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A Show of Hands:
Stories of Inspiration

An interview with
Michelle de Cean

by Elke Zobl

October 2002

A Show of Hands, now in its 13th issue, published by Michelle in Adelaide, Australia, is a compilation zine on the topic of "inspiration". And it talks not only about inspiration, the zine is truly inspiring too!! Michelle: "I decided on the topic for two reasons: firstly, it's a pretty broad subject and you can come at it from a variety of directions, and secondly, many of the people I approached to write were people who in fact had themselves inspired me, and I wanted to know who or what got them all fired up." Order the zine directly from Michelle or for instance at Moon Rocket Distribution (New Zealand).

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’m a South Australian gal, born and bred. My hometown of Adelaide is often known as a quiet, boring city – but it’s also really nice to live here. We have beautiful beaches, lovely weather, lots of open space, good food and wine and comparatively cheap rent. So I’m pretty content. I live in a housing co-operative, and my house is close to the city and pretty modern. It’s a mezzanine apartment, which means that my bedroom overlooks my lounge-room! It’s pretty cool. I live here alone, but in coming months my boyfriend will be moving to Australia from America, and he’ll be living with me. I’ve just had my thirtieth birthday, and I’m a vegan Virgo!

What do you do besides your zine?

I work as a Research Officer for the South Australian youth affairs non-government peak body. It’s my favourite-ever job. My four other workmates are fabulous – incredible activists and gorgeous people, the sort of people that you are friends with outside of work. Part of my job is information management kind of stuff – organising our website, library, information files, and getting hold of inew information, etc, and the other part is about using the information we have to provide policy briefings and reports on a whole variety of issues affecting young people. I’ve worked here for nearly four years but I’ve been in this job for about six months. I work full-time; aside from that other things I do include lots of reading, a bit of baking, a bit of gardening, a bit of hanging out and a lot of relaxing. I also have an old XY Fairmont that is wonderful to drive around in; it’s a big, beautiful, glamourous, rusty car (in my estimation) and I always feel like a bit of a queen when I’m behind the wheel.

For how long have you been running your zine now? How many issues did you put out until now? Are you the only editor or is there a team?
I started doing my zine in 1993. I’ve put out thirteen issues during that time, and I’m working on the fourteenth. On two occasions I’ve done a little one-off zine; one was a poetry zine called (from memory!) More Than Ever, which I did in the mid-1990s sometime. The most recent one-off I did was produced specifically for the National Young Writer’s Festival this year, and it was written to explore the idea that at some stage or age in your life you are supposed to ‘grow out’ of doing zines. It was called (Beastie Boys-style), You Can’t, You Won’t and You Don’t Stop.

I work almost entirely on my own, zine-wise. The last issue of my zine was the first time I did a collaborative effort, and that was because the issue was like an anthology. I asked a bunch of women I knew (and a couple I didn’t) to write something on the subject of inspiration. Otherwise, it’s just me, myself and I.

What made you decide to start this project? How did you come up with the idea and the name?

I found out about zines when my family moved to America in 1991. I was about 18 then, and some kids in my neighbourhood did a zine called Rotten Fruit. I had never seen a zine before but had often had thoughts on my own about how I’d love to write my own little magazine. Before I met the Rotten Fruit kids I didn’t know it was possible. So it all fell into place for me – I got to learn how it was done! For several months I thought Rotten Fruit was a kind of neighbourhood newsletter, and I used to write a column that I thought was only being read by local kids. The first time a letter arrived from interstate commenting on something I’d written, I nearly lost my mind. I had no idea that Rotten Fruit was being traded across America and overseas! I totally fell in love with the idea that something like this could actually be done and made a promise to myself that I would start a zine of my own when my family returned to Australia. I had already chosen a name, A Show Of Hands, which was the name of a woodworking store in Columbus, Ohio, where we were living at the time. I thought it was a good name because it implied something handmade. It also had a very active, ‘get involved and give your opinion’ kind of a vibe – like when people are discussing an issue and voting on it, and they say “Let’s see a show of hands.” Apparently the band Rush also had an album called A Show Of Hands, and when I began doing the zine a lot of people asked me if it was in dedication to Rush. The short answer is: no. Absolutely not!

My family returned to Australia in 1992, and as usual I thought a lot about doing a zine but didn’t actually do anything. Then in 1993, I found out that one of my old friends from Columbus, one of the editors of Rotten Fruit, had died. Matt had been diagnosed with cancer and passed away within a year of diagnosis. He was about 18, I think. The night that we found out about Matt’s death, I had a dream about him, and the next day I began working on A Show Of Hands, I guess as a kind of tribute.

What topics are most often discussed in your zine?
I usually write about my own experiences, memories of growing up, things that puzzle me, whatever. I find that I can make sense of myself and my life that way, and sometimes other people are able to relate and use my writing as a tool to think about themselves, how they might react in similar situations, reflect on when similar things have happened in their lives. I often do lists of things that make me happy – to remind myself and also other people of the good things. And I’m not above getting political, either!

What do you hope to accomplish by establishing your zine?
I hope to be able to keep learning about myself and continuing to value myself, as well as encouraging others to keep learning and valuing themselves. And I want to always be able to maintain an outlet for getting creative and expressive!

What does zine making (and reading) mean to you? What do you love about zine making? What's the most challenging aspect of making zines?
Zines are independent, real, grass-roots, inspiring. Zines are one of the goods things in my life that keep me rockin’ on. The best thing about doing a zine, and also the biggest challenge, is in telling your own truth, and sometimes in reading someone else’s truth!

Do you consider grrrl zines as an important part of a movement of sorts? Do you think zines can effect meaningful social and political change?
Zines are important tools for getting individuals and collectives inspired to activism. For that reason, yes, they have been an integral part of the riot grrrl movement; but zines as activist tools can have a broader application again – just in that they can effect change in individuals, having an influence one by one by one …

What does the zine community mean to you?

The zine community is a means to trade and share ideas. I don’t have a physical zine community where I live, so there’s no support in that fashion, but the ‘virtual zine community’ (to use a wanky term) provides a ready means of finding others to trade with.

What advice would you give others who want to start a zine?

Be as real as you can. Work honourably – send a trade if/when you say you will – I’ve been so guilty of violating this one and it’s not fair to others! If you can afford to do it, trade as much as you can. Here’s a cliché – you’ll be richer getting paid in zine trades than you will by only accepting cash or its equivalent!

What are some of the zines you admire?
Vanessa Berry (She of Laughter and the Sound of Teacups Zine fame) will always get a heads up – her zines are unfailingly wonderful and she’s really prolific! The controversial and now defunct Milkbar Zine by Richard Vogt and Amber Carvan was incredible, as was Kane Barwick’s old Sure Zine. Recently, I like Ianto Ware’s Westside Angst Zine, Lee Tran Lam’s Speakeasy Zine, and Adam Ford’s Jutchy Ya Ya Zine.

Could you please describe a little bit the grrrl zine community in your country?
Not all young women doing zines in Australia identify as feminist, although undoubtedly if questioned that would tell you that, yes, they do think women have the right to walk down the street in a miniskirt alone at night and not get sexually assaulted, and that yes, women should be paid the same amount as a man when doing the same work. Which, frankly, to me, means that someone who believes these things has basic feminist ideals. Australia is a large country and to my knowledge there is no established grrrl zine community, although there are young women with feminist beliefs chaotically and sporadically trading zines with one another all over the country.

Do you define yourself as a feminist? What are the most pressing issues you are confronted with in daily life (as a woman/feminist)?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes … I’m absolutely a feminist! Pressing issues for Australian feminists, I believe, centre on the human rights abuses taking place right under our noses in this country. Aboriginal people in Australia are still struggling to survive in a socially hostile environment, and those who come from across the seas seeking asylum in Australia are being locked up for months and sometimes years in prison-like detention centres while their applications for asylum are being processed. This means women, and more horrifically, it also means infants and children. Australia is undergoing a massive social test presently, in that the generosity and compassion of Australians is being scrutinised. As a country, will we accept these human rights abuses? Will we accept that some people inherently deserve lesser treatment, have lesser rights? Not everyone realises that by accepting this, we signal our growing acceptance of the idea that governments can treat some people as winners, and some people as losers. And not everyone realises that just because you’re being treated as a winner now doesn’t mean you won’t be treated as a loser later. Or your children will be the losers. This nation will be so much poorer socially if the general public accepts the brutal, inhuman treatment of others as being deserved and politically justified.

Are you active in the feminist movement? How?
I have volunteered to welcome newly arrived refugees into the South Australian community; I’ll be starting soon and I’m looking forward to it. I’m not in any organised feminist groups per se, but I do hostess a bi-monthly Ladies' Nite, which is usually held at my house. It’s a networking opportunity for women to get together and just hang out. I invite my close friends and encourage them to invite other like-minded women who would enjoy this sort of thing and not feel too uncomfortable about socialising without men around. It also gives us the opportunity to exchange ideas, work together, etc. Everyone brings something vegan to eat and something to drink, and we listen to music and hang out and ‘shoot the breeze’. I’ve only started this year but it’s taking off slowly and surely.

What do you think about feminism today? Do you see yourself as part of "Third Wave Feminism" and what does it mean to you?
I think that people, not just women, need to be aware of the fact that the battle is not yet over with regard to women’s rights. Certainly white, upper- and middle-class women have experienced some benefit from the feminist movement, but Indigenous women, women of colour, women in less-industrialised nations and their families still experience poverty, discrimination and poor employment opportunities and practices. A better place has still not been fully won for working class women, especially with regard to employment prospects. And even for those who have benefitted from the feminist movement so far, there is still work to be done in securing equity in domestic and workplace settings. No matter which way you slice it, there’s still a ways to go in improving women’s lot in general, as well as the lot of their families. We all know this; I’m not saying anything new.

Feminism to me is part of a broader outlook that might be called humanism. Perhaps the idea of the feminist movement progressing in ‘waves’ is most appropriate when we think about the new battles being fought by feminists to counteract inequity globally. By dint of my age and my political ideals I identify as a third wave feminist. What this means to me is that I recognise the new challenges ahead for feminism and for activists in general and I am excited about using my life joyously in order to help us get where we all need to be.

Which role plays the Internet for you? Does it change your ideas of making zines and doing/reading zines?
The Internet has been an interesting networking tool for me, and it’s meant that I have been able to see how other zine writers and feminists are working. It has not much changed my outlook on how I produce zines or how I read them, except that it has afforded me greater opportunities to find zines that I may not have come across before.

Do you have any suggestions? Something you want to add?
Love your life, enjoy yourself, ask questions, be with people whose company enriches you, be comfortable in both giving and receiving in balance, be passionate in your actions, cherish and maintain your integrity, forgive yourself, have fun.

Thanks! Kiss kiss.


email Michelle at:

write to:
Michelle de Cean
PO Box 376
Stepney, SA 5069


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