The typing school
It stood fairly hidden on a dusty Manila street, somewhere in Recto where there would otherwise be no reason to go. It was an old building that still had rusty lattice elevator doors that were operated by a greasy man wearing an even greasier toupee. He pressed the solid black buttons that jolted me and my brother up to our floor.
The Liwanag Typing school was simply a room of 15 black pica typewriters on hardwood desks, a chalkboard up front, and keyboard finger placement charts on its walls.
The teacher was Miss Liwanag, the daughter of the elder Mr Liwanag who taught our two older sisters years back. We saw him once or twice around the school, making sure operations went smoothly.
It was a rite of passage for me as it was with the rest of my siblings. In line with an unusually stimulating childhood, the one word that didn't exist for us was boredom.
Even in the summer there were no idle days. We had full schedules of swimming/karate/drawing/speed reading/cooking/typing classes in addition to formal science, math, reading and writing classes my father paid my middle sister to conduct at home. At the end of each term we even had report cards, graduation ceremonies, and talent programs!
My folks were all about life skills, and there wasn't a handier skill than typing. My father made it a point that at 5th grade my brother and I would master the perfect curl of our fingers along the keys A, S, D, F, J, K, L, and “;” and would be able to type with our eyes closed a pivotal sentence of our youth: "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs."
A father’s legacy
My father was a tough and hardened man who wanted to ensure the continuation of his work ethic in all of us, allowing very few indulgences such as skill classes. Stricken with polio as a child, he only had one working arm that still had to be assisted by the other.
The litany of the typing classes' rationale was peppered with anecdotes from how difficult it was for him to type up 50 grad school applications for the US ("No carbon paper!") with the one decent finger of his shrunken arm, amidst discouraging remarks he received as a physically challenged poor boy from Lingayen, Pangasinan.
When he got a scholarship to a Masters program in Illinois, he said he flipped the same typing middle finger up to his detractors. As you can see, there was no way we could excuse ourselves from my father's karmic plans.
There were no objections when my brother and I were walked into Liwanag Typing School for the first time. It was a Manila summer in the 80s before everything was air-conditioned. In a visual beat, a large ceiling fan cut through the sunlight from the jalousie windows.
It guided our keystrokes and carriage returns, and highlighted our errors as well as the darkening centers of the Os and Ds produced when the metal letters needed cleaning. We learned to properly split words at the end of lines with a hyphen.
We discovered that correction fluid was more our enemy than our friend (Touch & Go painted on smoothly but was slow to dry. Liquid Paper dried fast but often caked and cracked).
A love affair with the typewriter
Thus began what would be my affair with the makinilya. As with all great loves there was a smell about it, its thousand moving parts and metal pieces that were kept working by just a thought of grease. Too much oil would mean the accumulation of dust into a black paste that tightened joints and defeated the purpose of lubrication. Too little meant rust would set in, ruining the machine like a mold taking over.
It wasn't any wonder that they lasted forever and entire industries were dedicated to their creation and repair. In front of millions of these clackity-clack contraptions were typists like myself, going at it for work or for pleasure. The serious ones knew how to wind a ribbon, gently adjust an unruly key, and clean all the surfaces with a gentle brush.
Towards the end of the typing classes, Miss Liwanag interrupted our mischief one day and said she wished we were as devoted as our one other (much older) classmate. My brother and I were 11 years old and could not take anything seriously, so we rolled our eyes.
After our sermon, she said that ours would be the school's last class, as her father was retiring and she was leaving for America to marry a German man.
It was a time of what seemed like a mass exodus from Manila of relatives and friends, something we thought was as inconsequential as yet another skill class my father required. But by the time I reached high school, my WPM (words-per-minute rate) already bested everyone else's for 3 more years of typing classes (where a certain Mrs Ponce had us wear blindfolds and comical masks and maintained a rhythm by sternly hammering a dos por dos on her desk), but that's another story.
A world conducted via keyboard
Nobody could have predicted that the world would be conducted via keyboard where the speed by which one transmitted encoded characters would be key. The elite and pica machines, the ribbons, and their accompanying dirty fingers quickly gave way to DOS-based programs like Wordstar that amazingly allowed formatting by Ctrl+PM and Ctrl+PN and an option for sans serif font on a dot matrix Epson printer.
Macs and then Microsoft Word allowed fonts! We all got email! We all could create miniature text versions of ourselves in blogs and social networking pages. We could chat with a hundred people simultaneously from all over the world.
Yet the keyboard didn't change drastically from its black metal key origins. The finger placement remained the same, the carriage return was merely replaced by a febrile pressing of the Enter or Return key.
One thing the computer keyboard could not replicate was the recoil of the typewriter. It pushed back like a defiant lover, argued with your thoughts, and questioned the sincerity of your words. It even fought back by getting your fingers stuck between its keys!
Typing has become the choice medium of interaction, over voice and even face-to-face conversation. It is now so easy to judge and foolishly evaluate someone based on the impression they make in written words.
Good, because my unique upbringing and the snappy demands of my youth have actually taught me to think faster than I can ever speak, and I've sadly sacrificed social skills for semi-coherent thought.
But thanks to the Liwanag Typing School and years of curling my fingers above keyboards both metal and plastic, I can type as fast as (and more correctly than) my thoughts. - Rappler.com
Shakira Andrea Sison currently works in the financial industry while dabbling in several unrelated projects and interests. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison.
Typewriter image from Shutterstock