Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Glorious Imperfection!

A friend brought me a beautiful present this morning: an Olympia typewriter from the 60s. What a machine, a clickity clackity, solid and heavy machine. I sat down immediately to write my darling daughter a letter.

Then, I pulled the finished letter out of the roller with a decisive snap and examined my handiwork. The sticky "f" key piled up letters after it, and backspacing and retyping over my typos left a bit of a smudge here and there. I needed to reset the margins . . . do I remember how? But altogether, it was a glorious thing I had produced.

How I love the imperfection of the result. How I love imperfection! Our Creator must love imperfection, too, because he made everything unique. The left eye on every woman slightly different from the right. Each leaf a teensy bit different on every tree, and every tree bent this way or that, bark a bit peeled here and bumpy there, gloriously imperfect.

Perfection is a quality first defined by the ancient Greeks, but their word teleiotes didn't imply the abstract absolute flawlessness or "pinnacle of form or expression without blemish of any kind" that we associate with the word today. Humans will never be able to create a perfect product if we define perfection as an absolute. Only a machine can do that: create flawless smoothness, purity of sound, evenness of color, exactness of dimension. And it's the machine that's set the standard for us, and that standard has become more exacting as the machine becomes more powerful and its products more exact.

Few folks gather 'round the piano to sing anymore. Few of us write poetry, or even write at all. Students in my middle school have given up on handwriting. They use keyboards, and all their work looks the same. Digital recording of music and photoshopping portraits may give us results that appear perfect, but they don't look so beautiful to me.

Give me skin that's lived in, not flawless skin. Give me a song in the voice of my beloved. Give me the uneven line of colored pencils instead of digital infallibility, not because I have some bias against perfection, but because perfection hasn't got the spirit and character of real things.

Why do I think a typewritten letter is beautiful and a computer generated letter not so beautiful? If you ride a bike, why not a car? If you use paint, why not photoshop? It seems to me that the less of the animal there is in our work and the more of the machine, the less spirit there is as well. I use the simplest tool needed to do the job, and for letters to my Sophie, an Olympia typewriter, made in West Germany, built to last, marvelously mechanical, is just right. The letters have ever so much more spirit than computer fonts and my letter looks like a work of art. Now and then, I like to write letters by hand, because my spirit  lives in the curve of the line and the thickness of the ink. If you'd like a letter from me and my typewriter, drop me an email with your postal address.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I often write hand written notes vs email -- and I've done it a few times in a business application as well --- especially to customers.

I've found the personal nature of it adds to the message .. even helping to diffuse some type of a situation...

its slower, more peaceful and I think the reader feels that as well