Photos taken using an iPhone 5s and the VSCOcam app. I’m a little bit in love with it – you can follow my VSCO profile here.
A mix of photos taken with an Ilford XP2 disposable camera and an iPhone5S processed by the VSCOCam app.
If you’re reading this blog post, I know who you are. I know how you got to my site, I know what suburb you’re in, I know if you’re reading this on an iPhone, or a Samsung Galaxy, or an ancient PC using Internet Explorer 6. I know how often you visit the site, and how much time you spend on it.
I’m not some next-level data-mining internet overlord. I can get all this information from Google Analytics. Anyone can, and it’s much easier to wrangle now than when I first started learning this stuff in 2008. I’ve used it for my various blogs and websites since then, and for my various day jobs as required.
None of this is anything new. The internet has never been anonymous, but I can’t help but feel it used to be a little murkier. As a 10 year old kid I was told not to use my real name online, and that it wasn’t safe to enter credit card details. Now I can order & pay for a toasted sandwich to be delivered to me via parachute using only my phone.
We are living in a glorious world where toasted sandwiches fall from the sky on cue. Not even Nostradamus saw that one coming. But I still feel erky about this whole blogging thing. It’s an uneven exchange of information. I write online about my feelings to a couple of thousand people, in return for a bunch of data and low-level anxiety about my boss and/or Mum finding my blog and laughing at my expense. I’m sure they do that anyway, but still.
It’s similar to the way I feel about pap smears (sorry everyone, but hear me out). It’s a weird and unnecessary sense of performance anxiety where, best case scenario: I pay $80 to be naked from the waist down for 10 minutes and medically violated every second year, worst case scenario: all of the above, but it turns out I have cervical cancer and this is only the beginning of the amount of medical violation in my vagina’s future.
Today I went to clear out my post box (nope, we’re past the vagina part of this blog post, mind out of the gutter) on the other side of town. Amongst the records and bills, there was a handwritten letter from a person who’d read my zine, enjoyed it and decided to drop me a line. Not only that — she’d included a picture of her dog. How great is that?! Almost as great as dogs as a species.
It got me thinking. Here I am cracking jokes about pap smears and data-mining to virtual strangers, when I’m not willing to share anything interesting online, and I’m certainly not brave enough in real life to tell someone I have a crush on them, or reach out for help when I’m not well. There are not enough sky jaffles in the world to fill the void of that disconnect.
So — I’m wrapping up this blog. Pap smears are mandatory, but blogging is not. The posts will live on as a kind of blog graveyard, but my more *personal* writing will go in zines, less personal writing will go in other people’s publications and my super-srs writing will stay on the internet. I still have a Tumblr and around half-a-dozen other profiles on social networks. I’m hardly a luddite.
Shot on 35mm film. Black-and-white photos taken with an Ilford XP2 disposable camera.
Good things never happen at precisely the right time. It’s a little churlish to complain — good things are like the snitch in a Quidditch game, flying around just out of reach while you’re trying to avoid falling off your broomstick or getting bludgeoned by the hired goons of your enemies.
A year ago, I was driving from Rockhampton to Emerald with my little sister. We were on our way home for father’s day and since we were trapped in a car together, I took the opportunity to educate her on some of the best music from the 1990s.
Issy: What IS this?
Me: How do you not know ‘No Scrubs’ by TLC?
Issy: What even is a scrub?
Me: LISTEN! THE SONG TELLS YOU! *sings* “A scrub is a guy who thinks he’s fly, and he’s also known as a buster, always talking ’bout what he wants and just sits on his broke ass so NO I don’t want your number, NO I don’t wanna give you mine…”
There was a pause, and ‘No Scrubs’ was interrupted by the 1980s version of The Bold and The Beautiful theme song as my phone rang. I answered it on handfree as my hatchback roared down the Capricorn Highway at 120 km/h.
“Hey Soph, it’s Sarah Moran. Just a quick question – are you still wanting to move to Melbourne? There’s a job I think you might be interested in.”
During 2011 and 2012, if I wasn’t in central Queensland, I was in Melbourne. I loved its architecture, buildings, coffee and creative scene, and a lot of my friends from Brisbane had moved there. I had a growing creative creative network and family there, and since I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with my efforts to return to the national broadcaster to work as a cross-media or rural reporter, I thought I might as well move to the city and do young person stuff there while I was still young.
I knew I didn’t want to stay in Rockhampton for the rest of my life, but it still hurt to leave. I loved my little house, enjoyed my job despite the stress and shitty hours and really liked being “one of the boys” with my friends there. More importantly — and part of the reason I moved back to Rocky other than the job — I’d been able to rebuild a relationship with my parents and siblings as an adult, or close enough to it. I left for boarding school when my brother was 7 years old, and my sister was 5. Sure, I’d come home for holidays, but I always hated them and tried to spend as much time away from home as possible. I moved out of home completely a couple of months after I turned 17, and didn’t come home to visit much. I know Mum and Dad felt hurt and a little betrayed that I’d ended up in hospital at the age of 21 without them ever knowing that I was sick before that, so I wanted to repair the damage that distance and my stubborn approach to independence had done.
That said, I knew I had to go and everyone in my life was supportive of the move. I took up a job with the government in a tall building, and got to work building up the people skills I’d let atrophy over the 18 months I’d spent doing shift work in a soundproof windowless room, reporting to a boss 900km away. I missed the bush — the smell of smoke in the spring backburning, the cotton and sunflower fields, even the fine red bulldust that covered my car, verandah and the outside of my house. I still miss it.
In the year since I’ve moved, so many incredible things have happened. I’ve landed one of the many dream jobs I set out for myself when I was in uni. I was selected for a songwriting mentorship where I played my songs for some of Australia’s greatest songwriters and picked their brains. One of them was a teenage hero of mine – 15-year-old me would’ve been gobsmacked at the prospect of meeting Adalita and playing my songs for her. She was lovely, by the way.
I’ve met some great people through writing, zines, music and other creative wanky pursuits. I can afford to live by myself again, and have a room for my records, guitars and writing stuff that isn’t also the room I sleep in.
Sure, there have been hard things too, but that is just the reality of being a human. Often I feel like I did in my first year in Brisbane, in awe of the city and its possibilities while not feeling 100% at home. That changed with Brisbane, and it’ll change with Melbourne too.
I think there’s plenty of time left in my life for me to live in the country with multiple dogs, a study and a job on local radio. There are just a few things I need to tick off my list first.
“Hi, my name’s Sophie Benjamin and I’m a writer and musician. In order to continue to write and make music and make the world a better place, I need to live in a two bedroom apartment by myself. I’m turning to crowd-funding to raise $150 000 to cover my moving costs and a deposit on said apartment. I could use my own money to do this, but I’d rather not, hey.
$1 – Thanks, I guess.
$20 – a set of guitar/bass strings that I have personally used while writing/playing my music, made into a circular bracelet. They will be rusty from my sweat/skin, which will add to their obvious value as a collectors item.
$30 – a piece of clothing I was going to donate to St Vinnies.
$50 – A coffee date with me. You also have to pay for both our coffees.
$100 – A meeting IRL or on Skype where I tell you all the things you are doing wrong in your life.
$200 – A disposable camera with photos of my interesting life on it. You have to pay to develop it.
$300 – That will pay for a couch in my apartment. I might think of you when I sit on it.
$500 – Access to all my old notebooks and demos. You can read through them and see all the ideas I had that were really shit and didn’t make it to fruition.
$1000 – I promise to never cook for you.”
Seriously though, I think I’m suffering from crowd-funding fatigue. Whatever happened to saving and self-funding, or getting a loan or grant?
Late last year, I decided I wanted to attend as many zine fairs as possible in the coming 12 months. Flights from Melbourne to pretty much anywhere are cheap, and I figured I have a big enough back catalogue now to warrant at least half a table’s worth of zines.
I applied for a bunch of them in January, and managed to have Issue 8 ready for the Sticky Institute zine fair in February. I didn’t have a table for that, but I was lucky enough to have people offer to sell my zines for me. Thanks… you guys. I am bad with names. Overseas travel, recording a couple of EPs with my band and publishing a few photo zines this year were also on my 2013 do-to list. Since I also like nice things such as food and shelter, I realised I might have to put my relentless zine fair-ing on hold.
Not long after I decided to cut back on my spending, I received emails confirming I’d been selected for the inaugural Canberra Zine Fair in March and the annual MCA Zine Fair in Sydney in May. The Canberra trip was cheap and easy, plus I got to see family, make new friends and hang out with some old friends who’d moved to our nation’s capital from Brisbane a few months earlier. I sold a bunch of zines, bought many more and saw the friends who I was staying with spend up big too.
Two arseholes stole my phone from Sticky Institute six weeks out from the MCA Zine Fair – a financial kick in the teeth I really didn’t need. I was ready to pull out of my spot at the zine fair, but amazingly one of my Twitter followers gave me his old iPhone 4 for free. I tried to give him money for it, but he said he’d just upgraded and the old one would’ve just been gathering dust on his desk anyway. Anyone who says internet randoms are all weirdos and creeps is still living in 1995, and can keep their stupid opinions and fax machines to themselves. Thanks @robcorr!
So I booked tickets to Sydney at the last minute – a red eye flight on Tiger Airlines and an overnight train trip back to Melbourne later that night. Pro tip – don’t plan to fly to or from Melbourne on Jetstar. The main Jetstar terminal is out at Avalon, which is actually Geelong’s airport and around 90 minutes drive. The Jetstar terminal at the main airport at Tullamarine is an old shipping container beneath the Qantas gate lounge. You really feel like the scum of the earth – even the Tiger terminal is better.
I think it’s fair to say I had no idea how much of a big deal the MCA Zine Fair is. It’s held in the beautiful Museum of Contemporary Art on Sydney Harbour, halfway between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. It’s part of the annual Sydney Writers Festival, and – I think – the biggest zine fair in the country. It’s also quite exclusive. I know people who only got accepted on their second or third application, but by dumb luck I managed to get a spot on my first try.
I got to the MCA an hour before doors opened to the public, and got to work setting up. There were more than 60 different zine and comic stalls there, selling zines, comics, prints, badges and even jewellery. I shared a table with a lady named Tamara Lazaroff, who sold really interesting zines about her time in Macedonia, her ancestral homeland.
Doors opened at 10AM and it took around 10 minutes for the hall to be totally packed out by shoppers. The MCA says around 3000 people came through the doors, and they were still kicking people out half an hour after doors closed at 4PM. My friends and seasoned zinesters Elouise and Jeremy were there too with their pop-up zine trailer, and they say the crowds were so big because unlike Melbourne, there are no shops in Sydney where you can buy zines year-round.
As well as my zines, I had badges for sale for $1 each and $5 A3 prints of the logo. I also had a couple of big piles of stickers and more than 50 copies of a mini-zine of book reviews that I gave away for free. Some zine fairs are really strict about selling things that aren’t zines, which I think is a bit shit. Sure, don’t rock up to a zine fair with 5 different kinds of cupcakes to sell, but I think badges and prints are ok. Plus, a lot of people are confused by the whole “zine” thing, but can appreciate a print or a badge. One of my favourite customers was a posh and plummy-voiced woman in her 60s who burst out laughing at the evil antichrist Tom Waterhouse badge and bought three of them.
People also love free stuff. I lost count of the number of times people smiled at the “I Am Very Busy & Important” name badge stickers, and then thanked me profusely when I told them they were welcome to take one and a mini-zine for free. I reckon at least half of the people who purchased things from me did so after being drawn in by the free stuff. I brought much more stock than I thought I needed and sold it all. I managed to sneak away from my table a couple of times and bought some great zines and prints from Urban Pancakes, Canberra Zine Emporium, Take Care Distro, The Rizzeria, The Heavy Collective and more.
It was amazing, but really intense. People always scoff when I say this, but I am an introvert. I might be friendly and talkative when I’m out, but it takes a lot of mental and emotional effort. As a result, I had my first alcoholic beverages in months when I met up with my friend Anthony after the zine fair finished. The two schooners I drank had the same effect on me that a carton would have on a normal person. I ate three large serves of onion rings from Hungry Jacks and slept through the entirety of the train journey back to Victoria.