P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211
The Future Generation: The Zine-Book for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends + Others
Sometime early in the New Year of 2007, I am going to have my first book out! It’s an anthology of the last 16 years of my zine: The Future Generation, coming out with Atomic Book Company. (Atomic Books started their own small press.) I think its going to be great: it follows the chronological order of my daughter growing up; and includes selected essays over the years with an interest in anarchy in action and the world around me. Right now the graphic designer is laying it out. Scott loves the early look of my cut and paste zine days and is laying it out in book form but keeping the flavor. I left all the intros and poetry in the original unedited form, misspellings and all, for that reason. It was good to lightly edit the longer essays though. I feel this project is totally a new mutant: the zine-book. It’s personal like a zine but is going to be mass-produced to share with people who never got to see it the first go round.
When I put my first issue of my zine out, in 1990, (when my daughter was two years old) a friend of a friend that worked at Kinko's in SF zeroxed it for a major discount, if not free. Later I got to know the whole midnight shift of the Baltimore Kinko's and so many proceeding issues were done for free--which in essence was *why* I could indeed put out a zine at all. This was the way things were done. People helped each other out in many ways: because you were a punk, because you were a friend, because you came to town and recognized others that were in the same scene as you. People toured and stayed at each others houses and even the drunk punks would direct you to where you could get food for free: soup kitchen, dumpster, or after hours where some friend of friend worked. Anyway, when I made my first zine, I wasn't even sure how to bind it. I put clothes pins on one of my first copies and gave it to a mom friend. That was a bad idea, though, I saw as the pages easily flew free all over her apartment and under the feet of her two-year-old. I figured out how to staple it; gave it to other parents, friends, took it to the anarchist bookstore on Haight Street and sent copies for review in the bigger zines I knew about (mostly anarchist ones, and at some point Fact Sheet Five) and some to trade. I think I made - maybe 50 copies of it. It didn't exactly take off like I thought it might, but one day I got a letter in my PO Box with no return address. Enclosed was a hundred-dollar bill with an (unsigned) note "I thought your zine was really powerful, keep up the good work!" “HOLY SHIT!” was my reaction. I planned on putting the money into printing costs, but instead spent it on rent or food. I felt guilty about that for a few years. Then someone told me not to, to put the zine money into my survival was OK. And my survival is also to make zines. The budget is all wrapped up together.
And still to this day, how I distribute is kinda, well sporadic. I just talked to the mom who sings/plays music for kids once a week at two kid stores around town--she remembered when I knocked on her window, as she was in her car, and gave her a copy of my zine. I had seen her in the coffee shop with a small child beside her and a baby in a sling, and just liked her vibe. She told me (this feedback took two years) that she kept my zine in her car and read it when she had time, she said she liked it; that it was really quite well done. So yea, sometimes I give my zines to strangers, or send them in the mail to someone who looks interesting - for free. Once, someone emailed me looking for the "other" China Martens (yes their actually is another one with a rising software writing career) and we wound up chatting (I'm not *that* China, I'm the China who writes zines). She thought that sounded really interesting and wished she was reading my publication instead of the dull stuff she was doing at work--so I sent her a zine! I never heard back from her, that’s cool, I often don't hear back from people I give or send zines to.
So I tell you these stories, to tell you, my zine has always been small—with small runs, small renown, small feedback, and a small audience. Not a lot of people had kids or were interested in issues to do with kids and parenting but plenty got it: that you didn't have to be a parent to get this zine. (It was a human issue, a punk and anarchist issue, or at least I was trying to make it one. To look at society in a different way and try to understand the roots of where we were at and the fine tuning of how to get where we wanted to go.) It has been small - but it has been sweet! Like quality! I mean, when someone liked my zine, they seemed to *really* like it and I made a new friend, heard a new story, connected in some really vital way.
Still to this day - it’s small. I got an email today, from a mom in Brazil. It was short and sweet. "I read your column called "Getting Out: isolated struggle and the open road" at Slug & Lettuce and it’s great!!! Keep up the good writing!” Last week I got a letter with 4 dollars in it, ordering MamaPhiles #2 (a mama zine collaboration project I am a part of), with a letter enclosed. I love the homemade and pretty stationary most of the mamas use and the notes for ordering are almost always really sweet and caring. It said the person had really liked #1 and was looking forward to getting this issue. Cool! I thought and smiled, a "repeat customer" I joked back on the little note I wrote back. Some weeks I get no mail, some weeks a piece or two. My post office box is also used by another zinester in the neighborhood, Miriam, who is a librarian and part of the zine library in Cockeysville; and now by my daughter (who is the editor a zine called “Dildo”)! I fill orders to Montana, Vermont, Seattle, Ohio, England, etc. It's a cool feeling to send something, to someone you don't know, ... somewhere else. It’s just cool.
Sometimes I have down times with my zine and it’s a drag that I get like one piece of mail and it sits there for 3 months before I fill the order. I feel REALLY bad about that. Especially this one time I got an amazing, amazing long letter telling about how influential my zine and other mama zines had been to this family, which embarking on parenthood felt like a strange terrain to them and they were trying to find their way. It talked about how they were starting a child-care collective at this college and finding other like minds now. It took me like a fucking year to write back and they never wrote back to that letter - so I don't know. But I feel really bad about that, I think it’s the worse thing I ever did. Often I write back long letters, but not always. Sometimes everything just gets lost in the mix - and I understand that other zinesters and mothers are just like that too: some crisis getting in the way of zines for the moment. Once last year, I got a release form that they wanted to use my zine in this movie in NYC! I forgot the name of it, but I showed the letter to Ian and he said the producer was an up and coming one. It had a political theme and one character, a young boy, had zines lying around his bedroom and so my zine was apparently - part of the set - and they needed a release form. HA! Funny! Other times, I have good friends, baby. Lauren at Atomic will recommend my zine as will Miriam the Librarian who tells me that my zines get checked out a lot. Vikki in NYC gave all my old issues to the Barnard zine library and Jenna (the zine librarian) emailed me to get my contact info to pay for them! I can't remember all the good things that have happened with my zine. It’s mellow. It’s small. It’s over time, long time experience. Good reviews, people who reprint a section, getting emails and interviews and being quoted in books. As I get older, I start to reap the rewards I guess you would say, of the years I put in doing something I care about.
And now that my zine-book is coming out very soon! I am going to be so fucking happy. (Make no mistake though, I was mostly unhappy in the year plus I was putting this thing together—it was hard work. But I think I’ve gotten over my generous amount of self-doubt and feelings of shortcomings and can just be simply happy to have my project out there.) I should bring Ben and Rachel (of Atomic Books) free coffee and cookies and stuff. Because they didn't have to do this! Its not about money, there is going to be no money made, its about, well its just about making things. And I appreciate someone else doing the work on printing! I usually have to take care of that. Xeroxing is getting too hard in my old age! (Thus the economical smarter laid out issues of #10 - #14 - I had to start paying for it!) After this zine-book comes out — I will go on tour with Ariel Gore and Annie Downey on the “Ideals and Crazy Dreams” tour in April and I want to take the book around to other places too. I went to some of my first zine symposiums this summer, basically in preparation for my book coming out as it was actually first supposed to be out last mother’s day. I went to the Portland Zine Symposium and the Montreal Anarchist Book Fair for the first time! Maybe next year I will get to bring my book to the New Orleans Book fair. I got to start making a list of events, and places, and little bookstores - there is a ton! My community is out there. It’s not confusing. I know my community and my audience. I am NOT mainstream. I hate the mainstream and they wouldn't like me. I'm not a sound-bite, I'm not polished, I'm not easy to understand, and quite frankly sometimes I talk about overthrowing the government like its a good thing, you know. I've changed over time, and my essays, photo-essays, and themes sure have changed too! Sometimes I talk about going to the ocean or a rockabilly dad who opened his own pie shop--but my roots are in the radical community. My allies are with people who have politics in common. Even with my mama-writer editors (Vikki Law and Ariel Gore—who gave invaluable heaping amounts of their time as they read over all the past issues and made selections to what went into the zine-book and helped edit it) it’s politics first. We met though our words, and were first comrades because of our aims, our politics, our experiences, our writings. AND then became friends cuz we really like each other, we make each other laugh, and sleep in each others beds when visiting, if that’s all the space there is.
You see, at this point: to have my 18 year old daughter who loves and respects me, and is encouraging to my writing and excited for the zine-book; to have these two mama-writers who helped me edit the book; to have a local bookstore ask me to publish this anthology--- I am at the point of success. I start out winning. This is really wealth. In my world, that is invaluable, powerful shit. If no one else likes my book, well, at least I have three people who give a damn. Three people who this whole experience would have been scary, and possibly unable to do without. Alone I am scared and doubting.
And I want to take my zine book out and see the world. (so I better start saving some money up) I want to meet new people and see what they are doing. Share with each other. For me, a small audience is fine. One or two moms "like me" and interested kidless folks who dig it? Awesome. When did we ever start wanting these big fake audiences? Nah. I hope the book does well. I know I got some mama-zinester friends who have only known me in recent years and I am SIKED to share my 18 years of experience as a mother and zinester in this small way. cuz our writing, rough and bits, is always just a bit of our life. Just a bit. But at least I got something written down to share, through all that, and all those hard times when sometimes I couldn't and didn't put out a zine for years and those writings are in a box. I know at this point, it seems like I have some false humility. NO! It’s not that. It’s just that I'm not such a good writer, and what I write isn't interesting to everyone. BUT you see, what I'm trying to tell you - is that its always been interesting to *someone* and its always been grand, I like the people who like my zine; that’s who I want to talk to. It is kind of a minority thing. And in this society where Media is so LOOMING its refreshing, in its own right, to just be a part, take part, and read independent media and human experiences. I know I have allies out there. I know I have a community.
The time has come to think promotion; to get out the word; and wave my hands up — “Hello, Book is coming! Check it out!” You can bet I'll be putting up the flyers when it does. I'm comfortable in the grass roots. My zine was never meant to be big. It’s for the subculture - and if that word is just not cool anymore then whatever. It’s for you.
— China, P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211, (The new issue of TFG #14 “raising teenagers” is now available for $3), China410@hotmail.com