On typewriters

I learned to type on a typewriter. Keyboarding, unlike surfboarding, had not yet been invented. I am old-school. Typewriters went the way of the Edsel and became paperweights about fifteen years ago. I did own a small portable typewriter when I was in high school, and I took great pleasure in writing my own papers. My typewriter was completely mechanical, and you had to strike the keys with a certain violence in order to make each letter of each word. If I ever learned a practical skill in high school, it was typewriting. Yet, if you type, you also make mistakes, and I had my share of whiteout and small strips of corrective tape. It was horribly laborious to type anything, and even one simple page could take an hour. Even after it was done I dreaded going back and proofing my work because I knew I would find a letter missing, or oh horror, an entire word. Putting the page back in the typewriter and fixing the mistake was tougher than brain surgery and never really worked as well as you wished it did. Computers have so thoroughly replaced the typewriter that one might be hard-pressed to actually find a real typewriter. I’m sure a few people have kept them as curiosities. They were a highly ingenious piece of engineering and design. Typewriters enjoyed a certain aesthetic in the repetition of shapes and the layout of the keys. They also made a characteristic striking noise that almost anyone (old enough, that is) would recognize. Today’s keyboards are better and faster, but they are also only a ghost of typewriters past. The typewriter seemed, at least to me, to be a part of the creative process, rolling the blank sheet of paper into the machine, indenting the first paragraph, and away you went, hunting and pecking away at those mechanical keys. The writer was physically involved in the work of typing and creative a new text. Today’s keyboards take almost no effort at all. My nostalgic feelings for typewriter, however, would not induce me to go back to that strange machine. I lost many a night’s sleep retyping pages that had too many errors. Yet as I wrote about Sir Gawain, or Marie de France, or Chaucer or Dante or Boccaccio or Fernando de Rojas, my physical and mental strength were involved in creation. As my fingers fly over the keyboard today, they look back wistfully at a simpler time when you could type without plugging anything in and it was just you, the blank sheet of paper and the machine.