I have a confession. I have been craving me some typewriters lately.
Now before you point fingers, scream “HIPSTER!’ and strut away, hear me out.
I seem to have a typewriter fetish. And I think I know why.
And it’s not the pseudo-cool reason you might be thinking of. I do not classify myself as a hipster, although I have a separate fetish for Victorian and Steampunk fashion (trust me, the Victorians knew how to be fashionable). I don’t collect old cameras or take photos of myself with a Polaroid. I don’t even own a working typewriter. So I’m not that one dude who plants himself on a park bench beside an Apple Air wielding teen, plopping a clunky typewriter on his lap with a smug smile. Sipping on a Starbucks. Though that does seem quite nice. Minus the smugness. And horrible fashion choices.
I’d like to point out that my handwriting is–and has always been–an assault on the eyes. I have made every kind of effort possible to fix it. So have my teachers. But when the brain is working faster than the hand, it goes right back to a 3rd grade level (which is probably an insult to all 3rd graders). Putting aside a piece for a month and then trying to read it is futile. Writing out quick notes is fine, but when it comes to a complicated novel…writing by hand is just out of the question. And besides, my leftie hand smudges the shit out of anything left that is remotely legible.
Typewriters offer me one thing and one thing only: typing. And you better be good at it, goddamnit, cuz there ain’t no delete key.
While the invention of a delete key (and more importantly, but only slightly so, the computer) is an amazing achievement, something is lost along the way.
I’m sure I’m not the first to admit that I am distracted easily. Computers and the internet makes this an even more frequent occurrence. A piece of me squeaks, “Myra, without all the distractions your amazing laptop provides, you could’ve written that novel already. With a typewriter.” A part of it is true, of course. Typewriters–the old ones, not the electric ones–are pretty much portable, and don’t require a power outlet. They offer a satisfying ‘click-chunk’ as you press the keys. Each letter popping up on the paper is a visible process of machinery. You can see the craft. The thinking is happening in front of your eyes. In this world of online blogging, this is amazing. I think of all the times I could’ve written. When I was camping. On long roadtrips. On sabbatical to the woods. During a power outage, surrounded by hundreds of teeny electric tealight candles, leaning in, squinting to see the parchment with my already shitty vision.
But the truth is, I will never know. I grew up with the internet. I pretty much shat my pants when I got my first real laptop (which amazingly, is the one I am typing on now. The thing just won’t die), and honestly, I don’t remember what life was like without it. Living in Redneckville, the laptop was my escape to the rest of the world. I’m pretty sure I cried when I realized all the possibilities. I met my first serious boyfriend online. I’ve sold things online. (Those two things aren’t related, I promise.) The only time when I ever felt the same feeling of freedom again was the day I received my iPhone. Which was one of my spontaneous decisions (I qualified for a free phone and my old one was pretty much befucked…score!). My phone stepped things up another level; it made that feeling of freedom portable. I didn’t have to lug out my lap-beast (insert sexual joke here) every time I wanted to check my email. Two swipes on my phone, and it was done. Another revolution.
Now I said my first “real” laptop, because I did own one before that. I forget where I got it from. Most likely a hand me down from a relative. It was a Dell. And it was old enough to actually be able to earn the “haha you got a Dell” joke. It was a similar model to the ones which used to randomly catch fire, and just generally be pieces of shit. When closed up, it was a brick. Pandora’s box. The airplane’s black box. A chunk of coal. I remember it burned my knees once when I typed for too long. It was Windows 98 and all it had was Microsoft Word, solitaire and minesweeper. The battery would last for DAYS. I remember the keyboard had a satisfying sound. It only took floppy discs. For all intents and purposes, it was pretty much useless.
But I typed the shit out of that thing, man.
I don’t ever remember writing so much. Even though it typed for me, I would still have to look things up, spell check and plan everything by hand. Looking back, it seems like a good compromise. But eventually, I began to hate the thing. I sold it to a Phillipino woman for $5. She seemed ecstatic. I hope someone is still using it today. After all, it worked for like 12 years without a hitch. It deserves some respect. My 5 year old laptop is coughing up blue-screen blood.
I will never know a time when typing was done with ink and paper, instead of a computer and a flash drive. I can do it, sure, but I will always have the option of going back. The days of being confined to the ink are gone. I suddenly began to understand baby boomer authors who still write by typewriter, or even by hand. There is something at work there the rest of us just can’t see. For example, Tom Hanks famously has a fetish for typewriters. “What I really, truly miss is the physical trail that typing usually gives you,” he said. He even released his own typewriter app. Totally dude. I understand.
I still want a typewriter, but my laptop offers me so much more. While writing my medieval novel, I notice I don’t know when a certain thing was invented. I want the novel to be as historically accurate as possible. So I save, close the window and Google it quick. I save some entries from the University Library that I might pick up or download later. Boom. Done. Leave that section and keep writing. That is just as amazing as the machinery of the typewriter, but for different reasons. Also, word counts take a chunk of the worry away from writing contests. I couldn’t imagine counting words by hand.
But of course, I do get distracted. I actually have people to talk to now, online. I’ve never had that before. So I want to talk to them. I also want to keep up with my YouTube subscriptions. And learn how to do that one craft I’ve been waiting to do for forever. And shop. Do some troll bashing. Look at funny cats. When you can do that all in one place, shit gets complicated. Gone are the days of typing until my fingers cramped up. Now it’s more like ‘write 1000 words, take an hour YouTube break then return writing’ process. Then maybe google more about swords.
And I’m not going to bash YouTube here. YouTube (more the people ON YouTube than the site itself) has changed my life for the better. There’s something very comforting in instantly streaming videos which feature a familiar voice, and you know will make you laugh. It gets to the point where it doesn’t matter what they’re doing, as long as it makes you laugh, and it’s somewhat familiar. Those videos have, sometimes, been the only point in my day where I actually laugh and smile. The parents don’t get it, and to be honest I don’t really get it either. I just know that it works. They stick to their shit, I stick to mine.
My mother just can’t get rid of a typewriter she had in her teens. It’s dusty and grey. She knows it doesn’t work anymore. She doesn’t want to fix it. It sits on top of a desk, all by itself. It’s an ornament.
So I leave this 1500+ word rant (word counters FTW) still on the fence. A part of me really still wants a typewriter. But I have no idea how to properly care for them, where to buy the ink, or if there’s anywhere nearby which will fix it if it ever breaks. I doubt the last one immensely. The other part of me is so thankful for modern technology that it hurts. The introvert part of me, I guess.
The writer part of me will always ache for a time and place (and a device) which allows me to write unperturbed. With satisfyingly click-chunky keys.
I guess I will always have Writer’s Nostalgia.
How do you deal with your Writer’s Nostalgia? Do you own a typewriter? Got any tips on taking care of them? What do you use them for?
Check out this post, too for more conversation on the topic.
It has occurred to me that I have included nothing brainless and funny in this post. To compensate, here’s a funny video.