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.
today is an awesome day because 1) we leave for boston in a couple of days, 2) jared is officially finished with his first semester of grad school, 3) i just got home from my tattoo consultation & i think the pterodactyl tattoo has amazing potential, 4) i have whittled my to-do list down to the point that i think i can cross everything off before we leave kansas, 5) i managed to fix my typewriter with a candy bar wrapper, & 6) i am wearing the most ludicrous dress.
let’s be honest: this isn’t the most flattering photo of me. i mean, my eyes are closed. jared took it & he is not always the most patient & concerned about getting a perfect shot. he took another picture of me from a different angle in the room, & you could see the toilet in the background. not exactly the set dressing for which i am looking, you know? but i’m also not really trying to impress anyone with my stunning good looks. the point is this ridiculous dress, which, yes, is floofy. it has a built-in crinoline. it’s very lea thompson in “back to the future”. hopefully no one was “bird-watching” while i was putting it on this morning, not that i make a habit of strutting around half-naked in front of curtain-less windows. oh, & the stats that people always mention on their fashion blogs: the dress is thrifted. the sweater is thrifted (& too small, but i don’t care). black sweater tights from urban outfitters. black dansko mary jane things. also:
i got this great coat the same day, also for a very modest price. it’s really too cold to wear it out about right now, but it will be a great spring/fall transition coat. it’s wool & lined with lavender satin, so it’s warm, but not too warm. i also like it because it makes a statement. even though i dress pretty conservatively now compared to some of the get-ups i used to wear in my youth (let’s just say that at one point, i owned seventeen wigs), i think it’s important for every element of an outfit to make a statement. even though sometimes that statement is just, “hello, i am warm & functional.” i think that’s a great statement to make in the dead of winter when it’s like 23 degrees outside. i also really like this coat because it camouflages the ladies a little bit. it’s a real challenge to find something cute, that fits, that doesn’t look boxy or make me look pregnant (ahem), when i have this kind of rack. especially because it is just want nature gave me. i didn’t pay for them, so i am not really invested in making them the focal point of every outfit.
my typewriter has been pissing me off lately. the ribbon has been dipping too low so only the bottom halves of letters are getting inked when i type. the problem is egregious enough that i have been filling in the missing tops of letters & dotting the i’s by hand, but it takes about a thousand years to fix all the missing bits on even a single typed page. (i typewrite all my mail correspondence because the arthritis in my hands i really severe. it’s really painful to write by hand after a while, so i save the handwriting for my own projects, like my journal.) finally i layered an old candy bar wrapper underneath the ribbon cartridge, which propped it up enough to type properly! thanks, random trash on the bedside table from when i spent pretty much all of last week sprawled out in bed, watching “friends” & eating snickers bars!
since i fixed my typewriter, i am off to write a few letters i owe so i can fly off to boston with a clean conscience. i am already feeling a bit anxious about the sure-to-be-enormous pile of mail that will be awaiting me when i get home again (due in large part to all the distro re-stocking i have done in the last week), but…maybe it will be like getting presents. right?
remember that post i made the other day, about running errands & cleaning the house & sometimes a little homemaking maintenance activity can help relieve my stress & anxiety? i wrote a lot about the wire granny cart that i brought with me from boston. i used it to take recycling to the recycling depot, tote groceries home from the store, & transport laundry to & from the laundromat. i bought that cart at a little independent hardware shop in boston when i moved into a house that didn’t have on-site laundry facilities, so i could lug laundry to the laundromat. i also used it to move once, when i was re-locating to a (roommate-free, one-bedroom) apartment a few blocks down the street. me & that cart have been through a lot together.
i was using it this evening, to bring another round of groceries home. jared was with me & i was pulling it up awful part of 12th st. between vermont & kentucky that is paved with bricks. suddenly the entire cart listed to the right & made a horrible scraping noise. i shrieked & looked down. the right wheel had completely fallen off the cart & was lying on the bricks! jared & i had to pick the whole contraption up, still laden with $65 worth of groceries, & carry it home in a style reminiscent of a pantomime horse.
actually, jared may have macgyvered it back into action using a key ring & a washer. he is very concerned that we won’t be able to find a replacement wire cart in kansas, even though i am pretty sure that there are grandmas who need wire carts in every state in this nation. the coasts may have the market cornered on young people such as ourselves using wire carts to run errands that would be a million times easier to do with a car, but i’m not convinced that we are actually the target demographic.
i took a city bus yesterday, for maybe the third or fourth time since i moved to kansas (over four months ago). i had to go to the copy shop, & the one with the best prices & fastest copy machines is out in the awful suburban strip mall big box store part of town. it’s sandwiched between an applebee’s & a best buy, for real. you can understand why i don’t make the trek on a regular basis. it’s pretty depressing out there. on the way back downtown, the bus crossed campus & picked up a few groups of college students. at one stop, a young blonde college couple got on, with the girl decked out in her urban outfitters finest (you know, a little cotton tunic that provides no warmth & a fashion sweater knit with glittery yarn that can’t possibly be functional, sporting a cute little bob haircut) & the dude looking like he was on his way to a mountain goats in-store appearance (shaggy hair & dark-rimmed glasses, wearing jeans with a boho flare & a retro denim jacket–it was all very, “i only like OBSCURE beatles songs,” if you know what i mean).
they immediately started chattering away at volumes that obscured my ability to think rationally, with rape jokes. no shit. because rape is so hilarious? the dude was all, “do i look like a rapist? do i? i mean, come on. of course i don’t.” i wanted to smack the smug right off his ugly face & ask him what the hell he thinks a rapist “looks like”. they eventually tired of this topic & moved on to making fun of bob dylan, because, you know, that’s a relevant avenue of conversation here on the cusp on 2010. after about twenty minutes solid of them speaking at volumes more appropriate to a monsters of rock stadium concert, i snapped. “hey!” i said. they looked around vaguely, as if perhaps the sound had come from their over-priced, glue-soled, kimchi blue fashion boots. “use your inside voices. you’re in a public place,” i said. they stared at me in blessed silence & got off at the very next stop.
just a word to the wise: when you are an undergraduate living in a university town, your parents’ money may trick the city planners into thinking that the city public transit system can function best as a glorified university shuttle bus. but that does not mean that the city bus is an outpost of your skunky pot-reeking, davendra banheart poster-encrusted, pizza box- & hamm’s can-littered dorm room.
my tattoo consultation is tomorrow! you know, for my tattoo that says, “if you have nothing nice to say, come sit here by me,” flanked by angry pterodactyls. i think i have really earned it this week. though, if i can’t keep my temper in check while riding the bus, i may find myself with a dorm room of my own–at shady pines retirement home.
so stressed out. jared & i are leaving for boston in less than a week, & i had this little fantasy that i could work hard & conquer my entire to-do list before we leave. & it is just not happening. the work is multiplying exponentially & taking over my life!
i admit, my relationship with my to-do lists is dysfunctional. right now it’s about seventy items long, & includes everything from actual important, time-sensitive, “work”-themed tasks like, “edit essay for book” & “fill distro orders” to the most ridiculous, inconsequential shit, like, “watch some ‘friends’ episodes”. i’m one of those people who puts every little thing on their to-do list because i enjoy the satisfaction of crossing stuff off, even if it’s stuff i would have done anyway (like watching “friends”). this week the lists even includes things like, “make list of distro payments yet to be made” & “make list of stuff to pack for boston”. making lists is on my list? that’s pathetic…that’s ciara. *sigh*
mostly i just want to take care of distro work before we leave for boston, because i am not going to be able to fill orders or mail trades to people while i am away. & i am planning to use the week after we get back to kansas as a vacation week, because i haven’t taken a vacation from the distro in years, literally (i think the last one was late summer 2005, when i moved back to boston after a disastrous attempt to move to minneapolis), & i keep fucking everything up because i am so burnt out on distro work. mistakes i have made in the last month:
* mailed a trade payment that was missing a zine
* mailed a distro order that was missing a zine
* left a page from a master copy in a copy machine & didn’t realize it until days later, so it had already been recycled
* mailed a zine that was missing pages
* mis-addressed an envelope so the distro order never arrived with the recipient
* completely failed to mail someone’s distro subscription
* wrote a letter that contained sentiment that could be construed as shit-talk on someone very close to the recipient
* told two zinesters i work with that i really was not crazy about their new zines, in excessive & minute detail
* went to the copy shop without my wallet
* accidentally switched the entire contents of two orders & had to convince the recipients to mail them back to me
& this is just what i remember off the top of my head! granted, not all of these are “mistakes,” per se, but they’re certainly not awesome ideas i implemented to make my life easier. & now i have over a dozen orders that have to be mailed before we take off, & i am looking at all the envelopes i have to address & zines i have to pull, & thinking about the ridiculous holiday post office line i’m going to have to wait in &…all i want to do is put on my pajamas, climb into bed with a mug of hot cocoa, & never go outside again. consider this fair warning: running a zine distro is not for the faint of heart.
a couple of weeks ago, i ran of stack of orders down to the post office. i was waiting for the post office guy to weigh everything & ring up my postage, & i leaned against the counter while resting my hand on my belly. he asked if the “baby” was “kicking”. i am not pregnant! but now i know that an empire waist winter coast was apparently a terrible idea.
so, you know, now i always feel a little weird at the post office. i am worried that tactless post office guy will notice at some point that i am not getting any larger & ask more horrible questions. i should have said, “oh, thanks for asking, but i’m actually thirty, childless, physically disabled by arthritis, about thirty pounds over my own personal comfort level, the proud owner of a bag of fun-sized snickers bars that are apparently factory seconds judging by their many deformities, & i recently dropped $100 on a winter coat that makes me look like i’m about to give birth. HAVE A GREAT DAY.” i know, i know, writing about body image is always tricky because people don’t want to read too much self-loathing or self-congratulation. it’s tough to strike a balance that is honest without being snide on the one hand or fatphobic on the other. i personally have hit the wall because i think i read too many fashion blogs by cute little skinny girls who have never once tried on a vintage dress that didn’t fit (unless maybe it was too big). ZIP IT, skinny girls, okay? all i ask is ONE DAY OF SILENCE. i used to be you. then i got all paralyzed & put on sixty pounds (about half of which was great because it stopped people from asking if i had an eating disorder) & the next time i tried to buy clothes, it was hard to find a good fit. IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU SOMEDAY TOO. (& probably will. but probably minus the paralysis.)
that said, look at the color of the sweater i am wearing in that photo up there! is that not stunning? & the sweater itself is a marvel–cozy but flattering. i wasn’t sure a lady with a rack as formidable as myself could rock a turtleneck, but i think it works. i want ten more in every color!
ah. okay. it was good to just get that out there. i feel a little better. maybe i will stop trying to do distro work tonight & just kick back with the new-ish lorrie moore novel instead. (i finished barbara ehrenreich’s bright-sided last night. it led to the following conversation:
ciara: “i finished barbara ehrenreich’s new book.”
jared: “yeah? how was it?”
ciara: “it was…okay. kind of short.”
jared: “like 160 pages?”
ciara: “yeah, what the hell? it would have been so much better if she’d fleshed out some of her ideas a little bit more. she definitely had another fifty or one hundred pages of material to draw from there. why even publish a book that is that short?”
jared: “paper costs aren’t that stable. even if it’s cheap now, the price could go up, so books have been increasingly shorter so books can stay in print when paper costs increase.”
ciara: “well, in that case, maybe can the acknowledgment pages. it’s not an academy award speech! c’mon, barbara, your agent needs an entire paragraph? you’ve written sixteen books, she gets it by now! save the paper & send her one of those edible arrangements. maybe a basket of mini-muffins.”)
i have been stressing out the last couple of days. i’ll be honest, jared & i had a bit of an argument on wednesday night. it might have involved a lot of crying on my part, & then possibly i went out & bought a pack of cigarettes because cigarettes are my last-ditch anxiety mediator. even though they are so disgusting & make me feel like shit.
i got up the next day & didn’t feel like doing anything but drudge work. i stamped through the ice & snow to therapy, & even though it was bitterly cold outside, it felt good to be out there, muddling along, being in the elements, alone with my thoughts. so i loaded up the wheeled wire cart jared & i use when we need to transport things like groceries or laundry (we are trying to get through at least our first year in lawrence without a car…especially because i never really learned how to drive [at least not well enough to pass a driver’s test, even though i tried three times when i was sixteen]) with all the recycling we have accumulated in the last month & dragged it to the recycling depot. lawrence doesn’t offer free curbside recycling service. you can get it, but you have to pay for it. if you don’t want to pay for it, you have to bring your recycling to a recycling depot yourself. it’s like living in 1989. & dealing with the recycling is just one of many errands that would be a lot less onerous if we had a car. sometimes it’s ironic to me that jared is studying environmental history in a place that seems designed specifically to force us to compromise our environmental standards in one way or another.
after the recycling was taken care of, i trooped off to the grocery store. our cupboards had been bare for several days, forcing us to go so far as to order pizza for delivery one night when jared came home from the library. we are not really “food delivery” people. why order pizza when you can make a pizza of better quality for way less money? but you can’t make a pizza without cheese (at least not one i’d want to eat), & we didn’t have any. so jared collaborated with me on a grocery list & i went to the grocery store alone. this is the kind of errand that we usually do together. jared is a better cook than i am, & he seems to enjoy cooking more than i do. he knows a lot more about vegetables than i do (although i have learned a lot from him in the year & a half we have been living together). we usually go to the grocery store together once a week & stock up on everything we need to make breakfast, lunch, dinner, & snacks for two people for the week. we lug everything home in our wheeled cart & we’re good to go. but it’s the tail end of the semester & jared is swamped with final revisions for all of his papers, he’s been spending nine hours a day at the library, so i went alone this time.
while i was there, i stopped by the pharmacy to see if my questionable new doctor had called in my birth control prescription. i don’t have prescription drug coverage anymore (long story), & my old prescription was, shall we say, a financial hardship (ie, ludicrously, criminally expensive). i found a new doctor in kansas specifically to get a new prescription for something cheaper. she also recommended something with less hormone, which suited me fine. but when i stopped in to pick it up a few weeks ago, the pharmacy said it had never been called in. i had to call the doctor’s office & get them to call it in for real & it was a pain in the ass. when i went to pick it up this time, they informed me that i owed them $120 (for a 90-day supply), which 50% MORE EXPENSIVE than my previous prescription! the one that was prohibitively expensive! & the doctor had called in a prescription for a pill that makes you only have a period every three months. i find that shit really terrifying. if i wanted a “seasonal cycle,” as they euphemistically phrase it, i would just get a depo shot. but i DO NOT want that, & i have never said anything to any doctor i have ever had that would indicate that i want that, & this doctor was specifically asked to prescribe me something a) inexpensive, & b) lower in hormones. i think she must be getting kick-backs from the pharmaceutical industry or something.
anyway, i called her office, hulked out a little bit, named a specific birth control pill i wanted that was inexpensive &, you know, normal, & hopefully they will get their shit together & call it in for me.
i toted my groceries home, stripped the bedding, & loaded it into the cart to hit the laundromat. jared has weird allergies & was worried that maybe he was allergic to dust in the bedding. we have a washer/dryer in the basement, but the dryer doesn’t actually get anything dry, & it’s too cold to hang stuff on the clothesline. hence the laundromat. which was so much further away than i thought. i started to feel like i would just keep walking & walking, with my sad cart full of sheets & a copy of the “new yorker” stashed in my purse, until i got to the rocky mountains or something. & then the laundromat didn’t have any heat. everyone else there was huddling over the dryers like hobos around an oil drum fire. i burrowed into my coat & ridiculous pink crocheted hood & read what the “new yorker” has to say about obama’s recent policy decisions regarding afghanistan (pretty right on, i felt) & atul gawande’s dire misstep in comparing useful health care reform today to agricultural reform of the early 20th century. i hear what he’s saying–there are no easy answers, reform needs to be flexible & reflect policies that can be proven to work as opposed to partisan rhetoric, but…holding up agricultural reform as a shining beacon to which health care reform should aspire? really? oh, atul.
& then i rolled my freshly washed bedding home, made the bed, swept the apartment, washed the dishes, wiped down the sinks & countertops, changed into pajamas, & was just sitting down to drink some milk, eat some ludicrously rich milk chocolate, & watch some “friends” (embarrassing confession: “friends” is hands-down my favorite TV show of all time, even more so than “america’s next top model” & “project runway”; i have even thought about starting a blog dedicated to recapping every episode…because i have them all, all ten, on DVD) when jared came home. he hates “friends” (can this relationship be saved?), so i had to retire to the bedroom to watch & leave him in peace.
sometimes i have days when cleaning & running errands makes me feel like laura ingalls wilder working on the farm, churning butter, darning pa’s plowing pants, making a little doll for her sister, etc. sometimes i enjoy the mindless (yet necessary) toil of cleaning & acquiring provisions & tidying. this is also why i love to balance my checkbook & pay bills. it requires pretty much no creative energy, it’s just about efficiency & completion. my creative energy is often at a premium. i have been neglecting the shit out of my paper journal in the last few weeks.
but apparently a lot of people read this thing, or at least give it a once-over before navigating away to pithier pastures, so i want to try to make it something worth reading. in the meantime, allow me to obsess over my cat a little bit more. so, when i started dating jared, charlotte just fell in love with him. he even borrowed her & had her live at his house for a few weeks once, because he had a bit of a mouse situation going on. charlotte usually hates everyone except for me, but not only did she take to jared, she actually allowed him to teach her tricks. her most enduring is “hopping up to get pets”. you hold your hand just above her head, & she stands up on her hind legs & allows herself to be petted. i have taken dozens of photos in the past week, trying to capture this phenomenon on (digital) film. here are a few of my favorites:
so, i think an excessive amount of time, money, & energy has been devoted to the cause of gay marriage at the expense of true equality for all people (not just those who are in traditional long-term monogamous relationships & want to get the government & religion to sanction them). with that said:
i was going to say that i hope i grow up to be sophia petrillo, but on further reflection, i’m already there.
we had our first kansas snow yesterday…well, it snowed a few weeks ago, but it melted in like an hour. this snow has stuck with us because it was about 15 degrees all day today. it looked pretty:
but it was a real pain in the ass when it came to walking. i went downtown to run a few errands & pick up some fancy british chocolate (what?), & even in my wonderful, insulated, waterproof, rubber traction sorels, i was slipping & sliding on the ice. it didn’t snow much–maybe two or three inches, but it was so cold that there were big icy petrified footprints everywhere from people tramping down the snow & making slush, which immediately flash-froze.
shit like this makes me reflect on all the stuff i did not properly appreciate about boston during the eight years that i lived there. i think i need to start a list:
1) generally, sidewalks got shoveled pretty quickly & thoroughly. at least in high-traffic, commercial areas (ie, downtown). it almost certainly snows more in boston than it does in kansas, & in boston, you can count on at least a couple of serious snowstorms in any given winter, which dump a good six inches (at least) on to the city, & it accumulates & doesn’t melt until sometime in april. it’s definitely disgusting & horrible in many ways, but at least an effort was made to scrape snow & ice off the sidewalks. the sidewalks were then curtailed by mountains of slushy black discard snow overflowing the gutters, leaving but a narrow pathway, impractical for two-way foot traffic, but STILL. i couldn’t believe the ice patches left all over downtown lawrence. maybe kansans aren’t that litigious? maybe if they get knocked in the head by big pointy icicles & then wipe out on icy patches outside the noodle restaurant, they’re not so quick to sue. plus, it seems like snow & ice here melts before long, because winter is a rollercoaster of absurd temperature differentials. why invest in a bag of salt & a strapping young person to clear your walk when it’ll all melt in two days anyway?
2) bob slate stationers. i knew it was awesome to have a locally-owned, well-stocked office supply store. i appreciated the shit out of bob slate. i visited it at least three times a week for the entire eight years i lived in boston, & spent literally thousands of dollars there. but i was not prepared to move to lawrence & find that my preferred brand of pen (extra-fine point black stylists) don’t seem to exist here. there’s a far inferior locally-owned office supply store here, but they only carry blue stylists. a blue pen? what am i, an animal? i am not going to write with a blue pen, i’m sorry. i intend to visit bob slate when jared & i are in boston during the xmas holiday & buy an entire 50-count box of black stylists. & also a 100-count box of white 9.5″ by 7.5″ envelopes. the inferior office supply store in lawrence has envelopes that size, but only the manila ones with the metal tab, which are not recyclable. i am overcome with guilt every time i use one. it’s almost 2010! why are non-recyclable envelopes even still being manufactured?!
3) great places to eat breakfast, lunch, & dinner. i haven’t found one restaurant in lawrence that i can actually say i like. jared & i have gone to milton’s for breakfast a few times, & they’re not bad, but i wish their menu was bigger. what if i want chocolate chip pancakes instead of regular pancakes? not a problem at sorella’s or steve’s, my two favorite breakfast places in boston. sorella’s also has just about any kind of omelette you can possibly imagine, & both places are dirt cheap. for lunch, you can get a chicken ceaser wrap at the blue shirt cafe, or super-cheap indian food at punjabi dhaba, or a burrito as big as your head at picante, or a falafel sandwich at falafel palace, or a plate of rice & beans & whipped garlic at the middle east, or enormous slices of pizza at same old place. excellent coffee is available at JP licks & 1369, so you never have to venture into a starbucks. i never did, for the entire time i lived in boston. for dinner, you have have great indian food in a fancy tablecloth environment at india palace, or partake of the hipster ambiance & cheap burgers at charlie’s, or eat an entire plate of fried clams at cinderella’s (don’t judge me, they are delicious), or snack on a massive plate of nachos or fish & chips at james’s gate with beers. there’s no place in lawrence that holds even one of those pathetic, easily-melted birthday cake candles to boston!
4) shop at places where you can actually try clothes on. if you’re okay with your entire wardrobe coming from the gap, old navy, target, & hippie incense dens with names like “third planet,” where all the clothes have obnoxious bells sewn to the hems, then you can build a wardrobe of clothes that fit you in lawrence. & certainly i appreciate the variety of thrift goods available at the arizona trading company. but if you want anything especially on-trend &/or unique, you’re going to have to resort to mail order & i really do not like to shop for clothes via mail order. it’s fine for slim folks with mannequin-style proportions, but i really prefer to try shit on. what looks great on the hanger does not always button over my rack, & i’ve had unpleasant experiences with jeans that fit everywhere except in the waist, where they gap & start to fall off. i’m not saying that i love to shop or could even afford a lot of the hip little designer boutiques that speckle boston like so much piegon crap on the roof of jackson square T stop. i’m just saying that i didn’t realize how awesome it was to be able to swing by H&M & try on some sweaters whenever i wanted.
5) the scrumbler. okay, this is not a real thing. jared had this friend in boston who decided that it would be awesome if this hotel in salem offered its patrons a pie that was comprised of one slice from eight different varieties of pie: like, pumpkin, apple, mincemeat, key lime, pecan, chocolate cream, lemon meringue, cherry…he called it “the scrumbler” in a really over-the-top kennedy-style accent. he found the scrumbler concept unspeakably hilarious. i am not going to claim that i ever “got it”. i think he thought making the scrumbler would be incredibly complicated, because he was envisioning a baker actually making a pie that somehow is one slice of all these different pies, so every time someone orders one, the baker is like, “dear god, why? i hate my life!” it seemed obvious to me that you’d just make eight different pies, cut them into slices, & build a scrumbler with one slice of each pie. a pain in the ass, but not that big a deal for a professional chef. also, what hotel patron orders an entire pie with a meal, just for themselves?
but anyway, this is where lawrence was actually kind of cool. the british import store where i bought my fancy candy bar has a french sister store right next door. i stopped in there to see what kinds of french stuff was being sold to kansans. there were lots of floofy soaps & re-useable shopping bags & fanciful gift wrapping & such forth. as i was leaving, i saw this flyer on the door:
charlotte was kind enough to buy me a copy of girl zines: making media, doing feminism, by alison piepmeier:
okay, actually i bought it for myself, by ordering it from the indie bookstore downtown. support your local businesses!
i am only about halfway through, & one of the chapters i haven’t read yet is about the intersectional identities in girl zines, which is of special interest to me, so i am still not prepared to make a full assessment of the book. but of course i am pretty psyched that a book on this topic was finally written! even though my feelings on it are a bit of a mixed bag so far…
i guess maybe i should back up & explain the concept of the book because probably not every single person reading this is familiar with zines, right? especially because people like my sister & jared’s mom & god knows who else could conceivably stumble across this thing & wonder what i’m rambling about. so, personal back story: i got into zines when i was…i don’t know…maybe twelve or so? zines are little self-published publications about pretty much any subject you want to write about, but i got in on the ground floor of the early/mid 90s riot grrrl zine explosion. i was definitely on the younger side of folks involved with zines at the time. a lot of movers & shakers in the zine scene were in college or at least old enough to be living on their own, & i was trapped in oak harbor, ohio, too far out in the country for things like cable TV. it blows my mind now to think that a house three miles down a state route from the nearest town would be too country to be wired for cable TV. things were different in the early 90s. i used to tie an onion to my belt, because that was the style at the time, & the kaiser had stolen our word for twenty. truefax!
i made awful, dreadful, horrifying zines throughout my teenage years, although i’m sure i thought i was a literary genius at the time. my dad ran off copies for me using the photocopier at his place of employ, the sun oil refinery, in toledo. they refine petroleum products & provide the gasoline for sunoco gas stations. in retrospect, i don’t really understand why my dad had access to a photocopier, because his job involved coveralls, hard hats, climbing up the sides of big huge oil drums, adjusting pressure valves, & occasionally getting blown up & spending months on end in a hospital burn unit, but let’s go with it. i’d give him my masters & say, “don’t read it!” & he’d say, “i won’t!” & of course, how dumb am i, he did. i was like fourteen! how the hell else was he going to ever find out anything that was going on with me? thank goodness i really didn’t know what i was doing & wasn’t writing the kind of agonizingly cathartic, intensely personal shit that i loved reading in other girls’ zines. i wrote hard-hitting exposes on the gender bias of children’s toys (did you know that not all girls like dolls? i just blew your mind, didn’t i?) & dedicated more pages than i care to remember to my all-consuming love of toads. i was OBSESSED with toads when i was a teenager.
anyway, with these awesome pseudo-feminist, toad-loving zines, i traded with girls all across north america, europe, & australia. we swapped painstakingly handwritten letters covered with crayon hearts, glitter glue, lisa frank stickers (in the case of every zinester except for me), & toad stickers (in my case…what the hell was wrong with me?). once someone sent me a plastic doll. a few times, girls made me one-off zines that were just for me, with color photocopies & hand-drawn pages. i still have an entire milk crate full of mix tapes i received from my scores of pen pals, including bootlegged live sleater-kinney shows with tape liners that say, “happy 16th birthday ciara!” in glitter pen.
obviously things have changed in the zine scene. for me, anyway. not being a teenage girl with a distressing affinity for amphibians (…anymore), i can’t say with certainty that teenage girls are no longer as passionate about the mail culture aspect of zines. but my teenage zines years pre-dated widespread internet access, so mail correspondence was our only correspondence. no e-mail, no online diaries, no chat rooms. if we wanted to gush about each other’s zines, share dark secrets, call each other out on shit, & send each other locks of our hair (& we did), we used the postal service.
this is kind of sort of the world that the book addresses, but because it’s about “girl zines,” & because girl zines are still being written (visit my lovely zine distro for examples, including issues of several of the zines profiled in the book), it’s ostensibly not just about that weird mail-obsessed world i lived in circa 1992-2000 or so. as such, the book makes some generalizations that might not be completely consistent with my lived reality as a zinester in good standing for almost twenty years. i don’t think pen pal culture is as prevalent now (though it is by no means dead), i think girls put less effort into mail art, etc. i think mail culture has changed because girls have so many other ways to communicate with each other now. i mean, in 1994, if i wanted to talk on the phone with one of my pen pals, it was prohibitively expensive (to cite one example). now that practically everyone has a cell phone plan with free long-distance, barriers to long-distance friendship don’t seem so insurmountable.
i’m going to write more about this book once i finish reading it, but i do want to mention that i really appreciate piepmeier’s attempts to trace a feminist/girl-centric ancesty for girl zines of the last twenty years. she links them to mimeographed position papers & publications written by women involved with civil rights/new left organizing & the women’s movement of the 1960s & 1970s, & goes further back to develop an argument linking zines to reproductive health pamphlets that circulated among women wanting to educate themselves about birth control & abortion during the comstock law days. she also mentions the scrapbooking prevalent among women in the 1800s, which often involved women responding to current events of the moment, the abolition movement, nascent suffrage struggles, etc. i have been involved with zines for so long, & i know all about the gazillionty million position papers, newspapers, & magazines women produced in the 60s & 70s, & the health pamphlets on the 20s, & i never made the connection between them & zines. i always just bought into the male-centric, male-dominated history that positions zines as descendants of anti-british revolutionary era pamphleteers (almost exclusively male), science fiction fanzine writers (almost exclusively male), & early punk fanzine writers (almost exclusively male). like the 90s girl zine explosion was just some weird aberration, like never before in history had women taken over the means of writing & publishing in an effort to liberate themselves!
i got a zine for distro consideration a couple of months ago that is all about those early science fiction fanzine writers & their role as the progenitors of modern-day zine culture. it was of course written by a boy. something about it didn’t sit right with me & i didn’t pick it up for the distro, & now i am relieved. it’s like i knew in my gut that there was something missing from that narrative.
my biggest disappointment with the book is the resource section & the fact that there is almost nothing about zine distros in the book. i would have loved to read a concise history of riot grrrl press. it is shocking to me that the book is essentially a who’s who of dozens of women i have traded with &/or am friends with, & there is nothing about pander zine distro, which was instrumental in catapulting some of those zinesters into the culture & to the level of popularity they currently enjoy. the only distro mentioned in the text so far is microcosm, which is so disappointing, considering their paltry selection of feminist zines & lady-penned personal zines, & (putting it out here into the public forum), microcosm founder joe biel’s well-documented status as a manipulative, abusive individual who has issues with misogyny. a big part of feminism for me is trying to put an end to abuse, domestic violence, misogynistic intimidation tactics, et al, & working to hold perpetrators accountable to survivors & the larger community in which they live & work. efforts at mediation & accountability processes with joe have been fruitless, & i believe that supporting microcosm (by ordering from them, recommending them as a great source of zines, publishing books or zines with them, etc) is an exercise in letting joe off the hook. his financial & emotional ability to keep being a manipulative, unaccountable scumbag is tied up with the success of the microcosm project & the goodwill he gets from it. cut that off at the source & maybe he will be forced to take a long, hard look in the mirror. there are other fantastic indie publishers out there (try eberhardt press in portland, oregon or 1984 in the bay area), & there are TONS of great zine distros, many of them run by smart, feminist women who carry smart, feminist zines.