Collage by Camille

Collage by Camille

I’ve always been a super-shy loner, so I didn’t have many friends growing up. I spent most of my time alone, in my room, reading magazines. I loved magazines. I loved holding them in my hands, breathing in that inky new-magazine smell, feeling the paper in my fingers. I was enthralled with the pictures, the words—everything. I loved them so much that I started copying them, trying to make my own little magazines. I would draw the covers, write the editor’s letters, do pretend interviews with my favorite pop stars (Janet Jackson, Madonna), and fill their pages with photos taken with my big sister’s Polaroid camera. I even made my own advertisements. I sold them to my family for a dollar apiece, and would use that money to buy magazines and craft supplies so I could make more.

In 10th grade, a girl I knew from the local all-ages music scene gave me a crumpled, photocopied little booklet she’d made; she called it a “zine.” It looked like the little mags I made—there were words, drawings, and photography—only it was photocopied, so she had multiple copies to give to people. There was a section about something called Riot Grrrl and a band called Bikini Kill, neither of which I’d heard of before. It was one of the coolest things I had ever seen, so I decided to try making one of my own. That was my very first zine, and it changed my life forever.

The first five issues of "15th Precinct."

The first five issues of “15th Precinct.”

Over the next few years, I put out nearly 20 different zines. They were a jumble of personal musings, often music-focused (besides magazines, music is my other great love), and with each issue, my print run and distribution grew. At its peak, 15th Precinct—my best known and longest running zine—had 20 contributors writing and taking photos for me. It was available all over Australia and in parts of Europe, Asia, the U.S., and the UK; another zine, Demolish, called it “Australia’s best zine”; and Chick, an Australian girls’ magazine, even interviewed me about my publications, calling me a “zine queen.” Through trial and error, without any training in journalism or publishing at all, I had taken 15th Precinct from my bedroom floor into the big wide world. For the first time in my life, I actually felt successful—I was totally ruling it!

Your truly in "Chick" magazine

Yours truly in “Chick” magazine.

Of course, the next logical step was to get bigger. I wanted to make my zine—which until then had only been available in independent book and record stores or via mail order—a real, glossy magazine like the ones I’d loved as a kid. But to do that I needed money.

At the time, there was a competition here in Australia—some corporate-sponsored thing that gave one deserving young person $20,000 to make their dreams a reality. The first time I entered I made it as far as the semifinals. I reapplied the next year—and got through to the finals round! I was flown to Sydney for the last round of the contest, which was hugely scary since I’d never traveled solo before, but I kept reminding myself that it was all for my magazine.

All of the finalists had to present our ideas to a panel of judges in front of our competitors. I was so nervous that morning that I locked myself in a bathroom stall, took some deep breaths, and mustered all the strength and courage I had. I closed my eyes and envisioned myself winning, with the first issue of my real-live magazine in my hands. I exited the stall, took a look at myself in the mirror, and told myself, “You’ve totally got this! You’ve worked really hard, and you deserve it.” (I find a little positive self-talk can go a long way.)

When I gave my presentation I was so nervous that I broke down in tears onstage.

“Whoa, they should just give her the prize now,” I heard one of the other contestants say. I knew they could all tell how much winning meant to me. I was so embarrassed, but I couldn’t help it. I’d been working toward this moment my whole life, and it was all I could do not to completely lose it.

After the presentations, we were taken straight to the airport. We would have to wait a couple days to hear the results. It felt like the longest wait of my life. When the contest’s organizers called, I held my breath and braced myself for the result. What if I didn’t win?

The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Congratulations, Bianca—you’ve won $20,000!” Whaaaaat?!?! I freaked out. I danced around the house. I was ecstatic. It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. I now had the means to make my dream a reality!

Over the next few months, I started planning out my first issue, researching printing facilities, and weighing distribution options. Meanwhile, I was dating this guy who really, really wanted to settle down with me—so much so that he kept trying to persuade me to use my $20,000 to build a nest egg for us instead of chasing my dream. I don’t know if he was jealous of or threatened by my possible success—maybe he thought it would take me away from him, which he was probably right about—but I didn’t like it one bit, and we broke up. Unfortunately, I had put that money in the bank. Into our joint account. Half of which he withdrew on his way out of my life.

I was devastated. Bye bye, magazine.

When I won the money, I believed everything would be perfect, that all my problems were solved. Now, I lay on the couch for a couple of days with the curtains drawn, watching the ceiling fan spin, not taking calls and, to be honest, not really wanting to be here anymore. I didn’t write or create for a long time. Everything just hurt way too much.

I was eventually prescribed meds for what was determined to be a severe depression. Even as I was getting help, what my boyfriend did made me wary of everything and everyone in my life. In my head, success and loss became the same thing. I thought if I succeeded again, it could be taken away. I would wait for something to go wrong, terrified of what consequences might come from a positive achievement. I still feel that terror sometimes, and it has held me back from things I might have achieved by now. If I’m not careful, this can fill me with paralyzing regret, which just starts the whole cycle over again. I need to force myself to move on.

How I do that is by going back to my original love: making zines, writing, creating things—even if no one will see them. I also write lists of things that make me happy, and when I’m feeling crummy and unmotivated, I whip it out, pick something at random, and do it. I have a tendency to focus on criticisms and drown out compliments, so now I keep a notebook filled with positive things people have said me about me and my work, and when I’m feeling less than stellar, I read through it to give myself a confidence boost. I also keep a journal, which helps get all my thoughts and feelings out of my head; seeing them laid out on paper lets me see them clearer. Sometimes I look back at old journals to see how far I’ve come, and how much I’ve survived. I think we’re all a lot stronger and resilient than we think we are.

I still make zines—here I am at the Zine and Independent Comic Symposium in Brisbane, Australia, earlier this month.

I still make zines—here I am at the Zine and Independent Comic Symposium in Brisbane, Australia, earlier this month.

Time has passed since my big win and bigger loss, and the farther away I get from the experience, the better I feel. I haven’t found a magic solution to feeling great about my successes again, but I’ve learned that nothing is forever—good or bad—even though sometimes things feel that way. When you’re hitting those challenges and roadblocks that are keeping you from your dreams, the most important thing you can do, I think, is to remember that this too shall pass, and to keep going. Recognizing and appreciating the little victories in your life helps, too. Some days, getting out of bed in the morning is a victory.

I’m unsure if I will ever realize my dream of making a magazine. I don’t even know if it’s my dream anymore, but I’m OK with that. It’s OK not to know! Because to achieve what you want, you first have to know what you want. You have to hatch a plan, and be passionate about it. That’s what will get you over the speed bumps when they inevitably arise. Following through on your ideas, being brave—they often involve stepping outside of your comfort zone (like when I gave that presentation), trying new things, meeting new people, asking for help. These are all things that can be totally scary and make you feel awkward, but the important thing is to acknowledge and allow yourself to feel the scariness and awkwardness, and then keep moving forward. It’s natural to feel scared. It’s OK to feel scared, but I assure you, the more you experience, the greater your abilities become—and with that will come a confidence that can keep you going through anything. ♦