We heart her zine on heartbreak, and you will too.
Lina Abascal doesn’t waste time. Her constant hustle, which includes working full-time at the audio content app Bumpers, doing freelance, and pursuing writing in her spare time, contradicts the laziness often attributed to Angelenos (we blame the sun), but she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her most recent project, a collection of essays about an especially painful breakup, aptly named “A Headache From Crying,” deviates from Lina’s self-proclaimed “editorial on the internet” writing background, although you wouldn’t know it from reading the zine, which resonates in a very real way. What began as a personal quest for closure quickly turned into a mini book on love—and its dissolution—that’s already received an overwhelmingly positive reception from heartbreakers and the heart-broken alike. So much so that Lina’s curating a post-Valentine’s Day show here in Los Angeles, where she’ll be reading excerpts from the zine (more on that, below). We sat down with the writer to chat about the self-publishing process, making peace with the unknown, and her advice on getting over heartbreak.
How did your zine, “A Headache From Crying” come about?
It was a really long, drawn-out process, basically from July until November. When the breakup happened, I finally had motivation to write something personal, so I wrote two essays. I had actually written the first one while we were still together, and I didn’t know it was going to be part of a series, but that was part one. When we broke up, I wrote two more and released them on Medium, and they got a really good response, so I decided to write some more. I asked myself, “How can I go about this? I can release them all on Medium, I can contact a blog or a website like Bustle or Refinery 29 and ask if they want to publish them, or I can do something that’s unlike anything that I’ve ever done before and just self-publish it as a physical good, like a zine.” And to my personal inconvenience, that’s what I chose. Then I ditched the first essay, kept the second two, wrote five more, and put them in this zine. I did the layout, I got someone to do the art, and I just sold it myself via social media. I did one month of pre-order, and from there I’m going to do regular orders and try and get the word out outside of social media.
You talk directly to your ex in all of the essays, almost as if they’re letters. Do you find that writing in the second person allowed you to be more vulnerable in this collection?
It was definitely intentional. To be honest, I didn’t really debate what perspective I wanted to write them from. I think I just did the first one in the second person and wanted to keep it consistent. They’re not linear. The last one is the only one that’s fiction, since it’s talking about instances that are not real. Some of the essays are based on assumptions I have or things that I’m pursuing, but the rest of them are all personal memoirs, and then the last one is sort of speculative, fiction—I don’t know what to call it. I needed to take things that hadn’t happened yet to be able to close it out and bookend the zine. But they’re definitely open letter format, which I think people will find relatable because I don’t use names. It was a little bit more anonymous. I didn’t want this to be some “trashing this dude” exposé at all. I think that that’s the easiest interpretation to take, and a lot of people are like, “Oh, Lina wrote this book. It’s about this fucked up dude.” And it’s really not. If that’s all you take from it, that’s cool, but for me it’s about a grieving process. I think anyone who has written anything will understand that.
Oh, absolutely. So, as the essays unfold, it becomes clear that there isn’t a simple answer to why your relationship ended. Did writing them help you get closure?
I still don’t really understand why we broke up, but writing this was my way of trying to interpret it and understand it, or at least come to peace with the concept of, “I don’t ever need to understand it.” I just have to accept it and move on, instead of trying to find one-sentence explanations that make sense to me and that I can tell my parents. My close friends know because they were with me July through November every day, and I would say, “I think we’re going to break up. I don’t think I want to do it but I think he’s going to do it, and I’m going to wait. I’m going to be here until he does it.” And then some days saying, “Maybe I’ll do it.” But to randoms or internet friends or my family, my one-sentence explanation is, he just didn’t want the lifestyle that I wanted. Which is not an insane lifestyle but very Metropolitan; caring about career success, status, and material things on some level. I have no idea how he would explain it to his friends in a way that’s not incriminating. And I never get to know.
That’s the worst part about breakups. There are so many unanswered questions.
Exactly. That’s what prompted this. It was part open letter, part diary. But also me trying to remember and understand the turn of events to see if I missed something. I also knew that if I didn’t do it now, I wouldn’t have those feelings as fresh. The two pieces I think are the best are the ones I wrote right then. I don’t want to stay sad longer than I need to be sad just to find artistic inspiration. I don’t want to subject myself to that. Maybe people think I’m crazy but it helped me.
I still don’t really understand why we broke up, but writing this was my way of trying to…come to peace with the concept of, ‘I don’t ever need to understand it.’
Your zine is powerful and introspective, and in one of your essays, you mention that you’re an extroverted introvert. What do you mean by this?
A lot of people who meet me will say, “Oh, you’re such an extrovert” because I’m loud and enjoy meeting people, and I don’t have social anxiety. Anxiety has become a really hot topic, and I don’t think it’s become more or less common as a mental illness, I just think people are more comfortable discussing it, which is great. But I think it’s also turned into a meme, like “Oh my god, I have anxiety,” and I’m a victim of that too, which is probably insensitive. But I really don’t suffer from that. I don’t love public speaking but I’m not deathly afraid of it. I learned that the difference between being an extrovert and an introvert is how you receive energy, and even though I love being out and about and I’m good at speaking to people, I truly recharge alone. And I read that that’s the exact definition of being an introvert: you recharge by having alone time versus you gain energy by being around other people. My ex-boyfriend is an introvert across the board. He really likes being alone and he’s really good one-on-one. Even my mom was shocked that we worked. I always liked the stereotype of the quiet, nerdy, introverted dude, and maybe I should stop because it’s obviously not working. At first glance, I’m this social butterfly type, but on the inside I really enjoy being alone, being at home, and having time to myself.
Is there a part of you that’s nervous or self-conscious about sharing such a personal piece of work with the world?
Yeah. I think it’s helpful that not that many people are going to read it. Hopefully a lot of people buy it but nowhere close to as many as if it was all online. No one reacted poorly to the Medium release. A lot of people messaged me privately because they weren’t even comfortable retweeting it, even without comment. Some people did but at least 50% of people messaged me privately to say, “I really related to this part” or “This really helped me.” Some people messaged me and were like, “Wow, I feel like I was the other person, and this gave me insight into a situation I have had.” It got a really good reception, which gave me confidence but sometimes I get nervous. When people I know in real life are less supportive than people I know on the internet, I’m like, “Um, what is this?” But I’m trying to not care. My ex already gave me a blessing to do this, and that’s the only reception that I would be worried about. He’s not going to read it but he knows it exists, so I’m not being shady. I didn’t even ask in advance because he’s a writer and I’m a writer, and I thought, “Even if this bothers him at first, I think if he takes a step back, he’ll be happy for me as a writer.” And I was right, which was good. It’s the best shitty outcome you can get.
So true. Your essays explore heartache in such a visceral way. I can’t help but be curious about your thoughts on Valentine’s Day.
I’m sad. I like holidays. I’m on that corny train, so more than some people, I’m actually used to doing cute things on Valentine’s Day. Obviously this year I’m not going to be doing something romantic but I am doing a reading at the gallery Junior High on the 15th. I’ll be reading some excerpts from the zine and then 10 other women friends and randoms on the internet are going to read love-themed pieces. So I’m just trying to think about that instead of being jealous or sad. It’s a bummer but I know Valentine’s Day is stupid. And it would be scary if I already had someone new to spend it with. That’s way too soon.
Do you have any advice for getting over heartbreak?
I don’t want to say this worked for me because I’m not fixed, but I would say talking it out with people and staying busy. I hadn’t done any personal projects while I was in the relationship. There was a hole there and I wasn’t filling it, but I just didn’t notice because I was so preoccupied. I had this list of what I wanted to do in a year and five years, and the difference in my list and his list is a huge reason why we broke up. One of mine was work on a personal project. And so I’m like, “Okay, well this list got me in a bunch of trouble. Let me just do all of it now, otherwise what was the point.”
Speaking of staying busy, you work at Bumpers full-time, are a freelance writer, and have planned some amazing trips around the world on a budget (Sweden, Copenhagen, and Japan, to name a few)–obviously you’re a hustler. What’s your work-life balance like?
I’m pretty good at it. I do all of those things but they’re not running all at once. Maybe I’m doing three out of five things at one time. I’m pretty spoiled because I work from home, so I have these two hours that a lot of people spend commuting to do things that I enjoy, like cook and work out. I’m very lucky in that regard. Now that I have this day job that treats me really well, I don’t have to blog and freelance write. I only do it if I want to. And that freedom of not having to work on a Sunday to pay your rent makes writing much more enjoyable, which I think has a lot to do with why I did this project. I no longer have to write, I just want to. And my hobbies are very in line with my side hustle, so sometimes I feel like I would do them anyway.
Realizing that I’m not a loser for not having my dream job from 10 years ago and letting that dream change over time was important to me.
Yeah, there’s something to be said about having a separation there.
Exactly. When I graduated from college, I wanted to be a journalist with a full-time job in editorial and I couldn’t get one for my life. I was freelancing and then, four years ago, I started working in marketing at startups, and every job I’ve had since then has been in that. For a while, I felt like a failure. I thought, “I went to school for this, I did all of these internships, I have this amazing portfolio, and I think I’m good. Why did no one hire me? I’m a loser.” Then I was dating someone who had my dream job at the time as the editor of Noisey, and I was jealous. But I saw him writing all day and night and hating it, and I saw me doing fun marketing things during the day and coming home and writing for Medium for free and not caring. Creatively, I think I won. This was a good outcome—having the freedom to do what you want on the side and not having to write horrible listicles, which I used to have to do and most people who write freelance full-time have to do. Realizing that I’m not a loser for not having my dream job from 10 years ago and letting that dream change over time was important to me. Whenever I go home for the holidays, people are like, “Are you a writer?” And I’m just like, “Ugh. Let me evolve.”
Ha, yes! So, what’s on the horizon for you?
I’m doing the Junior High reading, and the response has been really good, so as long as the physical outcome mirrors the online response, at least to an extent, I would love to do that as a monthly or quarterly series. I feel a bit displaced in L.A. right now, with my change in lifestyle and becoming single and whatnot, so I’m trying to immerse myself in that. Doing this zine was really interesting for me, and I think I want to start on a new writing project. Possibly a fictional-type project that’s maybe the same length, if not a little bit longer, and give myself a timeline with some flexibility. See how I could repeat this project with different style of content. I definitely want to keep writing, whether it’s for a zine or an e-book or something.