Remembering Zines: Rubber Cement, Cheese, and Doing Your Thing

Some people enjoy the lingering smell of petrichor before a rain, freshly cut lawns, gasoline, the sweet notes of vanilla and almond found in the underlying mustiness of old books.  I always enjoy hearing about people’s favorite scents because they tend to be anchored to memories fossilized in time; one of my friends loves the smell of candy corn: “It smells like Halloween night in 1995.”

For me, the best scent in the world — although ocean air, hardware stores, and attics are close competitors — is probably rubber cement.  Each time I smell it, it transports me back to a snapshot in time where I am making ‘zines: I’m still living at my parent’s house, sitting cross legged on my childhood bedroom floor, cutting out pieces of my poetry and memoirs; arranging my layout.  I’m probably wearing an oversized hoodie of my boyfriend’s that almost definitely smells like patchouli.  I’m listening to a lot of The Smiths — and The Mamas and the Papas when The Smiths wear on my soul too much.  I’m painstakingly creating collages and positioning them in the margins.  My nail polish is chipped, my leg is asleep, my fingertips are sticky with rubber cement from the layers and layers I’ve applied onto crisp sheets of printer paper.  Rubber cement allows me the freedom to pull something off and reapply somewhere else if it isn’t just right, to tear it all off and start again.

I spend countless hours reading books while sitting on the floor of my local copy store, leaning against the copier as it sweetly hums, one warm copy after another ejected from its mouth as it populates the catch tray with my words.  Later, at home, I thread the needle on my sewing machine; most ‘zines tend to be staple bound, but as a seamstress I find a certain satisfaction in sewing my bindings with tight, straight lines of thread, each issue a different color.

For those unfamiliar, a ‘zine is a diy mini-mag or book, generally created in print and photocopied, with a small circulation.  Although ‘zines have their roots in sci-fi fan fiction of the 1960’s, they are more frequently associated with being a part of the punk subculture of the 1970’s and beyond.  That connection was certainly my experience, as I picked up my very first ‘zine at a punk show when I was a teenager.

Some ‘zines are independently created, some collaborative.  They come in a wide variety of topics: poetry, art and design, memoirs, comics, editorials, riot grrrl and feminism topics, and on and on and on. I once read a series written by a dude in the Midwest who was a grocer at a supermarket.  His ‘zine was peppered with Black Flag lyrics, tips for dumpster diving, how to pick out the perfect carambola (that’s a starfruit, in case you were wondering), a list of his top ten records.  One of my favorite bits that still sticks with me, though, was his in-depth cheese column.  As a grocer this guy knew his cheese and, as a gal who came from a Kraft Singles household, to learn that there was such a diverse selection out there was a groundbreaking revelation.

I thought I wanted to write a blog post about how to make a ‘zine*, but it turns out what I really want to tell you is that you should make a ‘zine.  There is something inherently wonderful about holding something you’ve created in your hands and feeling the weight of it; it’s tangible, a known entity, a pile of subatomic particles you’ve willed into being. I used to package up small bundles of my ‘zine and mail them, little bits of myself, all across the country.  Sometimes I still think of the satisfying clink of the post office box latch as it closed and wonder: how many bookshelves in the world still contain my little collection, rainbows of thread in a row?

At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card or an inspirational quote written on a coffee mug, I believe we’re all put here on this great whirling rock to share our talents with the rest of the world.  It’s important to create, to make things you’re proud of, to boldly go where you’re worried you won’t succeed but are hellbent to tackle anyway.  Each experience you have belongs to you, you own it; what are you going to do with them all?  What is your thing? Maybe, like my grocer, it’s teaching somebody about the wonders of cheese; quite probably, it’s something else.  As Diane Di Prima says:  “to this sullen and dingy place that we must make golden/make precious and mythical somehow, it is our nature,/and it is truth, that we came here, I told you,/from other planets/where we were lords, we were sent here,/for some purpose”.  Get out there and make the world a little bit more golden with your words.

Jennifer Carr

*That said, if you’d like to learn more about making a ‘zine, visit here.

– Jenn Carr

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