When what used to excite you does not

I’ve been thinking a lot about zines lately. Running a distro, obviously, means that I get to read a lot more of them than one perhaps normally would. (Then again, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who pursue zines with a great deal more zeal than I ever have, or will, distro aside). Before I go any further, I should point out that I am a miserable person by disposition, and it doesn’t take much to inspire feelings of intense hopelessness and general existential grief in me. So, in thinking a lot about zines, as with everything, it doesn’t take me long to begin questioning their worth. What is the point, after all? As Ciara Xyerra pointed out shortly before closing down her distro (around the same time Tim & I opened Take Care), and as many others can’t have failed to notice, zines are for the most part incredibly mediocre, and as a medium they surely border on the anachronistic. I felt this strongly after my mixtape nostalgia of last week. No one sent me a tape, so I decided to make one myself, to give to T. I got out the boxy old tape deck my neighbours had left in the communal laundry (where everyone’s junk goes to die) and hooked it up to the amp. Of course, it didn’t work, because (and this has nothing to do with my being a woman, by the way, it’s rather a symptom of more general day to day uselessness) I’m fucking hopeless with in/out lines. Their logic just isn’t obvious to me. So I waited for T to get home and he straightened it all out. And I made a tape – a very good tape, I think. But nevertheless, while I made it I failed to achieve that once familiar sensation of tape compilation bliss: the joy of making a gift, of potlatch, of rediscovering the memories attached to every song in the mix. I lugged out the go-faster red typewriter and banged out the track list in red and black ink, made a collage for the cover and thought, what the fuck am I doing? It’s the year 2010. It’s the future, and here I am, still trying to capture a feeling of teenage, punk rock something that was already dated when I actually was a teenager. Frankly, it depressed me. All I managed to do was remind myself that every moment of my life I’m getting closer to being thirty years old, and I’m nostalgic as hell. Why did no one warn me of this? I’ve heard plenty of times that it can get lonely in your twenties, relinquishing teenage dreams, coming to terms with ‘reality’ and all that shit, but nostalgia? Fuck off.

Anyway, I was thinking about zines, thinking things that I’m sure a thousand other people have thought about zines; thinking, is it right for someone my age to still be quite so involved in this? Shouldn’t I be doing something a bit more, I don’t know, challenging? Are zines – as good as they sometimes get – really as imaginative or important as the conversations that happen, for instance, in parts of the blogosphere? Aren’t zines just a gentle practice ground for people to develop a way with words before moving on to genuinely amazing things? And, if so, have I taken full advantage of that practice ground, or have I remained there, for safety, for comfort, for fear of raising my voice among the grownups and really fucking pushing myself to be ‘big and broad’ as Emma Goldman put it? And have I started a zine distro so that I can further immerse myself in this coddled little world, where I will never be challenged, or have to challenge myself, to think in ways that frighten me? A phrase floats through my mind, once glimpsed after following some hyperlinks to a webpage now forgotten: ‘Had intelligence, but not the confidence to use it’.

So, I warned you that I’m prone to bouts of misery, and I can think of many ways to argue the importance of zines, but these thoughts stand, nonetheless. But today – and you knew this was coming, didn’t you? That I was just playing the devil’s advocate – I received a zine that reminded me that I probably shouldn’t trust my thoughts, because, mostly, they’re completely wrong.

The zine was from Amanda, from Tiny Paper Hearts. It’s called Sutures, and you probably read it and registered its immense worth two weeks ago, but I am relentlessly (I wish I could say deliberately) behind the times. But maybe you should read it again, or get a copy if you haven’t already.

Sutures begins with an introduction to a letter that Amanda’s mother wrote while pregnant, in which she attempted to explain to the unborn Amanda what had been going on for the 9 months before her birth. It describes Amanda’s parents’ flight from Lebanon to escape the civil war which had just escalated, with shelling near the family’s apartment in East Beirut, and the increasingly real danger for foreigners of being taken hostage (Amanda’s father’s English, and she mentions that for her 18th birthday he gave her a copy of Brian Keenan’s An Evil Cradling, which, coincidentally, I read when I was about the same age). Amanda’s parents cross the Green Line to get to England so that Amanda can be born a British citizen. Later they move to Australia, to Perth first and then to various places across the continent. Amanda inherits the red hair and pale complexion of her father’s family, one among many barriers between her and her Lebanese heritage.

The zine’s written as Amanda’s mother reveals that she’ll be returning to Lebanon to live permanently for the first time since the 80s. This leads Amanda to talk to both of her parents about their memories of Lebanon. She uses the metaphor of ‘disruption and suture’ – the dialectical movement between feelings of loss and connection – to describe her relationship with the past and her family’s history. But I was most taken with the term she uses (borrowed from The La La Theory #6) to describe feeling nostalgia over something one has never actually experienced: the Portuguese word saudade. Basically this is the precise feeling I’ve been researching for my master’s paper. I’ve come across it in numerous forms, as a number of words with subtle differences: there’s hauntology, of course, which has been discussed a lot in underground music criticism over the past decade (hey, shut up, I said I was behind the times), which I think is something similar – that nostalgia for the future that never happened. Then there’s uchronia, which, borrowed from sci-fi criticism, has been used to describe the ‘no-when’ which is a counterpart to the ‘no-place’ of utopia in the recording of oral histories. In Allesandro Portelli’s essay Uchronic Dreams: Working Class Memory & Possible Worlds uchronia is used to describe the tendency among people who fought against (and were persecuted by) the fascists in Italy before and during WW2 to recall events as they should have been (from their perspective as socialists etc) rather than as they actually were. Of course, ‘uchronic’ sits very closely to the neologism ‘dyschronic’ that I’ve seen used to describe the music of The Caretaker, with its themes of memory loss and that ‘the time is out of joint’ and so on.

Sutures is permeated with this feeling, as Amanda gradually unravels some of the enormously complex and fraught history of Lebanon, and her own complex family history in relation to it. It really is a great zine, a faith restoring zine. That may be a lame way to end this but hey, I’m unpractised.

So, now that I’m temporarily cured of my hopelessness, here’s the track list of that tape I made. Despite my newly restored interest in what used to excite me, it might be the last tape I make, because that tape deck, which I waited so long to materialise in my life, gave up the ghost shortly after the tape was completed. So it’s finally completely true: digital is easier than analogue, even for someone who resisted it as strongly as I. But don’t worry, I’m going to keep making zines, for as long as there are photocopiers to abuse. This got long, didn’t it? Now, who wants to help me build a space ship out of hot glue and cardboard?

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9 thoughts on “When what used to excite you does not

  1. Pingback: Things that made my weekend « tiny paper hearts

  2. ahhhhh! you NAILED exactly what i was trying to say with the “personal best” piece in “love letters to monsters” #2, with all the questioning of zines & starting a distro, etc! i am SO RELIEVED that someone else maybe gets what i was saying/feels similarly. you would not believe the heat i took over that piece from people who thought i was blowing smoke up my own ass & condemning zines that i actually really enjoy. it was really good to read this.

    • I actually should have given you more credit for inspiring this post, because reading ‘love letters…’ is really what helped me clarify these thoughts to myself. So thanks!

      • no problem! happy to have helped. reading THIS helped ME clarify some of my ideas about this topic. totally a two-way street.

  3. Pingback: By Association « Popular Demand

  4. Pingback: By Association « Popular Demand

  5. If it helps, there’s a good chance you’ll be feeling exactly the same in another 10 years – it feels odd to be just short of 40, and to look back and think I felt ‘too old for this’ when I was 23.

    Having been to IndieTracks last year and seen people my own age, and older, still doing the same thing, and some bringing their kids along, I actually thought it was good – that there is a genuine value in having a community – even if most of the music is still as mediocre, backward looking, etc, as it ever was.

    It’s a form of folk music, and it actually vindicated a lot of the politics for me – that for some people it wasn’t simply a stepping stone towards a traditional idea of success.

    As for zines, or print in general – I think part of the answer is that web design tools are still too difficult to use, for anything other than simple text – there’s actually more effort involved if you want to design each page, rather than just dump a bunch of text into a template – and platforms like WordPress and Blogger don’t make it easy either (again, they’re very template based).

    I guess the same thing is true with music (digital makes some things, like home recording and sampling, a lot simpler, but some things are still much easier to do with real analog instruments).

    Something else to throw in – Kevin Pearce, who was one of the bigger UK zine writers in the mid-80s, recently did a PDF-zine (Yr Heart Out) and noticed that despite being free and instantly available globally, less people downloaded it than when he used to hawk paper copies around gigs. I think the clue is in that last sentence (that back then, he was involved in a community).

  6. Oh, I’m sure you’re right, about feeling the same way in another decade or so. I guess all this is just a consequence of finally being old enough to have memories that seem quite distant. There is also the feeling that I have actually fulfilled my teeange dreams of what my life would be like, but, no longer being a teenager, am not quite so hard nosed and certain about it anymore. I sometimes feel like the nerds in the Simpsons who moan that ‘this is the life we chose’ when they realise how deeply they have sunk their lives in nerd-dom. There’s no way out! Not that I really WANT out, but anywho…

    As for zines and blogs, I never really understood the idea, commonly held a few years back but now perhaps not so much, that blogs could ever replace zines entirely, not while there are still ways to print things, anyway. I think they – zines and blogs – serve quite different purposes, are read and recieved in different ways. I think that it’s true that the limitations of digital – the fact that it is often easier to cut n paste something together than to toil away at an inflexible platform like wordpress – is one of the things that’s keeping analogue alive. But even if digital was easy, I just can’t conceive of a future where print is totally extinct. Or perhaps I just don’t want to. There’s still no comparison between looking at something on a screen and actually physically having it in your hands. If that changes in the future, I really will feel nostalgic!

  7. Pingback: Disco 2010 « Flying Machine

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