My typewriter nostalgia syndrome, or TNS, can be traced back almost thirteen years ago to my small Kosovo apartment. I was in the process of writing my second unpublished “novel.” Kosovo was still recovering from symptoms of post-war anarchy. At that age I wouldn’t have cared much for politics if it weren’t for the constant electricity cuts that shut off my Pentium III desktop and left me in the dark. The unexpected nature of the blackouts would not only have me losing the hard work (albeit of questionable quality) I had just written, but it would prevent me from writing for the next two to four hours. This is how I started using my father’s bright orange UNIS tbm De Luxe typewriter to type out my first draft under candlelight during those dark winter nights.
In my current office in Queens I have an Olympia typewriter I bought for $30 at a thrift shop last summer. It’s in working condition, though it sometimes gets stuck while typing, and I always get the feeling that one of its screws might come loose any second and it will break down. I haven’t done much writing on it, but that’s beside the point. Its purpose is a different one. Sometimes at the start of the writing process, when I have no idea what I’m doing, I type a page or two – not for the words or ideas, but for the sound of the keys hitting the page, which always brings me back to when I knew no creative fear, thought big, and wasn’t afraid to make mistakes but was instead immersed in my playfulness.
Once I get in the right mood and my mind is primed with memories and feelings, I revert to a more time-honored technology – the pen. I am a big fan of fountain pens and love using blue ink to get my ideas on the page. It feels more like painting than writing. I have been doing the same ever since I wrote by candlelight, and I still do it now illuminated by a cheap lamp.
I prefer writing in large notebooks so as to minimize the times I have to flip pages and prevent interrupting my thoughts. The pages have to be plain (maybe I don’t want to feel constricted by the ruled notebooks, always having felt a bit claustrophobic by the idea of my thoughts being restricted in between the narrow notebook lines). With no lines to guide me, my legibility suffers and I often slowly curve sideways, but on the plus side I may suddenly change direction and write bottom to top, or draw a small stick-figure sketch of a scene I am trying to describe. I also like making lists of current projects – I always seem to have too many and only about a third or fourth of them ever come to fruition. The way I see it, it’s like evolution, or survival of the fittest, a kind of Darwinism applied to ideas.
Even though I had occupied half of the living room in my improvised office in Kosovo, and although it had large windows on both sides, somehow I remember writing only when it was dark. I don’t remember nice vistas or skyline, but rather the constant humming of the small electrical generators scattered around the neighborhood that made it impossible to open the windows because of the noise.
When tired from all the writing and reading and editing, I take daydreaming breaks and enjoy the view of the Manhattan skyline visible from my windows. In between my windows I have an external monitor. Since I write in both Albanian and English, an extra screen makes it easier when I am translating my work. I had to tinker quite a bit with the old monitor I use to program it to display images in portrait mode, trying to emulate the size of a printed page.
My Windows 7 laptop is still powerful enough for writing, playing video games, tinkering with the design of my website, and even an occasional side project in Photoshop or Premiere. But since I always seem to struggle with discipline, I also have a low-tech system of keeping track of my time to be more productive – what I like to call “The Productivity Chart.” It’s a monthly calendar I fill in with different colors corresponding to distinct activities. As you can see, half of the month has gone by and I have too many red squares (which means I have to go easy on Netflix and video games), and not enough yellow squares that stand for writing, while other colors are at their desired levels – green for gym, light blue for reading, etc.
Perhaps I should come up with a color for playing with my typewriter.
Artrit Bytyçi is from Kosovo and currently lives in New York City. Before committing himself to writing, he had an education and career in biological sciences. He lives in a state of perpetual evolution, as he tries to approach art with an experimenter’s curiosity, and to think about science with artist’s playfulness. To date, all such attempts have given inconclusive results.