It's important to me that I offer a perspective beyond my own from time to time, for the same reason that it's important you have a diverse community: as it turns out, there are a lot of things I haven't experienced, and a lot of things other people have. That's why I'm so glad that A. C. Warner agreed to be the first When/If interview.
A. C. Warner is a poet and academic in Louisville, KY. Her current research focuses on nostalgia, public memory, and place, while her creative work utilizes hybrid genres to examine life and writing with disability. Both sides of her work engage the body. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter at @acwarnerlit, and she has compiled a document for resistance work beyond the front lines at: https://linktr.ee/acwarnerlit
1. What brought you to prepping?
This is probably best answered in three parts, all of which connect to and influence one another.
Growing up in the Midwest, I feel as though there was always some degree of prepping. Growing up out in the country and in small towns, it was easy to lose power or find ourselves unable to go anywhere either because of a bad storm (summer and winter) or flooding. Whenever the sky looked particularly ominous or the weather doppler was filled with red, we would make sure our candles were ready, and later that all our devices were charged. While people do rush the stores to buy bread and milk at the sign of a bad snowstorm, my family typically looked a day or two ahead and tried to beat the rush. We looked for things that would hold us over, and sometimes things that would be easy but fun (or comforting) to eat/make with a power outage. At best, nothing happened and we didn’t have to go to the store for a bit; at worst we were ready. And there were enough times where being ready paid off that it’s now routine for me.
More recently, with the current political climate and COVID-19, I became more concerned with the long haul than a couple hours or days. When it became clear that lockdown was imminent and that the virus would soon reach the center of the US, I spent my spring break running to the grocery store and cleaning my house from top to bottom. I stocked up on ingredients we used regularly; I made food in bulk to freeze. I finalized my workspace for the long term. When it came to election time, I filled in the gaps, and focused more on things such as batteries, extra water, first aid, self-defense, etc. Now, as we enter winter, I’ve continued to build on this foundation. While I see so many anticipating things returning to “normal,” I find myself skeptical.
Ultimately, I want to make sure that we’re secure, fed, and relatively comfortable—that our basics are met, and that if necessary, we could operate from within our home for months at a time.
And finally, as a disabled person, there is always some degree of prepping for flare-ups or days when I may not be able to do as much (which means limited cooking or general self-care). I’m always looking ahead, tracking how I’m feeling, weather changes that may affect me, what tasks I have to complete in the near future, and plan around these things. This means having easy meals to fall back on, having things on hand that can ease any sensory overload, and knowing what I’ll need in the event of excess pain or exhaustion.
2. What does prepping mean to you?
Prepping, to me, is about anticipating—what might happen, what might I need given any particular scenario. It means looking ahead to how things are progressing and having something on hand for the eventuality that I’ll need it, rather than waiting until I do. This also means identifying gaps and filling them. I have a lot of anxiety, and have been known to catastrophize, so having a plan in place helps me feel more secure. Another way of looking at it is looking ahead and having something in place for when I can’t think as clearly. I don’t want to find myself foggy or panicked and unable to make clear decisions; having prepped will mean I don’t have to make as many choices in those moments and will have something to fall back on in case of emergency (or even just a bad day).
3. What is your focus when prepping, if you have one? What's your goal?
If there is a centralized focus, it’s probably food security. As a grad student, I don’t have a lot of free time or mental space (or budget) for some aspects of prepping, so food is something that is comparatively easy to procure and curate. To call back to your post-election write-up, I’m currently probably somewhere between an Emergency Prepper and Long Winter Prepper—I’m about set up for a couple weeks (and more food-wise), but making plans for the future.
Ultimately, I want to make sure that we’re secure, fed, and relatively comfortable—that our basics are met, and that if necessary, we could operate from within our home for months at a time. I’m planning for a garden in the spring, and I’d like to learn how to can over the summer, because while a chest freezer has been a fantastic investment, until I get a generator, it won’t be very useful if we were to lose power.
Following up these food related plans are first aid and sewing. I have some fundamentals but definitely could be more robust.
4. What is something that you have to consider when prepping as a person with disabilities?
Before highlighting a few things, I first want to clarify that in no way is this meant to be taken as a blanket statement for how all disabled folx do or should prep. Rather, as the question implies, it’s about what I have had to consider with my particular disabilities. My mobility and capacity fluctuate (due to chronic pain and fatigue), but I can walk (sometimes I need a mobility aid); I can often pass as able and I have an able-bodied partner. In other words, some of my considerations come with certain privileges that may not be doable for everyone. That being said, disability justice worker Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha has created this doc, which is more broadly about disabled folx navigating the pandemic quarantine and beyond: Half Assed Disabled Prepper Tips for Preparing for a Coronavirus Quarantine.
“Better than nothing” is a phrase I come back to a lot. Not because I’m lazy (which is an ableist thought), but because access is a real issue. And access is deeply intertwined with safety.
Now, as for me specifically: Bugging out is much more difficult for mobility and stamina reasons. I do have a bug-out kit, but in putting it together (and as I review it), I find myself making choices and ways to make it as light as possible. For some items, I try to make sure they’re as multifunctional as possible. For example, my hand-crank radio can also serve as a light, or phone charger if I really need it. This means running down the battery more quickly, but it’s surprisingly lightweight, and the radio also has the capacity to charge both with a crank and solar energy. The dual option charge is great not only for potentially cloudy days or nights, but also days where I cannot grip the hand crank for long periods of time. In terms of weight, I’m not sure if I would be able to carry as much water as I’d like, so a LifeStraw and sillcock key are not just a good idea, but absolutely necessary.
Other things specific to my bugout bag and disability: Pain medication (beyond the basic first aid kit for inflammation); braces for loose joints (and more specifically, braces that can fit under my clothes, because disclosure is always a risk, even in non-crisis times); camping hammock (a risk of making myself more visible, but sleeping on the ground would make it impossible for me to move the next day). My primary mobility aid is a cane, and I have one with a seat that can fold up and fit in a bag that would easily attach to my bugout bag.
I’m still experimenting with my EDC. Because of chronic pain and sensitivity, wearing a belt can be incredibly uncomfortable and borderline painful. I’m trying an elastic belt that has more flexibility, but I may have to shift to something that can clip to a belt loop or a bag. This won’t be as easy access, but may also be the difference between wearing it and not. Additionally, when thinking about multitools, I have to consider what I can do with limited hand strength (i.e., squeezing anything plier shaped). At the moment, I’ve opted for a credit card style multitool; I’m not convinced of its durability but it’s better than nothing. “Better than nothing” is a phrase I come back to a lot. Not because I’m lazy (which is an ableist thought), but because access is a real issue. And access is deeply intertwined with safety.
Prepping is accumulative. It doesn’t happen all at once—it’s a practice and habit as much as things you need to be ready. Tools are relatively meaningless without the intent and capability to use them.
As someone with brain fog, I can’t always think clearly and sometimes my short-term memory is nonexistent. I’ve been known to forget a kettle is on the stove, and once boiled an egg so hard the water was gone and the shell was blackened by the time I came back to it. In short, I don’t need to be starting any fires. While I do have Sterno cans for cooking, I’ve made a point to collect battery operated candles and tea lights. They won’t provide warmth in the winter, but they can prevent making any situation worse.
5. Can you show us the prep you're most satisfied with?
My pantry feels the most put together and operational. This basement pantry coordinates with our upstairs pantry, where I have more spices, baking goods, tea, and coffee. During election week, I funneled my anxiety into organizing it and identifying gaps. I sorted it so that I can see what I have at a quick glance. I’ve also dedicated a corner to a few things that are reserved specifically in the event of long term and/or emergency: Some basic spices, bouillon cubes, canned soups, honey, etc. These are near the back so that I’m less likely to grab them without thinking, but also still in view so I can cycle them out if they don’t get used after a long period of time. In addition to canned goods, there is plenty of rice and instant noodles and sauces for easy meals (because, again, I won’t have the energy some days for even doctoring beans). This is also where I’ve stocked extra things like cleaning supplies and batteries.
I even made sure we have plenty of D batteries for our battery operated turntable should we lose power (a necessity for mental health). Note: the Vestax Handy Trax is built for the apocalypse. We dropped one out of a car twice during a road trip and it still runs.
All in all, what I’m learning and have to remind myself is that prepping is accumulative. It doesn’t happen all at once—it’s a practice and habit as much as having any particular things you think you need to be ready. Tools are relatively meaningless without the intent and capability to use them.