Art channel

Illness into Weapon

Metabolize, If Able is a queer correspondence sent from a dystopian future. Clay AD’s hybrid-novel follows the lives of clones and their spawn through medical charts, IMs, self-help meditations, screenplays, and, of course, epistles. For the clones, a corporation controls life and death, sickness and wealth. Corp doctors, or DRs, bring the clones to life and assign them work. But DRs restrict clone reproduction. They pathologize and withhold care. They keep the clones sick. What happens when the clones and their anti-Corp cell turn illness into a weapon? AD’s sci-fi world posits the hope found in collective intimacy & the struggle against state control.

Inga Zimprich: Thank you for the possibility to publish these „meditations“ taken from the book Metabolize, if able for this issue of RTV Magazine on sickness/health. Your novel is a science fiction set in the future at a time when a medical corporations are controlling rights and access to healthcare. The story centers around the lives of one of their products: clones. 

Metabolize, if able consists of three parts. On one hand there is a story of a clone who is never named, and like everyone else, is monitored by Bio*Corp. Bio*Corp controls the bodily maintenance and psychological and physical ability of people. The story follows the clone and their friends slipping through the grid and connecting to people who keep and secretly share knowledge about alternative medicine and herbal remedies as well as the skills of media making. Secondly, between the chapters, which are short, well-written and easy to read, these meditations are inserted as exercises or moments of reflections which actively involve the reader. Thirdly and finally, Metabolize, if able, contains a script for a movie. When I read Metabolize, if able last year, I was blown away and astonished, that it was possible to write a book like that. Today! You! It was a book I had never been able to imagine but it is exactly the book I wish would be written. I told everyone I met about it. So nice, I have a chance to say that again here: Please all read this book. 

Can you say a little about the setting of the story and the way you came up with this futurist yet dystopian scenario?

Clay AD: It was definitely a mash-up. Partially it was based growing up in the suburbs of Indianapolis, how the architecture and space of late stage capitalism in the midwest created a built landscape. I spent a lot of time as a teenager biking around semi abandoned office parks and suburban industrial spaces. It was fun to reclaim these spaces, mix them with larger cities I had lived in and visited to make a place for the story to play out. The Dolly for example is based on a tiny movie theater built into a store front I went to a lot in New York called the Spectrum. As far as the clone aspect, I had been thinking a lot about how trauma manifests in the body through time, and wanted to tie it to ideas of epigenetics with the clones and their “spawn” (a kind of genetic off-spring they produce themselves).

These are the two main characters,  the unnamed clone and their spawn, Ruby look exactly alike, but because of the conditions of their creation (clones are legal, and spawn are illegal beings) they have totally different lived experiences and privileges. This was also a kind of attempt to draw a line towards how identity and privilege affords care in the US health system (and in just living within the system). Another aspect that came in was the wellness world’s insidious eugenical edge, and the desire for the perfect, healthy, abled body, and the horror of the disabled/sick body to reproduce; shown through the clones reproducing spawn. The story centers around the main character and Ruby, and their complicated affinity and love for each other and their communities, and by doing so hopefully make a direct proposal against the obsession with the nuclear family and *temporary* able body.

Inga Zimprich: In the epilogue you write that your inspiration for writing this novel, is that you yourself were navigating a disfunctional health care system as a youth with chronic illness, needing to find a health insurance to take you with a diagnosed precondition. Can you share some more about your lived experience, respectively your concrete inspiration to write this book? (I refer to what you write so clearly and beautifully in the Epilogue)

Clay AD: I think this book was born from years of anger, at a dysfunctional health system, but generally at doctors and how difficult it was to get anyone to take me or my body seriously as a perceived teenager girl. I had about five or six years feeling totally alone with this, and I don’t even know if I would allow to call it anger then, because when you are socialized as female anger is generally not an accessible emotion, at least it wasn’t for me. I think I mostly just felt very ashamed of my body and afraid of doctors. When I was around 21, or 22 I can’t remember, I began reading writing from other sick people and this really saved me, from my doubts and my feelings of isolation. I read Carolyn Lazard’s “How to be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity” and it felt like taking the red pill and staying in a reality where the sick and disabled were connected and angry and wanted a different world. I wanted to be there, in that different world, or at least dreaming about it and trying to figure it out together in practice.

Inga Zimprich: In the epilogue you mention references which have inspired you, for instance „Woman on the Edge of Time“ by Marge Piercy. In the novel I believe there is graffity saying „Turning Illness into Weapon“, (aus der Krankheit eine Waffe machen), a quote from the Socialists Patient Collective. You use the book to sneak in some references to radical health care collectives of the past. What role do they, especially the historic references, play for you?

Clay AD: I think the historical research is a pretty big building block of the text. After finding Lazard’s essay I just started reading as much as I could get my hands on, like Eli Clare, Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals, theory about biopolitics and the incredibly racist and misogynist histories of the early development of the western healthcare system. Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch was really important, and writers who were looking back into the moment that healthcare got systematized, accredited, and most important, illegal for many to practice folk tradition and healing. I started also looking into the autonomous and solidarity healthcare movements, online trans healthcare (exchanging information and building a common knowledge, sending hormones to strangers in need) and groups practicing healthcare illegally in the US such as the group Jane in Chicago who was providing illegal abortions in the early 70’s.

I wanted to insert the history of domination, but also all these examples that already exist of people caring for one another outside of the system, stealing or making drugs, providing abortion, birth, hospice, and understanding each other’s health as holistic. I knew that I wanted to solidify all of this, and felt like fiction could hold all the affective material the research was giving me while being more accessible (and more fun for me) to write than an essay or theory. I have always processed information through art, and so the text actually started off as a script for a performance. But the performance never happened and at some point I realized I was actually writing a book.

Inga Zimprich: Lastly I would love to ask you what your current understanding of health care politics is, that your book is certainly intervening into. What needs, struggles and desires for health care do you see as most pressing?

Clay AD: Oh this is a hard question. I think it feels difficult because it also feels so place based. I live in Berlin, but my understanding of the healthcare system and research around is, and especially for the book, was really grounded in the US and that history. Maybe I’ll just point to some things that keep me feeling connected, and whose work I really appreciate. I listen to the Death Panel Podcast, “a socialist podcast about austerity, eugenics, and politics, featuring Beatrice Adler-Bolton, Emily Barker, Artie Vierkant, Vince Patti and Phil Rocco” and am super grateful for their breakdown of the US Democratic candidates right now in terms of medicare-for-all (universal healthcare proposal), and just generally their insight and humor. I think the harm reduction work happening in the US is amazing, especially what I see coming from Queer Appalachia. Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is also very inspirational, and feels like a very important model as climate change will get increasingly dramatic. In Berlin I am apart of a really beautiful group called Sickness Affinity Group (which Inga is also in 🙂 ) which is an open support group mostly of activists and artists who are sick and disabled or organizing and working around the topics. Its really grounding to meet with this group and help one another, we all have really different experiences and abilities, and its cool to see in practice how this works and has thrived.

Clay AD makes text, sounds, videos and movement around themes of sci-fi, illness and ecology and they offer their work to you. Based in Berlin, AD studies somatics and movement. They organize and think with others, they make music on a home-karaoke machine, they envision what autonomous, feminist healthcare could be in present and future conditions. AD was born in Indianapolis, IN. First published in 2018 by Monster House Press, Metabolize, If Able was named a finalist in the 31st Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror.


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