I’ve been writing for 25 years now – “writing,” meaning more than just checks or grocery lists. When you say you’re a writer though, it implies you get paid to do it, or that you’ve been published. It’s easy to get published on the Internet, now. Everyone’s a writer.
So I’ve gone from writing long-hand to electric typewriter, to computer, to manual typewriter, to notepad, and back to computer.
My favorite was a pea-green Smith Corona manual typewriter, which was made in the 1960s. I know it’s from the 60s because that shade of green only existed in the 60s, on cars, floor lamps, and typewriters.
I got it at a shop on Capitol Hill when we first moved to Seattle, in 1996. The keys were well-oiled and so responsive, it sounded like gunfire when I typed. I took it with us camping to Orcas Island and beat on it at the picnic table, not realizing it was probably rude to type in a public campground after dark.
I liked the Smith Corona because it felt like a percussive instrument. I’ve never been able to make music, but I like to believe that with the Smith Corona, the clicking and snapping had a kind of beat to it. I’m sure my neighbors would disagree.
Through all my writing, living alone on Capitol Hill, I amassed a stack of paper next to the typewriter. It made me feel good to look at the stack: it was evidence I was doing something. It didn’t amount to anything I would share today, but it kept me going.
While I did it, I reasoned with myself that at least I was improving my typing. That helped me get temp jobs in the past, when they tested me on my word count per minute. They were always surprised that a guy could type so fast, so accurately!
It also strengthened my wrists, since the manual typewriters require you to hold the shift key down when you want a capital. So the physical aspect of typing/writing was one that felt musical somehow. It’s different with a laptop, although I still get a click out of the keys.
The Smith Corona met its fate flying back from Spain in 1998. It got damaged in transit, by the airline. As a result, the carriage return didn’t work right – it sagged. My words drooped as I got to the right margin, and this stressed me out.
I took it back to the shop where I bought it and asked if there was anything that could be done. He said, short of hitting it with a sledge hammer, no. The carriage had been bent, and the only way to undo that was to hit it again from the other side.
I held on to the Smith Corona, but it became a piece of art in my garage: an ornament, reminding me of another time, and a dream I had about myself. I haven’t been able to get it right since that machine.