out of their purview, away from concern.

Nevertheless, through patience and listening we believe that both sides walked away with something new to think about. After all, it is hard to find the time to scream and organize with our busy, busy lives. And what company will really take care of its waste if not prodded by the government, just a little? And what about the organized way government manages our trash? And for us, yes, the government can be cumbersome can't it? Perhaps there was some melting of previously solid opinions--some remolding--and through that, some coming together. 

We headed towards Gillette, WY, opened up at Walmart, and met Chris, a friendly, open minded man who works as a blaster in the coal mines. He spoke highly of the work he does and his work environment too, making sure to mention how great his employer was. Soon after Chris we met self described “oil trash”, a man with a big toothy smile. Walmart customers here were more likely than not to walk up with dusty boots and jeans, sun tanned faces and the look of a hard day's work.

What were we doing here advocating for alternative energies when most people probably felt like we were telling them their jobs, the ways they spend their time, and what they sell their labor to is wrong? How must people feel when they come in contact with "environmentalists"? (A group defined largely by the media and politicians, just as "oil trash" are defined to liberals.) So much blame is put upon these individuals when in fact, we all are a part of this polluting mess. So many liberals we know go from one gadget to the next, buy organic foods swaddled in plastic, and take costly flights all over the world, all the while bemoaning conservative anti-regulative politics in Middle America.

People here seem proud. These are their jobs and they enjoy them. These jobs have provided for them, perhaps their forefathers, their family, they have even created the community within which they are a part. Their culture in turn has been crafted around it.

 A poster in Gillette, WY

A poster in Gillette, WY

Shoot, maybe we actually know very little about this America. We have taken American studies courses, history, this that and the other thing, but we didn’t know coal was still as prolific as it appears to be here. We know little about these people, their lives, and culture. And why? What would a course at UC Berkeley look like on this topic? "Rural, coal, oil, and the rest..." We have Latin American studies, African American studies, gender studies, why not this group of people too? We have certainly felt undereducated.

And so maybe, instead of disparaging these people and how they live, those who wish to change the energy industry in America should learn about them--better yet, from them--and work with them to find alternative jobs, economies, and futures.

It seems we have work to do. We want to ask people here: what would you tell a liberal about yourself? What would you tell them you are proud of? What do you like to do outside?

IMG_2718.jpeg
 Dubois, WY

Dubois, WY

Advocating for the environment is possible in these parts. But it needs to be done differently. People's livelihoods depend on oil and coal, and there is a deeply ingrained worldview around the role of the government. Yes there are contradictions within that worldview, and ways to make an argument otherwise--but so are there contradictions in the liberal worldview--of pressuring a government to fix problems that were caused by a corrupt government in the first place and the fact that despite our opposition to oil and coal, so much of our daily lives, wealth, and infrastructure depend on it.

Contradictions in worldviews are easy to pick out when they belong to the other, and easier to make excuses for when they're your own. But we're trying harder to empathize in our interactions, and build new environmental stewardship in places like these. Its hard and frustrating. It makes us cry and want to go home. But no rest for the environmentalists! We’re off to North Dakota.

 Jackson, WY

Jackson, WY

 A contribution to the museum in Yellowstone National Park, WY

A contribution to the museum in Yellowstone National Park, WY

On the Road: Texas to Colorado

It may nearly be too late; it seems as though I am surrounded, and Elena may be lost already. These are the most unlikely foes. In every shape and size and color imaginable, they have been hot on our heels for weeks now.  Nothing can be done. I think they smell my fear, for wherever I go there seem to be millions just waiting for me to sit down so they can crawl up my shorts and bite my butt.  How could our great nation let this ant situation get so out of control?

*     *     *

It feels like we have been on the road a lifetime. A lifetime of gas stations and nights without showers. A lifetime of going 30 mph up hills and jumping into any and all bodies of water we encounter. A lifetime of being the bizarre “free, pop-up museum from the future” outside of ice cream shops and Walmarts and theaters and house parties. A lifetime of evolving and dissolving, of making friends and leaving them, of fixing the museum, of fixing the bus, and of fixing lunch before we do anything else.  

 Should we have been swimming in the water in Carlsbad?

Should we have been swimming in the water in Carlsbad?

We’ve sailed on the TIMESHIP from Louisiana, through Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. We’ve been burned, frozen, and set out to dry and on top of all of that, we’ve opened the museum to an estimated 800 people. It is our hope that within that number there may be some small amount of people who are making changes in their hometowns. But of course, we are not there to see, we do not get to bear witness to the change. We think of ourselves as mere seed-planters who leave the arduous task of germination to each their own.

 Meow Wolf, Santa Fe,  NM

Meow Wolf, Santa Fe,  NM

 Meow Wolf, Santa Fe, NM

Meow Wolf, Santa Fe, NM

From Austin, Texas to New Mexico we encountered sun blasted roads (oh and that beautiful respite at Lynne’s ranch) that stretched on and on through dusty desert where oil rigs dipped their heads into the ground. Like rusting cows endlessly chewing the black cud of the earth. It was there, again in line, that we realized we were not strangers in this place--a school bus amongst white pickups--we too were on the conveyor belt that carried us through the oil fields out and beyond, tethered to the world of trade and commerce, moving and shaking.

 Lynne's ranch and beautiful oak trees.

Lynne's ranch and beautiful oak trees.

 Texas produces the most wind power out of any U.S. state. It is also the epicenter of the country's oil industry.

Texas produces the most wind power out of any U.S. state. It is also the epicenter of the country's oil industry.

We’ve had our fair share of problems in these conservative localities, with people who won’t give us the time of day--let alone get on our school bus--or with pipe-fitters who’s first words upon exiting the bus were “so you hate pipelines.” But it may surprise you dear reader to hear that our favorite stop so far has been been Big Spring, TX: epicenter of oil-country. We were prepared for a rough night, but were surprised when after an hour, people stopped running from us, and instead ran towards us. We had wonderful conversations with pipeline workers who were there for the job and knew first hand the dangers we spoke of. We cried with Mexican mothers whose children translated for her. We were challenged and we were thanked for coming to their town as if the eyes of the world don’t turn much on Big Spring.

Really, and perhaps most surprisingly, we feel that our fair share of problems has been with liberals.  One woman in Colorado Springs, who Emma perhaps pushed too far, came running off the bus saying she didn’t want to think about those things.  Her generation had done its part, and now it was time for the younger generation to take up the reins. Reader, what do you think of this response?

Since Santa Fe, NM the state of America has become more and more apparent, meaning frightening and appalling. It was in Santa Fe that we found used needles littering the park. It was there that we were warned about a nearby small town. Be careful where you camp, they said, there are lots of people on drugs out there, could be dangerous. And later, we passed through town after town that appeared alive from the freeway where all one can see are the bright lights of the fast food restaurants. But a short drive down the road and you see boarded up buildings, paint peeling, windows dark. In Colorado Springs you can’t find a bathroom to use because no business wants “the public”. Instead the real and live Colorado Springs that flow through town are littered with human waste of all kinds.

 Raton, New Mexico

Raton, New Mexico

 Raton, New Mexico

Raton, New Mexico

But then there are towns that are making it. In Carlsbad, NM  we were told that just a little more than a year ago the population of the town was around 27,000 but recently it has swollen to near 75,000 due to the oil boom in the area. So people are moving and they are moved, going where the jobs go. What does the future hold for small town America? Will it “dry up”, as locals say--like a lake or a pond or a river: once deep and lush, now gasping for a drink? Will economic centers shift like weather patterns do, blessing some areas with fertility and others with drought?

Boulder, CO where we've been posted since Monday, has been good to us. But of course, if Big Spring is the epicenter of oil country, Boulder is the epicenter of solar country.  And so we’ll be off again soon enough to the land of Trump--the lands beyond the cities that is--the sea of trucks, and the great pool of conversation that keeps surprising us at every turn.

 Southeastern Colorado

Southeastern Colorado

 Boulder, CO

Boulder, CO

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

IMG_6371_2.JPG

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

IMG_6264_2.jpg
IMG_6467_2.jpg

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? 

 
IMG_6351_2.JPG
IMG_6456_2.jpg

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.

IMG_6461_2.jpg
 
IMG_6453_2.JPG

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

ImagineABetterFuture-elena's art.jpg

Chapter One: Paradox-Shock

ondabus.JPG

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.

 
IMG_1052.JPG
 

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.

IMG_6060.jpg

“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.

IMG_6044.jpg
IMG_6031.jpg

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.

IMG_5975.JPG

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?  

 
Photo on 10-25-17 at 2.56 AM.jpg