On my home office desk sits an old Olympia typewriter from decades ago. I don’t use it—it is dirty and lacks a ribbon —but it is there anyway. When we move houses I will get for it its own table and its own place in the living room, where it will serve as a conversation starter, or to younger guests, a one-piece museum of contraptions from long ago. To me, it will be like a shrine.
It used to be Mom’s. She was as a journalist, too—a reporter covering various beats but more memorably Malacañang at the time of the incumbent president’s mother, and then a columnist with the column title “What’s up in the beat,” writing about exactly that.
Since a manual typewriter is bulky and not as portable as, say, today’s laptop, one normally did not go around carrying one. So if you made a living stringing words together, you most probably used one at the office, another one at the beat you’re covering, and kept another one at home.
This explains how I started my own career with this Olympia darling.
I learned to type here, and not the conventional way. It’s a manner of typing I still carry now, with the left pointer finger tapping on a few specific letters, mostly located on the left side of the QWERTY keyboard, and my right pointer and middle fingers covering everything else.
The tapping was really slow in the beginning. I used my newfound skill to type my name, grade and section on stationery that I put on the front of books and notebooks. It was a time when a third or fourth grader who knew know how to type was revered.
And after that, as Truman Capote said in his introduction to Music for Chameleons, “the whip came down.”
Over the next 10 years, the Olympia became an indispensable companion. Submissions to The Graceanette, the grade school magazine, were typed there, even as one had to first make a handwritten draft so that the typed version would be “clean”. In those days, there was “liquid paper”, of course, that white thing you put on top of your wrong letters and typed over, but it was still messy. XXXs were worse. If you wanted to make two copies of whatever you’re doing, you typed on onion skin, put carbon paper behind it, and put another sheet at the back.
It was the same deal in high school except there were more assignments to write and submissions to be made to The Gracean Envoy. I also began writing things I did not have to submit, for only my own consumption. I had a great deal of fun writing these, but not my housemates and neighbors. Imagine making typewriter noises until the wee hours, or very early in the day.
The only thing I did not type were journal entries, which I preferred to write in longhand on unremarkable steno notebooks which I had to number over the years.
At university, the first English class I had was a composition class under the late writer and professor Dr. Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez. Some of my classmates had started using electric typewriters or the personal computer (Wordstar was already there). The Olympia stood by me, too, as I churned out compositions and other school assignments.
By the time I was writing my college thesis, actually a creative writing folio for which I had to seek permission, Microsoft Word (95?) was already around. I had to use another machine then, because there were specifications on font type, font size, margins, and the need to incorporate advisers’ comments into the final product. Because we had no computer in the house, I typed my folio in a computer shop, and saved my file on a diskette.
And then I became an adult who had to go to the office, with a company-issued computer on my desk, and eventually transferred homes several times. Soon I realized the need for a portable writing machine, and got one of those. I had forgotten about the Olympia or even which house I had left it in.
Last month, though, my daughter brought it back to me as an advance surprise for my birthday. She had gone to visit her grandfather, in whose house we lived for several years. And then she saw it and decided to bring it home to me.
Every now and then, as I tap on my trusty Toshiba with the soft keyboard sound, I glance to my right, happy to see Olympia. Instinctively, I run my hands over its keys. It has lived its purpose, and now it looks so good just sitting there.
I’m not too big on sentimental value, except for this keeper. It’s a reminder of how I began, and how I intend to stay.