"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My analog memory, my type, a letter at a time

Analog world--typewriter, paper, book, wood table
I pulled  my uncle Mike's old Smith Corona electric typewriter  out of the garage this morning, where it's been gathering dust since he died almost two years ago.
Plugging it in, I searched for the on button, found it, heard it start humming. Rolled some paper into the carriage, and started typing the first thing that came to mind--
"These are the times that try men's souls...."
When the keys struck the paper, a mechanical snapping, the cats ran for the other room. Susan came down the hall, thinking I was making popcorn.
It's all Tom Hanks' fault. His article in the New York Times today, "I Am TOM, I Like to Type..." grabbed my attention. Tom Hanks collects old manual typewriters, and I don't have one of those, but the Smith-Corona comes as close as I can get, before I buy one on e-bay. They're cheap, most listed under $50, though shipping the heavy things will cost more.
This from a guy who can't type well at all. I was afraid I couldn't get into journalism school because I can't type fast and accurately, and have to look at the keys. But then, when I tried to  take it, it was called "typing," and was for business majors, or teenage girls training how to be secretaries and type correct business form letters. Today, it's called "keyboarding," and an essential for everyone, I guess--until voice recognition on computers does away with it. 
But, oh, this is so much fun...as long as I don't have to hand in whatever I'm typing, with all the errors. And now I am  tippy tapping on a computer keyboard to write this.
Apparently the article struck a chord with many others in love with the analog world. New Mexico photog Craig Varjabedian and friend Billye Johnson "liked" it almost immediately. I told Craig it was sorta like watching a black and white print come up in the developing tray, instead of digital photography. This follows a comment to him earlier about missing Tri-X, the 400 ASA speed film that saved me numerous times as a newspaper photographer. It's not by accident that there are several heavy old analog film cameras in our house. Not as heavy as that Smith Corona typewriter, but all with real substance, compared to this plastic cameras, and keyboard and computer.
This comes a week after I read poet Benjamin Myer's poem, "Sometimes I dream of the analog world," where he writes about playing records, paying cash, and rolling down the car window.
I saw this for sale a few years ago in Paris.
Now that I think about it, the weight of the analog machines says something about their permanence, their importance, compared to this ephemeral digital existence. I don't mean we need to go back  to living in the stone age, because we can't. Digital invades every aspect of our existence these days, except for farmer's markets, I expect.  I like digital cameras, and love computer typing because it is so effortless, and so easy to correct. But there is quality and value in the other.
It's one reason I make my writing students take notes on paper, and write freehand. There is some real sensory connection between paper and pencil and brain that happens, even if you can't read my handwriting. Of course, now they're ceasing to teaching cursive writing in schools. They have no idea what they're depriving people of.
The next thing I typed were my favorite lines of poetry, the line I think is the most powerful in America, from Whitman. One key at a  time, pushing down on the keys, hearing the key strike the paper, embedding the letters and words into my analog memory--
"When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed..."

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