Before I begin waxing lyrical about my typewriter, let me first say that I am all for technology – it would be hypocritical to say otherwise from the behind my laptop screen. I am as dependent as anybody on my smart phone to keep me constantly updated on the world around me; to allow me to orchestrate my life quickly and efficiently; to deliver information within moments of a need arising. I’m not about to suggest that we all go back to doing things in “the good old fashioned way”.
However, it is precisely because we live our lives at such high speed that we lack the time for processing. The space between the beginning and end of each task becomes smaller and smaller so that we can barely see how we got from one to the other. “Old fashioned” ways of doing things often force us to slow down, and in doing so, we can re-find time to pay attention to our journeys.
I discovered this for myself when I was recently able to spend a wonderful afternoon writing for the first time in weeks. I was a little rusty – writing, like any discipline, requires practice and warm-ups – so I managed only a few lines.
Back at my desk, I decided to type these lines out on my typewriter. I am a novice, and had to spend quite some time with the instruction manual before I began. When I eventually began typing, I found myself making mistakes which could not be corrected. There is no “delete” on a typewriter – no denial of process. The paper in front of me became a map of errors; stopping at dead ends and starting again in a slightly different direction; repeatedly tripping up.
But there was something congruent about it.
The page that I was left with is hesitant, inarticulate, flawed, but almost poetic in its own right. The visible struggle to write was a reflection of my human experience – it says much more than the three lines that I had intended to present. The final line – cut out and taped to the page – is both a confident, tactile gesture, and a surrender to the form. My long, frustrating process is clear for all to see.
So why does it matter?
It’s long been known that “it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”. In my case, the process of typing slowly, and with difficulty, opened up new questions and choices – does it matter that this letter is misaligned? What difference does it make? It also presented new dimensions to my words – what could it mean to “bask in not needing to know me”? My experience of writing became broader, more enquiring, and altogether fuller. The same could be said of many aspects of our lives.
If we slow down our journeys, we are able gain more from our surroundings. We have time to gather non-essential details which nourish us – they inform our opinions, our wisdom, our pleasures. We learn more about what we are doing and why we are doing it, and we are able to grow from that information before pursuing the next task.