I am reading Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh again. Anne wrote it at the beach where she went alone to reflect on the pattern of her life. She wrote about her affinity for freshly sharpened pencils. I know exactly how she felt.
There are so many satisfying things about pencils. Sharpening them is instantly rewarding; in seconds you can form 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, I adore those little bubble gum bits designed for second chances. You can start over and over with a few rubs on a sentence. For people living with mental illness, or any number of challenges that force you to hit the reset button on life, a symbol of renewal is invaluable.
Pencils are comforting chew toys for high strung people. How many have you come across with teeth marks up and down their spine? The soft wood accommodates anxious molars, 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 and scanning the packs hanging on thin metal rods just like a detective. I carefully 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 bubbles on standardized tests.
There were pens in my pencil-case and a weapon called a protractor, but the pencils ruled. Protractors drew blood. I was always pricking fingers when I reached for something. Pens were unreliable. If one was on the fritz, thick ink might leak onto your notebook page and tattoo your fingers. And pens died without warning.
You knew exactly where you stood with your pencil. When the lead tip flattened, 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 the stubs and write.
I’ll admit to a romance with pens in middle school. They were bold and fashionable. At one point I had a fat one that wrote in six colors. So cool. Eventually, I returned to my roots.
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 stood in the back of the classroom to sharpen 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.
Simple, iconic items like a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil are comforting. They bring you back to a time when worldly worries seemed to belong 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.