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The Typewriter Song

When I was a young person, my parents bought me a typewriter.  It wasn’t because they had nothing to do. I was diagnosed with disgraphia. Which is to say, my brain and my fingertips don’t get along.  Fine motor control is painful (literally) after a short time and degrades further. On the other hand, no matter what, the short movements required to type do not trigger the same fatigue.

My parents were not rich.  So they brought home a typewriter which technically met all the requirements for being a typewriter. Which is to say, it had keys, ink, and keys which when depressed, would cause a letter to appear.

It was completely manual.

Not just the action of the key strokes – we’re talking everything. Carriage return? Manual. Line advance? Manual.  And it had a bell that dinged as I hit the return, letting me know it had returned to the start of the line.  For those of you who have never used a manual typewriter, it’s sort of like a computer keyboard. Except that it is the force with which one strikes the keys that lifts the punch and raises the ribbon.

All one has to do is strike the keys with sufficient force.  Sufficient force in this case would be enough pressure to drive a ten penny nail into hardened oak. So I learned to type. I learned to type hard.  And in time, I learned to type fast.

Not because I thought I might one day be a writer. More because I wanted to get my homework done, and the fastest way to get it done was by typing. To this day, I carry the scars of my beginnings. One or two spaces after the full stop?  Two. My brain knows better. In a world of truetype fonts with kerned letters, I only need one space. My id inserts the second stubornly.

And I’m on my third keyboard for my laptop. I still strike the keys like every blow is engraving in stone.  I love my surface RT but using the touch cover hurts – there’s no travel in the keys.  A few weeks ago, I saw an IBM selectric in a thrift store.  The owners gladly let me power it on, despite the fact that it drew enough electricity to power a small city.  When I clicked the on switch (labeled, properly, 0 and 1), it threw forth a hum that fills my soul to this day.

The sound of a typewriter waiting to throw those keys for me. The sound of a machine which could let me burst the stories in my soul onto paper. Also, if you accidentally touched the ribbon and a key at the same time, you only did that once. Those keys would leave an imprint on your finger.

I almost bought the typewriter, but my kids would never use it.  And I’ve grown so used to not having to use white-out to make corrections in my manuscripts.  I have a writer friend who still writes with pen and paper, then types her manuscript.  She says it makes her choose her words with care.  What is done cannot be easily undone. I understand, but when I listen to that ready hum of the typewriter, and the clatter of keys punching the letters in ink, I think there’s another reason.

She likes to hear it sing.  I know I do.

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One Comment

  1. Beth Beth

    Your column is funny! I, too, suffer from a mild case of disgraphia which is no fun after a while. But I can hear the hum of the motor when powering up a electric typewriter. In fact, I may still have that typewriter somewhere in the house. I take comfort in the old typewriter for old times’ sake…

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