Some Thoughts While Touch Typing
I am transcribing a very long family history manuscript by a cousin twice removed. I find myself being astonished by touch typing. I haven't done any sustained typing like this in years. I am also rather amazed that I made a living doing this for long periods as a university secretary pre-PCs. My shoulders and upper back are aching.
I keep thinking about the way touch typing works. Sometimes I literally spell the word out in my head and my fingers automatically go to the right keys, fast. Sometimes I just read/ think the whole word and poof, it's keyed. Sometimes I think I just see the word (esp words like and, the) and my brain and fingers make it happen without my silently reading it. Some words I spell part of the word in my head and my brain/finger connection finishes it. I do that with the word L-O-U-I-S ville.
However it goes, it is seems to me like a magical act - an elegant collaboration, neurological ledgerdemain.
I am also thinking about my mother, who left the planet in 2008, not only because this is maternal line family history, but because she made numerous annotations to this manuscript: "we have the blanket chest used by Sudie on the Ohio River packet boats" "we are related to him [John Greenleaf Whittier] - my daughter George-Anna has a quilt made by his aunt" "she started a home for unwed mothers"
So I am feeling like Mama's peering over my shoulder, pleased that I am getting this preserved on the computer, pleased I am enjoying her marginal chitchat.
And I am also remembering how Mama could no longer type, could no longer work a typewriter, really at all, when dementia came in and yanked her out of her life. This was a woman for whom a typewriter was more necessary than an iron or even a cooking pot. She typed her own writing, of course, and I remember her earning money typing manuscripts for others, in particular, a children's author named Mariana Prieto. (I will make my own marginal note here - what I most remember about Mariana was that she seemed rather highstrung and we children seemed to give her migraines.)
Before everything collapsed for her, before it became clear that she was ill with a memory illness, my mother became obsessed with trying to type again. She thought she just needed practice. She thought she needed a better typewriter. A simpler typewriter. A manual needed more strength than she had, so I searched for new, then secondhand electrics. The new were all computer-y - even I could hardly fathom them. Shaun came over one day to try to break the workings down for both of us, but it was no use. I probably bought and returned three typewriters. Once she had been moved to the nursing home area of the continuing care community she lived in, the typing subject still came up. Her care plan always included, at her insistence, that she have a typewriter and space to practice, though she never actually availed herself of it when they did provide it.
Even before dementia, my mother was a bit obsessed with typewriters. There was not a secondhand manual at any yard sale she could pass up. Once someone broke into the old storage garage behind the house in Miami and mother said, 'typewriters were strewn all over the yard.' afterward. I inherited this obsession and pretty soon after moving here I had five typewriters, all bought for $5-10 at yard sales. My mother, upon hearing that Molly, then 5, was learning to write stories, packed up one of her typewriters and shipped it to her. Molly, too, took to typing, and by age 7 when we got a computer, she said "I want to type like you, with both hands" and she zoomed through Mavis Beacon lessons and had a typing speed of 35 wpm, 98% accuracy. Which is what I had when I got that job at the University of Miami.
It is probable I am married to Paul because of my typing speed. It wasn't fast enough for the jobs I really wanted, in the Bookstore or the English Department. They said I could go home and practice and take the test again the next day or I could go interview in the Dept. of Economics because they only required 35 wpm. I went on the interview and was offered that job and took it because I really wanted to not be a waitress anymore and have health benefits. About 3 months later, Dr. Paul B. arrived in the Department. I was very excited about meeting this new professor as his mail had started coming first and there were very interesting return addresses, like Socialist Party USA...
So I'm thinking about all this as I type this manuscript on my computer - and wondering do we still say 'type?' I have googled and apparently we do. Just like we (those of us who haven’t completely gone over to texting) still dial phone numbers and hang up (after leaving messages for those of us who no longer answer phones or listen to messages.)
I have whittled down my own typewriter collection, to a honey of a 1956 manual typewriter my mother somehow found to buy at the retirement community - a Smith Corona in a beautiful case with the handbook and keys; and two really compact beauties, one a Swinger in a late 60s aqua case with a transistor radio in the cover. I've got extra ribbons and carbon paper, so I'm prepared, if the electricity and the social order fail, to type for the underground and the resistance. And for poetry.