The Classic Typewriter Page

Typewriter Tributes


A 21st CENTURY TYPIST'S LAMENT

–After hearing that if a literary agent didn’t recognize
a person's name in her email inbox, she would “delete your query unread.”

by

Bill Meissner


Photo: Christine Meissner

          Once upon an ancient time, I was in love with paper.  I was in love with words.  The way they pressed themselves, just so, like close friends, on the page.  Words mattered, once upon a very different time.
          Once I was in love with trees. The years of my life equaled the rings on a medium-sized oak tree—each ring another imprint of a dry year, or a rainy year, or something in between—and I wrote about each one.  I used to slide my arms around trees and whisper to them, knowing some day they would cradle my words in their pulpy palms.
          Back in the ‘50s, my words were valuable; they meant something.  They had weight, even though I was paid only a penny for each one I wrote.  I clacked them out on a typewriter by the hundreds of thousands, the bell at the end of the margin calling bing, bing, to my fingertips that were raw but beautiful on the stiff nickel and glass keys.  Some nights I typed furiously, fearlessly while the feather in the hatband of my fedora wavered, as if all those rushing thoughts created a slight breeze. 
          Those days, words were harder to dispose of; you needed to stab a thick eraser onto the paper until it nearly ripped.  It took some time to correct your errors, to make the imperfect words perfect again.  Some people even thought they needed to burn them, though I never did.   
          Then, if I were lucky, my words would eventually be printed in ink on pulp.  The workers in a publishing house would bind thousands of copies of my version of this lovely and twisted world.  A person could carry them around for days; you could keep them close to you, in your pocket.  Right over your heart, even.
                           
          Now, typewriters—their keys extracted like teeth and made into  jewelry—are in the scrap pile.  Once words were personal; you could taste them on the tip of your tongue.  Now they’re digital and dry, and easy to ignore by those too busy or too tired to read.  They’re weightless, and silent, sent adrift, floating listlessly in cyberspace with billions of other dull words texted or posted each day.  They’re sentenced to an out-box, deleted with the click of a plastic button, recycled in a cartoon trash bin.  Those words are like orphans left to die in the narrowest of rooms, orphans that can’t bang on the door, but only whimper.
          If you don’t appreciate what I’m saying, and you feel you must create more space, then go ahead—delete these words.  Delete them, delete them all unread.         
          Once upon another time, words were near to me, and close.  I wasn’t just in love with words—they were in love with me.
          I want to believe this:  The words will come back some day.  They’ll return with new meaning that will make the ears hear again, the fingertips feel, the tongue wake from its slumber, the eyes widen and sting with images. 
         To make that happen, I lift my old typewriter from the dark tomb of its case, and begin to type.  Listen:  The words resurrect themselves, clacked out letter by letter on a noisy, happy keyboard.  Look:  the words grow wings, they find a voice, and—if you listen close enough—you’ll hear them speak.   

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bio:
Bill Meissner is Director of Creative Writing at St Cloud State University in Minnesota.  He is the author of seven books:  one novel, two short story collections, including Hitting into the Wind [Random House] and four books of poetry.  His recent novel, Spirits in the Grass, won the 2008 Midwest Book Award and will be released as an ebook in February 2012.  His pulp fiction writer alter ego, Mickey Underwood, who clacks out stories at a penny a word, contributed to this article, which was originally typed on a 1948 manual Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter.  Underwood was miffed when he learned that the essay was forwarded to the Classic Typewriter Page via email attachment and edited through cyberspace. 
Bill Meissner’s web page is:  http://web.stcloudstate.edu/wjmeissner/
Underwood has no web page.  His temporary address is the Corona Hotel, Room 21, 1221 42nd St., New York, New York.  Meissner advises not to try to disturb him when he is working.


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