I wrote “Ironic” on an Olivetti Lettera 32 manual typewriter that I bought a year prior. I acquired it so that I could write a specific other thing that’s been on hold for a while, a long short story I thought I should write on a typewriter, not a computer, for reasons that aren’t important. But I didn’t do that. The typewriter sat in my living room a while, and then sat in my basement, unused, a while longer.
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Once my second daughter was born and my life was in an upheaval that, with the birth of my first daughter, was unprecedented, I knew that if I was to get any writing done at home I would have to remove myself physically from the family, and do it at night, when the kids were asleep, so that I wasn’t living up (or down) to any stereotypes, and because I genuinely want to be an important part of the lives of my children and their mother.
I knew I wouldn’t have much time to do this writing that seemed so important to me at the time. Children require a great deal of attention, and there were now as many children in the house as there were grown-ups.
In an interview, Aimee Bender once said that when her twins were born the way she continued producing work in her early days of motherhood was to give herself ten minutes each day to write. She said she was still productive, that she made use of the limited time. I had more than ten minutes a day to work, but not nearly as much as I had in my twenties, when I had no children and could write on the weekends, if I wanted to (and what a luxury that was). I took the measure of giving the typewriter and myself a place in the basement of the rented house we didn’t otherwise use.
I knew, from helping to raise daughter one through her first year, that I wouldn’t have coherent thoughts for a while—that if I tried to write, say, a novel, or a longish essay, I would likely write 500 words late one night when I couldn’t sleep, and then return to the basement a week later and not remember writing those words, and forget why I wrote them. My enthusiasm would be gone, and it would be sad and pointless.
And so I issued myself a challenge: using the typewriter, fill the front and back of one sheet of paper with words. Start the thing and finish it in that limited space.
To make things easy, I wrote about Weird Pig, a character I’d written a thousand-word story about four months prior. I started with a declarative sentence that concerned Weird Pig and saw where it went from there.
I wrote one of those, and then wrote another one, another night, and then another, and realized I had found a way to do something
I had always had trouble with before, which was to write flash fiction. Keeping within a word count had always given me trouble. It had been too easy to write more than 500 words, or whatever, and too hard to pare down whatever I’d come up with to make it work within that numerical constraint. Restricting myself to a spatial limit—one sheet of paper, front and back—made sense, perhaps the way a painter doesn’t limit herself to a certain number of brushstrokes but instead to a canvas with certain dimensions.
I now have 94,500 words of Weird Pig material, all of it written first on a typewriter and transcribed onto a computer. I am trying to figure out what to do with it. I am also still trying to be a good father.
–Robert Long Foreman