(Or: An ode to a typewriter.)
(Or, or: Buy, beg, borrow or steal a typewriter. Do it.)
I’m going to be brutally honest with my own self in this post. I’ve been terrible as a writer this month. I can count on one hand the number of times I sat down and focused and wrote more than a page of words. This includes my grocery lists. I’ve thrown out a sentence of new stuff here and there, but the primary focus has been on editing my travel memoir for publication (which, yes, has been pushed back and then pushed back again). The thing is, lately there’s always a reason for avoiding it – dog, work, cleaning, nap, writer’s block, whatever. Excuses.
I recently came back to my hometown in Minnesota after six years in Tempe, Arizona. I aim to stay in the tundralands awhile. The four-day cross-country journey could have provided some unique inspiration, had I not been driving twelve-hour days with a wriggly 70-pound puppy and all of my shit in the backseat, with barely enough time to eat a gas-station meal before passing out in the next dingy hotel room in the next town, in the next state over. Excuses.
Arriving home was another unique opportunity to write what I was feeling, from moment to moment: who hasn’t moved home after a long hiatus to find it unfamiliar, to find yourself a stranger even to members of your own family, unsure of your place in the place you grew up? It could have been a goldmine of inspiration. But there were jobs to hunt, and a 70-pound puppy to acclimate, and trashy daytime TV to watch. More excuses. And in between Live with Kelly and Michael and afternoon DIY programs on Home and Garden network, when there might have been a space to fit in a page or two… hopping onto a computer to use Microsoft Word, for me, has presented its own unique set of built-in digital distractions. (I curse you, Facebook. I CURSE YOU.) Hell, I haven’t even touched this blog, mainly because I was embarrassed I had nothing exciting to report, no status updates on any of my projects. Nothing new to say.
Excuses, all excuses. And not even good ones.
It took me two solid weeks of this – the procrastinating and avoiding and Facebooking – before I remembered the antique typewriter that was hidden away somewhere in my closet, where my mother had stuffed my old prom dresses, graduation gowns, and crumbling boxes of childhood memorabilia. I had found the typewriter at a garage sale, one summer when I was home from college, more than a decade ago. Forty dollars spent – a lot of money for an underemployed college kid and summer-employed day camp counselor – for a thing that would largely resemble an oversized paperweight and/or doorstop for the next ten-plus years. At the time, I bet I thought it was just an impulsive purchase, an antique whim… but now, I believe that something in me, something visceral, understood the truth in my future self and fought for it.
One week ago, feeling slightly depressed and completely aimless, desperate for a sign that I hadn’t forgotten how to form coherent thoughts on paper, I unsnapped the metal clasps that held the lid on the bulky protective case. My typewriter is an antique, a Remington Noiseless Model 7. Before I struck a single key, I did the research; my machine was manufactured shortly after Germany and Japan ceded their intentions of world domination. It is not travel-friendly: a solid lunk of metal with the heft of iron or an equally heavy alloy, and sharp yet delicate moving parts. The white paint that fills in the engraved trenches on the black plastic keys, to reveal the letters and numbers, is chipped and faded; some of the letters’ placements on the keyboard I hit only from the muscle memory of my fingers. There are rust spots in places; I wouldn’t know how important (or not) those places are, much less whether they could be replaced in the event the rust has eaten through some vital mechanism.
In spite of all of that, it still works.
When I’d located it, I quickly Googled “typewriter ribbon,” and imagine my surprise to find that there is still a market for typewriter-using writers (a.k.a. hopeless romantics, a.k.a. writers at the end of their rope). My universal ribbon was waiting in my mailbox a few days later. With the corresponding manual long gone (I don’t think the Model 7 even came with one, a casualty of the phenomenon of buying someone else’s “junk”), I decided to just go with it. Loading the spools was oddly natural. Things fit into place because of my hands but more importantly just because they fit, and when I loaded a sheet of paper and hit the first few keys, a mere test run, something happened, and I was off. Things ceased to exist outside of the clack of keys and the occasional bell-ring ding of the line break. No Kelly and Michael. No cell phone. No social media. Nothing but the sound of metal hitting ink ribbon hitting paper, and the sound of the story unfolding from my head.
Twenty minutes and five pages later, I stopped. But really, I will not stop. Thanks to a 70-year-old hunk of iron, I found my stride again. Removing myself from the siren call of modern technology somehow also lifted the fuzziness of self-doubt, and even twenty minutes renewed my confidence to write, and at least attempt to write well. And for those of you who find yourselves in a similar predicament – wrestling with your own day-to-day distractions, or simply craving a break from the bombardment of digital chaos that floods your screen every time you log on to your computer – that 40-dollar “paperweight” at your neighbor’s yard sale or the local thrift store might just be worth it.