QWERTY and all that.


I am writing this on my iPad and on a manual typewriter — at the same time.  I downloaded a new app developed by, of all people, Tom Hanks, that impish lover of World War II. It make my iPad into a virtual manual typewriter with clickety-clacking keys, a carriage return, and paper that slowly furls the page up as I write.  The idea is to give writers the sense of rhythm that come form typing, a focus on the act itself, and  a sense of progress and productivity.   It’s quite soothing and makes immediately think of when I first had this experience,

It’s astonishing, considering how lousy a typist I am, that I have been pounding a keyboard since I was in elementary school.  My family always had typewriters around, in my parents’ study at home, in their offices at the university, or in my grandparents’ medical practice.  I got one of my own to play with before I was  teen ager, a manual Smith Corona, then  I saved up to buy an Olivetti Lexikon 83DL that was in the MOMA design collection and was grey and orange and super sexy.

This app I am using lets me zoom around my document, hopping up and down with arrow keys and highlighting sections to delete.  That’s a feature I can turn off, however, so I can return to those dark days when I was stuck with every letter I mistyped. Back in the day, to deal with my inevitable plague of typos, I used a typewriter eraser, a round thing with a plastic brush for wiping away the crumbs.  And Liquid Paper which I consumed by the gallon. It also came with little plastic brush to apply the opaque paint in little dabs.

This app lacks a few other features I remember. Like the way the keys would tangle together if I hit several at the same time in my zeal to get the words down. I used carbon paper if I thought there was any reason to have more than one copy of what I wrote.  When I worked for my local paper I would write on rough yellow paper and type —30— at the end of each article.

But I always hankered for an IBM Selectric, which had the backspacing correction function and used a little golf ball with different exchangeable typefaces, like “Orator”.

Then, when I got my first job as a writer, there was an actual  Selectric at my desk.  I felt I had arrived. But within a year or two, I had my first word processor, a TRS-80, and I could save my articles onto cassette tapes, reformat them, backspace away typos virtually, and write wand write without ever having to roll in  another sheet of onionskin paper.

I have written on so many things in my life — notebooks, legal pads, index cards, pages torn from the ends of paperbacks and the corners of newspapers, on laptops, desktops, phones, tablets…  Each new tool arrives with a fanfare, but they were all peripheral to the real tool, the one resting between my ears that has not yet been replaced.  I work everyday to upgrade it — with reading, living, thinking, and pounding on whatever keys are at hand.