Tag: anarchist

S1E28 – Liza Kurtz on Disaster Studies and Elite Panic

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Episode Notes

In this episode, Margaret talks to Liza Kurtz about disaster studies and elite panic.

The guest, Liza Kurtz, is a a PhD candidate in disaster studies who studies the impact of disaster on society, specifically how class and other antecedent conditions make people vulnerable to disasters. She is @semihumanist on twitter, and you can email her at liza.c.kurtz@gmail.com.

The host, Margaret Killjoy, can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.



Margaret, Liza Kurtz

Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy. I use she or they pronouns. And this week I’m talking with Liza Kurtz, who is a PhD candidate in disaster studies who studies essentially the impact—well, the impact of disaster upon society. And we talk about a lot of stuff, we cover a lot of ground in this episode. But primarily, we’re talking about the ways in which people do and don’t respond to disaster. And basically, are trying to kind of bust the myth of that everyone runs around and, you know, murders each other or whatever. And also we get to talk about elite panic which is the idea that basically the people who are invested in the system are the ones who panic during times of extraordinary crisis. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts, and here’s a jingle from another podcast on the network. Da daaaaa.

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Kite Line is a weekly 30-minute radio program focusing on issues in the prison system. You’ll hear news along with stories from prisoners and former prisoners as well as their loved ones. You’ll learn what prison is, how it functions, and how it impacts all of us. 

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Okay, if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then also just kind of, like, what you do, like, what do—you know, why did I bring you on this show?

Sure thing that sounds great. So my name is Lisa Kurtz. I am a PhD candidate at Arizona State University. I use the pronouns she and her. And my research really focuses on specifically heat and power outages in the southwest. That’s what my dissertation will be about. But in general, I am grounded in disaster sociology as a discipline, looking at it from sort of a conflict theory lens, which is a fancy way of saying, I look at class struggle and how antecedent conditions of disaster make people vulnerable to what we perceive as these, like, natural events that cause great harm.

Okay. What does that mean? That last part. 

Sure, yeah. That’s a good question. So basically I think we have a tendency, and certainly there’s a tendency in popular culture and in the media to perceive any kind of disaster as—the term you’ll hear used in legal circles, and sometimes in the press, is an “act of God,” right? Like something no one could have predicted that just happens, that’s nobody’s fault. And it causes great suffering, but that suffering often isn’t really drilled down on to see why did this happen. And so what disaster sociology and disaster studies try to do really is pick that apart and really trouble the implication that these things are just natural and just happen. Because they don’t. And so if you look at who suffers most from disasters, if you look at why disasters happen at all, really all they are these natural events make a lens that that focuses and amplifies what’s already going on in society. So if you have inequality, you have injustice, disaster brings all of that to the fore. But there’s a temptation to think of it as coming out of nowhere, when in reality, we create the conditions that make suffering happen during a disaster. So Katrina is a great example of this. You can say, “Oh, it was, you know, a hundred-year storm, nobody could have predicted a hurricane that large.” And there’s some element of truth to that, but there’s more elements of truth to how we built the city of New Orleans reflects, like, the racial injustice of its history and the poverty that we’ve allowed to flourish there. And all of that can get hidden behind the idea that this storm just happened.

Yeah. It’s interesting, because one of the things that I focus on when I pay attention to disasters is actually the almost—the inverse consideration as far as it goes, as far as class—not in terms of like, clearly, people who are oppressed in society along numerous axes are far more likely to suffer during disasters. But I guess I like, I put a lot of my energy into thinking about how people come together during disasters. And the main thing that I’ve been learning slowly and I kind of want to talk to you about is this idea that, like, everyone except the elite come together and, like, work on shit together during disasters. Is that—

Oh, man.

Is that true? Is that, like—that’s my conception, right.

That is certainly. Yeah, that’s pretty spot on in a lot of cases. Yeah. And you’re right certainly that people who suffer disproportionately during disasters, the folks who are vulnerable, who take the hardest hit, whether that’s health or money or property damage, that doesn’t make them not incredible at self-organizing and incredible at building community and responding to those events. It just makes—means they take a disproportionate amount of damage. And yeah, you’re super right in the sense that we see—so, to really talk about this I’m gonna have to backup, and maybe this isn’t that interesting, but I hope it is. I’m not sure if you know anything about the history of disaster studies.

I do not.

Okay, so a lot of disaster studies came out of World War Two, like, civil defense ideas. The idea that there might be air attacks or even a land invasion of the United States by Axis forces or, right afterward and during the Cold War by Russia. And so there was this—oh, yeah, of course. Like it all goes back to the Cold War if you look hard enough, right. 


So there was this enormous interest in what the civilian response would be if something like that happens, and how we can encourage regular civilians to take the stress off of military forces that might be forced to respond by becoming self-reliant. So that’s where you see this, like, advertising in glossy magazines about, like, build your own fallout shelter kind of thing. All the stuff that you see in video games now, all that was super real during the Cold War, and before that it was it was air raid shelters during World War Two. And it was really to take the pressure off of military and humanitarian forces who might be forced to respond. The idea was, you didn’t want to be part of the problem. And so there was this massive wartime militaristic interest in what civilian populations would do and how we could train them to be self-sufficient. And so part of that was a ton of interest in and research into—that was funded by the military and a lot of cases—into how people would behave if something went really, really wrong. Like, would they panic? Would there be mass chaos? Would they turn on each other? And the perception that still lingers to this day in the media, if you see any bad disaster movies, and they’re pretty much all bad—although some of them are bad and fun and some are just bad. If it’s got the Rock, I’m there and I don’t care.

Yeah, no, that’s just natural.

Yeah, so the perception and the expectation was that civilian populations would panic. That if there was an air raid, or a bombing, or something went wrong, there would be this mass panic. And then, as you get researchers starting to look into this, what they find actually is that people are usually pretty good at self-organizing in response to an immediate crisis. And so even though the perception is still, in the media, that if anything goes wrong it will be immediately a Walking Dead kind of scenario, as one of my interviewees put itrecently—that’s not really true. Especially not among, like, middle class and lower class communities that live side-by-side with each other all the time. And we’ll go into elite panic a little bit more. So that’s where there started to be the seed of dispelling the myth of disaster panic was then. And that research happened in the 70s and the 80s, and the late 60s a little bit. And that has since been borne out by most of the available data, that people are really good at self-rescuing, that the real first responder is your neighbor most of the time or a family member, and that folks are pretty good at making the best of terrible, terrible situations and making life easier for each other. Now, where you see that start to fall apart is in elite panic, which is when affluent communities or communities that tend to be racial enclaves—like all-white suburbs, and things like that—get that fear of the other bite, because their perception is that as soon as anything breaks bad, it’s going to be a Walking Dead scenario and everyone is going to come for their stuff. And I don’t know what goes on in their head. It seems like a very, like almost a wild west, like, take your wives and children kind of mentality. Yeah. Which is really, I mean, the more you unpack that and really think about it, the more fucked up it gets. Um, and so the elite panic can be super dangerous.

I mean, on some level, I might be coming for their stuff.

Yeah, well, fair. Yeah, absolutely. 

Like, I might come for their stuff. I mean, you know, they have too much of it and they’re not sharing. I mean, not to tie into their own fears. It’s just, you know, the billionaires of this world like…

No, that’s real. I’ve never confirmed this. But there’s anecdotal reports in the Balkan Wars of people who stockpiled supplies because they sort of saw things going poorly becoming extreme social pariahs and sometimes even the targets of violence because of their, their hoarding tendencies, stockpiling goods in advance and keeping other people from getting them. So apparently that was like a severe social crime at the time, although I’ve never confirmed that in the literature. I’ve just heard that anecdotally. And it’s, it’s easy to understand why, like, if you’re taking it and not sharing, then I can certainly see something similar happening here. I mean, I often tell preppers—when people ask about preppers in my work, I tell them preppers are going to die alone in a bunker full of goods because it’s great you have all that stuff, but there isn’t much you can really do with it if you don’t have the social connections to make social life happen. I think prepping in particular is a particular—a particularly elite and American form of the myth of individualism taken to the most dramatic extreme

Well it’s interesting thoughbecause it—if it comes from this idea of us being asked to self-rescue, us being asked to be resilient, you know—I know maybe it’s like I’m always, like, trying to, like, salvage what I can out of prepping because in my mind, yeah, like the the bunker mentality—which I talk shit on, and probably every single episode—because I basically find people who are, like, functionally know a lot about prepping but don’t call themselves preppers for a lot of good reasons. The bunker mentality is obviously just going to get you killed, whether it’s by disease or, you know, there’s like—but, but it’s interesting when this idea of like being resilient, being prepared, rather than being like “a prepper” maybe. I don’t know.

Yeah, absolutely. And I want to draw the distinction here between what I would probably call if I, in academic speak, like the practice of prepping, which is the knowledge and the goods and knowing how to do basic survival tasks if needed, and sort of the classic American dominant culture of prepping, which is that hyper-masculinized, hyper-muscular Christianity, like, it’s just going to be me and my family and my guns and a bunker full of food kind of thing. So when I talk about prepping in a derogatory way, I definitely mean the culture and not the practice. Yeah, no, I think—I have a really complicated relationship with the idea of resilience because, on one hand, I think resilience can be used to recognize how incredible some communities are at self-organizing and taking care of themselves in the face not just a disaster but of tremendously difficult conditions. Like, it is truly astonishing what people can do to find ways to survive. And here especially we see that a lot. In Phoenix, air conditioning—which is where I am—air conditioning is really not a luxury like it is in many other places. It is 110%, a survival skill or a survival tool because it is not uncommon for summers to be 115 here, which is, if you can’t cool off that can be extremely detrimental to health. And so the people who have to live without air conditioning, in my work, have a tremendously creative number of strategies. Now, should they have to use them? No, of course not. They should, they should be able to have access to air conditioning for equity and health reasons. But that doesn’t make the things that they do any less creative or impressive in doing so. And what’s interesting to me is that sometimes we talk about prepping and the failure of systems or natural hazards can sometimes invert the relationship of who is most—how would I put this—of who is, like, doing the best in the sense that in my work in Phoenix, people who live without air conditioning are far more prepared for blackouts. So they may be more at risk in the everyday scenario as opposed to having air conditioning, but if the city’s grid failed, they already have the culture and practice of staying cool without access to air conditioning down in a way that somebody who like me, honestly, who can afford air conditioning and uses it all the time really doesn’t.

Just as a tangent that I’m curious about, what do people do without AC in severe, like, in severe heat. Like what do you recommend to people in power outages in the southwest? 

Oh, boy. Well, yeah, that’s a complicated question. But we’ve been very fortunate here in Phoenix to never have a truly widespread power outage. And so generally when there are smaller scale outages here, it’s possible to seek indoor cooled shelter in another part of the city. But my dissertation focuses on asking residents what they would do during a three day power outage where the entire metro area does not have power. And I think I definitely ruined some people’s days asking them that because it’s one of those things that’s uncomfortable to consider, for sure. But people who don’t have power really talk about very, very smart ways. And what’s especially interesting is they tap into knowledge that was present prior to the city having electricity. So these really old practices of things like hanging wet blankets over doorways so that your humidifying the air that comes into your house for greater evapotranspiration is one of them. Fairly straightforward things that most of us might think of, like wearing lighter-colored clothing, or staying out of the sun. But then also some really amazing stuff like knowing, you know, knowing which structures in the town are adobe and were built prior to air conditioning and are designed to stay cool. So if you’re in a modern house in Phoenix now when you don’t have AC, the temperature inside the house will rise very quickly. But many adobe structures were built prior to air conditioning or even, like, swamp cooling which is another thing we use here which is basically a giant humidifier prior to those being accessible. And so adobe structures will stay cool significantly better than modern buildings.

Yeah, I like—then you also have the problem how dry it is because, yeah, the thing that immediately strikes me as evaporative cooling, like, I would be like, oh, can you like, you know, I don’t know, build, like, water catchment on the roof that holds water on the roof so it evaporates instead of transferring heat or whatever. I don’t know. But that’s dependent on a very different ecosystem. And also just some bullshit that I made up right now.

I mean, if you think about it, that’s how all survival strategies started, right? Like, hey, I wonder if this works? Yeah, no, water is a huge, a huge cooling strategy here. And it’s funny because I’m originally from Tennessee, and I literally until I moved here did not know it was possible to buy humidifiers. I’d never seen anything but dehumidifiers. And so when I got here I was like, why would you want to put water in your house? And then my first summer I was like, oh, I get it. Yeah, water is hugely important in everyone’s cooling strategies here. And that’s another issue with blackouts in particular, because certainly if you go and ask many people who are responsible for critical infrastructure systems, they will tell you that power outages will not cause water treatment and pressure issues. But if you look at the history of citywide blackouts, the United States, there’s almost always somebody who is having to cope without household potable water at the time. And so it seems like these systems are not as resilient as we would like in terms of critical infrastructure. And here, if you don’t have access to household water, a huge number of your cooling strategy is, like, you know, just slam dunking yourself in a cold bath if you need to—suddenly become less tenable. And that can be really, really a problem.

Yeah. Let’s talk about—I kind of accidentally derailed you or intentionally derailed you while you’re talking about elite panic. But I’m really interested in that, because I’m really interested in this idea—like, again, the the working understanding that I’ve had, just from my my layman’s perspective or whatever, is that during disasters, overall, people like essentially self-organize—not in a utopian way inherently, but often in a way that people kind of miss when things go back to normal. But then when everything gets really fucked up seems like when the existing power—the previous power structures attempt to reassert themselves. That’s like been my observational understanding of, like, talking to a lot of people involved in disaster relief and things like that. But it seems like that ties into elite panic, this idea that people who are actually invested in the previous power relations, and especially property relations, are maybe the ones who can’t handle the idea of everyone suddenly taking care of each other and shit.

Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s spot on. And I think you really see this sort of that—well, you might almost call it like a pivot point, or an inflection point where things could turn one way or the other in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. And you really see that reflected in the practice of disaster capitalism. So I think sometimes we overlook—because it seems so inevitable—that disasters have poor outcomes, and they do for many people. Disasters can also be an opportunity to say, “Hey, business, as usual, is what got us to this outcome. How can we do things differently?” Because there’s sort of a shock to the system, whether the system is you as a resident or the household or the town or the county or the state, like, they’re really, they’re a shock point. And so they provide an opportunity to stop and say, like, okay, business as usual—the everyday practice of how we run things—got us here? How do we make sure this doesn’t happen again? And if you really start engaging with how does this not happen again, that means transforming those everyday practices that got you there. So I think you’re spot on with that idea that elites and people on the top who have an interest in preserving the status quo see the inflection point and sort of grab it and pull as hard as they can in the other direction. And so it’s not just that there’s, I think, a desire to go back to the way things were and preserve the power structure and the property relationships and everything else of the place before the disaster happened. In a lot of cases, they’re perceived as opportunities, which is extremely messed up and amoral, but it’s true that really these things are seen as, here is a great opportunity to restructure things towards a more capitalist, a more stratified, a less just system. And one of the things that I think you can see right now with that is because COVID closed public school systems, which is a good thing, like, kids don’t need to be spreading COVID. Like, I’m broadly supportive of the public health need to close school systems. It provided this vacuum for all these alternatives, and these think pieces to crop up, etc. And these companies to start pitching like, well, do we really need public schooling anyway? 

Oh, shit, uhuh. 

Can this be replaced by a different system that’s more private, that’s more controlled by capital, that’s less interested in the public good, that is more about profit. And that’s a classic, classic example of what’s called disaster capitalism, where something goes wrong and suddenly it becomes an opportunity for someone somewhere to restructure things so they can make more money.

Yeah, and that’s, I mean, you know, Amazon, Jeff Bezos, all that shit. Like, with COVID now, everyone buys everything online. I buy everything online. I’m terrified of COVID and I work from home. So, you know—and then you’re like, I don’t know, just watching. society restructure itself to buy everything online. And online is kind of, it—I don’t know whether it’s naturally or it’s designed that way by evil people. But, like, overall, the internet is so good at decentralizing things and yet in terms of, like, commerce, it seems like it’s really good at centralizing. It’s like really good at having the everything store. You know?

Yeah. And I don’t know enough about the architecture of the internet and economics therein to say, like, if that’s by design, or just a function of the way it works. But yes, it does seem to be—seems to be so good at creating monopolies in that way.

When you’re talking about adobe houses, you know, and how, okay, the old houses are actually built with adobe or whatever. You know, it just—it really strikes me about how completely arrogant the colonial and industrial system is, in that it’s like, well, whatever works in New England is what should work in Arizona. And it’s so baffling to me, you know, because it’s like, well, there’s so obviously, like, a steep pitched roof exists that way to shed snow, you know, and then people were like, “Oh, we’ll just put these steep gables everywhere.” And like—


It’s just… I mean, I say that as someone who lives in a a-frame somewhere where there’s no snow—well, not no snow, but not much snow. But in my defense, I actually just built it that way because it’s the cheapest and most structurally sound way for someone who doesn’t know how to build a house to build a house is have fewer walls, more roof. I don’t know, it just, it—it depresses me to think about.  Yeah, no.  This the centralizing urge. Go ahead.

Oh, I just, I think you’re so right. And I think it’s, it’s—maybe there is something to the idea that accelerated consolidationist capitalism makes everything sort of a bland universalism in much of the way that Amazon is a bland universalism. Because I do think one of the things that we’ve really lost that is super helpful in the practice of preparing for disaster is local knowledge. Just localization in general is such a huge thing. Whether it’s knowing where in your landscape the water is, or knowing what kind of house does best without AC. And certainly here in Phoenix I have been known to just, like, scream a little bit in my car driving around because there is a massive fad for pulling out old, beautiful 50s Ranch homes and putting in—I’ve heard them referred to as “McModerns.” So houses that take up the entire lot, that look, like you say, very much New England-y. They’re often two storeys which is dumb in the desert, they have no green buffer around them at all to help cool anything, they’re made of, like, the cheapest possible, like, wood and sheet rock and very little insulation, very large windows that face, you know, like east and west, often. And so you just look at these buildings that are literally the worst possible choice for this environment. And they are building them constantly and it really like it is tremendously painful to see in these beautiful neighborhoods that were originally orange groves. And so when people started building houses there, they would leave the orange trees around their houses, and so there was significant shade and food in your front yard, and then they will just rip them all out and replace them with these. And what really gets me—and this is like such a classic example of a thing people think they’re doing for a good reason that is actually worse —s many of them have astroturf lawns, which I understand from the perspective of not wanting to use water or like your grass always being green. But you’ve replaced, like, not that I support suburban lawns, but you’ve replaced something that is at least a plant, even if it’s a monoculture, with plastic. And sure it doesn’t use water. But the thing that gets me the most is my colleagues study surface temperature, and astroturf is the worst thing you could put down for heat.

Yeah. Okay. 

Like, it’s worse—you might as well have paved your yard.


And it’s also carcinogenic. And so there’s this, like, pseudo-greenwashing that’s actually just absolutely the worst thing you could do for everyone involved, all these horrible McModerns that are the worst thing you could build for the desert. And we have—and I think it really all just comes from a desire for, I want to live in a place that looks like every other place. And we’ve come so far from, like, the localized knowledge of knowing adobe is better and xeriscaping is better and all of that.


Oh, sorry, X-E-R-I. Xeriscaping is desert landscaping. So it’s the practice of planting your yard in a way that is congruous with, like, the natural environment of the Sonoran Desert that we’re in here.

Yeah, it’s this arrogance that I almost can’t handle. Because it’s, like, if you build your life around, I assume that I will always have a gas line and a power line and, you know, I will always just have as much electricity as I could possibly want. You know, it’s like, now that I live somewhere where I generate my own electricity—I mean, a solar panel generates the electricity for me. It, which isn’t, you know, carbon neutral, either, you know. But I’m so aware of, like, how incredibly not necessary wasteful AC is, because you kind of need it in a lot of circumstances. It’s not a waste. But it’s not exactly this, like, low power device. You know? And, I don’t know, just the things that we take for granted, it confuses me sometimes.

For sure. And you shouldn’t have said solar panel, because in my head it was just you biking furiously on like a bike generator to keep the computer on while we do is so you could have had me there. No, absolutely, I think—yeah, I mean, an AC is one of those things where, I don’t know, it’s almost like putting a band aid on a bullet wound here a little bit in the sense that I’m not going to argue that centralized air conditioning is the single most effective intervention for saving people from dying from heat, which is a huge problem here. About 500 people in the state died last year from heat-related causes last year, which is not an insignificant number. And actually, extreme heat kills more people in the United States than any other weather-related hazard. So you know, when you worry about hurricanes or tornadoes or things like that, it’s really heat that’s the major killer of people. And so I would never say, like, don’t have central AC for ecological reasons, because it is a huge and immediate public health intervention that saves lives. But also, it doesn’t solve this fundamental problem which is, part of the reason we need AC so badly is we built the city in a really stupid sort of 70s-thinking kind of way, which is there’s tons of uncovered pavement, and really tall buildings that, you know, like, the urban heat island here is very, very real, it doesn’t cool off overnight. And so the need for AC is great, but the need to think beyond AC and think about how do we look into the future and actually reduce the need for this, like, immediate public health triage of just get in a cool environment so you don’t die right away?

Well, okay, so the the need to fundamentally restructure huge parts of our society seems very apparent and increasingly apparent to more and more people, especially as, you know, climate change barrels down on everyone, even if you were willing to ignore all of the systemic oppression that people face. And I think sometimes—and I know I do this, and I wonder whether—you talk about how capitalists look at disaster as opportunity, and that’s a problem. And I’m like, so do revolutionists, and so do people who want society to be fundamentally different. Because you have this, some level of like wiping the slate clean, and there’s a certain amount of opportunity to restructure society. And it seems like very often capitalism is better at this than us. But there are also these, like, you know, like watching mutual aid networks pop up all over at least the United States last year in a way that like—and I wouldn’t, you know, I don’t want COVID to have happened, right? But when people look at that and say, well, we actually need to learn how to take care of each other and build these, like, networks by which to take care of each other. To me, that’s the beauty of it. But then it’s—now I wonder whether I’m doing the same kind of ambulance chasing that capitalists are. Do I let myself off the hook just because I think what I’m doing is good and what they’re doing is bad, right? Like, they think the opposite. But I’m right.

Well, yeah, I mean, I don’t think it is—if it’s ambulance chasing, you’re only chasing the ambulance, to help stop the bleeding as opposed to charge the patient. So I think that there’s a fundamental value difference there. And so yeah, no, you’re you’re absolutely correct in the sense that they’re are opportunities, and there are opportunities, whether we want them to be or not, so we might as well seize them. But I think part of the problem is about how—not just in media, but even to each other-how we storytelling around disasters as, like—it’s very hard to hold the tension in your mind. Like with COVID, it’s very hard to hold the tension in your mind between so many people, particularly people of color and otherwise vulnerable folks have paid this horrible price for our inability to cope with an epidemic. And at the same time, this sort of—and that’s, there’s nothing good about that, that is massively negative. And at the same time, we are being presented with this opportunity that could allow us to build something better, like these mutual aid networks that you mentioned. But it feels–it’s very hard to talk about, in a way that feels respectful and honorable—to say like, this is an opportunity for something better to be born out of the ashes of this enormous tragedy. And so I think it’s easy for those conversations to get derailed, one because of how we talk about disasters as, you know, like always negative with the panic and everything like that—the mythology around disasters makes it hard. And then two, the difficulty of respectfully talking about this. But I would certainly argue that if we want especially—and I’ll use COVID, as the example here—if we want to honor the people who died unjustly of COVID, there is no better way to do so, than taking this opportunity and seizing it to make a system and a world where that won’t happen again.

Yeah, that’s a—that’s a good way to put it. And I wonder, you know, it’s like, I mean, what we should be trying to do—and what people do try to do is just that the systems of power we’re up against are rather good at what they do of maintaining their power—is do this anyway. You know, it’s like, there’s been mutual aid networks for—well, ever, obviously—just assigning a word to it in the 19th century, or whatever. But, you know, we need to restructure things anyway. And if you were to take Phoenix as an example, it’s like—I mean, I kind of, I have to admit, I look at Phoenix as like this just grand arrogance in the desert, that, like, probably shouldn’t be there. And I know that that’s not fair to the actual individual people who live there, you know. And so I don’t want to be like, get rid of Phoenix or whatever, right. But like—but instead it’s like, well, probably the slow, hard work of restructuring needs to happen anyway. Like the slow, hard work of figuring out how to rebuild the city in such a way that it isn’t just, like, waiting for disaster. I don’t know.

Oh, yeah. I think you’ve touched on something there that I always try and challenge people with when they talk about Phoenix as a grand experiment in inevitable failure—building I think at this point the fifth largest city in the United States—or the fifth largest metro area, actually—in the desert which is—I don’t necessarily disagree that that is not an immediately intuitively good idea. But now that it’s here, I like to think of Phoenix as the perfect testbed and sandbox because it’s the hottest large metro area in the United States. And if we can turn this thing around, and we can make Phoenix in the next 30 years cooler and more livable and more just and more sustainable, than it can be done anywhere. We’re the edge case, and so this is the perfect place to find those solutions, and then take the lessons learned and the things that worked and export them to less extreme environments where they might be useful. So in that sense, even a little victory in Phoenix might be a big victory in somewhere else.

Yeah. Okay. So, to go back to disaster studies, we’ve talked about how the mainstream, like, certainly the media conception of disaster is, you know, the Walking Dead scenario is the everyone running around, like, you know, everyone for themselves scenario. And—but, but disaster studies, it seems like even though it came from this, you know, kind of shitty background, it seems like—have the people who study disaster academically, have they kind of known this entire time, that’s bullshit? And if so, why isn’t that getting out? Like, why aren’t more people aware of the fact that everything we know about how people respond to disaster is wrong?

That is a great, great question. And I’m not sure I have, like, a perfect answer for you. But I can certainly offer some thoughts. So yes, you’re right that disaster studies, even though it came out of this very militarized and military-funded background, really starting with a wonderful scholar named E. L. Quarantelli who was active in the 60s to the 90s really started questioning those views and pushing on this idea of panic and other things like that. And so, disaster studies in general as a field—not all of it, but for a long time—has been very justice-oriented in its approach. So if you’ve heard the words “social vulnerability,” a lot of that is coming out of disaster studies. If you’ve heard the words, you know—or heard talking about the concept of resilience as applied from the top down being a way of almost victim blaming—which certainly it can be, you know. Like, why aren’t you—it’s a repackaging sometimes of the idea of like, why aren’t you self reliant? Why are you making us help you? Kind of thing. All of that is really coming out of a disaster studies. The problem is, unfortunately, that you almost have two separate silos of disaster studies, because disaster scholars are not the people who respond to disaster. They’re not the people preparing for it. They’re not the people deciding what mitigates it. Those people are part of what I would broadly call sort of the emergency management class, at least here in the United States, they are. And many of them are emergency managers, but that also includes things like crisis communications and information officers, or Public Information Officers, and fire chiefs and firefighters, and EMS first responders, and in many cases public health officials as well. And that is a professional class that has existed for a long time—and this is slowly starting to change—that has really stayed rooted in that military idea. So it’s not directly connected to the military, although sometimes it is. But it’s a militarized service. It’s very about hierarchy—so I was a firefighter, I was a volunteer firefighter in Tennessee for about two years. So you have a commanding officer, you know, it’s structured like the military, basically. In a lot of cases it works very closely with law enforcement and the military, like National Guard, for instance. Here in Arizona, I think it’s very indicative that our agency is DEMA, which is the Department of Emergency and military affairs. And how you became an emergency manager, or fire chief, or someone who is really directly involved in the world of preparing for and responding to disasters, was you started as, like, a frontline law enforcement, frontline fireman, frontline-and I say men because they generally are, although starting to change too—and you worked for 20 years. And eventually you worked your way up the chain, much like the military, to becoming someone who was making all of these strategic decisions, etc. And so, disaster studies has a very hard time talking across the gap to practitioners. And it’s a little disheartening sometimes how white and male disaster practitioners still tend to be, and how stuck in a particularly militaristic frame of mind. And that’s something that’s really been troubling me lately and something I’ve talked about colleagues with because—I don’t know if I’ve said this publicly yet but I’ve certainly said it to colleagues—as a queer woman with a trans partner who is deeply interested in racial and social justice, even though my degree sets me up for it, I don’t feel like at this point I can, in good conscience, take a standard Emergency Management job. 


It’s too wrapped up with law enforcement and militaristic ideas of what disaster response means and who deserves what and why people do things and where aid goes. And it’s just—and, you know, like, FEMA is still housed in the Department of Homeland Security, which is a whole other issue that we could talk about for another hour—which really no one who studies disasters is—or very few people—really support that model. It offers tremendous problems. And so you have this gap. And so that’s part of the reason these things still exist is the practice of emergency management really looks pretty similar to the 1950s in some ways, and the study of disaster is much more radical, much more diverse thing.

Okay, so hear me out. If already in terms of disaster management you have the militaristic system, the official governmental system, and then you have these, like, incredibly complex and interesting disaster relief organizations—especially the, like, the nonhierarchical, the mutual aid focused ones, right. So you all should just get up with those peoplea nd basically, like, I don’t know, I get really excited about this, like, okay, so like, create a counter structure, right? Like, and these—that already is starting to exist increasingly. And so I think we call if y’all got up with them, and maybe you all already do. Yeah, one of the—okay, so like thinking about the terrible ways that people manage disaster, like the government’s managed disaster or whatever, I am curious if you know of this: I’ve been hearing this phrase from people I know who do disaster relief, especially coming from anarchist spaces, that there is a specific written thing that the priority of the government in disasters above all else, including the actual rule of law, like the application of laws, is COG—is continuance of governance. Basically, like, this is the justification for like shooting looters and things like that, because it’s absolutely illegal to shoot looters, right. Like, by the existing right structure. But the reassertion of control as, like, the absolute baseline priority. Does that hold up with your understanding? I know it’s now in a different silo than your silo but…

Yeah, so I would be surprised if that is specifically written down anywhere in that way. Certainly Continuity of Operations as it’s called—COOP plans—and Continuity of Governance—COG plans—exist. And they play a very important role in how, on paper, we prepare for disaster as, like, large government institutions prepare for disaster. It is certainly not supposed to be held above rule of law. Now, is it? Probably quite a bit. And things like shooting looters is really hard to unpack because you have things operating on so many different levels. So first off, people who—like you have the personal prejudice level of the people doing the shooting, right? Like that particular person or police officer or resident might be especially racist, as you saw in Katrina. And it might be, like, if a Black person comes through this neighborhood, I’m going to shoot them. Certainly that happened a lot. You also have policy that structures itself in ways that we know is not necessarily reflective of reality. So you may have contingency plans that place law enforcement officers to prevent looting, for instance, when actually law enforcement officers need to, like, exacerbate the situation, right? And so you end up creating these situations which lead to other bad situations. So really, there’s so many operational—and then you have the storytelling mythology level where, like, because even among people who do this professionally, you will still find the myth that mass panic is going to happen. You have the drive of, like, well I’m expecting it and therefore I overreact when I see something that might be it. And that’s even leaving aside the category of who is a looter and who is resourcefully scavenging resources. There’s been a lot of studies done—again, mostly Katrina, but in other contexts as well—about how media presents people taking survival requirements like water and food from stores and how the economic status and skin color of those people really determines the headline they get. Which is, you know, perhaps not a surprise, but it’s good to have that data. So you have all these things building on each other to create—if you’ll pardon the disaster-related upon—sort of a perfect storm situation where everything works to prop up the system. But whether there’s a single origin point of policy pushing for that in writing, I don’t know. And I would be surprised if there is. I think it’s more complex than that.

Okay. Yeah, that—it makes sense to me if, like, basically, like, a COG or continuous governance or whatever was like part of this larger framework, and then just gets exaggerated. One of the things that gives me hope is all of the, like, the weird human element parts of it when it actually hits the ground of, like, you know, I remember hearing from a friend who worked with the Common Ground Collective in Katrina in New Orleans basically talking about how, like, National Guardsmen would, like, give the anarchists supplies. Because they would be like, well, if I take this where I’m supposed to take it, it’s gonna sit in a warehouse for two weeks, and it’s needed right now. And it’s just like, I don’t know, I get—the things I’ve talked about before on the show—the stuff that makes me like the most hopeful is when certain unbridgeable chasms are bridged between different types of people. And—


But then on the other—you have the exact opposite of the, like, yeah, the people who seem to go wild. The people who seemed to go the wildest in Katrina seemed to be the white racists. But, yeah.

Yeah, I think there is… Man. And it’s hard to talk about and frustrating to talk about incremental progress, because I think there has been some recognition in the system that things are not working, and that you need to rely on local expertise and local knowledge and local abilities to get things done—which is sort of the bigger scale version of the guardsmen giving supplies to anarchists because they know they’re going to sit in a warehouse and anarchists can get them into the hands of people who need them right away. The problem there is, it’s a little bit like being, I don’t know, like a mouse trying to steer an elephant. Like we have built this system of disaster response that is so large and so cumbersome, that it’s really beyond any single person’s ability to fundamentally change. And so there’s a lot of attention being paid—or more attention than there has been previously anyway, I don’t know, but a lo— to the idea that we need to be supporting communities at, like, the higher level institutions—that macroscale institutions need to be supporting communities and the work that they’re already doing. We just need to enable the anarchists to have more stuff to go out and distribute that kind of thing. Now, whether or not that’s going to make a significant difference in the long run definitely remains to be seen. But certainly there seems to be more interest in that. Now I personally have some mixed feelings about that because in a lot of cases here in Phoenix when we’re talking about especially like heat relief, or disaster relief, or who’s going to help you pay your power bill if you can’t, there’s been a significant—I think we all know that since the 80s, there’s been a significant replacement of state services with more localized things. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But a lot of the localized assistance now is through churches. And to me that raises some troubling questions about, like, who gets helped? Who gets left out? What are the conditions of help reliant upon? And so we’ve sort of replaced this ineffective state aid with this may be more effective but differently discriminatory aid that’s at the local level. And so I think you really have to pay close attention to the idea of localism as a panacea as the remedy for all injustice because sometimes localism just means enacting injustice on a smaller scale. Like handmade artisan home grown fuck you instead of like a fuck you from the state.

Okay, well, so that ties into something you were talking about earlier at the very beginning when you’re talking about the history of disaster studies, was kind of to create a culture of prepping—as in, to get people away—to take the power—take pressure off of the elites who, like, ostensibly should be providing our needs, by having us provide for ourselves, but in a way that doesn’t actually fundamentally free us. It’s kind of an interesting trap around—it’s something that I’ve seen mutual aid groups struggle with for years is like, well, we always say, we’re mutual aid not to charity, right? And like Food Not Bombs, you know, with it’s, like, free food program that’s been going on for decades. And now, I think that, like, there are just ways to do that local level stuff without like—like Food Not Bombs, like, unlike a, most church feeds that, you know, I’m aware of—most church feeds it’s like, take a number, stand in line, like, you know, it’s very—it replicates a lot of disempowerment, right. And, you know, like Food Not Bombs is ostensibly more like, it’s a picnic in the park and you’re invited, because you exist. And of course it’s gonna have its own informal problems, right? I’m not trying to claim it’s perfect. But there’s always this worry about how much do activists make—like, how much do we empower oppression just by solving the problems that oppression creates? You know, like, if we’re feeding—

Oh, boy. 

Yeah. And if we’re feeding people without fundamentally challenging the system that has left people without food… I don’t know. For me it’s just, like, you just—I think that the answer is that the problem with this bespoke oppression that you’re talking about, the localist oppression, is it just needs to be tied into challenging things at a larger scale. Wh I say just, it’s easy. Everyone could just do this, it would fix everything. No problem. No one will have any.

This is a problem I’m intimately familiar with on a personal level because when I graduated from undergrad and suddenly the stress of college was no longer upon me, I discovered that I am a stress junkie and I needed something to do because I was going out of my mind. And so I joined the local volunteer fire service thinking, like, oh, this will be, like, I’ll learn skills, I’ll be able to help people, and I’ll be stressed out enough to be happy. It turned out even that was not enough and I had to go to graduate school, but that’s a story for another time. And this is like the fundamental tension of a volunteer fire service. I mean, think about what that means, right? So the city I was in had a professional fire service because it was considered a population density sufficient enough. But the county, which is a very large and populated county, was all volunteer-run. And it’s sort of the same problem, like, you don’t want people’s houses to burn down, so someone needs to go put them out. But at the same time, if you’re rural, you are fundamentally getting a worse class of service than the professionals. And the volunteer fire department enabled its own perpetuation by the fact that eventually most people’s houses got put out. And I always used to joke, like, don’t have a house fire between the hours of 8am and 5pm when we’re all at work. Because it was one of those things where, if people’s houses had just burned down, there probably would have been significant push to have a professional fire service. But at the same time, then you have a bunch of people’s houses burning down, and maybe they die in the fire too and that’s awful. But because there is sort of an ad hoc fire service, there wasn’t the push to have a professional one. Even though—andI don’t think people knew this, right. But we were using equipment that was out of date, that hadn’t been tested. I think our jaws of life for rescuing people out of car wrecks were like some of the first models ever made from the 80s because we didn’t have funding. And it’s like, you know, we were saving lives but also perpetuating the system that was probably really harming people. So what’s the trade off between, like, that long term harm and the short term, everybody’s house burns down, but people get a professional fire service in the end? And I don’t know what the solution is besides, as you said, sort of making sure we’re plugging into troubling the larger structure and advocating for larger structure. The fire service is a particularly tricky one because people’s lives depend on it so immediately. For something like Food Not Bombs I would say it’s possible they’re already doing some of that work by having people show up and having that picnic in the park feeling and just letting people know that receiving assistance doesn’t have to be total drudgery and shame. And so maybe for things like that, where there can be joy and comradeship and true connections on social scale, maybe the next person that—the next time that person needs to go to a church handout line or an unemployment office, there is that seed of like, well, why isn’t this like that? I think sometimes you can really—you can plant the revolutionary seed in people by showing them joy just as much as by showing them tragedy.

Yeah, that’s a really good note I think maybe to kind of wind down on—to think about. What—I guess the questions I want to ask to kind of close this out. One, I kind of want to ask, what do you worry about personally? What do you prepare for? What is—how is working with disaster studies—how has it influenced your own life?

Sure, yeah. Well, I will say I worry much more about long term trends than I do about any particular single incident. So for Phoenix, I’m worried about what the temperature profile of the city looks like in the next 50 years, because I might—I might be like one of the few people on record ever saying this—but I really love Phoenix. I think it’s got a really cool art scene and there’s wonderful people here. And it has a surprisingly revolutionary spirit and a fighting spirit for being a blue town and a very red state. And also, it’s nice to be in Arizona, because in many ways, we’re at this political tipping point. So if you’re here and you’re willing to get engaged, you can really make a difference. So I don’t want to see Phoenix fail. She like there’s a lot of people who do to sort of make a point about climate arrogance, but I’m not one of them. And so for me, I worry about these really boring things that unless you’re in the weeds, you probably don’t think of. So I worry about what are our overnight temperatures going to be in the next 50 years, because we know that overnight temperatures have a significant effect on human health, they’re a really good indicator of the urban heat island. And one of the things that’s hopeful is that thus far the science shows that if we really buckled down and redesigned the way we did the city of Phoenix, we would be able to offset most of the regional and global climate warming in the region through localized efforts. So Phoenix in 50 years could be cooler than it is today. There’s nothing that’s stopping us from doing that. But we have to raise the political will and reach out and seize that opportunity. I don’t worry as much about our regional—or rather a city-wide blackout, even though that’s what I talk to people about—partially because I know our utility companies and how they function and that is something they’re thinking about. It’s—I worry more about it in areas that don’t think about extreme heat on their grid. Like, we have it so often, it’s regular here, that I think we’re better prepared than many other places. So in that sense, extreme heat could be worse in, say, like, the Northeast of the Northwest than it could be here because those grids are not regularly stress tested in the same way.


And then I also worry about—and this kind of ties back with what we’re talking to you about disaster panic—I worry about—its maybe—and this is—at the end of the interview is the wrong time to bring this up, but this is fun. It’s not completely true that there’s never violence and looting after disasters. 


It does happen, and primarily where you see it happen is after some blackouts. And it tends to be blackouts in cities that are already have a very wide divide between rich and poor and are undergoing a lot of racial tension. And you can really see, like, why. One is they aren’t perceived in the same way as an act of God because blackouts—it’s easier to see human culpability. Like, the electricity company that I pay to maintain my power has failed in their job and I am angry about it. And then also, they’re perceived as an opportunity of, like, the system is failing us, we should go out and express that it is failing us and we are angry about it and take advantage where we can of the opportunity to gain more resources. So it’s all extremely understandable. But I really—I worry about our next disaster—next major US disaster—acute disaster, I should say. Because COVID is a disaster, it’s just a slower moving one. Our next acute disaster response, because of growing injustice, because of factionalization in society, because of this awakened beast of white rage in the nation—I worry that our next disaster response is going to look more like the cops at Black Lives Matter protests than mutual aid groups.

Yeah, I bet it’ll be both.

Probably. And yeah, of course mutual aid groups will be they’re doing what they can, but I really worry that we’re creating a perfect storm for disaster response to be hyper militarized because cries for justice are perceived as unrest. 

Yeah. No, it’s interesting. And yeah, there’s a lot to dig into with you more some time. Okay, my final question is just, where can people engage more with your work? Or do you even want or have any kind of public profile around the work that you do?

I do. I am on Twitter. I’m at semi humanist, S-E-M-I-humanist on Twitter. I love chatting with people about my work and things like that. Everyone’s also free to email me and you can put this in the show notes if you like at liza.c.kurtz@gmail.com. I do speak at academic conferences. But if anyone is listening and really wants me to come talk a little bit in a digestible way—hopefully about what disaster research says—to a mutual aid group or an anarchist book club or any of those fun venues where knowledge can be a little freer than stuffy academia sometimes, I’m really always happy to talk to those folks. I think probably the most important work I do is closer to things like this than academic publications, which circulate to other scientists, which is very personally satisfying to engage with other scientists, but not—probably not tremendously socially helpful. And it’s also just a great check of, like, I think it’s easy as an academic to get wrapped up in such a way that you can talk to other academics but not people in your field. And I try hard to avoid that at all costs.

Yeah. I found everything that I’ve—you know, from talking to you before we did the show—very approachable. So I highly recommend anyone who’s listening to take Liza up on that. Alright, well, thank you so much for being on the show. 

Oh, yeah, no problem. Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please tell people about it. Tell people on social media. Tell people about it in person from six feet away, unless both vaxxed or whatever. Tell people on—by liking and subscribing and writing reviews and all of that algorithmic shit, because it has a wildly disproportionate impact on how things get viewed. And if we’re trying to make our content and our media reach more people, that is an unfortunately effective way to do it. So tweet about it and stuff. Also, you can follow us now on Instagram instead of just following me as Margaret Killjoy, there’s now actually a live like the world is dying Instagram because—oh, that’s the other fun thing. Live Like the World is Dying is becoming an increasingly collective project and pretty soon you’ll probably hear more than just my voice on the mic, although at least for now I’m going to probably continue to be the host. But Jack is now the, essentially the producer of the podcast, and is doing all the audio editing. And it’s really fun to talk about people when you’re recording, when you know that they have to listen to you talk about them, and then edit it. But you can’t edit this part. You have to leave this in. Anyway. If you want to support the podcast more directly, you can do so by supporting me on Patreon. My Patreon is patreon.com/margaretkilljoy. But that money actually does go out collectively to the people who are helping make this possible. And, well, to people who are putting in the direct labor to make this possible. The people who are making this possible though are you, the listeners, who write about it and review it and tell their friends about it, and also who support me on Patreon. And if you can’t afford to support me on Patreon, don’t do it. If you live off of less money than I make on Patreon, don’t give me money on Patreon. There’s some content that is, like, paywalled there or whatever. But if you just message me, I’ll give you access to all of the monthly zines and all of those things for free. But if you would like to support us, please do. And in particular I would like to thank Chris and Nora and Hoss the dog, Kirk, Willow, Natalie, Sam, Christopher, Shane, the Compound, Cat J, Staro, Mike, Eleanor, Chelsea, Dana, and Hugh. Your contributions sustain this. They pay for the transcriber, they pay for the editing, and a lot of the other costs associated with this content. I’ve gone on way too fucking along about the money involved in this project now. Hooray! Well, I hope you’re doing reasonably well. If the weather’s getting warmer in the part of the world that you live in, I know that I really enjoy watching the leaves come in, even if it means that the sun will no longer dry my clothes on the line because the sun will no longer reach my close line because I built my house in the forest because I’m a very intelligent person. It has good passive cooling qualities too, though. And that is definitely not what I’m supposed to talk about. What am I supposed to talk about? I think I’m supposed to end the episode. So thank you so much for listening, and I hope you’re all doing as well as you can with everything that’s going on.

S1E27 – Kylie on Aquaponics and Small-Scale Food Forestry

Margaret talks with Kylie about how she designed her backyard aquaponics setup and how she developed a small-scale food forest in the front yard of her house.

S1E26 – adrienne maree brown on Emergent Strategy

[audio src="https://pinecast.com/listen/473ed173-c412-4df7-90ec-13dc7d998b81.mp3" preload="none"]

Episode Notes

The guest adrienne maree brown can be found on twitter @adriennemaree and instagram @adriennemareebrown. The book we are discussing the most is Emergent Strategy.

The host Margaret Killjoy can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy or instagram at @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this show on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.


Margaret 00:14
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy. I use she or they pronouns—and I’m sorry that it’s been a minute since an episode has come out and it’ll probably stay a little bit slowed down for a little while, it might be an episode a month for a little while. It’s not that I’ve run out of people to interview or subjects that I want to cover, it’s that it’s hard for me to get anything done right now, which I think might be something that might—you might identify with, as well. I’ve kind of said that the only thing I’ve managed to accomplish so far in 2021 is talk shit on the internet and not die. And I’m doing very good at both of those things. I’ve have honed my talking shit skills, and I’m reasonably good at not dying. One thing that people don’t talk about enough with off-grid life and things like that, I spend an awful lot of my time just maintaining the systems that sustain me. I spend a lot of my time trying to fix broken water pumps and learning that—the thing is, when you do everything DIY and you’re not particularly skilled, the first time you do something you probably do it good enough, but good enough often means that it will fall apart before before too long. So I’ve rewired my electrical system probably seven or eight times. It seems to be holding good now. My plumbing system, I’m going to be crawling under my house and rewiring my plumbing system a lot. I’ve had a lot of things freeze and break. And there’s just a lot of—a lot of uphill learning curve, especially to do alone. This week’s guest is Adrienne Maree Brown and I’m very excited to have her on the show. We talk a lot about—well, about Emergent Strategy which is a conception of strategy, of political strategy, that embraces change and embraces the fact that, well, you can’t have one strategy now can you? And we also talk a little bit about her work as a podcaster with the podcast How to Survive the End of the World, which is, yeah, as she points out that maybe the closest thing there is to a direct sister podcast or sibling podcast to this show. This podcast is a proud member of Channel Zero Network of Anarchists Podcasts, and here’s a jingle from another show on the network.

Jingle 02:48
One two one two, tune in for another episode of MaroonCast. MaroonCast is a down to earth black radical podcast for the people. Our host, hip hop anarchist “Sima Lee The RBG” and sex educator and crochet artists “KLC” share their reflections on maroons, rebellion, womanism, life, culture, community, trap liberation & everyday ratchetness! They deliver fresh commentary with a queer, TGNC, fierce, funny, Southern Guhls, anti-imperialist, anti-oppression approach. “Poli (Ed.) & Bullshit”. Check out episodes of MaroonCast on Channel Zero Network, Buzzsprout, Soundcloud, Google, Apple, and Spotify. All power to the people, all pleasure.

Margaret 03:40
Okay, so if you want to introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then I guess kind of a brief introduction to you and your work, especially around Emergent Strategy.

Adrienne 03:51
Okay, my name is Adriennne Maree Brown, I use she and they pronouns. I am based in Detroit and I’m the author of five books including Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, and almost everything I’ve written is in some way inspired by Octavia Butler or in touch with Octavia Butler, including Emergent Strategy. So, yeah.

Margaret 04:18
Yeah, that was one of the—one of the many reasons I wanted to have you on this show was that if there’s one book that keeps coming up over and over again on this show—and pretty much anyone vaguely on the left who cares about what’s going on in the world—it’s a Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. And one of the things that really struck me about your work with Emergent Strategy the—not just the book, but the kind of the concept of emergent strategy that I want to talk to you about—is basically, the thing that I loved—I mean, I loved a lot about Parable of the Sower and Parable of Talents. But the idea of creating this essentially religious way of interacting with chaos and change and like embracing those things and learning to use them as our strengths, whether because it’s nicer or because it’s our only choice, it really appealed to me. And then learning that someone was taking that out and developing it further into essentially a strategy both for like political change, but also personal development. I got really excited about it. So I was wondering if you could kind of introduce the basic concepts to listeners who might not know what the hell I’m talking about.

Adrienne 05:31
That’s great. Yeah, so Emergent Strategy is, it’s rooted in many, many things, I think it’s the way that the world works. I feel like it’s strategies for getting in right relationship with change. And once you understand that change is constant, and that you can either be thrown about by change and see it as a, you know, wild chaos that you can never get your footing in. Or that you can partner with change, you can begin to shape the changes that happen in your life or in the era that you live in. Emergent Strategy is for people who are ready to be responsible for shaping change around them. And some of the key lineages of it are the scientific concepts of emergence. So emergence is the way patterns and the way—like basically all these patterns arise out of relatively simple interactions. And they’re very complex patterns, but each of the interactions or each of the relationships are relatively simple. So I think of like a flock of birds, a huge murmuration of birds, moving through the air, avoiding predation. And it looks like the most complex, choreographed, beautiful thing. But it’s actually this simple system where each bird is paying attention to the five to seven birds right around it and following the subtle cues that they’re sending each other: it’s time to move, left, dip, rise, move, right. One of the core questions of Emergent Strategy was, what would it look like if our movements and our species could move in that way? What would it look like if we could murmur it together? How would we have to trust each other? So adaptation is a big part of that, is what does it look like to adapt with intention. Not just react to the chaos, but really adapt in ways that keep moving us where we want to get to. And then there’s a lot about interdependence: what is the quality of relationships between each of the parts of our systems? Between you and my, between the people in our communities? How do we attend to the relationships? How do we think about decentralization? And I feel like one of the big lessons I’ve had, both in recent years and in looking back at movements throughout history, is that those that centralize are those that are not able to live as long as they need to live in order to do their best work. The centralization—something about gathering everything around one mind, one idea, one way of being—actually weakens us as a species. And nature shows us the biodiversity and creating more possibilities is actually the way to survive. And so now I think that’s a lot of my work is, what does it mean for us to be biodiverse in a fucund and world? What does it mean for us to decentralize how we hold power and how we hold responsibility for what happens in our communities? How do we adapt well?

Margaret 08:28
I love all of it. I just eat up all this stuff. I’ve been thinking a lot about what you’re saying about murmurations and the way that—the way that animals move in nature and the way that, you know, flocks move, and things like that, I was thinking about—I’ve been having some conversations with a couple people around the riot or the insurrection or whatever the hell people call it on January 6 at the Capitol, and the way that the rightwing crowd moved. And it’s so funny to me, because like, there’s like jokes on Twitter where it was like, we know it wasn’t Antifa because there wasn’t, like, a group of gay folks handing out sandwiches. And like, there wasn’t a medic tent set up and stuff. And people present it kind of as a joke, but I realized I was looking at it and I was like, I’ve been terrified of people being trampled at demonstrations. I’ve been in militant demonstrations a lot of times, and I’ve never seen it happen. And watching that happen, I was trying to figure out what it was. And I think it has to do with what you’re talking about, about our side at its best embraces interdependence and chaos and change and, like, and isn’t there as a group of individuals. Like people talk about—sorry, this is something I think about way too much recently—

Adrienne 09:40
Yeah, no, go off.

Margaret 09:42
People have been talking about—I grew up being told the left is like The Mob. It’s like the big mass action where everyone loses their individuality and it’s bad chaos and everyone gets hurt. And then that just hasn’t been my experience at all in large demonstrations. And then I look at what the right wing does when they all gather to go try and do this thing, and that’s what I see. So I don’t know. Yeah, I just, I’ve been thinking about that emergence stuff a lot as relates to that.

Adrienne 10:10
Yeah, I think that your—what you’re speaking to is, like, extremely important distinctions which is, when a group comes together who have all been deeply socialized and have bought into their own supremacy, right? Supremacy is a disconnecting energy. It’s like you can belong, as long as you play along by these rules, which are that we are better than everyone else and we’re constantly reinforcing that betterness. But better, you’re—then you have to constantly be reinforcing and finding new ways to be better than, better than, better than—even to the point that like, I’ve got to get to the Capitol door before you do, even if that means stepping over your body in the street. And you pair that with capitalism which is also the constant growth, constant bettering, constant one-upping, right? Constant showing what you have. There’s so much—trying to think if you have—what the word is—like that sense of, like, this is just ours. This is mine, this is—you know? And I feel like when you go to spaces that the left has organized, there’s such a care at the center of it. Like we’re there not because we’re just, like, I’m here to fight somebody, or I’m here to dominate, but we don’t even necessarily believe it’s like our way is “the right way.” It’s more like, we want to find a way to be loving and caring with each other. We don’t think we’ve ever gotten the chance to experiment with that at scale, as a species. At the current scale that we’re at, everything we’re doing is constantly trying to defend ourselves and care for ourselves under the conditions of oppression. And it means that when we come together—I always see the same thing. I’m like, are we going to be safe? But then people are taking such care of each other, from the street medics, to the people who are watching after the kids, to people who are like, I brought for extra signs so everyone would have something to carry. People—I always notice is that people bring extra water and extra food and, like, one of my favorite things, and one of the reasons why I’ve always been such a stan for direct action is that those spaces tend to be such active spaces of love and care and precision and, like, let’s attend to each other and attend to the work we’re up to. And, you know, we can go overboard with how attentive we are to everything. Because I think is part of our responding to the trauma of living in a society that’s so actively does not care for us. And so watching those people who actively don’t care try to come together and assert themselves as victims and, you know, it’s not funny. It’s actually quite sad, you know. It’s just sort of like, you have so much power, you abuse it—so much so that you end up abusing yourselves and you’re you’re continuously cutting yourself off from what is the best part of being alive, which is the nature of togetherness. That’s what I want to study is like the scholar—I’ve called myself a scholar of belonging. What does it actually look like to belong, to be part of something larger than yourself, of ourselves? And in that belonging, to take responsibility for our survival, for how we do—how we be with each other?

Margaret 13:20
I’m so glad I brought this up, then because you just managed to finally articulate this thing that me and my friends have been trying to wrap our head around for—since we saw it happen on January 6th. So you mentioned trying to—trying to do this at scale, and how that’s something that’s somewhat unprecedented by human society and that—go ahead. I just want—how do we—how do we do that? And one of the things that really interests me about your work and about the work that I care about, is that it’s embracing diverse strategies, rather than saying, like, this is the one way that we do it. So obviously when I say, how do we do that? I don’t mean because you are our leader, but you know, instead—yeah, like, how do we—how do we learn to weave different strategies, different ethical systems, different ideas about how to change things? How do we weave that into a coherent force?

Adrienne 14:17
Yeah, I mean, this is the question of our lifetimes, I think, you know, is like, how do we do this thing? This is why I’m, you know—when Walidah Imarisha created that term visionary fiction I was like, “Yes, that’s what I’m about is trying to figure out how we do everything that we’ve never really experienced in our lifetimes.” The best I have so far is what I witnessed when bringing people together for the Emergent Strategy immersions, or bringing people together for a process of, like, how do we do community together? Beloved community. Like, what does it actually look like to practice that? And some of the elements of that are that people are really invited to bring their whole selves into wherever they are. That there is a sense of organized care. That we don’t just leave it up to, you know, hoping everybody just figures it out. But there’s a—there’s a real ability to name, here are the needs in this community: the access needs, the food needs, the water needs, the timing needs—we need breaks, we need gender-liberated bathrooms—here’s all the things that we need in order to fully be here. And then we have to let people unleash what they have to bring to the table. And this is where I think, you know, when I started writing Emergent Strategy I was onto something that I’m not sure I even had articulated fully to myself. But it was my critique of how movements and Nonprofit Industrial Complex was playing out, which is, we were often trying to bring people into space where only a portion of them was welcome. And where we weren’t asking them to truly bring their offer. Like we were like, “Can you just come be a number in the strategy that we’ve already figured out? Or can you come play your position?” Like you show up in the debate exactly as we expect you to, and we’ll say what we expect to say and we’ll move forward with the lowest common denominator of a solution, which no one’s actually passionate about, and like, nothing will actually change. Philanthropy will keep paying us. It’ll go on and on forever and ever. And for me, I was like, I’m really not interested in playing the game anymore. I really want to see what happens when you unleash people to come together. And what I see is—what I’ve witnessed is people very quickly are like, how do we hold really authentic, effective accountability processes in real time together? How do we offer each other the rituals we need to really relinquish harm and trauma that has built up in our community? Here, we have tons of ways to care for each other. We created this exercise—and when I say we, it was one of the groups that was participating created this exercise that became something we did at everything else we ever did. And it was healing stations, where we just said, everyone gets 10 minutes. Go to your bag and pull out whatever you find to be healing, and create a healing station with your small group. And 10 minutes later, the room would have transformed into this place that felt like we can do anything, because we’ve got vibrators and cigarettes and Tarot decks and incense and medicines and tinctures. And like, anything, you know—and I was like, y’all just walk around with everything you need. So many books, you know, so many ways that people are like, this is how I care for myself and I want to offer it, I want to leave it here for other people to access and have contact with. That kind of—those moves, watching how quickly community did know, not only how to take care of itself, but how to hold each other accountable, and how to stay together. I was blown away. So I think a lot of the answers, we need to actually be willing to get into smaller formations and really practice being with each other. And let that proliferate, right? I think so often we’re oriented around, like, how do we build a mass movement that’s all thinking the same way to strike and to have this impact. I really love the idea of united fronts where people are all in their political homes united around some common organizing principles, but allowed to be their own weird, magical way of being and care for themselves where they need to. So that’s why I identify as a post nationalist because I do think that the American experiment is literally at a scale that doesn’t function. Like there’s, it’s—the scale is too big for there to be any kind of real, you know, something that’s not just a brand of togetherness, but that’s an actual practice of togetherness. You know, 70 million people or whatever are committed to voting for white supremacy in the country.

Margaret 18:50

Adrienne 18:50
Like, that’s not, you know, that’s not a viable strategy for how we move forward at this point. I love the idea of secession radical secessions. I love the idea of the Zapatistas claiming territory within territory with indigenous leadership would be like, a dream come true to me. I love, you know, people who are living off the grid and finding ways to divest from the American experiment already. So, you know, I think all of those are some of the ways.

Margaret 19:21

Adrienne 19:21
And I think right now with the pandemic unfolding, I think a lot more of us are like, “Oh, I do need, like, literal community.” Not social media community, not conference community, but I need, like, literal people I can call on, that I could walk to their house, that I can count on to hold boundaries around safety. Like, we need those things. And I think that’s the answer. I always think community is the answer.

Margaret 19:47
No that—that makes sense. And that’s one of the main focuses on like, the—one of the main points of this show is to talk about how preparedness is more of a community thing than an individual thing.

Adrienne 19:56

Margaret 19:56
So one of the things you were saying about—

Adrienne 19:58
Yeah, cuz individually, we just hoard.

Margaret 20:00
Yeah no, totally. Yeah. One of the things you’re saying about—because earlier pointing out that direct action is a really good way to create a sense of belonging. And that’s something that I’ve been watching happen in a lot of people who’ve been kind of radicalized to the left within the last year, since the uprisings last summer started. And what you’re talking about, about creating these moments of belonging, I definitely, I think for my own experience, it has been those moments of, you know, facing down a very powerful force together and the way that—the way that you figure out who has your back when, like, literally—just to tell a random bullshit story, at one point I was, like, part of some march and, you know, the cops wanted to arrest me because I may or may not have been burning an American flag and things like that. And I thought all my like—yeah, I thought all my, like, punk friends were going to protect me. And then half of them were just gone. And then all of these people I’d kind of written off as like—this is a while ago, I was young—I’d kind of written off as hippies. Like some of the, like, older—I was like, oh, they’re probably liberals or whatever—just surrounded me and were like, “Hey, just so you know, we’re here to physically protect you from the police arresting you. They’re definitely talking about arresting you.” And it was just this nice moment of, like, realizing that in moments of conflict or even not unnecessary conflict, but moments of tension, you find out what community looks like. And maybe that’s what COVID is unfortunately doing for all of us about how we have to suddenly develop mutual aid networks at a scale that we never did previously in the United States.

Adrienne 21:40
Absolutely. I absolutely agree with that. And I think that Octavia Butler taught us this. In all of her works it was like, you’d never know who you’re going to be in the apocalypse with. Like, you have plans, you think you know what they look like and feel like, but you really don’t know who’s going to have your back under that pressure. And in some ways, I think it’s because people don’t even know themselves if the—what they’ll be capable of under the pressure. And, you know, this pandemic has revealed for people so much about what they’re like under pressure, because some people under pressure have really turned inward and disconnected from community and are, you know, really in a deep, lonely, isolated place. And I see that happening with people that I didn’t expect it from, you know. And then I see other people who are really finding ways to weave themselves into community. And there’s not a right or wrong here. It’s just very fascinating to see who turns towards others and who doesn’t. And what we need, right? I thought—I was like, I’m a loner, I like to be by myself you know, I’m a—that part of Octavia Butler’s life always appealed to me because she just was by herself, like, just chillin and writing sci fi. But I spent a few months all alone. And I was like, I don’t like this, I want to be with the love of my life, I want to be with my friends, I want to be with my parents, I want to, like, be with people who can lay hands on me when I’m sick. And, like, have my back, you know, physically rub my back.

Margaret 23:08

Adrienne 23:09
I just was like, I—that part, physical touch felt so important to me. And I’m watching our communities now. I’m like, there’s mutual aid but there’s also just, like, the need of being a body alive in this time. And like, what do we—what are the very fundamental needs? Which I also love about Octavia’s is writing. Like, what—there are some very fundamental human needs that we share. And then there are beliefs, destinies that pull us forward. And what you’re looking for in your community is the folks who can balance those two things, who are like, we can find ways to attend to the very non-negotiable physical needs. And we can align ourselves around a destiny. And it doesn’t have to be a perfect alignment where we all say the same words and we’re all coated out. But there has to be substance of like, oh, I want to be in communities that hold each other accountable. I want to be in communities that are abolitionists where we’re not trying to dispose of or lock anyone away. I want to be in communities that really love the earth, like, at a primal, this is home level, you know? And so on and so forth. And I’m like, I meet those kinds of people, actually, more often than you think. And writing books has been my way of, you know, go “Hoo de hoo!” Like, who is out there that is potentially my people? I feel very excited right now by, like, just—I’ll say this: the other day was Valentine’s Day. And I often, like, ignore that completely, capitalism, whatever. But this time I was, like, you know, there’s a lot of lonely people out there. Let me just try something. And I had a dream about it that was like posting a “looking for love” post but it was basically like for Emergent Strategists anP pleasure Activists and people who, like, really are like riding on this like Octavia way, right? And it was like over 1000 people wrote in and they’re like, “I’m looking for love and those are the kind of principles I want at the center of it.” And it made me so excited because I was like, this is what we—there’s enough people now that are at least looking at each other, like, I may not, you know, stamp Emergent Strategy on my forehead, but I do want to be in right relationship with change, and I want to be in accountable relationship with pleasure, I want to claim, you know, my power in this lifetime, I want to take responsiblity for community. I’m like, there’s enough of us now that we can fall in love with each other and, like, have, you know, radical families, and like, all that kind of stuff. Just, you know, we are a generation too. Like, we come from generations that held the ground for something outside of capitalism, something outside of nationalism, something outside of colonialism, militarism, all those things. And now we’re that generation. It’s just articulating ourselves again, and again, and again. Like, we’re here, we love each other, we’re taking care of each other. And as this added—you know, I think our folks are so brilliant, because they’re like, this is not the first pandemic. This is not the last pandemic. You know, like, we have our folks who came through the HIV AIDS pandemic and are now here and teaching us inside of this moment, and we will teach people the next one and—

Margaret 26:12

Adrienne 26:13
Right? Like, we keep going.

Margaret 26:16
Yeah, one of the things that people I’ve talked to have brought up a lot that I’ve been really excited about is—excited about is the wrong word—but the fact that, like, the apocalypse isn’t an event as much as like this cycle, ongoing process, thing that comes and goes, like, you know—and actually, I mean, even just to talk about Octavia Butler’s work again from a fangirly point of view, like, one of the reasons that her work was so important was, in my experience, I’m not incredibly well read, it was the first slow apocalypse in the kind of still recognizably an apocalyptic story of people leave their homes and go on the road and figure out how to start a new society. But it was a slow apocalypse. And that’s something that I think we need more of just out of—one of the hardest things that I’ve struggled with, in my personal life is—and this is awful, because I sound like Chicken Little—but it’s trying to convince people that we are in an apocalypse. Like we are in a slow apocalypse right now.

Adrienne 27:17
Exactly. We’re in it.

Margaret 27:18
Yeah. And people are waiting for the bomb to drop. So they’re like, “Oh, it’s not the apocalypse.” And I’m like, well, but what—what do you need? Like, failed infrastructure? You know?

Adrienne 27:31
How badly does it have to be? Yeah.

Margaret 27:33
And I’m actually curious.

Adrienne 27:35

Margaret 27:35
I’ve been meaning to try and ask people—well, actually, no, I want to bring it back to the Octavia Butler stuff and then—you also write fiction, and you also focus on—I’ve seen a lot of your work around trying to present visionary fiction and present futures. And that’s something and‚I’d like to hear more about. I’m just always trying to ask people about—because obviously it’s very close to me personally—but how do you—

Adrienne 28:03
Well you write them.

Margaret 28:04
[Chuckling] Yeah. What it—like, what is the—what is the importance of writing futures? Like, what is the importance of imagining futures?

Adrienne 28:15
Yes. You know, I just listened to—I got to read a bunch of Octavia Butler’s work for this NPR Throughline podcast. And they include a lot of interview with her. And she’s talking about how important it was for her to write herself in. She was like, “I wanted to write myself into the narrative, into the story.” And I think for so many of us, when we look back, we can see either stories of our trauma or stories—or like the gaps, the erasure, where our story should be, and they’re not. And I live in Detroit, and Detroit, you drive around and if you know what you’re looking at, right, if you’ve seen like maps or pictures of what it looked like 40 years ago to now, you can see that it’s a city full of gaps, full of spaces where there used to be homes. Like literally on a block it’ll be like, “Huh, this is kind of random. There’s just two houses on this block.” It used to be seven, right? But time and the economic crisis and other things disappeared those homes and I feel like history can look like that for those of us who are queer or trans, Black or Latino, Indigenous, etc. can look back and be like, “Where were we? Where were we?” And white supremacy and nationalism, other things, errased the full story of us so that we are left with just the trauma that we’ve been able to unveil. And so writing futures—writing ourselves into the future—is to me a way that we go ahead and stake a claim. Like, we are here now imagining ourselves. And in the imagining, we are creating room for something different to exist. And whenever I am engaging in fiction writing as a practice, I really feel like I am up to something that—the biggest thing maybe that I’m ever up to, is understanding that the whole world that we currently live in came out of someone’s imagination. All of the constructs, the way that I experience my own gender, the way that I experience my skin, the way that I experience my size, the way that I experience my desirability, my worthfull—worthiness, you know—there’s so many fundamental aspects of myself that are just miraculous, because that’s what everyone is. But they’ve been so complicated, and I’ve had to fight to feel like I deserve to exist. And that fight is because someone imagined that I did not. And they imagine that, you know—I was this morning thinking about all the Black children that we’ve lost to police violence, and like, they’re all dead because someone imagined that they were dangerous, you know. Imagination is a very, very powerful drug, a very powerful practice. And, to me, I’m like, if we want something new, we have to actually imagine, what does it look like? When I say defund the police, what am I imagining happens when there’s a domestic violence incident on the street? And does that mean—am I imagining myself willing to go down and intervene? Am I imagining myself calling community mediators to come on over right now, something’s going on? You know, what do I imagine happens? Because if I can’t imagine it, I’m definitely not going to be able to invite tons of people who are used to the putative system to come join me on another path. The imagination to me is how we create the future that we want to be, and how we make sure that we’re not absent from it. So—and I have to give a lot of props here to Disability Justice communities because I feel like I’ve just now starting to understand how much I learned from Disability Justice communities around this. But they’re like, if we’re not in the room and y’all plan something and it doesn’t have a wheelchair ramp, and it doesn’t have an accessible bathroom, and it’s like chemical scent overload or whatever, it’s because we weren’t in the room. So you didn’t even imagine us there. You didn’t not imagine us, you just didn’t think about us at all. We were just not part of it. And as a facilitator, the number of times that happened was like, “Oh, I’m sorry, like, I just didn’t.” And it’s like, no, that’s not acceptable. Like, now I’m like, how do I make sure that people are in the room where imagination happens? How do I make sure that they’re in the pages where imagination happens? And because then you end up with a future that is accessible, that is equitable, that is pleasurable, and is sustainable, right? Because we’re all there dreaming it.

Margaret 32:37
Yeah, the—this happens sometimes when I interview guests and I’m like, instead of having like a good—especially my year of reasonable isolation, I’ve lost some of my social skills. So people say things, and I’m just like, thinking about it. You know? Instead of having like, an immediate response.

Adrienne 32:52
I’m like—I would love to do a study on the social skills we’ve all lost.

Margaret 32:56

Adrienne 32:57
Because I just like, yeah.

Margaret 33:00
Yeah. [Laughing]

Adrienne 33:01
I’m also having—I have that experience all the time these days where I’m just like, everything moves slower now.

Margaret 33:06

Adrienne 33:06
And I’m thinking about it.

Margaret 33:07
Yeah. And then, you know, in some ways I’m, like, glad because I’m like, well, I don’t have an immediate response to what you’re saying, because I’m just thinking about it. I’m like, I just want to sit with that. Like that’s, you know, that touches on something that I’ve thought about before, but I haven’t—and I’ve tried to address in my own work, but I haven’t succeeded at yet. And I haven’t given enough attention to.

Adrienne 33:28

Margaret 33:28
To talk about something else. I very embarrassingly, after I named my podcast Live Like the World is Dying, googled—I was like, “Well, what if I called it something like How—” Because I always do things that are like “how to” or like, you know, whatever. Yeah.

Adrienne 33:42
How To… [Laughing]

Margaret 33:42
And um, do you want to talk about your own podcast with a very similar title?

Adrienne 33:47
Yes. I mean, our podcasts are definitely siblings in the territory of content.

Margaret 33:51

Adrienne 33:53
Yeah. So I have a—I have two podcasts. Actually now I have three podcasts.

Margaret 33:56
Oh wow, okay!

Adrienne 33:57
I’m an unstoppable podcast machine. So I really love the art of podcasting. You know, there’s something beautiful about just sitting and having a conversation, listening to a conversation. So my first podcast, my longest running one, is called How to Survive the End of the World. And it’s with my sister Autumn. And we’re both just obsessed with Octaviam obsessed with apocalypse and like how do we turn and face the fact that we are in apocalypse, and that we have been through many, and that apocalypse is actually a moment you can harness for change. And it’s actually quite a powerful portal if we harness it that way. So there’s a lot of philosophy and theoretical conversations mixed in with, like, hard skill offers. So that one is is kind of a blast, you know. It—for me it felt very liberating to just turn directly and face apocalypse and just get to be in conversations that are all, like, related to what is. And then I do the Octavia’s Parables podcast with Toshi Reagon where we’re reading the Parable of the Sower chapter by chapter. We just finished that first season. Now we’re going to head into the Parable of the Talents, and then we’ll keep going with Octavia’s work just—we’re like, even though only two of her books are called parables, they’re all parables in a way so. And then Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute just last week launched our podcast, which is the three kind of core collective members take turns interviewing different people who are, what we see is like living Emergent Strategy in the world. And we’re just examining, like, building basically a set of audio case studies for people to listen to. Like, what does it look like to practice Emergent Strategy and all these different realms of movements?

Margaret 35:46
Okay. I admit the How to Survive the End of the World one—people have been, you know, that—more and more, I think, people—for some strange reason everyone’s really into prepping right now. It’s hard to figure out why. But I actually—

Adrienne 36:04
No idea why. Mysterious.

Margaret 36:07
And I like that there is—that there is other stuff out there. And I was wondering if you had—

Adrienne 36:13
Oh, yeah.

Margaret 36:14
—your own thoughts about, like, where people can find stuff about whether individual community or social preparation? Or like, how else people can get—

Adrienne 36:23
So we have brought on a series of guests. Last year, I was away on sabbatical and my sister did, I think, the best episodes of the entire podcast without me, which were—it was apocalypse of survival series. And each of the guests are people who have their own work and their own lives. But there’s a group called Queer Survival—Queer Nature. They basically blew our minds. Blew our minds. And it was just very tangible stuff on, like, how do you think under the pressure of crisis? And they do trainings, they do offerings. And then Leah Penniman came on from Soul Fire Farm and was really talking about, like, how do we reorient our relationship to food? Because, you know, what happened when the pandemic went down. Everybody was like, run to the store, buy everything frozen and canned, stick that in your house. And like—I’m like, so basically, you’re prepared to give up even having access to any organic, fresh food. And that’s your plan for how you’re going to survive. Like, what does that mean? Right. And I feel like, listening to someone like Leah Penniman, it’s like, what is it instead look like to begin to organize ourselves around farms, around food growth, around the cycles of planting and gardening and growing. I’m hoping that that becomes one of the next iterations that emerges from this pandemic crisis is that people are like, okay, we were not fully ready to actually be growing and thinking about food as a community. That’s something we want to be orienting ourselves towards. I know that for me that’s something I’m thinking about is, do I have the first clue about how to grow my own food if I wanted to? [Laughing, inaudible] How would I do that? You know? So I just started, I’m now growing cilantro and lavender, which is not something I could survive on but it is, like, a move in the right direction. And I have aloe and I have other things. But I’m like, what does it look like to actually, like, think about a season and put things in the ground? And how much food would it take for me and my partner to live? How much will we be able to contribute? One of the things I love, that I feel like I learned from the conversations with Leah, but with other farmers, Black farmers—Derek Cooper, other folks—is like, everything that we grow is actually immediately abundant. If you’re doing it, if you’re in right relationship with whatever it is you’re growing, you end up with more than you could ever need. And that’s why so many farmers end up doing all kinds of cooperative efforts of sharing their food out to other people, because you get so much. I love that as a problem and as a challenge for us. It’s like, could we deal with the abundance that would come if we actually all gave a portion of our time and attention to growing food directly from land? So that’s one of the things I’m—that’s like one of my next horizons is, like, inspired by this Soul Fire Farms community is, like, what does it look like to actually get our hands dirty in a different way.

Margaret 39:23
Cool. Yeah, I um—when all this happened I was like, I live on land that is technically a farm. And I consider myself to not have a green thumb at all. And—

Adrienne 39:36

Margaret 39:37
—and I’ve like, you know, the few times I’ve tried to grow food, it’s failed. So I’ve convinced myself that I will never successfully grow food. And so—

Adrienne 39:43
You’re like, see, I can’t. [Laughing]

Margaret 39:44
Yeah, exactly. Which is funny because I think that I’m capable of, like, almost anything because I’m so obsessively DIY that I like—I’m, you know, in a house I built and I’ve learned plumbing and electrical since the pandemic started so that I could make my house meet my needs and, and all of these things. But I’m like, I’m convinced that growing food is entirely just magic that is beyond me. And what I’ve decided to do personally is I’m going to start mushroom cultivation because I’m like, well, this fits my like, “I live in the forest.” Everyone else lives in, like, you know, elsewhere in the sun. And I’m like, “I’m in the forest, everything is dark and rainy.” And, you know, trying to play to my strengths while still—but then there’s the thing where it’s like, I don’t even envision—as much as I talked about my isolation, I still live with land mates, right? I’m, and I imagine that, come crisis, we continue to help each other. And so I’m like, well, I live with people who know how to grow food. So— I will focus on learning how to fix the rainwater catchment and things like that.

Adrienne 40:36
Exactly. Exactly. Like there’s a way to be of use. And I mean—well, two things are happening right now. One is, I have my first mushroom log out on my deck. So we, you and I are mycelium familia. And I’m very excited about it. But same thinking is just like, I can grow mushrooms, like, I’m in a place where, like, there’s enough condition for mushroom growing. And then I feel the same way, right? That I’m like, even if I never get great at growing food, if I’m in community with people who do grow food, but I have other skills to bring to the table, then that’s great. And one of the things I’m always worried about is like, is my only skill talking? Like, do I still do I have other—you know, like—and then, you know, like, no, facilitation is a skill. Mediation is a skill. That’s something you can offer to a community. I do doula work, that’s a skill. But I’m always looking at like, you know, I’m of value in the current conditions, how would I be a value in future conditions. And I want to make sure that whatever I’m developing myself, I would be a community member that people would be like, “you’re of value to us.”

Margaret 40:44
Yeah. Yeah.

Adrienne 41:47
And not just because of what you do, but how you show up how you are, right?

Margaret 41:50

Adrienne 41:51
Like, I would love to have such value to my community that even if I can’t do anything—because I have arthritis that it’s just getting worse and worse and worse and worse—so Toshi and I talked about this often that, like, if the community all had to run for it, we wouldn’t be running for it. So we would be like, okay, we’ll sit and hold down the fort and, like, distract them and point them in another direction and that’ll be our usefulness. Or whatever it is, like, you know—but be—I think everyone should be thinking about that question. How can I be of use in community? How do I understand my usefulness? How do I understand the relationships I’m in? Not transactionally, but in a sense of mutual aid and a sense of, we all need, we all have to give, how do we do that well with elegance, with grace? Yeah.

Margaret 42:34
Yeah, the usefulness question, it comes up so much when we talk about disability and the apocalypse, like you’re talking about, and I really liked the way that you phrased—you phrased it, how you come to interactions is also part of our usefulness. And, you know, and—and then there’s even stuff around like, you know, I’ve friends who, through like, sort of, like no fault of their own, or whatever, have… let’s go spiky personalities. Right? And yet, we—I think it’s like, partly it’s a challenge to figure out how we can be useful, but it’s also partly a challenge to figure out the usefulness—like, what people around you bring to you. And so like, for me, it’s like, okay, my friends who are, like, maybe really hard to get along in a facilitated consensus meetings because they’re opinionated and angry. And like, often because the world has done horrible things to them. And yet, like, for me, I kind of secretly enjoy, like, learning to help those people point themselves. Be like, ah, you have all of this anger. Here’s this institution that needs destruction. How would you go about destroying it? You know.

Adrienne 43:09
Like, how would you do it? I love that, Margaret, because I—I just turned in the final draft of my next book, which is called Holding Change, the Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation. And there’s a whole section on there, like, quote/unquote problem participants. And one of the things I was noting in there is like, every single person who shows up in the space as a problem—whatever kind of problem they are—if you can harness the energy that they’re bringing in, they’re often the most effective people. They’re coming to the space. Right? You should be able to harness and move that energy somewhere. But particularly the grumpy, grouchy, curmudgeonly, flat, you know, this isn’t working. Often those are the most visionary people in the room. And what’s happening is that they are hurt by how it’s all going down. You know, they’re like, why are we not free yet? Why is it going like this? Like, why aren’t we doing a better job? And like, harnessing that energy could free and save the world, right? So I always keep a couple of curmudgeonly, grumpy people close by. [Chuckling] Just keep me honest and to keep me like motivated.

Margaret 44:47
I think we’re running up on time. How can people find out more about your work?

Adrienne 44:55
You know, go to akpress.org to buy the books there. I prefer people buy them straight from AK, which is an amazing people’s press. And I’m on Instagram, that’s where I’m like a person, you know, on social—the place where I—I mostly put pictures of things that I think are beautiful or cool. And then I have a website, adriennemareebrown.net, where I blog and I keep an archive of the interviews I do. So this will eventually live there. Yeah.

Margaret 45:31
Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, or any of the other episodes, please tell people about it. Like, first and foremost, the way to help the show is to tell people about it in person or online. And, you know, I always go on about the algorithms that run the world and how we can influence them. And, you know, and that’s kind of shitty to just sit around and try and influence algorithms. But if you like, or subscribe, or post about this, or review it, or whatever, on whatever platforms you listen to it, it helps far more than it should. It helps bring it up into other people’s feeds and it helps people more find—more people find out about it. And all the support that I’ve been getting for the show, especially seeing people post about it on social media and things like that. And, you know, people I know telling me that they like it is kind of the reason that I’m continuing going with it right now. I’m very low energy these days, and that’ll swing back around, I’m sure. But hearing that it’s useful to people is—matters to me and it makes me feel like I’m not wasting my time. So thank you all. And also you can support the podcast more directly by supporting me on Patreon. My Patreon is patreon.com/margaretkilljoy. There’s not a ton of stuff that you get, like, that exclusive, except that I do ostensibly a monthly scene that I mail out to people. It’s also very far behind. I point to, you know, the world, and hold that up as my excuse which is getting kind of old for myself, but so it goes. And I do try and post up there as much as I can and also try and send out presents to my Patreon supporters as much as I can. In particular though I would like to thank Hugh and Dana and Chelsea and Eleanor, Mike Satara, Cat J, The Compound, Shane, Christopher, Sam, Natalie, Willow, Kirk, Hoss the dog, Nora, and Chris. I—I’m overwhelmed by the amount of support that I’ve been getting. And I’ve been able to use that to hire a transcriptionist. And now also potentially get more help, like the show might end up collectivizing, who knows, we’ll see how it goes. In which case, me having bad mental health times won’t be as much of a hold up. And that’ll be good for everyone. And so thank you to my supporters for helping that make—helping that look like it might become a possibility. Anyway, I hope you all are doing as well as you can with everything that’s going on and I’ll talk to you soon.

S1E25 – Cici and Eepa on radio

I talk with Cici and Eepa from the Javelina Network about communicating across the globe using autonomous radio.

We’re All Preppers Now

We’re all preppers now. Whether we want to be or not. It’s hard to think about, but we’re just in the opening credits to the apocalypse movie. As I write this, we’re in the calm before the storm. This is your moment to get ready. We can get through this. Remember: most people survive the collapse of their way of life, most of the time. The end of the world isn’t always, or even usually, the uh… end of the world.

S1E24 – Philip on Security Culture

I talk with Philip about security culture: the idea of creating a culture of security so that activists and revolutionaries don’t get caught.

S1E23 – Dibs on Fitness for Every Body

[audio src="https://pinecast.com/listen/8e82ffbb-be8b-47ed-8687-01eaeb91d256.mp3" preload="none"]

Episode Notes

The guest, Dibs, runs a website called dibsfitness.com and can be found on Instagram at @dibs_pt.

The host, Margaret Killjoy, can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy, instagram @margaretkilljoy, and on Patreon at patreon.com/margaretkilljoy.


Margaret 00:14
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast where it feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy, and this week I’m going to be talking to Dibs who is a personal fitness trainer in Montreal. I’m going to be talking with them about personal fitness, obviously, I guess that’s the name of the episode that you clicked on. And they have a lot of really useful and concrete tips for how people with different relationships to their body can engage in personal fitness and training. And of course, well, it’s worth pointing out that this episode does come with a content warning. We do talk about eating disorders, and we talk about relationships to eating and fitness and the way that they can become obsessive. So—and that that question is pretty clearly marked. It doesn’t come out of the blue. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another podcast on the network.

Jingle 01:12
Gooooood morning slaves! Looking for relief from the steaming hot plate of bullshit served up on the daily by the mainstream media? Are you thirsting for solid and reliable information to escape the mind-numbing vortex of corporate news and Trump tweets? Are you ready to check out every time you hear a despacito on the radio one more fucking time? Then tune your dial to sub.Media, a mouthwatering hub of infotainment and subversion that’ll make you want to quit your job and join the motherfucking resistance. Dive into our newly designed website and gorge yourself on one of the 500+ videos and audio tracks from our vast library of anarchist films, hip hop, and riot porn, or choose from one of our original shows like Trouble, Burning Cop Car, A is for Anarchy, Video Ninja Reports, and the Stimulator. Fuck Netflix, watch sub.Media.

Margaret 02:07
Okay, and Dibs, if you would like to introduce yourself with your name, which I guess I just said, and your pronouns and any, you know, what you do for work, any political or organizational affiliations that make sense with what you’re going to be talking about today? Also maybe, like, your identity as relates to some of what you’re going to be talking about today?

Dibs 02:26
Sure, so I’m Dibs, my pronouns, they/them, I am a certified personal trainer or fitness instructor some might call it, so I have my certificate 3 and 4 in group fitness and one-on-one training. I identify as transgender, and I have ADHD, and I am sort of still recovering from an eating disorder. So I guess that’s relevant to probably what will come up, maybe?

Margaret 02:57
Yeah, that actually-that is a lot, like-and that’s actually something I’d love to talk to you about what we’re talking about this is like food and our relationships to food. So I wanted to have you on because I spent a while looking around, I was—I wanted to get someone on who is a personal trainer. And, of course, one of the problems with personal trainers, not personal trainers themselves but the fitness industry, is that it is very ablest, very centering of cis people, very centering of like thin people, and also centering of the weight experience, and just has a lot of problems. And then you came highly-recommended through our mutual friend as a personal trainer who specifically works to kind of counteract that stuff. And the reason I want to have someone on is talking about personal fitness: one is just sort of selfish. I’m like, “Oh, I’m getting older, and I need to worry about this stuff more.” But you know, it’s like—okay, it’s a weird tangent to start with. But the first time I really ever thought about this stuff was years ago I was playing accordion and Amsterdam and a friend of mine walked by, and he was this older, like, super tough anarchist guy. And, you know, maybe in his 40s or something—actually might have been much younger than thatb ut when you’re young, everyone seems old—and he said, “Oh, what are you doing?” I was like, “Oh, I’m playing accordion.” And he said, and I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m coming home from the gym.” And I was like, “Why are you at the gym?” Because I was an idiot. And he was like, “Well, because we want to have a revolution and we need to be stronger than the police.” And I was like “Shit.”

Dibs 04:34
Great answer.

Margaret 04:35
I’d never thought about it from that point of view.

Dibs 04:38

Margaret 04:40
And that’s kind of where I’m coming from personally about a lot of like fitness goals. And I think that a lot of people are looking at this, as the world becomes more conflictual, they might be more interested in personal fitness. As the world gets a little crazier, they might be more interested in personal fitness. Would you be able to talk about your own experiences where you’re coming from about personal fitness and kind of what got you engaged with it?

Dibs 05:04
Yeah. I mean, I’ve always been an active kid. I definitely have, you know, some symptoms of ADHD just have many hobbies, try all the things, like, as a child in like primary school, I did everything from like tap dancing, to soccer, to softball to netball to guitar lessons. Like, I always had, like, something that made me need to want to move. And then, so I played team sports for a while. And then when I left school and I became an adult, that’s sort of when I looked at the gym for exercise. And at the same time of leaving school is when I started to think about my gender. And I’ve spoken about this to many people with, like, how my sort of gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia is very much intertwined. And so I don’t know, you know, what led me more down the path of wanting to lift weights and stuff. But, you know, wanting—having—being transgender and wanting to change your body. Before I started HRT, and before I had top surgery or anything, like, my only option or what I saw was to train so I started doing weightlifting. And then my dad passed away when I was 19 from heart disease. Suddenly, just one night, he went to bed and didn’t wake up. And that scared me.

Margaret 06:29

Dibs 06:30
And I was like, well, I, you know, I want to live longer than 44 maybe. I mean, now I’m not so sure. But, you know, I was like, okay well, these are the things that led to that for him. What can I do to change my lifestyle? And yeah, and then I went from gym to gym, and I’ve done the fad, you know, lose nine kilos in six weeks, I’ve done those dumb challenges a couple times. And I’ve done—you know, and then I became a personal trainer and I found a gym to work at and that was a whole—that’s a big story itself. It was very culty and so toxic and weird and straight and suburbian—suburban, sorry. But uh, yeah. So that’s sort of where my journey—my fitness journey in a nutshell.

Margaret 07:20
No, that makes sense. And it brings up a ton of things that I’m really curious to ask you about. Because I’ve had some of those same experiences of like, you know, when I would go and study martial arts, I would go and study martial arts like, “Hello, fellow cisgendered men,” and like, it would never really work, you know, like, people couldn’t quite figure out what to make of me. And usually, I didn’t get along very socially in any of the martial arts gyms that I’ve trained in. So, for listeners who are just starting to want to get into personal fitness, I guess, where do you begin? And I know that obviously, like, hiring you, for example, would be a good way to start. But that isn’t going to be available for everyone. And, you know, like, how do you begin? How do you assess where you’re at? How do you start building program that works for you?

Dibs 08:19
Yeah, it’s, uh, it’s tough. Like, I think the overwhelm is in the choice because anyone can go on the internet and look up, you know, “home workout program,” or “three day home workout program,” or whatever. And there’s so much free stuff out there that’s just copy and paste, cookie cutter bs that, like could work for some people, but it’s not going to work for the majority of people. So I guess, like, start—there’s a lot—there’s so much on social media right now that’s for queer people and for people of all different bodies and abilities, especially like on YouTube as well, you can find little communities of people who were various abilities and various backgrounds showing what you can use with just your body or like very cheap pieces of equipment. So, you know, using the internet is great, but then where do you start? And then if that’s overwhelming you, I guess like, if you’ve done something in the past and you’ve sort of fallen off the wagon, you can go back to that thing. So like did you use to cycle? Did used to swim? Did you used to play team sports? What about that sport did you like or what muscle groups did you like working the most, you know? Like, was it your agility and your hand/eye coordination if you’re playing tennis, and what can you sort of relate that to? That’s another thing that you can start practicing if you don’t necessarily have a tennis court near where you live in, you know? So it’s like, you have to be—start slow and be really kind to yourself to not expect too much too soon. And the act of just making something a small habit that you maintain through, you know, half the year or year is a massive goal in massive achievement in itself. So, you know, if you don’t know—if you really want to learn how to squat or do a push up, you can—there are so many articles on working your way up to a push up or working your way up to a chin up or something like that. Everything can be broken down into much smaller steps in fitness. But my sort of mantra is—what I what I like to promote to everyone is joyful movement, and you find the movement that brings you joy, and you’re going to do it, and it’s not going to be like that daunting task that hangs over your head.

Margaret 10:35
So rather than like, you know, screaming, “I’m doing this for Sparta!” and then doing like 50 pushups every morning or whatever, like…

Dibs 10:43
Yeah, like—because yeah I know, like so many people, like, “Oh, I just do 20 push ups and 50 sit ups before I go to bed every night.” And that’s—like, my mom says that. She’s like, “I do my 20 sit ups before bed and like 20 squats, and that’s how I’m gonna keep my belly fat away.” And I’m like, oh my God. Like you don’t—and that’s not fun for her. She doesn’t like doing it. She just thinks that’s what she has to do to look hot for her boyfriend. And, you know, like you—but now she plays—or well, before the pandemic—she played adults all-gender soccer. And she—that was what she was what she thought was fun, because she played with some people from that she worked with so she got to see her work colleagues, she got to, you know, have fun in a non-competitive teamsport environment. Like, yeah, basically—I mean, I know, even if we are doing this for serious business, because we want to, you know, fight off police and survive the apocalypse. You can still, while the world is still [inaudible] have fun. Find the thing that brings you joy and, you know, make light of it. Because that’s the only way you’re going to commit to it before the end times when you’re like, “Oh, shit.” You’d rather be prepared—this is the whole point. Yes. You’re preparing now.

Margaret 12:01
Yeah. Oh, that’s actually that’s really interesting because I, you know—um, before COVID and things like that I would go boff, I would run around in a park with foam swords and shields and—actually turns out that learning how to fight with sticks and shields is way more of a life skill than I expected. But, um, but you know, that’s not happening right now, because of COVID. And a lot of, like, team or group exercise stuff obviously isn’t happening right now. And what are some ways that people can find joyful movement in isolation or in greater isolation?

Dibs 12:40
Yeah, so I guess if you’re one of those people who is really just not leaving your house at all for—unless, you know, you need groceries, or even then you’re just getting someone else to send you stuff and you’re stuck at home: I’ve been leading online aerobics dance classes, which are quite fun. Or, you know, if you can’t find one of those and you don’t know—if the time is not good for you—like, put on some music and dance because cardio is so important, like your cardiovascular health is gonna—that’s what’s going to help you run and keep running and not stop. So dancing for, you know, an hour non-stop, like, that is a hardcore workout. People who have gone to raves, I’m sure you know how sore your body is the next day. Like, dancing is really, really good for you and it’s going to help you build stamina. So that’s one thing. Just putting together a little routine at home is quite easy. I like to tell people, there’s a form of exercise routine called an AMRAP: as many rounds as possible. And so I say, you know, find five exercises that you know, you’ve been taught before, do 20 of them all in a row as many times as you can in 10 minutes, or 15 minutes, or 25 minutes. So say you’re doing 20 squats, 20 push ups, 20 mountain climbers, 20 burpees, 20 lunges, and then go back to the top of the list and keep going, top of the list, keep going, work your way through until your timer goes off on your phone, and boom! You’ve done a workout. It’s—there’s so many different ways that you can do it and to keep you motivated and to remove the thinking out of it. You don’t have to make it complicated. It can be quite simple. And, you know, if you can’t do push ups, do them on your knees. If you can’t do knee push ups, lean against the wall and do them on the wall or the door until you build up your strength or lean on your kitchen counter or your couch or something. There’s so many things you can do just at home to-you know, or follow along YouTube workouts. If you just type on YouTube “follow along workout.” I know they’re not the best because they’re always just demonstrated by people who were ripped in bikinis. I’m gonna try and put some out online to try and show some diversity. But, you know, there’s different ways at home that you can find-or like find your favorite person on the internet. Copy what they’re putting out. But yeah, like, dancing is my favorite. And then creating your own routine and, you know, maybe put on a podcast where you’re doing it or put on music that you like and work through your 15 minutes, and then you’re done.

Margaret 15:12
Okay, that makes sense to me. That’s, um, that’s like stuff that I feel like, on some level, is like what I was subconsciously drawn to when I was trying to become more in shape. I was like, “Oh, I’ll just, I’ll dance more, you know, while like working at a standing desk I’ll, like, play music and then, like, walk away from the computer or something.” But then, as I find myself being like, “No, I must be serious about fitness” instead, I kind of find myself moving away from that kind of stuff and more back into the, like, you know, “I must do yeah, 20 squats every morning” or whatever.

Dibs 15:45
Yeah, yeah, it can come in whatever shape you want. Because even within dance, you know, if you’re dropping it low, you’re doing a squat. Like, there are many ways to do the typical fitness movements like the patterns that you use, like a push, a press, a squat, a deadlift—there’s so many ways to do that, that are not, like, regimented and formal in everyday life, like when you’re cleaning or you’re gardening. Gardening is great exercise, as long as you keep good posture and you’re not hurting your back. Like, that’s another way to get those movement patterns in.

Margaret 16:22
So that’s—that brings up something that I think about a lot. Most of my exercise at the moment—obviously, everything—I think about everything through the lens of myself, but whatever, that’s totally normal, you know, it’s not like people listen to this. Um, okay, so like, most of my exercise comes from construction and building and crafting, right? Because I live, you know, in the woods alone. And so, like, I feel like most of my exercise is like carrying heavy shit up the hill to my house, right? And I often wonder to what degree I’m like getting exercise and to what degree I’m just like hurting myself. And, like, when you’re talking about gardening and being good exercise as long as you maintain good posture, like, it seems like maybe that’s useful across the board is like—where is the line between getting stronger and more fit and wearing yourself down?

Dibs 17:18
Yeah, it’s—that’s a hard one, especially if you’re doing something out of necessity, like, if you’re building stuff and you need to get the materials, you know, before it rains or whatever, like, you’re not going to stop when when you reach that limit, you’re just going to keep going. So then you just have to know how to look after yourself afterwards. Like, the line is different for everyone depending on, you know, depending on what you’ve built up before and you’re—like, I love that that’s how you get your exercise because I love functional fitness. I’ve been, you know, rummaging through curbside trash way more often than the last three months that I have in my entire life. And I’ve been—I’ve found four cinder blocks in the last four weeks and I’ve carried them home like four blocks to my house because I wanted to make a bench seat out of them. And like, you know, I—by the third one that I found, I figured out the correct posture and the way to hold it that wasn’t going to make my biceps feel like this snapping off. So sometimes it’s trial and error. But, you know, and sometimes you pay for it afterwards and you just have to make sure you rest or stretch correctly. But the—it is such a fine line between totally wearing yourself out. But I guess, if you’re doing something functional fitness-wise and it’s taking you the whole day, like, you know, people who do landscaping and they’re just slugging it out for six hours, eight hours, all day. And a lot of them have bad backs. But you can avoid that if you’re using the right tools, like if you have things that help you lift and wheel things like a wheelbarrow or dolly or whatever. You just have to make sure you’re taking breaks intermittently, like think—stop and think. “How am I holding this? Like, where’s the weight? Where can I feel the most strain? Is it in my back? Is it in my biceps? Is it in my core?” You really want to feel things in your abs the most when you’re holding them rather than your back. And then, you know, if one bicep is straining more than the other change the bottom arm and the top arm so you’re evening yourself out. Cuz you just have to be more attuned to your body and take time and do a little scan and think, “Where am I feeling this?” I know it’s hard because when you’re in the moment and just want to get stuff done, you’re not going to stop, but I find that difficult as well. And then maybe when I get home I realized that I was carrying it wrong. But to people have a much better attention span than than me, that’s something that you can do is stop, scan your body, where am I feeling this? Can I readjust? Can I change hands or or change my stride somehow or change my posture? Do I lift it closer to my chest? Do I hold it down below my legs? Do I lifted it up above my head with my elbows locked out if it’s light enough to give my back a rest? Those—you just carry things in a different way each time to give different body parts the load.

Margaret 20:02
Okay. Yeah, it’s funny, I have—there’s sort of a joke that, you know, if you’re like punk past 30 you have to like pick between your options and it’s like CrossFit, or knitting, or whatever. And I didn’t pick either of those, I guess I picked podcasting and that’s probably on there too. And sometimes my friends who do deadlifts and stuff, I’m kind of jealous because I’m like, “Oh, I should probably know how to do that really well because I like, later today I’m going to go have to drag my 50 pound generator to a different spot and hook it up to a 20 pound propane tank to get enough power to, you know, edit this interview. And I don’t know, this is like cliche, right? But what I was like younger, I didn’t really think about this stuff. And now I’m, like, I always make sure I put down heavy things, not on the ground but have thing’s at about waist level.

Dibs 20:56

Margaret 20:57
You know? And am I like, am I doing myself a disservice by doing that? You know, like, am I reducing my ability to learn how to deadlift? I don’t know.

Dibs 21:07
I think you’re saving your back in a long time. Because especially like, deadlifts are really good, they’re an amazing full-body exercise. But if you’re having something with an awkward shape that prevents you from doing it with the correct form, then it’s not going to be good to do so I think you’re correct in putting it up higher so you don’t have to go all the way down if it’s a weird-shaped thing.

Margaret 21:27
Okay. Cool. Glad to hear my laziness is good. You mentioned food and eating disorder stuff. Is that is that okay to talk about?

Dibs 21:38
Yeah, we can dig into that.

Margaret 21:40
Um and, you know, content warning for anyone who’s listening, obviously, we’ll talk some about eating disorder stuff and I know that that can be very hard for a lot of people. So how does one—one of the things that I also worry about as I do this, right, um—again, to just use myself as the example for everything—I didn’t think a ton about food until I came out as trans. And now I think about food way more than I would like to just because of the way that my body puts on weight being in a sort of masculine way, right? And both the combination of aging and suddenly holding myself to like feminine beauty standards are—is a wonderful one/two punch to deal with. But it’s hard because I also want to become more fit. But I also really don’t want to fall into what I can really easily see as disordered eating and just obsession about food. And I’m wondering how you manage or how you would recommend to people to manage dealing with fitness and as relates to food and how awful our society is about food and body image?

Dibs 23:01
Yeah, it’s pretty terrible because, you know, a lot of the things out there are all about eliminating a certain either food group, or food source, or whatever. And it’s all about eliminate, eliminate, eliminate. So the way I reframe it is don’t think about what to cut out thinking about more about what you want to add to your diet to help you either feel fuller, or to help you get the nutrients that you need. So, you know, if you’re a person that doesn’t drink any water, start by adding an extra glass of water to your daily intake until that becomes a habit then add another until you’re drinking, you know, at least 2-3 liters a day. Yes, good job drinking your water. So (laughing) she takes a sip. Yeah, so, you know, adding things like that. So it doesn’t have to be food, it can be water. It can be, you know, if you’re someone that only eats two colors, brown and white, maybe start adding a yellow thing or a green thing or a red thing to your plate. So, you know, add a sweet potato if you really hate vegetables, I know mushrooms are also black and white and brown, but there a vegetables so you can add mushrooms to your plate. I, you know, I used to hate sa—I probably only started eating salad when I was like 18, maybe 19. I used to never eat any vegetables and then I realized the certain ways that I like them cooked or prepared that will make me eat them more. So, you know, add—when I have now my bacon and eggs for breakfast I will put, like, a handful of baby spinach on top. And, you know, the way that that tastes is delicious is because it’s smothered in bacon juice. Sorry, the vegan. But, like, that’s how I deal with it and that’s how I add my vegetables in so when you’re thinking about like food and eating for your body type, like, there’s a couple of TED Talks out there actually that are that are titled, you know, “The Perfect Diet,” or “What is the perfect diet?” And I quite liked them. I watched them all because I wanted to see what they, what dumb stuff they said. But it’s actually quite good because at the end, they’re all like, “The perfect diet is the one that feels the best for your body or like what makes you feel the best.” Because the Mediterranean diet’s not everyone, keto is not for everyone, intermittent fasting is just dumb—unless, you know, unless you are experiencing food scarcity and then, you know, of course, you’re going to not eat for 12 hours, and then you have your little window of eating time or whatever. But you know, a lot of us try all these things that were just not made for us. And instead of listening to what someone else’s is spouting on the newest Instagram trend of the newest juice cleanse or whatever, like, just listen to your body more and think, “Okay, do I feel bloated when I eat beans? Do I feel bloated when I eat dairy? Do I feel bloated when I eat this? Like, do I have diarrhea or gas? Or like, what is this food making you feel?” I realize I get real gassy and I get an upset tummy when I have dairy, so I try and reduce that. Like it’s—if you stop—and stress is something that helps you hold weight too that is—prevents you from digesting properly, right? Because you’re in fight or flight, you’re not going to digest your nutrients and absorb them. So if you’re stressing less about, “Oh I can’t eat this, or I can’t that,” and you’re just, you know, you’re not being too hard on yourself, that’s also going to benefit you because you’re going to be more calm. So I like to go at it thinking of what can I add? What’s something easy, just one thing at a time, to add to my routine, to add to my grocery list or when I go out dumpster diving, what’s the ingredient I’m going to add—you know, add a new vegetable a week, or whatever, a new legume or bean or whatever to try if you need to color your plate, and then pay attention to what foods make you feel like crap.

Margaret 26:57
Okay, I like that idea of the adding and sort of—that’s—it’s one of those things that probably should have been obvious. But, I mean, I spend a a not tiny amount of time like—I mean, I do the same thing that I think a lot of people do where I kind of go through a, “Oh crap, I’m out of shape, I better go figure out what will suddenly make me better,” and then get into it for about three weeks and then drop it. And so I’ve, clearly, I’ve read a lot of fitness blogs and diet blogs and things like that as a result. And I haven’t run across that and it seems so obvious. One of the things, you brought up dumpster rain, and I was thinking about how I actually ate better back when I dumpster dove for more of my meals then when I stopped dumpstering. I stopped dumpstering personally because of anxiety, I have a lot of food anxiety issues. And—but then what would happen is I didn’t have much money and it’s really hard to prioritize greens, it’s really hard to prioritize things with no caloric content to speak of, right? You know, when I—if I have $8 to spend at a restaurant or something like that, there’s no way that I’m buying the $8 salad, I’m buying the $8 burrito, you know. And it’s interesting because that habit stayed with me after I no longer have the same, like, financial issues. Yeah, it was only very recently that I was like, “I’m ordering a salad at a restaurant.” And it was very, it was a—a whole new world.

Dibs 28:27

Margaret 28:28
No, it was—it was good but it was like I still have kind of this, like, yeah, but if I’m paying at a restaurant, I want to be stupidly full. Like I want to, I want to look at the last bite of food and be like, “Can I do it?” You know? And I don’t know maybe that’s just from, like, food insecurity. I’m not sure.

Dibs 28:49
I’m like the opposite. I’m like, “I’m paying for the salad. I must eat all of my vegetables. I have paid for it.” But uh, yeah, no, I get what you mean about that habit and you want to you want to spend your money on what’s going to make you feel the most full, which is totally fine. And, so hot tip to anyone who has minimal income to spend on food and wants to feel full: potatoes, white potatoes are the most satiating food on the planet. I’m sure you’ve seen [inaudible] this fact. Probably many times.

Margaret 29:17
I haven’t. No, go ahead.

Dibs 29:19
Yeah, well, fun fact: most satiating food on the planet like per gram, what you put in your mouth is it fills you up more than anything else. So you’re—I mean, they have a decent amount of vitamins and minerals in them but, you know, you want to mix it up. If you want to, like, if you find potatoes or buy potatoes, and then you find other green things like zucchini or asparagus or bell peppers, capsicums, whatever you want to call them. I call them capsicums. You North Americans very strange. “Peppers.”

Margaret 29:51
I was thinking that your accent didn’t sound very Canadian.

Dibs 29:54
Yes, I’m from Australia. I now live in Canada. Mysterious So, you know, you can mix that potato with other things and then hopefully it still comes out tasting like potato because obviously that’s going to be the most tasty thing in your meal. But I like to just heat up a skillet, grate some potato, and then grate some other veggies on top. And then you’ve got this big mishmash of delicious, mushy—or crispy depending on how you cook it—vegetables to put in your facehole. And, you know, it’s—so if you want something to feel full, like, don’t feel—be ashamed of not eating that many green things, but have your base, you know, starchy carbs that’s going to make you feel full like beans, or rice, or potatoes, or pasta, and then throw some green things on top. Like it doesn’t occur to many people when they’re making pasta to do more than just the pasta and the sauce, like, you can throw baby spinach leaves in your sauce or you can throw like chopped up asparagus or mushrooms or whatever other vegetable to like, fatten it up, you know, make it really chunky and more filling. And then you’ll—the pasta won’t sustain you for that long, but the vegetables will help you keep—stay feeling fuller for longer. So you want to eat things that are full of fiber, right, that’s what’s going to make you full. If you go to, like, a juice bar. And, you know, you order a tropical juice, whatever, they’re going to put things through the juicer, they’re going to remove the skin and you’re basically getting like the sugar from three apples and a banana and a pineapple, half a pineapple, or whatever. And none of the fiber or the really good chunky nutrients that are gonna fill you up. If you actually eat—physically eat an apple and bite into it—you can’t eat more than like one and a half, two apples max before you feel like you’re gonna explode because you’re super full. Because you’re getting all the fiber and you’re getting the gut, like the guts of it. You’re getting the meaty part of the fruit. So it’s—that’s another hot tip is don’t juice things, like, you want the skin you want the flesh, that’s what’s going to feel you—make you feel awful.

Margaret 31:59
Okay. Yeah, I like that. It seems like a lot of food stuff comes down to, like, eating simpler—like not eating like less things, but eating like—not like raw food, but like, closer to—like less, I dunno, less processed.

Dibs 32:15
Less processed. Yeah, I mean, I know it’s not easy for everyone to find that, to do the, you know, no processing. Like, some people want to get a $2 burger from In and Out Burger or A&W or whatever because that’s what they have access to and that’s what’s going to be their meal for the day and that’s fine. But, like, if you—you know, dumpster diving, or you have a local grocer, or a local farm, veggie and fruit distributor down the road from you, and you want to spend a couple bucks, like, that’s the best way to do it is, like the closer—the less stages from earth to you to your mouth the better, right? If it’s fall off a tree, it’s grown from the ground, it’s come straight off an animal’s back, like, eat it. Fantastic. It’s going to fill you up and it’s going to be cheaper than if you’ve gotten something that’s been picked from a tree, put on a truck, gone into a factory, run on a conveyor belt four times, got put in packaging, got on another truck, and onto a shelf, and then into your hand. You’re going to be paying more for it and you’re going to be getting less nutritional benefit from the thing.

Margaret 33:21
Okay. So in the meals that you’re describing, which are very similar to the meals that I eat, but they don’t have a lot of protein in them, as far as I can tell. And I’m curious your take on the—you know, I ran across the idea that you’re supposed to eat, what, half your body weight in protein every day or something? Well, not half your body weight…

Dibs 33:41
Yeah, there’s a formula where you measure your body weight and then divide it by 2, and then there’s—you times that by 0.8 grams, and that’s the amount of protein that you—that is a minimum, quote/unquote, “minimum intake.” And that’s, you know, if you’re like lifting weights, if you’re trading. So obviously it’s going to be different depending on your hormones, because estrogen and testosterone do affect us differently and how our body deals with proteins and how it synthesizes muscle and stuff like that. So it’s going to change depending on your hormones, it’s gonna change depending on your weight, how much weight is muscle, how much of your weight is fat, what exercise you’re doing. So like, those calculators are sort of helpful for trainers as a base level so you can look at your client and—but then you have to put in all these other factors around that. So I’d say for the average person looking at that calculation, don’t worry about it. We—there’s so much protein—like I’m not advocating veganism, vegetarianism, or being carnivore or whatever, like, whatever you have access to, it’s great. I’ve tried so many different diets, like, I’ve tried all those things. And right now I just eat what I can get my hands on and what’s cheap. Um, because that’s what works for me. But you can get, you know, there’s so much protein in a handful of spinach or, like, you know, peanut butter or eggs—eggs or protein and fat. So if you just survive on eggs, like, I used to have a 5 egg omelet every morning. Like, if you can get your hands on meat, you don’t need that much, like, I used to—when I was doing like that stupid “lose nine kilos in six weeks challenge” like, what we’re eating every day was like 160 grams/180 grams of cooked meat. So like, one quarter has been removed, like 180 grams cooked meat and then 2 cups of veggies for 3 meals a day. And then, yeah, of course you’re going to get thin because you’re not like eating. And there was like no carbs. They were like, you have like a pinky-sized pile of mashed potato or whatever. Like that’s, you know, of course you’re gonna get skinny if you’re not eating any carbs and you’re and you’re in a calorie deficit so. But you can survive on not much protein and you can also build muscle on not much protein. Like, there are so many vegan bodybuilders out there and vegan athletes. And you can—there are many sources of protein and I think we don’t get taught enough about where our food comes from and what’s in our food in school. You know, I think there was a video—a viral video that went around of kids being asked, you know, “Where does the potato come from? Or where does this not come from?” And they couldn’t tell you whether it was a tree, the ground or, you know, they’re like, “The shop? I don’t know.” So I think we—it’s definitely important to learn more about food and what macronutrients are and what micronutrients are. So macros are your protein, fats, and carbs. Micronutrients are all the vitamins and minerals that are inside food as well. So it’s important to learn about that and to know what you’re getting from each different thing because you need, like, you know, life’s all about balance. You want—and your body craves variety. That’s why, you know, when you stop yourself silly with your main meal, your brain’s, like, “Hey, you still got room for dessert.” Because that’s a different nutrient for your body to absorb, its sugar. So you’ve just filled yourself up with, you know, some vitamin A, some vitamin C, some carbohydrates, like blah, blah, blah, and then you body’s like, “Hey, but you haven’t had that sugary, milky thing over there.” Like, that’s why we can still eat something different when we feel so full, because your body knows that you need a variety of different nutrients to keep yourself going. And it sees the benefit in all of them. So, you know, eating as many different things as you can is always better than, “This is my one food that I eat every day all the time.”

Margaret 37:49
Mmhmm. That’s something that I’m very bad at and I have inherited been very bad at. At one point my dad who I don’t think listens to this podcast, I’m not sure—went to the doctor and was like, “I don’t feel good.” And the doctor was like, “What do you eat?” My dad explained exactly what he eats. And the doctor said, “Every day?” My dad was like, “Yeah.” You know, it was very carefully thought out thing. It wasn’t like, he wasn’t eating junk. You know?

Dibs 38:12

Margaret 38:14
And I have a similar habit that I have to fight the desire to just eat the same thing every day.

Dibs 38:22
Well, because it’s easy, right? Like, that’s why a lot of people do it. And I used to do it and a lot of people with anxiety do it too because it’s something that you can control and you know it doesn’t make your stomach upset, you know, you can be full on it. Yeah, do you, how many meals do you have a day?

Margaret 38:40
Two and a half?

Dibs 38:43
More in the afternoon? Or do you like wait a bit after you wake up?

Margaret 38:48
Yeah, I mean, okay, so—I eat a Builder Bar for breakfast or some other protein bar, which is another long standing habit of sloth, I guess. And then for lunch, you know—or sometimes a bowl of cereal or something. And then for lunch I’ll eat—if I’m feeling fancy I’ll cook like, you know, potatoes and some greens or something. But usually it’ll be, I don’t know, oatmeal or something like that for lunch.

Dibs 39:19

Margaret 39:19
And then dinner is like the meal that I’m like—I can’t be fucked to cook. And the worst thing about—well can’t be fun to cook for myself. Like I enjoy cooking with other people, but I have a very hard time convincing myself that like I’m worth the effort of, like, taking an hour out of my day, like, three times in one day.

Dibs 39:41

Margaret 39:42
Just to like eat food when there’s this packaged thing that will make me not hungry that says it has all the things I need in it. And obviously this is sustainable for the long term. Oh…

Dibs 39:56
Well that’s where, like—you know, speaking of long-term prepping, short-term prepping comes in handy. So like, you know, cooking more rice than you need and then having it in the fridge and then, you know, you can have rice as your side for the next three or four days with your dinner. Or when you make a big salad or you make a big tray of roasted vegetables in the oven, make enough so you have, you know, enough for your sides for the next three or four days. So that’s something that you can do to help combat the time spent so then it’s like, “Okay, this one day, I’ll spend an hour or an hour and a half prepping and then tomorrow, the next day, the next day, I’m gonna thank myself because I’m gonna have to do is put it—warm it up somehow or a eat it cold.” And it’s done.

Margaret 40:38
That makes sense. But um, it’s also a reason that I need to expand my solar bank to get a freezer.

Dibs 40:45

Margaret 40:46
At the moment, I have a very small fridge. And because it’s winter, I don’t even really successfully have a fridge because there’s not enough solar power. So now I have a cooler on my porch, which is perfectly good for vegetables, but I don’t know whether I would trust cooked rice to it.

Dibs 41:04
Not sure. Maybe, I’ve always wondered that because it doesn’t get that cold in Australia. So I’ve come here and I’m like, “Wow, my outside is cold that my fridge. Do I need a fridge? Can I can I rent out my fridge in winter to someone else I just use outside for myself?”

Margaret 41:19
Yes, but then it’s harder to keep it from freezing. The cooler on my porch is actually—at the moment it exists to keep my stuff from freezing, not to keep my stuff… Yeah, it’s interesting.

Dibs 41:29
Yeah. But yeah, like it’s—then it becomes hard because if you don’t have storage space, or, you know, if you live with a bunch of roommates, it’s hard to put put things in a fridge for yourself. But yeah, you just have to pick the thing that’s small and easy to put in a little container and just pick one thing to prep that takes the longest time and then cook the other things the day of or whatever.

Margaret 41:51
No, that makes sense.

Dibs 41:52

Margaret 41:53
Um, so you talked about how hormones affect your body differently, right—or different hormones will affect bodies differently. And I was wondering if you could talk about that, because I think that a lot of people who are listening are trans or have other reasons why they take hormones or hormone blockers. And not all trans people take hormones, I actually personally don’t take hormones. And I’m wondering if you could talk about how different hormonal systems affect your decisions about fitness and how to, how to work to the advantages of of any given hormonal system.

Dibs 42:33
Well, so I’ve also trained myself before I started testosterone, and I was training when I was on testosterone, and now I’m off it again. And so I’ve experienced what training is like with all the different hormones—hormonal combinations. So you know, testosterone will turn you into a furnace, and so you’re burning calories a lot quicker then someone who runs on estrogen. Your—you build muscle a lot quicker as well. You know, lucky bastards. But, uh, so you need more food generally. So someone on testosterone is going to have a higher caloric intake to just maintain and it’s going to be easier to put on muscle. But the actual training regime, or like the exercise selection, should be exactly the same. You shouldn’t have any need to do a specific type of exercise or type of training because of your hormones. So a lot of—that’s why I think it’s such BS to put like gender on intake forms for gyms or trainers or whatever, because, like it actually doesn’t affect the training that much. If you’re giving someone nutritional advice, yes, you’re going to need to know that. But for the exercise prescription, we can pretty much do the same thing depending on your time available and your energy levels, you’re just maybe going to be lifting a different weight depending on how much experience or how much practice you put in. And, you know, I hate that standard barbells now, standard Olympic barbells, are categorized into the men’s barbell and the women’s barbell, because they have a 5 kilo difference—weight difference.

Margaret 44:21
Lord, just…

Dibs 44:21
If you’d—like it’s so silly. If you’ve ever watched like, you know, a CrossFit competition, those women very strong, can probably lift more than a lot of cis men who don’t work out. So like, really, strength depends on how much time you put into it. Like if you’re someone that’s lifting a lot, doesn’t matter what hormonal makeup you have. Strength is about your body weight and, you know, how much practice you put in. So that’s why like powerlifting competitions are broken up into weight classes because it’s all about your power to weight ratio. It’s not fair if you know a 300 pound person is lifting against a 500 pound person because they’re gonna have just different power to weight ratios naturally no matter how much they practice. And so, as a, you know, as a trans person, and even as a cis person, you don’t have to worry about what trainings for men and what training so women or what trainings people on testosterone or not. It is does affect, you know, the amount of calories you’re burning at rest. And it’ll affect your progress timeline a little bit. But you don’t really have to take that into consideration when choosing your exercises. Like I always say, the perfect exercise is the one that you do, and the one that doesn’t injure you. So if you’re like, “Oh, I must do this specific type of training,” but you’re on the couch every day because you’re dreading doing high intensity workout. Obviously, that’s not the one for you, because you’re sitting on your ass. If you’re like, “F yeah! I’m gonna do boxing today because I love boxing, like, I’m gonna do some sparring or some shadow boxing,” and you get up because that excites you, then that’s the exercise that works for you. But yeah, like, hormones are really such a small player and, like, they choose—they decide where your body fat is, is the biggest thing that they do, right? So like, if you are a trans person not on hormones, and you want to make your chest look bigger, then you’re going to just do exercises that workout your chest. If you want to make your ass look better, you’re going to do exercises that target you butt. You cannot target where fat comes off your body. That’s just not a thing we can decide as human beings, it just happens randomly, just depending on your genetics. But you can decide where you target the muscle growth because you do exercises for those muscles and the surrounding muscles—the surrounding like assisting muscles. Okay. Yeah, one time I was—before I came out as trans even to myself, but I, you know, it was maybe one of the first really obvious signs—I was doing weightlifting and I stopped because I started having veins in my arms.

Margaret 47:07
You know, like, muscle—like, in my, like, vein sticking out of my muscles or whatever. And I was like, “Oh, no, that is not an acceptable thing for me. I would definitely rather be a little bit weaker than have my veins popping out.” So I just stopped weightlifting. Probably should have just start eating more fat maybe? I’m not sure. But it wasn’t really the—I mean, okay, so that actually ties into something that I want to bring up is that—and I guess I’ve been kind of trying to—in the same way that obsessing about food can be really bad, ut does also seem like obsessing about fitness can be really bad. When I think about, personally, probably the time that I was physically healthiest was the time that I was mentally the least healthy, where I was incredibly obsessive about what I ate and about exercising, but it was absolutely obsessive. And I’m wondering if you have ideas about preventing fitness from being obsessive and like maybe, like, understanding like realistic goals or something? I don’t quite know how to phrase what I’m trying to get at.

Dibs 47:07
Yeah. Well, that’s a hard one. Because, you know, that’s what happened to me and I don’t know if there was any way to prevent it, but at some point you catch yourself and I think it’s just one of those rock bottom moments where you’re like, okay, yeah, this is a problem. I’m—you know, because I had the similar thing to you as when I was at my physical peak and I thought I was looking great and I was trading all the time, but I was obsessing over what I was eating. Like, I ended up going to hospital with a stress condition that affect my guts. And I had—I was at a festival over a New Year’s and I missed the countdown, I missed the New Year’s Eve party, because I was in like excruciating pain and couldn’t get out of bed because I had, like, a gastro problem of like, cramping, like, all in my entire torso. It was like, terrible, because I was eating the wrong makeup of food and I was literally just stressed all the time because I was—it was—I was also working a really intense, demanding job which was in the gym. And so you have to have that moment where you’re like, “Okay, cool. Well, you know, I’ve missed this socialization with my friends, or I’m not going to parties, or I’m, you know, I’m stressing about pre-packing food to a wedding because I don’t know what they’re going to serve.” Like when you get to that point. Like, seriously, like, that’s what I was doing. Like, I was, you know, you don’t want to go out because you know there’s going to be cake and someone’s gonna offer you at the end and you’re gonna have to deny it, like say no, like, you shouldn’t get to that point. And that’s when you know, things have gone too far. So like, I mean, it is really hard to avoid that but you need to just go into any sort of exercise routine or nutritional change thinking that—or knowing that it could be sustained thing, or maybe you’re gonna try this and it’s not going to be for you, and that’s okay. And it’s totally fine to not have fitness, you know, not have your life revolve around fitness. Because, like, I like to come at it as a holistic thing, like, fitness is not gonna work on its own. If you’re smashing yourself in the gym six days a week, or you know, you’re going for runs every day, or you’re doing your home workout six, seven days a week, that itself is not going to help you holistically if you’re then not sleeping because you’re stressed, or you’re not sleeping because your body is ruined because of all the work you’re doing. You’re not hydrated, you’re not stretching, you’re not—you just can’t be calm because your heart rates always elevated because you’re always moving or, you know, cooking or whatever, like, it has to be a holistic thing for your body to be working properly and for you to make it sustainable. So if—something’s always going to give, you know, if you’re sacrificing too much for this fitness lifestyle or this diet that you’re following, it’s not going to be sustainable. And then it’s going to cause you problems in the long-term. So you want to think about, okay, well, I’m smashing all this protein powder and all these like supplements all the time. What about when your, like liver, it gives out later? Or what if, you know, you end up getting heart disease or you have a heart attack because you’re always stressed? Like, you have to think about long-term, what’s going to put the least amount of stress and strain on your body and your internal organs.

Margaret 51:34
Okay. Yeah, I’ve always found—it’s funny, because I end up using like muscle building, for example, as an analogy when I think about different—the way that different systems work. About, you know, as far as I understand it, you need to like work out the muscle group until you damage it a little bit, but not a lot a bit?

Dibs 51:52

Margaret 51:53
You know, in order to trick your body into building it back stronger. And it seems like a lot of mental health stuff for me has been that way. Where like, you know, cognitive behavioral therapy, the behavioral aspects of it with like exposure therapy will be like, well expose yourself to the thing that makes you anxious, but not go overboard with it, right? Because if you go overboard with it, you just make it worse. And that’s how exercise feels like, is like, you know, you could be like, “Oh, I need to get stronger.” So you could damage yourself versus like, I don’t know, it’s an analogy I use for way too much of my life.

Dibs 52:30
I like it. No, it’s good. Yeah, you need it—you need to challenge yourself a little bit, but not too much. Yes, I guess, that.

Margaret 52:38
So one of the things that I want to talk to you about because I think that—one of the things that I’ve run into a lot when I talk about, you know, the end of the world and fitness—and obviously, anyone who’s listened to many episodes of podcast knows I’m not necessarily talking about, like, the nukes drop and everyone runs around in Mad Max cars or whatever. But actually, you know, I’d argue that we’re dealing with a version of the apocalypse right now, in that it is the possible death throes of a system that has currently sustained some of us and not others of us. But a lot of people feel like anything that talks about like disaster preparation excludes them because of especially disability. And also, things around fitness I feel like tie into both disability and like size-ism. And I really want to like separate out the two because I don’t believe that size is like a disability, you know, like being fat or whatever. But both of those things seem to come up a lot in fitness discussions. And I’m wondering if you have opinions about how to navigate this—how to navigate fitness from the perspective of someone who’s been basically told fitness isn’t for them or feels personally that fitness might not be for them.

Dibs 53:53
Yeah. Well, yeah. And that’s something I’m really passionate about and I’m trying to get more into with the content that I’m putting out on my social media channels is to target those audiences who feel like, you know, the fitness industry is against them. But there is, you know, there’s a tiny mini little fitness industry revolution happening right now. And there are certainly people in my in my circles who I follow who are fat trainers, who are trainers with disabilities, who are, you know—or who are then specifically targeting those minorities and saying like, “This is for you. This is your time, like you can do this, we can all do it together.” And it’s not that hard to change, you know, if you have a class of people of different abilities of different sizes, like it’s not hard to accommodate those—that mix group as a trainer. And, you know, a lot of trainers—to be fair, like, these days, you know, a lot of degrees you just pay for, right? So it’s not hard to be a personal trainer. There are so many people out there who are a fitness conditional, like, you know, it’s—so a lot of them don’t know, they don’t have the ability, that haven’t been taught, or they haven’t tried to think for themselves, “How do I include these other types of people in my class.” So then, you know, a few people from those memories have gone and gotten their certification and have been, you know, the role model for everyone else. So, I like to, yeah, say that I—my tagline for my businesses is “fitness for every body,” as in every

S1E22 – Walidah Imarisha on Envisioning the Future

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Episode Notes

The guest Walidah Imarisha can be found online at walidah.com. Her books referenced in this episode are Angels With Dirty Faces and Octavia’s Brood, both published by AK Press.

The host Margaret Killjoy can be found on twitter @magpiekilljoy and on instagram @margaretkilljoy. You can support her and this podcast through her patreon.


LLWD – 22 – Walidah on Envisioning the Future
Margaret, Walidah Imarisha

Margaret 00:14
Hello, and welcome to Live Like the World is Dying, your podcast for what feels like the end times. I’m your host, Margaret Killjoy, and this week I’ll be talking to an author and activist and poet and just a historian—I’ll be talking to will Walidah Imarisha who is, just, I think is absolutely wonderful. And that’ll probably come across way too much in this episode. But I’m talking to her because I’m interested in talking about—well, this week is a little bit of a departure from usual, instead of just talking about the end of all things, right, we’ll be talking about envisioning better things. And we’ll be talking about how important—how necessary it is—to be able to imagine better things in order to make those better things real. And so we’ll be talking about the importance of fiction, but we’ll also be talking about what it means to envision a world, say for example, without police and prisons and how we can move towards that. And, yeah, I’m just really excited for y’all to hear this episode. This podcast is a proud member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts. And here’s a jingle from another show on the network. Duh da duh daaa…

Jingle Speaker 1 01:28
Kite Line is a weekly 30 minute radio program focusing on issues in the prison system. You’ll hear news along with stories from prisoners and former prisoners as well as their loved ones. You’ll learn what prison is, how it functions, and how it impacts all of us.

Jingle Speaker 2 01:39
Behind the prison walls a message is called a kite—whispered words, a note passed hand to hand, a request submitted to the guards for medical care. Illicit or not, sending a cadence trusting that other people will bear it farther along until it reaches its destination. Here on Kite Line we hope to share these words across the prison walls.

Jingle Speaker 1 01:55
You can hear us on the Channel Zero Network and find out more at kitelineradio.noblogs.org

Margaret 02:06
Okay, so if you could introduce yourself with your name, your pronouns, and then like political or organizational affiliations that kind of concern what you’re going to be talking about, or maybe like the books that you’ve written that are about what we’re going to be talking about.

Walidah 02:22
My name is Walidah Imarisha, she and her pronouns. I am a writer and an educator. I have done a lot of work on science fiction and social change, culminating in co-editing Octavius Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements. I’ve also written the creative nonfiction book Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption.

Margaret 02:46
Oh, the fact—I’ve been telling people for years that my favorite book against prison is Angels with Dirty Faces. And I actually have a really hard time reading nonfiction, which is kind of embarrassing because I’m an author. And the fact that you describe it as creative nonfiction really helps explain part of why. For anyone who hasn’t read it yet Angels with Dirty Faces is like, um… it’s talking about prisons, but it’s talking about prisons from the point of view of, like, several specific people who are in prison and, well, your interactions with them. So the reason I have you on this, like, community and individual preparation podcast is—the important—I kind of want to talk to you about the importance of actually, like, envisioning something better. And because it’s this kind of cliché that, like, we know what we’re against, but do we know what we’re for? And sometimes I kind of hate when people ask—I actually almost always hate when people ask that—because my argument is that if you’re being hit with a baseball bat, you don’t actually have to articulate what you would like society to be like without someone hitting you with a baseball bat before you can get someone to stop hitting you with a baseball bat. But yet at the same time I do personally want a much better society and I know that you’ve done this work also, yeah, with Octavius Brood, which is just labeled visionary fiction. Is that right?

Walidah 04:13

Margaret 04:14
Um, could you talk about visionary fiction? And could you talk about what draws you to that? And what draws you to painting better worlds and resistance?

Walidah 04:24
Sure. Yeah. I mean, I feel—I agree with you. And I think it’s a, you know, it’s yes/and. And so, I also think it’s really important who’s asking these questions, right? Are we asking these questions of each other or people from outside being like, “Well, what do you want then?” Like, I don’t really owe you anything if you’re coming with that tone. Um, you know, for me, “visionary fiction,” I started using that term to refer to the intersection of science fiction or imaginative fiction, fantastical art, and social change. It’s deeply steeped in, you know, radical organizing, in thinking and building liberated futures. It’s not a utopian project, it’s really more about how can we imagine the futures we want to figure out new ways to build them into existence. So we’re never going to get to those perfect futures because as science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler said, we’re not going to have a utopia until we have a few perfect humans and that seems unlikely. So we won’t reach utopia. But I think the practice of utopia is the useful one. And really, I mean, that is what organizing is, is thinking about this world around us and how we actually want it to be and, you know, that’s the foundation of Octavia’s Brood, which I co edited with Adrienne Maree Brown. The premise is all organizing is science fiction. And we believe that anytime you imagine a world without the ills we fight against, without borders, without prisons without police, that is science fiction because we haven’t seen that world. But we can’t build what we can’t imagine. And so Octavia’s Brood is fantastical writing, visionary fiction, specifically written by organizers, activists, and change-makers, the folks who are, you know, in the world trying to make it a better place. And I think that intersection of imaginative spaces and social change is not just useful, but it’s absolutely imperative for us to build something other than this world around us.

Margaret 06:50
No, that makes sense. I really like the quote that you just had of, we can’t build what we can imagine. That—I don’t know. I like that a lot. It ties into a lot of what I what I think about with my own writing. And so this is a weird tangent, but okay, so like, so you’re saying it’s not a utopian project, right, even though it’s sort of in some ways about envisioning utopia. And utopia has this like really mixed reputation, right? And I think some of your work, you’ve talked about how Oregon was developed as a white utopia, for example. And, you know, I remember doing a talk—I think I’ve even said this on the podcast before, I’m not sure—I was doing a talk about A Country of Ghosts, an anarchist utopian novel that I wrote. And I was doing it at Tel hougen, an Indigenous info shop. And someone who was there was like, “Yeah, you know, that white people with utopian ideas destroyed everything, right?” And I was like, “Yeah, no, you’re just right. I don’t have a counter argument. Like, you’re just correct.” And so I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about that, about like the idea—maybe the difference between like utopia as a thing that you’re specifically trying to create versus utopia as like a direction to walk or something like that? I don’t know. I don’t know how to phrase this.

Walidah 08:21
No, I think that’s I think that’s a really useful differentiation. I think the idea—the sort of arrogance and audacity to think that we could create a perfect society, I think is rooted in, you know, everything that is against what we are wanting to build. It’s, you know, it does result in, you know, in these projects, I mean, you know, Adrienne often quotes Terry Marshall talking about, you know, that we are in an imagination battle, that we are living in someone else’s—specifically as black people—living in other people’s imaginations. And this is the result of that— of us, you know, the world being manifested through this white supremacist imagination. And I do think it’s important to talk about utopias because, I mean, so much of the goal of white supremacist hetero patriarchal, you know, capitalism has been to create their vision of utopia and to, you know, impress upon it, and press it upon the rest of the world. And so I think it’s important to talk about that as utopia because it complicates the notion of utopias you’re talking about, but I do think the sort of thought exercise of utopia is useful. I often quote, Eduardo Galeano and his quote of saying, “What is the purpose of utopia then, it is to cause us to advance.”

Margaret 10:03

Walidah 10:05
Yeah, I think if we frame it in that way it becomes incredibly useful. Because as a thought experiment, to me, it roots very much in, you know, in Ursula K LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, the subtitle of which is “An Ambiguous Utopia.” The foundation of that ideas is these folks think they have built the perfect, you know, anarchist society and then realize, you know, the liberation we want is not a destination. And if we ever think we have reached perfection, that is the very moment that we begin to replicate the very systems of dystopian domination that we fought and give our lives for. And so I think it’s important to continually think of this as, you know, as a process and a practice rather than a destination. And to continually get to ask the question, “What is our ideal world?” knowing that we won’t reach it, but we will continually not only better ourselves and society, but we will create space to reimagine what we consider to be utopia. I mean, we’re all growing. I’m growing. We’re all messing up every day. We’re all learning how to do better every day, hopefully. And, you know, so to imagine that the destination that we set at some fixed point in the past is the destination we want to go to today is—it actually does a disservice to ourselves, because it stops us from being able to grow and to continue to imagine beyond what we’re told as possible.

Margaret 11:52
Wait, I thought we were just following the blueprints that Bakunin laid out. Is that not? Like? Yeah, no, I really like that. I really like this idea of that—I mean, for me, it’s one of the reasons why, you know, personally, I’m an anarchist but I’m—just in general anti authoritarianism appeals to me is because to me it’s this, it’s a little bit clear to say like, no, no, no, no, there’s not a “perfect.” There’s not a like, a system that you create, and then enforce on everyone, you know? It’s a—instead it’s always gonna be messy, it’s always gonna be this process.

Walidah 12:31
Yeah. I mean, it’s rebelling against the tyranny even of our past selves really. Right? Like, the plan that I laid out for myself when I was 20, you know, is certainly not the plan, you know—And even if the destination of this—even if I’m heading the same way on the horizon, certainly the lessons that I’ve learned along the way have deeply impacted, shifted, and changed. And if I don’t allow myself the space to do that, then I’ve locked myself into a moment that has then become just my life.

Margaret 13:06

Walidah 13:07
But we do that with our movements every day.

Margaret 13:11
I like this idea. So—because it’s like, we need the plans. We just—to even think of it like in terms of the individual, like you were saying, like the plan of what you were going to do when you were 20. It’s like, we always need to have these plans so that we can do anything, right, otherwise—like, if I didn’t have an idea of like, what I want it to be and what I wanted to do, I wouldn’t make any progress. But yeah, no, that makes sense to be able to, like completely readdress it at any point.

Walidah 13:39
Well and just recognize that, you know, I mean, that the world is so much larger than we imagined, that the sky seems vast. And one point on the horizon that seems like the end point, when we reach it we recognize, oh, there is a whole infinity of sky beyond that. So why would we just stop when we’ve reached that point if our goal was to just continue exploring and seeing and experiencing and doing as much as possible.

Margaret 14:10
That’s so good. I like, I love all that shit so much. Okay, so why then fiction? Why choosing to express that specifically through fiction, as you all did with Octavius Brood?

Walidah 14:31
Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, I think again, for me, visionary fiction is about creating possibilities and as many entry points. So, you know, I think fiction is one way to do it. I think you can do it in any genre and whatever messy intersections between genres, the infinite intersections of

S1E21 – Petra on Camping Equipment

I talk with a wilderness instructor about what people ought to know before heading out on a long hike, about what camping equipment she likes, and about what skills you do and don’t need to study ahead of time.

S1E20 – Deviant on How to Let Yourself In

I talk with hacker and lockpicker Deviant Ollam about bypassing physical security and why and how he believes in community preparedness. Did you know most construction vehicles use the same few keys?