Saturday, 28 September 2013

Yourself, Ourselves?

If you have thoughts but don't write them down or record them in some way, have they really taken place? 

I have gone through quite a few things this summer, which are partially recorded in certain places, although under other names. The thoughts, critique, poetic journeyings and potential avenues of further thought that emerge alongside with our experiences, however, these have not been recorded : I've flitted off and left them. They were not written down, were not worked upon, were not fully lived within and fleshed out and tested to turn into something. There were of course conversations, some photos and videos taken, and I posted bon mots and links online. And I did scribble down one or two fragments, which I will stick into my scrapbook, so I will have a small trace of personal documentation too.

But if you don't turn a diary entry into a zine, a thought into a letter, then it is not shared, and remains only in your private world : it is not an encounter with people and it is not a way of testing who you are or weighing up an avenue of thought that intrigues you. It is less. And when I turned to zines a few years ago it was for a very determined reason, in fact two. 

(One) was to stop losing my thoughts in just this way: to stop them drifting from memory, to test them and to have a good look at them. The fleeting 'maybes' that pass through your head and disappear, particularly when you are faced with an emotional or dramatic experience, do not fully grow unless they are given a certain amount of attention, and work. You never know if you're full of shit until you put your ideas down and see them run. I've learnt a lot about my current limitations by pushing up against them, and I hope I've grown through doing this. After all, if we just sit back having wise and ironic thoughts then we feel psychologically superior to everyone else - and yet we are nothing because we don't open our goddamn mouths, don't dare to stutter in front of listening ears, and actually try to 'construct'. Telly watching is a highly achievable skill. Making programmes is a bit harder. 

So my zines, which arise from diaries and travel or from my doodles and research about things that I feel part of, encounter and find interesting : they have been in some ways an attempt to launch out there with my otherwise idle inklings. And they have been deeply satisfying and I hope they've given some strangers something, purely through the effort of sharing them (sharing is not effortless). They have also shown me what I was thinking, and will stay with me to show me who I was, where and with whom and what that meant at the time.

(Two) the second reason for my zines was to escape from isolation. Isolation is different than the calming freedom of solitude: it is disempowering, destructive, mind-rotting and shit. There are a thousand myriad ways to escape it, we all manage to do so on a daily basis, and some of you out there are really wonderful in the sociable, sharing, collective and high-five moment-making ways you do this. I am more introvert than extrovert, so actually I find the mainstream kind of physical sociality a rather limited and sometimes hard way to express myself freely and bond with others. I need it and love it, of course, but the idea of, say, going to a dinner party in order to meet people, is horrific. I would love to eat with people I know, or with people I have just done something worthwhile with, but just for the sake of making up conversation? Nope. Not me. Hence zines. 

The kind of person who bends their head and focuses on cutting, writing, drawing, messing about on a piece of paper: this is the kind of person who feels free when they can express themselves alone (mind via hand to paper). But then there is the urge to share, and it is just as strong - if not stronger - than for those whose first urge is to talk and buzz off the things around them. You have a moment to yourself, test a thought or idea or just doodle, and then you want to show someone, or you want to see what they have done, or you want a rest from it and immerse yourself in company. 

By doing zines, on a pretty regular basis for the last 5 years, I found a pretty comfortable niche in which, when time was available and felt right, I could sit and achieve this. It was obviously only a tiny part of my life and interactions. Not everything gets documented or turned into a 'project'. But it was a very crucial and life-affirming part of my life. In some ways, I think it took the space that I used to have more filled with an activist intent at opposing shit and realising my ideals - that way of acting involves thought, reflection and creative expression too. An attempt to turn ideas / ideals into something real on planet earth. I did a Phd then and had ample scope for reflection about that (although academic styles of thought are not the most insightful, and actually can get terminally in the way of deep understandings - or at least I felt by the end of my rather disappointing time on a thesis). Although this is really just an aside, my conclusion then and my belief still now is that those who stand up and try to act are the ones who really have to think on their feet : their beliefs and the way they frame, relate, formulate and adapt them are the place where you find the most vital parts of human thought.

Now, I have taken a step away from some things, and zines may have been one of them (I'm as yet undecided). I have, however, really enjoyed joining in with some collaborative zine making and similar events: they stand out as highlights of my British summer and while one of them is beautifully documented here by Matt from Loosely Bound, one or two are as yet waiting for me to get my arse in gear. I rode on other people's effort, my own energy and ability to concentrate being sapped. It was great, I want to do more, but I can't claim it as my own.

My own efforts are around me now in this bedroom where I store my books and memories. With news now of the death of a friend, someone who seemed so solid and inspiring and sure, I am going through old albums to find (not finding) photos of her. I am unsure how to process the emotions. I want to fight her enemies, to hide, to take up a lust for life and to achieve more. I want to not process the emotions but to let them go, to leave them alone. Realising those others who I miss, and with whom I have not kept up the right contact, I have written to some to hope to reach them. Things around me and things that I do take on a different shade of meaning. I crave meaningful contact with my friends the more, but feel I might be less able to be fun company. And I feel guilty at any attempt to condense or summarise these feelings, by for example writing them into this blog here, because writing can cheapen things and dismiss them. I know this because it is the other side of the coin for when I write a diary entry, or make a zine about something : sure it captures a bit of the memory - it is better, normally, than letting the moments pass unaccounted. But it also lets me move on, with a satisfying 'there, it's recorded, I've turned it into a paragraph or a three panel comic and that will be its little legacy'. So the satisfaction it gives me can actually be a displacement of the emotional ambiguity that relates to the original episode. I don't want to do that here. I want to do something else, and I'm not sure what just yet and I doubt this blog will be the place to tell you what it turns out to be.

There is one element of all this that I do want to write down. Old photos are profoundly effective at making you sad and emotional. My old girlfriend, who I still love and who is no longer a real part of my life, features in focus in almost every social scene from the last ten years. The other photos: friends of course but also lots alone. Views, walks, escapes to the beach with no-one but my camping stove and the wild birds. It is a lonely life that I have been living. It is almost entirely due to other people that I have been roped into social, rewarding experiences. By my own choice alone, I would be here in my room with my papers and scissors, out in the country with a tent or a typewriter or something, or travelling alone across wild countryside. 

And I look at the title of my blog, which at its inception was meant to be such a right, life-affirming thing. The DIY ethic. And the title is 'zine it yourself'. Yourself, alone. Isolated. I do not want this right now. I want to zine it with you, do it together, and spare more time from now being 'ourselves', not separate. Zine it Ourselves?

Do me a favour, and make sure I see this through.


  1. I've been thinking about something parallel to this recently, as I've found myself doing obscene amounts of cooking. I've been doing cooking for two, maybe three hours some days, for about the past month. Now, admittedly, a lot of cooking is standing around and stirring things, but that is time that is not spent drawing, or writing, or leveraging some other creative skill for those isolation-destroying purposes that you mentioned in your post.

    But what this massive detour into cookery-land has led me to think is that time spent is never wasted. All time. Even the time spent staring at a computer screen and playing some awful game - a hobby which I regard as the deadest of dead time, where you throw your ticking seconds into a black hole and get nothing back.

    But even the actions of futility teach us something. Taking time out to go camping and being by yourself has taught you that you want to reach out to other people, and that there are a thousand ways to do it, and that you can do it from inside your tent with a sketchbook if you practice hard enough.

    As ever, I look forward to what you create. Feel free to email me as a reply - I have no idea how to get notifications of replies on this blogging system.

  2. Very nice, very nicely written. This sort of subtlety and gentleness and non-flashy, non-trying-to-impress, humane and lovely writing is not often seen, so thank you. You see, you have connected already, at least with me, and at least over the internet, if that counts for anything, which of course is moot. But please keep writing publicly; it's important.