Guest Post – Why I Write With a Typewriter

When it comes to nailing down the vibe to writing with a typewriter, avid TR follower, James D’Ambrosio, sent me a note that got it right. He originally attempted to post it in the comments section, but a technical glitch prevented it from going online. Not wanting to have his writing go unread, he emailed it to me, saying that he thought that at least two people should read it, and since he was one of them, that left just me.

Well, James — we’ll do you one better — now for the first time in TR history, a guest post! (hopefully, won’t be the last!)

Why I write with a typewriter
James D’Ambrosio

I never owned a typewriter, until last year at this time when I happened upon a blogpost about typewriters, more to the point, about the Why of typewriters in our cyber age. That reading fell upon more reading which fell upon an urgency, an adrenaline rush, an I’ve-got-to-have-one not today, or tomorrow, but soon, which translated into two-weeks when my first-ever typewriter, an Alpina SK-24 arrived from the Netherlands.

Why the Alpina? I’ve no idea, really. I’ve gleaned that it’s not easy to find, not in pristine condition at any rate, and seems to be one of those less known, more obscure models-brands in the company of the commonly heralded great machines. But I’m a Libra, and if presented with too many options, and too much time to mull them over, well, the mulling ends up ruling the day. If I didn’t do something soon, and quickly, I’d be living the typewriter experience vicariously through all these blogposts.

After reading what I could, which wasn’t much in terms of volume of discussion about the Alpina, but sincere and enthusiastic praise for this machine from the likes of Robert Messenger and Will Davis, I reached for the Alpina. There just comes that moment when you’ve got to throw the punch, and this was it.

Truly, it was as good a decision as reaching for a Sam Adams, in every possible way. The Alpina SK-24, mine made in my birth year of 1961, is a mechanical marvel, and oh-so-pretty to look at with her gorgeous lines. Her keys beg your attention, with such silken smoothness as the type bars fly.

Then, as what I’ve read can happen as soon as you get that first typewriter, I found another: the Erika 5, from 1932 in a gold marble motif, with those otherworldly silver-trimmed glass keys. On first glance, it was the likes of H.G. Wells I saw, his vivid imagination typing away since this machine evokes that steampunk pull.

Then, that led to another Erika 5, in a burgundy and gold line motif, this one from 1931 with no carriage return lever, but rather, a really cool “pinching” mechanism that advances the paper, then you slide the carriage over. Talk about getting your hands right into it!

Then, that led to another Erika, an M, also in a burgundy and gold motif from 1940. Then, came a Gossen Tippa from 1950, again with the glass keys, since my continued reading made clear that you must have at least one ultra-portable to take out into the woods, hopefully without ticks.

And, at this moment, I’m considering a Torpedo 18b, especially after Daniel’s direct response to my recent query versus an Erika 10, if he had to choose one over the other. I’m thinking about a 1947 Corona Sterling, and, perhaps, a Royal Quiet Deluxe from the same period, and that will likely completely my little pile of metal things that go clickety clack in any kind of weather.

I love this machinery. Each one of these communities of metal housed within their own shape, form, and color is delight. Clearly, the machine itself has much to do with the bonding of flesh to metal. Each machine uniquely invites you to touch it, in its own language, and with it’s own mechanical scent and sound.

And, as so many writers share, particularly David McCullough, it’s the deliberate thinking, and re-thinking that has such freedom to play with a typing machine: much like a thrown pitch is nothing until the umpire calls it, so a thought is nothing until you tell the machine to type it. And, with such forceful intention, with such a smack on the page, there it becomes, your thought, now a reality from merely an idea just a moment before, physically stamped onto a real piece of paper, a thought that you’ve made with words made with ink upon metal and paper, a creation that you can hold out and say, look what I just made.

Really, how cool is that?

So, for me, picking a typing machine is a matter of resonance, that invisible vibration of likeness. You know it when it happens, regardless of any particular aspects of any particular machine over another, as if the soul of a typewriter is like a menu, and you’re ordering the bits you want in a single experience. It doesn’t work that way. It can’t.

As Robert Messenger so aptly says, your go-to machine is YOUR go-to machine, something deeply personal and rich, something indescribable to another person, really. You just know it when you put your hands on it, when you’re in its presence, when you’ve chosen to lay yourself bare before it, that machine that pulls you in like a planet to a moon.

And, that might be a few machines, indeed.

(Ed. note: Featured image not an Alpina, it’s an Antares from Italy. A sound little typewriter that slipped through my fingers before working up a proper review.)

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