Susan Mihalic

Susan Mihalic
Birthday
August 05
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Writer & editor. Passionate about freedom of expression. Liberal, aspiring to be pointy-headed. Follow me on Twitter: @susanmihalic.

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DECEMBER 9, 2008 1:30PM

The Thing That Goes "Ding" at the End

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A while back I was at a restaurant, where I overheard one teenager ask another, “Have you ever seen a typewriter?” 

The second kid said, “No. Oh, wait. Is that the thing that goes ‘ding’ at the end?” 

I loved the thing that went ding at the end. I liked the clacking of the keys, the old-fashioned printer’s-ink smell of the ribbon, and yes, the ding at the end. My first typewriter was a Smith-Corona portable, my second a manual Olivetti that weighed at least 50 pounds, my third a sleek Brother electric. I loved them all. I liked stacking up typewritten manuscript pages one by one. I liked the feel of the back of those pages, Braille for the sighted. 

I’m glad that I experienced typewriters first-hand. I heard the ding at the end, not on a television program or in a movie, but because I’d come to the end of a line and it was time to return the carriage, at least with the manual machines; with the Brother, the ding meant it was time to hit the return button, now known to keyboarders everywhere as “Enter.” 

Before you think I’m waltzing down nostalgia lane, I will tell you that I love my Mac even more than I loved those classic typewriters. I remember too well crawling among pages of manuscript strewn over the floor and cutting and pasting with scissors and tape. I remember inserting the carbon paper the wrong way, winding up with a reverse carbon copy on the back of my original page and a blank second sheet—inevitably when I was on a deadline. I also remember my favorite journalism professor, Gene Wiggins, insisting that his students learn to compose at the keyboard, a requirement for which I’ll be forever grateful. 

Some people argue that writing with a typewriter or even in longhand makes a person a better writer because the act itself takes longer, forcing you to consider what you’re going to say, while computers make it too easy to spew forth garbage, quickly and uncensored. This may be true, but I would counter that computers may be the best thing that’s ever happened to the first draft. (Key words: First. Draft.) Writing quickly enables us to get past our internal censors and put down our thoughts in black and white.  

My personal internal censor takes the form of a tiny woman, about the size of a parrot—a very large parrot—perched on my shoulder. She squawks at me. She flaps her wings and threatens me with her beak. She tries to make me timid.

 

She has no place in my first draft.

 

I will need her when I’m ready to revise, but right now, all I need is to finish the first draft. When I go “ding” at the end, I will welcome her back.

 

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I love this piece. When I was in high school in the '70s I was the only girl in the typing class who wanted to be a writer -- all the others were in there in the hopes of becoming secretaries. My first typewriter was a little, pale-yellow portable Olivetti that I carted off to UCLA and wrote many last-minute papers on, often while gazing at sunrises through my dorm-room windows. But my favorite thing that went ding at the end was the huge, clunky, gunshot-metal manual Smith Corona I bought used from a newspaper office because it made me feel like Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday." Like you, I am madly in love with my Mac laptop, but I'm glad I entered the profession in those more tactile and slow days.
--moongirl (http://www.wordartist.net)
High school typing class was miserable for me. We had to type 40 wpm to pass, and I think I squeaked by with 42. Thirty years (ouch) and countless pages later, I should be a concert typist.
I learned to type at age 10, by practicing the exercises in my mother's business school textbook, "Twentieth Century Typewriting," on an ancient Smith-Corona upright. I taught myself to type because I felt grown up when I was at the typewriter. Competent. Solitary. Turning out important phrases right and left. There was no occupation associated with these pictures. I just put words on pages and dreamed it would be somehow important - if not to anyone else, at least to me.
Sometimes I still have the same feeling--if I just put the words down, they'll matter to someone, even if it's only me.
There is wordprocessing software called Atlantis that reproduces the sound of a manual typewriter. It's kind of useful, actually, because it makes different sounds for things you do. I don't know if it's available for Mac, though.
Matthew, I've heard of this software, but it just wouldn't be the same as actually pounding away on my old typewriter. And I adore my Mac beyond all reason, no sound effects necessary.
Oh, typewriters! I went to a poorly funded rural school and did all my typing classes--in the late 90s, mind you--on a Corona. I doubt they breed serious writers, but I do know they making writing sound so much more like serious work, with their mechanised clatter. It makes me think of Seamus Haney's poem about using his pen to dig.

Mine is a robin's egg blue manual from Kmart by way of Ebay.
There's a site called MyTypewriter.com that carries classic typewriters and supplies. I'm not sure I'd want to work on one now, but I'm glad I had the experience of working on a manual typewriter, in particular. I did get a kick out of those teenagers I overheard, followed quickly by one of those damn-I'm-old feelings.
that is classic. love it.
I remember my first electric was a Selectric. It was Awesome! It hummed a little tune all day long. And the next one had - get this - Self Correcting Tape!
lpsrocks and ConnieMack, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I worked on an IBM Selectric at my first job in publishing, when there was ONE computer in the whole building, downstairs in the sub-basement, in a cold, cold room . . . a Wang word processor! The Selectric hum was kind of friendly, come to think of it.
Not only did I love the thing that went ding at the end, I loved slapping that carriage return. I think this must be why I love using the turn signal in the car
Marcelleqb, you make a good point. Where I live now, most drivers seem to regard use of turn signals as optional, really not necessary, but sometimes they'll use them if they're in the mood. If only they'd worked on a manual typewriter . . . who knows? Thanks for stopping by!