🖨️ Resizable text fields forever

First: I’ve moved this newsletter from Mailchimp to Substack. The former might be the best tool for email marketing, but that’s not what I’m doing here. The latter is nicer for writing words. I want this email to feel like a letter—not just for you, the person reading it, but for me, too. I enjoy writing letters. One of my oldest internet friends is my oldest internet friend because we both love postcards and really nice pens.

I miss having penpals. Remember the back pages of Tiger Beat and Bop? Where kids would send their mailing addresses and ask others to write them? I had penpals through Girl Guides, too: one from Finland and one from Ontario, both random matches, and another whom I met at a provincial camp. We wrote about life in our different cities and traded stickers and mix tapes on cassette. It makes a lot of sense that I would find myself in the internet because I was already writing to strangers.

A blog is a letter you write in public. A zine is a letter you fold into a book. An email is a letter that can’t wait for a stamp.

For much of August, I’ve been working on a love letter to the XOXO festival. Since it began, in 2012, I have watched from afar as some of my favourite internet artists gather in Portland. We had Twitter then, so I could follow along, and all the talks are available on YouTube afterwards, but festivals and conferences like that are often frustratingly out of reach for a lot of us. But last year I was lucky to receive a free pass. I was lucky to have that chance to effusively introduce myself to people I have long admired like Matt Haughey, Helen Rosner, Cabel Sasser, Sydette Harry. I was lucky to be a part of those old internet feelings.

I wanted to put those feelings down on paper, but I didn’t. I thought about it a lot! It just became one of those zines I thought about making, but didn’t. A good project needs a deadline (I get on the bus September 4th), a structure (paper, def, but also PDF), and a purpose: I didn’t want to go back to XOXO empty-handed. And now I had a community to help me.

We each made a page—text, comics, collage. We made a zine to print and fold and share. It’s about making friends, feeling weird, but also books, art, jumpsuits, bingo, and the internet, of course, because that’s what led us to XOXO in the first place.

Love letters can be printed on paper, or they can be an email typed straight into a text field and sent out to some internet friends.

Thanks,

Jess

PS. I’m gonna take an offline break in September, some time to think about a new project. You’ll hear from me next Friday.

💌 Art is just noticing what others miss

As social networks move from the public space to private, I’m spending more time in Slack with the group of internet weirdos I met at XOXO last year. The festival’s tagline is “for independent artists who live and work online.” That first verb is the important one.

The internet and I grew up together. It moved into our living room when I was 14. I learned how to be a writer in public. I taught myself code. All of my friends live inside these wires.

The XOXO book club is reading HOW TO DO NOTHING by Jenny Odell, who will be a speaker at the festival. It’s a compelling read; I finished it in three days. Where many of us who live on the internet have been searching, frantically, increasingly, for ways to disconnect, to runaway to the mountains, to live off the land, Odell argues for the opposite. The solution to fixing what the internet has done to our brains, she writes, is the reconnect with the world. Not the world inside the wires, but the world of the trees, the flowers, the birds. (Especially the birds, Odell would say.)

It’s not surprising Odell grew up in California. For many of us on the west coast, a hike in the woods is the answer to all our problems. (Add a thermos of tea, and I’m set.) Before I read this book, I might’ve told you I already know how to do nothing. Halfway through this book, I would’ve said I already know I’m surrounded by cedars, honeybees, and crows. And yet, immediately after I finished reading, I downloaded her suggested iNaturalist app and took photos of the trees on my block, the wildflowers growing in the unlandscaped lot, and the weeds forcing their way through the cracks in the pavement.

For a few years now, perhaps since I moved to White Rock in 2015, I have heard a different bird call, in between the crows and seagulls I know. It sounded, to me, like the cliché of a dove. I was lucky to catch glimpses, enough to know it was more than one bird, and grey, but not a gull. I didn't even know if doves were wild in this area. I imagined they had been a pair, someone's pets, escaped or set loose.

And then I saw them this afternoon, in a quiet unmoving moment, around the corner from my house.

two grey doves sitting on telephone lines among trees

Zooming in as far as I could, I managed a few blurry frames, even as the two birds ignored me, seemingly unbothered. They've lived in this neighbourhood a long time; I'm sure they know me, perhaps better than I know them.

Once I was home (and back on wifi), I uploaded my photo to iNaturalist, eager for an identification. Eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto). But even better, someone else has noticed them, too.

My story is not unique. An introverted girl who didn't have much in common with the kids she called friends, I found others like me on the internet. I won't give them up, no matter how much the people with money try to destroy our networks. We made the internet once; we can make it again.

Remember: if you noticed something cool, someone else has noticed it, too. They'd probably love to chat.

Thanks,
Jess

🌞 Summer break for teachers 😹

This is Junior. The summer heat has not been kind to black cats.

When we moved into my parents’s current house, almost 15 years ago, the previous owners had created a sandbox in the backyard for an above-ground pool. So my parents bought an above-ground pool, too, and it’s gone up every summer. My dad rigs up a solar heating system with dozens of metres of black piping on the roof, but this year, there have been too many off-days in between the blistering heat. It hasn’t been a good swimming summer.

It’s been a much better summer for teaching, though. Last June, I came home from my Palm Spring vacation to literally no students. I taught only one or two days for the months of July and August. This year, July was good—I can pay my August rent. September, though, remains to be seen. If you’ve been thinking about buying one (or more) of my zines, now is a very good time.

If you were here last August, you might remember I made a zine every day. That’s what I called them then, but many of them were just a single sheet of flat paper—a broadsheet, perhaps. As with most daily projects, not every effort is my best, but the sum, the collection, the experiment is the lesson.

I wrote 31 zine reviews in July, and whoa, are my fingers tired. This wasn't a purely altruistic project. I wanted to contribute to the zine community, but it's also my kind of networking. Some of the zines in my library are a decade old, and tracking down those artists has been a fun exercise. Follow the links if you want new people to read.

I am very good at thinking about big projects, but I’m better at doing small ones. This August, I’ll be posting my completed tasks on my blog daily. I’ll be making Congenial Telegram monthly (No. 02 is brand new!) And, of course, this newsletter is fortnightly.

Until then, thanks,
Jess

The other side of the border

The Alternative Library in Bellingham, WA, is open.

open front door of a historic white church in the rainy Pacific Northwest

Two weeks ago, I sent you a photo of my zine library which lives on top of my bookshelf. This library is quite a bit bigger, occupying the main room of a historic church in Bellingham, WA. I live in White Rock, BC, and the city across the bay is Blaine, WA, but Bellingham is a little farther down the road. It’s a city with an airport, so you know how big it is.

Growing up before 9/11, going across the line was an everyday part of life. The dollar was better then, too, and we’d often get in the car after dinner, drive down to fill up the gas tank, then get soft-serve ice cream at the Edaleen Dairy on the way back. The choices were chocolate, vanilla, or a twist of both. I always got the twist.

If you don’t know Washington well, you probably know Seattle. The rest of the state isn’t like that. Most of the towns to the north are small and industrial. The houses are cute mid-century bungalows. The highway is dotted with Trump-supporting billboards.

I’m lucky that it’s still easy for me to cross the border. I’m white; I’m usually in a car with family; I submitted to the pre-interview and retina scan because my family can’t use the Nexus lane if we don’t all have Nexus cards.

I don’t feel scared on the other side of the border. But I do feel different, not quite right. And then I find a place like the Bellingham Alternative Library. The group has turned this old church into a quiet space for books and the people who love them. The shelves fill the walls where stained glass used to be.

Behind the desk and the spiral staircase, in the space that might have once been the apse, there’s a community store. There are zines and cassettes and T-shirts for sale from artists far and local. I didn’t need to see the safe space sign up front; I felt it.

The Saturday after next, July 27th, I’ll have a table at the South Surrey Festival. I'll have copies of all the zines on my portfolio page for sale, and hopefully, one or two new ones. If you’re in the area, you should come around and say hello. I’ll be saying hello again in another two weeks.

Thanks,
Jess

July

My tiny zine library: an IKEA desk organiser I found in my parents's basement and a sign made from the remaining letters of a sticker sheet.

Welcome to summer! July, to be precise. When I logged into Mailchimp this evening, I discovered an update with the subject line: September. I never sent it; you probably noticed.

Since I was a kid, I have read every book I could find in every local library about how to start a business, how to be a writer, how to make money and stay independent. My what has changed over the years (though it's always been about words), but my why is constant: independent.

An email newsletter is nearly step #1 in every one of those books--or a close second behind "have a website." But I’m not going to send you a bunch of links to read or watch. I have too much of that in my life already. This update is a way for you to keep up with me, specifically.

After six months of daily life blogging, I’ve moved to daily blogging on monthly projects. In June, I wrote a poem a day. If you missed it, I’ve gathered them together into a tiny book you can download.

In July, to celebrate International Zine Month, I’m writing reviews from my personal zine library. If you use RSS, you can follow along at my blog.

Along with this email update, I’ve also embraced Instagram. Social media isn’t perfect, but it’s where my friends are. I thought I had deleted my original account, but discovered it was only deactivated. You can follow me @factsarenothing for paper ephemera and selfies.

My next update will arrive next fortnight. Until then, you can reply to this email. I want to read your blog, too! And, of course, you can send me a postcard at the address below. I love mail.

Thanks,
Jess

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