My first memory of pencils is in kindergarten, sharpening the big red trunk of those styluses made for little hands, hefting the thick wood in my fingers.
They call them jumbos.
My favorite memories of pencils are going to the school store in seventh grade. Gathering dimes and nickels to buy a new “writing instrument” as some of the teachers called them.
The look of them all long and glossy with their shiny collars and clean pink tops.
And the selection was amazing.
Sparkly pencils, red-white-and-blue pencils, rainbow pencils, pencils sporting Garfield and Peanuts characters, traditional pencils in regal yellow and mustard yellow thanks to the 1889 Hardtmuth luxury pencil unveiled at that year’s Exposition Universelle.
And the smell. Sweet cedar and rubber, tang of glue, the mustiness of the clay used temper the graphite’s hardness—a move revolutionized by Henry David Thoreau—and the tinny odor from the brass ferrule.
Cups and cups of pencils by the dozen, by the gross.
I was dazzled.
It wasn’t just the trinket delight which drives magpies and woodrats.
But it was also that.
Possibilities. Hope. Starting over.
Those were the feelings pencils instilled in me.
Having the ability to draw the pictures in my head, to write the thoughts I could not tell any other person. Knowing that, no matter how bad yesterday was, or how lousy a grade I’d earned on a quiz, I could sharpen a fresh pencil and put it to a clean sheet of paper and give it another try.
No matter how bad things were, I could have another chance so long as I had pencils to sharpen and an empty tablet of my own.
While I wasn’t as attentive of a student as I should have been, there were some educational activities which held my attention.
My most favorite activity—prior to discovering drama class as a sophomore—was when we were assigned vocabulary words in English class.
What joy! Searching the dictionary for definitions, and finding other strange new words along the way.
The fun of taking my time to write legibly—not something I’ve ever been known for since my handwriting is a hybrid of printing-hieroglyphics-cursive … something I like to call “Serial Killer Sans Serif.”
Putting pencil to paper is still one of my favorite activities, rivaled only by reading, eating Taco Bell, and playing Skyrim.
I’ve written longhand the first drafts of every one of my five unpublished novel manuscripts, two humor essay collections, thousands of essays and articles, and even a hefty religious philosophy tome.
Nothing helps me focus, organize, or even realize my initial thoughts like scribbling into a notebook with a good #2HB pencil.
My pencil collection is always growing.
I have pencils with Star Wars quotes and Andy Warhol quotes, even some with Steve Jobs quotes (don’t ask me why I bought those); there are Halloween pencils and Doctor Seuss pencils, yellow-black-red-green-white pencils, striped and glittery pencils.
I’m always on the lookout for crazy new shapes and colors.
I even found a set of pencils which contain plant seeds in the ferrule for when you’re finished using them.
While my collection grows, it also constantly shrinks because I’m daily using the pencils I amass. It’s sort of an ever-rotating stock. Right now I have tons of Halloween pencils but have sharpened my quotation pencils down to nubs.
A word about nubs—I don’t like throwing them away. So, what I end up with are jars and jars of mini pencils that I simply don’t know what to do with.
Perhaps someday I’ll donate them to a golf course or, if I ever become a famous author, give them away as souvenirs at book-signings.
Who would want such a thing?
God, I miss Nora Ephron. In my most favorite of her romantic comedies You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan:
“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”
I think that’s just about the most romantic thing anyone has ever said.