One day last year, my portable manual typewriter unexpectedly suffered a snapped neck, leaving the carriage return unusable. I went into a period of mourning. I placed the crippled machine--a loyal friend for some 20 years--in a respectable grave in the far room of the attic, covering it with its vinyl dust cover.
But in the months that followed, I found myself missing its presence dearly. Feeling somewhat disloyal, I drove to an office supply depot and bought a used manual to replace it. The machine sat on the car seat next to me on the way home, and at a stoplight, I lifted the lid of its case and gazed at its gleaming chrome and plastic parts. At that moment, it occurred to me: there are a number of very personal reasons why I'm compelled to own a manual typewriter.
I type on a manual because I care about my health. It's not just the dainty pressing of keys we're talking about, and none of those pansy wrist pads are involved. We're talking real, blood-circulating, bone-strengthening snapping on the machine. We're talking about the sweep and thump of the carriage after each line, the bing of the bell adding a little music. We're talking exercise not just for the fingers and hands, but for the heart and mind. Simply put, I type to stay physically fit and to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I use typewriters because I like their names. Don't throw your high-tech Millennium terminology at me, like Microsoft (something very small, and very soft?), Multiscan 1705, SyQuest, Aip drives, Ram Doubler 2000 or Trinitron 300 ES (a bad sci-fi movie?). Give me the old names, those regal, elegant names that are fun to pronounce and have small, manageable numbers: Remington 2, Royal De Luxe 5, Penncrest Caravelle 10, Smith-Corona Classic 12.
The manual typewriters have another advantage: you can sit under a tree with the light-weight machine resting on your lap, slide the blue sky into your carriage, and write on it. I'm sick of being hooked up to wires, and being connected to the life support cords of the electronic world. We all know that NSP electricity is not cheap, and just think of those noisy, polluting generators, grinding into the night. So, in my own humble way, I type for clear water and clean air; I type to preserve the environment. Your beautiful day is brought to you by Underwood.
I type because there is White Out, and CorrecType, and MagiWhite. These marvels of the modern age enable you to use the same sheet of paper and type over your mistakes. With our greedy computer printer, we simply reprint pages over and over again, even if it's just a one-letter typo. Think of the saplings we've sacrificed. And when the pines of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are gone, what of the hardwood forests on the slopes of the Rockies? How would you feel if you lifted a sheet of paper toward the tray of your Laserjet 500 on which is printed, in a ghostly watermark in the center: "Made of 100% California Redwood?" I type to save the forests.
I type because a great philosopher once said: "I type; therefore, I am."
Allow me to hit the backspace key for a moment. In the not-too-distant past, I suffered through a high school typing class with Miss Racafratz, the cranky typing teacher with no eyebrows who slapped the tender undersides of our wrists with a wooden stick. One day, in waltzed a substitute typing teacher named Ms. Chanel, who wore a red dress, was surrounded by a cloud of perfume, and bore an uncanny resemblance to Marilyn Monroe. All the boys went dreamy-eyed and their usual 25 words per minute pace dropped to 15. Soon the word spread that those who made the most mistakes on a test required individual help. By the end of that week, when the test's timing bell rang and the tumultuous clatter of those 30 manual machines finally fell to silence, it was amazing how many of the guys' scores went down. Some of my best friends actually came up with negative figures.
So today I type in honor of those fallen heroes of the 12th grade, those boys who never made it to tech school because their typing scores dropped to nothing for a noble cause that wore a red dress. Today I type at 21 words per minute because I cannot forget.
I type into the next Millennium because, unlike a computer, a typewriter never loses its memory.
Bill Meissner's most recent book is the novel Spirits in the Grass (University of Notre Dame Press, fall 2008). He is also the author of The Road to Cosmos, a collection of short stories about the unique characters in a small Midwestern town (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006); a second book of stories, Hitting into the Wind (Random House hard cover, SMU Press paperback); and four books of poems, including American Compass (University of Notre Dame Press). He teaches creative writing at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, and is the proud owner of (approximately) 21 manual typewriters, including his surviving Royal Quiet De Luxe, upon which he types letters and commentaries on his students' poems and stories. For more about his books and writing, visit his web page.