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Public and private: On writing zines

by Stephanie Van Schilt , June 21, 20122 Comments


When I told my family I’d be moving back to central Queensland, they were equal parts thrilled and concerned. I’d accepted a job with Australia’s biggest commercial radio network, delivering news bulletins over a broadcast area spanning 1600 square kilometres.

Having such a public job meant that Mum and Dad could be proud of my easily explainable success. Unfortunately, they’re both worrywarts and were concerned that I might use my newly found public platform to embarrass them.

‘Now with this job,’ Mum said seriously, ‘don’t you go telling people you have bipolar disorder.’

‘Why?’ I asked, prodding like an annoying 8 year old.

‘BECAUSE IT’S SO UNPROFESSIONAL!’ she thundered.

It’s not like I’ve considered busting out this information in my news bulletins – ‘Good morning, Sophie Benjamin here with the latest news. Also, I have bipolar. Sport next!’ But some of that parental paranoia has been passed on.  I very rarely write about my personal experiences with mental illness on the internet, but I discuss it openly and regularly in my zines. In fact, the newest issue of my zine – I Am Very Busy and Important – is all about my time as an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital.

Putting your emotions out there through creative endeavour is scary at the best of times, but I think the internet is particularly unforgiving.

When writing online you forgo the luxury of privacy, no matter what that little lock icon in the address bar might have you believe. Unless you use a proxy server, bloggers can be tracked down by IP addresses, login details and other identifying characteristics.

Vicious commenters are another argument against laying your soul bare online. When armed with a keyboard and a fake email address, people type things into a comment field they’d never dream of saying to someone’s face.

In hard copy, haters have to work a lot harder to ruin your day. Rather than dashing off a nasty comment in the heat of the moment, anyone who has any negative feelings about your zine will have to email you personally or send you a pipe bomb via snail mail.

For me, zine writing gives me the best level of control over my work. If I wanted to, I could put out zines anonymously or set my entire back catalogue on fire, erasing that work from the world. With the internet there will always be screen grabs, RSS feeds and caches to catch you out.

I often feel guilty when I read confessional blogs. I get so much out of people’s honest online writings about the dark, awkward and painful parts of life, but feel like I can’t give anything back in the same format.

Still, I do try to be as honest as I can as often as I can. There’s no point in doing anything creative if you can’t be genuine and authentic about it, even if you don’t want to deal with the consequences of speaking your mind.

For now, my personal angst is staying safely within the photocopied pages of my zines.

Sophie Benjamin is a multimedia journalist, zinester and musician based in Rockhampton. You can find out more about her zine at http://www.iamverybusyandimportant.net, or follow her on Twitter as @sophbenj.




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