I am reading Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The book is all soul and inspiration. Anne wrote it at the beach, where she went alone to reflect on the pattern of her life. She writes about her affinity for freshly sharpened pencils. I know exactly how she felt.
There are so many satisfying things about pencils. Sharpening them is an instant solution. In seconds you carve a fine point for writing crisp lines. They adapt too. You can write in dove grey or thunder, depending on the pressure you apply. And the erasers on top – I love those little bubble gum pink bits designed for second chances. You can start over and over with a few rubs over a sentence.
Pencils are excellent chew toys during tests, the soft wood accommodating your anxious molars. It’s sort of like teething for your brain. Chewing on your pencil gives you something substantial to do while you wait for an answer to erupt, flow through your pencil, and onto a blank sheet.
Shopping for school supplies in elementary school, I loved hunting for pencils, scanning the packs hanging on thin metal rods like a detective. I gingerly sharpened each one and put the bundle in a see-through pencil-case at the front of my flower power binder. Those pencils were the keys to the kingdom, the perfect way to test my knowledge at school because you could erase your answer if you changed your mind. Pencils were precious when the stakes were high and you had to fill in and erase the bubbles on standardized tests. Even now, the thought of using a pen to take a test is disturbing.
There were pens in my pencil-case and a weapon called a protractor, but the pencils ruled. The protractor drew blood. I was always pricking fingers when I reached for something. Pens were unreliable. If a pen was on the fritz, ink oozed onto your notebook page and tattooed your fingers. The worst was when the ink got inside your pencil-case. The mess was permanent. And pens died without warning.
Pencils were reliable. You knew exactly where you stood with your pencil. When the lead tip turned round, you got up from your desk, walked to the back of the classroom, and fixed the problem with your hands. There were no sudden deaths. You saw the progression of your pencil’s life as it slowly got shorter. I kept my pencils alive until the bitter end, when you could barely hold them and write.
I’ll admit to a romance with pens in middle school. They were bold and fashionable. At one point I had a pen that could write in six colors, and I thought it was so cool. Eventually, I came to my senses. One day, I’ll be that old woman who carries a pencil in her purse and refuses to use a pen. Immersed in this pencil love fest, I’m thinking about getting a manual pencil sharpener, the kind we used in elementary school. Remember the metal crank and the stalled engine sound it made when you sharpened your pencil?
I have a Dixon Ticonderoga #2 Pencil in a small ceramic jar on my desk. It’s my favorite pencil because it has a long history and an iconic design.The Dixon Ticonderoga company has been making pencils since 1815. The pencil’s name originated in the graphite ore mined and processed in Ticonderoga, New York. A school-bus-yellow hexagon, the design is distinguished by three bands of emerald-green metal, known as a ferrule, that hold the eraser in place. This is the pencil you’ll find in my old lady purse.
Simple, iconic items like a Dixon Ticonderoga Pencil are comforting. They bring you back to a time when worldly worries belonged to someone else. Pencils also remind me of second chances. Living with bipolar disorder, I’ve had to start over many times.
While we can’t exactly erase our mistakes in life, we can draw new plans with pencils on a clean sheet of paper. Then we can erase them and draw them again and again. We are works in progress no matter how old we get or what we struggle with. I appreciate having a pencil nearby.