When Your Zine Turns to Sausage….

“Make a zine,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. I like fun as much as anyone, so I leapt, head first, into that ever-beguiling “work can be FUN” pool. It sounded so simple (a zine is shorter than a book), so daring (who, me, an artist?), and such a welcome break from the usual black-print-on-white-page sort of thing. Sure, there’s an exhilarating moment when I hit that bright blue “Publish” button, winging yet another blog post out into the ethers. But that’s a fleeting joy, not unlike seeing a low number on the bathroom scale…until I discover my left foot is still on the floor.

Putting words and pictures on a page that I could print and hold in my hand sounded like such validation of the depths of my artistry. Much like holding that first paperback copy of my book, a zine would be tangible proof positive that I am more than an old hack….I am still evolving. I am a Creator. I am still hip. (Do the kids even say “hip” anymore?)

Even though “I’m not an artist,” I dearly love to play with pots of paints, smear the mod podges and finger the flotsams. I never went to preschool (and my mom wasn’t the crafty kind), so I’m making up for it now. While I’ve managed to turn creative writing into “work,” a real drudgery, I set about spilling paint with the fervor of my six-year-old son when he singlehandedly acted out an entire football game. He ran up and down our yard, managing to both throw and catch the ball, all while muttering the announcer’s play-by-play. Until, that is, he plopped down on the garden bench, staring glumly at his toes. Was he too tired to finish the game? No, he’d sighed, it’s a PENALTY. Now, that’s a vivid and comprehensive imagination.

The long days of quarantine during “high COVID,” gave me plenty of time to play, and that essay with the surprise ending seemed the perfect zine fodder. But as soon as I turned my artsy-crafty merrymaking into a PROJECT, all the fun flew out the window. Trying to figure out layouts, margins and means of reproduction sapped my creativity. Lines of writing that wobbled like a sailor on shore leave disgusted me. Smearing the fresh paint inspired a toddler-worthy tantrum.

Zine making became rather like sausage making—the results can be delicious (if you’re not vegan) but you really don’t want to know how it’s made (especially if you’re vegan). Especially if you’re a failed perfectionist like me. I wanted to go back to the fun I was having before I knew what a zine train wreck felt like.

I used to feel that way about writing, that desire for perfection, that nothing could leave my custody without a full check for errors of fact, grammar, punctuation and, frankly, people pleasing. It’s like before you send your beloved child out into the world, you want to be sure they know how to dress themselves, to cross the street safely, and to vote your preferred slate of political candidates.

Finally, the day came when I realized I’d never publish anything at all if I insisted on perfection. And since learning to live with the shattering disappointment of perennial imperfection is a big part of what I write about, why not share that widely and often?

I do still cringe when I discover a typo, and I seriously might die of mortification if Someone I Admire ever ridiculed my work. But I have learned that sending out something that’s not a Work of the Gods will not kill me. Not unless “dying of mortification” is a real thing. Is it?

Baby steps.

This is what I need to explain
to my zine-making self. A zine, after all, is a handcrafted work, which means human-made….and humans sure do make mistakes. Boy howdy. But don’t get me started. I digress so much already that I’ve made it an art form. The only one, in fact, that I have actually mastered.

All of which inspires me to get that zine out into the world. Just as soon as I can remember where I stashed it after that tantrum….

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  © Cheryl Leutjen