IN A WORD
44.00, the Ebay auction item said as I perused my watch list. No bidders until the last four or five hours. She was a standard run of the mill simple but sturdy looking beauty with little or no wear as I could see by the eight pictures provided. The description was pretty simple as most of them are and this draws me for some reason.
“Very nice original vintage royal quiet deluxe typewriter. Appears to be in great condition. I do not know much about typewriters. i would assume it needs serviced before using it. Some letters don’t go back down instantly so it probably needs oil/grease. Were going to be selling this as is do to our lack of knowledge of typewriters. Please bid accordingly. If we look learn any new info it will be added to the description.”
At first, I turned my head away. There was no flash, no shiny newness. There was no story of some young woman getting this as a gift for her graduation from Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School in the 1950’s as she entered a career in office life. It wasn’t bubble gum pink, or bright turquoise or Corvette red. Just a sturdy old grayish greenish gal, in a barely worn case with a few scuffs and scrapes….waiting. In Ebay’s brilliance, by some algorithm a nerdy tech person set who probably has never even used a typewriter, I received the reminder that the bidding would soon come to an end and that one person had placed a bid for a meager 45.00. I put a max bid in of fifty dollars and saw my bid entered at 46.00. I couldn’t help myself; something made me just want to save her. I have become an addict and we should all be concerned.
Typewriters, the manual kind, are heavy, inconvenient, noisy, frustrating old machines for those not familiar with them. You can’t throw one into your purse and head off to a coffee shop with barely an extra pound or two over your shoulder. You can’t change font sizes or have spell check automatically correct words or change your small letter ‘i’ automatically to a capital ‘I’. In the old models at least, there are no italics , no bold, no number ‘1’ (small ‘l’ instead) and no exclamation mark ‘!’ because frankly your vocabulary should be better than a single symbol.
You need ‘things’ for typewriters- paper, for one, ink, for two and a big vat of PATIENCE, for three. If you haven’t used or ever used a typewriter, a manual one, you probably and ironically need to be great with YouTube (I am not) or find yourself a typewriter repair person. In my case, I am going old school here, typewriter repairman, (my apologies to the superchick typewriter repair women out there). Marr Office Supply in Pawtucket, RI is my new best friend and so are Ray and Michael who as a father and son team have lived through the rise and fall and rise again of the lowly typewriter.
What you don’t need, though, is a power cord, an electric socket, a back up hard drive or a save button. A manual typewriter is a machine of great engineering. Everything is connected to something else and when you come down off of tech brain and just dig in to its workings, each button and lever is pretty obvious in its use. I cheated with my first one, Royal circa 1947 standard weighing in at probably forty pounds and hard to move. Old Bess, as I call her, is a stationary model firmly planted on my kitchen desk with a slight view of my gardens. My grandmother would approve of her placement. I had to take her to Ray because YouTube videos are too cumbersome for my hands and visual brain and honestly this feels like cheating. I had to see and feel how to put the ink in, and quickly learned that the ink could be reused by moving a lever one way or the other to reverse the spools and back again! Can’t do this with our fancy printer cartridges. After a few desperate shakes of the cartridge, you may as well buy a new printer since the replacements often cost as much.
What pray tell (is this even a word combination?) is alayne going to be doing with the six typewriters she has purchased in less than three weeks? I know you are asking this question to yourselves as you read my essay today. There are a few thoughts to my new love. First off let me clarify, in case this is your first reading, and if not you probably are well aware, that I get on what my aunt and I fondly call ‘Jags.’ When something speaks to me, it is full throttle, when it leaves me, it is like it never was. I have accepted this about myself and though I wouldn’t label myself as manic, I do fully understand there is a manic quality to this part of my personality. A little mania is what makes the world go round so here I am. Unapologetic and joyful jag girl. I have learned to like this part of myself rather than think there is something wrong with me so I lean in whole heartedly. From a chocolate babka making obsession, to drinking bio dynamic wine every single night, then not drinking a drop, the list goes on and thankfully the people in my life who love me don’t roll their eyes as much as they likely could. This is love.
So what is my big plan for these beauties who have now entered my life at almost a box delivery a day pace? In a word, fiction. I have never written fiction and I have quickly learned that I am awful at it. I have been writing non fiction personal essays my whole life and almost daily for a solid year and a half and have gotten pretty good at this, but I need a new challenge, a new task. Fiction. In a word. I have been prompted by the idea of flash poetry, where you give someone a word and they type you on a real typewriter a poem in less than ten minutes. This is incredible and my experience of this was fun and fulfilling, but I am not a poet. So I thought it would be fun and super challenging to write flash fiction, one word, one page short stories. Someone gives me a word and I write an entire fictional story using the word on one page of paper. My self imposed rules are as follows:
No date, no reference to my name, no title except who the story is for (To Michael, for example) at the top, no whiteout or erasing (like erasing is even possible), no copying, no posting, publishing or looking for the addictive behavior modifying likes and only one page, one side. It can be single, single in a half or double spaced and handed in its original form to the person who gave me the word. I am sparingly allowing myself a little google to get a date or a peron’s name correct if I am making a reference to it. This is it. And it is way harder than I thought. I have written eight so far and all but one have been typed on the front porch outside in the fresh air. Written on my new Royal portable bought from someone’s son or daughter in West Roxbury, Mass given to their mother by their grandmother in the fifties. This is a practice I am hoping will improve my writing skills because as I am learning, my vocabulary and rhythm of fictional attempt is pretty pathetic. But I am ok with this. There were many famous fiction writers who started late. http://mentalfloss.com/article/63112/11-writers-who-started-late.
I am not looking for fame, just intellectual curiosity and stimulation and an excuse to step away from all things wireless, blue tooth and screen filled. I am looking to engage the people who walk by in eye to eye conversation and starry eyed talk of yesteryear. I am looking for a more creative life and a less technological one.
So throw out a word and I’ll write you a story, stop by and type with me if you see me on the front porch or if you visit my business. There will be a few typewriters soon for you to throw your thoughts on. But trust me when I tell you, you may become hooked as fast as I have become. I take no prisoners or responsibility for anything that happens after your first glorious pound of the key. For the “AArrggg” sound you make when you realize the backspace key does not delete or erase and the thrill of the bell ding when you have completed your first sentence.
In a word. I am waiting.