Friday, May 21, 2010

On Skye Ferrante, the Writers Room, Noise, and Advocacy

NaNoWriMo: the niche

Obviously, we typewriter people are an excitable bunch. The news of the banishment of Mr. Skye Ferrante's typewriter from the Writers Room in Greenwich Village has rocketed around the narrow confines of the typosphere community, myself guilty of shoveling coals and dousing it in gas by posting to the Portable Typewriters group and encouraging type-ins, letters of protest, and sending industrial-sized packets of earplugs to the W.R. patrons who are clearly suffering from some sort of technology-induced anger management issues. In my head, I have drafted countless Nasty Letters to the W.R. staff, their membership, and their pets, shaming them for their close-minded stance on one paying member's choice of writing machine. It was his grandmother's, for chrissakes! Why not kick a few puppies while we're at it!

Luckily, I've slept on it.

First, it is perfectly within the rights of the Writers Room (say that five times fast) to dictate what equipment can be used within their space. It would be childish for me to point out that they still offer storage for typewriters, while simultaneously advertising themselves as a "a quiet, affordable place in which to work." (The "quiet" designation seems to have been added after their last site redesign. It was merely "tranquil" before.) Short of a thermal-paper-based typewriter, I know of none that are truly silent, as some kind of impact is taking place, either from a typeslug, daisy wheel and hammer, or pins on a print head. And it would be equally childish to point out that they have "a separate room for typing with four desks" which is different from the "[l]arge loft with 42 partitioned desks" that non-Luddites are forced to use. Maybe that dedicated typing room doesn't have a door?

Second, Mr. Ferrante is well within his rights to drop his membership -- as the article claims he will be doing -- in favor of finding a less-hostile work space. It's not clear to me whether the pressure to leave is coming from the W.R. staff, fellow members, or both. At around $100 per month membership, I'm sure he'll be able to find ample places where he can type undisturbed. I've been to New York City a few times: I do not remember it as a quiet place. He could easily apportion some of his savings into earplugs for himself, set up shop in a friendlier place -- say, anywhere -- and get work done. Our own experiences with writing show that: a quiet (or tranquil) place is nice, but for many of us, it's also a dream. NaNoWriMo has shown me that I can write "in the cracks" and still turn out a volume of words, even in my cramped behind-the-sofa writing space shown at the top of this post. It's not where you write, after all, it's that you write.

Finally, some thinking about my hostile letter to the puppy-kickers. I don't know Mr. Ferrante or his motivations for using a typewriter, though his comment about preferring it to a computer ring true to me. It's perfectly possible that he's an elitist hipster snob, looking for attention and raising a small degree of polite Hell. But even if he is, I applaud him for it. Dedication to a creative tool is nothing to be ashamed about, and in a truly public space, nothing to be apologetic for either. By the account in the paper, he was using the space set aside for typists, though I'm sure a larger number of screened-in desks can be wedged in there now for the laptop crowd, thus turning a quirky, creative space into something as exciting as the reference book section of the public library. (Free, by the way.) He's probably doing himself and his work a service by getting out of that place.

In the last line of the article, he's quoted as saying:

I just wish that there were some typists out there that would back me up, but I don't know any.

Rather than write my hostile, righteous, scathing, brilliantly-crafted and ultimately pointless letter to the Writing Room staff, I'm going to send a letter to Mr. Ferrante, before his June 30 expulsion, maybe invite him in to our noisy, weird, world-wide circle of retro-nuts. The world has enough negativity and exclusion and outrage already without me contributing more.

I'll be sending it to him c/o The Writers Room, of course.

The Writers Room
740 Broadway
New York, NY 10003


Strikethru said...

A well-thought out response. I think sending a letter to Mr. Ferrante is a more creative idea than bitching out the Writers Room.

Monda said...

You're so reasonable. And right, of course, about writing anywhere.

That doesn't make what happened any less rude, though, and those folks at the Writer's Room should be ashamed.

deek said...

Yeah, after reading more comments on the article and thinking about it more clearly (and a couple night's sleep), I agree, a less hostile letter is in order.

Good advice there, Mike.