Zine Scene: Rummaging through Nostalgia (guest column and playlist by Katie Haegele)

Zine creator Katie Haegele is author of the found-poetry publication Word Math and The La-La Theory and has been a contributing writer for Bitch, Adbusters, Venus, and a number of major newspapers.  She discussed her witty wordplay for a previous installment of Zine Scene, and now the language-centric writer is back to pen this guest column.

Rummaging through Nostalgia
by Katie Haegele

I’ve been thinking a lot about nostalgia lately. Actually, I’ve thought about it in one way or another for years, since I was old enough to want to buy my own clothing but didn’t have any money and started hunting the Salvation Army for the grandma jewelry and waitress uniforms I turned into outfits.

I love old things, especially kitschy, outmoded, and obsolete ones, and I spend a fair amount of time digging for them at rummage sales and thrift stores, even in the trash. These things call to me, and I have spent a lot of time trying to understand and articulate exactly why that is, but it’s hard to grasp the feeling. There’s something about the sadness of castoff things that touches me, for sure, but it’s not only that. It’s also the feeling that each object has a story, a history that’s not my own. That history is both loaded and freeing at once. For next to no money, you can buy the thing and take it home. That coffee canister or wicker handbag or owl figurine will be yours, but it will never feel like it’s only yours.

More than an owner, you’re like a caretaker. In exchange, you get to borrow the thing’s history and have a piece of its ready-made comfort — a comfort like the feeling you had in the cozy living room in your grandparents’ house, or the kitchen of a friend from grade school who’s grown fuzzy in your mind over time. You can, in fact, feel nostalgic for something you don’t even remember.

Zine-making is another huge part of my life. For several years now, I’ve made print zines — ones with poems in them or collections of interviews or stories about my adventures at rummage sales (White Elephants No. 4)  — and brought them to zine fairs to hang out with my fellow nerds. I first started making zines because I’d been working as a writer for newspapers and magazines, and though I liked this work and was proud to do it (most of the time), it did not always afford me the freedom to say whatever I wanted, however I wanted. I craved that, so I took a handful of found poems I’d written, and I published the collection as a zine. By doing so, I plugged into a vibrant community of other people who want to say what they think with no restriction. It has been tremendously inspiring and a lot of fun.

But these zine folks, a lot of them are nostalgic too. As digital becomes the default mode of communication, these little handmade books only become more special — “fetish objects,” says N. Katherine Hayles, editor of Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary — and the physical experience of holding paper in your hands is a palpable pleasure.

Beyond that, I’ve noticed some younger folks in the zine community holding up the riot-grrrl zines of the early ’90s as a kind of standard, preferring to use only typewriters and clip art, and putting it all together the cut-and-paste way (which, incidentally, is the only way I’ve ever done it because it’s the only way I know how). Riot grrrl was a cultural revolution that many of these writers are too young to remember, but it excites them still. I’d venture to say they feel nostalgic for it even though they didn’t experience it, that they enjoy borrowing that history and building on it, echoing it, referencing it, and making it their own. Zines may be all about freedom of expression, but they have their conventions too.

One thing I see in a lot of “perzines” (zines of personal, memoir-style writing) is a back page that reads “This zine was made to the sounds of…” with a list of bands or songs. It has become a zine standard — a staple of the genre — and though I’ve made dozens of zines over the years, I’ve never included a playlist in one, so I’d like to do that now. This mixtape is composed entirely of music I’ve discovered in zines, through zine friends, and from zine readers who have sent me mix CDs and tapes in the mail as trades or gifts. What a treat. I guess I should add that to my ever-growing list of reasons to be a zinester: new music from new friends.

PS: If you E-mail me (katie@thelalatheory.com), I’ll send you this mix. It sounds really good.

The “I Heart Zinesters” Mix
By Katie, with thanks to the makers of these fine zines: Childlike Empress, Functionally Ill, Today Terrific, The Internet – Enriching and Sucking My Life Away Five Hours At a Time, Ampersand After Ampersand, and Dumb/Sulk Trigg-er

1. Dylan Campbell: “Diggers”
2. Iron and Wine: “Resurrection Fern”
3. Beach House: “Master of None”
4. Ann Peebles: “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”
5. Cats on Fire: “Higher Grounds”
6. Plumerai: “Home Again”
7. Lush: “Hey Hey Helen”
8. Captain Beefheart: “Tropical Hot Dog Night”
9. Hot Chip: “Thieves in the Night”
10. Santogold: “You’ll Find A Way”

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