This morning on NPR I heard that the last company that produces manual typewriters has just discontinued them. There are 10 English typewriters left of the 200 in stock—buy one now!
I turn 46 on Saturday. The passing of the manual typewriter and my impending slide towards 50 makes me nostalgic for times gone by because my first manual typewriter was like a best friend.
When I took Typing in 10th grade, I was the third best typist in Mr. Kusonoki’s class, just behind Martha and Jill who sat directly in front of me and competed for the top spot. But they had taken typing before, and I was brand new, so in my own mind I was actually the best new typist in the class. By the end of the semester, I typed 70 words a minute. By the end of my senior year, I clocked myself at over 100 words a minute. To this day, I exult in the power of my fingers–with my skill, no matter what happens to me, I can always get a job as a secretary.
Punahou demanded that we either take Typing or prove we could type 35 words per minute. I resented Typing taking a time-slot where Glass-blowing or Journalism or Marine Biology could have resided. But to my surprise, Typing taught me better life and learning skills than many other classes I’ve taken.
Typing taught me the power of repetitive training, of learning things the right way–that if your forefingers are in the right place you can change the world, but move them just over one key and all that comes out is gibberish. And perhaps most surprisingly, my proficiency in typing taught me how to pray.
Because Punahou required that all high school papers be typed, Mama bought me a tiny plastic portable manual typewriter, so small and light it fit in my lap. My mini typewriter not only typed out multiple drafts of high school papers, but also became my closest confidant, my therapist and my spiritual director during the ego, spirit and emotion battering years of adolescence.
I can’t remember when I started writing letters to God, but when I hit 75 words/minute, I began typing to God instead. I could type almost as fast as I could think, which meant that typing letters to God was almost as satisfying as yelling.
My typewriter was the only physical presence on earth with which I felt permission to brutally express all my negative thoughts and emotions, the demonstration of aggressive emotions a taboo in my Asian world. While I had screamed, yelled and thrown fits with Mama my entire life, she made it clear that my insatiable need to argue, rage, and cause a ruckus in the family was patently evil and daily proof that America had corrupted her progeny.
All my fights with God, Mama or life drummed out of my fingers, through my tiny typewriter, and onto sheets of college-ruled, three holed paper. My family joked they could tell I was really upset when the door was shut to my room (shut doors a taboo in our family) and the clattering of furious typing came through the door.
30 years later I type my prayers on my week old Macbook Pro which I LOVE in so many ways. But I have to admit, if you’re going to have a temper tantrum with God, it’s just not as satisfying as banging on those old plastic keys.