Permission to be Vulnerable

An Interview with Remi Germaine.

I was born and raised in Provo, Utah. I’ve bumped around to a few towns, but have never left Utah. I found my way back to Provo where most of my family resides. The first thing people associate with Utah is that it’s the land of Mormons. Truthfully, Provo is really no different or even more religious than other cities. Not having grown up not in the dominant religion always made me feel like I didn’t belong. I despised this wholesome, stuffy city for the longest time. And when I got older I realized how special it is to have a place I know is home. 

After letting go of my angst, I was able to see the good things this town carries. We have a healthy art and music scene, and two nearby colleges. There’s a monthly art walk which is a bit trendy but it's fun nonetheless. Because most of the people here are Mormon, no alcohol is served at public events. Going to a music show and not getting sloshed on by some dude’s drink is actually kinda nice! When going out, I feel like I don’t belong and don’t understand a lot of the culture around me, but I’ve managed to find a lot of curiosity in it. I enjoy roaming around as an observer, recognizing that I didn’t choose this place as my home, but it's home regardless.

Life’s been interesting since quarantine swept through. I ended up losing my 9-5 job, and suddenly found myself with a ton of time on my hands. I wasted the first little bit being sad and sleeping. Nowadays, I’ve found more balance. In fact, I started goal-setting and list-making. I wake up and check my to-dos and reach out electronically to my loves. Working in my art journal is always how I start my day. This helps me to get over my clumsiness and into a good frame of mind. I set two goals for each day. One is to start and finish something, which usually involves a drawing or a journal spread. The other is to chip away a long term project. Sometimes that’s working on a zine, or art work for a larger project. 

Thanks to Instagram, I’ve been able to create a nice little online community, receiving more feedback and encouragement in these past few months than ever before. Doing art and zine trades has helped elevate my confidence in what I’m creating. At the end of each day, I most look forward to completing my to-do list. Call it dorky if you want, but seeing myself inch towards new art goals is really satisfying.

Art’s always been part of my life. My father is a retired art teacher and my mother is a hardcore scrapbooker. Growing up, we had endless heaps of art supplies. Even more than that, my parents showed me that there’s no wrong or right way to be creative. Unfortunately, I was never great at applying myself. I breezed through grade school art classes because it came easy to me. I ended up studying illustration in college but dropped out after two years. I’m a super anxious person and college amplified my anxieties. Really, I just ended up spending a lot of money to be miserable and unable to create connections with people. 

After dropping out, my sister and I went through art phases. We did screen printing for a long time together, and some paper mâché sculpture making, too. I picked up letter writing and mail art, but everything changed when a pen pal had sent me a zine. Soon, I quickly gravitated toward zine making. I only started to take myself seriously after tabling at a zine festival. 

Having all of my zines from the last few years compiled and displayed, I realized how much art I’d been creating, and I kind of thought I’d given up on it. Zines ended up being so powerful for me. They’re able to combine everything I love so much about illustrations and story telling. They gave me a chance to be vulnerable and create connections with people, which is what I always wanted to gain from creating. This is a theme I’ve been focusing on a lot lately. Being vulnerable is often seen as a weakness. This is so wrong. Sharing all the sensitive, dark, gooey bits of human experience is what bonds us with people. People having more empathy and connections to each other isn’t going to make things worse. I create zines that highlight the issues I’m personally grappling with, though I happen to dress them up in fairly adorable illustrations. This is just my way of communicating. I create art to build connections and give permission to be vulnerable.

I find inspiration from zine makers. Having built up a zine collection is probably the greatest thing I could’ve done for myself. Sometimes when I feel like I have an idea that might be too much or too silly, it helps to see how other people have told their stories. This makes telling my stories feel a lot more achievable. I’m also inspired by my pen pals who consistently give me honest advice. They send me paintings and drawings, magical little envelopes filled with encouragement and beautiful things that make me want to send creative things in return.

My main motivation for creating is sharing stories and building connections. I’ve noticed if I just plop a story into a zine very matter of factly, it can close people off. However, creating a zine that invites the person to look into their own personal experiences is what stirs more of a connection. Poems happen to do this very well because they have a way of dancing around their meaning, waiting for you to draw your own conclusions. That’s what I aim to achieve a hint of when I create (poets that I gravitate towards: EE Cummings, Sylvia Plath and Shel Silverstein).

When I find myself in a creative funk, there’s a combination of things I normally do to shake myself out of it. First, I switch to a different medium. I mostly do illustrations, so this could mean making a sculpture, carving a lino block, a sewing project, paper making or picking up my ukulele. Second, I check in with how I’m talking to myself. These funks usually show up when I’m thinking about myself negatively, so diving into a new project and self affirmations can usually do the trick.

The very first time I tabled at a zine festival, I had one of the most surreal experiences. I’d created a mini series of zines about heartache. Honestly, everyone has had their heart broken, so it didn’t seem too terribly unique. The first zine is about failed loves, and the second is about recovering from those loves. This guy came up to my table, picked up the first one and started crying after reading it. I felt really bad and started apologizing. Maybe he’d recently gone through a bad break up. I suggested he read the second one, which might offer more encouraging words. After reading it, he thanked me and managed to compose himself. I think by then, he was more embarrassed than anything else. I think about that guy a lot. I think about how much he made me realize the power of shared experiences.

I live for these moments. At the end of my days, I want to be known for encouraging others to feel their feelings and for my capacity for empathy.

My name is Remi Germaine. I’m an avid glasses wearer and honey bee admirer. I create zines, illustrations, mail art and art journals. I use creativity to navigate though the world and create connections.

©Alchemy & Elegy