Typewriters help us regroup

“No one throws away typewritten letters, because they are pieces of graphic art with a singularity equal to your fingerprints, for no two manual typewriters print precisely the same. Emails disappear from all but the servers of Google and the N.S.A. No one on the planet has yet to save an Evite. But pull out a 1960s Brother De Luxe 895, roll in a sheet of paper and peck out, “That party was a rocker! Thanks for keeping us dancin’ till quarter to three,” and 300 years from now that thank-you note may exist in the collection of an aficionado who treasures it the same as a bill of sale from 1776 for one dozen well-made casks from Ye Olde Ale Shoppe.” ~ Tom Hanks

This Friday I will welcome to my meager but endearing collection “the typewriter that launched a thousand typists.” An antique scarlet red 1920-ish Corona No. 4 typewriter.

My kids think there’s no room on the shelves but they don’t know what they’re talking about. There’s something about a manual typewriter that makes a print-loving heart skip a beat. Those beautiful, cordless, wireless, manual machines. This will be number five for me, not counting a 1960s Smith Corona Galaxie XII model I gave my daughter for Christmas a few years back. Since I’m the only one nerding out over these things, so maybe I’ll just include it in the count.

Part of the reason I love old typewriters is imagining who has used them. I have tried to date the ones I have by serial numbers, the oldest appearing to be from circa 1900. Who knows how many fingers have tapped out thoughts and exactly what has been created with those keys. Whatever they were, it was all processed from brain to paper slowly.

That doesn’t happen as much now. Thoughts aren’t so much processed as instantly chucked out into the world. Editing has become less important. But words haven’t. That’s a tricky combination.

From kindergarten, or even earlier, we teach kids how to stay calm, how to regroup. What do we tell them to do if they get upset? Stop, breathe, count to 10.

How do we handle an important decision? Consider it, mull it over, sleep on it.

How do we deal with anger or disgust in the moment when we have a cell phone in our hand or a computer screen in front of us? Blast it out on social media and tally up the likes.

This is what administers appreciation for the beauty of basic machines of the past, like typewriters. I’m aging and nostalgic, so I believe they are the opposite of knee jerking. It takes longer to process thoughts because it takes longer to physically punch them out. It requires more time to craft a word, a sentence, a page. It demands rewriting and the mistakes, the process, can’t be instantly erased. Anne Lamott said. “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

I agree. I haven’t exactly mastered how to do this on a daily basis, but a good place to start seems to be cushioning my sacred personal space with dusty plug-less typewriters, physical books and a tribe who buys into this too.

Singer John Mayer (who I hear happens to be a faithful typewriter writer) says, “So we keep on waiting, waiting for the world to change.”

Me too, John Mayer. At his point, I’m aware the world probably isn’t going to. I don’t imagine we’ll go back to writing and folding notes like my friends and I did in high school. And that’s fine.

But I’m going to keep fawning over my typewriters and FIIT, FITT, CLANGing out some words now and again, remembering this is the way it used to done. Then sighing a nostalgic sigh when the bell dings.

Shelley Plett is a graphic designer for the Free Press and Kansas Publishing Ven­tures. She can be reached at shelley@hillsborofree­press.com.

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