Future Generation Interview by Stacey Greenberg

Before the internet made it easier to network with other alternative parents, before there was a genre of mama zines, or even Hip Mama, there was "The Future Generation: The Zine for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends & Others." Created by China Martens in 1990 (after the birth of her daughter in 1988), the zine was unlike any other. Her mother, who read to her from as early as one month old and fashioned cut-and-paste picture books for her as a toddler, was her original zinester influence. She has a short story "On The Road (with baby)" published in Breeder: Real Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers; is a columnist for Slug and Lettuce; and won the 2002 Baltimore City Paper "Best Of" zine award for "I was...a Student Nurse." Seventeen years later, China is still cranking out issues of her groundbreaking zine—most recently #15 "The Raising Teenagers" issue. She spent the last year compiling all of the issues into one too-good-to-be-true volume: Future Generation: The Zine-Book For Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends And Others China and I have been long-time Internet friends and have collaborated on Mamaphiles, a mama zinester collaboration. When I heard about her new book, I couldn’t wait to (virtually) sit down and chat with her about the journey that led to it.
Stacey Greenberg: So why did you decide to put out a zine in the first place?
China Martens: I wanted to create an information and support network for alternative parents. There wasn’t anything like that at the time. It was very rare to meet other parents like myself. We were all hungry for information, departing off the "known" path of the way we were raised. It was hard being a parent in the subculture because you lost some of the support and resources you had first gained within it: you no longer could keep up in the same way because you were a parent. But you didn’t fit in with mainstream parents or parenting resources either. We needed to communicate with each other, and for the first time I felt I was experiencing issues that there wasn’t already a zine or a movement based around addressing. There was not even a single zine that had parenting essays in it or was made by a parent. (Not that I saw anyway, and I had been around a lot of zines in what felt, at the time, like the heyday of zines.) The closest thing I could find was Mothering Magazine which had the natural parenting stuff I believed in, but absolutely nothing political in it, or punk, or said anything about how to put your ideals into action when you were living the nitty-gritty life. (Like if you were poor or stressed out).
SG: How did you come up with the name, The Future Generation?
China: I don't totally remember. I think it was because it was a phrase one often heard and it put importance on what that meant, for society, for us all. As a parent you suddenly become very much concerned with the future that your child is going to grow up into and connect with the idea of generations more, of your past and future. Before I was a parent, I wasn’t even sure if I would have a future. I think that was very common in those days, to wonder if you would even live past 21. The switch from being a young person, into being a young adult and parent, meant now I had more responsibility for the outcome of things. I wanted my zine to have personal experiences but also theories, to look at the bigger picture, to be something that folks without children (like many of the anarchists and alternative types around me) could get into to. (i.e. How do the little actions of today affect the future?) I think child-raising issues are extremely interesting and encompass anthropology, sociology, and philosophy as well as hands-on-experience with putting your theories into practice. "The Future Generation" sounded like a good serious title. It’s not just each of our own children; it’s all of our children. It’s society. It’s what we hope to see. We know where we’ve been. Now where are we going?
SG: How did the "anarchists and alternative types" around you respond to TFG?
China: Mostly very positively. I think the anarchists got it most of all. I still have saved a review of TFG issue #7 in Slug and Lettuce: This is an excellent zine that in my opinion gives feminism a different twist. I find it hard to describe because the articles are very revealing and informative. It’s got well researched stuff about women, and unlike most feminist and/or riot girl zines it doesn’t come off with too much anger and hatred. The essay about motherhood is particularly very "moving" and filled with substance. Sometimes punk publications have responded by dismissing my zine as hippie (one of the worst insults in punk circles) or good "if you are interested in that kind of thing." There was a serious issue, in the punk and ecological movements, with the concept of overpopulation and that to have children was socially irresponsible. Feminist publications (in the early days) have also dismissed me, not reviewing my zine or even taking my issues seriously, not wanting to deal with the whole topic of "motherhood" beyond being an oppressive role. Motherhood was a very uncool topic to broach. That’s important to note too – that across the board, I would say, it was not something very "cool" with anyone. (Except for the status quo, they were all over "family values" but I was not status quo. In fact I kind of felt in danger from the status quo, they would like to take away my child for looking different or doing things against the grain.) Generally it made people laugh or take notice because my subject matter was just so different compared to any other zine around back then. I know your question only asked me how the alternative types responded to me, but I think it’s of note to say that the mainstream press wouldn’t have touched anything I wrote with a ten foot pole.
SG: What has it been like going from "zinester" to "author"?
China: It is wonderful! Now I’m not sure if it’s also because of my age (41) or that I had to really work to get here, because I don’t think it would feel the same way if I was younger and was coming out with my first book, but I’m not sure. It’s just so re-affirming. I can tell you I am some of the happiest I have ever been in my life – I feel so satisfied with this accomplishment. I’ve been writing for so long, when anyone cared or not, and often against my family’s wishes. My father always thought being a writer was like being a bum and my daughter echoed his sentiments in her adolescence. Adolescent daughters can be really cruel. I don’t think there is anyone who knows how to hurt you better. I got used to holding onto my writing, for myself. I will never give up on that. You can’t take that away from me. In my thirties, after failing to attain a career or two, I decided to just call myself a writer. It’s all I am, all I can be, all I want to be. I work any job I can get but what I do with my life is write. I’m not saying that I’m a "good" writer but that I spend a lot of my time writing and trying to write and fighting to write. I have an attitude that is bound to feel good in failure, although that can get a little bitter at times. So now in a time of success (my number one goal since I was 13 was to be a published author) I am really enjoying it for all its worth. I feel like I am playing pretend! I mean I haven’t seen the actual book yet, it’s coming back from the printer’s next week. But I get to change my bio on workshop proposals and stuff, from zine editor to author. It feels like a big step to me, not just having a book but the work that went into making a larger collection of what I have written. I grew with that process. (It was like a marathon or something. I was always running shorter races. Now I feel I know how to follow a bigger project to its conclusion.) My dad and my daughter have been softening up in the last few years, and I think when they see me get some recognition from the world, it makes them feel better about what I do with my time and the cost it takes to do that. My daughter, at this point, is busting out with joy and pride in me. She is past being a teenager, she is a young adult. So I am like "Weeee!" on easy street. I raised a kid and wrote a book. Even my dad said to me "This thing you do, although you don’t get any money for it, it’s good you do this thing you do." That is the most positive thing he has ever said to me on the subject. He usually asks me how my friend (hip mama editor) Ariel Gore is doing, if she lives off her writing yet. And when I say "No," then he isn’t impressed. But I don’t write for them! That’s the thing. Being published can’t change what your family thinks of you. I believe writers can have difficulty with their family life, but my family has come to stand behind me anyway, and this book makes it easier to do that sometimes. (i.e. "Wow. She’s not just 41 with this zine. She has a book.) I want to put out more! You can probably tell that I am in a very positive mind frame right now. And no one has even seen or reviewed the book yet! But I’ve seen it and it looks great, it is totally what I want it to be. We have worked two years for this book to come out and now I am going on the "Crazy Dreams & Ideals" Tour with Ariel Gore and Annie Downey. Am I going to enjoy this time in my life? Hell Yea! Last year I was depressed turning 40. I was just poor, tired, and ugly. But now I am a book author. This might all sound very superficial, and I am just playing around some. But the point is I have something to show for my life. It’s been two years of getting this together, compiling 15 years of making a zine that spans my parenting life, and working with others…to make this book that is really beautiful and all encompassing. I am really happy with this project. And happy it’s done! (I was not happy working on it, it was hard work.) I mean it’s big. This is a big deal to me. And no matter what others think of it, I have this book for myself, for my daughter, for my friends…and many more people who will get a chance to see my work. Basically my life’s work at this point. Or is it just the beginning? Yea, I’m excited. But I think I am pretty grounded in my expectations. As a zinester, I understand process. I am involved in every step, but I’m not going it alone and I don’t have to pay to xerox it. (Now that I don’t have copy shop connections anymore.) My time as a zinester has definitely prepared me for this. Books take longer to come out and can go to more people. Zines are a joy to have control over yourself and make as you like. Both are a good thing. My first book is a mutant: it’s a zine-book. You have caught me at a good time, with this question. I have also experienced aggravation at times, with the unique feeling of helplessness that comes from not doing it all yourself when you are used to doing it yourself. Also it is more of a nerve wracking process, pulling off a larger sized project, than it is to do a zine. The rewards of zines are numerous, and they can be more fresh, unique, timely, and I think more free. I did a new issue of my zine after I handed in my manuscript and it was such a great feeling to slip back into that realm, to express myself and publish on my own terms and time-table, and with the feeling of informality. Books can be intimidating. Zines are more humane.
SG: I'm so happy for you! A book tour sounds really exciting--what's it like?
China: It is really, really fun! And Ariel will be 6 months pregnant! Last time we would always get a drink before we read to shake off the nerves but not this time! I think it will be more tame like that, lots of taking care of ourselves cuz it’s also a bit longer of a tour. BUT if you like road trips, you will like touring. You get to see new things all the time! And meet new people that are nice to you and see new bookstores that you get to read in! And it’s a whirlwind sometimes, sensory overload of all these new interesting people and sights, so it gets silly and surreal - and you laugh and bond with your tour mates. And it’s kinda like being in the circus. You are rushing to get to the next place....then you get nervous. Will anyone show up? Will you read ok? Will they like it? And then when you are done, you feel so bold and good that you did it that you read on stage and people clapped. You are really happy and can relax and talk and chill and where are we sleeping anyway? And where are we going? Then you wake up and do it again! Some days are a lot of driving - 7 hours! Sometimes you have to wake up really early. So I think with Ariel pregnant, we should do a good job of healthy eating and resting and taking care of her and hopefully the traveling will be ok. I know it can be uncomfortable to travel with a belly—hell I did it a lot, but it’s kind of also really essential if you want to raise a little lucky world traveler-to-be. The motion rocks them in the womb and they wind up feeling happy and talking deep thoughts during travel, for the rest of their lives. I know my daughter is like that. Touring is a rare chance for a writer to be social and to enjoy themselves and talk to other writers and readers. It’s the party time, no daily responsibilities like cleaning the house or cooking supper and going to work. When we get home then we have to get back to normal, start our next project, and take out the trash and all that. But touring is totally, very rock and roll!
SG: So what’s next for you?
China: Is it alright if I take this question literally? What’ s next for me is to take a shower, get dressed, pack all my zines and get on the train to go to the first Anarchist Bookfair in New York City where I am moderating a workshop called, "Don't Leave your Friends Behind: Anarchism & Supporting Parents and Children." This workshop is a project developed by Victoria Law and myself which has been evolving since we first did it last year in Boston at La Revolta! (An Anarcha-Feminist Festival). We are interested in communicating with the child-free radical community in how to support parents’ and children’s needs. This has been evolving into networking with others (Jennifer Silverman and Amy Hamilton will be joining us as presenters for this one), and for me, an interest in organizing radical childcare. (I organized Kids Corner at the Mid-Atlantic Radical Bookfair last year, a first! For me, and for the bookfair.) We are now editing a book together, with Jessica Mills (Maximum Rock n Roll columnist "My mama wears combat boots") collecting the experiences and writings from the anarchist parents listserv and radical community into a Rad Parents Allies Handbook. It’s exciting stuff. As my daughter has grown, it’s given me free hands to involve myself in some activism as an older, not-actively-raising-a-child woman, to use my experiences to try to build better support networks for the children and parents coming up now, and I really like it. But this is all kind of... I don't know...serious stuff. It’s not very personal but more community minded. It feels good to be involved with others too. But it’s something I do a little bit, time to time, that doesn't really have too much to do with me as a writer. I mean it does, but I do other writing too besides parenting stuff—it’s just that the parenting stuff is better known at this point. What I really want to work on is writing a novel! I have been working on this creative-nonfiction novel for a while now and I really love working on it. It’s a really liberating place to write creatively, and not as any form of activism, but more just art and self-expression. I am hoping now that I have finished one book, or zine-book, it will not be intimidating to me anymore and now I can finish this second book easier. So far I enjoy writing on this novel a lot more than I did working on the zine-book, but I suppose that is also because it’s a new inspiration and not just compiling old ancient things. I am fearful, because I actually like writing this novel, that no one will like it. (I believe the inverse is going to be true with my zine-book. I really believe people will like it, that it has an audience. And I totally hated working on that. The whole process was like pulling my fingers across a chalkboard, but I love the results!) But that’s ok. I just want to write and finish this novel, my first one. My number one goal with that project is just to finish it. Even if it sucks and only I like it. And then I will write another one.
You can order "The Future Generation: The Zine-Book for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends & Others" from http://www.atomicbooks.com/products/-/12973.html or ask for it at your local independent bookstore. Also to check out the "Crazy Dreams and Ideals" (April 20-28) Book Tour schedule with China Martens, Ariel Gore, and Annie Downey: http://www.arielgore.com and http://anniedowney.com/ Stacey Greenberg is the creator of the zine, Fertile Ground: For People who Dig Parenting.