Revisiting Seamfulness: a guest blog by Paula Cameron
We were delighted to link up recently with Paula Cameron.
We found Paula’s doctoral thesis at an early stage in our own thinking about the MadZines project. It was a narrative‐based and arts‐informed inquiry into young women’s “depression” as a source of transformative learning. Paula’s ideas – in particular about the seamfulness of zines, and her description of a seamful methodology – have influenced our work. By contrast with more seamless approaches, seamful inquiry ‘brings vulnerability and the body back into the academic story’. In Paula’s guest blog, she reflects on how this ethos infuses both her scholarship and her ‘seamful’ family.
In 2012, I completed a dissertation on zines and mad knowledge. Part of my manuscript was a 39-page zine that contextualized my work, entitled seamfulness.
Looking back ten years later, my life and advocacy feel more seamful than ever. I am now a solo adoptive parent of M., a marvelous eight-year-old spitfire.
M. entered my life seven years ago. But parenthood emerged alongside gender-based violence. This prompted me to move forward in my life, family, community, and career in radical ways that I had not expected. Seamfulness as a body of creative and scholarly work was set aside, as I poured my creativity and energy into parenting, healing from trauma, and surviving.
But the zine ethos continued to be part of me and my way of relating to the world. In December 2019, I found a comic self-portrait I had made at the age of twenty-one. My mother had tucked it into a baby book full of fuzzy headed baby pictures.
In the comic self-portrait, I was standing to the left, curiously (but also fittingly) off-centre, pigeon toed and wearing a second-hand peasant shirt I was quite partial to in that era.
Looking at the drawing, M. came up behind me and said, “Momma, I should be in that picture. You are with me now.” (She is quite indignant that any life was lived before her!) So I added her to the drawing beside me, fitting in as if I had reserved her space twenty five years ago. (Plus, the declarations of love for one another, also dictated by M.)
Revisiting seamfulness ten years later, I think this drawing is a perfect (re)starting point. M. has been the greatest teacher I’ve ever known. I don’t think she could embody the zine spirit any more than she does… she questions hierarchies, invents things with cardboard and found objects, and struggles against so many adult misperceptions of mad children.
My M. is part of this same mad, questioning community. I took her to her first protest at age four, a women’s march for trans BIPOC women. She marched up to the front of the crowd and asked to speak into the megaphone. She told the crowd she loved them, and they responded in turn. (Later, she said to me, “Momma, if I had known there would be speeches, I would have prepared one.”)
M. was identified as autistic at age seven, and like many parents, I learned my own neurodivergence through her. She has struggled so much with school refusal and school-based trauma, with dismissive and condescending professionals, constant judgment of her intense anxiety, and need for safety, as “misbehaviour”, and with a web of medical conditions that will require out of country surgical treatment.
Through all this, she and I have built a curious, playful, loving, respectful and imperfectly seamful family together. We have found virtual disabled communities that share clinical knowledge and express lived expertise… very much in the spirit of zines. And thanks to the generosity of online disabled communities, she is now so much happier in our neurodivergent-positive, disabled home. And we both know what we need to do, even if it still feels so hard some days.
It’s time for me to return to zines, as a place for rough-edged and hard-won stories. I don’t know where this return might lead, but self-expression and connection with community have always been driving forces, spurring zine creators along.
And I have small but mighty creator alongside me, providing inspiration and radical insight, and no doubt, asking many hard questions and making myriad editorial suggestions, as I find my way.
I am inspired and thankful to have met Jill and Helen, and learn about the MadZines project. Community is indeed everything.
March 23, 2022