I had no idea that an innocent trip to a thrift store in college would affect my life twenty five years later. On that trip in the early nineties, I spotted and purchased an old Royal typewriter. The black finish and heavy weight of the solid, analog build contrasted against the beige plastic housing of the early Mac desktop I was using for my college papers. The only thing the typewriter and computer had in common were that neither had a hard drive.
After hauling the typewriter back to my dorm room, I set about cleaning it and figuring out what all the chromed levers and knobs were for. I’d worked on typewriters before, but they were electric, with much of their mechanics hidden. Part of the pleasure I had with the Royal was actually feeling the connection between the key and the swinging striker.
And then there was the noise. The words were literally being smashed into the paper, giving a great sense of permanence. Yes, there were misspellings and typos, but they were all part of the art I was creating on the page. Poetry became immediate, like a jazz solo being recorded as it was played, or a fresco soaking into the plaster. Writing on the Royal, I had to capture inspiration in the moment, type it, and live with the results.
My roommate was less pleased with the creative din I reveled in. We negotiated the best times for me to work to save his sanity. It was clear that the typewriter was a pleasure for me, but not most others. Surprisingly, my New German Cinema professor was not inspired by the hectic patterns of strikeouts and irregular margins writing a paper on the machine created.
After about a year of writing for myself on the Royal, I spotted a green portable typewriter at another sale and snatched it up. I figured that was it. One hulk of a typewriter for home, and a portable so I can hammer out my inspiration no matter where I roamed.
But now that I had two, to the outside world, it looked as if I was a typewriter collector. A few years after college my dad gifted me a beautiful Royal with glass panels on the side, even older than the first I’d found. And heavier. Not long after that, he found me a black portable typewriter, sleek like an Italian sportscar.
Four typewriters. They’d found a comfortable display area in the apartment Zoe and I shared, but when we moved into our house, there was no clear plan for what to do with them. And they’re not easy to move in the first place. For two years they remained in boxes, taking up space and blocking our path to other elements of the house that needed unpacking.
Finally, inspiration struck. There was an open space, perfect for a rack to display the typewriters. I got in the shop, built it, painted it, and installed it in our house.
As I loaded it with the beautiful machines, I was taken back to the first moments writing on that original Royal. Words ringing out like a gunfight. Immediate. Permanent. And I was reminded to keep that visceral pleasure no matter how I’m writing. And that Royal will come down from the shelf soon to pound more poetry into the paper.
What are your thoughts on writing on a typewriter? And are you an accidental collector of anything?