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Feeling Seen with their Zine

A group of four people Vinfen serves and Adult Community Clinical Services (ACCS) Peer Specialist Kristen Higgins have been meeting at least once a week since February to create a personal, imaginative, and beautiful zine, which they titled Off the Record. Recently their zine was on sale at SEEK + FIND Boston New Zineland 2019 on March 24 at the Elks Lodge in Cambridge, MA. This community festival featured zines from over 90 artists from all over the United States for two days. A zine is a self-published work of text and images that covers a broad range of topics that often is created by cutting and gluing content together to form a booklet of artistic expression.

The group formed a unique bond while developing their zine and thought the artistic process was both interesting and enjoyable. Kristen had presented this idea at first with a flyer when she started working at Vinfen to gauge interest. “I made a point to really connect with people when I first started, over art. I connected best with people who engage with art because it is just something I can understand from that perspective. By this, I thought I could offer myself in the best way,” Kristen explained. Kristen has been journaling since the age of 7 and had discovered the zine community within her personal life, which she then brought to Vinfen after starting in August of 2018.

Geno, a person Vinfen serves, has three of his personal and honest essay style pieces in the zine. “I can touch on anything, like sports for example, even though there is a lot of duality in my writing. I like to take multiple elements and apply it,” Geno described. He was unsure at first of the idea about creating a zine. “It was a good experience. I was a little bit apprehensive at first because I haven’t written anything in a while or taken part in anything. As I saw stuff coming in and it slowly coming together, that’s what prompted me to meet my own deadlines,” Geno explained. He enjoys their zine especially because it is something physical that the team can hold on to with such great memories attached. Geno believes artwork is an extension of one’s own self.

Another author of Off the Record is Richard Sheingold who contributed five profound poems. His favorite page is page seven, which he writes about his favorite person in the world: Grandma Rose. “Because I had difficulty growing up and my grandmother was always there for me and I just love her to pieces, I just wanted to make sure I wrote a poem about her,” Richard expressed. He wanted this poem to honor her and the impact she has had on his life. Richard explained that there was no pressure during the creation process, and everyone could contribute what they wanted. Kristen then put the pieces together. “The whole thing is put together artistically, it really is. She should get credit for that,” added Richard.

Other contributors included an artist whose abstract pencil and pastel drawings are featured on the front cover and on page six. He particularly enjoys drawing gestures and the use of shadowing, and hopes to expand into other areas of artistic expression including photography and writing. Another author included four different pieces of insightful poetry, including a haiku that is displayed on the first few pages of the zine. Off the Record was truly a team effort as everyone submitted their materials and others offered suggestions or constructive criticism. In the end, it was the authors choice if he or she wanted to make changes to their piece.

Kristen really wanted to make Off the Record something that the group was proud of. She was able to use her own personal experience as well to connect with the group. “One of the things I like about my job is that I can disclose my lived experience. It’s literally my job to disclose, and we actually held a peer panel with our entire team. I told my story front to back and people know now. If I had that when I was going through my own stuff, you know, someone who was a staff person but also had that deep knowledge of what pain is, it would of made a world of difference,” Kristen voiced. The group of authors together decided what their statement would be on the cover with each person adding to the message. The last page contained something Kristen wrote to explain to their readers the reason why this zine was created. She said, “Over the course of 6 weeks, five artists came together to create this zine. You just read all of their contributions, which were work-shopped among ourselves during those weeks. Your purchase of this zine goes directly back to this efforts, and tells us that things we make are valuable.” She then left the audience with the following words of wisdom.

“Be kind to everyone you meet. We are all going through something. We all hold some kind of pain. We all seek understanding, we all deserve to be witnessed.”

Pictured above is Kristen and Richard at the zine festival holding copies of Off the Record.