I used to live in the darkness, and act so heartless..but now I see that colours are everything
Yesterday I went to my very first zine fair where I was a vendor (and I won an award for best political zine for my Your Vagina’s On Fire (because you won’t leave it alone)!!). I shared/sold my zines, I read other peoples zines and I had a fantastically amazing time. One thing that really resonated with me, especially after having a conversation with one of my fellow zine folks, and reading their first zine – was just how crucial the ingredient of vulnerability was to make good zines.
Vulnerability however is not something that comes easy for myself. I would argue that this is especially true for a lot of folks who struggle with mental health issues and childhood trauma. We survivors have learned from a young age that being vulnerable meant that it was easier to be hurt. You learned to tuck in close and protect yourself. Cruelty was never far away, and it never happened when you expected it.
I learned from a very young age that cruelty is a way of life.Maybe I shouldn’t name names, and in doing so that itself is an act of cruelty, but i am 4yrs past the point of caring. My mum was, and maybe she still is (I hope she’s gotten help) a cruel person. Sure, she operates behind a very carefully crafted surface of softness and frivolity; but as someone who was her main target for 30 years – I know what the truth looks like when you peel away the layers. When I was a kid I got this twisted notion that cruelty was the most efficient way of moving through life and that protecting your soft spots was the most important survival tactic.
I was a maestro at creating a plan and giving lessons in the most efficient ways to be cruel. I learned from the best. My cruelty played out on the theatre of the internet, IRC to be specific. Long before MSN was a thought, before Facebook was even a blip on someone’s radar. I would observe, watch, and then dig into the soft spots people unwittingly exposed. I thought for a stupidly long time that THIS was power. That hurting someone who annoyed you was a goal to be achieved.
In the same breath I would viciously guard my own soft spots. Letting people think they knew enough to play the cruelty game in kind; but knowing that they would never be able to even get close. When you grew up knowing that your unfeminine ways were disconcerting, that you being fat was disgusting, and your weird quirks were hugely disappointing from the person who gave you life… well, no random stranger could even get close to the sharp edges of hurt that you had already been exposed to.
I am sure that any armchair psychologist could look at my history and posit that by hurting others I acted out the hurt that had been heaped upon me. That I myself was a very wounded person who was trying to find some semblance of power; because fuck knows in a relationship with my mum I never had any. She could rip off scabs and rub salt on them as effortlessly as other mums dole out hugs and soft words of encouragement.
Regardless, it is not an excuse. It was a pretty shitty thing to do. I am sure I broke the ability to trust in others as my mum did to me. Continuing that super fantastic maternal cycle of cruelty that extended from my grandmother, to my mum, and then to me. Cruelty is a family gift and I do not want to pass it along to anyone else.
When I started therapy, things changed for me. I have spent years untangling and putting into perspective all of the ways cruelty was such an important part of my development. How it fundamentally broke my ability to relate to people in a normal manner. Then I started to smooth out those sharp edges, and find ways to shift my thoughts. Making relationships that were soft and not based in cruelty.
I want to thank the following folks for teaching me to be vulnerable and a truer version of myself. The husband was crucial to teaching me that love can come without strings and cruelty. One of my dearest friends C showed me what it was like to have a reciprocal soft relationship, where your quirks are celebrated and not shamed. My long distance pal K ( who may not be as present in my life anymore; but there is few who gets me to my core like she does) really helped me figure out my new post therapy self. My pop culture fetus of a friend K has always been my biggest cheerleader in my artistic pursuits and sounding board. My kindred spirit S from Toronto who I have the best convos with and is always inspiring me. And my white dude American bestie has who has shown me that despite the fact that our worldview is so completely different – you can still build this amazing supportive friendship (I wouldn’t have this blog without his encouragement of sharing my writing & thoughts). The amount of love and gratitude I feel towards these people is infinite.
My decision to sever my relationship to my mum 4yrs ago (ish), it was both a long time coming, and a decision that caught me by complete surprise. For the first year, I didn’t know if I could make it without her in my life. However, year two…things got infinitely easier. This heavy weight of anxiety I always carried with me dissipated. I was able to clearly see just how much cruelty was an important ingredient in our relationship and how badly that fucked me up.
When my zine pal J first explained zines to me and encouraged me to make my own I never thought I’d end up where I am now. I started my zine journey writing about something strong and safe – how transformative and loving my relationship is with my husband (Synth I Met You vol. 1) and I have slowly moved on to other topics. Topics I never thought in a million years I’d share with strangers – my mental health journey especially. Like my beloved kitty friends, I’ve been letting people see my soft belly (but please don’t rub it 😉
Making zines has become this incredibly transformative way of working through my rough spots and sharing my passions and joys with the world. I love all the ways you can make zines. All the ways other people have made their zines. Topics both silly and serious that can be transversed through artistic mediums in an effort to share facets of yourself to a greater community of folks.
And community is a huge theme of my adult life. The importance of fostering pockets of people who help you be your best self. I honestly do not believe that we can make it in life without SOME pocket of folks who gives us a sense of belonging and support. I have found the zine community to be one such pocket that has done wonders to improve my life.
So go out there and make zines. Make art. Be vulnerable and brave. Create communities of people who, through shared experiences, you can help them heal, as you yourself heal. Let people see your soft spots and trust that they are not going to hurt you.
Peace & Humptiness Forever