When I was growing up, typewriters were almost obsolete. Almost. I had to write a few school papers on a typewriter. This was the mid 80’s, and home computers were crazy expensive back then. Nobody in my neighborhood had one. So, whenever I had an assignment that couldn’t be handwritten, I had to drag the old Remington typewriter out of the basement. The thing was built like a tank. The internal mechanisms were housed inside a heavy gauge, olive drab steel shell. I’m guessing the machine weighed 25 pounds.
You didn’t want to commit the cardinal sin of making a typo on a typewritten paper. Remember the rule: I before E except after C. Except there are a lot of exceptions. The word glacier is one of them. And, of course, I was writing a paper titled: The Importance of Studying Glaceirs. Yep, right there in my title was a glaring typo. I had two choices. I could retype the entire page, or break out the white-out. White-out was a caustic smelling, thin paint that you’d have to brush on the typo to hide your literary transgression. When it dried, you’d have to load the paper back into the machine and try to line everything up so that the keys could strike over the top of the whited out portion. It never seemed to line up exactly, so you’d have this kind of Frankenword crudely spliced into the text of your paper. It looked horrible. What a nightmare.
When I graduated to junior high school, I was happy to see there was a computer lab outfitted with a couple IBMs, a couple Apple II series, a bunch of Commodore 64s, and two dot matrix printers. At last, I had made the leap into the computer age. Even the earliest word processing software seemed like magic to me. Good riddance to the typewriter.
I haven’t thought about typewriters for almost three decades. That is, until I saw one set out on the curb next to a garbage can last week. It wasn’t a Remington, but it had that same heavy steel construction. I picked the thing up and carried it a half mile back to my apartment. I guess I was motivated by the nostalgia.
The carriage had seized, but after some tinkering and light machine oil, I got it to free up. I loaded in some printer paper and typed the alphabet. The ribbon was old, but there was still some life in it.
I went ahead and started typing the beginnings of a short story I’d been kicking around in my head. There was definitely a feel and a rhythm to it as the machine hammered my ideas onto the paper. My words seemed to gather momentum as new and exciting concepts crystalized in my mind. Everything seemed so organic, so easy. And then everything seized up. The carriage was frozen again, and I couldn’t budge it. Ah well. It was fun for a few minutes.
Maybe I’ll hang on to the machine and see if I can fix it. If nothing else, it has some value in scrap weight. If you’ve never written anything on an old school typewriter, I suggest you give it a try at least once. There is something kind of cool about – something I can’t quite pinpoint. See for yourself.
Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.