On Original 'Zines & Scratch 'N Sniff Websites

by Alanna Rusnak
 
Day One: I took what was left in the bottom of the coffee pot—strong, day-old, cold—poured it into a chipped mug (the speckled ceramic, the one with the circles and dots that looked like breasts drawn by a sixth grader) and carried it back to my bedroom.

A stack of old National Geographic magazines sat on the carpet, piled up beside a chunk of cardboard laid out with plain white paper. A piece of garden twine hung from the top of the closet door to the handle of my top dresser drawer, clothespins lining it in wait for pieces of my project.

With a paintbrush, I brushed each piece of white paper with the cold coffee. Heavy in some places. Lightly in others. Then I hung them. Clipped them to the twine with the clothespins. Watching little drips of coffee fall to the carpet. Thinking I was perfectly okay with that as long as my mother didn't come in.

what should a magazine smell like?


I flipped Abbey Road and thanked the stars for Salvation Army Thrift Stores and my crappy $3 record player. I flipped through National Geographic and thanked the stars for bold photographers as I tore out photos and headlines I thought would encourage the poignancy of my angsty vision.

As the hung pages became nearly dry, I flicked the paintbrush at them, not unlike the blood splatter pattern at a crime scene.

I lay back on my mattress, stared up at Joey Lawrence (who flirted with me from a poster over my bed), and fell asleep to the smell of stale coffee.

Day Two: With a black pen, white glue, and my pile of torn NG images, I set about collaging my poems. I followed no rules. My only goal was creation and I found happiness in the execution.

I had been co-editor of the high school poetry magazine. I recognized the fun in creating layouts and playing with fonts. "You should make your own 'zine," one of my co-editors told me.

"What's a 'zine?" I asked.

She rolled her eyes. But then she told me. She wasn't a bad person.

I grew up before the internet and without a television. We had a little radio in the kitchen where my parents would listen to CBC's As It Happens. I had no knowledge of the art world. I knew what was in the library and what I learned at church. I knew that Leonard Cohen was my hero and John Lennon hadn't really died, he'd just been relocated to my heart. I knew writing was a need born deep in my soul. It was an instinct. I'd never seen a 'zine but that didn't stop me from carving a path of my own to make one.

Day Three: Photocopies were ten cents each and I didn't have any money. I felt embarrassed. Not because of the money thing but because I was pretty sure no one would care anyway. No one would want to read my poetry. Even though I loved writing it, I was pretty sure it was terrible, and I would die a little bit to know someone out there was looking at them and judging me.

This is just for me. The decision gave me peace.

My father had a roll of mactac and I used it to laminate my cover. I put it on my bookshelf until I moved out. Then it lived in a box of other childhood memorabilia. It still smelled like coffee when I packed it away.

Many Years Later: As the idea for Blank Spaces took root in my brain, I remembered that old poetry project like a dusty dream.

I found those original pages in a binder full of old papers and stories and high school essays. It was strange to flip through them, to try and grab hold of what I was feeling in the moment I wrote those words—words that are embarrassingly terrible but somehow brilliant because they capture a moment of me I left behind in all the business of growing up. 

And now I embark on this new project. Not a secret 'zine—but something much bigger with (what I hope will be) a great influence and audience, and it only seemed appropriate to share this little piece because somehow it feels like the beginning of it all.

I'm bothered that it no longer smells like coffee. Instead it clings on the edge of mildew, slightly damp and wilted, showing its age (and mine!) yet still dressed in the anthem of youth and that's something I'm willing to celebrate!

If you'd like to have a look at that long ago project, click on over here. Ignore the price (a necessary evil of the site) and click the Buy Digital: Free button. It will allow you to download the PDF version at no charge. You'll notice ripples in the cover where the mactac pulled away. You'll see the pages where I used too much glue or where a little creature may have nibbled away at the edges. You'll see spots of bright colour and I want you to imagine me standing over the page with a food colouring bottle, letting a drop fall from my full height so its stain will be more interesting. You'll see pictures scratched with sandpaper because I thought that was clever, and you'll see a page marked 'A Page For Sex' even though I was a virgin...

Enjoy! It's weird and wonderful and awful.


If they ever invent scratch and sniff websites, Blank Spaces will be first on the list to smell like stale coffee, white glue, and craft paper.


Alanna Rusnak is an author, a blogger, and a seeker of the extraordinary. Living with her husband, three children, and an overweight cat (who's kind of an idiot), on a small patch of untamable land in Southwestern Ontario. Trying to do it all with some measure of grace. (She is also the founder and Editor-In-Chief of this pretty little magazine!) [author website, twitter, facebook, instagram]

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