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We Should Make Things

By Teri Vlassopoulos

There was a time when I wore the same pair of pants every day. They were navy blue and corduroy and they fit perfectly. The bum disintegrated from too many days of sitting on uncomfortable school chairs or cross-legged on asphalt and cement curbs. When the material thinned out to an obscene level, I patched it up with bits of fabric, stabbing my fingers while teaching myself how to sew. I was sixteen and then I was seventeen, and I wore those pants and for a while I got really quiet.

The quiet of adolescence doesn’t feel like quiet at the time. I have pages of journals filled with my tight handwriting–all rounded letters, ellipses, and ques­tion marks. I stayed up late. I wrote. I had so many words, but I wasn’t sure who I could trust them with, so I swallowed them up instead. The quiet worried my parents, and it worried my friends, and even teachers would look at me quizzically, probably used to these kinds of muted theatrics, but still curious about my vow of silence.

The root of it was a deep sense of restlessness. I was looking for something, but I just wasn’t sure what it was, and there was only so far I could walk, only so far I could take the subway to pursue the search. So, I did what I could. I developed obsessions. Mostly with bands, reading song lyrics like tea leaves and hoping to catch a glimpse of my future.

Other obsessions were more obscure, like that month-long period I was really into making soup, soothed by the repetitive, but satisfying task of chop­ping vegetables into tiny, perfect cubes. I tried to grow my hair really, really long. I tried knitting. But I was still restless.

Discovering zines seems like a fluky accident. I read about a Sloan fanzine in the pages of Exclaim! magazine and, on a whim, mailed some stamps and loose change to a girl in Ontario. I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d receive in return. When I found a little homemade, photocopied booklet in the mailbox, I was surprised, but also relieved. Maybe this was the kind of thing I had been looking for. It felt illicit and inspiring, the way first kisses make you gasp. I liked the zine but, even more, I liked the concept of zines. I started ordering more of them, blindly sending let­ters and quarters to girls and boys all over Canada and the United States.

This is how you make a zine: get some paper, a good, dark pen, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick.

A computer or typewriter will help, but they’re not requirements. Find some pictures, ones with high contrast. Draw something. Make pretty borders. Or don’t do any of this stuff. Once you have the words, the layout is up to you. Mostly, just write.

My first zine was four pages, back and front, typed out on thin white paper, full of non-sequitur musings about Eric’s Trip and snowstorms. I photocopied it at a corner shop down the street, annoying the clerk with my multiple questions about double-sided cop­ies, and then I sewed each copy together by hand, the same way I had patched my favourite pants. I took a deep breath and mailed them out.

The truth is that it’s hard for me to stomach my old zines, especially the early ones. They were so uncertain. I reread them now and remember how tentative I felt about the state of my life. It’s like I wrote in a kind of code, not wanting to reveal too much, but simultaneously wanting to spill my guts. I wrote about changes in the weather: snowy winters; hot, hot summers. As I got bolder I revealed more, told longer stories, named names. Most of it I would never commit to paper and distribute publicly today, but that’s because I don’t have to be heard the way I needed to be heard when I was seventeen.

I wrote awkwardly structured sentences like,

I’ve been walking a lot lately. When the new year came I had a notion that perhaps winter was going to end early, that maybe for one year it would end before I ever had the chance to really become tired of it. But, of course, that is not the case, and last Thursday morning the snowfall began again as I was sitting in the brownish classroom which was mine when I was in grade 11, writing my calculus exam. And I made things that looked like,

There is something to be said about the process of using your hands to put something together, to hand­write a letter and drop the package in the mailbox. It takes a different level of thoughtfulness and delibera­tion than the immediacy of, say, the Internet.

Things I learned about through zines:
-bell hooks
-Obscure trivia about a slew of indie rock bands that released 7″ records and then disappeared off the face of the earth
-Emma Goldman
-The useless beauty of a sheet of vellum
-Herbal abortion
-Nikki Giovanni
-The ingenious efficiency of a long-armed stapler
-Linoleum block printing
-Pabst Blue Ribbon
-How to maximize a single sheet of paper to make odd-sized zines
-The Magnetic Fields
-How to sheath your stamps in a layer of glue so that the recipient can wipe off the postage ink and reuse them
-The subtle but fundamental difference between a real typewriter and a com­puterized typewriter font
-Making the most out of a Greyhound trip
-pen pal etiquette
-The word “outro”
-How to make envelopes using pages torn from a magazine

Yes, the personal is political, and just as I had always hoped, there really was another world out there.

I figured out that there was no need to swallow up my words when there were people out there craving them, or something like them.

So, we should make things. You should. Make zines using scissors and paper and pens. Even if the zines eventually get thrown away or if they’re a little embarrassing or if there’s some bad spelling in there, it’s okay. That part doesn’t matter. What matters is the importance of having tangible evidence and amassing proof.

We should make things that we can keep around for later, even if just to burn them.

Excerpted from She’s Shameless: Women write about growing up, rocking out and fighting back ( edited by Megan Griffith-Greene & Stacey May Fowles

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