I read an article not too long ago, praising the virtues of typewriters and decrying the automated, digital world we have become. According to this piece, the wondrous thrill of a typewriter has been lost to an entire generation. A new movement in keyboards and software applications have sought to revive this experience, still preserving the modern conveniences of saving, deleting and so forth.
I read this article first with skepticism. Luddites. Then, I started to think about this technology I had never known. According to this group, it is the thrill of pounding out tangible words, and the rhythmic shots of the keys that most accurately jog the writer’s mind. Of course, I am always open to new ways to bring out creative thought. Maybe they were on to something.
So, in an effort to be vintage, and just a bit hip, I began a search for my own typewriter. I had in mind an antique machine, with metal keys that pressed down all the way like a first generation cash register. Red, I saw. Red metal, with gold keys. I went to yard sales and thrift stores and asked around. Nothing. When my birthday rolled around, I sent the word out that I was looking. Maybe someone would inadvertently run across one and think of me. No joy.
So, finally, months into my search, I ended up with this electric machine probably manufactured somewhere about the time I was born (early 1980ish). Not exactly what I saw in my head, but for three bucks, it would do. I got it home, set up it up, grabbed a few sheets of printer paper, and began my test.
Would this really be a new experience that would catapult me into a Luddite inspired creative streak? Would this be a nice decoration for my office, the start of an eccentric collection? Or would this be just a piece of junk, sentenced to eternal purgatory in a pile of yard sale buyer’s remorse?
So, I sat at the keys and began typing. The first thing I noticed was the smell. There is a distinctive scent to the whirring motor and typewriter ribbon as the oily keys activate the ink. It reminded me a bit of an older time, in which I never inhabited. Smoky offices, and men with thick mustaches in the corner offices. Career women with puffy shirts, shoulder pads and pantyhose. The big hair, and determined rises to the top a la Annie Hall, (or if you prefer Anchorman). Women can do, they shout with every click of the heel, convincing themselves just as much as anyone around them.
Once the smell has taken me back to memories I don’t have, I banish them and begin composing. I have found composing isn’t supposed to occur on typewriters. Composing is supposed to happen with pen and paper, until a final a draft is hashed out, ready for typing. But I didn’t know this.
I dive in quickly with nothing but an idea and a spark. Quite adept at a computer keyboard, the words pound out fast and easy. The keys riddle the air like machine gun blasts for the better part of half an hour. So much cooler than the meek “tap, tap, tap” of my computer. There is something a bit masculine and powerful about it. The pointed, punctuated noise commands attention, and signals that real, serious work is being done. This is not a pansy mouse potato tapping out Facebook statuses. This is a no-nonsense productive person.
There is a danger in being a modern writer. On your worst days, you feel like perhaps you are wasting your life making useless computer files that will never leave your hard drive. On this machine, regardless of if anyone ever reads it, I at least have tangible proof that I wrote. A sort of validation of my own existence. I was here. I lived. I thought. I produced. I was. There is definitely a sort of poetic charm to it.
But, on the other side, after having finished a page of prose, I scan it and realize that only I truly know what it says, or is supposed to say. I have a hard time reading each line as I’m typing it, and I am mainly relying on blind typing skills to keep me straight. I did alright, but the page is still full of typos. Actual, real, typographical errors.
I suppose I am meant to read each word as it comes out, but I found this disrupts the flow, and makes my writing seem choppy and disconnected. By the time I am able to fully read it, I am so far beyond that line it is too late to make any corrections. (Which, thankfully, my machine does have a correction key). Or maybe it’s just I don’t know how to line the paper up right for corrections. I begin to miss my computer screen. And my delete key. And my paste button. I want move a whole paragraph around, and I also think if I take out this one sentence over here, the whole thing will read better….
It will never replace my computer, by God no, nor will it even substitute in a pinch. But there is something charming and almost earthy to it, and right now, I am enjoying the moment. And that’s what writing is all about, right? The joy of creation, of thought, of sharing our humanity with others and hoping to connect with them in their journey. That’s why we write. To be. And to be validated by others, and thereby understand ourselves.
That’s a pretty good bargain for three bucks at a yard sale.