The Type Set. Will letters written on a typewriter provoke conversation?

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Write letters to Keith Sharon the old fashion way.

Nashville Tennessean

On my old typewriter, I clacked out a letter to Dolly Parton.

I figured she would be the appropriate person for my first letter because she is the appropriate person for everything. Dolly Parton is the de facto first lady of Tennessee, so she deserved to receive the first letter in Tennessee of Project 88. 

I had recently started a flower garden in my backyard, so naturally I whacked out a couple of pages to Dolly about roses and dahlias and petunias. I asked her for tips. I asked her if she could suggest a native plant that is particular to Middle Tennessee.

Let me be honest, I have no idea if Dolly Parton gardens. She probably doesn’t. But she does sing “I never promised you a rose garden,” implying some knowledge about the topic.

What if she has a green thumb, and she writes me back? 

What a way to start a new column with my old Smith-Corona Secretarial 88 (the number refers to the number of characters it produces), a return letter from Dolly Parton.

Of course, what are the odds that will happen?

When was the last time you typed a letter to someone? You have to roll a clean page into the carriage. Grab the silver return bar and crank, crank, crank until the page is where you want it to be.

You need to decide on your words before you type them, unlike a computer in which you can backspace and spell check and delete, delete, delete until everything is just right. On a typewriter, you punch the keys, thwacking out a sentence until DING, you grab the return bar and crank again.

I start and end every letter using the same two words. 

Dear.

Sincerely.

When was the last time you used Dear and Sincerely?

Then you have to get an envelope and a stamp. It’s work, I know. But when you walk out to the mailbox and that return letter arrives with all the other junk, it is a glorious feeling. Like successfully navigating a time machine.

Tom Hanks tries out another manual typewriter at a Goodlettsville shop owned by Kirk Jackson May 25, 2021 (Photo: Submitted)

I just moved to the Nashville area in early 2021. When I unpacked, I found an old friend, my Smith-Corona 88. On the same day I was unpacking, I read a story in The Tennessean by my buddy Brad Schmitt about Tom Hanks visiting Nashville Typewriter, a cool repair shop in a barn owned by Kirk Jackson.

More: Tom Hanks makes dreams come true for fellow manual typewriter enthusiast in Goodlettsville

I considered it a sign from the typewriter gods.

I took my old 88 to Jackson’s shop and had him install a new ribbon. Then I brought it home and placed it in the middle of my new man cave. That old typewriter (circa 1953) is the centerpiece of my new upstairs sanctuary, right next to my DVD box collection and my “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” movie poster.

With this machine, I have dreamed about truly connecting with people. Not just through tweets and texts, but with real, thoughtful writing. Think of the great novels, screenplays and letters that have begun with the clack of a typewriter.

Think of the tragic news, the exhilarating announcements that were first typed into being.

I have a new obsession. It’s called Project 88, named for my typewriter characters. My intention is to correspond with as many people as possible all over the world.

I’ll write about my correspondence in a column called “The Type Set,” which is a play on “the Jet set” and the phrase “type set” which is the old way print newspapers lined up their pages before they ran through the press.

This project isn’t for politics. It’s not for angry rants.

It’s for letters about long lost loves, people who died, stories of overcoming obstacles. It’s for inspiring people, writing about things that move you. It’s for favorite movies, sad songs and recipes your grandmother used to make.

I started with a letter to Dolly Parton (of course) asking for gardening tips. I wrote to Taylor Swift about her favorite movie food. I wrote to former Nashville council member Fabian Bedne about his favorite decade in music. One letter went to chef Maneet Chauhan asking about her favorite fast food places. Another went to activist Renata Soto asking if she was a dog or cat person.

I wrote to Rabbi Joshua Kullock, Imam Ossama Bahloul, Tim McGraw, Jack White, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, author Ann Patchett and up-and-coming country singing stars Jimmie Allen and Ingrid Andress.

So far, I have written a letter every day since June 1. That’s 26 letters, double spaced, two pages each with my KS monogram on the top of every page.

My response rate so far?

Zero.

Sadly.

I’m still waiting to hear if Dolly loves dahlias, or Taylor loves Goobers or Raisinets.

Maybe it’s just too difficult these days to put your thoughts down on paper. Maybe people don’t have the time. Maybe nobody has any stamps. I’ve heard from more than one friend … nobody is going to write to you.

Here’s the truth. I don’t think that’s true. I think people want to connect. I still wait eagerly for the mail every day at my desk at The Tennessean. I know Project 88 is going to work.

If you want to write to me (and I’ll do my best to correspond) send a letter to:

Keith Sharon

The Tennessean

1801 West End

17th Floor

Nashville TN 37203

If you use a typewriter, great. If you use a pencil, fountain pen, chisel and slate or computer, that’s fine too. Just make it conversational. Tell me something you think is important or sad or merely the greatest thing ever. Put it an envelope, find a stamp and keep the post office in business.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing a letter every day. 

Just maybe someone will respond.

Reach Keith Sharon at 615-406-1594 or ksharon@tennessean.com or on Twitter @KeithSharonTN.

Read or Share this story: https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2021/06/24/type-set-letters-written-typewriter-provoke-conversation/7726826002/

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