Hit Back: How to Build a Castle

by Adam Gnade

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

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

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

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

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

A House for Agatha by Dylan Garret Smith

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

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

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

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

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

Borough Furnace: Possibly the Most Environmentally Friendly Skillet


Borough Furnace is a metal casting workshop in Syracuse, New York that was started through Kickstarter. They create small batches of hand made products using a traditional process that has been updated to be more environmentally friendly.

Their business centers around the Skilletron, a furnace that burns Waste Vegetable Oil to melt scrap iron at 3000ºF. Using old fryer grease as fuel helps to greatly eliminate the energy consumption typically associated with metal casting. In order to keep with their mission of consuming as little as possible, they only use recycled metal.



ThomasMaderTheDiscerningBrute.com is excited to welcome guest writer Thomas Mader, a multidisciplinary artist based in Berlin. Mader has shown internationally and written for publications like Dossier Journal, Underscore Magazine, and Curbs & Stoops. For his recent public intervention “Balloon”, he handed out 1000 helium balloon drones in Salzburg/Austria and New York. “Balloon” will be shown in a different format, as a collaboration with video artist Christopher Michael, at ÑEWMERICA’s show “Birth of a nation” at Exit room Gallery NY, opening on the 3rd of April.


by Thomas Mader


In the early 2000’s, when camouflage patterns came back into fashion, some concerned voices could be heard talking about the dangers of introducing military symbols into a civilian context, and thus normalizing the otherwise aggressive connotations these patterns represent.

The people speaking out against this phenomenon were labeled ‘overanxious’, insofar as their arguments being dismissed by the mainstream as irrelevant or conspiracy theory babbling.

The discussion, however, made me recall my first trip to South America and how shocked I was then, not only for seeing armed solders pretty much wherever I went, but also because of how much of a mundane sight they were to the civilians of their respective countries.


I understand that the military is much more present in an everyday context in the US than it is in many European countries, that it has a different status and a different appreciation, but I also think that it is important to not simply ignore the topics that surfaced in this camouflage fashion discussion. Because not only have I seen how literally camouflage had camouflaged itself, but also how quickly these hidden aggressive potentials can snap back into action and cause extensive damage.

…these hidden aggressive potentials can snap back into action and cause extensive damage.

The downplaying of violent symbols and control mechanisms by introducing them into a mainstream context is a very powerful tactic and we can witness its effects every day.

When Street Art was still relatively underground, the image of the surveillance camera was a warning symbol speaking out against the massive introduction of surveillance mechanisms in public spaces. As the medium got more mainstream attention, its symbols gradually lost their meaning.

A stylized stencil of a surveillance camera now no longer functions as a warning, it just means that Street Art, at least in its most widely recognized form, has become an easily consumable product.


The medium’s symbols have become so iconic that they no longer contain any significant meaning. They merely serve as a business card for the medium itself.

This development was not necessarily propagated in a conscious way by the creators of the medium, but rather by those who recognized its potential for mainstream appeal and marketability.

In my opinion, a similar phenomenon can now be observed when it comes to drone technology. Almost every other week various YouTube videos show the advances in miniature drone flight and control capability. Companies like Amazon and DHL use drone parcel delivery as publicity stunts and remote control drones have long found their way into toy stores, allowing people to steer them using their iPhones or PSPs.

The technology seems democratic and there for all to use but how much the powers that be really feel the need to control said technology became clear once again when the whole extent of the NSA surveillance program in Germany was uncovered.


The spying post the NSA had used to spy on top level German politicians, including chancellor Merkel herself, was, and to my knowledge still is, situated right on top of the US embassy in Berlin, smack in the political center of Germany, a mere stones throw away where the chancellor resides and the parliament assembles.

When the Sueddeutsche newspaper and NDR, a regional German TV channel, included drone technology in the research of their joint venture titled “A secret war”, their use of camera drones immediately resulted in police presence where reporters were forbidden to use the drones and had their personal data taken down.

…reporters were forbidden to use the drones and had their personal data taken down.

This discrepancy between seemingly democratic technologies and symbols and their inherent exclusiveness pertaining to a more or less invisible elites works as a sort of Trojan horse.


People are being offered to use and enjoy certain symbols but they always incorporate the potential that an elite will take them away from the general public whenever they deem fit, or use them to ensure their own safety and status.

Of course, the same goes for certain online services and in their case almost always the well-known Internet rule applies: If it is for free, you are the product.

On that note: Here is your free balloon. Enjoy!


*”Balloon” was made possible by “Basics” festival in Salzburg/Austria. http://www.basics-festival.net/

Hit Back: List-Making as a Simple Step to a Life Less Stupid

By Adam Gnade

All Photos: Adam Gnade

This is how morning happens here on the farm. Up when it’s natural to be up. Let the rescue pitbulls out into the field. Bring them back in and feed them. Open the barn and let the sheep, goats, ducks, chickens, and pig out to graze, then feed everyone and fill the ducks’ pool. Open the side-barn where the two pygmy goats (Harriet the Spy and Dixie) sleep and feed them and fill their water. Last step is to let the cats out into the field. We have eight cats so that’s a great ball of white and black and gray through the front door. I wasn’t much of a cat guy before I moved out to the country but a good rural cat is a fine thing to see. Hemingway had his pirate cats. I have my barn cats and they are goddamn good creatures.

After that it’s back into the farmhouse to make coffee or black tea. Open the curtains. Light some nag champa. Turn on the radio. Sometimes I’ll bring my kiddy-size portable ’70s record player to the kitchen while the coffee is brewing and play some old Album Leaf or Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain or Blanck Mass, something quiet and rich and melodic to help me slow back down and get my head straight and ready for the work at hand.

Then breakfast. Avocado, refried beans, tortillas fried with a little Earth Balance, garlic, and lime. Diced tomato and grilled poblano from the fields. Maybe a bowl of brown rice with black beans and cilantro. (My current philosophy is “eat for how you’ll feel afterwards” which cuts out anything trashy; I don’t always pull it off but it’s what I shoot for).

If the weather is good I’ll sit outside on an old metal folding chair I bought for a buck nintynine at Goodwill in town and watch the animals graze while I eat. If the weather is great I’ll take a while longer and have some red wine with breakfast. (New Year’s resolution: always keep a jug of good cheap red wine somewhere within arm’s reach). After that, I get to work.


Now, before any bookwork happens I sit outside at my writing table under the black walnut tree and go through the notebook where I keep all my lists. (Sometimes the wine jug comes along. Most of the time not. My rule these days is don’t drink until the work is done and lately the work is never done).

The notebook is from Eberhardt Press in Portland; it’s college-ruled with a big, proud-looking tiger on the front, and the lists are everything from daily to-do lists to words I want to remember to things I’d like to fit in the book I’m working on right now (March 13th entry: “scorpions swarm around the lighthouse lamp in the front room at the beachhouse in Tamarindo, Italian-made Rossi shotgun, Nicole’s friend Jasmine (the gypsy), knife-sharpening in the dark, Ben Frank at night in the pool at Tyler’s house, Germanic gothy maelstrom, the first line to ‘Georgia Clay,’ the corpse you saw across the street from Pokez at JP’s birthday, Raymond Carver’s bookcase, Country Grind Quarterly, Pioneers Press zine tour, Julia Eff’s goddamn good hair, bats in the dusk in Dallas, Caveworld as 2014 Trainspotting, StenaLine ship to Amsterdam, the graves you dug last spring, trailerparks and ‘bad sneakers’, the fog up from the canyons by the 52, sudden loss”).


I make lists because I’m a total fucking wreck; I can’t stress this enough. Without the structure of lists I have no direction and I waste time worrying about what to do next and I make a lot of stupid mistakes and forget things. I’ve got one of those worthless selective memories where I can remember a lot of minor shit that works to your advantage when you’re writing fiction but can’t keep the day-to-day in order enough to save my life.

All that adds up to anxiety, regret, and missed opportunities, and I don’t want any of that. So I make lists and when I make lists I’m a lot happier. Here are the seven sections from my list-book. Maybe they’ll give you an idea of where to go with your own:

1) “Five-year plan.” This one’s pretty elaborate and expansive and includes big things like where I want to be living in five years, how I hope to spend my time, and the toxic bullshit I’d like to see cut from my life. I don’t want to be rich or famous but I’m about as ambitious as you get about wanting to write good things and have a better life (not “there” yet of course) and this section is where I keep the shit that keeps me on track. It’s half pep-talk and half blueprint and I refine it every day.

2) “Daily to-do list.” I make these before bed after all the work is done. They vary every day and most of the time I only get a tiny fraction of it done. What’s left over is carried on to the next day’s tasks, or a section I call:

3) “Overdue to-dos.” These run the gamut of farm things I need to buy that I’ll never have money for to broken things that need fixing to all sorts of schemes that only require an hour of free time and the right head-space to be checked off. This is the section that I fail at the most. Sometimes I don’t want to even turn to that page because it makes me feel worthless but I do because what kind of men are we if we don’t look our failures in the eye and acknowledge them for what they are? You have to know your mistakes like close friends if you’re ever going to move beyond them.

4) “Life goals.” Like the five year plan, I rewrite this section all the time. This is all big stuff. Long-term plans. A lot of guess-work here but anyone who says planning for the future isn’t mostly guess-work is pulling your leg and probably has something to hide. Fuck those people. Transparency above all, always.


5) “Publishing goals for the year.” These are the books I want either written or in-print by the end of the year. Includes ideas on how to surprise everyone with each new thing you release and plans for making whatever you’re working on be your “one great work.” I don’t really pull that off (not yet at least) but that’s what I’m trying to do. Why not try to make each new thing you release better than the last? Why not shoot for the magnum opus every time? You’ll almost certainly fail but your work will be better for it. (“If the poet is caught up in things, the reader will be caught up too.” –Roberto Bolano.) Nothing cleans out your mind better and makes you grow more than an honest-to-god all-guns-blazing struggle. I’ll take that any day over half-tries and mediocre but “respectable” results. The critics may like you but will you like yourself?

6) “Money and finances.” I have a checking account and two $750-limit Mastercards I use in an attempt at building credit enough to buy a big chunk of land some day. This section has vertical columns down the middle of the page for each account and I update their balance every day. There’s also a column for bills I have to pay that month, a column for money owed by me and to me, and one for expenses in the foreseeable future (propane, tour costs, plane tickets, train-fare, etc). Life is pretty spare out here on the farm and I have to run a tight ship with my expenses or shit gets overwhelming fast. I hate money, and being stressed or upset because of financial stuff makes me feel like I’m failing so I work damn hard to stay away from that.

7) “Secret section.” These are lists too embarrassing to talk about here. Personal stuff; angry stuff; life goals in the sense of chipping away at the things about myself that I don’t like. These are the ones you really need if you want to overhaul your life and live better. This is where the true struggle happens, where the bad guys come out and take pot-shots at you and where the basic matters of life and death play out on a serious, real-life scale. Because sometimes shit gets Shakespearian and by that I don’t mean poetic. When that happens you need to put your back into it and be smart and ethical and honest about your choices. It’s a chess game and it would be great if we didn’t have to play it but sometimes the shittiness of life makes it a requirement. Of all the lists in the book this section is the most important.

The combination of that part and the more utilitarian and task-oriented stuff keeps me moving forward. It also allows the unstructured part of me (which is a big part) to get loose and do what it needs to do. Some people are very regimented and some flow a little more free. Half the time I wish I could be one or the other but I’ve tried that before and it’s against my nature and things get totally derailed. For me, one side cannot function without the other and that’s why list-making is a big part of my simple steps to a life less stupid.

I’m as clueless as anybody in the whole path-towards-better-life thing but this works for me right now and I’m going to stick with it until it doesn’t anymore. In the end, you’ve got to be flexible and if something doesn’t work for you or if it stops working you need to know when to jump ship and try something else. That kind of perspective and judgment is important. If you’ve got that you’ve probably got a good head on your shoulders. I’m there maybe half the time but I’m working toward it every day.

What I Learned from the ‘No Meat Athlete’ Book Tour

by Matt Ruscigno, MPH, RD

Hey Discerning Brute readers! It has been a long time and boy have I been busy. Last month the No Meat Athlete book, by Matt Frazier from NoMeatAthlete.com came out and I’m very happy to be the co-author.  Matt created his site to write about his journey to qualifying for the prestigious Boston Marathon as a new vegetarian. He had no idea his ethical dietary choice would improve his running, and not only get him to Boston, but turn him vegan and into a 100-mile race finisher. That’s 100 miles. Running.

The book is not about him though. It is more of a guidebook for anyone who wants to eat healthy, learn the facts about plant-based nutrition and be motivated to run or exercise more. It’s fun and informative with practical, science-based nutrition that I was fortunate to contribute. With so much inaccurate info out there about vegan diets and exercise, it feels great to hand people this book! Because when it comes down to it everyone could eat better and exercise more (Except for Ed Bauer. I think that dude has maxed out his exercise and fitness.)

Matt did an epic 6 week 40+ event book tour and I hoped on in for the Southern California, Arizona and Austin events. Each one was different- sometimes at a running store and sometimes at a restaurant- even a non-vegetarian one (“we just love what you are doing!”). The response though, stayed the same- “I am so excited to eat more plant-based foods.” We heard this multiple times at every stop. Sure, seasoned runners and seasoned vegans showed up but the majority was people who are new-ish to either plant-based eating or running and fitness- or both.

One question stands out that represents where we are going. A young woman asked during the Q&A, “We now have your book, and Scott Jurek’s and others, but what did you do before that?”

Now I’ve been vegan since the mid-90′s and athletic for the better part of that time so at first this question caught me off guard. Then later that night I realized what her question means. We’re reaching entirely new people. Duh. My NYC Discerning Brute vegan athlete talk in the Spring packed the Jivamukti Yoga School, but it was mostly vegans, athletic folks or vegan athletic folks. Great people, whom I love, but on this recent tour we did something even bigger: reached entirely new audiences.

It’s going beyond vegans and, finally, showing everyday fitness folks the benefits of eating more plant foods. And running is on the forefront of plant-based athletes. We have Scott Jurek, of course. And my friend Catra Corbett has been vegan almost two decades and is about to run her 100th 100-mile run. All I know is that 100 squared equals hella miles. Not to mention Mike Arnstein and Donovan Jenkins, two ultra-runners I featured on my Day in the Life of Vegan Athletes video series. And of course there’s the legendary British marathoner Fiona Oakes who just this week set a new women’s record for the Antarctic Ice Marathon and now holds the world record for total aggregate time of marathons on each continent plus the North Pole. I didn’t even know that was a thing and lo and behold a vegan has the record. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that your everyday runner is now interested in plant-based eating!

Originally vegan fitness was about doing athletic events to say, look we can do it too!  Now it’s: I want to be vegan for the performance advantages. And for many people the ethical and environmental reasons soon follow suit. What a beautiful thing that is happening and I am incredibly stoked to be a part of it. If you are already eating this way and being physically active you are ahead of the curve. If you’re not yet doing these things, the resources and momentum are there for you to begin right now.


Matt Ruscigno, Rip Esselstyn, and Matt Frazier at Whole Foods HQ after giving a presentation about the No Meat Athlete book and vegan sports nutrition.

Matt Ruscigno, Rip Esselstyn, and Matt Frazier at Whole Foods HQ after giving a presentation about the No Meat Athlete book and vegan sports nutrition.