“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Attributed to Carl Sandburg by Ralph McGill; Remembering America, Richard N. Goodwin.
THIS ISSUE marks 20 years of monthly publication of this journal. That length of time is much less impressive to me than it once was. There are things in my printing shop that have not been moved for, say, 15 years, and like most printers, I have standing forms that are as old as my interest in the hobby. Still in a chase is a calendar form for 1981. I have a package of cover stock that Alan Wheeler brought to use on the Vapa Trails at the meeting of the Virginia Amateur Printers Association held at our house some 17 years ago. (Unlike some VAPA hosts I did print that issue of Vapa Trails; I just didn’t use Alan’s cover stock for it.) Many, I fear, most, NAPA members are of an age when all these times sound like yesterday.
We are so numbed in our society by large numbers that it is hard to appreciate numbers that are in mere hundred. I often think as I fold and staple journals how hobby printers may be among the few people who appreciate the labor involved in handling four or five hundred journals. Folding and stapling are not my favorite pastimes yet I have spent at least 900 hours folding and 720 hours stapling Boxwooders. I have spent something like 10,000 hours in the manufacture of these 240 journals. The sheer weight of paper shipped out is over 3000 pounds. I do not know how much type I have worn out, but it must be several hundred pounds.
The contents of my journal have been heavily biased toward essays. At least 150 of them fall within that broad category. Fiction has taken up about 60 issues and 10 or so have been denoted as editorials. Actually the demarcation in my mind between these categories is not very clear. It has been argued that all reminiscence-type articles are fiction – and I am inclined to go along with that. The only difference that I perceive in an essay and an editorial is that an editorial has the implication that the reader is being urged to do something about the terrible condition being described while an essay is only to amuse, educate, or put to sleep the reader. Two of my journals have contained only poetry. One using poems from the Manuscript Bureau was judged so bad by one of my non-member readers that he sent it back as unsatisfactory and threatened to cancel his free subscription.
For the first two or three years most of my journals were written by me. As a member, turned harshly critical by a convention floor fight, said about me in his journal, “…he prints only his own selfish scribblings.” The man’s timing was phenomenally bad as the same bundle contained a Boxwooder totally written by Ann Vrooman. As time went on, more and more issues were written by other members and several by non-members. Counting only those whose contributions took up an entire issue, more than 40 people have had their works published in the journal. They are listed on page 8. Some have had multiple submissions published. Rowena Moitoret has graced twelve issues and Martha Shivvers nine. But it is true that my “selfish scribblings” have comprised about two-thirds of the issues.
Of course, I make no apologies for that. After all I started and continued the Boxwooder because I had the urge to try to learn to write. I knew that I no longer had the patience to sit through any creative writing course and the only way open seemed to be simply to write. I had been interested in writing when I was young and had attempted some when in college. In fact I took a creative writing course one summer (probably about 1941) where another boy and I wrote the majority of the stories for the whole class. We got 15 cents per page and that included the typing. But that’s as close to professional writing as I ever came. I also took a course in journalism and one year (1942?) was editor of a college weekly newspaper.
At work I had probably the world’s champion pickiest writing critic in my supervisor, Bert Ramsey. Before becoming a physicist, he had been a classics scholar and loved to point out that you were using a grammatical construction that had not been seen since the days of ancient Greek. To this day, when I hear someone say “compared to” instead of “compared with,” I think of his assertion that I was using southern colloquialisms instead of standard English in my report. His criticism of the grammar and word usage in a technical report sometimes exceeded the length of the report. It was discouraging. No one in the group put a pen to paper unless it was strictly necessary.
In my next job beginning in 1962, I wrote only two or three technical reports and a horde of letters over the years. Writing official letters in a Navy organization is likely to expunge any dormant writing talent one might possess.
At the time I joined NAPA I had not written anything else in years, not even personal letters. I had fallen into the habit of depending upon my wife to take care of all correspondence, even with my family.
When, in June 1969, son David and I found out about NAPA from a brochure included in the Kelsey Company mailing, we joined immediately, and I started working at once on my first journal. I was not a little awed by some of the papers in the bundle. As almost everything in the world seems to do, the bundle has gone downhill somewhat since those days. Then publishers were ranting about the number of “four-page flimsies” in the bundle. Now a four-page journal is considered substantial. I could not determine how to get a paper into the bundle so I wrote to the Mailer for instructions which turned out to be simple. “Send me 400 copies and I’ll do the rest,” she wrote.
My first piece, on the hobby of printing, was written with extreme difficulty. Every sentence, every word had to be dragged out of hiding and examined carefully. Nothing sounded right, everything seemed labored and awkward. Finally issue No. 1 appeared in the bundle, and I waited anxiously for comments. At the time I had no idea how rare it was to receive any comment at all about one’s paper so I was not greatly surprised to get several cards and letters. Bill Boys, Harold Segal, J. Ed Newman were among those that wrote. J. Ed Newman had a personal campaign going to write cards to encourage publishers, and one sometimes had the feeling that his cards required more work to print than the journals he was commending. If you published a paper, you could absolutely count on getting a wildly congratulatory card from J. Ed. He was aware that in the very beginning what people needed was unstinting applause and not realistic criticism. I had the good luck to save the comments on No. 1 and published them in No. 100.
I did not start with a plan to publish every month. In fact, I had no plans at all for the journal. It just happened that I quickly settled into a routine that produced one each month. There was no lack of things to write about. At one time I made a list of some 24 articles and stories for future issues, and to this day, I’ve never had any trouble finding subject matter. I no longer have a list, but when the time comes to produce an issue, I’ve never had much difficulty in finding something to write about.
In the beginning I decided the only way to learn to write was to write in quantity and not worry much about quality. My idea was that by writing one could attain some ease and facility in the process. I have pretty much done that. I can now sit down and reel off articles of exactly eight or twelve pages with a few hours of labor. I have never gotten around to worrying about editing or revising. On some TV show I heard Eudora Welty say that her real pleasure in writing is in the revising, editing, the cut and paste of moving parts around, and gradually getting a story just the way it should be. I confess that I have no such feeling. My pleasure is in the first draft; after that it is just work and likely to be slighted. Major editing occurs only when a piece is too long and has to be squeezed to fit. This process of elimination normally results in improvement, but I find it very difficult to do if it is not absolutely necessary. Everyone claims to do the best he can, but I doubt if it is true. In my experience patience, not ability, is usually the limiting factor. If I could produce a finished product with anything like the polish of Eudora Welty’s, perhaps I could be a bit more patient.
That’s not to say that I consider skill to be everything. There are a number of current American writers (Updike and Exley immediately come to mind) whose skill I find astonishing, but whose books I do not find bearable. Their people and subject matter are normally so revolting (Updike’s Rabbit et al.) or so predictable (Exley’s alcoholic Don Juan) that I’m unable to read a whole book.
Amateur writers in our bundle normally have a story to tell. It may not be so skillfully written, but it is real and it is not full of situations solely designed to make it salable to a mass market. I think some of the seemingly straightforward stories of childhood adventures by some of our writers (especially Rowena Moitoret and sometimes Martha Shivvers) are much more interesting than lots of professional writing. Some of my opinion is the result of age. At a recent rural funeral I became aware that I have come to value sincerity more highly than good grammar from a minister. I think in many of our amateur stories and articles that sincerity and reality shine through, lending them a peculiar luster. It is a type of literature you are unlikely to experience anywhere else.
What of the future of the Boxwooder? I have no plans or intention to stop at a certain number. The production of the journal is, I guess one would have to say, an ingrained habit, and it will likely continue for some time. My present type is getting worn, and only my recent use of calendared paper prevents unacceptable printing quality, but I have the sorts equivalent of approximately 130 fonts of new Deepdene type on hand. I use and wear out 30 fonts at a time and hope that each replacement lasts about three years. Thus I have something like a 12-year supply of type. I will not speculate whether the type or the printer will give out first.
Also I have been closely observing the desktop publishing phenomenon with the thought that at the propitious time, I might well try that route. It is still not an easy matter. One must have a laster printer, but that is no big obstacle. The trouble is that at present one needs a camera to make offset plates, and then one needs to print his journal by offset. One could make a laser master and have it copied by a copy shop, but there are problems both of cost and registration. Copy shops are accustomed to printing on both sides of a sheet, but they are not accustomed to a requirement that the registration be such that the printing is backed up properly. The real trouble is that one loses control of the reproduction process.
Joe Diachenko has been demonstrating in the bundle with his Big Bodkin what can be done when one does have control. Joe sets type on a computer, prints a laser master, makes plates from a camera-produced negative, and prints it himself on his offset press. He also prints the National Amateur the same way. It is fair to say that the quality of the printing is inferior to good letterpress, mostly because the 300-dots-per-inch resolution of the laster printer is a bit low, but it is pretty good and is clearly the method of the future.
Jay Allgood (3)
Helen Amos (2)
Paul Burns (2)
Elizabeth Butt (2)
Marjorie Colvin (5)
James Deveney (3)
James F. Guinane
Frederick S. Haydon
L. P. V. Johnson (5)
Gerald Kohman (2)
Martin H. Miller (3)
Rowena Moitoret (12)
Martha Shivvers (9)
Robert Williams (2)
Harry WolfVirginia Wolf
Hand set in Deepdene; display type is Gravure. The similarity of the cover to that of No. 187 was purely intentional. Edited and published by Jake Warner who printed 390 copies on an SP-15 Vandercook. The cover was printed on a 10×15 C&P.
The Boxwood Press
Greenbelt, MD 20770