On Writing Implements and the Soul

If there has been any joy to this winter, it was the death of my laptop. It had been on its last leg for some time. I purchased it when my now-kindergartner was a newborn. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on it. I dropped it in a grocery store parking lot on my way home from my first post-school job. I have received news of loss and gain on it.

But if I might speak like a conspirator in these days of technodoulia (< techne “technology” + doulia “slavery”), the despot long was on its last battery and its reign was cold and cruel. The laptop is dead, may it remain so.

Since I make my living by word, spoken (classroom) and written (scholarship), I had to make an inventory, like Robinson Crusoe, of the resources after my shipwreck. I had two typewriters. A SmithCorona electric that allowed me to rapidly type but made an awful beep every time it came across what its internal computer deemed a spelling error. For someone who writes on literature in a foreign language, this is beyond bearing. Ave atque Vale, SmithCorona.

Some ten years ago I found a 1941 Royal Aristocrat in an antique store in South Jersey. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to order myself a carton of ribbons that have lasted me a decade of intermittent letter writing, amusing notes, and one abandoned dramatization of The Man Who Was Thursday. But, in addition to the necessity of hen-pecking its keys, only a stern finger will produce a clean stroke. In this way, I am as free as Thor with Mjolnir to leave the Aristocrat where I please. For none can get it to type save me, and even then anything more than 1,000 words will leave my fingers sore for two days.

Since I was not ready to renounce my new won freedom from the black mirror, I knew I must move further back in time. If I was willing to adopt the typewriter, where I knew that I must retype my work electronically for publication, I saw no reason why I should not return to the pen and pencil.

So like the American Revolutionary, I have adopted a mixed constitution with three branches: pen and pencil (legislative), typewriter (judicial), and computer (executive). We shall see if I can maintain the balance of powers.

But an even better analogy struck me and I should think it worth reflection. I have compiled here a list of equivalents between modes of composition and beers:


Windows Desktop = Budweiser. None can solve the mystery of how we all hate it and yet it is found everywhere.

MacBook Air = Heineken. Who are you trying to fool?

Linux Computers = Cheap local brew. Good or bad, you love it because it is yours.

Electronic Typewriter = Miller Lite. Your grandpa drank it so this makes it legit, but yea, it’s pretty bad.

Manual Typewriter = PBR. I bet you those Buddy Holly glasses don’t even have a prescription in them.

Gel Pen = Stout. Thick and messy. Done well, it works for the right task. But I am suspicious of every day use.

Ball Point Pen = Coors. It’s basically the Windows of the pen world.

Fountain Pen = Abbey Ale. It can be either pretentious and cloying...or a wonder from days past.

Mechanical Pencil = Pale Ale. You are not going out of your way to share it, but it has a work-a-day utility to it.

#2 Pencil = Schmirnoff Ice?! Who even invited you to this party?

There are many dreadful omissions and I look to you, the reader, to flesh out the analogy in the combox. And if we are seeking to amend our habits and lives this Lent, posting something joyful and productive in a combox is a good start.