girl zines: the book (part one)

charlotte was kind enough to buy me a copy of girl zines: making media, doing feminism, by alison piepmeier:

i got you a book, & i didn't eated it!

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.

my teenage obsession--more precious than kittens & unicorns! more adorable than a kitten/unicorn hybrid!

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.

my bookcase containing only the best of the best zines i have read in the last twenty years--literally hundreds & hundreds of zines

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.

gonna get back to my reading now

in which charlotte attacks & my mom is a crusty punk

the next-door neighbors, ailecia & alyssa, threw a housewarming party last night to christen their new house name: the cockpit. (don’t think about it too hard.) jared got his pre-game on in his typically classy fashion:

yes, that's a martini in a jam jar

look closely, you can see the olives.

ailecia’s parties tend to be events. jared & i are not really big on events. we’re big on kicking back in our armchairs & reading books. but you know, they’re our neighbors & our buddies, so we swung by to say hello. we secured a nice fellow with a naive appreciation for the feline species to cat-sit our feral she-beast while we’re in boston for the xmas holiday break. he has no idea what he’s in for:

abandon hope, all ye who enter my personal space!

when jared & i were driving out from boston to kansas in our moving truck in august, we swung by bowling green, ohio, where my entire immediate family lives. or…lived, before my mom convinced me to give her $600 “for rent,” & then used it to pay for a one-way greyhound bus ticket to new orleans because she “heard there were jobs down there”. you know where else there are jobs? cranberry harvest. seriously, has my mom become a crusty traveling punk at the tender age of 54? is she going to come back to bowling green in a boxcar, sporting dreadlocks & an aus rotten ass flap? i can only hope! maybe i’ll see her spare changing outside jimmy john’s gourmet sandwich shop in downtown lawrence once summer rolls around again. she will doubtlessly be flying a sign that solicits funds for both herself & whatever mangy dog she adopts, sure to be wearing leash made from a frayed length of rope & its own saddlebags made out of an old pair of charharts.

but i digress. i had coffee with my siblings at grounds for thought in bowling green, where i often whiled away my teenage hours sipping hazelnut hot cocoas & perusing “factsheet 5”. my sister, dani, brought along her seven-year-old daughter, malachite. i am always psyched to see malachite because she’s my only niece (neither my brother nor jared’s brother have any kids) & i am her only aunt related by blood (dani’s husband only has brothers–about ninety of ’em). i really want to remind her that she has an aunt, & i harbor a little fantasy that she thinks of me as a “cool aunt,” with tattoos, who travels wherever the wind takes her, hashing out homegrown feminist theory & sowing dissent across the land. this is just a fantasy though, because she’ll be old enough to seek out blogs like this one in a couple of years, & when she reads that, she definitely will not think i’m cool.

she was excited about the cat though. charlotte was in her fancy sherpa carrier (approved by airlines) with its mesh sides & handy shoulder strap. we didn’t dare let her out, because…she’s pure evil. i mean, come on:

wanna lose twenty pounds? come any closer & i'll rip off your arm! problem solved!

but malachite was all, “i wanna see the kitty! take the kitty out of the bag! i want to pet the kitty!” she stuck her face right up against the mesh window of the carrier to get a better look. “uh, you might want to back off a little…” said jared, but too late. *scratch* right through the mesh, charlotte lashed out & scratched my seven-year-old niece right in the face. & all of us, me, jared, clark (my brother), & dani busted up laughing. malachite considered for a moment & then screamed, “she’s a goblin!” which only made us laugh harder. oh, the laughter at children…wait, that’s not how the saying goes?

anyway, we did not stay long at the party. everyone was dancing & gettin’ down, drinking beers & having a great time. jared & i decided to clear out & have a great time our own way.

don't all reformed anarcho-punks spend their saturday nights playing boggle?

jared is fantastic at boggle. if this whole grad school thing doesn’t work out, he could be a professional boggle player. i also think he’d excel at writing sitcom dialogue. but i was truly the star of the night. in a typical boggle round, jared easily scores at least twenty points & i’m lucky to scrape five. he finds words like “detests” & i don’t even see obvious gimmes like “sad”. but i scored the boggle equivalent of a scrabble bingo–the much ballyhooed, heretofore thought to be mythical eight-letter word: “listless”. that’s eleven points! & this is where i find excitement, living in kansas. i wonder why my long-distance friends aren’t lining up to come visit?

i also had to deal with my distro website committing hari kari yesterday. the front page had been cannibalized by the first page of the catalogue & the skeleton frame, which contains all the navigational links, had disappeared into the ether. i didn’t build my own website & it has taken me six years to get a handle on the basics, like writing link code & changing background colors. i don’t know how to build a new skeleton frame or re-create an image map from scratch. i spent hours trying to fix it & making the problem worse. i finally got it sorted out, only to wake up this morning & discover that the page for collections & subscriptions had erased itself & the links page had gotten re-named somehow, so it wouldn’t load. this is what i get for using free, open source web maintenance software! technology, why doth thou forsake me?

two other zine-related things–
1) i want to recommend the newest zine i have added to the paper trail catalogue: “doctrinal expletives” #5. there’s a piece on the fictive kinship bonds that folks try to build with each other in collective/punk houses (somewhere in new orleans, my mom is getting frustrated by her roommates scarfing up all of her vegan dumpster stew & drawing mustaches on her crimethinc “boy/girl” poster, so she knows what i’m saying [in my imagination]) & how it’s kind of bogus & obnoxious. it is something about which i want to think/write/read more.
2) i don’t know if it’s too late now to contribute to this anthology being compiled about “zine girls of the 90s” now that they are all grown up, but i am still thinking of cobbling something together & at least posting it here, even if i dragged my feet on getting into the book. it’s not my fault though! i was distracted by the unspeakable awful-ness of the call for submissions. i will probably write more about that too.

woe betide the blank…screen

since the beginning of time, man has wondered…can robots think?

not really. i have just always wanted to start a piece of writing with that sentence. it is from an actual undergraduate paper graded by a friend of a friend of a friend, who was appropriately horrified that any college student would believe that a) man has existed since the beginning of time, b) robots apparently have also co-existed with man since the beginning of time, & c) anyone who isn’t high has ever stopped to wonder if robots think.

first sentences are tough though. i am certainly struggling to find a good starting point for this blog/public writing project, especially because i made the mistake of stepping out for a cigarette to “clear my head,” but i just made myself sick because i’m not really a smoker anymore. i’m all shaky & nauseous & wishing i would have made a bowl of tomato soup instead.

i have had an online presence for my writing for about ten years now, but have mostly scuttled around websites that pride themselves on layers of security settings, so i always have a gauge of my readership. i have also been publishing zines for about sixteen or seventeen years, so bits of my writing are lurking in zine libraries & in closets all across the world. but as every article about zines in the digital age is quick to point out, zines & blogs are different animals. the best explanation i have seen yet is from an interview lauren martin gave in the new book girl zines. she said that zines are physical objects that manifest their age through yellowing pages, fading ink, becoming dog-earned & bedraggled with time. but what is posted on to this series of tubes we call the internet is there to stay, in a weird, nebulous, cyberbackwoods kind of way. & that is a little bit scary. if someone picked up a zine i wrote ten years ago, they would say, “clearly this an elderly artifact from a bygone age. ciara has bleached hair in these photos, & she’s all skinny, & she hasn’t yet furrowed a crevice between her eyebrows from all of her cranky face-making. pages are falling out left & right, someone spilled coffee all over it, & the pages are gray with the oily finger residue of previous readers.”

but the internet is different. what goes up stays up, especially now that there is all that aggregating software. i can’t believe some of ancient shit that comes up when i google myself. (admit it, you do it too.) best not to dwell, i think.

i suppose introductions are in order. first, the blog name. obviously, crabigail adams is not my name, but if i hadn’t already legally changed my name once (to ciara miaow xyerra), i would certainly consider making it my name. who wouldn’t love signing checks to pay off outstanding medical debt as “crabigail adams”? or flashing it on an ID at the airport security checkpoint? no, crabigail adams is merely a nickname. a couple of years ago, i attended a memorial day potluck with my boyfriend, jared, & his best friend, bart. i asked jared to get me a beer from the cooler. he came back with two fancy beers, some kind of belgian stuff. i frowned & furrowed because i prefer cheap domestic beers, in cans. jared said, “relax & drink your fancy beer, crabigail adams.” a hush fell over the barbecue crowd & all eyes turned to me, to see how i would respond to such epithets. but i thought it was brilliant, made all the more so by bart snorting into his fancy lager & chortling, “he just called his girlfriend crabigail adams! that’s so mean! hahaha!”

if the name fits. i am wicked crabby. the sub-title is a slightly altered quote from alice roosevelt (spitfire daughter of teddy roosevelt). her real quote is something like, “if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, come sit here next to me.” kind of a mouthful, huh? i’m verbose (obviously), but let’s not get carried away. so i edited it down a little, & am planning to get it tattooed in fancy script on my chest, in a banner being held aloft by angry pterodactyls.

(also, sometimes i fuck up & type “carbigail”. which is also applicable.)

i have made my peace with the fact that i am not a very nice person, & do not often have nice things to say. even more troubling, i have never been able to just hold my tongue when scathing remarks & biting commentary bubble to forefront of my conscious mind. i’m a hater, & i’m also thirty, & i think that if you’re still a hater by the time you’re thirty, it’s time to just embrace it & let your hater flag unfurl like the long road to whatever circle of hell is reserved for shit talkers, gossip hounds, unsolicited advisers, & tough lovers. in my experience, people who worked hard at keeping it posi were never any fun anyway.

i share my life with two habitually crabby creatures: my afore-mentioned boyfriend, & my cat, charlotte.

damnit, xyerra, can't you see i'm trying to cast aspersions on this ian mcewan story in the new yorker?

jared is a history graduate student at KU. his hobbies include studying the way wildlife preservation policy has influenced suburban development & urban sprawl, imparting his vast stores of culinary wisdom to me (he is an excellent cook), handing out werther’s originals hard candy (if that cardigan is any indication), & the occasional martini. we’ve been dating for about two & a half years. he is originally from boston, & when asked how he feels about our recent re-location to kansas, he says, “i miss having access to a nearby IKEA.” he is one of the funniest people i have ever had the pleasure of knowing. even though he thinks kittens are hideous & ugly.

what's that thing you're holding? can i eat it? does it taste like meow mix?

i adopted charlotte from a boston animal shelter on september 10, 2001. she was six weeks old & had fleas & conjuctivitis, & frankly, was not cute at all. but she’s cute now, that’s what counts. her hobbies include attacking catnip mice, hopping up on her hind legs to beg for attention, exploring the hallway of our apartment building, & occasionally licking the bottom of her food bowl & acting like we starve her. she is a surly beast. in the moving truck on the drive out to kansas from boston, she viciously attacked me with such brutality that my right hand is scarred forever. she is scared of wind & doesn’t go outside.

that's right, sometimes i wear capes.

& then there’s me. what will i write about here? hijinks & hard times, scathing indictments & simple pleasures. i’ll probably write about books i am reading (girl zines & the assassin’s cloak right now), the perils of running a zine distro, life in kansas for a former midwesterner who adopted boston as her hometown, &, you know, cute outfits, cat photos, & what’s for dinner–the bread & butter of the blogosphere. i guess self-important posturing & epic inter-blog arguments that culminate in online petition drives to boycott certain blogs are also the bread & butter of the blogosphere, but i am really going to try to avoid that shit.