Hit Back: Dispatch from the Farm, or Once You Stop You Start to Rot

By Adam Gnade

adam gnade hay bales

Tonight at dusk a big, grey owl swooped down and grabbed one of my favorite chickens–a young Barred Rock I call “Dodo Conway”–and five of Dodo’s sisters raced over and tackled the owl and drummed the hell out of it then chased it off, screeching. Ten minutes later I saw one of those same chickens strutting through the field clutching a snake she’d just killed. This is a rescue farm, a “sanctuary,” but that doesn’t mean the animals play by our rules. They hustle. All day.

The news has been bad from all fronts. There’s no turning away from that, and it’s taken its toll on me. No amount of Mexican beer or social isolation or denial will blot it out. You stay away from the newspapers. You ignore the Internet. Still, planes are shot out of the sky and bombs fall on houses. People are dying everywhere–real people, nice people, people you might’ve been friends with had you been born elsewhere.

It’s getting to me–to say the very least. One of the many burdens of human consciousness and memory is that an idea, a sentence overheard, a bit of news seen on someone’s Facebook feed can latch onto you and burn you up from inside. There are certain things you will never unhear. I remember that from Sandy Hook; some things stick with you forever and sometimes they’re the things you’d rather forget.

Quiet night on the farm with everyone on the road except me. Today two of the local farmers pitched in and hayed our field without even waiting for a thanks. Twenty-five hundred pounds of good brome hay; two and a half round bales, five feet tall by five feet wide, a few months of food for the sheep and goats (and my new place to sit and write). Tonight I’m going to go to town and get some Dos Equis and limes then come back and listen to Castanets’ new song “Out for the West” on repeat and try to write as many letters as I can until I pass out. It’s a way to stop thinking of awful things but it’s also a way to find some easiness of mind and fellowship and joy. These past eight months have been radio silence from me. I’m getting worse and worse at returning correspondence but tonight I’m vowing to keep in touch. People call out to you and you call back to them–if you’re worth a damn. Lately I’ve not been worth much, but I’m trying.

Does it matter? Does anything matter? Sometimes life feels like endless buckets of shit dumped off a cliff onto your head in slow motion while cheesy, porny saxophone music plays. Futile. Empty. Silly. Action without payoff. Ambition without the promise of acknowledgement.

There are no answers but you keep trying. You keep dreaming. You keep writing letters even when you’re a year behind and you keep fighting winged things that want to carry you off into the sky and you keep pushing forward with your dreams held tight. You pay attention but you also give yourself time to breathe.

column art go fight win

My motto right now is an old cheerleader chant Jessie Duke turned into a button for Pioneers Press: Go, fight, win. I wear the button too; right here on my lucky baseball cap.

I know what the inverse of action is and I don’t want anything to do with that. And I know this: Once you stop you start to rot. And by “stop” I don’t mean “relax.” By all means relax every single chance you get. The ability to relax and look inward in the midst of struggle is part of what makes us who we are. But you have to keep believing in your path and in a future where your life will be better than it is now. Belief counts for a lot. So does planning big and shoving yourself into the nasty thick of life. That’s what you need to do: believe, push, pay attention, know when to step back and heal, and don’t mess around with dreamlessness. Go, fight, win.

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Hit Back: Chart Your Own Course but Don’t Give Up on Your Heroes

By Adam Gnade

Pyramid

I’ve been thinking a lot about where you go when you need to move beyond your heroes. At a certain point (whether you’re ready or not) you want to stand up and do something original but what does that mean, how do you start? I want to write something big, something that will “last” but I feel like I’m fifteen years old half the time, struggling to get a C-minus in Freshman English while losing my shit over all the great heat that came before.

I want to be Tolstoy and I want to be Garcia Marquez (and Faulkner, Willa Cather, Hemingway, Didion, John Dos Passos) but I’m nowhere near the doorstep; I can’t even see the HOUSE–as much as I see the light from it (and the light is what keeps us moving).

Without getting into particulars, my life is pretty hard and raw and rough right now but I’m writing a lot; more than I ever have. The manuscript for the new book is three inches thick. The last book, Caveworld, ended up at nearly 400 pages upon publication but this one will (at least) double it. Not sure how many pages three inches of hand-written paper is but it’s a lot, a brick, and at the end of the day I’m okay with that. Will the book be good? I don’t know. I feel like it will but for now I’m not too concerned with the outcome. At this point, struggling with it is good enough for me.

When I’m not working I feel like a magnet that can’t pull metal to itself. I listen to the same song over and over again (Galaxie 500 doing Joy Division’s “Ceremony” or “Summer of Hate” by Crocadiles) and I do a lot of busy work in the farmhouse and I wash dishes for hours and never make a dent in the pile. I’m a zombie when I’m not working but when I’m working all the bullshittyness of life goes away and I don’t think about predatory lawsuits and (lack of) money and time running out and big changes ahead. I’m in my place and I know I’m in my place and that’s a good thing to know.

Still, I feel lost out here. Life right now is fleeting, racing to its end. The weeks march past, spring becomes summer, farm chores in the morning, farm chores at dusk, the sun arcing across the sky sunrise to sunset, the moon just as fast, and the calendar pages tear away in the breeze and fly out the window like in a bad movie. I want guidance but I want to do my own thing and the combination of that is like moving away from home for the first time but not calling your parents for advice because you’re “a man now.” Your heart is in the right place but is it self-defeating? What’s the measure of someone without the guts to ask for help? I’d like to play it cool and be like, “No heroes for me. I don’t need ’em” but if I were to be perfectly honest I’m horribly naive and a romantic and a late-bloomer and people like me need heroes like we need light and air and water.

I’d like to play it cool and be like, “No heroes for me. I don’t need ’em” but if I were to be perfectly honest I’m horribly naive and a romantic and a late-bloomer and people like me need heroes like we need light and air and water.

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Bart Schaneman wrote this thing about heroes a couple weeks ago and it made a lot of sense to me.

“The problem with abandoning your heroes is that you turn your back on what got you into this to begin with. The world doesn’t need one more imitation Raymond Carver or Denis Johnson. But that shouldn’t stop anyone from drawing inspiration from stories like ‘Work’ or ‘So Much Water So Close to Home.'”

And the heart of it … this is what really gets me:

“So I guess what I’m saying is: Don’t give up your heroes. Add to them. Move beyond them. But don’t forsake them. You might need to come back to them to remember who you were when you got started down this difficult path.”

Bart’s someone I trust and believe in and he’s right on the money here. Coming back to your heroes and checking in is important. You don’t have to rip them off and you don’t have to live in their shadow but it’s good to know that they’re there, to be reminded why you stuck with them in the first place. Because at some point in your distant (or not so) past, your heroes lit a fire in you and if that fire is still burning you owe them something. Whether your hero is Will Potter or Will Oldham or Will Shakespeare, you’ve been moved by them and because of that you owe them a debt of sorts.

Whether your hero is Will Potter or Will Oldham or Will Shakespeare, you’ve been moved by them and because of that you owe them a debt of sorts.

Beyond that, you work. You work until your eyes ache and until you want to quit and then you work harder. I’m still figuring this out for myself but here’s what I believe: You take what you’ve been given and the influences you were brought up with (and whatever inspiration comes from it) and you work. You work and you stay honest and you try your best to be your own person and if you do that you’ll get somewhere. It might not be where you imagined you’d be but it’ll be somewhere and that’s a triumph in itself.

When it comes down to it, we’ve got to define “success” outside of capitalism if we want to stay sane, and doing honest work and being okay with what you’ve done is a great place to start.

Hit Back: Notebook Notes from an East Coast Book-Tour.

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By Adam Gnade

(East Coast Tour Diary)

May 13th. 2014
Sometimes you stay awake for two days straight getting ready for your book-tour before you realize you’ve never been on a book-tour before and your brain kind of breaks. What do you do when you don’t have a guitar/banjo/band to hide behind?

May 17th
The NYC Anarchist Book Fair. Free vegan food for everyone. Fresh fruit. Samosas. People who know my books. Black mask MCs on stage rapping in Spanish. AK Press, PM Press, Bluestockings. The nicest people ever. Holy hell. I live here now.

May 18th
Verdict on NY from the tour-mates. Sam: “New York is everything.” Marc: “What a shit-hole.” Me: “A little overwhelmed but glad to be here.”

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May 19th
Good times in Wassaic last night. Did the reading at dusk out in the farm’s herb garden with the horses watching from the field. Right there in the valley with mountains all big and lush on either side of us. Had a bonfire with dogs running around in the darkness and summer/winter ale then spent the night in the CSA field. Big thanks to Tender for putting it on and everyone who came out and all the bands that played after the readings. You’re good folk.

May 21st
Nice couple days in Baltimore. Bookstores, beer, good times last night at the password-only secret hotel reading. Really like this city. Splitting for Richmond in a few. Hittin’ up Red Emma’s first in search of secret/hidden copies of the White Rose manifestos then tour rolls on…

May 21st, part 2
Why does Baltimore have all the best bands? Lower Dens, Dan Deacon, Beach House, Future Islands … does Viking Moses count?



Continue reading “Hit Back: Notebook Notes from an East Coast Book-Tour.”

Hit Back: How to Build a Castle

by Adam Gnade

Last night we sat up late talking about sleep anxiety. We were in Muncie en route to New York City for the first date of the book-tour, a three-week run across the Midwest and up through the East Coast–readings in house-parties and motel rooms and vegan diners, farm shows, last-minute booking and a full cut and run from the old system.

Our host sat in her easy chair and lit a cigarette and told us she needed to smoke before bed to calm her nerves. I guess it’s a whatever works thing–drink wine, smoke a cigarette, read until the book hits your face.

Some people fall asleep easy but a lot of us lie in bed running through cycles of fatalism, disaster scenarios, work stress. It’s like the X song goes, “I must not think bad thoughts.” But sometimes you do, and sometimes you can’t push them away. Then you obsess and you don’t sleep at all. Or you lie in bed and stew and feel psychotic until you pass out an hour before your alarm goes off.

What I’ve found is you can build a safe place and block out the darkness. And my shit gets DARK. I try to stay away from unwanted thoughts but the more I try to think of other things the worse my thoughts get until I’m sure the world is over and everything I see is a slasher flick starring the people I love the best.

Here’s how I get past it: As soon as you lie down you come up with a setting. Say, an island off the map, a blip on the screen, the kind of place no one will ever find you. Then you start with the structure. In your mind you build the walls–stonewalls, high and thick and topped with the battlements of a castle. You imagine the brick-work and the creation of the gate. Then you go inside. Pull up the drawbridge and bar it tight. Establish a water source. (A stream that runs through it? A well?)
Dylan Garrett Smith A House For Agatha framed

A House for Agatha by Dylan Garret Smith

Next you map out the crop rows. Plant quinoa for protein. An herb garden with cilantro and rosemary and sage. Tomato plants. Summer squash. Lots of greens. Kale. A mushroom log beneath the trees. Fruit trees? Avocado trees? A peach orchard? A winery? Anything goes.

Then you build your house. A cabin or a cottage tucked back in the sunny tangle of weeds and honeysuckle vine. Nothing fancy. One bedroom, sturdy walls, a simple front-room with a good chair and big windows and bookcases. (Inventory the books … what makes you feel safe? Who do you read to keep in contact with who you are? There are no phones here. No TV. No Internet and no electricity. Live simple. Have simple tastes.) Cooking happens outside in the garden–a fire-pit, or a wood-burning stove in the front-room. Put a rough-cut Adirondack chair on the porch you made with your own hands. A cord of wood if your island has winters. The important part is that it’s safe–a self-sufficient, contained, quiet place where no one can get to you.

Or you bring people in once it’s done; people you love and trust. Sometimes I imagine a small community of my favorite people. Sometimes I’m alone. What matters is you make it secure and benevolent and you leave all the shitty elements outside–and an ocean away. The end of all worries. A disconnect from unwanted deadlines and mean bastards and all forms of negative responsibility.

You build your safe space and pretty soon you’re out. Most of the time I don’t make it past planting my crops before I’m asleep. On bad days I build the fucker five or six times. Of course it’s healthy (and essential) to confront and come to terms with your dark thoughts but there’s a time for that. Do it in the daytime. Don’t keep yourself up and spiral off into a shitty next day. (Life is hard enough without being ill-equipped to handle the minor battles of the day.)

Don’t let the dark stuff in your head eat you up–because it will. It’ll fester and you’ll re-think everything good you’ve ever done and you’ll lose perspective. Get some rest and face it when you’re awake and ready. Don’t get taken. Don’t let dark thoughts take you. Build yourself an island. Build yourself a castle.

Hit Back: Sometimes Bravery is the Scariest Thing in the World (and Maybe the Most Important)

By Adam Gnade

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It’s a quiet night on the farm and I’m thinking of Sophie Scholl. Sophie was part of an anti-Nazi non-violent resistance group called The White Rose. She did the same sort of thing a lot of my friends do (publishing, activism, distribution) and she was put to death because of it. And while I’d like to think the stuff I’m involved in has the power to change livsophiescholl2es, Sophie’s actually did. Sophie and her brother Hans and their friend Christoph Probst were convicted of high treason for printing and distributing leaflets instructing Germans on passive resistance and they were executed by guillotine on February 22nd, 1943. She was 21 years old. She was the girl who volunteers at your local info-shop; the kid serving up Food Not Bombs every week in every city; the zine distro owner; the quiet one in the first row of your poli-sci class.
In the months following her death, millions of copies of the final White Rose pamphlet were dropped over Nazi Germany by allied forces. In 1993, on the 50th anniversary of the execution, the playwright Lillian Garrett-Groag told Newsday: “It is possibly the most spectacular moment of resistance that I can think of in the twentieth century … The fact that five little kids, in the mouth of the wolf, where it really counted, had the tremendous courage to do what they did, is spectacular to me.”

“It is possibly the most spectacular moment of resistance that I can think of in the twentieth century … The fact that five little kids, in the mouth of the wolf, where it really counted, had the tremendous courage to do what they did, is spectacular to me.”

What really gets me about Sophie’s story is this quote I’m about to show you. I found this one through Jessie Duke, who writes the Hard Fifty Farm zine series and runs Pioneers Press. On New Year’s Eve she started a new family tradition of performing a piece of music or reading a poem or a story after supper; kind of a throwback Victorian thing.

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I was around for the night and I read Hemingway’s “After the Storm.” Jessie read the Sophie Scholl quote and it tore me the hell up. It was one of the most powerful readings of anything I’ve ever heard. The words hit you like bricks and you wanted to put your arms up to stop them from coming but you knew if you did you’d be missing something vital and life-shaping and true.

Sometimes a quote is what you need to get through the day. Something you can write down and check back in with when you’re worn out by the struggle, when the future scares the shit out of you, and the easy exit starts sounding good. Because sometimes I don’t want to fight anymore. Done, quit it all, step through the black doorway and fall into the great nowhere.

It’s been a rough winter on the farm and spring hasn’t been much easier but this quote gives me the strength to push on and believe in what I’m doing despite all the mean bastards and (what seems like) hopeless odds.

So here it is, friends, the good Sophie Scholl on bravery in the midst of the shit-storm. It gives me chills every time.

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”