There was a time, in my life, when the only way for an individual to produce typed characters on a page was to use a manual typewriter. Typewriters were big, heavy machines. They had to be. They really took a pounding from the constant clack-clack of mechanically driven hammers swacking the ink out of cloth ribbons that were mounted on spools. Manual typewriters had a feed spool and a take-up spool and replacing these spools was an inordinately delicate task, as one had to physically handle the ink-impregnated ribbon, threading it carefully through a mid-travel, holding gate, without thereafter transferring the ink to everything else that was touched. It was finicky!
Ribbon changing challenges aside, I remember how “connected” I was to the typewriting machine. Since each hammer was driven mechanically, by the force of the fingers, one had to be sure to exert enough pressure, with each keystroke, to force the hammer out of its concave cradle, up, in a short arc, to slam against the ribbon which then stretched fractionally toward the platen, upon which a piece of paper had been wound. Whack!
At levels of typing skill higher than my own, I understand that typists practised making each keystroke more-or-less equal in pressure so as not to have typing that was alternately dark and light, but to achieve a uniform level of darkness, character by character. I didn’t think too much about that. For me, just spelling the words correctly and trying to have my message reflect an ordered thought process was enough.
By 1966, when I went to college, typewriters had been made smaller and had easy-to-change, cartridge style ribbons. This was a substantial improvement. Having cartridge ribbons rather than spools meant that one could change from a black cartridge to a white, “correction” cartridge to cover small typing errors. Of course, even the correction cartridge could not help the writer who had misplaced a sentence, or wanted to re-order a paragraph. In the days before photocopiers, even correction cartridges were of no use if you were using carbon paper to make duplicates. One error on a page meant that you often had to throw that page away and start over again.
Then, electric typewriters came along and used power to hammer the ribbon. No longer was there any need for a typist to hammer the keyboard with his/her fingers in order that the right pressure be exerted where the actual hammer key pressed the ribbon to the platen. The electric utility company was happy to supply the appropriate, and always equal, amount of oomph. Typing got easier. One still had to make sure to spell correctly and to order one’s mind before starting to type, but the whole process of typing became much easier, on the finger joints especially.
When computers finally arrived in my life, I remember being thrilled that I would be able to simply plunk down my thoughts on a “page,” read them over, re-order them if need be, check my spelling and grammar and essentially proofread my entire document before printing it. I commented to the younger man, who was showing me how word-processing worked, that this development would surely lead to much better writing quality for everyone. Much to my surprise, he replied that, on the contrary, the computer had introduced such need-for-speed in people’s minds that their writing quality had diminished with the introduction of e-speed technology.
Well, now I use major shortcuts like Control A (All), Control X (Cut), Control C (Copy), Control V (Paste) and Control P (Print) with ease. I am no longer afraid that I might break the computer by inadvertently issuing errant code. And, probably because I’m such an old fart that I can remember working with manual typewriters, I think that word processing has actually helped me to improve my writing.
I don’t miss the old, mechanical typewriters. They were messy, heavy and very hard on sensitive or arthritic finger joints. Still, there are times when I remember, with fondness, the comforting hum and gentle vibration of my old electric typewriter. Hmmmmmmmm? When I switched on my old Smith-Corona, it was like awakening a friend, who was glad to be awakened, who then wondered aloud, just how it might help me. Hmmmmmmm? It was comfortable. I was comfortable. We worked as a team. I was spurred on by its gentle, inquiring tone. It was always ready to swack the ink out of that ribbon cartridge with just the right pressure to deliver uniform type to the page. And it would do this just as fast as I could depress the keys on the keyboard, then come to rest, inquiring, “Hmmmmmmm?” Letting me collect my thoughts before moving on together.
I had many times of quiet contemplation with my old electric typewriter. Times of great contentment. Times of a kind of selfless introspection. I once began writing a science fiction novel (never completed) which was, in part, inspired by the gentle hum of my electric typewriter, whose pitch I sometimes mimicked and harmonized with while I was attempting to gather my thoughts. To this day, I believe that science is in the process of discovering and proving some of the basic truths of what I intuitively postulated about some unexpected anomalies in physics. (I cannot say that I anticipated quantum entanglements, but I did sense that new discoveries would turn some basic understandings on their heads.)
Any rocket scientist would acknowledge, for example, that the shortest distance between any two points in space is not the “straight line” that terrestrially-oriented people might surmise. The scientist would state that an arc, not always of uniform curvature, is the most efficient means of covering the great distances in space. My typewriter and I took that idea one step further as the space travelling protagonist in my “book” routinely delivered harmonic, vibrational programming to his on-board computer by humming into a microphone. Based on an understanding of the amplitude and frequency of those sampled wavelengths, the computer would then introduce a sympathetic, harmonic ‘wiggle’ to the space craft that would allow the craft to minimize the resistance of space to the craft’s passing. And that was the key. The craft passed through space in something akin to a harmonious, undulating wave (like an otter swimming under water) rather than penetrating space with the unsympathetic force of a uniform arc. And all this, because my typewriter gently inquired, “Hmmmmmm?” Such an unassuming inquiry.
The word-processing computer is also friendly and, at least at this juncture, still subservient to its human operator. But if the electric typewriter was a friendly old work horse, then the word-processing computer is a passle of over-active otters, who, though willing to work, would much rather play. But work or play, they do so at speeds beyond human ability to match them. At literally lightning speeds, the e-otters can do any number of things that will assist the fledgling writer. I needn’t detail their capacities for quick assistance. They wiggle and play and get into a plethora of places into which the old horse could never have fit itself. The world of human knowledge is their domain and they never tire of accessing it.
As something of a counterpoint to the amazing busy-ness of the otters, I have attended yoga classes. Yoga, at least the type of yoga that I enjoy, is peaceful and meditative. There are many types of yoga. Some of them emphasize movement, some emphasize strength and endurance, others combine stretching, balance, muscle-building and breathing. My favourite type of yoga is called “restorative.” It is based on supported stretching and resting poses.
One practice that I have particularly enjoyed in yoga is called, ujari (pronounced, yoo-JAH-ree) breath. I find myself particularly comfortable with and responsive to ujari breath. For me, it is a very natural, meditative practice. In essence, one uses one’s breath (through the nose) to mimic the regular sounds of ocean waves coming gently to shore. I also visualize my breathing pattern using this ocean wave imagery. “Inhale,” the ocean draws shore water back into itself, revitalizing, building energy. “Exhale,” the ocean delivers a long, rolling, gentle wave to shore. “Rest,” the water rests upon the shore with only gentle, surface shifting, as some of it sinks into the sand, nourishing those creatures who live at the interface between sea and shore. Then the cycle renews itself with the next inhalation. “In. Out. Rest.” Ujari breath.
I have done many things to develop a more complete understanding of the power of ujari breath. In order to concentrate my meditation upon the breath itself, rather than to entertain the on-going party of playful otters in my mind, I allow various associative labels of the stages of life or breath to come forward. The three stage series, “Inhale/exhale/rest” may also be understood as, “build wave/deliver wave/rest on shore,” or “receive/provide/benefit,” or even “grow/age/be.” I find this three-stage understanding of breath, accompanied by the visualization of ocean waves rolling gently up onto a broad, flat beach to be relaxing and relatively easy to remain focussed on. I also find that the rest period between exhalations and inhalations becomes increasingly long, as I concentrate on slowing everything down. I haven’t taken measurements, so I don’t know for sure, but I would be surprised if my blood pressure did not go down dramatically during the ujari breath, meditation experience.
So there you have it, humming, otters and ujari breath all in one peculiar package of what’s been on my mind lately. Hope these thoughts find comfortable spots in your mind to amuse, to entertain, to note or to ponder.
Don’t worry – be happy!