Choose Your Own Future

I have always been drawn to art that allows some agency for the audience. It has recently become much more prevalent in the theatre with immersive shows like Sleep No More or Taylor Mac’s 24 Decade History of Popular Music

11TAYLORMACSS-slide-5DMN-articleLarge

Taylor Mac in Judy’s 24-Decade History of Popular Music

 

I had an early formative theatrical experience working with a college troupe inspired by the NeoFuturists’ Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. The show includes 30 two-minute plays; the numbers 1 – 30 hang on a clothesline across the stage; the audience calls out the number of the play they want to see and the cast pulls that number off the clothesline and performs that play. When that play is over, the audience yells out the next number, and so on. The plays are performed in a different order every night. For bonus fun, there’s a time clock: if the actors finish all 30 plays in 60 minutes, they win “the bet.” If they don’t, the audience wins and gets to whip-cream-pie the actors.

The NF plays are each separate entities, there’s no shared story or characters. But I have long been interested in what happens when those short pieces are connected: they exist in the same world, track pieces of the same story.

I’ve toyed with that for some time, but never quite figured out the right story. When the idea for Martha’s (b)Rainstorm came along, I had just read a Choose Your Own Adventure novel called Space Vampire! (I highly recommend that everyone read Space Vampires). And suddenly these ideas came together: we are currently making choices for people in the future, by impacting the climate in such a powerful way; doing a Choose your Own Future format story would give the audience agency in choosing, but maintains a narrative aspect.

It has been a treat diving into the Choose Your Own Adventure books from my childhood. What strikes me is how stylistically different they can be. There were two primary authors – RA Montgomery and Edward Packard – and their approach to the form is notably different. Montgomery gives new choices every 2 – 3 pages, and there are ultimately more narrative threads, more endings. Packard gives the reader choices every 5 – 8 pages; some threads continue one direction and then meet back with another thread. You have the sense of a single world being explored – reading all the way through one story thread gives you a view of the world that informs the next thread you read.

Looking at one of the many maps of the CYOA books shows just how complicated they can get.

Journey under the sea

Story Map of Journey Under the Sea by RA Montgomery

 

Doing this format as a play, one consideration is the resources: can actors memorize 32 threads? How do you produce a play that requires so many worlds (props, locations, etc)? What happens if the audience choices lead to death 5 minutes into a performance?

To simplify things I’m ultimately following the Edward Packard style: trying to create a single contained world in which the audience can choose from a few stories: characters and locations will be present in the play regardless of which thread you see, and there won’t be so many dead ends.

“Triumph of Religion” – Sargent’s Murals @ BPL

In my 11 years in Boston I’ve spent a lot of time at the BPL and it’s been a treat to spend even more there recently.

One of my favorite discoveries a few years ago are the John Singer Sargent murals, The Triumph of Religion, on the 3rd floor of the original building (up the stairs past the giant lions, then up one more).


Something about these paintings really speaks to me for this project. I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about early culture’s cosmologies: folk tales and myths. Just about every culture has a flood myth or apocalypse myth. There are creatures in Sargent’s paintings that are part human, part animal – a god with a bull head; a snake whispering; a sphinx with eagle ears and a feline body.

Something about Cataclysm brings out these hybrid creatures in us and I’ve been thinking of that as well. How will Boston – a huge leader in the medical and tech industries – adapt to rising waters. Will we have gills? Will we design something that allows us to live underwater in ways we can’t do now? In envisioning the future I’m looking at the past: the mythic creatures who have appeared in stories told centuries ago.

I am also very interested in religion in the world of our play. How do cultures react in cataclysmic events? How do current beliefs embrace new developments; how do new religions spring up to explain the unexplained. Children of Men and The Leftovers are two stories recently that explore how religion comes alive in new ways after an end-of-the-world type event.

Boston is a deeply religious place, in a variety of ways. I cannot help but believe that – if and when the waters rise – belief and faith (whether ancient or newly sprung) will play a big part in the culture.

Chris Lynum: Salt Marshes & Nitrogen

Chris Lynum is a PhD student at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center who studies Salt Marshes and their ability to transform nitrogen in the water into inert nitrogen gas (quite a superpower!). Chris is a Wisconsin native who’s studies and fascinations have brought him to Beantown. 


Many of New England’s salt marshes have been wiped out or damaged over the last centuries (consider how much of Boston used to be water and you’ll start to see why). In some cases, humans have restored – or attempted to restore – salt marshes to something close to their original state.

There are two kinds of Salt Marsh restoration:

  • Active Restoration: in which humans shape a salt marsh, sculpting the landscape, planting specific flora over a short period of time, then setting the marsh free
  • Passive Restoration: in which humans restore the main ingredients of the salt marsh (balance of salt and fresh water) and allow the flora and fauna to slowly and naturally repopulate on their own (“All Organic”) over extended periods of time.

It’s basically the difference between microwaving a DiGiorno pizza, vs. mixing and rolling your own dough, whipping up homemade sauce (except Nature is making the handmade pizza?)… you get the idea.

Chris studies how different approaches to Salt Marsh restoration impact the local microbe community’s ability to convert excess nitrates into inert nitrogen gas.

The big question: How do these approaches impact a marsh’s ability to convert nitrogen? Chris is trying to find that out and has several Salt Marshes in the Boston and Cape Cod area that he visits regularly for testing.

Why is this nitrogen processing so essential, you ask? Here’s the story-cycle:

  • Humans add nitrates to a water system upstream
  • These nitrates flow downstream towards the mouth of a waterway, and into the ocean
  • A healthy salt marsh converts these nitrates into nitrogen gas, releasing it into the air where it has no impacts

If the Salt Marsh can’t make this conversion, all this excess nitrogen enters the coastal ocean, and causes *EUTROPHICATION* and *HARMFUL ALGAL BLOOMS*! (imagine hearing that in a horror movie-style voiceover).

  • Eutrophication = Super Growth of Algae
  • Dying Algal Blooms = loss of oxygen in the water
  • Loss of oxygen = dying off of flora and fauna all along the coast.

Excess nitrogen gives Algae what they need to thrive, greening the water and can lead to death and removal of anything else out of the area. Dozens of marine species would die off or migrate because they could not survive.

Basically, Chris is doing this work so that you can have Lobster Rolls.

Salt Marshes also act as a buffer between land and ocean. When the sea level rises or a storm surges towards the coast, salt marshes have to potential absorb some of this additional water in a way that protects residential areas, but also maintains a flourishing biosphere that contributes to an area’s ecology. Marshes also act as key Carbon Sinks – they gulp up CO2 in the air that otherwise would contribute to continued global warming patterns.

In addition to the above, Salt Marshes are just beautiful. They are filled with gorgeous plant life, birds and butterflies. They are perfect for restorative or meditative strolls. ChrisInstagram is largely a record of the stunning life he finds on his visits.

JJK’s fun fact from this conversation: Chris’ favorite plant is glasswort, a fascinating and beautiful plant that thrives in Salt Marshes. It is edible – you can pick it and bite, no prep needed – has a crisp and salty taste. Be warned: it acts as a laxative.

Look Into My Crystal Ball

Two themes have arisen in all my conversations with City Planners and scientists when talking about climate change:

  1. The impacts feel very far in the future to most citizens (which means there is a lack of urgency for action).
  2. It’s hard to show people the GOOD side of adapting to climate change. How do you show people how life can be improved through changes we can make? 

In 2012, San Francisco blogger Burrito Justice took both of these issues head on by generating a map of San Francisco in 2072, after 200 feet of sea level rise. The water increase is beyond any current projections (to the point of being farcical), but allows viewers to consider a drastically different landscape.

sf-island-200-ft-crop

The map shows how utterly different the city will be. But also demonstrates how humans adapt: hills familiar to SF natives are now islands; favorite neighborhoods now covered by water provide the names of bays and capes. (A fan favorite of the map is Steam Anchorage, located where the current Steam Anchor brewery lives).

In addition to the map, he provides a fictional news report from the day. Life has gone on, as it always does. Taco trucks have become Taco Boats and still provide yummy snacks to urban workers; the city government has ceded prime land to an important local business.

In this fictional 2072, life has continued. The water kept rising but so did the people.

One of my goals with Martha’s (b)Rainstorm is to do the same: to show people a view of Boston in the future where life goes on in ways that are both different and the same; both awful to consider in terms of what we’ve lost, and beautiful to imagine in terms of what we might gain.

(Check out the Timesarticle on this map and more!)

To see Boston with only 6′ of sea level rise, turn to page 2020.
To see Boston with 200′ sea level rise, turn to the next page. 

What’s Your Eco IQ?

I always considered myself fairly “green.” Growing up we always recycled; I ran Boston’s first green friendly theatre company. As I have researched this project, it has struck home how little I know.

Check out the NYTimes Quiz How Much Do You Know About Solving Global Warming?

It’s fun and hugely informative. The list is inspired by Drawdown, a new book ranking the options for cutting down greenhouse gases. I plan to check that out soon, and so should you!

Looking for more eco-cation? Check out the Tip of the Iceberg page for more reading.

Now you know, and as GI Joe taught us, Knowing is Half the Battle.

To increase your EcoIQ Powers, turn to page 31.
To stay Eco-ILLogical, turn to page 49.

Globe-al Warming

Boston Globe writer Terry Byrne profiled the BPL’s Playwright In Residence program on Sunday, June 18.

It gives a great context to this year-long project and includes conversations with me and Michael Colford, BPL’s Director of Library services. Also featured: awkward photos! (Personally, I was hoping for an action shot of us submerged in the fountain of the BPL’s gorgeous courtyard.)

I cannot put into words what an honor it is to be given such an opportunity. To have two great organizations put so much faith in a writer is huge, and I’m so excited to have this opportunity. I’ve wanted to work with Fresh Ink and Jessie Baxter for a long time, so this is just a real treat all around. Thanks, Universe!

To see pics of Sargent’s “Triumph of Religion” mural (mentioned in the profile) click here!

To check out the Library’s “Regions and Seasons” map exhibition, click here!

OK Ladies Now Let’s Get REFORMATION

More and more business are going Green in different ways.

REFORMATION is an LA based clothing company dedicated to sustainable fabrics and manufacture. (Their clothes are also super cute).

But what brings me here today is their customer education side. In addition to their clothes, they offer advice on better practices for laundering and caring for ALL of your clothes.

I highly recommend their Wash Smart page, which offers useful tips on how to keep your clothes clean and fine while lowering your carbon footprint. (JJK User tip: the Jeans-in-the-Freezer trick also works for old shoes: wrap those baddies in a plastic bag and freeze them overnight to kill bacteria and odors).

#JoinTheReformation

To wash and dry smarter and greener, turn to page 72.

How Do You Sleep at Night Pt. 2

Last week our new EcoTerra Mattress and Brayden Studio bed frame arrived.

Here’s the bedframe, assembled.Bedframe1

And here’s the mattress roll out…

So smooth! Like a Butterfly!

After one week, Lovah says “I sleep like I’ve got a whole bed to myself!” Stay tuned for her full report…

One great reason for EcoTerra mattresses: 90 Day trial with Free Return! Buying a mattress online can be iffy, but knowing we can send it back if it doesn’t work for us is great. (Check out Part I for “why we bought an EcoTerra”)

BUT JOHN: How Do you get Rid of your OLD Mattress in a Responsible Way?

Throwing out a mattress is a HUGE WASTE. It takes up valuable landfill space, when much of the materials can be reused (not to mention the need of good mattresses in so many shelters locally).

The State of MA has some great options to suggest for mattress recycling.

We went with Mattress Disposal Plus, who picks up your furniture and recycles it and/or donates locally. (There are many donation centers in MA, but getting a mattress there with no car is tricky!).

MDP was affordable ($190 to take our box spring, mattress, and old bed frame) and incredibly easy: quick application online, and they picked it up the next morning. The staff were incredibly fast and friendly – arrived on time and were done with our things within 3 minutes.

LIKE I BUTTERFLY, I TELL YOU!

To keep contributing to landfill waste despite your knowledge of its horrors, turn to page 17.
To join the ranks of those building a new exciting green economy, turn to page 33.

When Will Your Home be Underwater?

OK Forget about rising temperatures and species going extinct and Miami. I’m here today to help YOU, my fellow Bostonians, answer the most pressing question: at which point will I have to swim upon leaving my front door?

Friends, the answer is here. FloodMap.net shows you the Sea Level Rise impact on the world with Google Street Map-level detail. Just type in your location and adjust the water-level elevation to your heart’s delight.

My home with Lovah? We’ll be underwater at 10 meters (30 feet) of SLR. Luckily that’s far enough off that we’ll probably be dead.

JJK_in_Boston_30feet

BE WARNED… this map only accounts for SLR, and does not factor in storm surges and flooding caused by increasingly extreme precipitation and storms. Be sure to factor such considerations before buying or signing on for a 30-year mortgage.

To buy a new home on Southie Island, turn to page 28.
To invest in a luxury condo above the 3rd floor of a building, turn to page 65.