About 7 years ago I met China Martens at a conference on motherhood. She was discussing what it had been like making her cutting edge Zine The Future Generation. I was a mother of two young children and it felt great to be around other mothers who wrote about the beauty, pain, and complexity of being mothers. After her talk, China and I traded publications. I took her book home and immediately got lost–and found– within its pages. So many of the struggles I had not spoken aloud about motherhood were articulated in The Future Generation. I immediately asked China if we could do an interview and she agreed. But life. Gorgeous, winding, bizarre life got in the way of me editing and sharing China’s wisdom but I always knew I would. All these years later, China is raising funds to get a second edition of The Future Generation printed. It’s a beautiful book and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Check out what China has to say about publishing, mothering, building community and vulnerability and please support her campaign to raise funds to get this new book published.
Me: I am deeply inspired by The Future Generation. I remember feeling seen, held and affirmed when I read the anthology. I felt like I had a sister in all the complex things I was feeling as a new mother. What made you start The Future Generation?
China Martens: I started The Future Generation because I was looking for others to share these experiences with. I was in new territory and I wanted to learn and share with others, to talk about our lives, our ideas and our ideals of creating better things.
I had a background of radical activity (anti-imperialism, anti-oppression, art, philosophy and DIY attitude) but I didn’t see the same resources available once I became a mother. So I tried to carry over those same principles of self-determination, non-hierarchical organizing and opposition to State “business as usual” that I had experienced before motherhood—in the mid-eighties– and expand them into the life changes I was experiencing. To me, parenthood seemed like a perfect place to examine and put into practice our anarchist/punk rock/bohemian/however-you-define-yourself and social justice values. And community support for children and caregivers (seemed like it would be a given is these spaces). I was surprised there was so much hostility/exclusion/old-fashioned authoritarian and emotionally triggered opinions towards children and parenting, in the so-called radical scene. The resistance against progressive values for youth and mothers showed me that this was indeed the place that I needed to work from. I didn’t see the kind of zine that I needed so I made it. That’s something that many of us were doing back then, creating the alternatives that we needed. However it was unusual, at the time, to be a zinester who was also a mother.
Me: Did you ever feel scared or vulnerable sharing your experience of motherhood back then?
China Martens: I feel scared and vulnerable sharing my experience of motherhood now! Its funny but I don’t remember so much, if I felt scared or vulnerable sharing my experiences of motherhood back then. It was a long time ago—I started TFG when my daughter was 2 and now she is 28. Sometimes it seems to me, I was braver when I was a younger mother – still fired up with all the radical reading, activity, and people in my life.
What I remember more was the difficulty of getting time to write and the difficulty AND the struggle of mothering itself! The writing was a relief. At least in my rosy looking backward glasses. I have a distinct memory of a roommate telling me once, “you should write the story of how hard it is to write, how guilty you feel” after watching me one weekend go through an episode of my mother driving from a few hours away to pick up my daughter, so I could have the weekend to myself to write. I needed time to myself and that was always difficult to get.
Me: What has been the most important thing you have gained through sharing your experiences mothering?
China Martens: I gained a network of writers, feedback, support: good for mothering and good for a writer. To find out I am not alone. To get support in which to create myself as a writer, really. Before I was a mother, before the age of 21, I was always wanting to do stuff like create a chapbook of my poetry or write a story but was too lazy to finish the things I had started. I couldn’t get myself out of mothering however, so I had to do it. The writing seemed to be important to more than just myself. It was ground that needed to be broken. Maybe it verges on activism. I don’t think of myself as an activist but I do activist type activities based around my personal experience and my knowledge that parents and children need more community support. And it seems that I have stuck with it, have developed this, over the years.
Motherhood is an experience that keeps building. It doesn’t seem you are doing anything sometimes, but you are, you are always important in everything you do. Connecting. Changing. Sharing these experiences I am part of the circle of life – corny as that sounds – or of a movement of radical resistance.
Me: What sorts of things have you learned about yourself, your community, and the world through your relationship with Clover?
China Martens: Everything I do in my work these days is based from my experiences as a mother and my relationship with my daughter and society in those early days. I now have the time now to develop some projects to give back in a way that I found too difficult, and not even desirable to me to do, while I was in the trenches.
I have been a mother for over half my lifetime. A little more than half of everything I know, is also what I have learned while being a mother. I guess one thing my heart learned is how to be open to others, as my child grew, I saw her reflected in others her age around me, and as she became an adult she melted into this pool of humanity who are all, some mother’s child. I have also learned humility–I’ve seen the issues to work on, in myself and in my community –and it has kept things lively. Not static. Ever changing. To force me out of my own self-absorption or even limitations. To learn how to stick with something, to stick around, to be present even when it’s difficult and to see the truth that change is life. I’ve learned some times to speak up and even better times to keep my mouth closed. Watching life change over time is wonderful the more time that goes by.
Me: Please say anything that comes to mind and heart about mothering with limited financial resources in this country.
China Martens: It’s hard to talk about. It’s painful. There has also been a lot of talk on poverty and its intersection with other oppressions like racism that is just that, talk as well as studies, too many studies. For example, how so many privileged people make money studying issues while the people living them are not given the same opportunities. I do not think this is right.
I have written about mothering with limited financial resources in this country. I didn’t always identify the particular divisions between different groups of people as consciously as I do now, nor did I understand as clearly – to see myself as poor, or realize the differences between myself and partnered parents (when I judged myself as lacking when I compared myself to other hip mamas who were not single mothers) – I didn’t always articulate that in my writing specifically, but looking back, my writing is coming from a specific place which is not always universal. For instance – putting a full-page picture of my empty refrigerator in my zine and writing about experiences with welfare, and putting a picture of myself with the slogan “welfare lovers make better lovers” on the cover during welfare reform. That’s a pretty clear message. But what is less clear is when I am writing about my experiences, for example, with being a rad parent raising a teenager – that this is also different than other alternative parents whose are also having issues with raising teenagers but coming from a partnered and economically secure bohemiam/alternative values family unit. I think in that situation you are safer to be different. And the child of radical single mom also has issues of economics they are dealing with. We have these differences of experiences that are not equally highlighted – which can just fall under a broader title that then doesn’t tell the whole truth. When mainstream media picked up on “radical motherhood” writing in the last decade, it was often the white middle class partnered mother’s writing that was featured.
These days I spend a lot of energy at the forefront of my mind, examining these critical differences between different groups of mothers. Now that I am an empty nest mother I feel I have more time to reflect and also to organize. My identity as a single mother and a low income mother is important, although not always easy to define as class can be complicated and lines can get blurry. But everything I write comes from this perspective. I don’t always see myself from the outside, to understand that. This is the same reason I have worked on examining my white privilege in motherhood and have tried to use that examination in my work as an editor and in my development as a writer. These are the struggles which need to be centered, the many mothers who mother under conditions of classism, racism, xenophobia, able-ism, and more.
Me: What makes this a good time to reprint The Future Generation? Why should folks get their hands on the second edition of this book?
China Martens: In the decade since the book first came out, I have worked on co-creating two other anthologies: Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind, with Vikki Law and Revolutionary Mothering, with Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Mai’a Williams. I worked to create platforms to discuss community support for caregivers and children in social justice communities. Much of that work focused on mothers of color and marginalized mothers voices. The focus became sharper, clearer, working with others. I’m really proud of the last two books that have come out with much bigger print runs then The Future Generation.
But this book, The Future Generation, returns to my own voice, as an active parent. The book has been out of print for some time and it needs to exist in the world again for another generation. All of us have been children and all of us create the future, in one way, or another. I know the ramifications of this book having a second chance, the feedback from the first run was powerful and community was built through that. We’re going to need to be gathering in the days ahead.