This weekend marks the first day of summer and my 100th day in self-isolation. BC has started the slow process of re-opening. I think it’s safe to call it Phase 2. We can eat inside restaurants again, with space between tables. Non-essential stores are permitted to re-open. Phase 2 means everything is pretty much as it was 100 days ago, except we’re still hoping you’ll wear a mask and keep your distance.

That doesn’t seem to be happening in my neighbourhood. Seeing the pictures from this weekend’s protest in Vancouver, I’m heartened that many were wearing masks. I’m still teaching in person, and I can’t take the risk for my students. I’ll be staying inside a lot, even as the province moves forward. Being reliant on public transit means I can’t keep my distance like I could in a car (and ICBC has not yet figured out how to do physically distanced road tests).

After a few long, rainy days at home, I needed to get out yesterday. It took most of the day, but I worked myself up, and I left the house. Only, I forgot to wear my mask. It’s the first time that’s happened in 100 days, and I felt so guilty. I was one of those people I silently judge from afar.

But some happy news: one of my zines was reviewed in Broken Pencil! I haven’t yet received my copy in the mail, but you can read it online. Last September, I tabled at their national zinefest, Canzine, in Vancouver. At the end of the show, they put out a box to collect books people wish to submit for review. I’m sure I dropped half my inventory in that box, but I was still delighted to see this review. And it’s a good one, too! Thank you, Joshua Barton.

This is such a good example of what it’s like to build an independent creative living that I want to lay it out for you.

I made this zine in August 2015, as a part of my Sunday Zine project, when I made one quarter-page zine every week for a whole year. It was one of my better efforts: a good piece of writing with a simple, minimalist aesthetic that fits my overall style. It’s also a recognisable name and the exact kind of nostalgia that gets people my age to pick something up. So I made the Carmen Sandiego zine a part of my regular zinefest inventory. It usually got attention on my table, if not always sales, which is why I had at least one copy leftover after Canzine to drop in the Broken Pencil submission box.

[that’s a scan of my zine, posted to Instagram, then reposted on my Stories with the added graphic from the 2019 Carmen Sandiego animated series]

Which is how, nearly five years later, my zine gets a review in the biggest Canadian publication about independent publishing. Five years later. That’s how long you have to work on something, stick with something, keep trying something before anyone pays attention. And even when you get a little bit of national attention, it might not amount to much. That zine isn’t currently for sale anywhere. I haven’t received any emails asking about it. Maybe a few interested people have signed up for this newsletter?

Five years since that particular zine, but 11 years since I started down the zine path I’m on now. Because I’ve always been a storyteller, I always made books, even as a kid. (Here’s one from my elementary school years.) Because I’ve always been the odd one out, neither a leader nor a follower, but the one who says, I’ll be over here, doing my own thing, if you wanna check it out. Because I’ve always been the kid who follows the rules, which keeps me from shouting out loud, HEY, LOOK! I spent far too many years just doing the work and hoping someone might discover me.

It doesn’t work like that. If I had the chance to reach back to 17-year-old Jessica, heading into her first summer with no school on the horizon, that’s what I’d tell her. It’s not going to work the way you want it to, so you have to get out of the house and make it work. You have to let people see all of your work, not only the pieces you’re pretty sure are good. You have to put it in front of their faces until they can’t do anything but look. And it’s gonna be difficult, I know, because you have to make them read.

Compared to those five years I worked at zines, bread has been easy. I’m not at the market today, but my upstairs neighbours asked this morning if they could buy a loaf. More than one customer last week expressed their disappointment that I wouldn’t be back until July. And because of COVID-19, we’re not even allowed to have samples! People just love bread.

I’m gonna make them love zines, too. Because I have always been that kid. Because I will always be that kid. Because if this pandemic has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that local is everything, that independence is everything, that the kids who make stuff by hand and sell it at the end of their driveway are going to be the kids who make it work.