Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Mac vs PC vs 1943 Underwood Upright

You're a writer and you're using a PC. This is a sensitive topic, I know. Writers have MacBooks, it's said. There's this sense that using Windows will hamstring your abilities, that you're attempting to ply your trade with inferior tools. I possess decades of vast knowledge on computer operating systems, including every version of Windows released, both client and server side, and I can confidently tell you: it's true. I'm sorry.

This post is not intended to explain exactly why this might be true (it's true), but rather this post serves as an act of commiseration. You can transcend the limits and deficiencies of your writing implements. We employ various tools in the physical act of writing--chisels, quills, pens, as well as the subject of today's commiserative post: typewriters.

Specifically, a 1943 Underwood upright typewriter. Owned by a bank during World War II, this black, 30-plus-pound beast became my grandmother's property (along with some chairs) when the Great Depression closed any number of banks. She bequeathed it to me. During the bulk of my teen years, I used it nearly every day.

Note first that the Underwood does not have spellcheck, nor an integrated dictionary or thesaurus. As to typing, there is no gossamer pip-pipping your fingers across the keyboard. Each key has a long throw requiring jabs of significant depth and force to smack the ink against the paper. As with a piano, you must strike using strength from your arms as well as your fingers. There is no exclamation point key; this symbol is assembled by typing an apostrophe, then backspacing (an especially resistant press), then typing a period.

And so we begin writing on the Underwood. We're jabbing at keys making a satisfying thwackety-clack, with each press the entire upper assembly trundles to the left, the carriage dragging the paper along. Ink smashes into the paper, each letter pressed like braille, the analog intensity of each stroke recorded in words.

We're thwackety-clacking along, building speed, and the deep bell rings, signaling our left hand to reach up, grab the smooth silver lever, and slam the carriage back to the right. Ding-zip-boom! The desk is trembling from the steel's weight and thundering staccato energy.

With the Underwood there's no going back, no editing, no word "processing," so we plow forward, building tremendous rhythm on the keys. Thwackety-clack, thwackety-clack, ding-zip-boom! The desk is heaving, gears spinning, ink splattering. For all the sound and fury we might be anvil-hammering red-hot horseshoes by the dozen but no. We. Are. Making. WORDS.

The sun has set; the room has darkened as we pound. We're lit by a coursing orange glow inside the Underwood, the heat and warmth of a boiler. We're startled to see our muse to the right--she's done with faint whispering, we've put her to work--her face covered in black dust; she is wearing a leather apron and plunging a wide-bladed shovel into coal with abandon, heaping fuel into the boiler's mouth.

We are making words, as in the beginning, when there was only the Word; we have tapped into the fundamental force behind the cosmos--not particles or processes but words.


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