Thursday, June 14, 2012

Baby, you can drive my typewriter

I am not a car person, by any stretch of the imagination. I got my license when I was 20 (three and a half years after I was old enough) and that was only because my plans to be a cocktail waitress in Atlantic City had imploded and I was forced to spend the summer at home. What else could I do in that one-horse-town, but work at a record store and learn how to drive?

When summer ended, I went back to NYC and pretty much never drove again—until I moved to Texas and had no choice but to reacquire the suburban life skill and get me some wheels. Lindsay picked the car—a very safe, economical and not-terribly-attractive Subaru Outback—because I didn't really care, as long as there was enough room in the back to carry my junk around. Besides, the only car I'd ever truly admired was quite out of reach: the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. Come on, you know it—a design icon of the 60s and 70s? Maxwell Smart drove a powder-blue one? Well, someone used to park a red Karmann Ghia outside my local library, which I'd gawk at as I toted my Anne Mcaffrey books home. That's the kind of car I'm going to drive, I thought, and when I drive it, I will wear a leather pilot hat like Amelia Earhart and a long white silk scarf like Isadora Duncan. Never worked out.

So I may not be much of a car person but I am a typewriter person. And this here typewriter is the eye-poppingly lovely result of a 1970 collaboration between Carrozzeria Ghia, the designer of the Karmann Ghia, and Smith Corona. They called it the Super G. I bought it ten years ago at a flea market in Brooklyn for $20. At the time, I felt like a fool—it didn't even have ribbon and who knew if they still made them?—but I couldn't pass it up, this merging of one of my favorite things with the old dream car.

I know a lot of luddite hipsters fetishize typewriters nowadays—see this entertaining article about the "Analog Underground" in New York magazine—which is why my Super G is worth a lot more than I paid for it. But I don't believe I fall into that category. Those youngsters are nostalgic for something they never had. (Isn't there a word for that?) Whereas I had no choice but to use a typewriter.

As a kid, I had an old grey Royal, upon which I authored some truly terrible poetry for the high school literary mag Calliope. When I headed to college, my parents bought me my first electric typewriter—a very bare-bones Brother. I wrote all my papers in longhand on yellow legal pads and then typed them up on the Brother. The summer after freshman year I went to Harvard summer school and took my first creative-writing class, Autobiography (yes, still navel-gazing after all these years!), with the remarkable Bill Corbett. This was 1987. I remember him asking the class how we wrote, if we wrote longhand or on typewriters or on a "word processor." So quaint! Though it seemed pretty state-of-the-art to me at the time since all I had was my trusty typewriter. I seem to recall that he was reluctantly making the transition to word processing and that he was well aware of how it made writing such a different enterprise.

Word processing was just too fast, allowing you to write unreflectively, ten different ways and then obliterate it all in a moment. You know, the way we write now. If you write longhand (especially with a quill!) or even on a typewriter, you're more careful, considered in your choices. You think more about what you write before you write it. Ah well. Too late to turn back the clock. And so word processing begat...blogging, and all the platforms for verbiage that followed. (One might argue that twitter, with its 140-character restriction, signals a return to concise, pointed language, but that argument doesn't really take into account the sheer volume of tweets tweeters tweet.)

I didn't process words until I met Lindsay at the end of my junior year. Lindsay had a Mac SE. Bye-bye, Brother. I wrote all my senior papers on his Mac, and I'm sure they were all twice as long as they needed to be.

Sometimes I think I should try writing on my typewriter again. I have a whole drawer full of ribbons; as is the case with most fetishes, there are ample resources available on the internets. But then I try and it's just...too...hard. My fingers don't work that way anymore. Nor does my brain. So I gave it—excuse me, loaned it—to my kids, who one-finger type on it till the novelty wears off, and it does wear off rather quickly. I'm afraid it's too late for them as well.

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