Each month we’ll feature a new TinyLetter writer, chat with them about their newsletter, and republish one of their recent issues. This month’s TinyLetter is from Sarah Mirk, host of Bitch Media’s feminist podcast Popaganda, contributing editor at The Nib, and author of the open-minded dating guidebook Sex from Scratch: Making Your Own Relationship Rules.
“From Silence to Pride”
Carl and I were walking down the street in Marseille, France, on Friday night when we heard a tremendous noise. It sounded like a crowd of people were banging on pots and pans and shouting at the top of their lungs in French. That’s exactly what it was—we rounded a corner and saw a small protest march led by women who carried a huge paper maché vagina dentata.
We didn’t even have to ask each other, we both ran after the march to join in. The group wound through the narrow, ancient streets of Marseille, their shouts reverberating off stone buildings hundreds of years old. We rolled past bright bars, restaurants, and plazas full of people enjoying the night and when I stopped and looked over my shoulder, I realized the protest had grown the size of a whole city block. I wish I spoke enough French to understand the protest slogans, but luckily vagina dentata is a universal language.
I’m here in Europe to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins who live in Zurich, Switzerland. But I took the scenic route, spending a week in Barcelona and then meeting up with my old friend Carl to take the train to Girona and Marseille and up through Geneva. It’s been a dream of mine for years and years to visit Europe and I feel been extremely lucky and privileged to have been able to save up the money to actually come here. Marseille makes any city in the United States seem like a joke—it feels like San Francisco, if San Francisco was 3,000 years old.
All along the route from Barcelona to Zurich, we ran into inspiring artists and activists. The vagina dentata march was actually the second feminist protest we’d fallen into that week. In Barcelona, I jumped into the March 8th International Women’s Day protest right behind a thunderous 85-women drumline who beat out a nonstop rhythm for the thousands of marchers. It felt like being in the middle of history—a history that’s unfolding right now.
THIS WEEK’S SLOGAN:
“From silence to pride — We women write history, too.” These posters written in Catalan were wheat pasted all over the medieval walls of Girona.
THIS WEEK’S COMIC:
THINGS I MADE:
For the first new Popaganda podcast since January, I interviewed two women who have fought to keep their families together even as the immigration system has tried to tear them apart. It's called “When Your Parents Are Deported.”
An interview I did last year with writer Evette Dionne on the politics of self-care was quoted in the New Yorker this week . [excited emjoi!]
THINGS I LOVE:
Weird Swiss signs. What is happening on this train and why is it full of bears?
Peanut butter - Please, do not take peanut butter for granted. Peanut butter is hard to find in other countries and it’s all I long for these days.
Buying movie tickets - It turns out Hidden Figures , the original film about African American women working for NASA, made more money at the box office than the mega-hyped X-Men, Star Trek: Beyond , and Jason Bourne. Nice!
Get Out - Speaking of movie tickets, I have been watching the trailer for this politically timely horror film for a over a year . Now it’s finally in theaters! If I could find a showing near me, I would watch it even though I am a absolute sweaty and terrified mess during horror films.
This gentleman at the women’s march in Barcelona. His sign says “For your rights until death.”
SOMEONE TO KNOW:
Maria Rodilla - I was in Barcelona during a big independent comics festival called Graf and did a U-turn when I walked past Maria’s table. Her bold, colorful prints of political slogans make me feel like she has X-ray vision into my heart.
In addition to designing stickers, posters, and bottle openers, she is part of a feminist collective that publishes a Spanish-language sci-fi zine. Amazing. Find her website here and Instagram here .
SOMETHING TO DO:
Listen to a podcast about refugees. This week, a judge declared that Trump’s Muslim Ban is definitely 100% illegal. The This American Life show about the ban illuminates how it instantly derailed the lives of refugees who have spent years and years waiting to come to the United States.
A chat with Sarah Mirk about her TinyLetter, : Mirk Work
When and why did you start writing your TinyLetter?
I love mail. Every time I get a letter in the mail, it feels like a fantastic gift. So about six years ago, I started up a monthly snail-mail newsletter for my friends and family. Almost every month since then, I mailed thirty or so people a few pages photocopied from my sketchbook. It was like a zine in their mailbox every month!
When I decided to leave the country for a bit, I knew it would be impossible to keep it up and decided to rework my print newsletter into a digital version that anyone could sign up for. The digital version is different in that it’s not just about me; it’s a way to highlight people I admire and share music, art, and activism I’ve come across with my friends.
Roughly how long do you spend on each issue?
I probably spend about three or four hours on each issue, including the time it takes to draw the little comics I scan in. Most issues include free things people can download—like a poster or a zine—because I love when my art is useful to someone else . . . even if its main use is just decorating their refrigerator.
I love how Mirk Work incorporates both writing and art. Does writing and drawing for your newsletter help you work out story/comic ideas?
I’ve kept a sketchbook diary for as long as I can remember—literally, my diary from when I was seven is full of comics! I haven’t changed my format much since then, though my spelling has gotten better and I’m not quite as obsessed with the idea of becoming princess of a wolf clan. Drawing is the way I process the world, it’s the way I tell stories and figure out what I’m feeling.
Having a newsletter is helpful because it gives me an excuse to keep drawing. It’s very, very nice to have an audience. Sometimes I’ll be hunched over a drawing and think, “Why am I wasting so much time sketching this dumb hot dog?” But now I can justify all that time and effort by telling myself it’s for my *very important newsletter.*
What do you like best about the newsletter format?
It feels like the most intimate way to keep in touch with a bunch of people on the internet. Opening a newsletter feels more like reading a letter meant specifically for you than, say, scrolling through a Facebook post. I still write as many pen-and-ink postcards as I can, but I like newsletters as a compromise for sharing my thoughts with far more people than I have the postage budget to reach.
Please recommend a few of your favorite TinyLetters.
The first TinyLetter I read that got me thinking about doing my own is Beatrice Martini’s —she works on issues of technology and social justice from an international and feminist perspective. Her newsletters are great resources for activism, I don’t know how she manages to read so much!
Does a MailChimp list count? The daily dose of political comics from The Nib is the first thing I open on my phone in the morning when I’m trying to find productive ways to procrastinate on getting out of bed.
Besides those two, the only newsletters I read regularly are updates from my elected officials, and those are extremely depressing.
Previously in this series: Brandon Taylor, Teri Vlassopoulos