Saturday, February 17, 2007
Typewriter as Talisman
I love old manual typewriters—the way they look, the way they sound, the way the keys feel under my fingers as they strike the letters onto the page. There is an element of nostalgia for a time I never knew in my attachment to these machines. After all, the ones that I find most appealing predate me by decades. But there’s more to it than that.
I wrote my first stories on a typewriter. It was the late 80s and computers had filtered into the workplace but not many people had one at home. I certainly didn’t. I didn’t even have a typewriter of my own but my roommate cheerfully lent me hers whenever I asked. I had just shifted from writing poetry to writing fiction and I was giddy with a sense of having found my form. When inspiration ran high, I would call in sick to work and spend the day at our rickety kitchen table pounding out a story on my roommate’s typewriter, usually turning out a complete draft by sundown.
I have been feeling anxious lately about the extent to which my day job is squeezing out my writing time. So it’s no surprise that I’m thinking back fondly to a time when my day job wasn’t quite so demanding and I didn’t hesitate to spurn it for fiction.
Yesterday, I decided to buy myself a typewriter. I don’t have the option of reclaiming all my time for writing but I thought that if I got a typewriter for my office at home, even just as a decorative object, it would be a way of symbolically reclaiming the space for writing. It would mark a rebalancing of my priorities.
I toured round several antique stores and came up empty—just a few very ugly electric typewriters on offer that didn’t fit the bill at all. Surely, I thought, there must be a place in a city this size that specializes in old typewriters. Lo and behold, this morning I flipped open the Globe and Mail and found an article about old typewriters as style icons which featured an interview with the owner of The Monkey’s Paw, a Toronto bookstore that sells vintage typewriters alongside second-hand books. As soon as I finished breakfast, I hopped on the streetcar and made my way over there.
I found my typewriter on display in the front window. It’s a portable Underwood from 1940—it’s a thing of beauty and it works. I’m partial to items that are at once beautiful and useful. I doubt that I’ll do very much typing on it, but I like the idea that I can. In any event, its presence is now infusing my office with good writing energy just as I thought it would.
If you share my typewriter fetish, you may want to follow some of the links from the Globe and Mail article. You can find a dizzying array of vintage typewriters for sale online here, jewellery made from recycled typewriter keys here, and a cunning set of typewriter replica bookends here. And if you’re in Toronto, I highly recommend a visit to The Monkey’s Paw, if not for the typewriters, then for the excellent selection of second-hand books.