Adam Gnade’s bestselling new book, The Do-It-Yorself Guide to Fighting the Big MotherFucking’ Sad (Pioneers Press, $7) is a self-described “anti-depression guide/guide to a freer, more lawless life.” Gnade’s (pronounced guh nah dee) real-world advice is like getting a heartfelt letter from a trusted and knowledgeable friend. Practical, not clinical, Gnade’s raw and honest take on everything from pursuing your goals to ditching toxic people offers valuable perspective to help you keep your sanity, your joy and your productivity.
I asked Adam some questions about his work, and here’s our conversation:
Joshua Katcher: We just celebrated the New Year. What advice do you have as we enter into what many see as a fresh start? Is the idea of a clean slate and new beginnings all it’s cracked up to be?
Adam Gnade: No clean slates in 2014. We should acknowledge our failures and mistakes and make good on them. Whitewashing the past is a dangerous thing. Let’s own-up this year and try to make something great out of the tools we’ve been given and the places we’re from and the people we’ve been.
JK: What experiences have you had this past year that changed your perspective?
AG: This past year has been such a speed-race, what with Pioneers Press and life on the farm and stupid disasters and tour and the books coming out, I haven’t had a chance to sit still and figure my stuff out yet. January 1st rolled around and I was like, “Wait, it’s over? What just happened?” I haven’t had an introspective minute all year. Hoping that’ll change soon. I’m sure I learned something but at this point I don’t know what it is.
JK: Why is inspiring others important to you? When did you start writing for other people.
AG: We wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for our heroes and the thought of inspiring even one person to make something good or live differently or not shoot their brains out is pretty cool.
JK: What is wisdom?
AG: Wisdom is something I think I have and then I talk to pretty much anyone else in the world and I realize I’m kind of a moron about most things. I believe in my potential but not in what I am right now or what I can do. I’m working on it. Every day. At some point I hope to do something important that lasts. I’m not there yet. Not even close.
JK: In our mainstream culture, it’s not considered masculine to be compassionate or in touch with our emotions. As a vegan dude who writes about feelings, what’s your take on this and how do challenge the stereotypes?
…a lot of guys don’t realize they can be tough and compassionate or emotionally open at the same time.
AG: That’s one of the big topics of Caveworld, my newest book that came out last month: How you grow up to be a strong, squared-away, capable person while still retaining some sense of agenda-free kindness and hope and goodheartedness. That goes for anyone but if we’re talking traditional masculinity, a lot of guys don’t realize they can be tough and compassionate or emotionally open at the same time. I’m still figuring it out but a big part of it is having parents who give a damn about you, which is totally out of your control and, beyond that, good heroes.
JK: Who are your heroes right now?
AG: I like Flannery O’Conner, Joanna Newsom’s my favorite singer … who else … Dr. King makes me feel a heavy rawness that’s almost holy or something … Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove, a lot of characters in cowboy novels who don’t give up despite the odds, Woody Guthrie, a lot of the old farmers around here who are capable and help the people around them just because it’s in their nature, Tolstoy is a big one, my uncle Glenn, Hank Williams, Willa Cather … I need to read Joan Didion’s White Album once a year or I start getting lazy with my sentences and observation. I always come back to Faulkner when I want something that’s dense and heavy and rewarding, which is kind of all the time now that I think of it.
Frederick Douglass is another big one. In my version of America, which is an America that we fight for because we don’t like the one we have and because we love the land and the people but hate the oppression and dark history, people like Frederick Douglass would be on all our money.
JK: We live in a world that can seem like it’s falling apart – there’s cruelty, banality, and suffering everywhere. How can we stay sane, effective and happy when we know what we know and feel powerless to stop it?
AG: It’s easy to get overwhelmed. The secret is focusing in on something you don’t like then working on a plan to fix it. When you have a good plan and you’re working toward something you believe in, it’s a lot easier to keep your head above the water. At the same time you’ve got to take a break every now and again and disconnect from everything and level out. Good-hearted people with passion and big, fantastic dreams burn out faster than capable assholes with logical, rational “business plans.”
Good-hearted people with passion and big, fantastic dreams burn out faster than capable assholes with logical, rational “business plans.”
JK: We can sometimes feel obligated to be miserable because being happy is a denial of what’s really going on in the world. Is it dishonest to not be in perpetual mourning for the issues we care about?
AG: Anyone with a decent heart and half a brain is going to be horrified about the world because people do worse things every day than any slasher film writer could ever dream up. That’s not just now; historically, humans have been monsters to each other and to the earth and all the creatures on it but you can’t hold onto grief forever or it’ll ruin any chance you have at living a good life. At some point you’ve got to pull yourself up and get things done and live your life as best you can.
I’m the most fatalistic, lazy, self-sabotaging person in the world so I have to tell myself this all the time: Get back behind the plow and push until the job is done. Also, anger’s a lot healthier and more productive than grief. You need to know when to take the mourning veil off and go whup some bad-guy ass.
JK: In your book, you have a lot to say about internet culture. What is the most important thing to remember as we share our lives through social media?
When I was writing The Big Mothetfuckin’ Sad, a lot of people around me were in bad shape and I saw how the internet was just adding to the soul-crushing weight of horseshit. The most important thing to remember is to turn it off. Especially when you’re around friends. Sitting at a dinner table with your friends and being all hunched over your phone is incredibly unbecoming. Don’t be that person. Your phone is a tool and tools are important but so is being quiet and listening and seeing the world around you and engaging in it.
On my way to tour in November I walked into my flight gate at Kansas City International and every single person was looking at a phone. Smart-phone addiction is way too sci-fi-future for a world that doesn’t have a globally-accepted alternative energy source or a cure for cancer.
JK: What book are you reading, music are you listening to, food are you obsessing over and outfits are you wearing?
AG: Right now I’m reading Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy because I want to be able to write a book that vast and enveloping and inclusive of all-things American. (That’s what I shot for with Caveworld but I think I’m going to keep shooting.) I’m also reading a beautiful hardback edition of Gogol’s Dead Souls I picked up on tour in London a few weeks ago.
As far as music I get stuck listening to one song over and over again and lately it’s been Crocodiles’ “I Wanna Kill.” Also I just bought a self-titled record from this band called St. Even that was released today. It’s killing me. Love at first sight. So good. Everyone should go right now and check that shit out. St. Even. Go look for the song “Now Until Forever.” My jam right now.
Food-wise, give me some deep-fried tofu with corn-meal fish-fry batter, a pile of fresh spinach and an avocado sliced-up on the side, and a couple PBRs and we’re golden. Farm punk feast.
As far as clothes, I live on a farm and “farm punk” looks suspiciously like a Bleach-era Nirvana photoshoot. Lotta flannel and boots and coats and fingerless gloves on my friends. Farm punk also looks suspiciously like the cast of Winter’s Bone.
JK: If you could change one thing about the world with a magic switch, what would it be?
Instead of magic switches let’s just do what we’re doing and fight like we have been but with way more heart and honesty and courage and energy than the fuckers ever dreamed we had. Let’s be the good guys and do the right thing and fight the good fight and surprise everyone with how well we do it. Like Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel sang, “we know who our enemies are,” now let’s hold the bastards to the fire and make them pay. We’ve all been hit enough … 2014 will be the year we hit back.