2003-2004, the crabigail review

all right, let’s try to finish this “decade in review” thing before 2010 is over. it’s taking me a long time because the distro is still sucking up all my time. all the zines i had were sold, but packaging them up & lugging them down to the post office (in more than a foot of ice & snow, with no car) is not fun. i packed up 37 pounds of zines yesterday, which was only ten orders, & it barely made a dent in everything that has sold. i packed everything into jared’s courier bag (he used to be a bike messenger in boston) & slogged off to the post office & thought i might die en route. i was actually talking out loud to myself, trying to encourage myself to keep walking & resist the temptation to lie down in a snow drift & die. i know, 37 pounds doesn’t sound like a lot…or it does, but it’s not like i’m, you know, a brick layer or someone who actually has to deal with physical strenuousness on a regular basis. but for a lady with severe arthritis in every joint, who is missing some vertebrae & has some paralysis on the right side of her body…i was suffering. thank god i have an appointment with an orthopedic doctor on monday. maybe we can talk about some physical therapy or something.

moving on!

the best friend i mentioned from the last post, the radical cheerleader who shared her baby fever with me, managed to go ahead & get pregnant this year. her due date was some time at the end of july. (so she got pregnant last year). that was exciting. i was trying to stay connected to birth work, even though i’d quit the midwifery program i’d enrolled in, not really having the strength to go back after my dad died. i’d taken a doula course & was trying to figure out how to go about attending the births i needed to become certified, so my pregnant friend “hired me” (unofficially, no pay or anything) to be her doula. during the pregnancy, i am not so sure i was good at it. i am not the best at being relentlessly positive & encouraging. i am more of a “worst case scenario/be prepared” kind of person, which can be helpful sometimes, but isn’t necessarily the greatest attitude for a pregnant woman to be around. it can be kind of stressful.

at the beginning of the year, we managed to pull together a small collective of folks (me, my pregnant lady friend, a mutual friend of ours from zine things, & two other kids that the mutual friend had bailed out of jail after they’d been arrested protesting george w. bush at tufts university–what an embarrassing thing to get arrested for) to organize the first boston skillshare. it was an idea i had hatched after attending the kind of shitty skillshare event in berkeley in 2000. i now knew what a poorly-organized skillshare event would look like, so i wanted to use that knowledge to organize a good event. we got space at mass art (public art school in boston) & started trawling for workshop ideas. i signed up to teach a workshop on survival skills for people with mental health issues & something else…maybe something about writing? i don’t remember. my pregnant friend taught a workshop on “getting pregnant without a guy” (ie, the physical & legal hurdles of insemination). my husband wanted to teach a workshop on anti-racism, but a couple of folks from western mass who regularly taught seriously pricy anti-racism workshops came along & offered to do a truncated version of their course for free instead, & include my husband in the workshop somehow. neither he nor i was psyched about it (i am really skeptical of white people dropping hundreds of dollars to learn how to not be racist from other white people), but…everyone else was psyched so we went with it. other folks signed up to teach workshops on things like making new clothes out of old clothes, vegan baking, making your own musical instruments out of stuff around the house, silkscreening, etc.

the skillshare took place on a very rainy weekend in april. we convened upon mass art & people actually attended! that first event had maybe one hundred attendees. we were really pleased. no one came to my mental health workshop, but i didn’t mind. it ave me a chance to unwind & write in my journal.

the anti-racism workshop was an embarrassment though. the workshop the western mass folks did is usually just for white people, it’s on unlearning racism. nothing like unlearning racism by excluding people of color, right? not that most people of color are that excited about the idea of sitting in a room with a bunch of white people expressing their white guilt & seeking absolution for their racist sins. the skillshare i’d attended in berkeley had had a very similar workshop. the program had not specifically said, “white people only,” but when i showed up late with a few women of color, everyone already seated in their little kumbaya circle froze & got visibly uncomfortable. how were they supposed to express their guilty failings as white people with real live people of color there to silently judge them? *puke* the ladies i was with finally cleared out for ice cream & left me behind “as a spy”. someone remarked upon how it was a “problem” that all the people of color had left, that maybe it was a failing on the part of the workshop facilitator that people or color hadn’t felt “welcome” in the workshop. way to absolve yourself of responsibility, dude. i pointed out that maybe the women who left didn’t want to sit there being tokens that, by their very presence, proved how down all the white people in the workshop were with people of color. everyone was quiet & looked at their feet. so, you know, these white people-only anti-racism workshops are generally a disaster.

this one was no exception. the western mass facilitators pretty much ignored my husband & any of his contributions. then they broke into two groups–the white people went with the western mass people to have a white guilt study session or whatever, & the people of color were supposed to go with my husband to talk about being people of color. except that there were no people of color there except for my husband. so he came & found me & talked about how awful & insulting it was, & how he felt like he was being treated like an object all day, like a faberge egg or something. & we found out later that a person of color had tried to go to the workshop late, after my husband had already left, & had tried to join the white people group to see what was going on, & was told he couldn’t be there because it was only for white people. NICE. actually, FUCKED UP. of course the dude was pissed & offended & left the skillshare altogether. wouldn’t you? i was REALLY angry that this had happened. when those folks offered to teach their workshop again the next year, i said no fucking way.

aside from this extremely horrible incident, the skillshare turned out really well, we got a huge indian fest to eat after & go over our comment cards & decompress & brainstorm ideas for next year.

my husband & i also moved out of the house we were sharing with the elderly socialist couple & started our own collective house, upstairs from my pregnant friend & her girlfriend. i was psyched to live with people close to my own age. our old house had been really nice & big & clean all the time & the whole shared dinners/shared groceries thing was really functional, but i wasn’t really in a place in my life where i felt entirely comfortable living with 63-year-olds. but i quickly found out that living with 23-year-olds is no picnic either.

once the skillshare was over, i was at loose ends & needed a new project. so i decided to start a zine distro. i started writing to people & trying to pick up zines in may, & things went well, but i still felt really dissatisfied & fucked up. my husband & i flew out to los angeles in june so he could see family & i decided we needed to split up. it wasn’t an easy decision. he never treated me badly or did anything wrong at all, basically, & he put up with a lot of my weird quirks & obnoxious habits. i was worried that i was ditching the only person who would ever be able to deal with me. but when i proposed divorce, it felt like the right thing, & he agreed, even though he was obviously sad. we needed to go our separate ways though. he needed to focus on finishing school & figuring out what he wanted to do next. i couldn’t deal with having a partner in school. i wanted to be free to travel & pursue this whole punk rock thing i was into. i felt like i had to put on a show around his classmates, teachers, family, etc–they all seemed to expect more professionalism & less scruffiness. i felt like i embarrassed him & i felt like i was being weighed down by him. we stuck it out to the end of our lease & then he moved out & i re-organized the distribution of rooms in our collective house & brought in some new roommates.

toward the end of summer, i went back to the midwest to see my own family & attend the first midwest zine fest in detroit. i’d decided to try to spend more time in ohio visiting my family after my dad died. i was really freaked out by the possibility that someone else in my life would die suddenly & leave me feeling regretful that i hadn’t put more effort into seeing them & spending time with them. but you know…visiting my family is not the easiest. i have a hard time getting along with my mom & i don’t feel like i have much in common with my siblings. & i feel resentful a lot when i make an effort to visit them but they have never visited me in boston. & i hate being back in bowling green. i did not have the happiest childhood/adolescence. all i wanted to do was get the fuck out of ohio, & that sense of choking claustrophobia sets in again every time i am back there. it makes me feel like i’m going backwards, like i’m a failure. i don’t know. i hate it.

& on this trip, the great black-out of 2003 happened. you know, where pretty much the entire eastern half of the united states & canada lost power. i remember i was napping on my mom’s couch & the power went out. i was pissed because it was hotter than hell & the air conditioning didn’t work. & then the electric didn’t come back on for like three days. i went to detroit anyway & tabled what i had collected for the distro by the light of some generators & an open door. i’d fucked up my ankle back in boston & was hobbling around on a cane. i was still having a hard time with the divorce. i was also emotionally fucked up because it was the anniversary of my dad’s death. so i was a mess. i didn’t know anyone in detroit, but jessika rae, one of the fest organizers, found me a room to stay in where i could be alone, & she let me borrow her phone so i could call people & freak out, & that is how she & i became friends. i am embarrassed of the way i acted that weekend, crying in front of strangers & stuff, but jessika rae didn’t bat an eyelash & was supportive without making me feel like a total fuck-up.

also at that event, a zine dude who shared a post office box with someone whose zine i was distributing introduced himself to me & i said, “oh! you’re the guy who gets [dude whose zine i distribute]’s mail!” he got really huffy & was all, “you know, i do a zine too. i don’t just pick up my friend’s mail for him.” bit of a faux pas on my part, but he could have handled it more gracefully, don’t you think?

my pregnant friend was overdue & sick of being pregnant, & i was bummed because it was the anniversary of my dad’s death. so we went to chuck e. cheese & played skeeball until our arms almost fell off. it was awesome, & after we got home, she went into labor. she was in labor for a long, long time. we sat in the garden for a while at the beginning & talked. she wrote in her journal a little. i went back upstairs & waited to be called down for the serious labor times. that happened in the evening on july 31 & i helped keep the birth pool full of warm water, changed CDs, brought pregnant friend & her girlfriend & the midwife refreshments, etc. not being an actual birth professional, nor the person giving birth, nor the partner of the person giving birth, i spent a lot of time not knowing what to do with myself & feeling awkward. the baby was born, healthy & hollering, shortly after 3am, at home. the same home in which pregnant friend had been born, in fact!

the rest of the year was spent working on the distro, trying to get a brand-new little reproductive health collective off the ground, & settling into my new life & house as a single lady. dealing with my new roommates without the buffer of a live-in partner was an experience. one of them was really quiet & just snuck around all the time without talking to any of us. we couldn’t tell if she was just shy, or if she hated us. we found her to be a real cipher. i teased her about having an unopened 40oz. on the kitchen table on her birthday (we were a dry house, save for the privacy of people’s bedrooms) & she actually thought i was reprimanding her. awkward.

still running the distro, still living in the collective house. around the new year, i managed to crack the cipher roommate. turned out, she was just really shy. i brought her & one of her friends to perhaps the world’s shittiest new year’s party. we didn’t drink at all, & even though i knew people, they didn’t, & they were really awkward, so i felt like i couldn’t leave them alone. everyone else at the party was making out & playing “pin the bandana on the zapatista” (a game that i knew they’d find offensive & trivializing if anyone but them had invented it–gotta love smug radicals…except not at all). i worked on soliciting skillshare 2.0 workshops from a few people & we left right after midnight. not exactly a party animal situation.

in february, my house organized a party of its own–an anti-valentine’s day party. we made cookies shaped like hearts broken in half, with black frosting. we did homemade fortune cookies with awful fortunes inside (“your best friend will make out with your partner,” “you will get dumped on your birthday,” & my personal favorite, “nick has a crush on you”–nick was our roommate, who was awesome, but had a tendency to get a crush on every guy he met, but to treat them all with disdain & then insist that they had crushes on him, regardless of any & all evidence that said dude was probably straight; his unstoppable mystery crushes are the stuff of legend). we hung a curtain over a closet in the upstairs hallway & called it “the make-out closet of doom,” & informed people, “all ye who make out in here will split up before the night is over”. no one was allowed to bring a date, our parlor games included “pin the signature on the annulment,” & i made a baking soda-&-vingear volcano with cayenne pepper (“for color”) that turned into tear gas by accident & cleared the kitchen. the invitations featured a screenprint of ian curtis from joy division & the words, “o, to be an inhuman monster”.

a few weeks later, my divorce was finalized & i became eligible for disabled adult child of deceased parent benefits. up to that point, i’d been living on $514 a month…& my rent was $400 (utilities not included). the new benefit program saved me from a life of shoplifting groceries & being too poor to take the bus. i still had my food stamps & low-income health insurance, but i could afford a bus pass with the new benefits system. & i could afford a greyhound ticket to montreal! i was psyched, & then my shy roommate & her friend from the new year’s party wanted to come with. apparently forgetting what had happened at the new year’s party, i had no issue with this & thought it would be fun. shy roommate cried silently all the way to montreal. i should have known then that no fun would be in the offing, but i can sometimes be optimistic to the point of delusion. shy roommate continued intermittent sobbing, interspersed with outbursts that involved actually disappearing for several hours & her friend & i seriously thinking that she may have committed suicide or something, for the next day & a half, before she finally changed her ticket home & left. we asked if she wanted us to come with–we were supposed to be in montreal for several more days. she said no. which we didn’t realize meant, “yes, you have to come home too.” so we stayed & her resentments festered.

it was a fun enough trip. going to montreal in the dead of winter probably isn’t the smartest idea i ever had, but it was okay. shy friend & i decided to maybe try dating. when we got back to boston, shy roommate hulked the fuck out on us. there was more crying, bizarre recriminations–i seriously wouldn’t write about any of this if it hadn’t been perhaps the most epic drama i have been exposed to in my entire life. & it dragged on for the next four months or so. shy friend & i did not last long–who could, under the weight of that kind of third-party drama? but that didn’t matter to shy roommate. apparently our personal lives were her business & she was not one to forgive & forget so soon. she wore earplugs around the house, so i tried to request utility money from her via a note, which led to screaming & throwing things. her friends seemed to think i should apologize. (“for what?” i asked. “for making her uncomfortable,” they said. “by having a private life?” i asked. “i guess,” they said. “no way,” i said.) i don’t know why i didn’t just stick it out to the end of the lease & then boot her out & tell her to never darken my doorstep again, but i was still on my whole “people die & you don’t want to have regrets” kick, so i tried to meet her halfway & work things out with her.

the second skillshare happened. it went pretty well. jessika rae hitchhiked to boston with a crew of detroit kids, & they all stayed at my house & we had an awesome time together. gorgeous weather, an even better turn-out. the after-skillshare indian feast was social awkwardness at its finest, but let’s not dwell on that. the distro was going well. the reproductive health collective was going well. we decided to learn menstrual extraction (a basic d.i.y. procedure that can induce an early abortion) & started laying the groundwork for that. i spent a lot of time taking walks, listening to music, & writing in my journal down by the river.

in june, i decided to get the fuck out of boston for a while & bought an ameripass. i spent a few days in new york city, where i went to the site of the 1970 weather underground townhouse explosion. the house was obviously re-built a long time ago & is now inhabited by someone who has filled the front window with teddy bears wearing rain slickers beneath spotlights. nice. i went to bowling green, where my mom shared with us the legend of the “undulating shadow” that lives in the city park, killing everything it falls upon. my brother went outside & reached through the window at the end of her story & my mom used me as a human shield. i went to indianapolis to see my good friend nicole. i went to bloomington to meet up with jessika rae & attend the first plan-it-x fest, which was exhausting but fun. i slept in the woods, in a tent, that got covered in spiders in the night. that was not fun. we “hitchhiked” & got picked up by the band japanther. apparently one of them had not wanted to pick us up & that annoyed me (unfairly?). i don’t even remember everywhere i went. it was great to get out of town though.

i turned 25 that year & rosa (a folk-punk band from houston) stayed at my house that night & played a show in the backyard. i drank alcohol for the first time & smoked a cigarette for the first time. neither made me feel great…though i have to admit, it was fun. i had a hard time winding down that night after everyone left, so i took a walk. it was about 3am, & maybe five blocks from my house, some huge dude attacked me. he “hugged” me, but he was really trying to assault me. he was well over six feet, maybe 250 pounds of muscle. he said he’d been a marine. somehow, i managed to talk him into letting me go. i booked it back to my house, punched a street sign, thought i’d broken my hand, & went to the ER. i’d just bruised the shit of my hand bones, but…damn. not a fun night.

shy roommates & i worked things out toward the end of the summer, but when the lease ended, i told her i thought she should move. i said we’d still be friends, but i didn’t think we should live together anymore. there were tears (on her part) & relief (on my part). she moved out & i helped her. i rode in the back of the truck, & you know how they say not to do that? seriously, don’t do it. carbon monoxide was getting pumped into the back of the truck & i almost died. okay, that’s an exaggeration, but i did pass out. don’t do it!

a few days later, pregnant friend (now mama friend) severed our friendship. i’d been dealing with a whole mess of my own personal shit, what with the divorce & all this housemate drama, traveling, money stuff, mental health stuff, etc. i didn’t know how to be a good friend to a new mama & her baby. i was going through a rebellious phase (ten years late) where i just wanted to stay out late, leave town at the drop of a hat, etc. we were on very different life paths & our friendship was diverging. i don’t think either one of us was fully prepared for how our friendship would have to evolve once the baby was born. plus, she had gotten married in may (pretty much as soon as gay marriage was legalized in massachusetts), & having just been divorced, it was hard for me to be supportive of that. i even went out & got the word “spinster” tattooed on my knuckles, as a statement against marriage.

the rest of the year was fairly mellow. i wasn’t nuts about some of the housemates we’d brought in to replace the ones that had left, but…eh. you can’t win ’em all. the reproductive health collective was making a lot of inroads in learning about menstrual extraction, but things were getting difficult because of the fact that i wasn’t friends with mama friend anymore. we didn’t hate each other, but it was awkward to be around each other. & i felt like i wasn’t connecting with the other women in the group (despite my best efforts). i felt that familiar feeling that happens in collectives, where it seems like other people’s contributions are perceived as more valuable than your own. example: one of the other members left to go to argentina for six months. she told us to feel free to have meetings in her absence, but no one else wanted to do it because they thought “everyone” should be present for all of our meetings. but they held two meetings while i was traveling for the month of june. it’s hard not to take that kind of thing personally.

the rest of the decade is forthcoming. this is just SO LONG.

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

One thought on “2003-2004, the crabigail review

  1. If any of the zine orders are in Priority flat-rate boxes or envelopes (which is probably the cheapest non-Media Mail way to send out a giant order… not that you don’t know that!), you can pay for and print out postage on the USPS site and arrange for a carrier pick-up. That would probably save you a couple heavy trips to the PO.

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