In memory of Anna Lind
A reflection on my beloved friend and comrade.
Anna Lind, the cofounder of this blog, a formidable activist and devoted theorist and writer, passed away in late October. She was 24.
I meant to write this sooner, but it was hard. I love Madness, but grief is a very sane sort of Madness. I feel hyperaware of it all. But I don’t want to feel different; I don’t want it to pass. So all I can do, really, is share this post, which is a reflection on her. It will be one of many, I promise: I will not stop sharing her memory.
I think in a lot of discussion of, say, decarceralism, or safe supply: Some people advocating for abolishing the police would be happy instantiating a police force under a different name. “Oh, it’s this group of people, with univocal power, et cetera, but we don’t call them cops.” Nobody likes the answer of, “Well, here are a number of supports we could put in place to prevent the need for carceral force.” No acknowledgment of potential escalation, stopping things before they happen. That’s too complex, messier than “I want to have a desk squad I can call in anytime in case I feel mildly inconvenienced.” At some point it’s just a lack of imagination, or creativity—the only way your imagination can stretch is keeping things the same. “We can have police that maybe aren’t as trigger-happy.” But you can’t countenance anything that isn’t basically a police state. I love to, you know, call on Mark Fisher: it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. In many ways, I think. Incomprehensible for many people. So pervasive, so ingrained in us: mentally, emotionally.
-Anna Lind, 9/14/2023
Anna was a brilliant thinker, close-reading Angela Davis with the best of them. But she was never highfaluting, never name-dropped. College be damned, she could throw around all that grad-student jargon effortlessly. But she didn’t, except in contexts that made its meaning clear and in tones that made people feel welcome to ask what it meant. She helped others use plainer language too. Her trained insight found and fixed dozens of confusing sentences of my work before it went to copy, always without interfering with my style. And while she often worried that she wouldn’t be able to understand thorny theoretical texts, her first read was usually better than mine. She had a unique talent for clearly distilling complicated ideas. And she explained most of Capital to me to boot.
She was ready, also, to suggest additional ways of making ideas more accessible. She was gracious about this, even when the thing she was drawing attention to was flagrantly absurd. “Why is there calculus in that screenshot?” she asked me gently, after reading an early draft of ‘The Government Owes Me $800.’ Excellent question, Anna; why was there a series of coded equations in a Substack post about my ADHD? I have no excuse and cannot explain it—the ADHD, I guess!—and she’d have been within her rights to sound much more annoyed. But Anna was not easily annoyed by her friends. I can’t recall any single time she expressed serious frustration with me. Those of you who know me will know how remarkable this is. She was more patient than I was annoying, and I am very annoying.
While Anna busily cut some theories down to size, she elevated still others. She prized inclusion in thought. Empowering marginalized people with the concepts to make sense of their experience was central to her project. She was stuck in the gig economy, sidelined from conference participation, paywalled out of academic papers—and yet her life’s work consisted in providing scholarly access to others less enfranchised than she. But she wasn’t didactic about it. She didn’t think of herself as an emissary taking up the charitable mission of educating people. She explained stuff to people, sure. But simultaneously, she was listening excitedly for their novel insights. She held theory nights to debate Marx with homeless and housing-insecure philosophers. She identified thinkers isolated in virtue of their economic precarity and brought them into activist communities. She was never condescending. You know how when some people disagree with you, they put on a sort of “when you’ve learned more, you’ll think the same thing I do” attitude? Anna never did that. Her questions weren’t leading or patronizing. She wasn’t hoping to move you toward some fixed point of greater sophistication she imagined herself to occupy, because she didn’t regard her challengers as sophomoric. Discourse with her was real, not theatric.
Anna was independently inventive, coming up with all manner of interesting thoughts. But she was also a collaborative theorist. If you had an idea she thought promising, she was ready to help develop it, keenly identifying patterns, drawing salient connections across disciplines, trends, sociopolitical contexts. For instance: I mentioned I’d been thinking about the way expression of pity toward marginalized groups can be itself a form of prejudice. What’s happening there, I wondered? Within minutes, Anna had developed this from a baseless conjecture to a rigorously-populated thesis. She connected it to cultural canards about trauma and pulled up an article on ABA. She pointed out how often people talk about sex workers as tragic figures—no one would choose to be that way—and was immediately ready to analogize that to a Kai Cheng Thom quote. But even as she’d spout off examples to strengthen your case, she never made you feel inferior. For her, Marxist practice consisted in the dialectic of system-building, the interpersonal back-and-forth of theory generation. And when I got the hint and started doing the same for her ideas, she was generously grateful for my participation in the same task she’d always done for free.
Everyone thinks addicts are resentful. (I resent that.) But Anna wasn’t. Her default assumption about the good fortune of others was that it ought be celebrated. When others reached out to her for consolation, she provided it with sincerity and sympathy, even if she was going through the same and worse. She was enthusiastic, curious, genuine. Few opportunities for participation in scholarship were available to her, and only when she fought bitterly, yet she expressed good-natured admiration toward established scholars. She wasn’t fawning—it wasn’t ritualistic deference toward academic seniority. Her esteem was always real, grounded in the passion and expertise displayed by its subject. And Anna’s esteem was a great equalizer. You’d be hard-pressed to pick a person about whom Anna couldn’t find something to admire—something that, when you stood back and thought about, you found yourself admiring too.
When I say Anna was unresentful, I don’t mean she never got angry or frustrated—she was a real person, not a superhero I’m making up—but rather that she was unusually spiteless. Of course she was angry! Her anger at addicts’ material conditions, her fierce determination to protect homeless Mad people from arrest: these were the reasons I was drawn to her in the first place. But this anger was a result of her solidarity and love, which motivated well-specified political goals. She was angry without being cruel, and kind without being the sort of ineffective peace-and-love centrist who just wishes everyone was nicer. Of course, here I am, shitting on do-nothing liberals, even though I’m furious all the time but only ever complain. Anna complained little, and instead took decisive action. She agitated for drug education. She orchestrated meetings, wrote letters, and led protests to facilitate anti-overdose training and supply provision at rehab facilities. She moved tremendous quantities of Narcan. She fought through gritted teeth to make sober living spaces safer for women and gender minority addicts.
You know that meme about the paradox of tolerance—perfect tolerance means tolerating intolerance, and so you end up facilitating the creation of an intolerant society, yada yada yada? It turns out this is bullshit. Anna was endlessly loving, but didn’t end up hoist by a pacifist petard against defending her community from violence. She was unresentful of resentment. She could relate to it, bring you peace, all while being unresentful herself but not in an annoying or holier-than-thou way. She was loving, forgiving—but she’d listen to your anger and spite for those who’d wronged you, sincerely understand it, legitimize you without reverting to platitudes about how your emotions are okay or natural.
She was unshakable in her altruistic motivation—but flexible, empathetic, nonjudgmental; she never hated her ideological opponents. In day-to-day interactions, she changed minds. She’d enter a carpool with someone terrified of Mad people and two Mad liberators would leave the car. Imagine a person who combines the furious purposefulness of Che, the watchful care of Harriet McBryde Johnson, and the fucking tenacity of a guy who writes to his senator every day to demand his landlord let him have a falcon as a pet. This is a scary person. About such people, sometimes we say, “If she were your enemy, you’d better pray in supplication—but if she were your friend, pray in thanks.” Or something like that, anyway. But the kind of fear Anna evoked wasn’t for life or limb or whatever. Her anger wasn’t a vengeance drive. She was acutely aware of positionality. If she were your enemy, you’d probably end up switching sides. Then she’d be your friend, and you’d be under her protection. She was an electric person, galvanizing many, but seldom discharging a painful shock.
I said all these things about Anna, and now you’ve read them. Later, you’ll forget them. That’s fine. I think, so far, this has been more for my benefit than yours. But the thing I want to shout, to shake you by the shoulders if I have to, to make you believe, is that Anna was happy.
I wrote above that people think addicts are resentful—bitter, spiteful creatures who lash out. There is another view about addicts, more widespread even than that, which is the notion that we are miserable. “Allergic to life.” I’ve talked, on here, about this theory of addict interiority: the self-medication hypothesis of substance use disorder. “They drink to fill the hole inside.”
I hate this shitty theory more than anything else in the world. Now, importantly, I hate it as a theory: a universal claim about why addicts as a group behave as we do. I take no issue with it as a personal narrative tool. Only you can describe your relationship to your drug of choice, and if you think you use it in order to relieve unbearable emotional suffering, I’m not gonna argue with you. (Imagine that: “No, actually, you’re wrong about why you do the things you do.”) I might be inclined to ask some questions, because I think the tendency on the part of nonaddicts to interpret addicts as miserable can cause us to internalize a sense of misery we didn’t initially identify with, but if you feel like this is meaningfully your interpretation of yourself, then power to you.
But. It’s not how every addict, or even most, describes their experience. It’s not my self-understanding (resentful, sure, but I am not sad). And it was not Anna’s. She believed drug use was often joyously transgressive. She described her negative experiences in active use as related to carceralism, capitalism, and medical indifference, the consequences of which could be mitigated through destigmatization and addict pride. She viewed addict status as an oppressed identity rather than an internal emotional deficiency. If she didn’t feel that way—if she self-described as self-medicating—I would be honest about it. I’d sweat fucking blood to do it; I know how this stuff gets co-opted. But I’d respect her authority over her own narrative. She did not, however, say that. She vehemently opposed it.
This is important; it is extremely important to me, and it would’ve been to her, that people understand she was not dispositionally unhappy. She wasn’t tragically ill-at-ease in the material world, the victim of long-ago suffering that could never be set right. She was not a sorrowful angel capable of creating goodness for others but not herself. That is part of why her being gone hurts so much. She was oppressed, sure, and was keenly aware of that. She experienced great trauma at the hands of people and institutions. But she wasn’t just not cut out for functioning in the world.
Look, I don’t know what your religious views are. For all I know you’re a fire-and-brimstone, spider-God-fearing Christian revivalist who for some reason is reading this blog. But the thing is this. Even if you think most people go to a better place when they die, and that based on my description Anna sounds like a shoo-in, I need you to understand how fucking awful this still is, to dispense with any notion that her suffering is over—because she wasn’t miserable, because profound joy wasn’t a one-off exception in her life, because she was not only capable of delight but actually possessed and created it, for others and for herself, and for herself through liberating others.
She had a weird old cat she loved. Over the summer, she also rescued an abandoned kitten—because she was compassionate and saw the dignity in living beings, but also, as she told me in a whisper, “for the snuggles.” She was well-known for her impeccable style and makeup. Chameleonlike, she’d had every hair color under the sun. She adored tattoos, both spontaneous and planned, and had many. She loved changing, risk-taking, making her body an artistic avenue. She made fun of herself—lightheartedly, in silly ways, relaying stories of pranks she’d had played on her, weird things she’d done in social settings. She sometimes couldn’t get through the whole setup of a joke because she was laughing too hard. She gestured emphatically when she talked. She made dozens and dozens of Spotify playlists, which she titled things like “moodcore” and “p00p” and filled with terrible, I mean truly awful, ambient music. She loved Toontown. She had ideas for disturbing new emojis Apple should introduce. She ended phone calls not with a quick, deniable “Love ya,” but with an enunciated “I love you very much.” And if she worried you hadn’t heard her, hadn’t heard her say that she loved you, she’d repeat it. She was flamboyantly unselfconscious about loving her friends.
After tragedies like this people always ask: Why? What was it about this person that made it so they were taken from us so young? There are reasons—marginalized people are peculiarly vulnerable to forces of oppression that kill—but there aren’t answers. I don’t mean that in an annoying absurdist way, “oh, nothing makes sense, lean into the chaos,” or whatever. I just mean that it’s pointless to anti-anti oneself into justifying the unjustifiable. The obvious truth is that this isn’t cosmic justice. There can be, will be, catharsis: as we remember Anna, tell each other stories about her, platform her thinking. But that catharsis doesn’t consist in finding some way to understand that this was meant to be, actually, that it’s good somehow—that she, or we, are better off for it. That just sounds like suspending our knowledge of the obvious, which is that all of us are worse off. We are down a remarkable friend and a fearsome agitator. Anna was an incredible person, but there’s no such thing as being too good for this world. She wasn’t bound to die, and she didn’t have to. It was too soon—for her, for the hundreds who loved her, for the lives she was changing.
Anna wrote a lot. (We’ll keep sharing her wonderful writings; a whole section of the blog will be devoted to that purpose.) She was—I’ve used this same phrase to describe Archie Rolland, a wonderful activist who was a victim of the Canadian MAiD regime—a subtle documentarian. She identified the workings of institutions, especially the ones she was fighting, and described them for a mainstream audience. She was also extremely rigorous. Citations and links were an opportunity for her to platform the insights of addict theorists and drug user movements, continuing her project of expanding access. She carefully read empirical research. Often she sent me long lists of academic papers with incomprehensible titles, which she needed for her projects. She’d tried to download them, but they were locked behind an institutional block. Usually I could access them. But still, all I can think is Unfair!—in the little time she had, so much effort had to be spent just to download something from JSTOR. Even in these banal ways, she had to fight so hard. The academic recognition foisted upon so many, which she was denied, was a mere shred of what she deserved.
In the academy we often talk about working-class scholars. Lots of would-be contributors—poor people, homeless people, addicts, sex workers, grassroots activists—are marginalized out of the ivory tower by economic and political positionality. We emphasize that we want to make academic work more accessible to all these people, but mostly we end up just hand-waving about nontraditional pathways to academic inquiry. It’s so abstract. Given the credentialist bottlenecks that facilitate their exclusion, there just aren’t a lot of working-class scholars around to tell us what it’s like to be them. So the proletarian philosopher becomes a construct, just the idea of a person. We imagine them without knowing them. We inflate and contract and reshape our imagination to fill the space left by their absence. Sometimes we end up dismissing them, saying none exist. Or else we exalt them to mythic status: we become obsessed with the idea of the blue-collar prodigy, the Good Will Hunting guy. It’s easy to do if you don’t know one.
Now I have sketched one for you, this beloved colleague and comrade, my Anna. I’m not putting her on a pedestal. I know it sounds that way. It is hard not to lionize someone whom you love, especially when they are dead and the thing you are writing about them is a eulogy; when, also, you believe they were a uniquely important, special person; when your conviction that they were special is absolutely not a mere projection of your love for them—I refuse to accept that, it is not true—but rather your recognition of reality. I don’t know where the personal emotion ends and the pragmatics begin. Anna’s importance is, to me, a matter of logical tautology. I know I’m writing subjectively, about my experience of loving her. But this is objective too. I know because of what I saw that she was special because of who she was.
I know convincing people of that won’t change things, won’t un-gone her. There is no mitigating this injustice. But more people have to know who she was. I can’t explain why I feel that way, really, and the only person who could have taken my confused thoughts and Socrates’d them into a theory is gone now. But I have to ask, to demand: take this coarse sketch of an objectively remarkable person and search for others who resemble it, and if you find any, your life will be blessed, we need these people.
Or maybe I’m just saying—I needed this person. I know I won’t always feel such constant, acute grief. But everything is always going to be a little bit wrong, forever, now. I can live with her absence, but I will not draw a full breath ever hence.