Category Archives: the perils of running a distro

how is it april already?

so, jared & i are moving into our new house in less than a month. i’m going to try to keep up with my to-do lists (including the routine update here) while we are preparing for the move, but considering that we haven’t even started packing yet…we’ll see how it goes. we also have not found a subletter yet. we’ve had several folks express interest, & some of them are still trying to sort out their financial situations to make it happen, so hope is not lost, but we’ve also shown the apartment to several people who seemed barely able to contain their disgust. i don’t understand. this apartment is really cute.

here's our kitchen table. please note professional cat art.
a view of the living room. note still more cat art.
my office. note courier bag with appliqued portrait of charlotte.

i guess olde-thymey apartments with tiny kitchens aren’t necessarily everybody’s cup of tea, but some of these folks that have come through barely even spoke to us once they had visibly made up their minds about their lack of interest. i’m not going to put a gun to anyone’s head & force them to sublet my apartment, but is it really that difficult to be polite?

anyway, today is a special day. because it is jared’s 31st birthday! let’s take a moment to appreciate his adorableness.

in his "arthur fonzarelli goes to the arctic circle" costume.

unfortunately, jared has school all day, so we can’t do much to celebrate. i did get him a gift: a fancy new cuisinart food processor/blender combo. i asked him what he lacked that would demonstrably improve his life. he said, “a meat grinder.” i asked why on earth he wanted a meat grinder & he said, “so i can grind meat.” i asked if it had to be specifically a meat grinder, or if a larger, newer food processor that is not from a thrift store (like our current food processor) would do. he said a food processor would be perfect. i selected the blender combo because i have been hankering for a blender. summer is right around the corner, & with it, smoothie weather. i have over-ambitious plans about drinking banana smoothies & taking water aerobics classes this summer. instead, i will probably eat fudge for dinner & chainsmoke like i usually do. i also let him know that i will buy him a ticket to the red sox game of his choice. i’m hoping to get standing room tickets for a game at fenway this summer for both jared & myself, & hopefully bart will join us.

i also got half a dozen eggs from a local friend who raises chickens, & i’m going to use them to make a flourless chocolate birthday cake. usually i am too cynical & jaded to get pumped about (free!) locally sourced eggs, but…i’m pretty pumped about the (free!) locally sourced eggs.

jared & i went out for some drinks with some of his grad school colleagues the other night, one of whom was telling me about how she’s hoping to make it to feminist book club meetings next semester when she’s ABD (that means “all but dissertation” for those of you blessed to not be in the graduate school circle of hell). it made me think about how thankful i am that i have been able to plug into a local community in lawrence that is not centered around the university. i have mentioned before that i am not a terribly social person, but i do enjoy the occasional porch hang-out or bandana full of fresh eggs or acoustic punk show. i would feel so isolated without those things.

speaking of feeling isolated, lately i have been missing the days when i used to run a zine distro. there are many, MANY things i do NOT miss about running a zine distro, including writing HTML from scratch, sitting behind a table at a zine fest while everyone else gets to socialize freely, answering thirty e-mails a day, having to read terrible zines about how the federal reserve is illegal & the government is slowly poisoning us all with chemtrails, important packages getting lost in the mail, etc. but i miss reading tons of interesting zines all the time & having such a significant way to support them. i especially miss having a big way to support radical zine ladies. i don’t think that starting a zine distro is in the cards for me, considering that i am planning to be a mom within a year or so & i don’t yet know how that is going to change my life. i think that’s a big enough undertaking on its own. but…sometimes i miss the distro. i am toying with the idea of writing a new zine once the move is in the bag. i’ll pretty much have nothing but time once jared leaves for boston (save for water aerobics classes & smoothie breaks).

this month at feminist book club, jaimie (the lady i got the eggs from) & i are facilitating zine month. we’re easing everyone into it with a selection of personal narrative lady zines, & then we’re having health week with zines about depression & abortion & checking out your cervix in a mirror, & we’re closing with intersectionality, with zines on trans issues, race stuff, disability, queer stuff, etc. i’m excited to see how it goes. for movie night, we are going to watch “$100 & a t-shirt” (prefaced of course with a disclaimer about how the director, joe biel, is an unrepentant abusive assbasket). hopefully people will actually do the readings this time, because the readings are zines, & zines are pretty easy to read. we did three weeks on outlaw woman by roxanne dunbar-ortiz & it was a total disaster because that book is over 400 pages long & no one read it. well, i did, on a computer, even, but i read literally at least one book per day, so it’s not like it was difficult to fit into my schedule.

zine downsizing update

to answer the nine million questions i got after my last post: no, i don’t think i am totally fed up with zines & walking away altogether. i wasn’t being polite in that post; i was being honest. i had too many zines & i wanted to get rid of them. it’s not a reflection on how i feel about zines as a medium or a culture.

last week i watched a lot of documentaries about mount everest & read a few books about high-altitude mountaineering. it was kind of blowing my mind a little, imagining these people camped out for two months on the side of a mountain somewhere. anything they take up the mountain has to be carried by someone: either the climber, a hired sherpa, or a yak. it made me think about all the crap i have, that i tote around with me from house to house every time i move. & historically, i move a lot (though i hope things will slow down a bit now that i am in my 30s). i had about seven milk crates packed to capacity with zines. it didn’t necessarily look like an overwhelming amount of zines when the crates were just stacked in a corner somewhere, but moving them necessitates several trips, & the way they were being stored precluded regular perusal of the zines. most of them had been traveling with me, shifting from crate to trunk to box to bookshelf to drawer, for years & years & years. some of them accompanied me on as many as twenty different moves. it just seemed unnecessary.

i just really don’t like to have an over-abundance of stuff. when i walk into someone’s apartment & they have every surface cluttered with framed photographs & knickknacks & three different kinds of towels in the bathroom & too many pillows on their bed & thirty pairs of shoes & a dish for every possible serving need & such forth & so on…it makes me feel very claustrophobic & anxious. i have my weird collections (babysitters club books, anyone?), but i have been trying to downsize a lot of my possessions recently. i’ve been selling clothes to resale shops or donating them to clothing swaps. i’ve been selling my collection of “sassy” magazines & toting crates of other, less collectible magazines to the recycling center. i’ve been re-arranging the kitchen cabinets to more efficiently stack & store dishes. & my office was stressing me out because one whole wall was consumed by messy crates of zines i never look at.

anyway, everything is gone now. i am left with one crate loosely packed with my very favorites. everything has been mailed save for three packages for people to whom i owe letters. cash orders started arriving in the mail today. i have been trying to make it a priority to swiftly refund everyone that didn’t get in on the offer. i am bummed to have to disappoint so many people. i really didn’t expect the zines to go as quickly as they did. most people who ordered opted for the large box, which surprised me, because that’s like a good 150 zines. i guess i am just thinking from my own anti-clutter, zine-ambivalent perspective. i would not want a sudden infusion of 150 random zines into my life. but i guess i’m in the minority!

but this doesn’t mean that suddenly i hate zines & want nothing to do with them. i did keep some, after all, & i am still curious to read others. i still have copies of the “love letters to monsters” #3/”alabama grrrl” #9 split available. or, i will once i collate, staple, & fold the latest batch from the copy shop. i am still mulling over exactly what i’d want to cover in my proposed issue #4 on the topic of self-care.

but it’s also true that there is almost nothing that i whole-heartedly enjoy about zines. reading them is generally a slog. i usually find the quality of the writing disappointing & the topics repetitive. although writing is really easy & relatively joyous for me once i’m doing it, the period of thinking about writing is agonizing & horrible. i hate doing layout. i hate going to the copy shop. words can’t describe how much i hate collating, stapling, & folding. i find filling orders really tedious. the only good thing about going to the post office is that it’s close to my favorite coffeeshop, so i usually stop in for a fancy coffee drink. it honestly blows my mind a little, how negative i feel about so many different aspects of making & reading zines. maybe i am still recovering from running the zine distro…or maybe this is a sign that i need to find something new to fill that role in my life. i really admire people who find so much joy in all the activities i hate. i remember feeling that way, i wish i still felt that way…maybe it will come back in time.

a writer’s guide to basic etiquette

been out of commission for a little while with a bad cold. i spent most of the last week sick in bed. i used the time to watch season four of “big love,” which was hilariously terrible. only nine episodes, & they managed to pack about seven thousand ridiculous storylines in there. i won’t spoil it for anyone, because there may still be people feverishly awaiting the DVD release, but my advice? if you were feeling iffy on the show after the third season, just cut your losses & skip the fourth. unless maybe you’re sick in bed or something. but you’ll probably feel more relaxed tracking down some old episodes of “the golden girls” or “roseanne” on youtube.

yesterday i got an e-mail notification from the flash fiction contest to which i submitted over the summer. submissions closed at the end of august & the first round of judging took place in september. & i made the first cut! they capped submissions at three hundred entries, & the top hundred have been passed on to the official guest judge. there are 25 potential placements (first, second, & third places, seven runners-up, & 15 honorable mentions). so i have a one-in-four chance of placing, but…honestly, i’m ecstatic just to have made it through the first round. this was my first experience submitting to a writing contest as an adult, & for me, it was mainly an exercise in meeting a deadline, following submission guidelines, & putting myself at risk for rejection. the contest i entered allows contestants to pay a little extra for a critique, which they will receive once judging is complete & winners have been announced. i went ahead & sprang for the critique. serious fiction writing is something that is still very new to me, & i want to know where my strengths & weaknesses lie. i don’t expect any big prizes.

i did a little digging around on the internet to see if anyone else who made it through first round judging is also gushing about it on their blog. & i found one. but there was no gushing. instead, the author was complaining about how she made it through first round judging in the last contest too (it’s a quarterly thing), but did not place. she said it was all just a big tease & that she must be a terrible writer if she can’t stand out enough to place in a pool of one hundred stories. she seemed almost pissed off to receive notification of making it through first round judging–it was weird. she said something like, “if i can’t place in a group of one hundred stories, what chance do i have of being plucked out of an editor’s slush pile?” well…none, if you’re going to be so defeatist about it that you don’t even try anymore.

it’s important to remember that the judgment of any sort of writing is very subjective. once you get past the big hurdles (is it coherent? does it meet basic grammatical standards?), so much of what’s good & what’s bad is a matter of taste & preference. no writer can please all of the people all of the time, & it’s pointless to even try. but being a writer, & especially being a writer that strives for mainstream publishing credits, is all about facing rejection & criticism. plenty of people have criticized my writing. sometimes the critiques are legitimate–i meandered away from my original point, or i didn’t have a point to begin with, or my writing was brittle & unpersuasive, or my plot was boring & unrealistic. & sometimes the critiques were just an issue of personal preference–my sentences were too long, i used too many fifty-cent words, they didn’t care for my topic. & sometimes the critique was straight up bogus. if i were to get too bogged down in trying to make everyone happy, it would be impossible for me to write anything authentic.

i’m really pleased to have gotten this far in the contest, even if i don’t make it any further. i look forward to receiving my critique & seeing what the judges liked & didn’t like. it will give me some baseline from which to examine my writing & strengthen it. even if they dislike aspects that i am really invested in, i can still use the critique to sharpen my focus in terms of audience, or find a new way to craft an aspect of my writing that i don’t want to lose altogether. this is what makes writing a craft, as opposed to an art. there’s always a different angle to consider. writing is self-expression, but i think it’s very important for writer to consider their goals, intended audiences, & abilities, & to play to those things. pure self-expression is for my diary. writing that others will see is crafted, to some extent.

kind of related to this topic…in writing about why i closed my zine distro in “love letters to monsters” #3, i critiqued a zine i received for distro consideration about a year & a half ago. i said that the author’s execution, in terms of writing & layout, wasn’t as good as her premise, & that’s why i chose not to carry her zine. this zinester later made a huge stink about distros rejecting her zines & publicly suggested that all the zine distros that had rejected her were perhaps engaged in some sort of elaborate conspiracy to “censor” her…by not carrying her stuff. like distros are the only way to get your zines sold. i think everyone who runs a distro gets accused of something like this sooner or later. it wasn’t the first time i’d experienced it, but after running the distro for six years, it was kind of the last straw. this is all in the zine, you can read more about it if you want. the point is that i mentioned this incident as an instigating factor in why i finally decided to shut down the distro (one factor among several).

i was really surprised when the zinester in question then ordered my zine! she’d been so critical of my submission guidelines & decision not to carry her zine, i figured she had written me off & was disinterested in my zines. but i sent it to her, with a nice little note. she wrote me today to let me know that she had positively IDed herself in my zine, & she was very angry about it. honestly, her e-mail didn’t make a whole lot of sense. she took umbrage with my criticism because she said she’d never personally attacked me. well, i never personally attacked her either. i merely critiqued the quality of her writing & encouraged her to edit more. & i actually do think some of the things she wrote about distros censoring her (in which she named my distro specifically) could be construed as attacks. but perhaps that’s a matter of opinion. she also said that the next time i want to criticize her i should use her name because “all publicity is good publicity”. i wouldn’t call what i wrote “publicity” by any stretch of the imagination, but hey. she also said that she has always supported my distro (she ordered from me once, around the same time she submitted a zine for consideration), & had done so again by ordering my most recent zine. which she ordered from me. not the distro. because the distro is closed. reading comprehension? very confusing. i considered writing her back & offering to refund her $3, but she specifically said not to write her back, so…i guess i’ll keep that $3 then.

i was definitely expecting some kind of fallout when she ordered the zine, but it wasn’t so bad. just non-sensical enough to make me laugh, without really stressing me out. so i’ll consider it a win. but it just highlights, again, the way that people in the zine community seem to be so completely uninterested in constructive criticism nowadays. i think that’s fine–different strokes for different folks. a lot of people making zines are doing it purely for the purposes of having a therapeutic outlet for self-expression. they’re not trying to lay the groundwork for some fantastic writing career (& thank goodness, because zines may not be the way to make that happen). but this woman…IS. she has written explicitly in her zines about how she is self-publishing in the zine format in order to launch herself as a legitimate published author in a mainstream context. & as such, i expected a lot more from her writing than the usual self-involved never-made-a-zine-before screeds. & once she got a few issues in, i definitely anticipated a little polish…but it doesn’t seem to be happening.

i like seeing people pursuing their ambitions. but i like to see the pursuit augmented by a little self-awareness & respect for the people that will be assisting them on their path to greatness. my ambition doesn’t go much further than, “i would like to finish writing a novel & shop it around to some agents,” but that doesn’t mean i’m going to just vomit forth 50,000 words & write a cover letter about how i’m the next margaret atwood & anyone who doesn’t want to represent me can kiss my rosy ass. & it doesn’t mean i’m going to throw myself a pity party if an agent requests a full manuscript & then passes. baby steps, people.

listen, everybody…especially you girls

i was going to write a big post about how to run a zine distro, but i got like 1800 words in (which is a lot), & i hadn’t even finished explaining how to get started. there’s just too much! i wanted to include all the different things i have learned, the good & the bad, & lots of examples, & it just got overwhelming. so i am shelving it for now. i don’t even know if that’s really something people would want to see. but if it…let me know.

this past week has been a tough one. my anxiety has been raging out of control, for reasons i don’t understand. i don’t really have anything to be anxious about. it’s just racing, repetitive thoughts about nothing in particular, insomnia, crying jags…i feel a little better today, but i’m definitely not at the top of my game.

“love letters to monsters” #3 is almost finished. the writing is completed, & the actual zine part of it has been laid out. i just have to draw a cover & write up an intro & an outro. ailecia is working on finishing her half, probably as i am typing this. it looks like the split is definitely going to happen! we might each write another short little piece once we read each other’s halves, but from the conversations we’ve had, it sounds like our zines will complement each other well, while still being really different. we are both writing about lawrence & the concept of “community”. ailecia is writing about leaving grad school & i am writing about being a grad school widow. with both halves, it will be over 80 pages, quarter-sized.

& the truly awesome news: folks in portland will be able to get copies from either one of us! ailecia made the snap decision last night to get a cheap ticket & come out to portland to see friends & stop by the symposium. we are both psyched about having someone in portland that we know really well & feel comfortable around, & we’re both excited to meet/hang out with other people, trade zines, & hang out. we’re both getting in on friday, but ailecia is staying a day longer than me.

it also looks like the pander reunion is going to come together. i might have a casual non-bar/non-restaurant venue lined up, where people can just chill & drink some beers & have fun. i’m just waiting for final confirmation from the potential hostess about what time works for her. it will of course be really cool to meet a bunch of lady zinester long-timers, but mostly i am just excited to do this for ericka. (who is reading this, i am sure. hi. i’m just going to be effusive for a minute.) ericka was super supportive of me & my zines when i was making “a renegade’s handbook to love & sabotage”. it was the most wildly popular zine i ever made, & i credit ericka with a big portion of its success. she got it out there to people, & that paved my post-“renegade’s handbook” path in the zine community in so many ways. she was also really supportive when i started paper trail distro, even though she was still running pander at the time. she helped me out a lot with advice & warnings. i can probably even credit ericka to some extent for this split, because ailecia & i only knew each other initially through getting each other’s zines from pander back in the day, & i never would have become friends with ailecia in lawrence if i hadn’t already known her through zines. i think most ladies that were making zines between 1995 & 2005 probably have similar stories.

in the zine scene these days, i feel like there is a weird, creepy emphasis on what’s happening RIGHT NOW. like, if you haven’t made a zine in the last six months, you might as well be dead. & not to be all sophia petrillo about it, but kids these days really do not want to seem to learn from those who came before them, or honor them in any way. that’s not the way things were when i was coming up. paper trail would have been a very different animal if i hadn’t respected ericka’s input & learned from my experiences being distoed by pander. ericka & i have definitely butted heads over the years, but at the end of the day, i have nothing but respect for everything she has contributed to the zine community & to my life, personally. & i’m hopeful that this pander reunion will be, you know, fun times & hang-outs, but also a way to honor everything that ericka has done for the ladies that will be there.

which means, drama llamas need not apply!

last night i went to the last kickball game of the season with jared, ailecia, & max. we drank some beers & smoked some cigarettes & watched some mighty fine kickball moves. when it was all over, jared produced sparklers from his bag, & since i had the lighter, i lit them. & when i lit mine, it threw sparks everywhere & i burnt the jeebus out of my thumb. i guess it’s a second-degree burn–it blistered up right away, but it didn’t split open or start oozing or turning black or anything. it REALLY FUCKING HURT. i managed not to cry, but it took some work, & mostly i just didn’t want to cry over being 31 years old & burning myself lighting a sparkler. i mean, how embarrassing. luckily, the punks were there with a couple of coolers full of beer & ice, so i could wrap a few handfuls of ice in my t-shirt & treat my thumb. but some dude thought i was trying to snag his beer & he almost body-checked me while screaming, “that’s MY beer!” get over it, dude, i just need some ice. also, it’s pabst. you paid like 45 cents a can.

today i cut my hair. i just trimmed the split ends off. i think it’s probably pretty uneven, but my hair is long enough (waist-length! like dawn schafer!) that i don’t think it’s that noticeable. it was really starting to look like doll hair on the ends. something needed to be done.

yesterday, i found a weird bristly blond hair on the bathroom sink. it wasn’t mine (too short, too yellow) & it wasn’t jared’s (too yellow, too thick & scary). i was like, “WTF?” i personally cleaned that bathroom the day after we moved in & got rid of all random gross hair that was lingering. i was like, “is this some other girl’s hair? is jared cheating on me with someone who has incredibly terrifying hair that seems like a bad wig?” when he got home, i said, “jared, are you cheating on me?” & he said, “what? of course not.” i said i found a weird hair & he said, “was it blond & bristly?” & i said, “…yes,” & he said, “did it look like it came from my shaving brush?” & i said, “um. yes.” mystery solved. all because jared shaves like it’s still 1942, with a brush & shaving cake & a vintage razor.

zinecraft, part two

(part one)

it’s really frustrating, though, to be in a world where everyone gets a gold star when i was trying to hold myself to a different personal standard of quality writing. i got a very amusing e-mail a few months ago (anonymous, of course) from someone who hated the last zine i wrote (“love letters to monsters” #2) & wanted to inform me that i’m “not as good a writer as [i] think [i am].” it made me laugh because…how good of a writer did that person think i was? being as cognizant of my limitations as i am (i’m no anne lamott, i’m no angela carter, i’m not even a bootleg latter-day bell hooks), i think i am probably exactly as good of a writer as i think i am. i lack discipline, so my output suffers. i occasionally over-reach for a conclusion. my attempts at scenic description tend to be muddled. i have a very difficult time writing flawed characters. i am remarkably unobservant of my surroundings. my attempts at dry humor often fail to translate in print. i have to fight my tendency to rely on hyperbole. i’m not that great at off-the-cuff self-editing. i sometimes fall into excessive parentheticals. but i have my strengths: i can write dialogue that rings true, i have a large (& ever-expanding) vocabulary, & i have been gifted with an instinctual knack for grammar. cliches are anathema to me. i have the basic elements of narrative down pat. in the zine world, these meager tools have served me well, & allowed me to write zines that avoid the style traps from which most zines suffer.

don’t you hate it when you’re reading a zine, & it’s some story about the author’s boyfriend’s band practice, & you’re like, “wait, what? who the hell are these people? why should i care?” it’s a story for the author & her friends, & not for casual zine readers. or when you’re reading a piece on white privilege, & “privilege” is spelled wrong. it kind of undermines the zine writer’s larger point. i mean, if you can’t get that right…you know? or when you’re reading a smart, thoughtful political piece, & suddenly you stumble across hyperbole of the highest order, & it jerks you out of the piece & makes you wonder what the fuck kind of arguments the author has had about this issue that she feels the need to be that defensive. or when you’re reading a really sad story about a death in the author’s family, & she says that her loved one is now “an angel watching over me”. really? “trite pablum” is what you were going for here? a zine reader with less interest in the craft of writing probably wouldn’t give a shit about any of these things. they’d just read the stories & go with it. but…that’s not me.

the other big problem in the zine world is that critique relating to these issues is generally not well-received. there’s a lot of defensiveness, a lot of, “i’m sharing my personal story, & who are you to judge the quality of the writing?” well…i’m your reader. i’m the one who you expect to spend at least ten minutes immersed in the world you have created with your zine. i suppose it’s different if a zinester is just making a zine to express themselves & they don’t actually expect anyone to ever read it. but i think most zinesters anticipate orders & the attendant readers. & as such, i actually think it’s a little bit rude to just vomit all over the page & expect your readers to lick it up & like it. & i think it’s childish to react so negatively when a reader makes suggestions on how to improve your writing.

i had an incident about a year ago along these lines. i’d read a book written by a former zinester. i had in fact actually paid money for it (a departure from my usual habit of getting books of unknown quality from the library). i’d read this person’s zines & i had never really been impressed by the quality of her writing. she was the queen of imprecise language. every other word she used rang “wrong,” & other, more harmonious & descriptive words overwhelmed my internal editor as i read. but i thought, maybe this is different. this is a book, after all. people other than the writer had to sign off on publishing this. i know editing is a dying art, but maybe she worked a little harder on the manuscript than she did on her zines, knowing that a book was likely to reach a larger audience.

my hopes were for naught. the quality of the writing in the book was as bad as that in her zines…possibly worse.there were passages that were nearly unreadable. i wrote up a review (as i do for all books i read) & posted it on ye olde interwebz. i was careful to praise the few things i did enjoy about the book & to make clear that i’d read & supported the writer’s zines (i’d even carried them in my distro) & hoped she could interpret my remarks as constructive criticism in the event that she found the review.

needless to say, that didn’t happen. the writer found my review & left a blistering comment about how she’d written the book during a very dark & difficult time in her life, & how it was completely autobiographical (that wasn’t at all obvious to me, & i had written about how unlikeable & unsympathetic her characters were), & how criticizing her book was a very personal criticism of her. she huffed that she didn’t have any kind of formal writing education & how she was just writing from her heart. such forth & so on. you can imagine.

& i was really annoyed. i was more annoyed by her ridiculous & embarrassing reply than i was by the shitty quality of her book. this is a BOOK, people, not some little go-nowhere zine about some bad thing that happened to you. it’s an actually published book (which was billed as a novel, incidentally)–not a diary. she had done speaking engagements in support of it. she was putting it out there, trying to attract readers that didn’t know her personally, that had never read her zines. she & her publishers hoped people would buy her book & invest several hours of their lives in the story she had created…but they apparently did not have enough respect for those readers to actually try to craft the story into something readable. it was that whole zine idea of “this is my story, love it or leave it,” applied on a much larger scale. & with a little dash of, “don’t blame me, i don’t have the money for writing school” (ie, false celebration of oppression/lack of privilege) thrown in for good measure.

i never finished writing school. i think i took four or five creative writing courses over a span of a year, & then i dropped out & moved to portland. everything i have learned about writing since (which is the vast majority of what i know about writing), i learned on my own, from books, magazines, & websites on writing, developing my own tastes in literature, reading voraciously, & actually putting my butt in a chair & writing. if i can do it, so can anyone else. at least well enough to be competent. i’m not asking for the moon & stars. if a person doesn’t WANT to put that effort in…well, that’s a different story. maybe they have other interests, other priorities. & while that is perfectly acceptable…they can’t go crying “i can’t afford writing classes” when they called on their shitty writing. because the real problem is just a lack of desire to put the work into being any better.

& just one more thing: it is bad form to lash back at negative reviews. this has happened to me a few different times with reviews i have written. the writers always try to convince me that if i didn’t like their shit, i must have just not “gotten it”. they try to explain their stories or characters or symbolism to me. listen: if you have to explain it later, you did it wrong. the solution: do it better next time. they get up on their high horses & tell me that other people liked their writing, maybe they even won a prize. which only means that it’s very true that many people in the world have terrible taste & little ability to discern shitty writing, occasionally including people who are in charge of awarding prizes. these people seem to be holding out for universal admiration, which is a pipe dream. of course i’ve gotten bad reviews & hate mail. some of it was just crazy talk, & some of it made some decent points, & i tried to learn from it. there’s no faster way for a writer to appear insecure, childish, defensive, & full of herself than to lash out at a negative review.

new apartment, new zine?

well. jared & i moved into our new apartment this weekend. i knew all along that our new apartment was pretty sweet (having seen it many times before while cat-sitting for previous tenants), but damn! it’s an awesome apartment! there’s a big spacious living room that wraps around & feeds into a small-ish kitchen. the bedroom stretches across the entire length of the apartment along the west wall, with spacious eaves for storage space (we’re on the top floor of the house–apparently a former boardinghouse from the late 1800s). the wall behind out bed is all windows, so we can lay in bed & watch the sunset if we want. there’s a little extra room between the kitchen & the bathroom, & this room is my OFFICE. i’ve been living with jared for two years now & this is the first time i’ve had an office. we always sought out apartments with extra bedrooms before…for him, because he’s in grad school. i was always like, “well, grad school is more important than zine stuff, doing well in grad school & getting a nice tenure-track professorship down the road is going to keep food on our table for the next fifty years.” & then i’d spread out with my projects on the kitchen table or the couch or the floor. but jared has an office at school this year (it’s his first year teaching), & he acknowledged that i spend a lot more time at home than he does, so it makes sense for me to have the office.

i love it! i found an empty case that used to have a manual typewriter in it while we were moving, & i tied it to the wall to make it into a little shelf, & i filled it up with all my books about writing. we finally have the space to bring my desk in from its exile in the basement, so i once again have a regular adult desk with drawers. (the old place had a desk built into the wall, but it didn’t have drawers…though it did have shelves along one side.) a german candy box featuring sad-looking kittens is propped up in the window. my typewriter is right next to me. six crates full of zines are piled up next to the desk. ailecia loaned us her car on sunday afternoon so we could dumpster dive for furniture (especially a dresser for me & a kitchen table–our last apartment was too small for either of these hallmarks of adult living). we cruised around for a bit, but everything was pretty picked over. we didn’t want anything broken or moldy. finally we gave up & bought new. we had to assemble the dresser ourselves, & it was really complicated (though jared did most of it without my help, thank goodness), & the table was a slightly scratched floor model, so we got a nice discount on it. we realized too late that it is heat-sensitive (even just a warm coffee cup leaves a white mark on the finish), so we invested in a table pad & tablecloth. are we in our 30s or what?

while i was in the process of moving, the internet was blowing up over topics touched upon in my last two posts. new people have subscribed to my blog & i’ve been averaging literally about five times as many views as usual thanks to various folks that have linked to me or found my blog through google while seeking more information. kind of makes me wish i had it in me to make a more specific statement, but i just don’t. like i said in other posts, this is something i have been dealing with to varying degrees for ten years. i’m kind of out of energy. but the fact that public statements have been issued by the athens accountability team & by alex herself have made me hopeful that resolution is on the horizon…or at least that a lot of the criticisms that have been leveled at me & others that have spoken out in the past will finally be put to rest. i have no illusions that public statements urging a boycott of microcosm publishing will magically inspire every zinester to give a shit about standing up against abuse & patriarchy, but hopefully it will be a nudge for the ones that have been on the fence, or reluctant to take a stance.

i have been fairly bitter about zines at least since the end of last year–not just because of this issue, but for a lot of reasons. i made the right choice for myself, shutting down my zine distro in january, & have just kind of ignored the zine scene ever since. sometimes i’d hear about an old zine friend coming out with a new issue, & i would wonder if they planned to send me a copy for old time’s sake (pander zine distro was really supportive of my old zine, “a renegade’s handbook to love & sabotage,” so i still send her new issues when i make them, even though pander shut down almost five years ago), but few people bother. it’s kind of weird. like friendships i thought i had built through the distro were maybe just matters of convenience for the zinesters, like they were keeping me happy so i’d distro their zines. i guess i am not that mercenary, so i don’t expect it from others. let this be a warning to anyone who currently runs a zine distro: don’t get too comfortable.

i still have my moments of hating zines, but most of the bitterness is gone now. i’m pretty sure that i still don’t love the medium as much as some people, & certainly not as much as i did ten or fifteen years ago, but…i might make another zine after all. i know i have been talking a lot about getting into fiction writing for more mainstream audiences because i am in pursuit of more of a challenge to my writing abilities, & all of that is still true. but it can also be comfortable & familiar to write in the medium & for the audience i’ve been working with for so many years. almost like a vacation from “real” writing.

in the meantime, i am off to whip up a batch of stuffed shells for dinner. tonight will be our first night in over a year of sitting down to a civilized meal at our very own kitchen table! i made pizza last night (tomato/basil for one & mushroom/basil for the other), but we were just speed-eating before working on setting up the apartment & unpacking more, & the table was piled with bags of cat food, cans of paint, my new bathing suit, receipts, etc. tonight we dine like adults.

it’s the first day of spring!

my bicycle is enjoying the beautiful spring weather.

what the hell is going on? lawrence was hammered last night by a mondo late season blizzard, & the snow is in fact still falling. yesterday was gorgeous. i wore my ruffle-collar swing coat downtown & had to remove it for the walk home because i was too warm in just a thermal & thin puff-sleeved cardigan. then i went over to ailecia’s to catch up on “project runway,” & spent some quality time on the enclosed porch afterward, smoking bummed menthol cigarettes & making plans for a zine on emotional & physical health sustainability in radical communities (ie, it’s okay to work out & take care of your body in the name of fitness & health; there are more responsible & respectful ways to ask for emotional support than to think you are magically entitled to it from whoever is around; etc), & when i stepped outside to retrieve my recycling crates & head back to my place to make homemade pizza for lunch, there was a frosty nip in the air. jared had soccer practice a few hours later (he joined an intra-mural grad student team) & bundled up in knee socks, a raincoat, etc. when he returned home a few hours later, it was raining, which turned to sleet while i made pasta carbonara for dinner. by the time we went to bed, snow had smothered the neighborhood.

so i am pretending that spring is here by wearing an aggressively flowered headband.

please note the snow in my hair. please also note the wrinkle between my eyebrows that is due to thirty years of furrowing grouchily at the world around me. this weather is making me frowth!

i still have big plans for spring though. i really want to get to work on a new issue of “love letters to monsters” (hilariously referred to as “hate letters to monsters” by a disgruntled reader with poor comprehension skills on goodreads–that has got to be the worst zing ever) & finally put together “up the logic punks!” #3. all the puzzles have been written & done since late july. that was nine months ago! i just have not had the will to drag my typewriter down from its shelf & get to work.

i guess i have been enjoying a vacation from responsibility since i quit the distro back in january. i have whiled away the winter watching all five-&-a-half-to-date seasons of “lost” & reading huge stacks of library books. i haven’t been remotely interested in reading zines, making zines, reading about zines, talking about zines, etc. the entire subject makes me feel tired, prickly, frowthy, & aged before my time.

but jared & i went to chicago over the weekend for his spring break, &…i think i turned the corner. we happened to be in chicago for the first-ever chicago zine fest, which wasn’t really intentional, but also not unwelcome. my good buddy LB (from “truckface” & “susie is a robot” zines & stranger danger distro) gave us houseroom, & she had booked herself a table at the zine fest, so…on saturday morning, she loaded up her messenger bag with distro offerings & we piled into the rental car:

spring break 2010! woo hoo!

yes, that’s a bright red ford mustang. & that is LB struggling to extricate herself from the backseat. she suggested that the back seat is miniaturized because no one is ever supposed to do anything but lie down back there, if you catch my meaning. jared had requested a sub-compact, & they “upgraded” him to this little number. every time we stopped to get gas or snacks, i felt like everyone watched eagerly while i clambered out of the passenger seat, & then shrugged & thought, “i thought whoever was riding in that car would be a lot hotter.” it’s a miracle that we didn’t get any tickets, & that no one broke the windows or smashed the tail lights. a car like this attracts attention. in fact, it even has a safety feature in the event that you attract the absolute wrong kind of attention:

as the diagram helpfully illustrates, you can pull this tag, pop the trunk, & free yourself in the event of an abduction.

anyway, jared & i really didn’t have too much patience for the zine fair. it was awesome to be at a zine event without a table or any zine-selling responsibilities (i realized later that i should have left a stack of my zines on LB’s table & make a little money, but…i’m an idiot so that didn’t happen). without a zine to put to my face, i liked to think that no one recognized me. even people i consider friends, with whom i have hung out several times before in person, failed to recognize me. i blame my hair. it’s ludicrously long now, almost to my waist. i don’t think people expect ciara xyerra, ferocious zine beast behind such publications as the much-reviled “hate letters to monsters,” to have long breck girl hair. but it’s cool. my hair is both my sexy blanket & my groucho marx disguise kit. i thought about assuming a secret identity & baiting people into saying mean things about me, but instead, jared & i just went for a really long walk, culminating in me destroying my carefully curated savings account at H&M.

the most important thing to know about chicago is that there is a little diner pretty much right under the california el stop. it’s called the cozy corner diner. & it serves french toast stuffed with cheesecake. this wonder concoction is typically topped with strawberries & whipped cream, but the second (of three) days in a row that i ordered it, the kitchen was out of fresh strawberries & substituted bananas, which are even better, as far as i’m concerned.

this is the before shot.
this is after i ravenously fell upon the plate.

i thought nothing could top the creme brulee french toast i always get in bloomington. i was so wrong. so deliciously wrong.

the point regarding zines though: okay, neither jared nor i bought anything at the zine fest. jared aptly described the awkwardness of these kinds of events when he said, “i feel like i don’t want to touch anything or look at anyone’s table too closely or i’ll have to buy something that i don’t really want.” there was undoubtedly some great stuff there, but i just was not feeling the uncomfortable small talk vibe. so i waited until monday, when jared & i made a sojourn to quimby’s (you can buy my zines there now if you are in chicago) & i picked up a few items. we sat in a coffeeshop down the street & read for a few hours. nothing i got was mind-blowing on the level of, say, “doris” the first time i ever read it. but i really enjoyed sitting there & reading the zines. & even though there was a little whisper in the back of my mind trying to work me up into the froth of frustration i used to feel when i was reading zines for distro consideration back in the day (three months ago)–you know, the whole, “who cares? get over yourself! no one cares about your facile observations! & could your layout be any uglier?” etc etc–i was able to ignore the voice quite easily & just enjoy the zines for what they were, on their own merits. it was great!

i left the coffeeshop feeling footloose & fancy-free, until i saw a “punk” who’d set his ridiculous mohawk with an entire bottle of elmer’s glue. i turned to jared & said, “that guy looks like a motherfucking asshole,” & then i laughed & laughed because it was obvious that i will NEVER be posi, EVER, not in a million years. in certain ways, i am finding new stores of patience that had been thoroughly depleted by seven years of living & breathing in thankless dedication to zine distribution, but i’m always going to be a judgmental hater & i wouldn’t want it any other way!

possibly the most awesome part of the trip transpired when we got back to lawrence. okay, back story: i grew up in northwest ohio (toledo & its environs). as a child, i was a big fan of a hot farina cereal called cocowheats. it’s like a cocoa version of cream of wheat. i wasn’t necessarily obsessed with it, but i liked it a lot. the day after i turned twenty, i moved away to portland & began my young adult life of drinking a tall glass of chocolate milk & wolfing down a banana nut muffin or two for breakfast everyday, & i pretty much forgot about cocowheats. then i moved around, to montana, los angeles, minneapolis, & settled down in boston. little by little, my memories of cocowheats resurfaced. every now & again, all i wanted was cocoa-flavored hot farina cereal, but apparently any shelf space that may have been allotted to it in new england grocery stores was given over to moxie & brown bread in a can (WTF). i concluded, after over a decade of casual searching, that cocowheats had been discontinued, just like regular-sized krackle candy bars (in high school, my best friend ava & i drove to four different states one night, looking for a regular-sized krackle).

finally, last week, it occurred to me to search the internet. i found the cocowheats manufacturer website & discovered that cocowheats are still in production! you can order them online, but they are also sold in lawrence! only at the super-wal-mart out at 31st & iowa, which is far enough away to necessitate a car or bus. i told jared the happy news & he offered to drive me there when we got home from chicago. i hadn’t been in a wal-mart in over ten years, but i walked in, located the hot cereal aisle, & bought myself two boxes of cocowheats for less than six bucks. verdict: not as awesome as i remembered, but still at least a little bit awesome. yay!

we also hit target, where i purchased two new pillows, a new sheet set, & a new comforter. this is the first time in my entire life that i have purchased my own pillows & blanket. i generally rely on people to give them to me, or i find them in weird circumstances. i haven’t consciously avoided this threshold in adult living, but…life is now totally awesome because i’ve got my zine mojo back, i can eat cocowheats for breakfast everyday, i have a big flowery headband, i have a crew of ladies to hit the gym with if i so desire, it’s spring (even if the entire city is buried beneath a half-foot of snow), LB turned me on to a website that has “dexter” season four available for free viewing, the concept of cheesecake-stuffed french toast has entered my life, i embrace my hatertude, & this is now my wonderful, inviting, bed:

jared is napping in it right this second.