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The typewriter inside.
sideways in the light
It’s interesting to me how the passage of time has changed my relationship with writing tools.

When I was a kid, I had trouble with handwriting, because my penmanship was an unreadable mess and I was so tightly wound that I clutched a pencil with a clenched death claw grip that turned writing into a wrestling match complete with cramping and minor injuries, and because I have a cognitive hitch that makes swift writing by pencil chaotic in that the data transmission rate is so insanely high that I just got a flood of characters with each word, often in no particular order. Even now, when I write quickly, i end up trying to itewr rwite wiret write a word starting at the wrong place within the word, then going back to erase, which causes a backup in the anstrcipti— tans— scriptst— transcription process that tightens my death claw and makes me grind my teeth.

My sensible mother bought me a typewriter at our school’s multi-family yard sale, and it was a tool that let my writing catch up to the whirling storm cloud of my brain, though my clenched perfectionism made editing a frustration of scissors and mucilage. It got me through that phase of school, sort of, and it holds pride of place in my apartment, though I’ve come to recognize that that first typewriter, a pretty two-tone Royal Royalite portable with a genuine leatherette case with tassels on the zippers was not a particularly good tool—just a well-situated one.

When the impetus became obvious that we fine citizens of the world were suddenly meant to become typographers and produce publication-ready work for our lousy essays for middle school, I started bicycling down to my dad’s office to write on the Adler Satellite 2001 electrics they used to type in the label field on microfiche duplication masters, burning Ko-Rec-Type by the bushel. When I could get my hands on one, I’d use a Selectric, with it’s wondrous correction key, and when my dad was unwise enough to leave his office unlocked, I could sneak in and set up on the absolutely gorgeous Selectric Composer that held court on the typewriter return of his ugly formica-eighties desk, and for a time, my class assignments were often questioned as being copies straight from a book because they were fully justified, and you just couldn’t do that then.

I wrote on our first Apple, using Apple Writer 1.0, and on my dad’s “laptop,” a seven hundred pound Kaypro built to atomic testing standards, and then on my Commodore 64, using a word processing program that I typed in from a magazine and then saved to my sloooooooooow egg-shaped Datasette, then zapped into hard copy on a variety of increasingly legible dot matrix printers.

In my horrid adulthood, though, once I’d been expelled from school for roughing up my gym teacher over a homophobic slur and become a delivery boy for pizza, DC documents, and other nonsense, I started writing on the divine typewriter, and that’s still what I do. I put on music that catches me in exactly the right emotional and cosmic space, and I listen to it over and over and over as I tell myself a story. Pizzas are delivered, and I’m writing, microfilms are duplicated and indexed and I’m writing, college happens and I’m writing, digital imaging happens and I’m writing, then carpentry and then art and then facility management, and the song plays on and the words spool, and I sit down to boil it all out of the storm clouds and—

Somewhere in the mix, the speed of transcription, and particularly the addiction to ease and comfort, stopped mattering as much as the removal of more serious obstacles, and I returned to the place where I started, because the typewriter can neither tempt nor interrupt me, except when it fails to work properly, and I can make almost anything work properly, just shy of a relationship or a career, and so I can sit, plug my ears into a little music player that’s small enough I can almost accidentally inhale it, and start to unspool.

I don’t care that my stimakes mistakes and reconsidered lexical word choices are all either struck out with dashes from the typewriter or crossed out with a red pencil against the curved platen as I see an error rolling up with the swing of the carriage return. When I’m feeling vain, in that sort of cultivated vanity that an insecure writer needs to keep the stories flowing, I like to think that, one day, when I’ve bankrupted myself building a Potemkin Village of tiny houses in West Virginia and buying increasingly absurd Italian motorcycles, I can put up my red-inked manuscripts on Ebay to raise enough money to keep myself in scarves and locally made organic goat camembert.

On the computer, I have to pretend that editing is impossible, or I’ll do what I’ve done with the book I finished writing in 2005 and have yet to submit because I’ve edited and edited edited and edited edited and edited edited and edited edited and edited edited and edited edited and edited edited and edited edited and edited edited and edited until it’s all just word salad to me, nonsensical and ultimately depressing, because Scaggsville could be good if I’d just learn to unclench the death claw, unbind the expectations, and let it just be what it is.

So I try to type like I’m typing in a realm that denies my inner editor. I’ve returned, via a little adaptor, to the original clackety monstrous keyboard from my father’s Macintosh II from 1988, and I’ve returned to the original draft of my poor book, wiser, I hope, after a decade of failure, and the computer is a typewriter, because I’ve printed that old work out and started at it with a red pencil, and soon enough, I will retype it in its entirety, not out of some sort of hipster’s instinct for retroactive authenticity, but because quality requires effort, even in the age of mechanical reproduction, and I will read every word aloud, too, because the spoken word reveals the lies that ease and convenience tell.

The tool that is best is the one with which you produce your best work.

This is different for everyone, but recognizing yours is important.

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A lovely, lively essay about the writing process ... and more. Thank you!

Edited at 2014-02-22 05:22 pm (UTC)

Good work. It's hard to write or even live authentically. Good to hear from you again.

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