Friday, August 02, 2002


I've been considering buying a laptop computer. My desktop version works just fine even though it's now four years old. It does have some limitations, however, e.g., no USB port, so I can't hook up any of the new gadgets, including a scanner someone gave me. I also wouldn't be able to upload pictures from a digital camera, if I were to get one, without the port. (This is just as well. While it would be fun to have more of my own pictures on this site, I imagine it could turn into [yet another] distraction.)

So yesterday I exercised the few vested options I have of my company's stock, which has been doing quite well recently. So I have the funds. But now I have to figure out if I really want/need a laptop and, if so, the daunting question: which one to get....My two primary reasons for considering the laptop are so I can 1) have a more up-to-date machine and 2) be able to be mobile with my computing, especially when it gets hot in my house or when I just need to get out. There are two libraries I can use that are close by, one within easy walking distance.

Well, this morning started in extreme frustration. Today I was going to devote yet another long day to my professor's fast-becoming nemesis ms. On Wednesday when I drove out to school to work on it in splendid air-conditioned isolation, two of the files wouldn't open from the floppy disk. So I (thought I) recopied them onto another disk this morning and drove out to school only to find I had labeled the disk but not actually copied the two files onto it. Not a total disaster—there is plenty else I could have worked on. But my brain shut down and refused to cooperate in any problem solving activities, so I turned around and drove back home.

I've also been considering moving a small desk into my bedroom for non-school related desk tasks, such as sewing or writing letters. I've looked at a couple possibilities, e.g., a long, narrow card table from Target ($28.99); a small side desk from Target ($48.99 on sale this week). I like the card table idea, especially for sewing, but I also have a narrow, metal, 10-drawer stationery cabinet I was given from the estate of a church member who died last year that I would want to fit under the card table because the card table is so long. However, the cabinet is a bit too high to fit under it.

So I ventured down to the "elite" Salvation Army store, which sells some of the nicer things donated to the Salvation Army, looking for a desk possibility. (It's where I found my German manual coffee grinder a few years back.) I didn't find any suitable desks, but I did find an old manual Smith-Corona typewriter. It looked in pretty good condition, and I asked for a piece of paper to try it out. Flashback! My mother had a very good manual typewriter (I don't remember the brand) she used when we lived in Zambia. I learned to type on it, and the tactile memory of how those typewriters were constructed and how they worked came right back—all the levers to adjust the paper, margins, etc. The ribbon wasn't placed in correctly, but I was able to figure it out and fix it. It even has the same kind of carrying case I remember from which you can unhinge the lid in order to type freely.

Someone had removed the price tag, so I asked the clerk what the price was—$17.50. The typewriter is in such good condition and such a beautiful (if that's the right word) specimen of a well-constructed, solid metal mechanical object. Even the ribbon is still very dark. It was worth the purchase just for the object itself, regardless of its usefulness.

Then I got home and started typing. What fun! First, there is no exclamation mark key. One types a single quote ' then backspaces and types a full stop . under it. A few keys, e.g., the single quote!, are in different places on the keyboard, which is strange and leads to many errors, especially if one uses contractions a lot. Then one can't type nearly as quickly as on a computer keyboard because the strikers (I don't know their technical name) get stuck. (I guess that's why typewriter manufacturers came up with the QWERTY keyboard in an attempt to slow typists down.) My accuracy on a typewriter is abominable after being spoiled by how easy it is to correct errors on a computer.

Anyway, I'm not sure how often or for what sort of writing I'm going to use my manual typewriter. (It would fulfill the mobility function of a laptop, to a certain extent, except that it's much heavier and would not be tolerated in a library!) It brings images to mind of novelists or war journalists with mussed up hair and ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts next to their Underwoods as they pound out their masterpieces. In fact, a few years ago I had cut out a photo article from the (sadly no longer in print) magazine of the Library of Congress, Civilization, called "The Literary Life." [A book was published later, also no longer in print, called The Writer's Desk.] The photos showed well-known writers at their desks (or wherever they wrote), many of whom used typewriters. The black-and-white photos were taken primarily in the 1970s, so I'm sure many writers use computers now instead. But there's still this mystique about manual typewriters and, like me, not a little nostalgia (although I am NOT volunteering to write my dissertation, with footnotes, on a manual typewriter. No, no, no!)

I wonder, too, if not being able to type as fast affects writing by allowing one to be a bit more reflective, not to mention the aural and physical dimensions of using a manual typewriter.

I wonder, too, if I've been reading too much of the catalogue copy from that retailer of nostalgia, The Vermont Country Store. They sell a manual typewriter, an Olivetti, for $199:
Honest-To-Goodness Manual Typewriter

Manual Olivetti moves at a pace that allows time to compose your thoughts. Full-sized keyboard, sliding margin controls, three line-spacing selections and touch controls, ribbon positions for black, red, or stencil. Steel-case machine is built like a tank, with no electronic parts to fail or malfunction. Heavy-gauge vinyl carrying case. Color is gray. 13 ½"x12"x3 ½"; weighs 12 lbs.

Finally, a quote from the caption under Robert Penn Warren's photo:
The hard thing, the objective thing, has to be done before the book is written....If the work is done the dream will come to the [person] who's ready for that particular dream; it's not going to come just from dreaming in general.
Hard words for someone who does far too much "dreaming in general."

No comments: