Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It’s Not Your Mother’s Typewriter

Sitting on top of a high bookcase in my modern desert office—the place where about five years ago I made the statement, “here’s where I will write my novel”—sits a relic from a writer’s days gone by. It’s an Underwood No. 5, a model dating back to 1927. And yes, it WAS my mother’s typewriter.

I’m not sure how she got this thirty-pound beast from Boston to Chicago but it must have helped make for a very heavy hope chest. It was the first typewriter I ever set fingers upon and the tool I used to learn terms such as “carriage,” “platen,” “backspace,” and “shift key.” I also used it to create my first formal essays.

Back in Wisconsin, there’s a black and white photo of me as a very young child using this typewriter. My mother sent it when I first began work as a professional journalist with a caption on the back. “Was there ever a question of this girl’s future career?”


Today the Underwood No. 5 collects dust while I wear away the keys on my third in series of laptop computers. I’ve been a “Mac girl” since 1986 and have experienced every generation of state-of-the-art improvements with a vast collection of computers. Most have been donated to local schools and churches, but I’ve held onto the laptops and still use all three for various purposes.

The primary one I use now, the MacBook Pro, may be responsible for holding up the production of my third novel. It’s so filled with fun software like iMovie and Photo Booth—just to name two—that sitting in front of it each day is like raiding the candy store. Add this blog to the mix and a little thing called Facebook (which a good friend of mine refers to as Face Crack), and my novel is collecting as much dust as the Underwood.


I’m writing the story, Irish Twins, from what is essentially my mother’s perspective. Since she didn’t leave a legacy of storytelling or written essays, I’ve relied on my imagination to fictionalize her life. Each day I try to imagine the world in the days before laptop computers and the World Wide Web. It’s a heavy mental workout—as heavy as the typewriter she left behind.

Today I thought about tuning up the old Underwood and using the method approach to creating my story, but I nearly injured myself trying to lift it off its aerie perch. Standing on that swivel chair was NOT a good idea. And besides, who needs yet another distraction?

If my mother were here, she’d tell me to get to work.