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Something from my last post has been nagging at me. Something about that hung-over dialog between me and my typewriter.
It goes back to an earlier time: back in the late Pleistocene, while I was still in high school, the office made a scheduling mistake. They put me in a typing class. Their thought processes were as much a mystery to me as the workings of the machines I had to face in class.
Being befuddled was not the only impediment to making progress in typing. I couldn’t understand why I was in a class populated almost entirely by girls who seemed destined to become secretaries—and liked the idea. Mind-boggling. In retrospect, I’m sure I spent much more time thinking about such subjects than the task at hand. Or possibly just the girls in the class.
Speaking of hands, I have always lacked any trace of manual dexterity. Consequently—by the end of the first week—I was already three weeks behind the rest of the class.
I once—god help me—actually used this antediluvian contraption. In fact, it was the one with whom I shared a bathroom (in my last post). At the time, it was sufficiently infuriating to make me abandon writing. In retaliation, it sits alone in the attic today. I’ve probably told this part of the story before (it’s one of the curses that afflict those of us of a certain age), so I’ll go no further.
Besides, portions of the tale are too painful to retell. Let’s just say that—despite seeing my words in some forty-odd conventionally-published books, and close to a dozen more self-published books—everything you might have read was typed with just two index fingers. Including this.
Wait—that’s not quite true. On a really good day, my right thumb can also work the space bar.
Instead, let us consider the role these machines have played in the lives of some other writers. These are excerpts from How to Write a Great Book:
Short of cash in 1939, a panicky Graham Greene cranked out The Confidential Agent in just six weeks. He sat alone in a small rented Bloomsbury room, with a typewriter and a good supply of Benzedrine. He found that it increased his normal production of 500 words per day to 2,000—which was to be expected (what is less common is that the book’s 300 pages made sense).
Perhaps my problems, in high school, might have been solved by the judicious application of uppers. Alas, at the time, I was unaware of the existence of such performance-enhancing substances.
…the young John Cheever always wrote in his underwear. He wore a business suit to “work,” but removed it immediately upon his arrival at “the office,” where he kept his Royal portable typewriter. He later wrote, “To publish a definitive collection of short stories… [is] dignified… despite the fact that a great many of them were written in my underwear.”
I realize that I have planted an ineradicable image in your mind, but put it aside—if you can—and bear with me for a moment. Here’s his explanation of that seemingly odd behavior: “In the morning, I dressed in my ...suit and took the elevator to a windowless room in the basement where I worked. I hung my suit on a hanger, wrote until nightfall, when I dressed and returned to our apartment, I wrote many of my stories in boxer shorts.”
He carefully hung it, so as not to cause undue wear and tear to his only suit. Perhaps he feared that, like Robert Benchley, he might have to say, “I do most of my work sitting. That’s where I shine.”
While typing will never be one of my skills, I am a master of long-term sitting.
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