I am reading Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The book is all soul and inspiration. Anne wrote it when she went to the beach to reflect on the pattern of her life. At the beginning of the book, 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 reward. In seconds you get a fine point for writing crisp notes. They are versatile too. You can draw lines from dove grey to thunder, depending on the amount of pressure you apply. And the erasers – I love those little bubble gum pink bits designed for second chances. You can start over and over with a few rubs over words and letters. Pencils are excellent chew toys during tests as well. The soft wood gives way to your 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 paper.
Shopping for school supplies, I loved discovering those school bus yellow pencils hanging in packs. I carefully sharpened each one and put the bundle in a see-through pencil-case at the front of my 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 and rarely solved a problem. I was always pricking my pointer finger with that nasty instrument. 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. Plus, 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 colorful 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 reminds me of second chances. They are so important to people like me because I live with a mental illness, bipolar disorder. I’ve had all kinds of twists in the road and times when I’ve had to start over.
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.