Thursday, March 26, 2009

Clickety Clack

What's that noise I keep hearing around our house? It's something I haven't heard in years....the clickety clack of typewriter keys hitting paper.

After reading some blogs and articles about typewriters, my husband and I decided to be on the look out for a usable, old typewriter. We looked at our usual thrift store last week but there were no typewriters there. On Saturday, we were driving to a nearby town for some grocery shopping when we spied a yard sale at a country home.

In addition to the stacks and stacks of books they were selling quite cheaply, there was all sorts of other stuff. We picked out a jewelry box, some vintage Christmas ornaments, a box of bicycle parts and some books. Then, there were the typewriters...three of them, two electric ones and one manual typewriter. (The manual one is pictured to the right.)

The typewriters were priced at $1 each, but it was a 50 percent off sale. So, we got all three typewriters for a total of $1.50.

At the yard sale, we had no idea if any of them worked at all or even what condition they were in. They weren't too dirty, from a quick glance.

Back at home, we took them all out and started looking them over. The electric typewriters are Smith-Coronas, and the manual is a Royal Quiet Deluxe.

One of the electric typewriters works, sort of. I typed a letter on it one day, but the paper didn't advance evenly, so after every few lines, I had to adjust the paper on the platen (thing the paper rolls around). And, the shift key, especially the one on the right side, wasn't consistent. Sometimes the letters were capitalized, sometimes they weren't.

The Royal seemed to work, but it needs a new ribbon. Based on some simple research on the Internet, it looks like that one could be a 1950s "rugged" version of the Quiet Deluxe. The tan paint has a rough texture to it, and the keys are white. It looks like ribbons are available for it, so we'll have to track one down.

Our 8-year-old daughter was immediately fascinated with the typewriters and couldn't wait for her turn. All the while she was typing, she was listing off all the things the typewriter couldn't do that the computer can do (spell check, fix capital letter mistakes, etc.). But, in the end, she declared that she needs one of those for her room. We'll see.

Another thing I found interesting...after typing a few notes on the typewriter, she sat down to write a book. She's had a computer in her room for a couple of years, and the only typewriter she's ever seen was a non-working antique variety. But, just sitting in front of a working typewriter inspired her to start writing a book.

In the end, it may be that none of these old typewriters are worth keeping, but they've been fun to play with for a while. We'll get some ribbons and clean them up some more. Maybe they'll be usable.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Letter-writing Quote of the Week

Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls. For, thus friends absent speak.

- John Donne

Monday, March 23, 2009

Life Lessons from Letter Writing

I suppose there are quite a few things we can learn from writing to communicate in writing, proper format for different types of letters, improved penmanship, etc. But, one thing I find myself learning as I progress on this letter-writing project is patience.

In this day of e-mail, Instant Message, Text Message and Twitter, we have learned to expect instant replies to the messages we send out into the world. We send out an e-mail, and in a matter of minutes, sometimes only seconds, a reply is back in our inbox.

It's been hard for me to remember how to think differently with the letter writing. I'll write a letter, seal it up in the envelope and drop it in the mailbox. Then, I'm already waiting for a reply; I'm used to my recipient receiving my messages instantly. I've had to get used to (again) realizing that the recipient won't know what I said for days. And, then, I'll have to wait until they have time to write back and send me a letter in the mail.

I grew up before e-mail, so I have plenty of experience with mailing letters, but I've been corresponding electronically for almost 20 years now. Instant communication gratification has become the norm.

There's something simply satisfying, though, about connecting with friends and family with an old-fashioned letter. It's just as thrilling to drop an envelope in the mailbox as it is to take one out of the mailbox at home.

Make someone's day...write a letter today and mail it!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What makes a letter better

After writing lots of letters and receiving several in return, I think one reason that "real" letters are so appealing has to do with the connection that the letter provides between the sender and the receiver. I want to use words like "intimate" and "sensual" or "sensuous," but I don't want to imply a romantic feeling, just a sense of closeness.

When you receive a personal letter in the mailbox, you know that the sender thought about you enough to put her (or his) thoughts on paper and mail them to you. You know that the sender held the paper in her hands, that she held the pen, that she sat somewhere in the world and thought about what to write to you. She found (or remembered) your address and wrote it on the envelope. She found (or bought) a stamp and affixed it to the corner of the envelope. She so wanted that letter to get to you that she went to a mailbox and deposited the letter in it, and then she went home and awaited your reply.

If it is a romantic letter, maybe she spritzed the paper with a little bit of her perfume or even put a big lipstick kiss at the end, or more subtly added a couple of X's and O's to send you kisses and hugs.

If it's from someone you know very well, you can imagine her voice, as you read her words. You know when she was smiling as she wrote and when she was angry or sad. You remember the memories she's writing about and it makes you think of more good times you shared in the past. The letter may make you wish to see her soon or to pick up pen and paper and write back as quickly as you can.

Oh, sure, phone calls, e-mails and text messages are great for immediate conversations, but they lack the warmth of a hand-written or -typed letter. Yes, even a hand-typed letter says something personal. Over time, you come to recognize a person's typewriter's characteristics, and you know that even a typed letter is put into an envelope, just the same.

I can't remember how many times I've read about how important it is to be careful with e-mails, how an innocent comment in an e-mail can be misinterpreted. That's what they invented the "smilies" for...indicating the emotion that an e-mail can't convey.

Somehow, a hand-written letter manages to convey those feelings. Maybe the letter writer spends more time crafting a phrase than does the e-mailer. Maybe it's the handwriting itself, maybe you can see the happiness in the softness of the letter or the anger in the harsh slant of others.

I know we're all busy people in this day and age. It seems like there's never enough time to get it all done. But, just try it. Find some paper and a pen. Write a letter and mail it. You'll make at least two people and the receiver of your letter.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Handwriting, typewriters and other interesting things

While doing some research lately, I came across a couple of interesting articles. The first one is a BBC story about the impending demise of handwriting.

Among other things, the article says:
She argues that children - if not this generation then one soon to come - may grow up using only a crude form of printing for the rare occasions in life they need to communicate by pen.

The other story is about a typewriter lover.

I found both stories when I was researching fonts/typefaces. I ran across this site with the links to the articles.

Don't forget to write a letter this weekend!

Monday, March 9, 2009

More mail art news

Wendy at A Passion for Letter Writing pointed me to her interview with Barb Nelis, who hosts a mail art/envelope swap. Read the interview here.

Barb has a swap this month. Sounds like letter-writing fun!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Stationery Shops

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I have lots of stationery. Much of it is quite a few years old. I haven't purchased new stationery in years.

I figure as this project goes on, I'll start using up all the paper I've accumulated over the years.

But, I'm not familiar with the best stationery sources anymore.

What are your favorites? Tell me where you like to buy stationery and why.

I'm looking forward to your advice!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Letter-writing quote of the week

What a lot we lost when we stopped writing letters. You can't reread a phone call.
~Liz Carpenter,
Texan, writer, feminist

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Typewritten letter

After I blogged about the typewriter story yesterday, I was surprised to find an envelope on my desk at work this morning, after the mail was delivered. I rarely get mail at work.

Even more surprising was to see my own home address typed in the upper left corner of the envelope.

It seems that my husband was inspired by the NPR story to find an old typewriter at his office and type me a letter. From his description, the "old" typewriter sounds like it's about he same vintage as the one I received when I went off to college. And, after 20+ years, the quality seems to have declined somewhat. I guess those "daisy wheels" didn't hold up through the years.

Tony was just having fun typing again, after all these years of computer writing. His letter is mostly about typing the letter. At the end of the letter, he does suggest that we find an old typewriter for our daughter to use. We have a couple of really old ones, early 1900s, I'd guess. She likes to push the keys, but they're not in working order right now. We might look for a slightly newer version.

Another interesting thing about Tony's letter to me was the stamp. I noticed it immediately -- not just your ordinary "Forever" stamp. It has Ella Baker and Ruby Hurley, two Civil Rights activists. They are included on the U.S. Postal Service's commemorative "Civil Rights Pioneers" souvenir sheet.

I asked about the stamp. Tony said he asked the post office employee for something different, and she suggested this particular stamp.

That makes the letter even more special.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Typewriter tales

I heard an interesting story on NPR this morning, all about typewriters.

The NPR story includes an interview with Ish Arora, a 16-year-old whose parents gave her a typewriter for her last birthday. According to the story:
Ish, a high school sophomore, does all her homework on a laptop but writes poetry on her Remington. She's also used it to write letters to her friends. "They were ecstatic to actually receive a letter in the mail from a typewriter."
How interesting to hear about a 16-year-old who's not only using a typewriter, but who is writing letters!

From a writer's point of view, anything about writing is interesting, including typewriters.

When I was in high school, I used to type my research papers on my mom's old manual typewriter. Of course, I was usually working on the paper really late the night before it was due, so often, I would hand-write what I wanted to say, and my mom would type it for me. She was a faster typer than I was, and back then, I couldn't "write" at the keyboard. I had to write it in long-hand first. I remember several late nights with the two of us at the typewriter, me scribbling out my work and her typing it up for me. She's a great mom, isn't she!

When I went off to college, my parents gave me my very own electric typewriter. It was a fancy model with built-in correction need for little bottles of correction fluid.

Now, I will say that computers existed at that time. In fact, my last semester of high school, I took a "computer math" course so that I could learn how to use a computer. I was planning on working for the Texas Tech University student newspaper, and I knew they used computers there. But, very few other students had access to computers, and not very many teachers would accept papers done on the computer, mostly because of the poor quality of the print-outs.

So, I used that typewrite a lot, especially for resumés and cover letters. I'm sure I got my first professional job with a resumé typed on that typewriter.

I still have it somewhere. I also have two or three antique, manual typewriters, including one that belonged to my late aunt, Gladys McKeown. Maybe I should get them in working order...maybe I'll write a letter or two on them...
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