I love my notebook computer. It does everything from emitting ideas to editing video. I even love the keyboard response. It helps me go fast.
But typing on my Mac makes a sound like a muffled tap, a kind of literary soft-shoe that dives under other sounds and gets lost. Not like what I learned on. Not at all.
Some information needs to clack. Some stories need to come out of muscled hands through a keyboard that resists, that takes effort, that makes sure you mean it. The typewriter pictured here was in my mother-in-law’s attic. Someone brought it downstairs; they were helping my son search for an old Atari system. I just about spit my coffee. Still in my pajamas, I snagged a piece of paper from a nearby printer and loaded up. ASDF-JKL; and away we go: I typed a few lines. Did it pretty well, too. Only one mistake.
But what felt really good was the effort, the sinews of my hands straining, eyes on the advancing type and not on the keyboard. Reporters must have had vise-like meathooks, I thought. That handshake meant something.
Reporters I knew were proud of being able to type accurately under pressure. My editor at Golfweek even volunteered to help me out when I had three stories going in on deadline day. “I’ll slam it in,” he said. Even though we were on computers by then, you could tell this guy learned the old way.
Overdone movie scenes aside (“COPY! GET THIS DOWNSTAIRS!”), what must it have been like to walk into a big-paper city room an hour before deadline? On a daily, I mean, with crucial quote confirmations or that last key fact coming in from that guy on the senator’s staff you’ve been working on for weeks — phone shouldered to the ear, bellowing over the hacka-tap-clack cacophony from 40 machines, never ending. Ding-throws syncopate their way through the smoke of cigarettes forgotten in ashtrays; carriages fly back right to set up the next line. Look at the hands, the fingers with the flattened ends, the tendons trying to burst through, knuckles shining and one thumb floating-tapping over the space bar. Shift with a pinky? Damn right. I could change a tire on your car with this pinky. Extend that from your teacup.
Even writing alone had its sound: getting a rhythm going, watching the type fly upward to the page on thin metal rods from its amphitheatrer-like array. When the work flows and you don’t fear mistakes, the flying metal looks like ideas coming to a boil and the ribbon chugs by like a steaming freight. Tappa tappa without tap dancing around what you really want to say. Words exit your mind and become permanent with the crackle that lightning must make if you could stand close enough to hear.
This new generation’s hands tingle in a different way. But that clack, and the athletic ache in the wrists…may we all feel the wonder of those, no matter when we write.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr
Photo by Adam Barr