Pod Post is the joint project of Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler, two ladies working diligently to raise the USPS to an entirely new level. This is the third in a series of “12 Months of Missives;” if you missed the first and second, check them out.
When did you last consider The Pencil?
If you are like the ladies of Pod Post, it was during your drawing classes, when the perfect pencil made the difference between a clumsy, tripping line and a fluid one. But if you are like most people, you haven’t thought of pencils since grade school. Maybe you have never given pencils any thought at all. Gasp!
Let’s not get into the eraser, the shape of the pencil, whether the lead should be soft or hard, whether the vehicle should be wooden or mechanical. Let’s just think about pencils for a moment.
Writing with a pencil takes more effort than writing with a pen — ranging from “slightly more” to “significantly more”, depending on the quality and softness of the lead and the sharpness of the point. With a pencil (and fountain pens as well) the scratching quality of the stroke makes one more conscious of movement, of the act that forms each letter. It’s hard to forget yourself when you’re committing to that extra push of effort.
John Steinbeck was said to have written exclusively, obsessively in pencil; imagine the whole of East of Eden or The Grapes of Wrath unfolding, word by word, in longhand, in pencil, on sheet after sheet of paper.
Who thinks about pencils anymore? Specialists and obsessives, maybe — there are websites devoted to pencils and pencil reviews. just as there are sites for pens and notebooks. Artists think about pencils, certainly: give any sketch-happy friend a fistful of Palomino pencils, and you’ll have created a gleeful pencil snob.
Who thinks about pencils? When Jennie-Pod and I were in Tokyo we visited a closet-sized stationery shop — really, it was more of a shrine or museum — which offered, among the glass jars of vintage fountain pens and ancient inkwells, pencils from defunct feed stores and five-and-dimes in Kansas and the Dakotas. Their wood dented, their erasers ossified and dark, no two the same, they had ceased to be purposeful and had turned into a quaint remnant, a souvenir of a place likely long gone. Yours for the equivalent of $2.50. Each.
Pencils, like automobiles and bridges, are meant to be more than just objects of admiration when they are new. The pencil is designed to be destroyed, its wood to be cut away, its lead to be used up, however slowly. (1)
For years I have looked for the perfect pencil. I have found very good ones but never the perfect one. And all the time it was not the pencils but me. A pencil that is all right some days is no good another day. — John Steinbeck (2)
If you haven’t used a pencil in a while, try it the same way you’d try anything on for size — for nostalgia’s sake, for novelty, to wake yourself up. Fold up some paper pencil holders and give customized pencils as gifts. It’s the slightest, simplest kind of retro: the Pencil. Turntables, rotary phones, typewriters, the post office, the pencil. Happy Pencil Day 2007!
If you’re crafty in the way we think you are, when you can’t leave anything alone but have to make it your own, you might even be crazy enough to customize a thirty-cent pencil. Here’s how to do it like a pro.
1. Petroski, H. (1989). The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance. Page 318.
2. Petroski, H. (1989). The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance. Page 325.