Very early in his 2013 booklet The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad from Pioneers Press, Adam Gnade writes the following in a list about “navigating youth without going bitter”:
Find Good Heroes, the ones who make you feel less alone. That being said: learn how to spend time alone.
He talks later on about the negative impact of bad heroes:
Having bad heroes is like having bad parents. It’ll fuck you up just as much. Who are your heroes? Are they helping you or hurting you? Are you screwing yourself by looking up to the wrong people? Will you fall down in their shadow? What will you do with the good things they gave you? What if they’ve given you nothing but style and (romantic) nihilism?
It feels too intimate to call Adam Gnade a hero. I haven’t followed his writing long enough. He and his friends are selling their books through the tiny press and zine distro they run from the front room of the farm they own in rural Kansas (more on that later), so it feels like sitting in his living room and calling him a hero, which is awkward. I will merely say this: He makes me feel less alone. I wouldn’t mind calling him a friend at some point.
Gnade has straight-up refused to give in to despair even when despair has had the bullhorn and the brass knuckles and all the time in the world to use both on him. He’s taken that resolve, that resilience, and jotted down every survival phrase and coping strategy he can think of to give to others who feel like perpetual outsiders or losers, or who sense the whisper of internal genius but can’t get past the voices telling them to shut up. Together with companion booklets Ringside and Simple Steps to a Life Less Shitty, this little volume helps shove all those voices aside to hold a microphone up to that gentle whisper. It offers motivation for creating the art and writing you must create to survive as you. It offers ways to combat the bad thoughts when they arrive after dark when you’re tired and vulnerable. It offers a bruised and scarred but tender hand on your shoulder and a warm voice that says I know, but keep going. More than anything else, it helps a person like myself feel less alone (I have dealt with mental health issues since childhood and suicidal ideation since adolescence, neither of which I have ever written about and have only talked about with an extremely small group of people. To those who know me for whom that last sentence represents new information: I’m in a great place right now, everything is currently cool, and I have people who will check in if that changes.)
Adam and a few of his friends were sick of a lot of things a few years back and decided to leave Portland, Oregon, and move to a farm in rural Kansas. At the Hard Fifty Farm they grow their own food, take care of rescue animals, hustle like fuck to create great things like this book, and distribute zines and books for a bunch of cool small presses. They also drink, listen to good music, take care of each other, and live as freely as society will allow. In short, they live something like what a lot of us would live if we retired from what is sold to us as the American dream, turned in our false securities, and traded full checking accounts for full hearts and lungs. They struggle. It’s hard work and there’s little money, but what wouldn’t you trade for freedom and your friends? My wife and I have both long loved the idea of intentional community, and what these people are doing stirs those embers.
The Do It Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad and its companion publications (more of which are on the way, I believe) are essentials. I won’t qualify whom for. You either recognized yourself in this brief review or you didn’t. You know who you are. Pick these up and read them. Cherish them, keep them around where you create, or where you sleep, or where you keep your good alcohol. Gift them. They will make you feel less alone. When I read them, I felt what I feel when I walk into Quimby’s in Chicago or read A Softer World or watch a film by Shane Carruth or look at something Kurt Halsey’s drawn or listen to really damn good music: Known. Enough. Capable. Good. I feel the truth of two of Gnade’s repeated admonitions, phrases that orient how he lives life and views the world, phrases he offers to his readers to get them through:
Everyone good is necessary. Your friends will carry you home.
Cover photo taken by author at north of Greenville, Ohio, in October, 2016.