The Sound of Typing

2 Dec

For me the essential medium of writing is neither the pen nor the modern word processor. It’s the typewriter.

From 1984 to 1996, the typewriter was the best friend to Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), TV’s most coveted mystery writer. Each episode was a real life version of Scooby Doo. Murder She Wrote, wasn’t exactly the ‘featured item’ on a boy’s TV menu, but when Grandma was babysitting, the only other option was free-throwing your He-Man action figures into the toilet. That Skeletor sure can’t swim. I fondly recall the opening sequence where the show’s title was literally typed on a typewriter. For avid (psychotic) fans of the show, you’re probably eager to point out Fletcher eventually turned to a personal computer for her mystery novels. Respectfully, the typewriter remained in the opening shot, as it was truly the symbol for her as a writer.

The same can be said for another ‘80s icon. While off the radar for anyone born after 1981, Mr. Belvedere was a writer in disguise. Unlike Jessica Fletcher, his creative ink surged at the end of each episode with his daily thoughts on the Owens family. Though, I have just lied to you. It turns out Mr. Belvedere did all of his writing in a journal. Even a friend agreed with me that Mr. Belvedere rocked a typewriter in the closing moments of the show. Why do I always imagine him wailing away on the typewriter? Because the symbology was already planted. Looking back, I can’t possibly conceive Mr. Belvedere as being one of those pre-teen poets bleeding their creative hearts into a black and white composition notebook. Nor can I see him browsing the aisle of overpriced novelty journals at Barnes and Noble. The fact is I’m looking back at my past through modern judgmental eyes.

My fandom for the typewriter was etched in stone with the 1988 motion picture Funny Farm. Andy Farmer (Chevy Chase), is a run of the mill doofus who takes his wife to a remote town in order to work on his novel. The typewriter became a metaphor as Chase suffered  writer’s block, yet as the sun slept his wife did not. She was pounding away as the typewriter sang its song. In the end, he had nothing while she was published.

It comes as no surprise that one of the happiest days of my life was when my younger sister Rachel purchased a typewriter. This was one of those electronic dandies capable of erasing mistakes. I think I used more of the eraser solution than I did ink. It’s hard to fathom why a 12-year-old girl, especially one who didn’t write, would want a typewriter. Nonetheless, I gave that machine more love than a ‘cool kid’ hates Nickelback.

But when I went away to college, the typewriter stayed at home. I could have easily transported it from Buffalo to Boston in the van my Dad rented despite owning a van.

Then something terrible happened. I burst through my society hating, self-loving bubble. This was all due in part to the three B’s: Booze, Broads, and Bands. My typewriting days were over. And sadly I forgot about my treasured symbol. The Internet was bursting with user-friendly sites, and I quickly hopped on LiveJournal.

When I graduated and moved to South Florida to teach high school I suddenly found myself overwhelmed by the desire to write creatively. My eternal symbol resurfaced and I brought the typewriter with me. I even acquired an antique typewriter so it wouldn’t get lonely.

But a question was begging to be asked. Why was I refusing to let go of something that never once helped me to produce a lengthy manuscript? One year for Christmas, I even took my typewriter home with me on the plane.

I guess it all results in me growing up with the idea that a typewriter is a writer’s medium. I find it hard to attach myself to a personal computer. In a sense the computer is the modern typewriter. But nearly everyone has a computer now. I can’t allow myself to be associated with the millions of inconsistent bloggers, term paper typists, and ‘check out this great recipe’ e-mailers of the world.

So I had gravitated to notebooks/journals. The journals were a success as I actually finished a few. But these were meant to be the starting point. These were ideas. Most ‘aspiring’ writers are merely people full of ideas they are confident enough about to convince themselves that they will someday stop everything to pen it. But a writer is someone who writes. Not just ideas, but also drafts that will morph into submittable manuscripts. It’s committed determination and hard work that makes this happen, often on a personal computer.

Still I wasn’t ready to abandon my pursuit of the typewriter. After all, my fictional idol, Ted Cole, a children’s writer gloriously played by Jeff Bridges in “Door in the Floor,” refused to conform. In one scene his adolescent assistant suggests Cole should purchase a computer, to which Cole rhetorically replies, “Maybe for the next book.”

When I was hired to teach English in Japan, I had no choice but to abandon the typewriter. I couldn’t picture Japan having typewriters only to discover that a kanji typewriter was invented in 1915. What would I do with that? Print out cool temporary tattoos for American children?

So I adopted the Neo, a lightweight portable word processor. I used it often and felt like a “real” writer. Though, in the end I had to transfer the data files to my computer. In reality, Neo was just a lighter temporary laptop. Compared to a freshly stamped piece of paper, there’s no sense of accomplishment in looking at a USB drive. As I discovered incredibly cute cheap journals in Japan, my use of the Neo faded.      I became so accustomed with my journal and laptop system that I thought I would never be with my friend the typewriter again. Until now.

This lengthy essay has been a ploy, a ringing endorsement, for Typewriter Keyboard. This shareware program’s function is simple: when I type on my keyboard, authentic typewriter noises sound. There’s even a metallic swooshing sound when I press enter. But I only turn it on though when writing or editing a draft. I don’t want to de-sensitize or associate the therapeutic experience with Skype chats or searches for McDonaldland toys on eBay. Thanks to Typewriter Keyboard I am reacquainted with my long lost friend, well at least in spirit. With over 37 picture book manuscripts to date, all I needed was the sound of typing. Now how do I get over my fear of revision?

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