If you know me well, you know that I'm always interested to hear about a person's experience with their new writing machine. To that end, I asked Brandon if he would mind to write a piece reflecting on his experience with his newly acquired Smith-Corona Silent typewriter. He graciously agreed. Take a few minutes and read Brandon's reflections below. You'll be glad you did.
Slowing Down With a Typewriter:
The Meandered Musings of a Not-So-Practical-Poet
I think I was about eight years old, maybe nine. It’s funny the things that memory opts to keep so fresh, even as years and years fade. I remember this particular moment like it was yesterday. I remember the cold kitchen linoleum underneath my feet. I remember the summer rain and the crusty, browning, neglected aloe plant in the windowsill. I remember my baby sister’s high chair parked next to the table beside us. Most of all, I remember the smell of typewriter oil and the clack of its keys. But it wasn’t my own nine-year-old fingers on the keys. No, they were my mother’s, flying over the typewriter’s keyboard as fast as she could move them. As for me, well, I was dictating. It was to be my very first work of fan-fiction – a made-up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story – and she, at least for the moment, was humoring my imagination by helping me to record the tale for later recitation.
You see, as a kid – even before technology caught up with my aspirations – I really didn’t like typewriters. It was almost as if, through some great mystery of childhood clairvoyance, I just knew that in my lifetime, I would see some mighty shift in the technological zeitgeist. Something in my gut told me: “Leave ‘em alone and bide your time. You’ll be clacking on a quicker, much more streamlined keyboard in a few years.” (It is also possible that I was just very lazy and my mother – who was normally not one to entertain her children’s whims to quite such a degree – knew that I would refuse any invitation to finish the page on my own.)
Regardless of the reason, one thing is certain: I avoided typewriters during the many years in my life in which they were most accessible by far. I judged them as archaic and outdated, even before they actually were. And my avoidance paid off: my first experience with a keyboard was actually not until sophomore year in Carol Browning’s “Keyboarding 101” class. But instead of a classic Smith-Corona or a nifty portable Olivetti in front of me, it was an eighty-pound, hot-humming-electronic Apple Macintosh. (Wow, what a confessional this has turned out to be!)
I suppose my point is this: I consider myself part of a unique generation. We were born too late to be Gen-X’ers – much to my dismay, I never got to see an original Star Wars movie in the theaters – and a bit too early to be aptly called millennials. In fact, I don’t know if there’s an appropriate name for folks born in the late seventies to early eighties; I’ve always simply called us “The Fence Straddling Generation.” I was born into an almost entirely analog world. There was a rotary phone in my childhood home, two old tube televisions sets, and beyond a doubt, at least one typewriter. This technological revolution that we’re all so familiar with began to take root in the world around the time that those clunky Macintosh computers started overheating my high school computer labs and typing classes. My first two years in college were spent standing in line for literally everything: from class registration to residence hall room assignments to paying (in cash only!) for lunch in the cafeteria. But by graduation, it was as if the entire world had become automated; with the swipe of a card or a few keystrokes for a password, the lines had disappeared, replaced by the invisible technological marvels that had streamlined our lives.
For the lion’s share of my life – either by personal choice of avoidance or being swept up in generational happenings – I’ve missed out on typewriters completely. Sad for me.
I started seriously writing poetry around the time I exited college. The passion grew deeper and deeper for me throughout my adult life until, about six years ago, I’d compiled my early work into my first book. I self-published, got some decent feedback, and absolutely caught fire for writing. Over time, I’ve developed a whole platform and sort of “brand” for myself. As a Buddhist and a spiritual teacher, the esoteric practice of ecstatic poetry called more and more deeply to me. It had become a passion, a mission, ever so much more than just a hobby. Shortly, a website followed. A series of workshops that I designed. Another publication and then another. But even after all of this, the journey didn’t feel complete to me.
A couple of years ago, riding this high wave of art and writing in my life, I identified a big missing piece to this puzzle. I didn’t have much of a presence in my community, nothing to REALLY help me stand out. I was leading –and very much still am – ecstatic poetry workshops all over the country, but when it came to sitting down at a fair or a festival and “setting up shop,” well, I didn’t have much to offer beyond good conversation and a poetry book or three. And I, much more than the herbalist next door or the hula hoop maker around the corner, was getting passed by. (And I can’t blame you, by the way, folks. I wouldn’t want to sit for fifteen minutes at an outdoor street fair, leafing through a poetry book that I may-or-may-not be interested in purchasing, either.)
So I decided that, to further my brand and my passion and my persona as our region’s “Friendly Neighborhood Ecstatic Poet,” it was time for me to find the right typewriter for me. It was time for poetry busking: writing poems, on-the-spot, on-the-fly, with nothing but my heart, my mind, and inspiration from passersby. Oh, and my trusty typewriter that I was yet to discover. This is what I wanted to bring into my 2017 outdoor festival season and far beyond…
Luckily for me, I found Bryan and Kentucky Typer. I could say a whole lot about our time spent together carefully discerning what typewriter would be right for me, but I’ve already said so much that we’ll suffice to say I was in outstanding hands. I ended my time with Kentucky Typer with a brilliant, beautifully-restored Smith-Corona, but more than that, I left with a toolkit of true typewriter appreciation, complete with amazing instruction and resources to sate my inner nerd which was diving into the new hobby head-first.
That was not long ago at all, just a couple of months at best. As it’s still the wintertime, I haven’t even made it outdoors yet to my first poetry busking event. Instead, I’ve had the opportunity to study and practice, read and explore, and really get acquainted with my new companion. I’d really ask the reader to recognize that I am very much still a novice when it comes to typewriters and typewriter appreciation. But in this short time, here is what I have learned:
Not unlike a spiritual practice, a meditation session, lighting a candle in prayer, or even a good, deep massage, using a typewriter invites us to slow down. For better or for worse, I am a product of this modern world. Even as I write this article to you, my fingers fly over the sleek and soundless keyboard on my MacBook Pro. The screen glows into my face, and when I’m all finished, I’ll be able to toss it quickly and conveniently into my bag and proceed with the business of my day. I suppose there’s a place for that, and I’m very grateful to live in such a privileged time in the history of our world. But sitting at my Smith-Corona does something different for me altogether. It slows my mind along with my fingers. It gives me pause to really touch in, to ask my essence what it wants to say. And I have found that the writing that comes out is more intentional, more grounded, more earthy, more real. “Wow,” said the poet just this moment to himself. “It seems like I need to keep going back to my typewriter, again and again.”
Ah, and now I must resist the impulse to (electronically) wad up this very document and replace it with hours spent at my Smith-Corona. I will trust that some of that slowing down practice has bled onto this virtual page, and later on this evening, I’ll head back to my tools from an older time and appreciate them with new eyes.
Brandon Thompson, M.A.