A Pencil To Think With (tf)

I don’t like pencils because they remind me of nuns. And pencils presume you’re too dumb to get it right the first time. Otherwise, why the eraser on top?

I like pens better. Make a mark and it’s there forever. More pressure to do it right. Screw up and you gotta cover it up with a dark smudge. The way life should be. You shouldn’t be allowed to obliterate your mistakes into little shavings to be swept off a table. That’s not fair.

And pencils require a pencil sharpener. Do they even sell pencil sharpeners anymore? When I was a kid we used to have one with the crank, but my generation considered this too much work (plus it had to be bolted down…ours was mounted underneath the kitchen counter above the garbage can) and thus came up with the automatic one. Just jam the pencil in there (sometimes 4 or 5 times…..these things can eat a pencil in half before they actually put a point on it, which always made me think the sharpener people were in cahoots with the pencil people). But that’s too bulky to carry around in a pencil-case so kids still use the thumb-sized plastic ones with the razor blade inside (can you take one of these on a plane?) that make such a mess.

Writing with an un-sharpened pencil is one of life’s little irritants. Like static cling or Neil Diamond being in the rock and roll hall of fame. So most of us switch to pens. Pencil people like Stevens are rare. Actually, in the computer age, people who use anything to compose longhand are either in prison or considered quaintly old-fashioned to the point of not being invited to many parties.

So we bang on keyboards and present pristine manuscripts (still filled with mis-spelled words ’cause we forgot to use the spell-checker and still don’t know when to use “there” or “their” or “your” or “you’re”). There is no sweat evident on any page. No obvious struggle. No crossing out eight words and finally finding the right one on the ninth try (as Twain said, the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug). It is hard to argue that there isn’t something gratifying about handing over a bulky, handwritten manuscript, warts and all. It’s like evidence that you worked harder than everybody else. Or have less friends maybe. But writers don’t need friends. They need loneliness.

In the end though, speed wins. I can type way faster than I can hand-write something. So when my brain works my fingers have the best chance of keeping up.

Speed kills too, of course. Being able to pound out these words so quickly probably makes it more likely that they won’t be much good. It’s simple to edit typed words but editing defeats the purpose of why we’re typing in the first place. We want to finish so you can read and shower us with praise, thus giving us incentive to file our next dispatch.

The greatest pencil-whipped manuscript in the world doesn’t mean much to anybody if it’s buried in the bottom of my drawer.

So, it’s the best of times, and it’s the worst of times. Somebody said something like that. Dickens or Hemingway or Dylan or some such poor slob with an aching hand and bad eyesight from constant tinkering. One must be cautious these days, and do something because one should, not because one can.

Today us writers have all we need to blabber in near-real time, so in lieu of your money (which you can send if you want), we ask only for your attention for a few moments at a sitting….to dissect our scribblings….no matter how they were created.

–Tom Flannery

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~ by admin on February 18, 2011.

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