One of my English Masters program classmates posted on Facebook that he recently bought an electric typewriter, and posted pictures. My initial knee-jerk reaction was, “Heh, cool.”
Then my first reasoned mental response was, “Wait, what the heck is a typewriter for? Why in the world have a typewriter? Would he actually use it? Do they still make ribbon??”
But in the back of my mind that “Heh, cool” was still echoing around. There’s just something romantic, to a writer, about a typewriter — the tactile sensation of physical objects (keys, be they on swinging arms, daisy-wheels, or IBM character balls), changing the physical world (ink on paper with the barest impression of the letter pressed into the surface of the paper). Much in the same way guns are romantic and carry a mystique, being able to physically affect the world from a distance with an object commanded by your hand. (OK, does the gun metaphor make sense to only me?) Anyway, to someone who all but worships at the alter of the written word, having a machine that manipulates reality to force words into the material world is powerful, heady, and visceral.
Needless to say, I really like this typewriter idea.
It’s not the same with a computer. Sure, you press buttons and words appear on a screen, and that’s powerful in its own way. And knowing that those words, heck, these words, can instantly be seen by someone mrs away or even by millions of people (heh, ok, not these words by millions, but you get my point), is awesome and sublimely powerful! But in a very abstract way. A higher-order way that requires a certain amount of sophisticated thought to really appreciate the power of kinetic force translated into 1s and 0s and retranslated into understandable language by a remote viewer. The typewriter affects a more immediate, primal connection in the mid-brain, in the right-brain, and in the “gut.”
OK, enough babbling — typewriters to a writer is just freakin’ cool!
Naturally, I’ve started looking for one. eBay, of course, has many for very cheap prices! Craig’s List has a few listed, for a little more ($50 to $100), but has the benefit of locality so I can see and try before I buy. I’ve looked, and people still make ribbon for a great many machines, and cheaply priced, too!
The problem is, of course, besides the unnecessary cost when I could spend that money on a week’s groceries, is space — we have no space in the house for unnecessary luxuries like that. And it is an unnecessary luxury, sadly. After all, after I typed a story on it, I’d still scan it in to an OCR program so I could edit it on the PC; no way I’m retyping something line that. I hate retyping stuff! With a passion. But, that experience of putting thought and imagination, fresh from the brain and never before exposed to the light of day, tattooed into the surface of the page, is a cathartic, almost shamanistic experience! Well worth the time to scan the result, page by page, into a doc file.
I didn’t always have this feeling about typewriters, back when I had no choice but to use them, in high school. Ugh! Writing on them was miserable! I always wrote everything, both fiction and school papers, longhand (something my pasty and soft hands actually can’t do for more than a minute any more). I’d erase and edit and erase and edit, and then have my proficient mother type the school papers for me. The fiction tended to stay in many lost notebooks.
I had a HS typing class, which I was miserable at. Miserable both in skill and mood. Much to my current chagrin! Twenty years later of obsessive computer use both for business and pleasure, I can type more than 60 w.p.m., and with little error, but in such a way that would make a touch-typist roll with laughter.
Perhaps the years of being disconnected from the physicality of creating words has turned my hate for the machine into a nostalgic adoration. Truly, Baudrillard-ian nostalgia for a thing that never existed. But, I feel it none the less. And I do hope I can find the space and money to get my own typewriter so I can feel that connection and embody that stereotype of the classic 20th century portrait of the earnest writer. But I think I owe my wife a scrapbooking table first….