Last week was National #2 Pencil Day. I meant to post this on the actual day, March 30th, but I was solely focused on my goal of hitting 349 by the end of the month and I completely lost track…sorry!!
Pencils are a far cry from my usual talk about scales, treadmills, and evil snack cakes, but the #2 pencil is actually very near and dear to my heart. In fact, I once tried to sharpen my regular ‘ol #2 pencil at work and nearly broke down when I was informed that we didn’t have a pencil sharpener! The receptionist/former stripper who was in charge of ordering our supplies would only order automatic pencils. I nearly freaked. Maybe that’s why I don’t miss working there.
I remember when automatic pencils came out and they were all the rage. I didn’t see it. I still don’t see it. And yes, I realize this is the digital age and pencils aren’t exactly a hot topic. I’m actually a bit of a techno junkie. I love technology – but when it comes to how I get my lead on, mechanical pencils just don’t do it for me.
I am a plain, regular, #2 pencil kind of girl. I usually write with a pen, but there are times – usually when the muses have left me and I’m searching for inspiration – when I must put pencil to paper. Getting back to basics helps me clear my head and get the creativity going again.
When I’m feeling particularly uninspired, writing with a pencil takes me back to simpler times. Nothing helps me gain clarity faster than the feeling of a #2 pencil, sharpened by hand, as it moves over paper. It takes me back to the days of elementary school, where I sat like a perfect little lady in Miss Vanderkam’s 4th grade class. I remember vividly the unbridled thrill I would get as she handed out what we called “story paper”. The front 3/4 was blank paper, the bottom 1/4 was that widely lined paper we all remember so well…which also continued on the back. This is the paper on which we were asked to create our masterpieces of literature.
As the math geeks groaned in horror, I was already pulling my beloved box of 64 crayons from my desk. That blank paper might have been intimidating to some, but to me it was a playground where I could do or be anything I wanted to.
I scratched out the story with my #2 pencil and then set about bringing it to life with my faithful box of crayons. There was never a day when I didn’t know what story to write on that paper. The creativity just switched on as soon as the paper landed in front of me. There was a world of inspiration in my 8 year old heart. Those blank pages brought me nothing but joy – and that is when the writer in me was born.
I wish I could talk to Ms. Vanderkam just one more time and tell her how very much I appreciate everything she did for me. I remember when she called a special parent-teacher conference with my mother and me. I thought perhaps I might be in trouble for daydreaming too much or for using the wrong shade of gray when I drew stormy clouds. I sat in the empty classroom next to my mother and watched my teacher show her story after story after story that I’d written with my #2 pencil – all masterpieces in her eyes.
I sat there, relieved that the reason for the conference wasn’t because I had unwittingly committed some kind of 4th grade fingerpaint faux pas, and listened like the good girl I was. They talked about how important it was to encourage me to write and be creative and I remember thinking how cool it was that there was something I was good at besides dressing my Barbie in color coordinating outfits (with handbags to match, thank you!). I walked out of the classroom with my mom and she hugged me as we walked to the car. It’s the first memory I have of feeling really proud of myself.
Over the years to come, I would use countless #2 pencils to pass notes to my girlfriends, take math tests (yuck), and even to write my first book – which I started in 7th grade and carried around in an orange folder discreetly marked “TOP SECRET” in big, black marker.
Today I live a decidedly more “grown up” life – and I occasionally get mired down in a world of grown-up concerns: politics, career, our finances, Hot Mess Hubby’s uncanny knack for getting food in the flatware drawer. Still today, so many years after I sat in Miss Vanderkam’s class, I know I can find a little simplicity and a lot of inspiration alive and well…and waiting for me at the tip of a #2 pencil.
Melissa Doug Storytelling Paper Pad (8.5″x11″)
A big, heartfelt thank you to the truly gifted educators out there who make children a priority each and every day. You give us all a foundation to build on for the rest of our lives.