27 Aug

I have always caught the tip-tail end of every good thing. Vacuum tubes, electric typewriters, records (both shellac and vinyl), and mechanical timepieces are precious and priceless to me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The disillusioned early adopters fade away and I see those who stayed the course for the long term. These people have been my mentors. They have filled me with their stories, their own dreams, and the lessons they learned along the way. It has helped me realize that there are simple solutions to many problems – elegant solutions!

And so that brings me to pencils. We live in a very digital world. Paper and physical markings are slowly starting to fall off a cliff to make room for a world of ones and zeros. Books are now files on an e-reader. Mail doesn’t require postage. Photographs are just pixels now. Yet for as virtual as the world is today, the simple wooden pencil endures. In fact, I would dare say that the structure is resilient! It became obvious to me when my five year old son came home from one of his first days of kindergarten. He didn’t spend the day on a computer or iPad. It was at a desk with a fat pencil and a piece of paper. He drew, he wrote, he doodled, and, most important of all, he expressed himself!

A self-portrait, his name, and a number five to signify his age. It was done plainly without thinking of what to click on and if the right color in the palette was selected. The act was spontaneous without any premonitions of doubt or failure. And it wasn’t just him. It was 20-something other kids doing something similar. There was nothing foreign about the medium, how to use the tool, or what it was for.

I would argue that it is this simplicity and elegance that make the pencil unique, enduring, and endearing. And so, I would like to have my own little blog dedicated to the art of the pencil and the pencil sharpener. It is impossible to not think of pencils without pencil sharpeners. Excluding the sharpener is like keeping the gas out of the tank. Half the joy of using a pencil is sharpening it. It is a purely mechanical action where the user is sculpting and forming the perfect tip to make the perfect line for their perfect moment – all spontaneously and intuitively, of course. I remember as a boy loving the Boston Rangers in my classroom. They were sorely abused and coughed pencil shavings and dust everywhere. The cutters would seemingly strain and heave against the wood until I stopped rotating the crank and then it would let out a wheeze of relief. I pulled the pencil out and I had my perfect tip. It wasn’t super sharp so that it would be brittle and break but it was sharp enough to make a confident mark. Some would say “blunt”. I say it was enabled!

One thing I will not focus on too much here is paper. Don’t get me wrong here. I love paper and the sensation of gliding my fingers and hands across its surface. The tactile feel give me a connection to a “some one” behind the “some thing”. Holding something in your hands makes that thing feel a bit more real and valuable than if it were virtualized in some abstract digital format. Obviously, I will mention paper but I’ll let someone else focus on it. Otherwise I will get too distracted and fail in my mission here.

So, yes, a pencil and a pencil sharpener. Make your point and stay sharp!

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