Last week I blogged about my plan to write my new novel on a sixty-year Smith Corona. I bought the machine on Etsy and the ad promised that it “works.” Well, it did work, a little bit. It worked enough to type my name, but it wasn’t in true working order. The seller thought I just sort of wanted the typewriter as a conversation piece. She didn’t understand that I was actually going to use the thing.
Luckily, there is a typewriter hospital here in Cambridge. My trusty assistant, Sarah, gave me a ride to the storefront shop which was crammed with typewriters of varying vintage. The Typewriter Doctor looked very tanned and rested, having just returned from vacation. He opened the case and looked at my machine. “This is a beautiful Pinky,” he said. “One of the best ones I’ve seen.” I beamed like a proud mama and no longer felt silly for talking to the thing in baby talk on the ride over. (My assistant is very indulgent.)
When I left the Typewriter Hospital, I realized that the Typewriter Doctor did not mention one time that typewriters are dying out. When asking me if I wanted a two-tone ribbon, he mentioned that mostly teenagers like those. When I was looking at a 1980s IBM Selectric he said, “It’s a real workhorse. If you are going to be pounding out a lot of documents, that’s what you need.”
I had expected him to be like that Maytag Repairman on those old commercials. (Remember, he was depressed and had no customers because Maytag washers never broke down?) Instead he was a jovial and optimistic as the “Geek Squad” computer repair team at Best Buy. If I didn’t know better, I would have no idea that the vast majority of printed writing is generated by computers. Further, he didn’t charge me a fortune to tune up the machine, as though I was asking for some arcane service. His store isn’t a museum.
I couldn’t help but wonder if writers have something to learn from him.
I have noticed that writers are always asked about the death of the book, the death of the bookstore. We are told that the Kindle is going to drown us in our bathtubs. How do we feel about the fact that we are all going to starve to death? When I go to a poetry reading, there is often a sense of self- satisfied martyrdom—no one reads poetry, but we write it anyway! And in the literary fiction word, it is often the same vibe—everyone wants to read “street lit” or _________ (fill in the blank with your anxiety of choice). Woe is us. All this genius and nobody cares. Frankly, it’s a drag and I don’t think it helps anyone get her work done and it certainly does not improve anybody’s quality of life. And I can’t imagine that it revs up readers.
This is not to say that the Kindle will not drown us in our bathtubs. Maybe it will. Who knows.
I am not saying go into see-no-evil mode. The Typerwriter Doctor is not burying his head in the sand.[video] He has had to adapt with changing times. He used to rent typewriters, but now he repairs them. And he doesn’t hate computers– you can like him on facebook, and he keeps a blog– typing the entries and then scanning them.
What I learned at the typewriter hospital is that we don’t have to carry that fear of obsolescence around with us, strapped to our backs and we certainly don’t have to make it part of our identity. We don’t have to announce impending doom everytime we talk about our work. When we create, we don’t have to multi task writing with fretting that these these are the endtimes for literature.
Take a lesson from a man who repairs typewriters for a living. He’s good at it. And he’s enjoying his life and his work.