There’s no easy way to put this.
The book is ready to go. The writing, proofreading, typesetting are completely done, and photography’s incredibly close. The campaign video is 100% ready. The cool little site I made for the occasion needs just a few extra days of polish.
But the book also needs to be delayed. All of this – regrettably, sadly, frustratingly – is owing to the supply chain problems. The printers are either unavailable or overloaded, the right paper is hard to come by, and the situation seems to be changing by a month. My friend, who’s been in this business for over a decade, told me “I’ve never seen it being so bad. If you don’t have to rush, I’d advise waiting.”
Book progress chart (black = progress since last time)
So I’m waiting. I’m really unhappy about this, and I’m sorry if this bothers you, too. I have a prototype in my hand. It feels like… an actual book. I would like to give to everyone who’s interested, yet I can’t.
I don’t even know how long will the delay be. I am hoping that the issues will resolve themselves by next year, although they have only gotten worse in the last weeks. The current plan/dream is “sometime in 2023,” but there aren’t any guarantees.
This was a hard decision to make, particularly as there seemed to be a way forward, just an increasingly narrow and complicated one. After weeks of agonizing, I had to write a summary for myself, just to make sure I understood it fully.
Eventually, I decided to halt the years-long process that was almost ready to go. And on that day, I definitely felt the weight of all those years.
There were two trips in 2016 that gave my book its soul.
The first one was early in the year. The destination was Seattle, and I planned it meticulously. I visited the excellent Living Computers Museum (old computers!), the Communications Museum (old teletype equipment!), and the typewriter repair store in the nearby Bremerton (old… you can guess). I reached out to all of them beforehand, I rented an expensive camera, and I even wrote down my questions in advance.
The trip was a huge success. I had tons of fun, I learned a lot, and many of the photos I took ended up in the book. But primarily what astonished me was people’s willingness – eagerness, even – to help me. There were backstage tours I didn’t have to ask about, patient waiting as I was fiddling with a strange camera, and general enthusiasm about the idea of a book like this being written, ostensibly by a complete stranger.
At the Museum of Communications
At the Living Computers Museum
Paul Lundy at the Bremerton Office Machine Company
I heard from a few friends who wrote books that one of the most important things to think about is cultivating momentum that will carry you through the hard moments. Two tips: find a subject that you already keep coming back to on even a dark day, and try to surround yourself with people who will cheer you on.
By that time I was already beginning to suspect that I’ll always be interested in keyboards. But on that trip, I realized the other half: that kind people will be there to help me.
After the museum visits, still on a high from all the hospitality, I went on a small road trip on the scenic highway 20. The road led to a dam. I was walking on the crest of that dam when, in my head, I wrote the first sentences of the opening chapter of my book: “Imagine, for a second, a finger pressing a key.”
If the first trip of 2016 was wonderful, the second one, toward the end of the year, proved extraordinary. I was already planning to visit Spain to speak at a conference. As I’ve done on every trip since, I briefly looked up possible keyboard-related destinations, but I found none – after all, Spain wasn’t ever known to be the hotbed of typewriter innovation.
Imagine my surprise that after the conference, on my way to somewhere else, in a small town of Figueres, prompted only by a strange sign, I stumbled upon one of the most amazing typewriter museums in existence.
It was like a dream: hundreds of typewriters surrounding me at a place and time I didn’t expect them to. I darted around in haze, took almost 500 photos on my iPhone without realizing, and eventually had to be (gently) escorted out. I was not ready for any of this at all.
Later, I drove to a restaurant. I arrived half past eight. The owners looked at me funny, muttering something about 9pm, yet they showed me to a table. I assumed they decided to squeeze me in just before the closing, but only later I realized it was the opposite: dinners in Catalonia apparently start very late, and I was there before the opening time.
Without anything else to do, as I was waiting for food, I picked my phone and started tweeting the events of that incredible discovery.
(This is the link to the thread, but in the years since Twitter made it hard to follow. If you want to read in peace, here’s a little archive.)
The 60-odd tweet rosary went viral. Over the next few days, there was an avalanche of responses, commenting on the amazement of my discovery, the love of typewriters, and the wonder of this kind of thing still happening in the hyperconnected, ultrainformed world.
And it was an avalanche. The reactions were arriving so quickly it was literally impossible to catch up. The archivist in me wanted to have them all, and so I reached out to a friend inside Twitter to ask if they could peek into their databases to give me a complete output – and then I followed up on every response that seemed worth following up on.
I wasn’t ready for this either. This reply eruption turned my little miracle and amplified it hundredfold. And it was a perfect time to get a jolt of energy like this. A month later, my sabbatical started. A month after that, I started writing – not just in my head.
It’s been over five years since that event.
In time, my restaurant tweets led to articles, blog posts, radio stories, and television mentions. I learned that my story was helpful in getting people to know about the underdog museum of Figueres (the town is home to a famous Dalí Museum and indeed that museum was the reason I originally went there, too).
Within Museu Tècnica de l’Empordà in Figueres, I’ve become a micro celebrity. Even today, once in a while, a new visitor mentions “the American” that they learn about the museums from.
In time also, with the help of my editor, I understood the true importance of the event. It wasn’t just the serendipity of the discovery and people’s reaction to it. It was also that on the very same day I got to experience the first QWERTY keyboard, on the first typewriter ever – and then the last one, on my iPhone, that I used to tell my story. That one day in October 2016, I witnessed the whole arc of the history of keyboarding.
The first opening chapter of the book – “Imagine, for a second, a finger pressing a key” – had to go. I replaced it with a new retelling of the museum story, and rewrote the last chapter to match it.
The first sentence of the book now reads “What do you do when you find yourself among hundreds of keyboards?” The joke is that it’s not just a question I faced in 2016: there are hundreds of keyboards in the book itself, and now you’re surrounded by them, too.
I’ve wanted to go back to Catalonia for a long time now. In 2016, I was at the beginning of my research journey. If you follow my thread, you can see me being perplexed by many machines. But now I know quite a bit about all those typewriters and calculators I once whizzed by – enough that likely I could give someone else a tour – and I’d be curious to appreciate them so much more.
I’ve also wanted to get to meet the people behind the museum; in the years since, we struck up a bit of a conversation. And the 400-something photos back then were rushed, shot on an iPhone, and are not particularly beautiful. I wanted better photos to put in the book and elsewhere, including a new photo of the beautiful music typewriter (this one ended up being my most popular tweet ever, and a photo that people continue sending to me, unaware I took it).
Pages of the opening chapter with placeholders for new photos from Figueres
I tried once before. I almost came back to Figueres in April of 2020. The trip was planned, the vacation days reserved, the tickets purchased. And then, within weeks, everything went to hell.
But if everything goes okay, I will be at the museum this Monday. And this time I will be prepared. I’m bringing a camera and a list of photos to take. The owners of the museum will pick me up from the train station and open the place just for me. We even have backup plans.
I’m nervous, for sure. “Never meet your heroes,” they say, and I feel like the parallel expression should be “Never meet your memories.” Is it okay to revisit this event that ended up meaning so much to me, that connected me to so many people, that made me the typewriter guy? Am I ready to conflate the “before times” – only a few weeks after my last visit, Trump won the 2016 election, and the world changed forever – with where I am today? Plus, I haven’t travelled in years by now, and there’s a voice in the back of my head that tells me “COVID will somehow find a way to ruin this trip, too.”
But I’m mostly excited. I want this to work out, particularly after the stress of hours and hours of proofreading (final style guide, if you are into that!), rushing through to the publication finish line that escaped behind the horizon at what seemed like the last minute, and trying to deal with the supply chain that came without the instruction manual.
Perhaps I’m looking toward the past because at this moment the future seems unclear. But I’m not planning to replicate a flash-in-the-pan miracle on top of another miracle from half a decade ago. I do believe in panta rhei. In the end, it’s really kind of simple: I’m just looking forward to see a lot of fun keyboards and to meet kind strangers who are excited to help me.
I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m going to try to write the newsletters more regularly in the coming months, so we can weather all this delay together.
Today, if you want more to read and play with:
This was newsletter №27 for Shift happens, an upcoming book about keyboards. Read previous issues · Check out all the secret documents