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The Future Generation: a zine for subculture parents, kids, friends, and others

An interview with China Martens
from Baltimore City, USA

by Elke Zobl

December 2004


Issue #1, April 1990


Zine publisher of 14 years (!!), China Martens has been involved in the mama zine community with many projects: She writes and publishes her zine
The Future Generation since 1990, participated in MamaPhiles: a mama zine collaboration, writes a column for Slug and Lettuce, and has published a story in Breeder: Real-Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers. Here, she not only shares her thoughts about zine publishing in invaluable insight into the history of mama zines. Enjoy!

For the interview see below and for the mama zine history, click here:

A Subjective History of Mama Zines/Organizations and Related Topics

 

Can you tell me first of all a little bit about yourself? How old are you, where are you originally from and where do you reside now?

I'm 38 years old. I was born outside of Baltimore and I currently reside in Baltimore City. I grew up moving around a lot: Pennsylvania, Indiana, Texas, Germany, DC suburbs; and after I left home I moved around a lot too. My daughter was born in Colorado and we lived in California for a while. Baltimore is the closest I have to a home town and the longest I have lived anywhere.

What do you do besides your zine?

I try to be a human being and live. Just LIVE! You know. I write a whole lot, raise my 16 year old daughter, and do what I got to do to survive economically and with housework-as I am a single mother.

You are (and have been) involved in several zine projects. Can you please tell us about them?

I participated in "MamaPhiles: a mama zine collaboration" which was a collaboration of 33 mama zinesters (from all over the country) - and that was a pretty amazing experience. Even with the production of it. For example I did the lay-out, another mama zeroxed it, another bought the paper, another the stapling, and another compiled a list of where to send them, ect. Our publicity mama made a website - mamaphile.com - and we are working on Mamaphiles #2 which I think will be at a much smaller scale.

My own zine is called "The Future Generation: a zine for subculture parents, kids, friends, and others". I also write a column for Slug and Lettuce under the same heading.

Other zines I've made include: "I was … a Student Nurse" (Baltimore City Paper Best Zine winner for 2002); "Dust Bunny, tales of the fretting house frau" (a mini zine illustrated by Matt Kestler); "True Monster Stories" (Shattered Wig Press); and "Zen Dream Bride Doll".

I also wrote "On The Road (with baby)" in the Breeder anthology (Seal Press).

For how long have you been running your zine The Future Generation now? Are you the only editor or is there a team?

For 14 years. Just me. Once I tried to have a co-editor, another mama that I was living with. It was a nightmare to me, I couldn't do it. This zine is really something that I like to have all in my control as an editor.

What topics do you discuss most often in your zine?

I discuss whatever is affecting and interesting me (this totally changes over time): from Home Birth in issue #1 "Physical"; to class-conscious children's liberation and alternatives to punishment in #5 "Violence"; from a history of kinship groups and family in #4 "Why motherhood sucks"; to Herbal remedies to kill Lice and a review of girl positive fiction in #8. The issue that I am going to put out now (#14 "Work") contains a bunch of my work stories in from various jobs and very little parenting stories. But the underlining emphasis is a single mama who used to be on welfare, striving to earn a living for the last 8 years and still being poor. That's an issue in my life and I am exploring it from different angles.

I guess I am always looking for the deeper thing - about why life is the way it is. And reporting from what I see around me. I never thought of this zine as a place to use my writing as craft: its was primarily trying to communicate with others about the what most concerns me as a parent and how we can make a better world. And to me that means being a bit rough around the edges - as long as I get my point across - its good. As my daughter has gotten older my zine has changed to get more polished looking and my attitude/interests have changed too. I just want to have fun now, sometimes. Like taking pictures of a local shoe repair man working on shoes. That is fun to me. But it is also part of the bigger picture of small business and old fashioned ways of doing things.


Which role(s) did (and do) zines and zine making (and reading) play for you as you became a mother?

Being a mother made me want to put out a zine. I'd been reading zines for a while but I never had something unique and personal to write about, a cause of my own, if you will - until I became a mother. I never saw a zine put out by a parent and didn't know barely any other mothers in my peer group. So I wanted to find like minds to communicate with - to create an info/support network. (This was way before the internet).

 

Issue #5

Issue #6

What do you love and find challenging about zine making?

I really love zines. I am finding that out in new ways all over again. There was a time I felt my peers were getting published more in small press and that was the way to go - I really do want to have books published, its always been my dream. I had a mentor who sent me her book proposals and encouragement to write my own. It was very intimidating to me - I still haven't gotten up to this level: to complete a larger project with prolonged effort on a coherent theme and to pitch it to someone else with the belief its worth their effort also. Megan once told me that Books are just zines with better self esteem; its true!

However, sometimes that level of commitment is stifling. With zines its more immediate and completely under your control. I love that! I lay it out. I make the cover. Its shocking to find out, as zinesters, that mostly writers aren't in control of the artwork on the cover of their books!

In being in control of my project, being the editor: I select what I want to do. I can be more playful: like "Housefrau" started as a joke. I make art in my life all the time. My latest idea is to make a book of pictures of chairs (inspired by the book "100 Chairs" as I work at an Antique store that has a lot of Danish Modern and Pop Era furniture in it). It started when I saw this messed up chair glistening laying upside down in the alley. I will title my book where I end: it will be called like 7 chairs, or 50 chairs, or whatever. This idea makes me laugh. Right now I just have 3 chairs. Maybe I will do this, maybe I will not. Maybe I will just make a few copies of it to give to some friends. or maybe more. You know what I mean? I go to work for 8 dollars an hour at a place I could never buy anything, but I can make art from the experience. And I would rather be able to make a zine than to buy a cool chair.

The writing in zines is immediate and takes less time to come out then in publishing. I think "On The Road" took 6 years to get published. The literary world might move slower than the zine world. With zines you can be a person and a writer hand and hand - handing it out as you go. There is nothing forbidden unless you forbid it yourself. I write up manifesto's, critique of society, fairy tales - so many things - and like most writers - what you see of my work is the tip of the iceberg. But I feel the concept of zines allows me to share what I do and participate actively in an independent vibrant culture of medium which enriches me in turn by coming in contact with so many other's words and works.

The draw back is its hard. You lose money. Its hard to keep up with xeroxing. You get a few orders trickling in to fill. Its not much acknowledgment. You have to go in with a good attitude, that you know you are going to put more into it than you get out, to be grateful if anyone at all likes what you are doing.

I'm free in the writing, I love the making, but I'm not very good at distribution. Sometimes I feel shy about my work, sometimes I am just on to another project. I need to get better at that part, get out there more - maybe go to zine conventions and stuff. I'm trying to buy a zerox machine from a thrift store right now (for a hundred dollars) and I am very excited about that! Hell yea I'll have a big old office printer in my dining room and be proud of it. That might be the solution to my problem of making enough zines to fill the small demand for zines I have that are out of print. (its ridiculous - I only do runs of 50 and a 100!)

So that's another drawback. You might put a lot of work into something that has a small circulation. But that's also a plus. In a way - I love having a small circulation. I've always felt my zine called out to just a few people - but those few, it really was a quality connection and it was so good to get a letter from them, to share and make sense of our lives.

What are some of the zines you read and admire?

Books come to mind as being a more powerful influence than Zines: isn't that funny? Reading Emma Goldman, Peoples History of US and Jean Genet from a public library when I was 17 years old changed my life. These ideas stick with me. Books help me make sense of what's going on with me and the world around me.

I read and admire most zines that I come in contact with. I admire almost anybody who can keep it going over the years. I was really getting into "Cometbus" for a while - I like Aarons work a lot. I would like to see an issue of "Dishwasher Pete" - I never did and now there is no more. Right now, my pen pal is the most exciting zinester to me. Whatever she makes is good! Vikki Law in the lower east side of NYC: she put together "Mama Sez No War" - has a series of travel zines: "Dear Cookie" (she is quite the adventurer, going to Mexico, China, South Africa, and even my house!). She is co-editor of a woman prisoners zine (Tenacious) and writes for Clamor; she had a photo-essay published from her and her daughter in the newly released MamaPhonic Book. She is super interesting, photographer, smarty pants, documenter, rebel mama. My favorite thing (and this sounds egotistical I know) is when she sends me zines in the mail that she makes of our correspondences. we have a zine called "Fragments of Friendship" that we make for each other and theoretically they could be distributed also, we have some extra copies for sale.

What advice would you give to a mother/parent/grrrl who wanted to start a zine?

Do what you want to do!

 

Issue #8

 

Issue #9

 

Do you feel part of a (local/national/international) zine community or network? If yes, what does the alternative mothering/parenting/feminist zine community or network mean to you?

Yes. It means everything. The first time I got published "for real" was in "Breeder: Real-Life Stories from the New Generation of Mothers" which was a Hip Mama anthology. I feel as a writer you need to have the company of other writers around you, for support and to grow and to encourage each other. Hip mama is pushing the boundaries out there right in the "real world". It is a real network. MamaPhiles was a direct off shoot of Mamaphonic.com which was created by Bee Lavender as an offshoot from the Hip mama website which was a offshoot of Ariel Gore's zine: Hipmama. You see? I'm impressed cuz of the stuff those ladies do and getting with Seal Press and Soft Skull Press - Good Solid beautiful small press. But its not just Hipmama. You got Candyce writing in Slug and lettuce and Jessica Mills writing in MaximumRockNRoll. I love their columns. I haven't met everyone or seen everything: but I have a feeling of unity that really makes me feel strong. Just like always: your friends have friends and this is the cobweb, the network of connections. But these days I actually have mama writer comrades.

Why do you think there is a boom of mama zines in the USA right now? And what could come out of this?

Yea, yea, that's what Mamaphiles was all about. I'm laughing all the time! In-fighting, creating and rebelling from specialized factions, complaints from booksellers "oh no, another mama zine": SUCCESS. We have arrived. We are a force to be reckoned with.

We have come far from a marginalized nothing voice in zinedom: Today's mama zinester doesn't have to justify why she writes about her experience and why you should listen. And she has, after all, a mama audience - increasing every day. New possibilities, dialogue, mutual aid - that's what's coming out of this.

I am very interested in the international zine community. Have you ever heard of a mama or feminist parenting zine from another country? If yes, can you tell me more about it?

Not lately. I used to correspond more with people from other countries in the mail before the internet came into use. One zine that comes to mind was "Massive Love" put out by a French punk parent that I last heard from in 1994. She strove to create an info network with other parents also and I loved her writing.

When I look at all the different mama zines which are currently out there from punk to alternative to radical mama zines to feminist parenting to feminist homeschooling -, I wonder if women have enough of the stereotypical image of mothers in mainstream magazines and that the image of motherhood has changed in the last years (or decade) in the US. Do you think it has, or is it just because zines recently started talking about alternative views of motherhood? How do you
regard the role of zines in relation to mainstream magazines, in particular magazines on mothering and parenting?

Yes. parenting is changing. I'm old enough to watch generational change in effect. Their is more support and info out there for the alternative parent. Mainstream Media is bullshit.

Do you consider mama zines in particular and grrrl zines in general as an important part of a social movement? Do you think grrrl and mama zines can effect meaningful social and political change at large?

Yes. Woman's personal letters to each other has always created larger public change. Like William Burroughs said, art is more important than politicians.

Issue #11

Has the experience of making a zine been empowering to you? In which ways? What were some of main influences that have empowered you in your life?

Yes. in some ways I feel like the only real thing I have ever done is publishing my own writings and the connections and experiences I get from that and where they grow - are stemming from the one thing that was ever all mine. No matter what, no matter how I get fucked over by the social system, reported in the media as lies and slander (like the time of welfare reform), have my point of view NO WHERE around me, feel alienated, beaten down and like shit- I can at least feel I have an outlet to be heard, at least pick up a pen like I matter. Even if it only matters to myself. That is empowering.

There is so many empowering influences I have known: mostly people, just how people live, resist, create, smile and share. Almost every freaking day I am empowered by other people who make me feel like doing the same: being myself and making a way, another way to live, within this dominant corrupt diseased system.

Which role does play the Internet for you?

A big one: so much information is at your fingertips and networking has increased.

Do you define yourself as a feminist? What are the most pressing issues you are confronted with in daily life (as a woman/mother/parent/feminist/)?

I do define myself as a feminist, perhaps an anarcho-feminist, if called to define myself but I am not fond of defining myself.

Pressing issues: poverty and oppressive societal concepts which are so ingrained as to be almost invisible and so hard to define (what's the problem with you crazy - too young/old/poor/stupid/thinks-too-much/emotional/ugly/pretty/black/white/you feel in the blank here____ Woman? Buck up and take it like a bitch/supermama!) yet choking the life out of one. Feeling alone/responsible for so much symptomatic fall out also feeling powerless to change the root of the problem. Being tired out but having no choice but to go on-it never stops. Or so it seems like sometimes before you see another bright dawning day, once again, before you.

What do you think about feminism today? Do you see yourself as part of Third Wave Feminism and if yes, what does it mean to you? Or why not?

Well, I'm too old to be part of Third Wave Feminism, and then again I was too young to be part of Second Wave Feminism. When I was a kid the school books taught us all the troubles were in the past - but that was not true! My mother always wanted to be a wife and mother and got married and stayed home with me; her younger sister went to college first and had cool 60's fashion. I could see the difference in those few years. But sometimes a few ideological differences and catch words don't amount to a hill of beans!

When I became a mother I went searching the bookshelves for answers and I have always been partial to 60-70's feminism big time - which I guess is the Second Wave. I never found anything so thought out, detailed, explorative and radical in my own time-except for anarchism which had less practical coverage about being a mother. Of the 80's, early 90's: I was very impressed with the prostitute rights groups, sex positive radical feminist thinking, AIDs healthcare and information activists, Queer, Gay, Poly, Trans whatever social/cultural progress and tuff skater squatter womyn. (I'm mostly thinking though of San Francisco and other big cities)

We came far with sexual liberation but motherhood as an issue was dragging in the dust until recently I think.

I think issues of poverty, class, and motherhood are the forefront-or ought to be-of feminist concerns today.

 

When I tell people in the US that in Austria (the country where I come from) all mothers get a paid 2 and a half year maternity leave as well as the father half a year (or the other way around), they hardly can believe it. However, in Austria there are discussions by feminists that this causes women to stay longer at home so that they loose connections to the work environment, or completely drop out. On the other hand, when I tell people in Austria the situation in the US, they tend to think its cruel to give 6 week-old-babies into day care. What would a feminist
family-friendly society look like in your view? How do you think society might be re-thought and transformed to come closer to an ideal world for mothers, parents and families? Do you have any suggestions for the development of progressive-mum/parent-friendly policies?

Wow! Yea, I always hear stories how people make all this money on welfare in other countries or have healthcare or how Sweden outlawed poverty. Yet we are supposed to be the best country in the world or something?

Where would you start? Yeesh. I guess acknowledging parenting is work and children are important. Putting our collective energies towards that. This country is war 24/7 - so I would think the best place to put your energies would be in communities of resistance. Help each other; get a longer plan of investment. Organize quality child-care at events; create kid friendly spaces; flexibility for parents in the workplace. I used to think in terms of revolution - everything needs to change. But life is always changing (and staying the same) its the little everyday things that make it so.

 

What are some of your personal wishes/visions/ideas/plans for the future?

That is a beautiful question! I don't wish/plan enough - just try to go with the flow these days. I think I used to have more of a vision - in my early zines. Gardens on rooftops - close the streets to traffic and walk and ride bikes instead, work together for the good of humanity not for greed and wars and hate, invest in children, community. Squat daycares - free woman and children. Read Psychology and look at your own shit, figure out some stuff so you don't hand down the same patterns to the future generations. Look to older cultures around the world and learn from them.

These days I am so grounded in this stupid everyday life I think I would come up with: bring up the minimum wage to at least 8 dollars; guarantee a certain level of income to all in America; invest in small business and cooperative ventures; and small charter, magnet, independent schools; neighborhoods. try to help each other. Understand that it takes a village to raise a child and to create a billionaire. Start helping out with the kids and cutting off the billionaires! Mothers can't do this motherwork alone - they need major support and that is community building - future building.

Oh - I just re-read this question. You mean me personally? I hope and wish to be widely published, secure with enough to eat, and have love in my life. As a mother of teenager I am more cynical, less attached to the results, more about letting go. Funny, a mom of a baby can have all these grand dreams for the future. A mom of a teen is now more like Arg, another human just like the rest of us and look: she's yelling at me. So how good can I be?

Also I live in the present a lot and am a fatalist - ironically enough. My future plans at this moment are to buy this zerox machine I saw in a thrift store and get it in my dining room and then I can zerox lots of zines! I am very excited. Its every zinesters dream.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Rome fell. Every empire does. Don't worry. Just freaking do the best you can and take the time to freak out properly.

Thanks for the interview!

 


EMAIL:China410 [AT] hotmail.com

ADDRESS:
The Future Generation - China Martens
PO Box 4803
Baltimore MD 21211
USA

TFG issue #14 available for 3$, trades welcome


 


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