Friday, January 8, 2010

A Two Pencil Day

Can't you smell the pine and graphite? Mmmm.
A Two Pencil Day

This is a two pencil day. It is a good omen, a sign of things to come.

I love finding things. It can be a penny on the sidewalk or a shiny rock. When I spot the treasure, something inside me jumps up and down with joy. “See a penny, pick it up. All the day you’ll have good luck.” I don’t count misplaced items which I later find hiding under my shoes on the shelf or beneath the laundry. I am talking about the unexpected find, even real treasure, the hundred dollar bill fluttering along the street. Okay, so I have never actually found so much as a twenty dollar bill except dripping in the wash and that doesn’t count.

I am walking back from the post office, when right there at my feet, lies a bright pumpkin-yellow, unused, unsharpened #2 pencil, like a flower waiting to be plucked. I pick up the pencil and examine it. Not a nick, a defect, or a bite mark. The eraser is clean and unused. I drop the pencil into my mail bag. A half block further along the street I spot another lovely yellow pencil. A bouquet! I pick it up. Plunk, in the bag. I briefly contemplate finding the owner. I imagine a young student, racing to grade school, back-pack pocket unzipped and flopping, pencils flipping out behind him and landing in the street—uh--the former owner. Finders keepers.

I am not a mean person. I am neither malicious nor penurious. I would be delighted to replace your pencils. I would replace your two pencils with ten pencils. Or even twenty. From where I now sit I see a clay pot jammed full of pencils and a pencil sharpener with a pencil sticking out, which I must have been in the process of sharpening when interrupted. I have pencils in jars, scattered about on three desks, stacked in multiple desk drawers, and squeezed into various notebooks marking place.

I finish sharpening the pencil stub poking out of the sharpener. I grind my two brand new pencils to a sharp point. Ahh. I breathe deeply. I smell the pine wood shavings rimmed with the hint of yellow, the graphite. I scritch scritch the point across a blank paper and listen to the sound. I balance the pencil between my thumb and two fingers. When pencil point meets paper, magic happens.

For pure textural pleasure, I write or draw on the inside of a flattened out brown paper bag. I listen to the pencil abrade the brown paper. It is a different sound than a pencil maneuvering smoothly along a yellow legal pad or a white lined school tablet. When I was in high school I wrote all my rough drafts on paper bags, saving the costly paper for the final versions.

My own favorite tablet, ever since first grade, is a Big Chief, but I cannot find them anymore. I think they might have been deemed politically incorrect. So I look for pads of newsprint, the next best thing, and insert the pages like filler in my last remaining Big Chief cover.

Today I have sixty or seventy tablets of various sizes, colors, textures, weights, and densities. They accumulate. I take a trip and forget to pack a tablet. Or I only pack one and while I am in the store buying oranges or a candy bar, I happen to walk down the paper/pencil/pen aisle. One tablet or another will catch my eye and next thing you know I am at the check-out justifying my purchase. I just might need another one on this momentous trip. All trips are momentous. Most of my tablets are slightly used. I journal, record, list, draw, scribble, write bad poetry but containing the one brilliant line. When the trip is over, the tablet is tossed on one pile or another. Months later I pick it up and smile at memories hidden between the words that never made it to the written page.

Two pumpkin-yellow pencils, sharpened and ready, rest on my desk, next to the stack of paper, golden harbingers of stories to come.

Sondra Ashton
Havre Daily News: Home Again
November 5, 2009


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