S1E26 – adrienne maree brown on Emergent Strategy
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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?
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—
Yeah, no, go off.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
So one of the things you were saying about—
Yeah, cuz individually, we just hoard.
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.
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.
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—
Right? Like, we keep going.
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.
Exactly. We’re in it.
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?
How badly does it have to be? Yeah.
And I’m actually curious.
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—
Well you write them.
[Chuckling] Yeah. What it—like, what is the—what is the importance of writing futures? Like, what is the importance of imagining futures?
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.
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.
I’m like—I would love to do a study on the social skills we’ve all lost.
Because I just like, yeah.
I’m also having—I have that experience all the time these days where I’m just like, everything moves slower now.
And I’m thinking about it.
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.
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.
How To… [Laughing]
And um, do you want to talk about your own podcast with a very similar title?
Yes. I mean, our podcasts are definitely siblings in the territory of content.
Yeah. So I have a—I have two podcasts. Actually now I have three podcasts.
Oh wow, okay!
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?
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—
No idea why. Mysterious.
And I like that there is—that there is other stuff out there. And I was wondering if you had—
—your own thoughts about, like, where people can find stuff about whether individual community or social preparation? Or like, how else people can get—
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.
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—
—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—
You’re like, see, I can’t. [Laughing]
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.
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.”
And not just because of what you do, but how you show up how you are, right?
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.
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.
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.
I think we’re running up on time. How can people find out more about your work?
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.
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.