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August 31, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Melanie Fey

Kate Hart

headshot of Melanie Fey
Today's interview is a two-part feature, because this pair of ladies presented too much badassery to fit in one post. Melanie Fey and Amber McCrary are a pair of Native writers who create, among other things, a zine called Native American Feminist Musings. They both turned in stellar interviews, so a coin flip decided on sharing Melanie today -- be sure to come back next week for Amber's, and scroll down for a giveaway!


"Native Zinestress:  Send zine inquiries and submissions to:"
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Melanie: Right now I am a book minion at Multnomah County Library which I do love enormously but one of these days I hope to be a full-time writer and hopefully not a starving one. When I'm not trying to figure out what to do with my life, all of my energy goes into making zines and/or writing poetry and prose. Fingers crossed that I'll have my first book of poetry completed by the end of this year. I've also been threatening to write a novel for some time now; we'll see if that actually happens. As for passion, I've always had this really freaky obsessive need to write, even when I was a little kid. Beginning in elementary school, I remember trying to write short stories and poetry and getting extremely frustrated by not being able to express myself the way that I wanted to on paper. By age 18, I saw college as my only ticket out of my home town Flagstaff, AZ, which I loathed at the time. So I packed up, went to ASU and majored in Creative Writing because it was really the only thing that I saw myself doing. I just wanted to get my kicks and write it all down Jack Kerouac-style. I still don't know where the storyteller craving comes from though. It's just always been there, embedded in my bones.

Native Zinestress poster
Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)?

Melanie: The thing I love about making zines is that you can tap into all sorts of creativity. Writing, drawing, painting, collaging, Xeroxing, Photoshoping, etc. It's like a whirlwind of different art mediums colliding onto a single page. Absolutely delightful. However, when I get hit with a creative block, all I have to say is: one person dance parties. Get creative with it. Get weird. Lots of ideas get born if you allow yourself to get weird.

all 3 copies of Native American Feminist Musings on displayKate: What's your biggest challenge?

Melanie: My biggest challenge would have to be myself. It's a serious juggling act: managing my time, constant pep-talks, self-discipline, self-care, breathing exercises to keep anxiety in check, etc. Oh, and fighting white male capitalist patriarchy. That's a pretty tough challenge too.

Kate: Tell us about a time that you bounced back from failure.

Melanie: Failure is one of those tricky words because I've found that oftentimes people are reluctant to use it. An example being that failure isn't so much failure as it is a learning experience that one is expected to grow from. Growth means progress and progress couldn't possibly mean failure, right? But sometimes that "failure" feels so soul-crushing that it's nearly impossible to put any sort of positive spin on it. I've only felt like this one time and it took years to snap myself out of it.

I had graduated from ASU in 2008 when the economy had just gone into the crapper. My head was filled with idealistic dreams at that time and I was convinced that I was going to be wealthy and accomplished despite the current financial status of the economy. At the time, teaching English in Japan seemed like a pretty sweet gig. It paid well, I'd be able to travel new territory, hopefully make enough cash to pay off my student loans and then return to grad school in the next year or two. I'd somehow swindled a Japanese ELL company into hiring me, boarded a plane and arrived in Fukuoka, expecting to call the Land of the Rising Sun my home for the next year. However, within a matter of days, I began to question my decision. It was one obstacle after another, having to fend off the harsh judgments of other white male ELL teachers who criticized and gossiped about me behind my back. I felt awkward and uncomfortable in the business suit I was required to wear every day. As an introvert, I found it incredibly difficult to be "on" all the time as an instructor, teaching between 6-8 classes a day. My body wasn't adjusting to the food and my anxiety was through the roof. It was the loneliest place I had ever been in my entire life and by the 4th month my brain broke. Physically and mentally I was not well. So I made a quick decision to get the hell out of there. I scoured my contract and found one loophole that I could use to break it. I scrubbed my apartment, gave away all of my belongings that I couldn't fit inside my suitcase, and then delivered a letter to my superiors with details about the loophole I had found. And they were pissed. After having survived an intense interrogation where several of them tried to make me stay, I ultimately made my argument convincing enough that they had no choice but to let me leave. Now, in any job this would look bad, breaking your contract. But in Japan, where their work ethic and standards are more rigid, this was like sacrilege. And yet, I was still determined to go, for my own self-care. They brought in an emergency teacher; I bought a ticket last minute, got lost on a subway and then finally made it on a plane heading for LAX. All of this had happened over a matter of 5 days with very little shut-eye and by the time I got home, I fell into bed and slept for 20 hours straight. Once I had come out of my delirium, my self-esteem plummeted through the fucking floor.

When you're in college, everyone tells you to follow your dreams. What they don't do is prepare you for when those dreams catch fire and explode right in your very chest: failure. I was so embarrassed when I returned home. I was afraid to let people know that I had come back because everyone had been so proud of me for getting hired overseas in the first place. I hid out and acquired several mediocre jobs that I hated, grad school sinking further and further away into the background as I struggled to pay off my student loans (I'm still trying to pay them off to this day). But then, with an insurmountable amount of determination, I managed to get hired at the library. What can I say? Books saved me. I slowly gained back my confidence, began to take pride in my work again. Then I discovered the library's zine collection (they have over 1,400 zines!). I had found my outlet. Once Amber and I decided to make a zine, I decided to go all in; there'd be no catching the quickest flight out of town this time. Although I'm still not fully recovered from my Japan experience, I'm still accumulating more self-confidence every day. Healing takes time but patience is what matters. Patience, compassion and movement are all essential for growth along with knowing when to say no. Basically, in a nutshell, your gift is always calling out to you, but sometimes you have to go through a lot of bullshit to find it. But once you do, accomplishment feels like laying your head on the warmest, softest bosom imaginable.

Melanie Fey performs at a poetry reading
Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Melanie: When people ask me to read poetry at their events! And then other people actually show up! And stay the whole way through the performance! I've written a lot of bad poetry, so I was always kind of scared to put myself out there. But when people come up to me after my readings, and let me know that my work has got them thinking and feeling, well, that gives my life meaning. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work?

Melanie : A defining moment that galvanized my understanding of and commitment to feminism was when I got my mother's name, along with the medicine wheel, tattooed on my left shoulder several years ago. My relationship with Shimá (mom) was a tumultuous one. My parents divorced when I was 3 and my father was given full custody of both me and my older sister which most can probably agree is incredibly rare and maybe even odd. We hear a lot about single mothers in our society, not a lot about the single fathers.

My mother's tendency to indulge in drink often kept her away and unreliable. When she did show up, drunken fiascoes usually ensued. It's confusing enough having an unstable and absent parent, but this was doubly confusing for me because traditional Diné culture is matriarchal. Diné women typically own the land and the livestock which they then pass down to their daughters. Also, at birth, every Diné person is given 4 clans which are passed down to them through family lineage, but that first clan always comes from the mother. So, as a kid, I often wondered, where is the matriarch? And why did she abandon me? When she finally met her demise and passed away when I was 15 years old, I came apart at the seams. With nonexistent positive female role models in my life during my early childhood, I became extremely distrustful of all women, maybe even misogynistic.

It was only after the passage of many years that I met and read the work of some very strong and wonderful women. I buried my head in books where I learned about addiction, intergenerational trauma, colonization and boarding schools, all factors that contributed greatly to who my mother was as a person. For the first time ever, I also decided to put my self-destructive tendencies aside and focus on healing. And healing gave birth to decolonizing. I discovered the medicine wheel which represents emotional, mental, spiritual and physical equilibrium. The combining of feminism with decolonization informed my decision to identify as an Indigenous Feminist. I realized that the only way for me to heal and move on with my life in a good way was to forgive my mother, and to realize that despite all of the hardships that she put me and my family through, she did/does truly love us. I could choose to remember all of the bad things, or choose to remember the times she held me when I was sick or when she made me hot milk when I couldn't sleep. Getting her name and the medicine wheel tattooed on me was a kind of permanent peace offering, a constant reminder about how empowering forgiveness and letting go can be.

Amber and Melanie in a pumpkin patch
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Melanie: Please don't see other women as your competition! It is a toxic mindset and only serves to further divide us which makes the abolition of patriarchy that much more difficult. Instead, give each other high fives. That's my advice. Oh! And one more thing, I think using any sort of position of privilege as a means of highlighting the struggles, pointing out injustices or raising awareness about inequality is huge. My college degree, my print hookup for the zines, my ablebodiedness, etc. are all means of privilege. I acknowledge that not everyone possesses these things and so I've decided to utilize them in the best way that I can. By making the zines, Amber and I can raise awareness about not only feminist issues but Indigenous, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, etc. issues as well. I would encourage everyone else to do the same.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Melanie: Hózhǫ́ homies! That's my best advice. In traditional Diné culture, hózhǫ́ is what every Diné person is striving for. It can be loosely translated as beauty, balance, harmony, peace, everything in moderation, etc. Once one steps outside of hózhǫ́, her equilibrium and medicine wheel is thrown totally out of whack! So basically, hózhǫ́ is just a way of telling you to empower yourself before you wreck yourself (but in a humble way mind you). But on the off chance that you do wreck yourself (which we all do eventually), channel all of that discord into whatever creative passion you have. Turn it into something cathartic and productive and move on. That's about as badass as you can get.

Win all 3 editions of Native American Feminist Musings zine!
US only


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Melanie Fey is a Diné (Navajo) writer, zinester and Indigenous feminist. She hails from Flagstaff/Dinétah, AZ but currently resides in Portland, OR. She acquired a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing from Arizona State University and spends her days working as a public library book minion. Melanie is one of two co-creators/editors of the Native American feminist zines Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself, The Nizhoni Beat and Shik'is ShiHeart. Look for her other published works in Red Rising Magazine, As/Us: A Space for Women of the World and Fix My Head #8.

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