Jack said, "Why not find a better place to write?" My answer: "Any place that makes it more difficult to NotWrite than ToWrite is a great place. Damn the stairs, full speed ahead."
There should be a song to that first line on the keyboard. QWERTYUIOP is a strange configuration. Now, like all of us who use computers, this strangeness is a complete self-part. Automatic fingers translate non-brain-interventioned thoughts onto the screen. Most of the time this is writing, including, please, all thoughts, edits, additions, deletions. But then it flows: I think, therefore the words appear on the screen.
I can remember trying to type on Grandma Jennie's even older Royal in the dining room at 1112 Pacific Avenue in Alameda. Solid square oak table; the Morris chair with the lion's head arms and the orange knitted cushion covers waiting for sitting and reading, the light from the bay window filtered through white mesh curtains.
So on those days when-SCREAM!-the computer is down, I am lost, cut off, wordless. Bless the code and pixels, things are fine today.
I could, of course, use a typewriter. I still have one. Mine (a gray Royal portable from 1953, same QWERTYUIOP keyboard) sits waiting patiently in its case in the basement. I used it last in 2004, positioned on a card table in the middle of West 28th Street, a church street fair (St. Colomba's, now vanished) where I wrote "Poems to Go" to benefit the 14th Street YMCA, raised $300 over three glorious days of writing poems on any topic anyone chose to throw at me. Clouds, candy, lost love, found love. $2 regular; $5 for anything with a rhyme scheme.
There's an ink stain inside the typewriter case's green lid. Must have been graduate school, a time for fountain pens, an ink jar that spilled in that top floor attic room on Lawrence Avenue in Washington, DC. Perfect room for a writer. If I'd known I was a writer then. I didn't know. But I was a wordsmith, and I had my Royal Portable to prove it.
The typewriter was a gift from my mother. Must have been from her alone, after the divorce, because I have no memory of a typewriter back in the junior high day of writing dialogue about Caesar on Ides Eve. And I know there was no typewriter with me in Europe in 1952. I would definitely remember typing on the freighter during that three-week voyage to Le Havre, would probably have sat ostentatiously at the mess table during the typhoon, strapped myself in, and typed. There was no typewriter in my boarding school room at the Ecole Internationale de Geneve, nor during the summer travels to Scandanavia in England and France, nor during the winter term in the rented apartment. There was, however, a piano there for me to practice on. Several Mozart sonatas still come at me with steam heat and the strong smell of dead, wet, brown leaves.
I can remember trying to type on Grandma Jennie's very old Royal in the dining room at 1112 Pacific Avenue in Alameda. Solid square oak table; the Morris chair with the lion's head arms and the orange knitted cushion covers waiting for sitting and reading, the light from the bay window filtered through white mesh curtains. Hunt. Peck. Repeat.
My first memory of my own Royal is on a train - the Southern Pacific Lark, from San Francisco, bound for Fresno to visit some cousins. These years later the picture comes to me from a movie of someone else's life - how else to sustain the embarrassment it causes, the rush of stinging cheeks, the huge desire to look away. We were traveling coach, Mom and I, going to Fresno for that awful Christmas. And I had taken my typewriter because … because … I was going to write letters to friends? probably that. I am 12 years old, no more. A chunky kid with black rimmed glasses covering an intense stare. Hair combed. Nails scrubbed. Dragging that "portable" typewriter case down the aisle of the train, smiling to myself, hefting the doors between the cars, and then, finally in the club car, setting up my portable typewriter, the paper rolled in, margins engaged, little bell to signal the end of each line at the ready. The dining car steward comes. "I'll have a Coke, please," I said. Tap tap tap, tapedy tap type type. Completely oblivious
That intense child on the train has morphed - so cliché, so true; time is no time - into a gray-haired, gray bearded, cap-wearing writing guy who, with his laptop, sits at airport gates, in train station waiting rooms, in coffee shops, in his writing space, fingers on keyboard, staring intensely at a computer screen, very sure that what is here is, for the moment, the most important thing in the world.