The first typewriter I ever used was an Underwood Five. I started playing with it when I was a little kid, banging on the keys and treating it terribly. Memories of making the keys jam on purpose are particularly tactile and vivid. Eventually, I graduated to using it to type up my little short stories and poems. I wish I still had those sheets around. I wrote about bunnies and unicorns, and once even wrote a rhyming sing-song poem about two characters named Cheech & Chong -- my father suggested the names for his own amusement. At any rate, I developed an affection for that old Underwood Five. I was horrified to find it relegated to the garage, the tape chewed by mice and an abandoned nest tucked in under the keyboard. I cleaned it up and brought it home with me, and it sits unused on top of my filing cabinet, a monument to the aspirations of childhood and youth.
I was very poor during university, due to a series of bad decisions, and found myself without a computer. Instead, I used an electric typewriter I inherited from a family member. It even had a little digital screen where I could enter the text and then hit "print" and the machine would type it all up for me, like a player piano. Documents could be saved on floppy disk. The difficulty with this machine was that it occupied a strange space between the physical quality of a typewriter and the ephemeral quality of the digital age. I didn't take care of my hardcopies because I had them on disk, but most of the disks never got transferred, ended up corrupted or lost. I still have the electric typewriter, though. It's in the back of the closet. I must have been one of the last students my professors ever saw using a typewriter.
The desktop computer never really worked for me as a creative machine, and I blame my early exposure to typewriters. Instead, I appreciate the laptop. It kind've looks like a typewriter, if you think about it. I wrote my first novel on a crappy old PC laptop that was passed down to me by my sister-in-law. It weighed about 20 lbs. and took up a huge amount of space on the desk, but it was enough like a typewriter that I responded to it. Now I'm the proud owner of a Macbook. It's sleek and modern, but still reminds me of that old typewriter. You set it on the desk, and clackity clack, you type away.
Maybe I'm delusional, but I see a closer relationship between my laptop and my typewriter than I would a desktop computer. The old Underwood seems more compact than my husband's big old Sony Vaio PC in the basement. It's silly and pretentious to be attached to instruments of writing, but I think most writers are. They like typewriters or fountain pens or some other thing. While I don't know what I would do without Scrivener--the best word processing program ever invented--I think my longing to keep a bit of the ghost of a typewriter with me has to do with tradition and legacy. I'll never write by candlelight with a quill and ink pot, but looking up at my typewriter lets me feel a little closer to the great writers and lets me delude myself into thinking I might one day be as good.