notes

The heft of words.

In writing on January 26, 2012 at 10:30 pm

I unearthed my mother’s refurbished 1940s Remington Rand portable typewriter from a pile of nostalgia in a dark corner of her guest room on my last visit to Virginia. She seemed pleased that I was interested in this prized possession dating back to her college days, and she was happy to let me bring it home. I made a spot for it in my sunroom on a small wooden table I rescued from a Prague flea market years ago. It sits next to my front door, so I can see it every time I leave home and return.

It is sleek and beautiful, heavy and old-fashioned. When I contrast it to my comparably featherweight MacBook, I thank the Apple gods for saving my posture, but also believe that the Remington Rand has a certain substantive feel – a sense of permanence – that slender Macs never will. I wish I could say that I brought it home intending to put it to use, but I am too poor a typist and too spoiled by technology.

But I did roll a sheet of paper onto the platen (though the thin copy paper felt all wrong) and type one line, thinking how my fingers would ache if I tried to write a chapter, much less a book, on the Remington.

And this made me stop and wonder how much the minutiae of the creative process is driven by the tools we use. As I worked to hit the smooth black and gold keys hard enough to stamp letters onto the page, I wondered if writers in the heyday of the manual typewriter wrote and revised in their heads more than we do in our plugged-in, easy-edit existence.

I can imagine a time-traveled version of myself in the 1940s, sitting still in front of the Remington for long stretches between typing bouts, coming up with a sentence, then revising it a dozen times in my mind’s eye before striking keys to record it. I believe going about writing this way might make me stop and consider the weight of each word more carefully than I do now, given the knowledge that now I can – in theory, anyway – so easily go back later and insert the perfect word.

But how often do I get lazy, forgetting to revisit my sentences and find just the right words? The thought makes me want to ditch the MacBook for the Remington Rand and see what happens.

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