The Secret Life of Office Supplies

I trace a healthy tributary of creativity in my life back to the influence of office supplies.

My mother worked at the Norwich Union, the behemoth employer of thousands in my hometown when I grew up. Discarded supplies were available to employees, and thanks to the foresight of my mother, who believed that this was not all worthless junk, my childhood was rich with material fascination.

A vast pad of glossy paper, some sort of presentation easel get-up, was my favorite, which I laid out on the living room floor many evenings. With an assortment of smelly, frayed, chisel-tipped markers, I happily made arm-wide lines, revelling in the freedom to draw large. I was careful not to go off the edge and get indelible red ink on our '70s orange carpet. Above my head the telly spilled its news and drama, but I was lost in a bubble of concentation, like some R.L. Stevenson character roaming 'The Land of Story-books.'

I was the willing recipient of these ragged treasures, such as the battle-ax of an office chair that graced my room, all buxom, stodgy curves of steel. It had the capacity to rotate endlessly, mindlessly ... until the chair top would loosen beyond the screw and tip off. I got good at winding it back on again, a meditative experience of metallic, squeaky redemption. 

The chair sat before a surplus solid oak desk, with its back to my bunk bed. An only child, I did not need two beds, but the lower bunk, curtained with sheets, made an admirable gypsy caravan, full of books and things necessary for a journey.  The desk therefore led the secret double life of a gypsy horse attached by imagination to the caravan. I sat on the top bunk, legs dangling, and drove. 

The desktop held an industrial spring arm lamp, quite alarming in its springy strength. A bit oily in the joints, with a trace of dust in the oil, its workings fascinated me. Raising the lamp, I would watch one spring tighten and its partner stretch, like mechanical muscles, with the movement.

Lost in mechanical wonder, I often didn't get much actual work done. But I don't ever recall being bored. My best childhood friends: office supplies, cast-aside furniture, and of course books and their supply line, the library. 

The Typewriter

Years and another house later, there was one more business outcast gift to my imagination from my parents—a gargantuan electric typewriter. It was so big that my kind stepfather had by now built a desk at the right height in a fancy wall-long arrangement of shelves and creative spaces. I was blessed. The typewriter sat in the center, its desk lower than the rest.

Every morning, under the influence of Dorothea Brande and the eponymous 30's classic, Becoming a Writer, I would rise 'half an hour earlier than usual' and go immediately to the typewriter, its hum mirroring my mental energies whirring to life. Again my kind stepfather stepped into the picture, bringing a jumpstart mug of fresh, hot tea. And I typed. Whatever came into my head, but always for half-an-hour, no matter what. It was a mental wakeup exercise proposed by Brande decades before Julia Cameron popularized Morning Pages in The Artist's Way

I did this for months, the desire of my heart to write. My parents encouraged me, despite the early cacophony of thunderous clunks from the massive machine. It almost leapt with excitement at each keystroke and snorted with pleasure at the prospect of being off.

Enter the Gentle Author

We often pack away the desire of our youth in the upheavals and clumsiness of adulthood, but the undercurrent of desire runs strong. I have been writing and creating in one way or another ever since.

When I encounted the heartfelt riches of The Gentle Author and the simplicity of his blogging class several years ago, it was like a makeshift office supply merchant handing me a new tool: the loosely defined blog, capable of stretching in imagination to any shape or form. Not the gaudy "Buy It Now!" merchant manipulators who could care less whether their words sing. But the online equivalent of one fellow with a sharp mind, a yen to tell a story, and a daily chatty typewriter on which to sing an ode to life.

The thread of action that leads me to blog, also brings me back to those early morning typing days. I decided recently to revisit and re-enjoy the early morning jaunt of typing and tea. I decided to buy a typewriter.

The Brilliance of Tom Furrier

It was with mounting excitement that I searched for a suitable vintage machine. Ironically, I searched and researched online but eventually knew I needed to see the goods in person before knowing what to buy. And so I found the machine shop smell and dusty pavilion of brilliance that is Tom Furrier's Cambridge Typewriter and discovered his genius at bringing typewriters back to life.

Just Released

I will tell you the story of what I bought another day, but here is Tom, hard at work, serving today's mechanically-minded wonderers. He serves them well. In this just released short film by Thomas Draudt, director of the Emmy Award-winning PBS show This Old House, you can visit Tom and his shop and see the attraction for yourself.

Click on the title or picture below to see the six-minute piece.

The Typewriter Repairman

Here are some shots from my visit to the store last week. Can you guess which machine I bought?! I will give you a clue: it's the one the young fellow buys in the video. Say hello in the comments below, and tell me what you think. But don't miss the movie about Tom and his marvellous typewriter shop.

Click on any image to enlarge and see all as a slideshow