Monday, April 30, 2012

Interview from Brooklyn Zine Fest!

Its been a busy month with the Brooklyn Zine Fest and all the orders, correspondences, and photocopying that arose before and after the event! So I am just getting around to re-posting this interview now.  Matt Carman, one of the fest's organizers, asked me some really thoughtful questions about the zine, and grief in general.  If you'd like to read the full interview, it's posted here, and excerpts follow below:

How does writing or voicing one's emotions help with the healing process?
Trauma research tells us that painful experiences are mostly stored in the non-verbal parts of our brains.  Writing or speaking one's emotions helps to literally move the storage of the memory to the verbal parts of our brains.  This helps us literally feel better because in the act of assigning words to experiences, we come to better understand their meaning.  We feel more in control and less overpowered by confusing body sensations and waves of strong emotion, because we are able to identify and describe them to ourselves and to others.  

On a more social level, grief can sometimes feel like a taboo subject to discuss, as with other painful life experiences that our society can tend to silence or stigmatize.  Within such a climate, the act of speaking in a semi-public forum such as a zine can be a very powerful antidote to the isolation we often feel, and can open up new opportunities for us to receive validation and support from others.  

Do you generally reach out to contributors, or do people come to you looking to tell their stories?
It's really a mix of both reaching out and being approached.  I do send out thousands of flyers to infoshops, cafes, punk houses and other activist hubs across the country, but I have also been known to nudge friends and members of my immediate community to use the zine as a chance to explore their grief processes through writing.  I know it's hard to send a piece of writing that pretty much amounts to spilling your deepest guts on paper to a complete stranger, not to mention the fact that it will be published in a zine (!)--not everyone is ready for that or would find it helpful as they grieve.  So I look to collect and elicit submissions wherever I can, from those who would find it helpful.  

You've mentioned that the world "attempts to capitalize on our sorrow."  How so, and how do we fight against that?
Many have heard my rant about "Hallmark sympathy cards" that don't really say anything authentic--so I won't recapitulate that here, except to say that there are many rituals we perform around grief in mainstream American culture that involve buying things instead of simply bearing witness and providing real emotional support.  We're told to "say it with flowers", but don't always learn good ways to actually talk about loss.  Fighting against that is accomplished by digging a little deeper and getting more creative in the ways that we support grievers; asking more questions, sitting with strong feelings, and rallying long-term community support.

To be sure, most people have tremendous difficulty figuring out what to say to a griever, which is probably why its very easy for the bereaved end up with so many casseroles in the fridge but not as many people to call in the middle of the night when the feelings come.  My intention is for the zine to be a way for us to dip our toes into the real feelings and experiences of grief that people can go through, at our own pace and without platitudes or trite idioms, so that we can begin exploring how we each relate to loss and use this self knowledge to create a more authentic grief praxis in our communities.  

Are you working on any other zines or writing projects?
I'm really excited about a new book coming out, in which me and my co-author and fellow zinester, Cynthia Schemmer, have contributed a chapter on parental caregiving and loss.  Its the anthology version of the zine Don't Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities coming out in September 2012 on PM press, edited by the fabulous China Martens and Victoria Law.

Otherwise, I'm currently gearing up financially and emotionally to start collecting submissions for The Worst Issue 3 this summer.  I've been using writing to document and explore the ways the mainstream mental health industry classifies and pathologizes grief and mourning, as well as the connections between neoliberal capitalism and depression--these themes will definitely find their way into the 3rd Issue, hopefully along with many more stories of how people are making meaning out of the losses they have endured.  If you have a submission, you can send it to