James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.

thoughts + feelings

60: Physicality

Physicality

I wrote a letter today, thanking a zine. I took out a sheet of paper, clicked open a pen, made marks on paper, found an envelope, gathered a stamp left over from my wedding, and placed that letter in a postal box. I read two zines as a matter of fact in the last hour or so. Both bound by hand, beautifully typeset, printed with care, either stapled in a traditional art-zine style (paper stacked, cover a few millimeters longer than the content pages, three staples over the front) or saddle-stitched. One was a small run, the other published monthly ~ both Chicago-based. No, I will not tell you where to get one, because that is the nature of zines. They are spread by word of mouth or in-person. Dropping links in a newsletter would hereby ruin the nature of these objects, passed around for others to read without a trail. That makes me really happy.

I took time to smell these objects, to run them through my fingers, inspecting their construction. I loved seeing the human hand in their work. My partner, who has a background in print production, took her time to comment (as well as teach me what saddle-stitching is). It is something I miss when so many things are digital, the best I can do to “finger through an object” is pasting source code into Sublime Text and inspect how they are made.

These zines now have marks of wear. Coffee stains adorn their front covers. Dog eared pages serve as a reminder of moments when I had to stop because of an arriving bus. These objects led to me writing the first draft of this letter in a notebook with a pen. My hand is cramping as I write this, my brain slightly rewired to assume that autocorrect would change the mistakes on my page, but no bubble appeared over my words, I crossed them out and figured out what the correct spelling was, strangely satisfying. I wrote out a tilde ~ a figment of URL strings slyly integrating into my written word.

“…you are free to read what follows without immediately subsuming or rejecting it as part of your identity.”

— a quote from the opening of one of the zines

This is my 60th letter to you. I see it as a milestone, a moment where I think back to why I started this. It was an outlet during a painful winter, before I learned of my mental illness of depression anxiety. Desperately craving an ability to share my thoughts that could not exist in 140 characters, thoughts that could not be easily shared on a blog (purposefully), but still felt ephemeral. Almost like a digital zine.

Today I removed the long running archive of this newsletter that existed on my website, leading these letters to exist even more like a zines. Once you have the email, you can either pass it along, keep it, or that thought is gone. I’ve also began a process of slowly removing lingering trails of myself in the giant online archive, almost re-falling in love with the physicality of intentional community building. The unsubscribing of podcasts that I’ve no longer cared for, dwindling down the number of RSS feeds to an intentional amount that I will purposefully read, the trimming of the large amount of online communities I call myself a part of.

Slowing down with these small-run publications have made me realize how much of a time-suck so many forms of passive consumption can lead. Zines were built with human interaction in mind, but I’m not making the complete move to luddite (I type this final version of this letter with a Pebble watch on my wrist). It made me realize that my devices should only notify me of text messages and phone calls, actively seeking out information rather than passively sucking me back into the scroll. While this weekly letter may not be as beautiful as a bound object, it is the closest thing I have until making another physical zine of my own, which doesn’t seem to far from the future now.

What did I find interesting this week?

Shortening the work-week actually leads to more things done in a happier manner. Meanwhile, freelancing has both sides of good and bad. It’s not exactly a walk in the park.

I love reading posts about mental health and those finding themselves, so reading about someone finding friendship with themselves was a treat. Also, if you are not familar with Kehinde Wiley, his artist talk was truly something. Lastly, this article about how “chill” is such a passive state inspired many of my thoughts, so I purposely took stronger stances in this week’s letter from it.

James T. Green