In 2015 I began the occasional social-interaction project “Intrepid Typist.” I have two typewriters with me at a table, so you can either come and type your own note/letter to send off; or, more interestingly, you dictate a letter to me, and I’ll type it up for you.
You can also choose from a handful of typewriter-drawn doodles to enhance your letter.
I did this for a week at Arts in the Park in Whitehorse, followed by several weekends at the Art Market in Dawson City.
Surprises from this mode came mostly in the conversations around what to include in a letter. I became a letter-writing coach: Do you want to say “Dear” or just “Hello”? Would you like the date on it? How about a sentence that checks in with the recipient? Or are we sending a story without any greetings at all?
My favourite exchange was helping a young girl compose a letter to send to her great-uncle in New Zealand. She said he would be “afraid” of a moose, so I made the moose with dancing shoes on it instead. She was delighted!
The main typewriter I use for this project is a Hermes 3000, made in Switzerland some time in the 1960s. It has an AZERTY keyboard instead of a QWERTY one, which makes for entertaining errors/poetry every now and then.
Why typing? Is this just some hipster fad?
The idea of typing out someone’s letter(s) comes from a trip I made to India in 2006. I saw lines of gentlemen sitting with their typewriters outside the walls of Old Delhi. They were ready to be hired to type business correspondence (to landlords, for passport applications, and so on). There were no women working in this role in that public place (I don’t know about other locations). Typewriters are still used in many developing countries to process administrative paperwork in this way.
In the Canadian context, sending a typed letter by mail is a contrast to the instantaneous but disembodied mode of texting or emailing someone. Also in contrast, it includes a visible, physical third party – the Intrepid Typist – and as such brings an entertaining and pleasurable connection between composing and sending a message. The pleasurable activity replaces the invisible surveillance software programs that filter our electronic communications.