Posted on 08 September 2010
When I was a kid, I liked to write on our old manual typewriter. This thing was the real deal — inky ribbons that bled everywhere, sticky and jammed keys, slanty type, etc. I typed stories and little books and even gossipy newsletters for my friends on that typewriter. It actually made a ding when you reached the end of a line and the shift key really meant something. I loved it. Loved it!
But the typewriter wasn’t without its frustrations. It couldn’t erase, of course, so every word, every letter, was permanent. Even so, I wasn’t afraid to just sit down and type out whatever came to mind. But this created problems, too, like the time I asked my oldest brother how to spell a long word. I typed out every letter as he said it — and it wasn’t until he threw an X in there that I realized he was just spouting off random letters so I’d mess up my entire page. Thanks a lot. (This is the same brother who convinced me, when I was all of seven years old, to give him my long-saved birthday, Christmas and chore money to buy his old Hardy Boys books. Everyone in the family laughed their asses off when they learned what he did. I don’t care what he says, I STILL haven’t gotten that money back.)
When I was eleven years old, I took my carefully saved money (from the age of seven on, anyway) and bought the most exciting thing ever. An electric typewriter! I still remember stalking the typewriter aisle in the office supply store before finally selecting the one for me.
That electric typewriter was a huge step up. First, it could erase. It did this weird little backwards skip to magically rub out the last letter or word. Sure, sometimes you could still see a ghost of what had been there, but no matter. At least you didn’t have to pound the keys full force or actually touch the ribbon and get ink everywhere. Plus, it felt professional, had automated settings and even served as an investment for the pen pal club I’d started. Other kids from around the country mailed in money for postage and I sent out a 6- to 12-page newsletter, all typed on that electric typewriter. (That newsletter probably deserves a post of its own, since it is so deliciously geeky.)
But eventually, typing tools lost their spark — probably after the appearance of the word processor, that clunky pre-computer thing my mother bought. She kept it for years, even after we got a real computer. Once we were firmly in the computer era, I tried the word processor one last time but became incredibly frustrated that it couldn’t copy and paste. How could it have a screen and a blinking cursor and not cut and paste text? Ridiculous! I never used it again.
By now, I’ve gone through a stream of laptops. My current computer is one of those little netbooks. The last place I remember seeing the ancient manual typewriter was in the storage shed in the backyard when my brothers and I were cleaning out the house after it sold. We must have thrown the typewriter away. I wish now that I still had it, even though it probably wouldn’t work and the ribbons would be hard to find and I would never actually use it to write. It would just be nice to have it again, to lift the heft of its case and remember the times I sat typing on the screened-in porch or alone in my room. That typewriter was, after all, what I used to type some of my earliest stories, way back when I first understood what it felt like to be a writer with dreams.
Writing, Hearing: An Old Typewriter
Famous Authors and Their Typewriters
The Vanishing Craft of the Typewriter Repairman
Click, Clack, Ding! A Look Back at the Typewriter
Typewriter Shop Still Hanging In
Virtual Typewriter Museum