It’s strange how much of your life hides in plain sight. The typewriter has been sitting on the shelf in our living room for years now, on display beside photos and ornaments, books and more books. There’s a sincerity to its presence, the dusty anchor of the reading and writing lives that are somewhere near the heart of our home, and the quiet beacon linking generations – the machine originally belonged to my father in-law, who brought it with him when he immigrated to Canada from Germany with his parents in the 1960s. My wife’s grandfather worked for the Olympia typewriter company, and what they carried with them was an Olympia Splendid 33 model, beige with crimson keys, complete with a sturdy case of black leather.
I suppose it sounds pretentious, but I’ve always taken pride in having the typewriter just sitting there. I don’t always pay much attention to it, but when I do, I admire its simplicity, the way it gestures to a period in time that I never fully participated in but still feel some connection to. Sometimes I even appreciate the way it silently shames us from its perch as we scroll through TV channels and curl our bodies around our phones, nobody saying much, the taint of wifi baked deep in our skin. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I’m old enough that typewriters were around in my childhood, but they already felt somewhat quaint, relics to be played with rather than serious tools that I needed. My typing classes in high school were done on computers the size of small boulders and by the time I needed to produce essays in university, I often worked on a word processor I had inherited from my sister, a cutting-edge amalgam of typewriter, computer, and printer. It had a small green LED screen that couldn’t keep up with the speed of your fingers and a slot for a hard disk that whirred and clicked and chomped in unseen ways that sounded decidedly futuristic. It weighed a ton, and the rat-a-tat-tat of printing last minute assignments in the dark of night conjured images of a firing squad.
I think it was a combination of factors that led me to take the typewriter down a few weeks ago and start using it. I was fresh off the Ken Burns Hemingway documentary, and the clatter of keys in the background of the writing montages and dramatic readings got into my blood, to say nothing of the romantic myth of Papa himself, leaning…