In the past couple weeks, I’ve started getting more questions about One by One, the micropress and mail-art-inspired poetry-journal-on-letterpressed-postcards that I announced (last summer) would finally, after years of visioning, start mailing on 1/1/11.
So: an explanation. The reasons for it not moving into production are simultaneously simple and complex.
When I cleared the space in my life to start One by One, I committed to running it for a year and seeing how that would go. I had a staff of volunteer associates lined up to help with bookkeeping, plate design, material issues, and other logistics, and a tiny budget to make the thing run generated from fundraising via my four-year-old Open Books project. Last summer, I devoted my attention to building the press website, soliciting submissions, and general preparations for dialing everything in when Number One, the press’ long-awaited Kelsey Excelsior, finally arrived, fully restored, in California at the end of the summer.
Then the fall came, and the submissions came, and the lives of practically everyone involved with the press were rocked by something like eerily parallel metaphysical windstorms. Our preproduction window whistled past. Then I got a severe case of mono right around the time we were supposed to start printing. The larger transition I was making last fall (pulling my energy out of a campus teaching job, becoming completely self-employed, repositioning my private workshops at the center of my professional life) played itself out in ways I never could have predicted, and while I was down for the count I was pushed into a new understanding of just how high of a priority my workshops are. While I lacked the energy to go grocery shopping, I was still teaching four workshops at the time I got sick: Creative Nonfiction in Davis, Creative Nonfiction in Sacramento (which was brand-new at the time), a topical workshop called Poetry and the Harvest at Cache Creek Nature Preserve, and an intensive literature course (for the certificate program in creative writing at UCDavis-Extension) called Reading Contemporary Creative Nonfiction as a Writer that I was teaching for the first time. On the four days each week that I taught, I had to reserve every ounce of my energy for getting to class. (It’s always been my experience that once I’m in class, the teaching and the energy I have for it generate themselves – which I’ve always taken as a sign that I’m doing my right work.) The meaning of the work I was able to do became clearer to me than it had ever been, and the things I couldn’t do changed size.
Over the winter, I finally started finding some relief from the acute phase of the fatigue, but found myself staring down many things that had come undone in the interim, including the plan for One by One. I struggled for awhile trying to figure out whether I could make it happen by myself, on a greatly delayed schedule, until I realized that the manpower, the money, and the other necessary fuels weren’t flowing freely enough to make it happen without it being an ongoing struggle for me at the center. As I cross over into the deeper territories of self-employment, I realize that my teaching life is my higher priority, and that the energy I have for inventing and building wants to go first to my workshops. Last fall taught me this. My decision to not just push the thing back was also largely informed by my desire to keep other major priorities in place that had been timed around the project schedule – namely, the development of my second poetry collection, the completion of my first collection of essays, and work toward a book I’m beginning to write about community-based workshops. So a couple of weeks ago I took down the press website and sold the Kelsey to a couple from Orange County who’d been looking for just that one for a really long time for their design business. A restored letterpress needs to be used, not kept in storage.
One by One is one of the clearest visions and best ideas I’ve ever had, and I fully intend to set it back in motion someday – but that someday will be a day when it can hold its own. For the time being I’m focusing on helping others write new literature, and writing mine. And while I’m sad that I won’t personally be publishing a whole heck of a lot of exceptional poems that I want to help deliver to their readers, the work I’m concentrating on right now feels so right I can’t not show up for it at the level it wants.