Welcome to Ryley Writes, a collection of thoughts, stories, and work from deep in the heart of Texas.

Zine Life

Zine Life


Guys, I found out this past weekend that there’s a word for this (very nerdy) thing I’ve done since middle school: zines.

When the 2008 summer Olympics rolled around, I was 14 and deeply in love with sports — watching them, playing them, talking about them, etc. It was the first Olympics I’d paid any kind of attention to, and I was absolutely enthralled by not only the games themselves, but the narratives surrounding and within them. I inhaled them. I recorded and watched everything. Everything. It was the kind of obsession that demanded an external outlet of some kind.

I had purchased (read: begged my parents into purchasing) just about every Olympics-related publication we could find. Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Mag, TIME, newspapers, those random one-off magazines that pop up around major events.

So impressive was the stack that even I knew it was an impractical amount of paper goods to hold onto in the long run. Besides, it didn’t feel commemorative enough for them to just exist there. I needed to be able to force my obsession into a single thing — have a way to collect the most important stories into one body of work that I could place in their hands and demand they consume.

To that end, I began carefully dissecting my Olympics collection and transferring the most important images and text to the pages of an empty sketchbook with pages heavy enough to withstand plenty of glue and tape. I pored over sports sections, scissors poised and fingers black with ink, carefully weighing out options — cutting out the story on one side of the paper, after all, necessitated chopping up the one on its back. This occasionally anguished me. How was one supposed to choose between an underdog track and field victory and a stellar swimming relay?! How could an editorial staff do this to me?! I had to deeply consider my readership. Which was mostly me, but whatever.

Once my cut-and-paste jobs were done, I would go back and fill in my own commentary; labeling photos and stories as necessary, emphasizing their importance, describing my thoughts and emotions as I watched the event.

(Side note: I love looking back on this now, because it turned out to be so indicative of what I would do with myself educationally and professionally later on in life. Hindsight is fun sometimes.)

By the end, I had what I referred to, for lack of a better word, as a scrapbook. I didn’t call it that around friends, of course. I don’t even remember mentioning my hobby to many friends, in fact. My relative athletic ability in a relatively unathletic school and general sports knowledge gave me a street credit I doubted my creative side project would lend me. Besides, I wasn’t crafting it for others.

Creating and then flipping through the book had a kind of intrinsic pleasure for me. A zen-like sense of happiness and accomplishment. A craving satisfied.

I enjoyed the process and final product so much that I did it all over again a couple years later during the World Cup. Throughout the rest of high school, in fact, I continued saving articles and images that resonated with me, periodically grabbing a handful and cutting and pasting them, collage-style, into random notebooks or on sheets of paper.

I still have a giant, accordion-style binder in the recesses of my closet of articles and images I saved years ago and can’t bear to part with, but between school and jobs, my scrapbookish habit fell by the wayside and was forgotten.

But earlier this month, I found myself with a free weekend and dedicated it to cover-to-cover reading the stack of magazines on my bedside table. After the fact, there were a few I just really didn’t want to throw away, either because of the writing or design.

I let them loiter for a while, debating whether to keep or get rid of the stack, when suddenly, a few days ago, my old high school habit popped into my mind. It sounded really messy, kind of lame… and fun.

I dug around our apartment until I found some glue and tape, turned on a podcast, and went to town. I remixed an entire Texas Highways of fun visuals but meh stories into a two-page spread. I layered short articles on top of random photos. I laid out longer pieces and then mapped them — a habit I picked up later, basically diagramming the structure of a story I’ve read to see at a glance the writer’s content and organization. It’s a pretty common practice in journalism or writing classes as a way to get ideas and study technique, and writing it out next to the actual, chopped-up story was way more fun than just outlining in Evernote or something (which is what I normally do).

I’m still working on it, sticking more pieces into place as I come and go from the apartment, but I’ve kept all the magazine content I wanted in a fraction of the space. When my roommate asked about the random art project on our kitchen table was later on, I laughed.

“I don’t know what to call it, it’s just this weird thing I do,” I told her.

So IMAGINE MY SURPRISE when I was scrolling through Austin Kleon’s newsletter last Friday and found out that my creation has an actual name.

He mentioned having made a “zine” with his youngest son. I clicked on the link, curious, and what do you know — it’s a cut-and-paste conglomeration of photos or artwork with their own words.

Beyond that, I found that the post was actually one of many tagged “zine” — there is this post, too, further explaining this hobby I’ve done for years and not known. My weird journalism scrapbooks are called zines! Other people make them! Some people even SELL them! (Mine are not worth selling, but still. This blows my mind.)

Anyway, this was just a way-too-long description of a weird hobby I’ve had for years and my excitement in discovering that other people enjoy it, too. Like I feel really validated. I have no idea if anyone has actually read to this point, but if you have, thanks. You are probably my mom.

What hobbies or creative things do you do that are purely for fun? Anything that stimulates your creativity and lets you just kind of be a kindergartner for a few hours every now and then?

And anyone wanna buy a zine about the 2008 Olympics?

The Stack: Spring '18

The Stack: Spring '18

Weekend Roundup: May 19