For the nostalgic scribe, a pencil is and always will be the missed tool of choice in the computer age. There is something about a pencil. The smell of graphite, the earthy wood shavings, the raspy sketch of the pencil touching paper… it’s a beautiful symphony all by itself.
I remember as a child being given the plastic hand sharpener in a school box of supplies. This was a neat – to have your own hand sharpener. But in the garage was an old, antique looking metal sharpener that was mounted to the top of a wooden cabinet. The sharpener looked like some machine, yet it was utilitarian in use – it was manual, you had to hand-crank it to sharpen your pencil. Hearing the grinding sound as you cranked your hand around and around was hypnotic, beautiful and when you were done sharpening your pencil, you just wanted to dig in your pencil box for more to sharpen because you didn’t want the sound to end.
Then there was the emptying of this chamber that was interesting all on its own. The ground up metallic looking bits of pencil lead were a smoky charcoal grey powder and the fine shavings weren’t like the hamster bedding you’re used to seeing with the plastic personal sharpener at school. These shavings were so fine, they looked like saffron threads, curly and intertwined into a poofy pile of Barbie hay. There wasn’t really anything you could do with this, but it seemed a shame to throw it away.
When the electric pencil sharpener came out that was really exciting. The revved up motor was a thrilling change and you couldn’t possibly over-sharpen. It stopped automatically when you were done and yes, the shaving chamber produced the same type as the hand crank ones. Though it wasn’t as archaic as the hand-crank one that reminded you of the musty smell of library books, it did the job and was a very advanced change in electronics.
Let’s not forget the eraser. Not just the convenient JuJuBee sized niblet on the top of the pencil (which always seemed to disappear, long before the pencil shortened)… but I am talking about the beautiful choices in erasers – from the long bubble-gum pink rectangle eraser to the gooey white and animated character erasers that became all the rage when Hello Kitty came onto the scene.
In 1st grade, there was a very kind girl in my class named Diane who shared her lunch with me when someone stole my lunch. And to thank her, I remember getting her this fancy circle eraser that was on a roller. It came with a brush on the other end to ‘dust away’ the eraser bits. She was excited and thought it was really cool. I remember the other kids in the class all wanted one and how proud Diane was to whip out the eraser and use it to erase a ‘mistake.’ The thing was, Diane was a smart girl and she didn’t make many mistakes. But it was fun to pretend to erase and use this new fangled gadget.
It was also where ‘drawing with an eraser’ became the greatest insurance to draw freehand without making a pencil mistake. Who knew?
I miss the days of the pencil. Today, pencil isn’t so much a noun as it is a verb. “I’ll pencil you in my calendar.” The sad part is, this is a lie. Today calendars are on computers and in Blackberry phones and the only ‘pencil’ that is used is a skinny piece of black plastic that touches a screen.
But pencils are still needed at the DMV, the infamous number two pencil is still needed for scholastic tests and pencils are still used in Bingo. So there is hope that even in this electronic hi-tech age, that pencils won’t die. Greenies like computers because it means using less pencils and saving more trees. And I get this.
Though I think there is something to be said for the pencil and its longevity in a time when so many other things have become obsolete altogether. It has lived longer than the erasable pen – and that’s a whole other blog.
The pencil. From sketch to scribe, it’s something we really can’t and shouldn’t ever be without.