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    Model Seven

    About ten years ago, I inherited a new typewriter. It wasn't given to me by an elder. It wasn't left to me in a will. It came to me by chance, as I wandered the orderly aisles of a Mennonite second-hand store in southeastern, Pennsylvania. The minute I caught sight of Model Seven, the ancient manual typewriter, I knew it had been meant for me all along.

    I'd had my eye out for an old Underwood or a similar typewriter I could take on trips and get some writing done without needing an electrical outlet. Not that I really needed a new typewriter. I already had both an old electric one and a 2-year-old electronic model. I even owned a computer. But I've always had a soft spot in my heart for purely mechanical things that work by levers, pulleys and sheer force, not electrical impulse. And something in me said that "real" writers used manual typewriters, not Microsoft Word.

    In any case, working on a PC at my day job, screen glowing before me, fan in the chassis constantly whirring, I sorely missed machines which didn't need to be plugged in, switched on or off, but functioned at any and all times you needed them, just by pressing a key -- machines which were absolutely silent when they weren't being used. In a world where I'd become so thoroughly dependent on electricity for virtually every function of my daily routine, I wanted to fall back on a more independent invention. In a daily routine in which I typed countless documents on a word processor and printed them on laser-jet letterhead, making my edits to stories on a PC at home felt more like a 9-5 job, than craft. Computers, to my artistic, romantic side, meant work, but a manual typewriter meant art.

    As I wandered the thrift store, exploring the aisle filled with pungent books, worn but wearable clothing, used ice skates and candy dishes, I caught sight of my prize. Black, skeletal, austere, its patina faded by age and hay dust, the old manual typewriter was no less than 40 years old. The smell of the farm still clung to its case, its high, boxy top cocked back and resting against an assortment of flatware and mismatched dishes on the other side of the shoulder-high shelf. Model Seven, as metallic lettering across the face identified it, looked like all the other classic typewriters I'd ever seen -- a dark, hulking combination of various moving parts, expectantly awaiting the first strike of the key. Yet it was different, more modest, as only a Mennonite mechanism can be. It sported none of the proud chrome fittings and shiny parts I'd seen on classic typewriters in old movies. It was black, unassuming, and the price tag said it could be mine for only $5.00.

    Model Seven was in far from pristine condition. Dusty, covered in cobwebs, the innards sluggish with disuse, its case nearly rusted tight at the hinges, I wasn't sure it even worked. But an upstanding Mennonite thrift shop would never foist off junk on their customers. Of that I could be sure. I turned the roller to advance the sheet of paper already in it and banged through "the quick brown fox jumped..." in lower case and upper. Sure enough, the old dog was alive, if arthritic.

    I paid my five bucks and lugged the monster home. Home was, at that time, California (I was visiting family in Pennsylvania), and as I hauled it with my already over-packed luggage on and off taxi cabs and heaved it into the overhead baggage compartment on the plane, I seriously questioned my decision to bring Model Seven the whole way across the country. I even considered leaving that beast on the plane, when we touched down on the West Coast. But why give up, when we'd come this far? Off the plane and into my life it permanently came.

    Back home, when I more closely examined my acquisition in detail, I wondered again what I'd been thinking, buying this antiquity. The ribbon didn't snake the way it did on the other machines I owned, and the take-up spool seemed to be jammed. To top it off, the keys were so stiff, it took great effort to punch them down -- and punch was exactly what I had to do. Stiff from neglect, these keys hadn't been pressed for some time, judging from the amount of cobwebs I cleaned off the arms and the type under the hood.

    Still, I was not to be deterred. I freed Model Seven from its case, replaced the ribbon, applied oil to the moving parts, and went to work on an essay I had in mind. Compared to the computers I was accustomed to working with, it took a mammoth effort just to express one word. I expended the same amount of energy typing one sentence on Model Seven that I normally did typing a paragraph on a word processor. It was tiring, it was hard on my fingers, and it was anything but easy. I had to repeatedly retrace my steps and retype letters my weak little fingers didn't type hard enough. I had to manually move the carriage when it reached the end of a line. I had to manually insert and remove paper. And if (or rather, when) screwed up, there was no backspace key to instantly forgive me. I had to backtrack and correct each error by hand, either with whiteout or correction tape.

    Still, I kept on. I pushed my aching fingers onto the keys, hammering out copy with gritted teeth and valiant determination fueled by visions of American expatriate artists in Paris and black-and-white photos of my favorite poets sitting in their studios with nary a computer in sight. I pummeled my tender fingertips against the recalcitrant keys of that old nag, painstakingly producing a scant few sheets of blotchy, uneven copy filled with typos. It was an antiquated form of torture, a parsimonious far cry from my usual stream of pristine pages produced by clearly superior technology.

    But though my fingers paid dearly for my stubborn streak and the hammering of keys deafened my ears, those days of wrangling with Model Seven were filled with rare and sweet pleasures. For once, I was the only sentient being in the room. I was neither hurried, nor pressed, nor speeded up, nor more efficient. I was free to amble about my mind and muddle through my own thoughts at my leisure, without needing to move the mouse, now and then to keep the screen saver off. What mistakes I made, were mine, not the products of poor spell-checking. I was allowed to take my time -- I had to take my time, lest I spend the bulk of my time tidying hastily mis-typed lines. I was unencumbered by the unspoken imperative to wax eloquent, that my words might be worthy of the royal treatment of spell-check and True-Type fonts. I could get up and walk away from the work without having to come back and turn the machine off. I never turned it on -- I never had to. When I was ready to start typing, I started. When I was ready to quit, I did so immediately. To take a break from a humming, grinding, beeping CPU and animate a machine by my own efforts, offered instant -- silent -- gratification. I worked on that old machine for about a week, until my fingertips won out over my principles and I reluctantly went back to using my computer.

    But though I put the old dog away and have rarely returned to it since, negotiating with petulant Model Seven, taught me an enormous amount about myself as a writer and my writing process -- things a computer could never teach me. I found that although a PC gave me the ability to crank out my thoughts as quickly as they came, it wasn't always necessary to put every last thought on paper. Sometimes a string of thoughts was little more than a diluted version of a complete concept; my writing fared better if I held my peace, and distilled my meanings before letting them out into the world.

    Sometimes, in front of a computer, the words came in a rush -- not because they were necessary, but simply because they could. The extra effort that manual typing took, forced me to become more economical with my language, more lasered, more focused, with clearer intention. Model Seven offered me a welcome break from the constant flow of words and thoughts and paragraphs and pages which drove me ahead of them like a skier fleeing an avalanche. The inconvenience -- and the silence -- was worth it.

    It was then that I realized it was because I had a computer that I needed Model Seven. I craved using that old beast, in fact. For in pregnant moments when I paused to reflect, or search for the next elusive word, Model Seven offered me the most precious commodity of all -- peace. To my ears, dulled by the constant daily hum and whine of computers, copiers, printers, and fluorescent overhead lighting, the silence was sweet. Model Seven didn't dictate that I must work, produce, come up with my next sentence now. Unlike my computer, which hummed with urgent, expectant speed, Model Seven waited patiently for my next thought. Without rush. Without hurry. Without tapping my household electricity.

    What a welcome break from the high-performance imperative that I create no muss, no fuss, just crank out good clean copy... clean, soulless copy. As much as I loved the tidiness of writing, editing and printing without a lot of ink stains and sheets of paper everywhere, somehow, my PC had a way of whitewashing all the grit, the humanity, the foibles -- indeed, the life -- out of my words. At the end of my writing stints in front of my computer, I was often tired -- but I was mind-tired, not body-tired, and I often finished wondering why I felt so beat.

    With Model Seven, there was no distinction between mind-work and body-work. It was one and the same. Fingers hitting the keys. Hands reaching for the return lever, pulling a finished page from the carriage and feeding a fresh sheet in. True, I didn't have the same glistening, come-hither copy at the end of my time in front of that machine. But my body knew why I was tired. My mind wasn't alone in its weariness.

    Nor was my character alone in its limitation. For I'm a lot like Model Seven and the words it turned out. I have no fancy brand name, no marketable title. I'm not always as fast as I'd like, and my writing process is not as convenient as I'd sometimes prefer. I have no flash, no glitz, no glamour, only age and reliability. We're both just working machines that put together words as best we can. Sometimes we do better than others, but at least we do.

    And like the copy which comes off Model Seven, I am rough and uneven, hard to discern in places and virtually unreadable in others. I am not a clean-cut, one-dimensional sheet of paper whose intentions are always clear, or whose nature is plainly obvious to the rest of the world. There are plenty of parts of me that need going over again, like the faint letters typed by my weaker fingers or passed over in haste. And there are a lot of parts of me that need strengthening, like my weak third and fourth fingers. I need to slow down at times, when I'm navigating a difficult passage in my life, and there are times when I can fly, really fly, and not worry about a misstep.

    Yes, a computer does make my writing more convenient. What I can type in, I can print out looking great -- without pain to my fingers or strain on my hands. I seem to think faster, too, when I'm at a keyboard. But I don't always want my writing to come quickly and easily and with minimal effort required to conserve precious time, money and resources. And I don't always want my thought process speeded up. Some days, I want my writing to be involved and laborious, as filled with struggle as it is with reward, as it is full of labor as is of the fruits thereof. I've rarely found convenience to be transformational -- and yet transformation is what I seek when I work with words.

    I don't write just to see words on paper. Or for the sake of a by-line. I don't even always write so I can be published. I write so I can be known -- to myself and whomever else happens to read my words. I write, not to teach but to learn, to practice the act of listening, rather than speaking. I write to grow and mature, to acquaint myself with the inner realms of mind and soul. And I turn to Model Seven to give me what walkers prize over riders and drivers -- a careful, considered approach to the world around me, while moving at a pace that lets me slow down, stop, back up, stop to think, maybe change direction, and move on again in a thoughtful, deliberate fashion. With pen in hand, or fingers pounding deliberately (if not desperately) on that sluggish old nag, I caught sight of scenery I'd surely have missed, were I sailing along on my Pentium III with "Intel inside".

    I am a writer, not a typesetter. I am a human being, not camera-ready copy. I may have my flaws and my difficulties, but at least I still have, like Model Seven, a character all my own.

    Copyright © 2002 Kay Stoner

    Kay Stoner is a writer and poet living and working in the Boston area. She is the author of "Entraining to Wealth: An Interactive Abundance Activity Workbook" and "Fuel: Memoirs of a Crisis", a memoir of her travels in England during the fuel protests of 2000. To read more, visit http://www.kaystoner.com

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