Anarco-Parenting: A Chat with China Martins

China Martins -photo by PM Press

China Martins 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.

Why I’m Against Octavia E. Butler for the WFA

I don’t think that Octavia E. Butler should take H.P. Lovecraft’s place as the World Fantasy Award. I feel treacherous for even typing those words but here they are: I do not think that Octavia E. Butler should replace H.P. Lovecraft as the “face” of the WFA.

I love Octavia E. Butler. I found her work as a strange black girl in a time before the internet could show me that there were other strange black girls out there. I, quite literally, picked up her books from around the world, squealing with delight when I found one. I wept over the news of her death. Over all the stories that she would never be able to tell.

I recommend her work to everyone that will listen, steering them past Kindred and the Parable duology, the only two works that that mainstream seems to know of hers. I remark on how sad it is that a writer who created such dazzling speculative works is most known for writing about slavery. Time travel is involved, yes, but it seems cliché that that would be the book considering that so much of bibliography is much better, so much weirder.

So it may surprise you, dear reader, as it surprises me that the petition to change the bust from H.P. Lovecraft to an author who is beloved to me, was met with not joy and immediate reblogging of the petition for such a change but with balk. I couldn’t quite place why at first but then it became clear.

Octavia E. Butler is not equal to H.P. Lovecraft.

Which isn’t to say that her work is not powerful and in many cases far more well written than the offerings of a man who is by many considered one of, if not the, father of modern horror. By all accounts, Lovecraft’s prose has been ripped apart by critics and in many cases found lacking. On that scale, Butler far outshines Lovecraft. Hands down, no questions asked.

On the scale of what they stood for, well, Lovecraft was a well-known racist. Not even in the sense of “It was just that time period, everyone was racist then,” sort of way that we excuse old people when they say something off color over dinner. He was openly racist and his prejudice shows in his work. This isn’t an argument, this is fact. Accepting this award is problematic for many writers because of this. How does one reconcile the history of the figure with the present?

I do believe that especially considering that fact that Lovecraft should be removed and another writer put into his place if another writer is to be used. Someone who represents what the World Fantasy Award stands for, not so one whose personal darkness is intertwined with his soul like the tentacles of an elder god.

But Butler, for all that I love about her does not have the same standing as Lovecraft when it comes to notoriety. Butler is well known by people who read, really read, science fiction. This is not the case with Lovecraft.

Lovecraft’s work has spread to influence other writers, comics, film, etc. Lovecraft is everywhere in speculative fiction and although I would love to see Butler’s work held in the same regard because she truly deserves it, it is not and therefore does not meet Lovecraft on the scale which was clearly used to choose him.

If it had simply been about being a strong writer and not an overt racist then there are plenty of other authors they could have chosen. But he won out. His influence is strong and I don’t think Butler can match that.

I do believe that his face should be removed from the award and iconic as it is, perhaps it is time to go with something more representative. Speculative fiction has evolved and features parts from all genres, all histories. Can it be best represented by one figure? I don’t think so. I think it’s time to move away from that and into something completely new.

As much as I love Octavia E. Butler, as highly as I think of her work, I do not believe that she is a good choice for representation. It kills me to say that but she is not Lovecraft. Lovecraft doesn’t deserve the honor either but the solution is not to turn to someone who is their polar opposite simply because they are the opposite.

I’m Not Embarrassed but I Agree

I think I am the only person not deeply offended by Ruth Graham’s Slate editorial, “Against YA” which calls for adults who are avid readers of YA fiction to be embarrassed of their junior reading habits.

With blockbuster novels like The Hunger Games and of course the sure to jerk every bit of moisture from your body as tears, The Fault In Our Stars. It seems everyone is reading one of the many currently popular novels or sets, even self-identified nonreaders.

According to Graham’s scathing piece, adults should be ashamed for focusing all of their reading energies on these novels. Curiously, everyone seemed to take this view as Graham being needlessly critical of the quality of the works themselves. As if the piece was saying that these beloved books are trite pieces of trash literature.

Which, to be fair, some of them are. To pretend that, say Twilight, for example, is some sort literary masterpiece is to do a disservice to literature. It was entertaining, for some, it spoke volumes to a certain set of readers but it wasn’t a breathtaking piece of literature.

Or The Pigman.

What was that last one? The YA of yesteryear. The forgotten racy books for young adults that helped define an era. Think, I know What You Did Last Summer or any of R.L. Stine’s Fear Street novels. Christopher Pike also had a run in with teen horror.

They were all well-loved, much talked about, and lovingly swapped between friends over lunch breaks. They were important for a time for a group of people who now, removed from that time remembers them fondly.

That’s where Graham’s piece falters at for most. This understanding that there’s nothing really wrong with reading and enjoying the work, but aren’t we all a little old for it? In much the same way that there’s no shame in being a fan of Disney films, there’s this very tangible reality although you may find enjoyment in them, adults are not the audience they had in mind.

A better analogy: You can order a happy meal but it’s unlikely it will keep you full for long.

Which is what, more than anything, Graham’s piece was speaking on. Yes, it used inflammatory language, meant to get clicks and a rise out of readers so they would share the offending piece. And then be kept alive through response pieces (much like this one!) and in that, it has done its job.

But as a thought piece, it failed as most people were stuck on outrage.

Young Adult literature is a happy meal. It’s got all of the same parts of Adult novels (for the most part) but in smaller portions and unlike Adult meals, you get a toy at the end.

YA works may dabble in the adult world but they are about speaking to and dealing with issues and emotions of a world that is not adult. And yes, we, as adults, feel the same emotions, we understand these reactions and desires, but we are viewing them from a point of nostalgia.

Katniss Everdeen’s revolution and inner monologues would have been worlds different if she had been 30 with a baby by Gail. The sympathy that we feel for Bella’s relationship with Edward would likely have read differently if she had been a 25 year old post graduate.

Their adventures are packaged neatly. Not the messy novels you get into when you get out of the worlds of happy endings. Novels whose stories end only because the writer runs out of words. They end in sadness, death, illness. Sometimes they’re happy though and that’s nice.

The embarrassment that Graham calls for isn’t, in my opinion, the kind that makes you turn red at parties. It’s the same sort of embarrassment that soccer moms used to have when they tittered over the latest saucy romance (pre 50 Shades which has made erotica mainstream. A move I found both joyful and tragic in equal measures).

They used to call them “guilty pleasures” like eating chocolate cake in bed while you stream True Blood and fantasize about Eric Northman. There’s nothing wrong with it but it’s also not something that you just share with everyone.

There is this climate of “as long as people are reading” that permeates the reading culture. As if the simple act makes up for the fact that no one is reading the really good books. The ones that help make sense of the adult world. Not the ones that help not quite adults enter into it.

Just like reading a steamy romance novel can give your mind a break from reality, so does the YA world. But it’s not the only fruit. There are books that just as entertaining in other parts of the books store and everyone should explore those too.

If reading is your thing. It might not be. But if you think it is, do yourself a favor and try some new flavors.

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.

 

There’s No Trigger Warning for This Post

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College students have begun writing letters requesting that their literature come with trigger warnings as if Beowulf was a blog post detailing someone’s horrible life experience. Presumably to keep said students from having to unexpectedly relive their traumatic event. I feel for these avid letter writers but, literature is not the place for trigger warnings.

I do not disagree with the general practice of trigger warnings. Blogs that deal with racism, feminism, LGBTQ, etc. issues tend to feature them as their readers more than likely have experienced some traumatic event in the past. I take no umbrage with that as their goal is to create a safe and inclusive environment. I think the world needs those places. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your overall take on things) the world is not a safe place. The world is dark and full of terrors.

Increasingly as a society we are becoming more and more demanding that the world bends to accommodate everyone. That all things become sterilized and served in such a way to give the consumer a choice in how they want to experience things. But that’s not what life is like and it’s certainly not what literature is designed to do.

Literature is supposed to startle, to move. It is a place where the horrors of a different time can be displayed alongside the joys and the mediocre trappings of everyday life. It is supposed to make you stop and question, to incite conversation. That reaction is important. Those books are important.

The trigger warning, to me, diminishes that effect. A trigger warning gives the reader a choice. It says, “Hey buddy, there’s some stuff here that you may not be able to handle. You don’t have to read this if you don’t want to. Be safe friend.” Which allows for the creation of that bubble of emotional safety.

You cannot expect the world to support your bubble of safety. If we put warnings on literature or we making a “safer” environment or are we giving young readers a reason to further not engage with the work? If your reaction is such that you need a warning will you read that text or pass it up in favor of the bubble?

The secondary effect it has, unintentionally, is to reduce a work to its trauma. When confronted with a blog that has a trigger warning that says, violence or rape then the mind automatically thinks that this is a story about violence and rape and it may legitimately be. It could also be about redemption or self-discovery. The trigger warning doesn’t push those themes though, it just tells you to watch out for the negative plot points. Which ultimately doesn’t do the work itself any justice.

If we assume that these letter writers are earnest and honest with their pleas, that they do indeed have some trauma in their lives which has been or can be set off by the books they are assigned in class then I hope they are seeking help and that they are able to find healing. However, that being said, I think the onus is on them to protect themselves. Which is also, incidentally, part of growing up.

College isn’t high school. No one is going to be there to hold anyone’s hand. It can be assumed when studying literature at that level that work presented to you isn’t going to be Harry Potter. That terrible things are going to happen to people or people are going to do terrible things to other people. It is up to the reader to look into the text and decide if they can handle it.

Trigger warnings have no place in the classroom. They have no place in the real world.

 

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.