Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Rambling Ode to Manual Typewriters

Last month on Twitter, there was a posting from Dr. Jacobs' always enlightening TextPatterns about manual typewriters. I followed the links on his post to an article from The Guardian about how some writers prefer to use manual typewriters instead of word processors. Cormac McCarthy's manual typewriter was being auctioned off for $15,000. Wow.

One of the points made by authors who use typewriters was that they require you to think more prior to writing. Which leads me to conclude that there is much that is written now that would benefit greatly from this approach, and to assume that it would also probably serve to prevent a lot of what is written from coming into being in the first place. Typing on a manual requires so much more deliberative effort, making it more serious somehow.

And the articles lead me to reminisce about typewriters and then to think about how word processors have changed our world for the (mostly) better.

My mom taught me to type on a manual typewriter. I got an electric one later which I lugged off to college. It came with its own case and weighed about 40 pounds. I earned spending money typing and editing (and sometimes rewriting entirely) other students' papers. Living in an engineering dorm brought a steady income stream. I now have my father-in-law's electric which I use for tax forms - always praying that the ink won't run out because I'm pretty sure they don't make those ribbons anymore. My kids find it fascinating - like dinosaur bones. I love the sound it makes when the keys are depressed and the satisfying whirr of the carriage return. Oh, and the clunk of the shift key. The whole sound experience makes me feel very, very productive.

I got my first computer in 1984. The "pre-writing thinking" referred to in the Guardian article was rendered largely unnecessary given the editing capabilities of word processors. And as the speed and capacity of the processors improved, I became used to thinking less prior to writing as I could copy, paste, delete and retrieve pretty much at will. I do love to type, but it takes so much less effort to produce and send things off on a computer.

And no virtually everything that is typed is sent off via email, Twitter, FaceBook and blogs. We fling out little bits of information that require neither structure nor context (which can't be given in 140 characters and a smiley face anyway), and little, if any, thought - which is okay, as they may or may not ever be read. It is coming at little cost; for the price of monthly internet access and a computer, I can type myself silly.

There is a lot that's good about this, as a record of everything I've ever written or researched is handy by when I want to check on something, although sometimes I look back and realize what I typed was either immature, unkind or just plain wrong. For our kids, while plagiarism is easier using copy and paste than it used to be (we had to work for it by typing each word we were copying from the encyclopedia ourselves), there is now a website called that the teenagers in our school district have to turn everything into, which automatically checks for copying. We've sent letters, pictures and music via computers and little by little we're saving the trees. And we can write things and send them immediately, when we realize we've forgotten a birthday or anniversary.

But, to me, the true glory of using a word processor is most evident when you have to do multiple, slightly different versions of something you're sending out to different audiences. For example, when my child was instructed to write the same introspective paper about an event that changed her life for the fifth year in a row. Leaving aside the sheer absurdity of asking a fourth grader to write such a paper based on ten years of life, each year we found that you can just change the name of the teacher at the top of the paper, tweak it a bit, print it off and turn it in. This year, in her more mature state, she ventured that perhaps she should be writing a new paper this year (not that she had anything to add at that point). I said that, while she could, if the education program was disconnected enough to make teachers ask the same question for five years running, then they deserved the same amount of effort from her that it took to make the assignment in the first place. And typing the whole thing all over again, yep, too much effort.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Great Divorce

Currently our small group is reading C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. An allegorical tale of a man who dies and gets on a bus to a large grassy plain. He meets various characters along the way, many of whom get met by emissaries who are sent to help lead these ghosts across the plain, up to the mountains and into perfect love and joy, if only they'll give up the chains that bind them to hell.

It's been a year or so since I've read any Lewis - and I'd forgotten how much I end up wincing as I recognize myself. I have a friend who says that if you read Scripture correctly, it should pinch you. Clive Staples is like that for me; I'm only a little ways into it and am already bruised.

I am listening to the book on CD in the car and am meeting the parade of characters, many of whom I resemble on some level: whining, pride, grudging duty, not accepting help, looking for how I was wronged or what I'm owed. It's terribly annoying and terribly necessary. I have to determinedly resist the temptation to listen and identify these traits in other people I know, rather than seeking to root out my own sin.

Throughout this uncomfortable exercise, however, I get glimpses of the picture, painted so deftly by Lewis, of heaven. One of selfless joy, of complete love and of a far better life. And so I keep listening because, when all is said and done, the chains of sin are really heavy and I don't want to carry them around. I do want to experience, on a more consistent basis, the sheer relief of letting go and letting God.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In the Company of the Stars

Every evening, somewhere about news time, our dog Amy asks to go out. She actually has to take care of "business" about half the time. The other half of the time, despite our imploring her to do something, she stands there and sniffs the air.

So while I wait on the speckled pup, I look up at the stars. Our house faces south and, during the winter, the nightly show includes Orion, the hunter, and his two dogs, Canis Major and Minor. The legend goes that he was a hunter in love with Merope, who does not love him. He dies after stepping on a scorpion (scorned and scorpioned, poor guy). Feeling sorry for the hunter, the gods placed him in the sky with his two dogs, kindly putting the scorpion far away on the other side of the sky so that he'd not be hurt again. For the last few nights, it's been too cloudy to see anything, but tonight there were moving clouds and I got a glimpse of Orion's belt and shoulder.

And took pleasure in the company, both of us out there with a dog.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Cross-eyed and deaf

I got new glasses today. I've been waiting for two weeks to get them and am trying to adjust. It's not going so well. The lenses are "progressive," which apparently means I have to cross my eyes to see just right. If I accomplish this cross-eyed thing, things come into startlingly good focus. Which is cool. But, if not, and if I'm not pointing my nose in the direction of what I'm trying to see, things get blurry. So I have to move my head a lot, which I don't do. And I've waited 15 days to be annoyed and I paid for it, too.

Then there's this weird effect that not seeing well has on me. I feel like if I can't see well, then I can't hear well. At which point, I might as well check on out and take a nap. While I love naps, I know I'll wake up no better.

I'm giving these puppies a weekend. If they're not better, I'm going to march right on back in there and...ask very politely for some help.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Monday's Hymn

Yesterday at Bible Study we talked about living in, but not in, modern Babylon. We talked about prophesy and eschatology from the book of Daniel and then we gathered around the piano and sang one of my favorite hymns. Reveling in the sovereignty and protection of God. Once again, Monday was sweet.

Holy, Holy, Holy
by Reginald Heber

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!