Typewriters, short nails, and painful fingers are never good enough for teacher


In this post:

On this Friday afternoon when nothing special is happening, the sound of the keyboard as I searched for a story brought back memories of learning to type for the first time.

Today is Friday, nothing special about that. It’s a Friday like any number of Fridays before it and probably like many other Fridays after it. My husband is downstairs in his home office attending a meeting online and I am in my studio trying to figure out what to write, because my life now requires that I write, and write, and then write some more.


Even if I don’t have anything to say I like the feeling of the keyboard under my fingers and the familiar and reassuring click, click, click as I strike the keys. I keep my nails short for that because it feels easier that way. This reminds me of a time so many years ago when I first learned how to type. 


It was back in the mid eighties but the first lessons were in one of those bulky Smith Corona Sterling from the late fifties, with ink ribbon, and in which you had to hit the keys with your fingers perfectly vertical and your nails cut to the very edges of your skin. The teacher used to say you didn’t type solely with your fingers, but with the full weight of your torso, shoulders, and arms lest your letters appeared incomplete and faded against the paper. 


Try as I might, I could never do good enough for my teacher; for her, my type was never strong enough, my speed never high enough, my accuracy never to the standards that she considered appropriate for this kind of typewriter. Never mind that manual typewriters were already on their way out and whiteout very much on its way in. I spent that semester with the tips of my nails separated from my fingers, a fissure thin enough to be as invisible as a paper cut but somewhat more painful, but my teacher thought this was an excuse of the variety of “my dog ate my homework,” and had no mercy for me. And when all my typing exams were tabulated and I barely missed an A by a few short points, she seemed disappointed that I hadn’t fallen even lower.


The next semester I had the same teacher for the advanced typing class, neither of us was specially thrilled about it. But advance typing class used electric typewriters and so, to my teacher’s astonishment, I made it to the top of the class. She assumed that I was finally developing the right attitude, I was relieved that I could grow my nails long enough that they wouldn’t be constantly lifting off my skin. 


That teacher must be retired by now. I wonder what she thought of the transition of brute-force typewriters to the easy keyboards of the modern computers of these days. But then again, if the equipment in my old school kept being twenty-five years behind the times, maybe she never saw it. Who knows?