Clunk, Clunk, Clunk,.
That’s what writing used to sound like. Not the quiet, understated, hardly-there tap of a Macbook, with it’s lit-up keys and sexy jumping icons.
These were chunky clickety clunks, the loud, overstated, fully-there tap of a typewriter, with it’s lift-up keys and sexy jumping letters.
I went home to Belfast last weekend, a visit to mark the five year tideline on this tsunami of grief and care since my Mum’s stroke. As I struggled with the memory of the last five years and the uncertainty of the next five years, my Dad gave me a little bit of the past. He gave me my grandfather’s typewriter.
My Pappa was a writer, a newspaper journalist. And once, in a tiny window of chance, while my Dad (also a journalist and writer) was doing a stint at the same newspaper, I went in as a teenager on work experience. I wrote a little piece and the editor, being kind and generous, gave me my own byline. I still have that copy – an edition of the newspaper with three generations of by-line in print – my Pappa’s, my Dad’s and mine, articles signed off David Kirk, David Kirk, and Alana Kirk. A colliding of three generations and the love the words.
That clunk clunk clunk played the soundtrack to my first writing attempts as a child. I still remember the physical delight of inserting a dove white sheet of paper and rolling it through, and setting back the metal bar that kept it in place. Of pushing back the typing bar and resting my fingers momentarily on the keys like a piano player ready to begin. Of taking a deep breath and pressing that first key and watching that first letter hit the ribbon and when it retreated, leaving the first black letter on the sheet. The story had begun. There was no delete button, so every letter of every word was thoughtfully considered, and when decided upon, was branded into the page, not just a black mark but an indent, so that when you pulled out the page (is there a better sound?) the page FELT written as much as it looked written.
As a child growing up, it was one of the most exquisite experiences; a sheet of blackened, indented paper that I had created from a blank white nothingness. My Pappa smoked while he wrote, smoke-slit eyes peering at his page, his tweed jacket smelling of age, and stale smoke wear. The typewriter smelled of him, and of ink and of imagination. I dreamed of being a writer on that typewriter, so many years ago.
And as I sit with my Mac book, my Pappa’s old typewriter beside me, I edit my book that will be released next year. It has been written on and by many things. Post Its, pens, pencils, pages, on my phone, ipad, MacBook. I’ve written it beside my Mum, beside my Dad, beside my children, at the kitchen table, in bed, in the car, on the train, in Starbucks, in Avoca, on the wall. Modern technology has allowed me to write this book whenever and where I am.
But it all started on an old typewriter and a wish. It was a hard weekend, remembering all that had been before Mum’s stroke. Five years on, and I wish more than anything my Mum knew what I was doing. I wish she could read my book. I wish she could stand with me at the launch. But then in many ways she will be. And so will my Pappa. This is a modern-written book, but it could not have been written without the past.
Clunk Clunk clunk.
Tap tap tap.
The present always tapping into the past.
I love this – such a nice memory. And, on a sort of related note – one of my favorite gifts as a kid was an electric typewriter; up till then I’d only ever typed on the clunkers. It was like magic! However my relatives did think I was a little odd, especially the one who was told the best gift for me that year would be typing paper. And then TOTALLY didn’t understand why I was so excited about it.
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We were nerds! Very proud too.
My great-aunt had this style of typewriter. I was fascinated with it. I learned to type on an Apple IIe in the late 1980s, so I don’t have the same fond memories of manual typewriters as some, but I understand the appeal of writing as a physical act. That’s why I like to compose my first drafts and notes longhand.
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Me too – nothing feels like pencil on paper!