The Ghost in the Machine
When you’re a professional writer, people tend to give you cranky manual typewriters as gifts. They don’t expect you to use them, per se. But they do expect you to display them in your home. Good thing I’m not an undertaker.
For years I despised manual typewriters and rolled my eyes any time one of them showed up at my door with a bow on it.
My hate affair with these clackety beasts began in journalism school. Though our school had modern computers, the school decided that Basic Writing students should use manual typewriters only.
So every evening my head ached from the pounding of letters against platens from the fingers of 20 would-be scribes in my writing lab. My pinkies ached from pressing the shift key. The smell of correction fluid made me wince. I bought my first Macintosh that year and never looked back. Until this weekend.
My youngest daughter became curious about one of the typewriters in the basement, so I pulled it down and got it working. She’s pretty fast on a keyboard, but watching her struggle on a typewriter was a revelation.
The manual typewriter taught me some critical lessons.
1. Use the fewest words possible to say something.
2. Make as few mistakes as possible.
3. Always think two sentences ahead of the one you are typing.
Without those three lessons, I doubt I’d have this job.
When you are a woodworker, people tend to give you beat-up wooden-stock handplanes as gifts. They don’t expect you to use them, per se. But they do expect you to display them. Good thing I’m not a proctologist.
My mom gave me one this summer that made me shake my head. It’s an old jointer plane, probably craftsman-made from ash or something oaky. The maker included the pith of the tree in the body , generally a no-no in planemaking. And the body has cast into a wacky rhombus shape.
I took one look at the tool when it came out of the box and set it aside. This week, something compelled me to take a closer look. I knocked its wedge loose and removed the chipbreaker and Ward iron. The iron has been ground away to almost nothing, but it is interesting. It is perfectly crowned , just like I crown a jointer plane blade. And the face of the iron has clearly been polished during honing.
This was a working tool. I took a close look at the sole. Ignoring the holes from some insects, it was obvious that the sole was burnished from hard use , it was the best-looking surface on the entire tool.
So I resolved to get this thing working. Perhaps it has a few more lessons in store.
– Christopher Schwarz
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