After reading the article in today's New York Times about Cormac McCarthy donating his Olivetti manual typewriter, one on which he wrote countless manuscripts, perhaps even his Pulitzer winner, I couldn't help but recall my first typewriter, a manual Smith & Corona, the color of a placid Caribbean sea. But I wouldn't have known that then, since I rarely traveled much further than beyond the small, rural town where I was raised on a farm in Upstate New York.
I was about ten years old when an aunt gave me a banged up metal typewriter that I'd unearthed from a toy box in her house. My excitement was soon quelled, though, when I discovered that the paper wouldn't lock in place; but that didn't matter because the ribbon was pretty well used up, anyway. Still, there was something about linking words together that had a hold on me and I would sit in my bedroom with piles of scrap paper and write poems and stories in longhand for hours. So when other girls were asking for Barbie dolls, I was wishing for a typewriter, one that would actually tap out a world of my own creation. Imagine how thrilled I was on my fifteenth birthday when I received that second-hand Smith & Corona as a gift. I can still hear the clickety-clack as I struck those keys for the first time. I don't believe I dreamed of becoming a writer then--it was more my need to express injustice and sorrow--not necessarily my own--by rolling in one sheet of paper after the next and writing poems with titles like Hey, Mr. Preacher Man and Bondage. Yes, I was quite isolated, confined in a place very few people heard of, and exploring certain struggles meant giving them a voice--even if no one was reading what I was writing, which is probably just as well because they were quite awful by literary standards.
Perhaps I was wrong to state earlier that I rarely traveled much further than beyond the small, rural town where I was raised, because during all those hours in my bedroom at my typewriter, I took a number of journeys, developing lives and tales where there were no circumstances to stop me. I have since moved on from that typewriter, going from an electric typewriter, to a word process and now my computer. I have also given myself permission to call myself a writer, without blushing with apology and embarrassment, but that wasn't until long after receiving that first typewriter. Nowadays, I write novels, short stories, essays and blog about a variety of topics, but imagine my surprise when after moving away from that very isolated world, I decided to write about it in my novel Without Grace--from my Long Island home. Guess that confirms it doesn't matter whether it is on some farm in Upstate New York or in a suburban Long Island home, it's the passion that drives us to share our truth and that first manual typewriter was the means that got me there.