“A dull pencil is greater than the sharpest memory” (English Proverb). This saying rightly acknowledges the value of the pencil, unlike so much of the world today. Depended upon daily, the true meaning of a pencil is often overlooked. Normally used purely for the sake of writing, pencils do have their more peculiar functions, not the least of which is, as my sister wisely pointed out, being a hazardous poking device. And while almost everyone uses pencils, there are those who especially treasure theirs.
Pencils are cherished by many different people, for many different reasons, and in many different ways. My own parents serve as examples. Collecting customized pencils from companies, hotels, and schools, my father has a vast pencil collection, a record of his jobs and vacations. It’ diverting to look through them all, gazing at the different pencils from various places: Georgetown University, Slalom Consulting, Semiahmoo Resort. Of course the collection can sometimes be the source of frustration because it is forbidden to use these sacred pencils. When there is a pencil shortage in the home, and we are all scrounging about for one, (which will only be a couple inches long anyway) the unreachable jar of long fresh pencils sits tauntingly on the shelf, aloof and unreachable.
My mother has a different way of treasuring pencils; she shows a marked preference for the Ticonderoga brand. “Not all pencils are created equal,” she insists and continues by explaining how the weight of the pencil, the quality of the eraser, and the reliability of the brand are all important factors. (Personally, while I have every appreciation and respect for Ticonderoga, there are times when I find the softer lead of the Swiss Edelweiss brand to be more appropriate.) Unfortunately, Ticonderoga pencils are not available where we live, so she imports them. Stashing them away in secret hidey-holes, she carefully controls the flow of the precious pencils. Although just writing with a pencil is an art unto itself, the pencil has many interesting and unusual uses as well.
When I was in the second grade, I recall watching with admiration the teacher’s assistant select a bright red grading pencil and dexterously use it to put up her hair in a clever chignon. In later years I found instructions on how to fix up your hair in this manner, which I carefully followed, despite arduous hair yanking and scraping of the scalp. Another fascinating role the pencil plays is in the cracking of secret codes. A strip of paper with seemingly randomly placed letters on it is wrapped around a pencil, and the letters arrange along the pencil to form comprehensible words. Anything long, thin, and stick-like can be used although pencils are the most handy apparatus.
Despite the apparent simplicity of this method, I have found one’s secret message can easily go awry, depending on the arrangement of the paper and the length and size of the pencil. However, despite its unreliability, this code-breaker is undeniably one of the more bizarre uses of the pencil. A pencil is only a small and supposedly insignificant item, but the value and meaning it bears is abundant. Without my pencil, I am crippled; when it is absent, my day cannot start. I feel a special sense of security and confidence when I begin my school-work with back-up pencils lying next to me, sharp yellow soldiers, lined up in ranks and ready to serve. Occasionally, I ponder how much time I spend each day racing up the stairs to the electric pencil sharpener.
It is undoubtedly a great amount. Many people, myself included, find it easier to think when a pencil is in hand even if they are not writing. When a pencil is too short to be used, a feeling of deep regret washes over me. All that lovely pencil wasted! The same happens when the lead of a pencil breaks. I used to collect broken pencil leads.
I think most of us have at least mentally shaken our fists at those vile and cunning pencil-sharpeners that purposefully over-sharpen your pencil, just enough that they will only break when you start writing with them! Symbolizing creativity, a pencil is the gateway to writing and drawing. Agreed, the pen is also a worthy writing implement, but it has sense of formality and perfection. Keep the pen for the intimidating final drafts, but let the pencil sketch, scribble and scrawl! A pencil is freedom to brainstorm and create. Whatever you do, do not depreciate the value and meaning of the pencil! The pencil’s long skinny shape permits it to have numerous uses aside from writing: it can hold your hair in the absence of an elastic; it allows you to crack the message from your fellow spy. Simple and uniform objects, people treasure them and can be surprisingly touchy about their handling.
The pencil’s value is so often passed by without a thought although we are constantly relying on it in our creativity. Where would we be without pencils? Slaving away with crossing out and white-out. Imagine if the world converted to ink! Writing would surely be more restricted and limited. The symbolism of a pencil is self-expression; we are forever expressing ourselves with it, whether drawing or arranging hair. Do not forget to be grateful for this too-often-taken-for-granted object, but join the world in showing your appreciation for pencils!