Years ago I sold an old manual typewriter at a garage sale. It was a reaction to a familiar need—the need for more space. That is by no means a modern dilemma, but it is what filled the space that makes it modern, and, now that I look back, suspect.

Who could have dreamed what was to fill that space? For where once sat that manual typewriter, came a ‘word processor’. Then the internet. Then social media. And the white space of Instagram posts. (white space, white background, natural light—de rigueur)

The typewriter I sold was an early sixties era manual Smith Corona. It had belonged to my father, and when he passed away I took it with me. Along with it came the memories of sounds, the sensations of a vibrating table as he typed, and smells, strangely pleasing, of fresh inked cartridges. Images in my mind of my father sitting at his desk, all muttering concentration and stubby, work roughened fingers tapping out words, words, words….

Today, with the aforementioned lighting and spatial requirements, perhaps a rose sitting atop the typewriter for textural contrast, or a cup of steaming coffee (where steam is captured actually moving) that typewriter would have made a fetching Instagram post, harvesting a stream of reactive emojis and comments like ‘amazing’. But that is not the missed opportunity I am thinking of.

A ‘word processor’ sounds like a funny term now, but that is what we called it then. Processed words make one think of Spam—‘is it really meat?’ but in the end what we had was a fascinating new machine that now goes by the name of device. By this device we could process words and ideas with dizzying speeds. No more little jars of whiteout to clutter up your desk. That slow painting action with the brush, the absolute concentration, the dexterity needed to not get a drop on your keys—all a thing of the past. Now, those sub par chapters that represent the work of an evening? You can wake up with a fresh perspective and delete it all in a second! Done, with the click of a button. Destructive power begins to swamp creative power.

I dreamed of the ease with which a word processor was going to help me create miles and miles, as it were, of stranded sentences, ideas, and stories. What comes to mind are factory workers, perhaps in a garment district, sitting at hundreds of machines, all humming with industry, while regular, even stitches flow on into infinity; becoming garments, sheets, towels, bed linens and prom dresses. While we may now think this is a negative comparison, at the time industries like this were springing up, it was considered progress. It took years to assess the human toll.

In the symbolism of space that was once occupied by my unassuming little typewriter, what exists there now is like a hole in space. Enormous space, vacuous space, as it turned out. A black hole of inimitable power that eats stars and burps radiation. (descriptive terms borrowed from actual science websites, google ‘black hole burps’ if you don’t believe me, but then again, don’t, pour yourself a cup of coffee and write that haiku on cherry blossoms you keep thinking about.)

I want my old stodgy typewriter back. It doesn’t need to stream, burp, or teach me how to felt a woolen toque. It doesn’t need to produce pictures for me. It doesn’t need to take me to the Himalayas for stunning views of Gurla Mandhata.

It will be okay if I don’t have access to a Polish university, and the digitalized diagrams of Copernicus. I’m ashamed to say I still get the accomplishments of Copernicus and Galileo confused, even after all this time. (sorry, Nicolai, I had such hopes)

And speaking of regions near the Gulf of Gdansk, I can willingly cut back on my virtual streaming of shipwrecks as they find them. Fascinating, of course, if you like old shipwrecks. As the website says, ‘there is no need to dive to the depths of the Baltic Sea…’ (Oh, really? That’s too bad. I would have enjoyed that.) You see, adventure is as close as your device. Adventure IS your device.

As to google…I wring my hands in despair… how can something that changed my life be called GOOGLE?? Ah, but can I live without it?? I might. Just. Maybe.

I can’t remember the last time I needed to know the difference in pronunciation between the Hebrew word ra’a for sheep and the Hebrew word ra’a’ for evil, although at one time I found it interesting and remembered it, and there was a story idea involved where the girl needed to know how to say ‘sheep’ and not say ‘evil’. (story not finished to date)

I will be okay with not being able to watch real time footage of a dog being rescued from a flooded ravine in Belgorad. Such a feel-good story at the time, the sort you later find out was staged. Or that Facebook story that circulated ‘a mother cow’s desperate wish comes true’… (you want to know, don’t you?)

If it turns out I cannot access a tutorial on 1,000 ways to crochet a granny square, that will be okay, too. I just might have to get creative on my own and figure it out.

I do love my family history research—was that ever an eye opener that perhaps I could have done without—but the truth is I often find myself reading about other people’s families, usually so much more interesting than my own. Consider Thomas Brown of Old Dominion, Virginia, born 1770…. his mother was Elizabeth Black, and he married Martha Green, and they named their first son Green Brown. At some point a gentleman named Pinkney enters the picture. This is heady stuff for me. I have a thing for interesting names, and remember odd bits like girls named Kissy Simpleton or Keziah Snively, and I want to write their story, because I love a good story. Sometimes I just hear a name, and a character pops into my mind, almost fully formed. Or I start to imagine a character, with a story line, and the name suggests itself almost immediately.

Writers are a funny lot. Does any branch of the creative world agonize as much over blank white space and block?? So while I reminisce fondly of the old manual typewriter days, the reality is that I thought I would write more when I had ‘the word processor’. And, it happened—for a time. Now, it seems like the modern gadgets are sucking away the creativity. Is that it?

Counterbalance time out. There is also a new burst of creativity—of a different sort—based on the fast-paced stream of content now available to us. It’s exhilarating, thrilling, and exhausting. I’ve learned so much. But sometimes I just need to stop the flow of learning and DO. This is just my own journey. Controlled portions might be the key, if I can say that without sounding like a nutritional coach wanting to take away my Scotch, which would make me not like her.

I still read, but differently. I still write, but a fraction of what I used to. Pictures have taken up the space words used to occupy. My books (those real, tangible things with pages, and most without pictures) are still here, and taking up a great deal of space. On my bookshelves, white space does not exist. There is no spatial harmony. There is not even trinket space. Emojis are not welcome. No shelves are given over to objets d’art. Just books—double stacked, triple stacked, vertical stacks and horizontal towers. A paradise of tactility. They will have that space, will continue to have it, and I will freely give them that space, as long as I am living in something slightly larger than six feet under.

Books without pictures, and old typewriters that don’t stream live media share a charming trait—they encourage use of the imagination.

Postscript: If you’ve been following this blog, glad to have you! If you are new, then welcome.
This blog is a quiet space for readers. In it I like to explore forgotten authors, and hidden gems of writing. If that is your thing, I’m happy you’re here. There may be fewer pictures in the future… we’ll see. I like books with pictures (and certainly blogs with pictures are more popular) but I just want to get back to what started this all for me—the words.

6 thoughts on “Books Without Pictures

  1. Ah the typewriter and word processor. I have been on the lookout for a working typewriter at the antique store I like to visit, nothing yet, I’m ever watchful. I remember using a word processor to finish up essays for university. I couldn’t afford a computer which was relatively new back then. I loved the transition from typewriter to word processor, I remember thinking this is so much easier, I can now throw away my whiteout. I didn’t of course because it stood for something. Strange to feel that way about whiteout. I had words and books, lots of studying in between but it was a happy, blissful time, so I can completely relate to your post. It brings back memories, memories without a phone and instagram( I like travel photos don’t get me wrong) but it was just me and my word processor.

    • So glad my post brought back happy memories for you! And remember the IBM Selectric? With the rotating ball of letters? That was my dream before ‘the word processor’. 🙂 I know exactly what you mean about finding ‘a working typewriter’… I have (ahem) a small collection of antique typewriters but finding ribbon and someone to fix them is a challenge. I am always on the lookout, though. I hope you find one!

  2. I love, love, love your overstuffed bookshelf. Just as they should be and more of them. Wish I had more shelves in my house…for stuffing and storing the prose and poetry ‘I cannot live without’. Great post.

    • Yes, they are a source of happiness for me, for sure… even when I can’t get to them and spend the time reading I would like, it is oddly comforting just seeing them all there… full of good stuff, classic ideas, time-honored words and phrases, ready and waiting. Stacks of books make great end tables, by the way… 🙂

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