Monday, March 18, 2013

Cooking (and writing) Under Pressure

There was a time when pressure cooking was a daunting task. My grandmother once answered the doorbell, leaving her cooker unattended a minute too long. The blown lid and asparagus spears impaled in the kitchen ceiling left a lasting impression on me. But today’s pressure cookers have safety features that even Ralph Nadir can appreciate. Two extra ways for surplus steam to escape, preventing an explosion, are reassuring.

My laptop has its own way of preventing disasters. It saves what I’m working on even if the battery peters out abruptly. Usually it graciously asks me, the next time I open up Word, if I want to save what it has kept safe for me under those emergency situations. Hell yeah, I want it saved!

For me, technology is at once wondrous and intimidating. I’m grateful for it and yet I have an almost irrational fear of it sometimes. I want changes to be easy, intuitive and user friendly. That allows my focus to stay on being creative, not spending time navigating a learning curve. If I want to communicate, entertain or be entertained, please don’t hand me a new remote control, a smart phone, or a new generation of Windows operating system. Keep it safe, predictable and simple.

I’m nostalgic about manual typewriters as evidenced by my continued habit of hitting the keys so hard I knocked my question mark off one day. Admittedly, I don’t have a bittersweet longing for the mess of an ancient blown pressure cooker, just as I don’t look back fondly on the smears and smudges of carbon paper. But I still wax sentimental about my old IBM Selectric with the handy-dandy white corrective tape. Those whacking keys created a rhythmic tap dance that proved to the whole household I was diligently working on my next short story. The instant product that slowly rolled out was reassuring. In contrast, what could be less safe and more horrifying than the possibility of a chapter eaten when you accidently hit Delete instead of Control X and don’t catch it in time to use the Undo?

Early in my marriage I put off buying a pressure cooker for a while because it was something new and quite different than the no-brain slow cooker or the Dutch oven. But I gave in then studied the manual. With my writing tools, I’ve succumb to advancements that are obviously inevitable; I’ve grudgingly lagged only a few generations behind computer advances. If my husband wasn’t an engineer, I might still be using Word Star with green type. OK I might have advanced to amber. Maybe.

The evolution from manual typewriter to portable laptop to the iPad’s touch keyboard seems very much like that of the advancement in pressure cookers. The comparison works on other levels. Once mastered, pressure cooking is easy, and it saves energy and time, not to mention tenderizing the cheapest cuts of meat. Who doesn’t love spell check? Obvious to anybody who learned on an old-fashioned typewriter, the computer, too, is easier and saves energy and time. I can’t imagine typing my novel over and over for each new draft, even typing an entire page again after spotting a few needed edits. Or inking up my hands with carbon paper. Or having to thumb through the dictionary every 2,000 words. Did I say I love spell check?

Cooking and writing both take good doses of devotion, dreams, inventiveness, inspiration and patience. That’s a lot to juggle. I want changing technology to be the least of my worries. Please make it as user friendly and as full-proof as my pressure cooker. And don’t mess with my spell check. --- so warns Inkpot


  1. Typewriter? Carbon paper? What are these things of which you speak? ;-]

    Yes, I was just waxing nostalgic about the typewriter the past week. Glad I don't own a smartphone. Missing the "disconnectedness" of it all. Quieter airwaves. Less commercials.


    Yes, Inky, pros and cons. No Luddite here, but do enjoy the increased productivity...

    But, you know---there IS something about using a typewriter....

    GREAT post!

  2. I had to laugh at this, Inky. Typewriter, my foot. You write longhand on a yellow legal pad! You don't fool me. Whatever it takes to keep you creative and productive I'm all for. By the way, my mother-in-law loved her pressure cooker and gave me one a million years ago for a shower gift. I melted the bottom of it and have been afraid to try one since.

  3. Typewriter? Ugh! I can say definitively, I would not be a writer if I had to use a typewriter. There were several reasons I majored in math in college. Those were the dinosaur days before personal computers OR calculators. Shudders...

  4. I had two complete, second edit, MSs done when I was 17 on the typewriter I got for HS graduation. Before sending either one anyplace I decided that I really needed a new paragraph in the first two pages. I looked at the stacks, then to the typewriter, then back to the stacks. I bundled them and put them into a drawer, then wrote songs, poetry and short stories until the word processor was invented. When I found out how much an IBM DisplayWriter or the NBN's out of Boulder cost. I left them in the drawer until the Tandy TRS-80 came out.

    I studied the storage limitations and waited until the KAYPRO luggable PC with a WordStar and CPM came out then started revising -- until I found out the price of an IBM WheelWriter.

    I used a PC clone and a dot matrix printer for TV, movie, and industrial film scripts until Okidata released the affordable (snicker) personal laser printer for about $400.

    Whew! Since then I've written several million words... although the first two projects smelled of antiquity -- both paper and content -- when I pulled them out again. But I did scan and OCR them B^)

  5. For years, I fought having a computer in the house. I was afraid I'd never see my husband again. Hey, we had a nice electric typewriter; I didn't even need to fling the carriage return manually. (Though that could be kind of satisfying.)

    Then, late one night,I needed a clean copy of a story to send to a contest. The deadline was next day. I moved my typewriter into another room that didn't have a wall in common with the bedroom, and set to work.

    At about 2:00 a.m., Robert came into the room blinking at the light. "You know, if you had a computer with a word processing program, you could just hit a couple of keys and get a clean printout."

    "Do you suppose there's anyone open now?"

    It was, of course, a little more involved than that. I was soon a convert, though sometimes I do miss slamming that carriage return over.

  6. I still like writing my first draft with a pen and paper, but I love my laptop.

  7. For no reason I can adequately explain, I collect old manual typewriters. I guess they remind me of a simpler time (and I already know how to use them).

    Writing on a typewriter does at least one thing. Since there's no going back (unless your machine corrects) the typewriter gives you serious permission to write a crappy first draft. On the other hand, the act of transferring your typewritten copy onto a computer for editing often sparks new and better story ideas and ways of saying things. My journalism profs always said, to write is to rewrite.

    A couple of other good things about the (manual) typewriter are: (1) you don't have to fight for the electrical outlets at Starbucks, and (b) you're not using any fossil fuels while you ponder the next sentence in your great American novel.

    I have short piece on all this on my website: (which itself is a work in progress that I would have finished by now if I could have produced the website on a typewriter).