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Teaching Personal Politics:
Cien Fuegos


An interview with
Sara Falls
in Oakland, CA, USA

by Elke Zobl and Haydeé Jiménez

March 2007

 

"Writing is about building community, creating culture."
- Sara Falls

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Can you tell me first of all a little bit about yourself? How old are you, where are you originally from and where do you reside now?

I am 29 years old. I am originally from Portage, Michigan, which is basically a suburb of Kalamazoo in Southwest Michigan in the United States. I currently live in Oakland, California.

What do you do besides your zine?

I teach high school English in San Francisco, which is really the best job ever, even though I work my butt off. Naturally, I am an avid reader and writer (my zine has always been connected to my being a literary person). I live in cohousing in Oakland; so a lot of my energy is put into thinking about how to live well with others in a way that is sustainable and supportive. I love to cook, watch movies, hang out with my sweetie and our cat. I study martial arts, brew beer, do crossword puzzles, knit, sometimes garden (not as much as I’d like to at this point), travel when I can, and more.


Can you please tell our readers about Cien Fuegos?


Cien Fuegos means “one hundred fires” in Spanish. I lived for a very brief time on Cienfuegos street in Santiago de Chile, and the name stuck in my head as a kind of metaphor. Much of my writing is about what keeps us going, what keeps us on fire, which is important to me as I get older. Throughout so much of my youth I had adults telling me that I would eventually grow up and become “realistic,” that I would give up my passion for social justice as the needs of my bank account pushed these other concerns out. But I am inspired by those who continue to fight for justice despite all the forces that could make them apathetic or indifferent. In a way, I see my zine as a form of social action and activism. It is political, but the politics are about the personal stories, what it means to live consciously in a world that doesn’t encourage this.

What topics do you discuss in your zine most often?

All that said, much of my writing is about teaching. I became a teacher out of my desire for social justice, and so I detail that struggle. I also wrote a lot about prisons, the politics of prisons and the improvisational theatre workshops I did in prison. I have written about traveling, love, and more. I also write some fiction and poetry.

What inspired you to create this zine?


This zine in particular was born out of the struggle I detailed above: wanting to give voice to the experience of being an adult while still trying to maintain my youthful zeal and passion. I don’t mean to make myself sound ancient or anything, but when I was a teenager and in college, much of my community was writing zines. I have always felt they were important, and I didn’t want to lose touch with the art form as my community sort of grew away from them. I have always felt that writing and literature can change the world. They are what connect us, give us common ground across cultures, across time. I have always been a writer, and I think it’s very important to have an audience. It makes me honest, and it makes me accountable. I ask my students to write regularly, and so I think it’s important that I hold the same expectations for myself.

How long have you been making zines?

I started when I was fifteen...so going on 15 years.

How did you become introduced to the culture of zines?

Throughout high school, I was actively involved in punk rock: hard core, D.I.Y., Riot Grrrl. I distinctly remember being in the halls of my high school, when a friend of mine produced a zine he had picked up at the previous Sunday’s all ages show at Club Soda in Kalamazoo. It was a zine called “Fiat Lux,” and I can honestly say that it and its writer changed my life. It was written by a young man named Lonewolf, and it was filled with philosophy, travel journals, and, most poignant for me, stories of his terminal illness. I was so moved by the passion of his writing—I thought, “Here is someone who has something to live for and knows what it means to live!” It shook me up at the age of 15, a time when I felt very small and disconnected. I knew I wanted to have an impact in the world, but I didn’t really know what that meant. Lonewolf and I became penpals; I met a whole community of folks doing zines, and I started writing in earnest. Lonewolf died a few years ago, at the age of 30, something he knew would happen all along.

Where/how is your zine distributed? Who are your readers? What kind of responses do you get from your zine’s audience?

Oh gosh. I am sorry to say that my distribution is pretty limited. I mostly just give it to friends for free. Though I have a couple distros who carry it, which is awesome! I am not sure who my readers are besides my friends...fellow teachers? No one writes! I remember my life used to be about writing zinesters, reading my mail from folks who wanted to engage with my zine.... not so much anymore.



What do you hope to accomplish by making and distributing your zine?

I guess I sort of touched on this above. Writing is about building community, creating culture. We live in a world that doesn’t honor the creative spirits in all of us, but instead sells us culture at top dollar. I am not so interested in consumerism. I believe in the stories and art and voices of the people. I think zines do this!

What do you love and find challenging about zine making?

I love the outlet it gives me. I love that it connects to me folks, even if just friends. I love that it can create dialogue. I find it really hard that I don’t have an active zine-writing community. I find it hard to prioritize it when I am so busy as a teacher. I get discouraged by how little I even know about zine distros and networks. I am getting older.

What do you think about zine-making today?

I don’t know honestly. A few of the distros who carry my zines have sent me stuff from time to time, and some of it I like, but a lot of it feels very different from what matters to me right now. I think things are moving in the direction of digital, and I find it very hard to be on the computer for a long time...I’m not much of a web-surfer, and I can’t really figure out the appeal of most blogs out there. I just re-read this, and I sound like a grumpy old woman...I’m not really; I think I’m just not very connected to the zine community anymore. Anyone reading this should feel free to send me their zine!

Which role does Internet play for you?

Not much of a role. I have found some of the distros via internet, which is a cool tool. And obviously you found me somehow and emailed!

What are some zines you have read lately that you would recommend to someone learning about the zine-making/reading world?

Lately? I haven’t read any lately. I used to love “Spirals Upward,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Doris,” “Design 316,” “Captain Sissy,” and others...

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start a zine?

Do it! Have a writing practice. Keep a journal. Find your voice, and use it!

What does the zine scene look like in San Mateo? Do you feel part of a (grrrl or general) zine community or network and what does it mean to you?

Oh, San Mateo is outdated; I live in Oakland now. I don’t feel part of a zine community. I wish I did.

Do you consider yourself as feminist?

Yes. I have ever since I can remember. I don’t think I ever won’t.

What are the most pressing issues you are confronted with in daily life (as a woman/feminist/…)?

I think feminism is essentially a critique of power. If we can recognize the inherent problems in men dominating women, then I think it is incumbent upon us to critique power inequality wherever we see it. This means feminists have an obligation to critique racism, homophobia, classism, able-ism, ageism, etc. We have an obligation to critique the violence in our communities, dependence on war, and the use of fear to control people. I continue to be outraged by the gross inequality in education in this country between the rich and the poor, the racism that says certain groups of people are disposable if it benefits other groups economically. I know that violence against women and queers continues, and I am deeply angry about the society we live in that says that all this is over, that we should shut up and quit complaining already. Feminism demands anger and a voice for that anger.

What do you think about feminism today? How would you explain what feminism is to someone who has no idea what it is?

I sort of answered this above. I am definitely concerned with our modern society’s desire to package anything subversive and sell it back to us at a profit. I think in a way this has happened with feminism and the whole “girl power” stuff. That said, feminism, from where I stand is alive and kicking, and it is more diverse than ever. It includes men alongside oppressed groups fighting for broad equality.


What would a “grrrl”-friendly society look like in your view? How do you think society might be re-thought and transformed to come closer to an “ideal” world for women, grrrls and queer folks? Do you have any suggestions for the development of women/grrrl/queer-friendly policies?

Some concrete ideas of a “grrrl-friendly” society: No one would ever say, “That’s so gay,” or “You’re a pussy,” and mean it as an insult. I could go anywhere I wanted with my hairy legs and wouldn’t get stared at. No one would be beat up or killed because of their gender or perceived gender or sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation. “Girls Gone Wild” wouldn’t exist. Women and men would earn the same amount for the same job. Women wouldn’t feel like they had to choose between a career and family. Commercials would market cleaning and kitchen supplies to men just as often as to women. We would fully fund paternity, not just maternity, leave across the board. We’d value education and the work of teachers. It wouldn’t be such a big deal that a woman (or a Black man or a Latino man) was running for president of the United States. Girls wouldn’t feel like they had to act dumb in school, and guys wouldn’t feel like they had to act hard and indifferent in school. Boys and men would cry and hug and talk. I could go on and on...

What are some of your personal wishes/visions/ideas/plans for the future, if you like to share them?

Personally? I imagine I’ll continue teaching, probably get my masters along the way. I’m having a commitment ceremony with my sweetie, Clay, in a couple months, and we continue to work on making our home a haven. I am excited to travel more and keep writing.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Nope! Thanks for this opportunity.

THANKS FOR THE INTERVIEW, SARA!


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info:

Sara Falls
Cien Fuegos
sara_falls [AT] yahoo.com


 


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