Anarco-Parenting: A Chat with China Martens

China Martins -photo by PM Press

China Martens is a writer known for her work in the zine scene. She is running a Kickstarter for a second printing of her book The Future Generation. I chatted with her a bit to learn more about her project. Mostly though, I just support there being more literature out there for alternative parents.

You can support the project (and get your own copy!) with their Kickstarter.

What’s the book about?

The Future Generation: A Zine-Book For Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends & Others is a “best of” anthology of 16 years of my first zine: The Future Generation. I started it in 1990, when I was 23 and my daughter had just turned two. I spent about a year trying to gather up essays to put out the first issue. I wanted to make a zine to connect to other parents like myself, and to the whole community, to talk about issues and how we are going to go forward, what do we want, not just what we don’t want.

The zine starts while my daughter is young and me, being a young single anarchist parent – with topics of home birth, physical experiences of raising a child, how you feel and how you relate with your friends. Articles and essays about a great amount of assorted things like city planning and healing from trauma, poetry, letters.

Over the years, the zine changed as my daughter grew into a teenager. I was always trying to keep it real and printing the real struggles as well as my aspirations. Sometimes I would look around me, like the Ocean issue, or Fatherhood issue, and look for essays from others. It’s really just a big book documentation of ziney-goodness. Of the struggle of one person to write her point of view, connect to others, and self-publish, before the internet made that possible.

Why are you re-releasing it now?

It’s the tenth year anniversary!! It first came out in 2007 and sold out after two years. There were slow and steady sales, it was reason enough to make a second printing, but we just never did. It is awfully big, in the old larger format of books with lots of cut and paste graphics and expensive to put out. It came out during a time Atomic Books had a small press. Maybe it was too big to print again. But we have been talking about it for a while. I get emails from folks all around the world about it. There are a few copies left for 30 dollars and over on Amazon but it’s no longer available, really. And I just think it deserves a second run, for a new generation.

Do you think it’s apt for the current times we live in?

It’s important to have some idea of current history, of what it was to go through Welfare Reform, during the Clinton era, and what led up to massive numbers of incarcerated women and greater poverty in society, as we embark on some scary times with policy changes that threaten lives. It’s just as important to talk about issues of child raising, and community caregiving, supporting and understanding and having some attention to low income parenting and childrearing, and radical striving. It’s important to stay engaged and participate, build community. That’s what I’m doing right now.

As a 50 year old, using my energy to back my first, more personal book, I find it rewarding the ripples that are coming out of just the fundraising right now: to connect with others. My stories of young punk parenting aren’t outdated. In fact, maybe they are more relevant than ever.

What do you think has changed since you first wrote the book?

I’m post empty nest single mama of 50 years old. I don’t have any caregiving to do, besides being paid to do it as a nanny right now. My daughter comes to my house and brings wine, she brings black eyed peas and collards and cornbread for new years, to share with me so I have good luck. I went to a show a few months ago, and got in free, because I was recognized as her mother. So what has changed, for me, is life is easier. Yet it still feels hard. Very hard. So, I’m not sure what has really changed.

If you could add anything to the text for today’s audiences, what would it be?

Well my 28 year old daughter is going to write the updated afterword, about what it was like to grow up with a writer mom and zines. So I think she’s the one who has it to say, after all those struggles, her reflection is going to be great!

And I actually have felt inspired to put out a new TFG next year as a perk, I will complain like always, about isolation and loneliness and what it’s like to be me, at this age; and my hopes and dreams. But I want to curate some other essays too. I want to call it the Rebel Issue. And I have a lot of ideas, for it, I’m excited.

How close are you to your goal and what happens when you make it?

I’ve raised two thousand dollars right now. I am emailing everyone I know, every contact, everyone I don’t know. I’m going to get it! 10K is just a number. (haha) I’m thinking beyond the goal. I want to do this. I need a lot of support. I am funding the book coming back out through pre-orders, which is pretty brutal to have such a short time frame as I do – but it is what it is – and like always, I’m learning by doing, growing as I learn. I just got my first bookstore to preorder. I’m emailing all the bookstores I’ve read at with the past two books. With your support, really, every single order, YOU, this book will be possible again.

What are you plans for after this Kickstarter? Do you plan any future books?

Oh Yea! My revolutionary mothering co-editor Mai’a Williams gave me this winter assignment: to write about menopause, dating, and the Baltimore uprising. Which I started on a bit. Also, I have a whole finished novel, I am looking for a press – Shopgirl Metaphysics, based about my time working in an antique store in my neighborhood in Hampden, Baltimore. They say novels don’t sell anymore. That’s what they said about parenting and mothering issues! Its always the wrong time, for something, right? But what other time do we got. It’s our time. As long as I’m alive I will be writing, and pushing, to survive as a writer.

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Money and the Rainbow

reading_rainbow

This week, LaVar Burton aka Geordi La Forge, used the internet as a force of good and brought one of the greatest PBS shows ever to grace the airways back from the dead. Reading Rainbow is alive once again. But it’s not getting rebooted as a television show, instead it’s kicking over to the tablet and computer screen as a paid app service and some people think that this is a questionable move.

Reading Rainbow was the well-loved PBS television show that served as an afternoon escape for millions of kids. The program featured different books that children should be hip to in a time before there was the internet. There was no Good Reads to tell us what we should pick up. There was only LaVar and the rainbow seal on the books to let you know that this book was certified enjoyable.

The program was never about learning to read, that’s one. It wasn’t a teaching tool. It was exposing children to books that were exciting and different so that they would read. This wasn’t Sesame Street, this wasn’t about fundamentals. This was the advanced world of words. You’ve already been hooked on phonics, Reading Rainbow showed you what you could do with it.

Which was really another great thing that the series did, the books weren’t always educational. What kids get in school are a lot of classics, stories that teach something or other but not much in the way of just being a good story. Reading Rainbow had its share of work that taught some process, skill, or life lesson but it also featured many works that were just good stories.

Now, in today’s world where kids can most defiantly read, the still suffer from the same problem, they don’t read. Sure they may pick up Harry Potter but outside of that, children aren’t really exploring the world of books as much as they should. The world is increasingly digital and the Reading Rainbow app is an answer to this.

But it’s not free and that is a point of contention. The original show aired on PBS and was available for all children who had a TV. The reboot, so to speak isn’t only available over the internet and behind a pay-wall which seems troubling for a company that is promoting a tool to help all kids and not just those who have mommies and daddies that can afford to purchase them.

But Reading Rainbow wasn’t really free. For the majority of people, of course they didn’t see a charge for it but it aired on PBS which at the end every episode of every show lets the posts the message, “This program made possible by *list of sponsors* and people like you.”

That wasn’t a feel good message tacked on at the end to make people feel included. That was actually how PBS was funded. It’s why they were always holding telethons. PBS and therefore Reading Rainbow has always been funded by the people.

This round of programing has just brought that same aspect into the 21st century. Instead of a line of phones, it’s been put out on the telethon of today: Kickstarter. And it’s done amazingly well but it’s only a beginning.

The reality of this is that the operation will need more than a million dollars to run indefinitely. There are servers to maintain, developers that will need to be paid, new content that will need to be created. PBS has telethons constantly and there’s a reason for that. These things cost money to keep going. A million dollars seems like a lot, it is a lot, but for the scope of this project, a million dollars is just a start.

This project will need funds that go beyond crowdfunding and they will need a way to get them. Namely, they will need to generate income somehow. I’d rather pay an entrance fee than have my kids subjected to ads every 30 seconds.

Then there’s the fact that they are a for profit company now rather than a nonprofit. Here’s the thing about that, the only difference between nonprofit and for profit is what they pay in taxes. Just because a company has to meet a bottom line doesn’t make it a bad company.

There’s a lot of freeware out there aimed at helping children develop reading skills. Some of it’s good but most of it is not so good. Reading Rainbow is a tried and true brand that does something no other program does. It promotes literacy for the sake of literacy. And if that’s not worth throwing money at, then I don’t know what is.

 

The Dystopia the Hunger Games is Not

TV will rot your brain kid
Something is bothering me. I have been seeing it around a lot where people, primarily girls, are stating that they loved Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games series and are looking for other Dystopian books. I liked the books, I thought they were a lot of fun but let’s get something straight here: Hunger Games was not a Dystopian novel. Not at all.

I love Dystopian literature. I have since I read 1984 when I was 11 for a science class that gave extra points for pointing out the science in science fiction books. I wasn’t good at labeling chemicals and compounds but my reading comprehension game has always been strong. From 1984 by Orwell I went onto Brave New World by Huxley. My mother saw my growing interests and introduced me to Soylent Green (spoiler alert: It’s people!) which began my exploration into the branch of film filled with heroes that would never realize their journeys, nihilistic worlds that all spoke, somehow, to my soul.

That’s where Collins’ fails. Her series was well written, it certainly had some very dark moments that we’re not used to seeing in the YA genre. But there’s a reason why Katniss Everdeen is a household name and the kids from Battle Royale are only known to a subset of the American population even though they’re pretty much the same premise (side note, Collins has said that she had no knowledge of BR when she wrote her book and I believe her to an extent, however, let’s not pretend that Koushun Takami didn’t invent the genre of kids brutally slaughtering each other. But then Richard Bachman aka Stephen King did it before with adults).

The reason that The Hunger Games is not a true Dystopian novel really has to do with the end of the book. In short, things get better. You can make the argument that all of her friends died and her sister (oh god, Prim!), not to mention the hardcore PTSD trauma that she no doubt has but ultimately she does defeat President Snow. Her actions spark a revolution that changes the world for the better. In the epilogue she finds peace with Peeta and has a couple of babies. The end.

Which is very sweet. But it is not how a Dystopia works. Things don’t get better.

Part of the tenets of Dystopian genre is that no matter what the “hero” does, they are trapped in their reality. Things do not get better except for a brief time before they find themselves right back where they were or perhaps, even worse off for having tasted a life that was different. Or they get the things they think they want but realize the price they have to pay to keep them actually just makes them another, slightly different cog in the machine they thought to escape. This is not Katniss’ story.

Ironically, it is the story of Haymich. If you want a true Dystopian tale, look towards him. He defeated the overwhelming odds of the games, outlasting and surviving through wit and what was probably blind luck only to then have to spend the next 25 years of his life watching children who just weren’t as lucky die terrible deaths. If you end his tale right before the 74th Hunger Games, that’s a Dystopia. Sure he has money and creature comforts, but is he or the world at large any better off for what he had done? He found a flaw in the game, and it changed nothing. He outsmarted the powers that be and they said, that’s real cute, now get your ass back in your box.

Then there’s Katniss as the hero. She isn’t a Dystopian hero. Then men and women who rise (and subsequently fall, as just discussed) are not known for their selfless acts and if they are it is only because they are punished for them. The hero of the Dystopia is always the antihero. They make selfish choices based on their own survival. Katniss spent three books talking to herself about her survival instinct and then throwing herself in harm’s way (“I volunteer as tribute!, taking time to mourn Rue, offering to commit suicide with Peeta, and that’s just book one). She was a very brave girl with a big heart. But she wasn’t a Dystopian hero. If he was a true Dystopian hero, she may still have gone to the games in her sister’s place but she would have left Peeta to die and mourned Rue quietly. She would have won but she would have been Haymich in the end.

There are obviously elements in the story that do meet the qualifications, which is where the confusion comes in. The Capitol and its Districts are a highly segregated society in which the balance of power swings heavily in one direction. There’s rampant poverty at the time that a select group of people live in dizzying wealth. Their technology is used in a harrowing and oppressive way to control and subjugate the vast majority of the population. These elements are handled very well and certainly set the stage for the overall story.

A crapsack future world doesn’t a Dystopia make. Sure life sucked, and it sucked hard in those books, but ultimately, Katniss made a change for the world, her actions set a revolution in motion and eventually, she would die a hero at some ripe old age. To reiterate, this is not how a Dystopia works. Nothing the hero does matters, they may change their circumstances but it won’t last and the world moves on as if nothing at all happened. Because it didn’t. Not to the greater society at large.

This isn’t some post about how the Hunger Games wasn’t a good book. It was good. It had its flaws (I’m looking at you completely unnecessary and under developed love triangle) but it did feature a strong female lead which YA needed after that mess of Twilight and an inventive world. So kudos for those things.

I just think that when people ask for something, they should know what they really want and when they ask for a Dystopian book “like Hunger Games” what they really want is a dark science fiction novel that features a strong female lead who overcomes impossible odds.

They don’t want The Sheep Look Up. They want Divergent. And that’s totally fine.