Self-Care for Zinesters

{For an extended version of this piece, please buy my zine, Self-Care for Zinesters.}


I’m writing this as an introvert, weirdo, and decade-long zinester who has depression, BPD, and chronic pain, and someone who does a whole lot of zine-related travelin’. I’m prefacing all this with a bunch of labels I’ve applied to myself so you have an idea of where I’m coming from, and what my experiences might be like. I can only write from my own experience. If you have anything else to share on the subject, please do!


Within the zine community/ies that I am a part of, I feel like a lot of us are probably introverts, especially those of us who make perzines, and when we get together for zinefests and other zinester-type social events, we wanna hang out with all our pals and share hugs & stories & drinks & photos & everything; there are so many people to see and so many things to talk about. It’s hard to make time for each person we want to talk to, and we often forget to set aside time for ourselves as well – especially when we’re traveling. What I hear the most at zinefests is, “I feel overwhelmed!”

Me too! I feel overwhelmed simply going out to run errands or meet up with a friend at a café, let alone spending my day talking to literally hundreds of people, looking at thousand of zines, and, frankly, trying to sell myself and my writing. It takes a lot out of me. I get extremely anxious at zinefests, and my anxiety often expresses itself as shakiness, twitching, shortness of breath, and not wanting to be touched. I often lose my voice from talking to so many people in one day, and my brain becomes completely overstimulated with all the words, papers, sounds, patterned tablecloths, people, noise, etc. But I’ve tabled at more than a dozen zinefests now, and I’ve learned a lot.


Tell your friends about your needs. If your friends don’t know what you need, they can’t give it to you. Everybody has different expectations when traveling, especially visiting new cities, and it’s best to discuss it first. If you want to spend your days waking up early and hanging out at bookstores and cafés, and they wanna spend their days getting drunk and dancing and seeing all the sights, you’ll need to figure out how to coordinate your plans happily.

Write a list of what to bring. No matter how many times I’ve packed my bags, I will always forget something if I don’t start writing a list in advance. Even if I’m just going back to my hometown for a few days. So, write a list. Write down the most obvious stuff, like underwear and a toothbrush, write every single thing you can think of. That said:

Pack light. Carrying stuff isn’t much fun, especially if you have chronic pain. Just bring the essentials. It’s okay to wear the same t-shirt two or three or four times. Plus, you’ll probably end up bringing new-to-you clothes and zines home with you, so you’ll be glad to have the space to carry them. Also, get a good backpack. Vintage suitcases look cute, but they are difficult and clunky, and they don’t leave your hands free to flip through used books or take pictures of your friends.

Bring a good book. Obviously.

Tiny pharmacy. This is what I call the black lace make-up bag that I never leave home without. Inside my tiny pharmacy are: psych meds, vitamins, ibuprofen, Tylenol 3, Xanax, Rescue Remedy, Tums, mints, hand lotion, peppermint oil, and sometimes make-up. I get frequent headaches, migraines, and motion sickness, and these are all essential items to take care of myself on a sixteen-hour Megabus trip and a fifteen-minute bus ride in town. (I put a few dabs of peppermint oil under my nose to blot out the synthetic scents of perfume, etc., that cause my headaches.)

Sleep well. Sleep is underrated. Slumber parties are fun, especially with my zinester pals, but eventually, I need to go to bed, and I need to have a decent amount of sleep to be able to function happily the next day. I’ve had insomnia for most of my life, and if I don’t take my meds, I don’t sleep. So I try to take them at a reasonable hour (which’ll vary depending on who you’re with & what you’re plans are), and I know that my friends don’t think I’m a total killjoy when I need to go to bed (or couch, or floor…).

Eat fruits and vegetables, drink lots of water. This is the responsible traveler in me talking. Just a day or two without fruits & veggies, and I start getting cravings for kale & spinach & apples & bananas. It’s true! Try to keep a good snack and piece of fruit in your backpack at all times.

Take pictures. Sometimes I feel like an awkward dork when I take out my camera, but c’mon. You might never be in this city again. You might not see your friends until the next zinefest. Even the moments that seem the most memorable do disappear over time. Capture everything you can. Also:

Write in your journal. Even if you only have time for point-form notes or quick sketches, write it down. There are so many adventures, conversations, thoughts, and ideas that happen on the road. You’ll want to remember everything you can. (Especially if you’re gonna make a zine about it when you get home!)

Be realistic about what you can do in an unfamiliar city. You won’t die if you don’t see everything. My favourite places to go in new-to-me cities are bookstores, cafés (cozy indie cafés are best for hanging out, but I am not opposed to going to Starbucks when I want a yummy, familiar drink, especially if I’m in a hurry), thrift stores, anywhere with cheap & delicious food (especially burritos), and of course I make sure to get recommendations from friends. Also, I love wandering. If you have the chance to go out without a destination, do it. That said, I am also a total home-body, and I am happy just to hang out at the place where I’m crashing and drink tea and talk and write in our journals together. No pressure, no money spent, just quality friend-time. I don’t need to see all the sights or be entertained 24/7 to have an amazing time.

Be patient (about getting lost, confused, being broke, etc.). You’re gonna get tired and you’re gonna get cranky. Despite all your careful planning, there will be a time when you haven’t had enough sleep, you’re constipated, and none of your friends can agree on where to meet up for brunch. There’s a bookstore on your list that you haven’t seen yet, your shoulders hurt from your heavy backpack, and you’re hungry. Don’t worry. It’s okay. You’ll figure it out. And when you get home, you’re not gonna remember how cranky you were; you’re gonna remember how yummy the French toast was, and how excited you are about the split zine you started planning with one of your long-distance pals. Also. Let’s talk about transit. I don’t know about you, but that stuff confuses me. I grew up in a small town, and I live in a bigger-but-still small-ish town that has only simple bus routes. Transit in other cities freaks me out. I tend to follow my friends and not know exactly where I am. I can take transit by myself only with very careful instructions and little hand-drawn maps from friends, and even then, I am freaking out in my head until I reach my destination safely. But, as much as it scares me, I am aware that people do this all the time, that I am not the only person who gets nervous about it, and that kind people exist and they will tell me where to go if I ask. Everything will be okay.

Appreciate each moment. Seriously. Even if you plan on coming back to this city someday, even if you’re gonna hang out with the same people at the next zinefest, this trip is never gonna happen again! Be present in each moment, take deep breaths, take care of yourself, and take care of your friends.

Don’t make plans right away when you get home; rest. Again, seriously. You’re gonna be so tired when you get home, and your thoughts are gonna be spinning. Go home and go to bed and stay in bed until you are ready to get up (um, unless you have a job to go to). It sucks to get home late after spending all day on buses, and then have to get up early the next morning. If your local friends know you’re back home and they wanna hang out, tell them you need some time to recover first.

IMG_20121030_165137 IMG_20121027_173334 IMG_20121027_113651

[Click the images to make them larger.] 1. Me at Magic Gardens in Philly, PA. 2. A note on my table at Philly Zinefest 2012. 3. A stack of my books.


Label your zines with prices & descriptions. This’ll save you from answering, “What do you write about?” ten thousand times. You’ll also be likely to sell more zines because people will know right away what kind of zines you make and how much they cost. Some people, myself included, are often too shy to ask how much a zine costs, and will pass up your stuff if they don’t know.

Bring snacks and water. Like I mentioned before, I tend to lose my voice at zinefests. Water is essential, and so are snacks. Some zinefests are so busy that you’ll hardly have a chance to leave your table and go to the bathroom, let alone get something to eat. Make a sandwich, bring snacks from the bulk store, stock up on granola bars, bring a couple bananas, etc.

Bring change (whether you’re tabling, or admiring). Somehow, the first person who comes to my table at a zinefest always wants to buy a $2 zine with a $20 bill. No. You are at a zinefest. Bring loonies & toonies if you’re in Canada, and $1 and $5 bills if you’re in the States.

Bring fliers and pens and a notebook you can rip the pages out of. You’re probably gonna meet a lot of people that you wanna exchange contact info and notes with, so make sure you’ve got fliers that describe your zine and have contact info on them, and paper and a good pen that you can write stuff down on and give away.

Plan to sit beside a friend. For me, this is totally essential. I have had some really bad experiences sitting beside strangers at zinefests that I don’t care to retell here. Suffice to say, not everybody at the zinefest is gonna be as wonderful as you are, and you’ll want to sit near people you get along with, who respect your art and your space. Request to sit with a friend. Not only will you have someone to talk to all day, you can also watch each other’s tables so you can explore the zinefest on your own and find neat things.

Learn how to say no (be clear about trades). This one might be controversial. The thing is, I don’t do tons of trades anymore. I have very specific interests in what kinds of zines I read these days, and I don’t wanna feel obligated to carry home a bunch of comics by boring dudes, feminism 101 zines, or zines filled with a bunch of problematic language. There, I said it. What I do want to read are really good, critical perzines, radical mental health zines, zines about getting sober (recovering from alcoholism, not straight-edge), and zines about lived experiences & identities of genderqueers, non-binary people, and trans folks. I also like the occasional fiction zine. Lately, I’ve been putting a little sign on my table that says what kinds of zines I’ll trade for; some people read it and get it, some people read it and ignore it, some people probably don’t even see it. There are polite ways to turn down trades, and you don’t have to feel like (or be) a jerk for doing so. Be nice, be assertive (I’m still learning). (And if you end up with zines that you don’t want, pass them onto friends or to a zine library; just because you don’t want/like a certain zine, doesn’t mean nobody else will.)

Participate in workshops. You’ll learn useful stuff and have really good conversations and meet wonderful people! I’ve been to so many wonderful workshops over the years, and have always learned something new, and left feeling super-inspired. A lot of my stories have come to me through advice and prompts given at workshops. Also, don’t forget to tell the facilitators how rad they are; it can be nerve-wracking to get up in front of people and try to teach them something and hope for participation and inspiration and stuff. Workshops are the best (though I sometimes have to miss out because I’m behind my table all day).

Don’t take pictures without asking / Don’t touch somebody without asking. I know that zinefests are really exciting and they are filled with attractive, creative zines & attractive, creative people, but please please please DO NOT take pictures of us or our stuff without asking. It is uncomfortable and gross and it wrecks my good vibes when I see a stranger pointing a camera or holding up their cell phone at me. ASK FIRST. Most zinesters will probably let you take pictures if you ask first, and tell them who you are and why you’re taking pictures / what you intend to do with the pictures. We love having photos of us at our tables! Just don’t be a creep. When I see people taking my pictures without my permission, I turn around and hide my face. But if you ask first, I’ll smile for you, and maybe we’ll even become friends.


Here is an awkward photo of me hiding my face from someone with a camera who didn’t bother to ask for consent before taking my photo.


Keep a notebook and pen with you. Write on paper you really like, with a pen you really like (it’ll help you write more and better, I swear). Sometimes the thoughts I have while on a bus, at the post office, in a bookstore, at a friend’s house, in a café, etc., disappear if I don’t write them down right away. Also, it doesn’t have to be an idea for a whole zine or a whole book. It can just be a word you like, a conversation you overheard, a story you want to tell your friend.


The next zinefest I’ll be tabling at is L.A. Zinefest on February 17th, 2013. The organizers asked, via their blog, what advice I’d like to give to first-time & aspiring zinesters. My answer: Write the kinda stuff you wanna read. Write the kinda stuff you wish you had found when you were younger. Don’t be intimidated by people who’ve been making zines longer than you. Don’t try to emulate somebody else’s style: be more like yourself, not somebody else. Learn how to make double-sided copies and don’t forget to watch your margins. Be open to kind critique. Don’t expect to get famous, or to make money. Keep on writing even if it feels like nobody cares. They also asked what the best thing is that’s ever happened to me because zines. I said: Learning critical-thinking skills, learning how to be honest and write well, meeting wonderful people through snail mail & zinefests, finding magical friendships, having the guts to share my stories, encouraging others to tell their stories, learning the value of my own experiences, and knowing that DIY self-expression saves lives.

Take good care of yourself and your zine pals!

Ziningly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.