As a writer, I’m subject to certain aesthetic ticks. Fortunately, the monocle and sword-cane phase didn’t last past adolescence.
But others remain, such as my allegiance to the brass tacks styling of Portage brand reporter’s notebooks and ink black blazers. Unlike some of my colleagues, however, I don’t fetishize vintage typewriters – a phrase that, I realize upon writing it, has been redundant since at least the ’80s.
That said, I have a knack for acquiring them. Well-meaning souls deliver them to my doorstep like almsgiving. I’ve permitted myself to keep only two – an old Corona, that belonged to a dead friend, and an Italian-made Lettera, the design of which looks like the genetic antecedent to my MacBook Pro. All other typewriters go back to the thrift store orphanage where some shaggy, 20-something might adopt them to pretend he’s writing a novel in the modus operandi of his mid-20th century heroes.
Despite my reticence to take in any more strays, lately I’ve found myself poaching images of typewriters in various stages of duress. Not sure why, other than perhaps its a way to externalize the creeping sense of decrepitude in my own work.
I suppose this is why they invented Pinterest. It’s a kind of specialized, virtual hoarding that provides purging through pixels.
Lately, I’ve also been searching for the perfect depiction of fall for my desktop background, since I live in California where the seasons are difficult to distinguish (and yes, I am aware that fall doesn’t officially begin until 1:44 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 22. I’m sure I’ve got that on a typewritten note to myself somewhere).
Then it finally occurred to me to combine these two image searches into a single string, the “typewriters and fall,” which sounds like the lost play of Tennessee Williams.
And this led me to what might be a new meme in office machine porn: Typewriters surrounded by or, as often, covered in the autumnal hues of fallen leaves. And sometimes a bespectacled young woman.
I made a few choice selections, stole them off the web, and have subsequently peppered every digital device I own with them.
Some of the images are from photo-stock services (as indicated by the blasted watermarks) and others from various blogs by similarly obsessed weirdos. Often, a cup of coffee is shown at the edge of the frame to further sell the writerly-ness.
To the untrained eye, these photos might look like the family album of an over-caffeinated, homeless graphomaniac, presumably with carpal tunnel syndrome. (This would certainly be me had I not married my wife seven years ago – happy anniversary, babe, here’s a broken typewriter I’ve been saving in a leaf pile for you).
It’s worth noting here that one shouldn’t confuse graphomania (the obsessive need to write) with typomania (an obsessive expectation for publication). The former is a bad habit, the latter is how I make it pay for itself. If I could find a way to sell used typewriters profitably I’d surely have made a career shift by now. Instead, I let them pass through my life like reliquaries containing the phantoms of other writers’ failings. Why else would someone get rid of such an elegant, though antiquated, technology? If it brought them creative success, they’d still be using it.
Hunter S. Thompson did until the end – he used to take his red IBM Selectric out for target practice with him – then shoot it (and then, eventually, himself). Likewise, David Sedaris finally made the quantum leap from a typewriter to a MacBook Air five years ago, in large part to ease his experience at airport security checks.
It seems the only people who have elected to work on typewriters these days is the Federal Guard Service at the Kremlin. The reason? WikiLeaks.
Since Russia has yet to produce its own Edward Snowden, we may presume the plan has been working – even if the machines themselves are a bit creaky. And perhaps covered with leaves
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Daedalus Howell is just your type at DHowell.com.