Oh Olivetti! My Olivetti. I am sure this is it. My first typewriter. I just found it on mytypewriter.com and this is what they say about it: A worldwide favorite of students, its also the perfect portable for everyone from poets to PTA secretaries. Yes, poets. That was me - tapping poems on those keys with the small dip for a finger tip, just so, and each key pressing a metal arm with two small metal letters on the end [lower case and upper case], or a question mark or colon or quotation mark, and each tap would push that letter or mark into the paper, and leave a small shapely dent.
Then there was the ower of the 'shift' - push it down and the whole of the key structure would lift like subjects before royalty to make a lower case letter a capital letter. At the end of each line, the lever had to be grabbed and pushed along so the black rubber paper roller [known as the carriage] pulled the page up and along to the start of the next line. Ch-ding. And sometimes the ribbon spool would stop feeding the ribbon through and I'd need to fiddle with a tiny clip to make it run again, sometimes I wouldn't notice and the metal letters would tap on the same spot long enough to cut right through it, or sometimes the ribbon would run dry of black or red ink and need replacing. And to correct mistakes, there was whiteout in bottles or on slips of paper which you put under the key before pressing the letter again.
[You know, I wonder if the second Olivetti is more like mine in fact - plainer, a little heavier?]
There's something about the act of typing, something expressive about it. The whole body wields the arms which push the hands which tap those finger tips, and it's like the fingers push and dig at the same time. They work to get those letters onto the paper. And the act of pushing the carriage along to get to the next line is like being a conductor of an orchestra with all the energy and showmanship it implies. I remember my father - his big hands tapping, his whole body throwing itself behind them, chucking that roller along at the end of a line with a loud and satisfying DING. My mother was more circumspect more compact about it, less ding-y, really.
I suppose the amazing thing is both my parents used typewriters as both of them are writers. The Olivetti was theirs. I inherited it. I tapped my early poems on it, and my student essays. Stories sometimes too. I loved it. It made my poems look like poems and my essays look tidy and formal. It helped make me a real writer.
For some reason, after university when I left NZ to live in England, I bought myself a new typewriter. Had the old one broken? Or did I just want something fancy and new and mine? I bought an Olympia. It's still in the garage in its case. Or I think it's an Olympia. I should just go and check, but it's late. It certainly looked very like this - but perhaps a little smaller and lighter? I like the blurb that goes with it: The writer's typewriter of the 70s. Ever since their introduction, Olympia SM 8 & 9 models have been very closely tied to the fates and fingers of authors and writers. They're dependable, comfortable to use, and nice and solid in feel and function. This machine is probably the most preferred writing tool for anyone prefers a manual and it sure will serve for many years to come.
'The fates and fingers of authors and writers', well who can argue with that? I've just found out on typewriter.com [which has a host of bios of typewriting authors] that Paul Auster got an Olympia in the 70s, not long before I got mine. This is him on the left. But back when I typed on my Olympia in our small London flat not too far from Primrose Hill, I didn't know Auster's work. Back then, I was like Sylvia Plath, angrily tapping angry stuff, enough to annoy the elderly Hungarian refugee downstairs. Except this was Plath's typewriter below [the actual one apparently]: a large, heavy Royal.
Nik, one of my writing students, bought himself a Royal this year - like Hemingway rather then Plath. In fact here, thanks to the power of the internet, is Hemingway's actual typewriter.
It's been lovely reading typewritten work again. The way it's not absolutely perfect. The way you can see how the letters have found their place on the page, and without too much trouble you can imagine the noise and the orchestration behind them; and then it's no small leap to imagine the brain fitting those letters together to make the words. This is writing as a physical act, a theatrical, memorable act - my father throwing the carriage along so hard I suspected it might part with the typewriter one day, neighbours agitated with the angry clatter of my poems, and Auster - look at him - his fingers are fair twitching with expectation.