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Yard Wide Yarns: Motherhood, punk, politics and so much more

An interview with
Jessica Mills

from Florida, USA

by Elke Zobl

January 2006


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 a soon-to-be 36 year old and life-long Floridian. I’ve got an almost 6-year-old daughter, have been married to my sweetheart since 1997, and am expecting baby #2 within a month’s time.

What do you do besides your zine?
Most of my adult life has been consumed by either being a student or working as a teacher or an office worker, both part and full time, playing in bands, touring, political projects, making jewelry and in general, trying to live life to the fullest. I love to write and first put out my own zine, Yard Wide Yarns, in 1993. That continued regularly until I became a mother. Then I started writing a monthly column for Maximum Rock N Roll. It’s called “My Mother Wears Combat Boots” and is in its 6th year. I’m currently writing a book by the same title that’ll be put out by AK Press in the Spring of 2007, hopefully … if I can pull it off!


For how long have you been running your zine now? Are you the only editor or is there a team?
First issue came out in 1993. Last issue, #8, done in 2001, was actually a compilation of the 1 st year’s worth of my MRR columns. There were a few contributions over the years, but it was mostly just me.

What made you decide to start this project? How did you come up with the idea and the name?
Inspiration from a vibrant zine and DIY punk culture all around me. After I took my first cross country road trip, I had a lot of stories I wanted to tell, so dug them out of my journal and slapped them together into zine format with some other commentary and reviews thrown in. The name comes from hours of playing with a Thesaurus to come up with something that would reflect the zine’s content – broad-reaching non-fiction stories and writing – something like that anyway.

What do you hope to accomplish by making and distributing your zine?
What started out as simple self-fulfillment and a creative outlet wound up becoming part of a network – a way to connect with others and share experiences and ideas.

What topics do you discuss most often in your zine?
Experiences from being a teacher, woman, musician, office worker, mother and life in general, loaded with feminist, anarchist and/or punk perspective. Attempts at humor thrown in, too.

Which role(s) did (and do) zines and zine making (and reading) play for you as you became a mother?
Becoming a mother was such a monumental, life-changing event for me, as it is for the majority of first-time parents. It was a major shift! I was reading less Slug and Lettuce and Profane Existence and more Hip Mama and The Radical Mother’s Voice. The mama-made zines helped me feel less alienated from a community I had been a part of for a long time and let me know I wasn’t alone with all the new feelings and experiences that first time mamas feel.

What do you love and find challenging about zine making?
I always loved holding a finished issue in my hands for the first time. Most challenging was always time constraints, and being a bit scared or nervous about putting so much of “myself” out there.

What are some of the zines you read and admire?
There are honestly too many to name.

What advice would you give to a mother who wanted to start a zine?
If you’re a new mama, sleep when the baby sleeps & do take care of yourself! When the baby’s nursing, have a journal by your side to scribble thoughts into as they come. Then, when you’ve got the baby-juggling thing down a bit more comfortably, start digging into that journal & choose what you want to put together into zine format.

Do you feel part of a zine community or network and what does it mean to you?
Yes. It’s meant different things over the years – penpals, people to trade zines with, new friends when you actually meet in person, inspiration from and connection with others who express themselves through a DIY, uncensored, rough around the edges, creative, passionate way.

 

Do you consider grrrl zines as an important part of a social movement? Do you think zines can effect meaningful social and political change at large?
Sure. Anytime women collectively raise their voices, it holds social movement building potential. For a lot of women, zines have provided a vehicle to break societally-encouraged silence. I suppose zines could be one medium to carry a message for change, but I believe grassroots, mass organization of people, with or without zines, is what effecting social and political change is all about.

What were some of main influences that have empowered you (punk/feminism/zines/friends…?) in your life?
It all started with punk music and aesthetics for me.

Which role does play the Internet for you?
I use it to communicate through email, to search for books at the public libraries, to balance my checkbook, and to look up information quickly whenever my girl has a question I can’t answer. Aside from that, I don’t use it much at all.

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

I do consider myself a feminist.

Daily life issues:

  1. Societally-imposed gender roles on my daughter.
  2. Being bombarded with images from the media that tell her, me and all people for that matter, what women should be looking like, acting like and consuming.
  3. Being marketed and advertised to incessantly for women/girl specific products and services.
  4. Concerns about continued access to quality, friendly-to-women and girls health care, including reproductive health and choice.
  5. Feeling safe when out walking or riding a bike alone.

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?
I think feminism today is still seen as a threat to the status quo. Why else would mainstream media have the habit of casting it in such negative, narrow terms? There will always be a fight against sexism and therefore, a need for organized feminism. I guess my age alone qualifies me as part of what’s considered 3 rd wave feminism, though I was schooled by a group of radical 2 nd wave feminists. Being part of it means to me that we’re still fighting for (and will always have to) some of the same things like reproductive choice and equal access to jobs and equal pay. It also means new or changed fights like being able to choose both family and work instead of having to choose one or the other. Since becoming a mother by choice, it’s also meant involving my daughter in pro-choice marches, among other things.

Can you see any unique contributions grrrl zines may have made to the feminist and trans liberation movement?
Contributions, yes, though I don’t know if they’re unique. I know of lots of underground, DIY produced media from the 1960s and 1970s movement times. What may be unique with the current zine movement is that they seem to have become more accessible to younger readers and have therefore allowed and encouraged younger involvement in the feminist and trans liberation movement.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Making zines with kids is awesome!



Contact Jessica via email:
yardwideyarns [AT] hotmail.com


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