READING

All about Zines

All about Zines

2022 has definitely been the year of the zine for me. I’ve published five new zines over the course of the year, I’ve just been included in a couple of great articles about zining, and I’m about to facilitate a zine-making workshop in a couple of weeks. I just rewrote my website biography to include ‘zine-maker’ as one of the main things I am. I thought I’d take the chance to share my newest zine here, as well as some thoughts on why zining is so important to me.

New zine!

The zine I’ve just published is called Plural Selves 2. I made the first Plural Selves zine back at the end of 2017. It feels very meaningful to revisit this topic five years on from then, after what has been a pretty epic journey in understanding my own plurality and how it relates to trauma.

The first Plural Selves zine introduced the idea of plurality – that our selves can be usefully understood as multiple rather than singular. It suggested a lot of different practices and forms of play that you might try in order to locate your own plural selves and to improve communication between them.

Plural Selves 2 is a more in depth exploration of the different kinds of selves that you might uncover and how they operate together in a system. The zine touches on a number of plurality models, before going through the model that I’ve developed from my own experience of plurality: that we have cover-up (foregrounded), carrier (backgrounded), and container selves. I introduce my seven selves and their journeys, and include workbook pages for how you might explore and connect with similar selves in yourself – if you have them.

I’m hoping to follow up Plural Selves 2 with a couple more zines on plurality. One will explore in more depth all the different ways in which you can communicate, or relate, between your selves. The other one will explore how plurality shows up in our relating with others, and how we might get more conscious about that to address the ways in which relationships can be/come traumatised/traumatising, and hopefully improve our relationships with others, in our communities, and with the world.

 

Other zines

The other zines that I made this year were:

  • Welcome Monster Feelings: A collection of colourful drawings of my emotions depicted as monsters.
  • Welcoming Your Monster Feelings: A zine about how to do the practice of welcoming your emotions as monsters (and drawing, writing, dancing, acting, or otherwise expressing them).
  • Relationship Struggles: A zine about the diverse ways of doing relationships that are out there, and how no one true relationship – or relationship style – will fix our relationship struggles. We need to explore how we relate to do that, including reflecting on trauma, consent, and conscious connection.
  • PIERS(c) Relationship Check-In: A zine about how to do a share, or check-in, in a relationship with another person, or group.

Other zines I’d love to make in the coming months and years include ones on shame,  on existential approaches to trauma, on surviving traumadoes, and on various multi-layered ways of understanding ourselves and our relationships as embodied and embedded – beyond the sense of separate individuals acting on each other.

 

All about zines

The two pieces that just came out about zining, which mention my work, are:

 

Why zines now?

Heading towards facilitating a new workshop about zining, I’ve been reflecting again on why zines are so important and helpful for me, especially now. It’s something I have written about before in this interview with Helen Spandler, and in this interview between two of my selves (the one currently writing this and another one!) about Welcome Monster Feelings.

The most important thing at the moment is that zine-making feeling possible, and helpful, through a period of severe trauma/madness/mental-health crisis. When things are so emotionally hard, many things that I would have done before feel somewhere on a spectrum from challenging to completely impossible. This can make struggles worse when it means that I can’t do the things I would previously have done to feel that my life was meaningful, to connect with others, and to find that sense of presence – or flow – that comes with creativity (three things that are often agreed to be important for emotional well-being).

Meaning

I’ve often found my sense of meaning through writing for others, particularly by weaving together all of the ideas and practices which I’ve personally found helpful, and presenting them in ways that are hopefully accessible and engaging to those who might not otherwise come across them (because they don’t often get out far beyond the academic, activist, therapy, or spiritual communities in which they originate, or – if they do – it’s not in a language that is easy for others to understand).

Big writing projects feel overwhelming for me during times of struggle and crisis, especially ones aiming towards a polished product like a book. There’s a lot of fear of ‘getting it wrong’. Zines feel more manageable because they’re meant to be short and DIY. The zine format models that it is okay – inevitable in fact – that we are messy and imperfect. It’s fine to produce a few pages and put them out there as they stand, with false starts and tippex marks, for example.

For me zines are also something I can put out in an invitational way. Mine are free for anyone to access, and people can donate me some money only if they enjoy them and can afford to. That feels less pressurising (for me and hopefully also the reader) than the format of published books which have to be purchased. It also recognises both that my stuff in particular, and zines in general, are not for everyone. We all resonate with different ideas and experiences, and different mediums are more or less helpful to us depending on where we’re at in terms of neurodiversity, disability, trauma responses, and all kinds of other things. Comic style zines work for me partly because I’m quite visual, enjoy words and pictures together, and respond well to the weaving together of ideas and lived experience. Other people will find that podcasts, books, audio zines, video clips, or other mediums are a way better fit for them.

Connection

Connecting with others can be really difficult during periods of crisis, because part of how (relational) trauma works is that other people feel threatening and a potential source of unbearable shame or attack. Our worlds can often shrink to only those we have safe-enough, trusting relationships with, and even they can feel shaky at times. For me this means that many of the ways in which I used to connect one-to-one and in groups are off the table for the moment.

It is much easier for me, at such times, to communicate through writing (and images) – where there is a lot of time and space for me to get my thoughts and experiences down in a way that conveys them accurately, and then a lot of time and space to let any response land with me, rather than having to engage in (written or face-to-face) conversations in real time.

Zines have been a wonderful way to connect with other people during this time, to get across my experiences to others in ways they might connect with, and to still feel part of things – like Gemma’s small collaborative workshop, or Lea’s series about zines – even as I’m still in retreat from the world much of the time.

I am going to brave facilitating this zine-making workshop soon, and have managed a couple of these online over the last couple of years. Somehow inviting people to try various forms of zine-making feels more comfortable than the kinds of events or workshops which I used to run, where there was more of a hierarchy between an ‘expert’ speaker/facilitator, and the audience/attendees. There’s something about both where I’m at, and where the world is at these days, which makes the model of co-creation or collaboration feel more comfortable to me. I’m so aware of all the different wisdoms that everyone holds, and of not wanting to value some more highly than other. I’m also so aware of just how vulnerable so many of us are, and the kind, tender, invitational spaces we might need in order to express ourselves, and feel held and heard.

Presence/Flow

Finally, zine-making has felt like a place where I can find glimpses and glimmers of presence or flow during a time when overwhelming emotions and my struggles with these have made that rare and hard to come by.

Part of this is that it’s possible to easily do just a zine page – or part of page – at any moment when I do feel okay. I can also separate out the stage of planning the next bit of a zine (often walking or staring out of the window) from the stage of drawing it, from the stage of inking it, and eventually scanning it (both of which latter activities don’t require me to be in such a good place).

It’s possible to make zines very slowly, and still get a rewarding sense of something building up over time.

Also the kinds of zines I make don’t always have to be made when I am in a good place. The Welcome Monster Feelings zine was so helpful because I could draw specifically when I was having a difficult feeling – that was the point. The Plural Selves 2 zine included illustrating the parts of me who struggle, and how they struggle. It’s still hard to draw when there are extremely painful processes going on, but zine-making offers to potential – for me – to value painful experiences, to see how getting them down on paper is helpful to me, and to get the sense that they might help others to feel less alone, or to understand their experiences better, through engaging with the zines.

Zining Futures

Through a tough time like this it is very easy to focus on the different place that you hope to get to, or the different person you’d like to be once you’re out the other side, whether that is a place and person like the one before the trauma hit, or the one you imagine you might be after it has passed. It seems cruel that such thinking often makes the tough time even tougher, because it involves struggling against how things are, and giving yourself yet more messages that you are not okay unless you are ‘healed’ or ‘fixed’ and are able to get ‘back to normal’ or to a somehow better, improved version of who you are now.

Just as the various global crises we’re in the midst of are unlikely to get better, or back to normal, I’m trying to view myself in the same way, and embrace the uncertainty and not-knowing of what might be ahead. Part of this is coming to see myself as a zine-maker, rather than a zine-maker on the way towards being something more ‘proper’, or on the way back to some kind of normal – of all the things that I used to do.

I’m deeply grateful to all the other people – in my life and beyond – who model similar ways of being okay with who and how they are to me, as well as to those who have engaged and connected with me through my zines. These are the kind of vital, delicate threads that keep us going through such tough times. Thank-you so much.

I might even make a zine about zining at some point. Watch this space…


Meg-John Barker is the author of a number of popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including Queer: A Graphic History, How To Understand Your Gender, Enjoy Sex (How, When, and IF You Want To), Rewriting the Rules, The Psychology of Sex, and The Secrets of Enduring Love. They have also written a number of books for scholars and counsellors on these topics, drawing on their own research and therapeutic practice.

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