Elizabeth: Notes from a Public Typewritter©

I was perusing the local bookstore the other day (which sounds better than desperately trying to come up with a blog-post idea), and Michael Gustafson’s book Notes from a Public Typewriter caught my interest.

I’m never quite sure what causes a book to jump out and catch my interest (that’s probably a post for another day), but for this book, it was a combination of the cover and the promise the title suggested.  The book was featured in an NPR Books article this past April (which I vaguely remember reading) and you can read the details here.

Basically, Michael set up the typewriter in his bookstore in Ann Arbor and let customers type away.  He initially thought maybe one customer would start a story and others would add to it over time when they passed by.  Instead what he wound up with thousands of pages of:

“Love letters, poems, quotes, sprawling meditations on life. Notes written over the top of others, single words, perfectly spaced paragraphs”

“It’s just been a wonderful sort of diary of a town,” says Michael, “happening in a bookstore.”

It’s always fascinating when something like this grows organically into something totally unexpected.  Last year I talked about  a similar type of unexpected project – the Big Ball of Paint – which was intended to be a 1000-coats-of-paint project  to see what the paint-layer cross sections would look like that evolved into a still-growing 14-foot (circumference) 2.5 ton ball of more than 25,000 layers of paint that is part tourist attraction, part collaborative project.

The ball of paint didn’t turn into a book like the typewriter notes did, but it was equally collaborative and creative.

Going back to the notes on the typewriter, although the experiment didn’t turn into the single long-story that Michael envisioned at the onset, it instead turned into a book full of stories, all told just a few words at a time.

I can’t wait to read them all.

Also, I feel a strange need to go unearth that old typewriter from the garage.  Who knows, maybe there are stories lurking there too.

9 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Notes from a Public Typewritter©

  1. Oh, that’s so cool! A public typewriter gives you permission to do public graffiti. (-: You aren’t defacing anything, so you don’t have to feel “bad”, but it’s also as anonymous as you choose, and you never know who will see it, so it’s both freeing and thrilling at the same time!

    At the David Bowie Is exhibit in Japan, they had a bulletin board that allowed permissible graffiti — you had to bring your own writing utensils, though. It was so moving to read what people had to say around the first anniversary of his death. I wish I’d taken a picture of the thing. I can’t remember if I left anything or not.

    So much public art is ephemeral. The paint ball comes, it gets covered up, it goes. And that can be a very cool part of the art experience. But when it’s in writing, it’s semi-permanent. Someone might keep it.

    I think I’ve written about this before, but on July 7 (August 7 in the northern areas), people celebrate the Star Festival in Japan by writing wishes on paper, and hanging them up on a Star Festival tree. It’s usually a public ritual, and these days, it’s often sponsored by grocery stores or department stores. So, anyone can see the wishes and hopes up on the tree. It can be quite poignant, or quite nostalgic, depending on what happens.

    • I love the idea of writing wishes on paper and hanging them so you can see them. I had a managerial psychology class, once upon a time, and when we were working on getting rid of that pesky inner voice of doubt, we had to write our worries on a piece of one of those fabric-softener-dryer-sheets, and then we lit them on fire to banish them.

      Okay, not the same thing at all as the wishes, but your Star Festival did make me think of it.

  2. I’ve been to that bookstore. A friend held the release party for her second novel there. It’s a wonderful book shop, but I don’t think I visited the lower level. Will have to do so the next time I go see her!

  3. How fun that you’ve actually been there. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to add your words to the ever growing pages.

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