From Flavorwire, teenaged photos of famous authors, featuring, Papa Hemingway. For your Midweek Enjoyment.
“Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.”
“Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will none the less get something that looks remarkably like it.”
Jack London, “Getting into Print,” 1903, via The Art of Manliness.
We are happy to share a project by Will Hudson in Illinois (300 or so miles North from original 2005-6 Pencil Revolution HQ in Carbondale). Mr. Hudson sent us a few paragraphs that speak for themselves.
“Sitting in the Woods and Why I Love the Revolution”
The fine folks here at Pencil Revolution have been so kind as to ask me to say a few words about my time sitting in the woods, and pencils.
Sittinginthewoods is an idea I came up with in June 2012 and began in earnest on a trip to Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park around mid-July. The goal of the project is simple: commit myself to getting back in touch with nature by taking time to go out, sit in the woods, and write about it. I decided to put together a blog, take some pictures too, and try to be consistent. At the end of the year, meaning, by the time we circle around again to next July, my hope is that I’ll have something to show for it. What I would love is to get enough material, and enough support, to be able to raise the funds to print up a batch of “Companion Guides to Sitting in the Woods” through Scout Books. And then I’d like to give them away.
But what of the pencils? Honestly, at the outset of the project, I wasn’t thinking about pencils at all. I had my PaperMate Profile, my moleskine, and I was good to go. Or so I thought. This changed almost immediately when, sitting in that old-growth forest with Sugar Maple and Northern Hemlock all around, I realized that this plastic pen with rubber grip was wrong – it felt wrong, it looked wrong, and I knew it just wasn’t going to cut it.
Bottom line, I decided, is that you just can’t spend your time sitting around in the woods, reading Aldo Leopold, and expect to compose a communicable and personal version of a Land Ethic with a bunch of disposable plastic pens.
And so I went in search of pencils. No plastic, not mechanical, but wooden, finely made pencils. Thus, I stumbled across the Revolution. I was amazed to discover this community of pencil lovers. I pored over the blogs, read all the reviews, tried to learn the vernacular, and finally settled on a box of Palomino BlackWing 602s. My writing life has not been the same since.
These days, I’ve taken to doing most, if not all, of my writing by hand, in pencil, and I’m enamored by the idea of a handwritten hardcopy of everything that eventually makes it up on the blog. I’m not a purist, by any means, which is fine because that’s not the point. The point is in taking the time to do this thing. SITW is about carving out a niche in my life where I consciously take the time to sit still and listen, to reflect, to write, and to share. It only seems sensible that pencils would be implicated in all of this.
In a way, the pencil and the paper have become as much a part of this project as the woods and fields themselves. They require time and are markers of time, either through breezes and seasons, or the wearing down of a point. Attached to a post in the basement of our old bungalow here outside of Chicago is an ancient Boston KS sharpener. It’s likely been there for 30 years or more; it was here when we arrived, and it has become significant in a way that I would have never imagined. It’s a great devourer of pencils, but an unexpected treasure nonetheless. Similarly, I have discovered that there is always something unexpected that happens when you take the time to sit. You become more aware of the rhythm of the light, the movement of the leaves, and all the living, breathing things that surround you. Every time I’ve gone out, and life does tend to get in the way of this from time to time, but every time I’ve gone out I’ve discovered something new.
When it comes down to it, and I think that many Comrades would agree, be it with pencils and journals, or sitting around in the woods, it’s all about attempting to create and sustain a space in your day to day that meaning may adhere to, a space apart from this frenetic and incoherent present of which we’re so accustomed. We all know that out here in the web there are endless paths to wander and spaces to linger; however, there are no places to sit. What I hope to accomplish for myself, and what I hope to encourage in others, boils down to finding, or creating, your own space, making your own meanings, and engaging more deeply with the world around you.
That being said, seek out quality pencils, embrace your Comrades, and viva la révolution!
(Text, images W.H. Used with kind permission.)
(Image, I have no idea. Hope it’s fair to use, since I love it! Click to enlarge.)
One of my very favorite programs featured our beloved Wooden Warrior yesterday, and Pencil Hero Mr. David Rees was one of the stars. Comrades can watch the video HERE, and there’s a post on Mo Rocca’s blog. It was a pretty good piece, and their other online videos are worth a browse, whether or not you’re a regular viewer.
This story is five years old, but it could use a retelling. In 2007, volunteers set out to prove that a single pencil could copy one entire novel, namely, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. From To Write a Mockingbird:
How volunteers came together to copy the acclaimed novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” word-for-word with ONE PENCIL. It began May 4, 2007 at the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library and concluded on June 6.
This is truly a feat of prodigious patience, one that mirrors the life of the single pencil that the volunteers all used in this experiment. The pencil in question, an American-made Dixon Ticonderoga, survived the ordeal intact, though it required a bit of surgery to be useful.
The pencil in the “Bi-conderoga” mode that allows writing with a stub: The metal ferrule of another pencil joins the stub to an unsharpened pencil, and the combination is stabilized with tape and a splint (the shaft of a cotton swab).
(Perhaps those Comrades who find themselves in the trenches sans Pencil Extenders could use this method of Pencil Lengthening in their Extreme Writing endeavors.)
On this day in 1817, one of my heroes was born: Henry David Thoreau (born David Henry). Thoreau’s contributions to pencil making in America are well documented. He developed (whether by himself or via a book is debated) the clay/graphite core and grading system that survives in the United States, and he invented a way to grind graphite more finely.
For more great information on Thoreau and pencils, Comrades are urged to check out The Days of Henry Thoreau and also Prof. Petroski’s The Pencil.
More also at La Vie Graphite (including photos of an actual Thoreau pencil) and also at Pencil Revolution, on Thoreau’s surveys and the machine in the wetland.
(Pencil in top photo is available at the gift shop at Walden Pond and was purchased in summer 2011.)
How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths, & Civil Servants
by David Rees
Mr. David Rees was kind enough to send us a review copy of his new book through his publisher, and we were eager to devour and review it. Mr. Rees has been making waves in the pencil world since opening his Artisanal Pencil Sharpening business in 2010. Just as that venture is surely no joke, John Hodgman assures, us in his foreword to the book, that the volume in question is surely no joke either:
So yes: YOU WILL LEARN THE PROPER WAY TO SHARPEN A PENCIL in this book. No joke (Rees 10).
Certainly, it is possible to seriously deliver information to other people while at the same time being ironic and downright hilarious. Some of the best teachers I have had certainly knew this to be true. To suggest that the book cannot be “serious” and really “about” how to sharpen pencils just because it is presented…the way that it is really amounts to precluding “real” information from anything that is funny. Such would be a sad world indeed. Boring, at least. In this case, the humor in Mr. Rees’ book functions as the proverbial “spoonful of sugar” – because, let’s face it: no matter how much we like pencils, an entire book based on the proper way[s] to sharpen them would likely wind up being moderately mind-numbing to a lot of people, even Comrades.
The question that most Comrades probably want answered about this book is: Will I learn something about sharpening pencils that I did not already know? Well, if not, then you probably have a lot to teach us, and I invite you to Charm City to do so. While some suggestions (like cleaning a burr sharpener with a toothbrush) might seem silly at first, I suspect this initial hint of the ridiculous comes from the strangeness of being overly fond of (ahem, obsessed with) pencils in the first place, so that we find ourselves seeking the best way to put points onto them. Personally, I am Okay with this outlook (and a toothbrush works great the clean The Machine on my bookshelf). Again, for myself, I learned a better way to approach sharpening a pencil with a knife, to be sure, and I will never again wonder how to use a wall-mounted sharpener that is higher than my merely average height can reach.
Of course, there are chapters one could view as humorous, such as the directions on the proper way to “use” an electric pencil sharpener, humor I cannot render justly in this review. Suffice it to say that it involves breaking and entering and a succession of hammers. Mr. Rees’ sense of irony and humor still suffuse the entire book.
Still, being trained in [academic] philosophy*, I find myself wondering what could be beneath the surface of this book, even if it is really “about” sharpening pencils. Mr. Thoreau’s Walden, for example, certainly admits to many different readings, beneath instruction and accounting. One such reading I have come to prefer of Mr. Rees’ book is that of being subtly critical of our era of mechanization and…global sourced products.
In a footnote on page 29, Mr. Rees comments that “Made in USA” is a mark of a quality pencil. When one considers how rare American-made pencils are these days, this comment seems to imply that quality pencils are becoming rare in the United States in general. No matter how much darker and smoother the new Chines Dixons are (I find the Mexican versions scratchy, light and all but worthless), they are not really Dixons to me. The pencil’s “Americanness” was such a part of its identity – which might also mean its quality – that I can’t look at the current Dixons I have around the same way as I could six years ago, not without forcing myself to ignore their “story.”
Mr. Rees also comes out and criticizes our era outright. He writes:
This is not to say that we should take imperfection as our goal. One of the dysfunctions of our age is the conflation of shoddiness with authenticity, and we must resist this confusion in our practice – especially in those circumstances where sloppy craftsmanship could diminish a pencil’s utility (Rees 52).
But perhaps we can best see Mr. Rees’ criticism of modern culture in Chapter 13: How to Use an Electric Pencil Sharpener. He lists ways in which a troubadour-esque Artisanal Pencil Sharpener might identify a home in which an electric sharpener resides. Two of the criteria are: “Closely mowed lawn indicates a preoccupation with orderliness, and yet…Disorderly porch indicates limited free time” (Rees 132). A home containing an electric pencil sharpener is inhabited by individuals who want order but who do not have time for it. Whether the lack of time is from over-employment (from a recession in which more than one job is necessary or from a habit of spending too much time earning money to buy materials and services which one does not need) or badly invested energies and attention, this seems to be a symptom of our age. We want order/peace/etc. but do not go after this with what would amount to any serious vigor.
I might venture so far as to claim that a lot of the attention which Mr. Rees has received as a result of his business and his book proves him largely correct about our culture. We are not a people who enjoy craftsmanship in itself – at least not enough to actually pay for it. Comrades can witness the retreat of American pencil manufacturing in the name of profit and/or “lower prices!” to see the value which our society places on quality work – even when rejecting it means that the company for which our own Norman Rockwell painted ads moves production out of the USA. And, with the trend in “artisanal” stuff and services and foods, we see that we are seldom even willing to pay for craftsmanship – when we do – for its own sake. Rather, we pay a premium for artisanal coffees and foot scrubs because of a fad. Do we do this to assuage our consumer guilt because our hand-crafted breadbox is full of corn-fructosed breadstuffs from a discount store? Are we really connecting with craftspeople or our past/roots? Are we merely displaying our goodness for all to see when we buy hand-roasted spices? To be sure, there are those whose sincerity might match that of Mr. Rees. But I think a lot of people are paying attention because this is a person who truly takes craftsmanship seriously.
In any case, I can think of several reasons that I enjoyed this book and why I would heartily recommend it to Comrades everywhere. Stepping down from my accidental trip to the soapbox: This book is really a must-read for anyone interested in pencils. And there are well-placed lines likely to render you, as I was, doubled over in laughter. But what I enjoyed most about Mr. Rees’ book was reading something written with such sincerity by a person who obviously does what he does with care. His carefulness spreads onto the pages and leaves me regretful that I am not really careful enough about anything to write a whole book about it.
* Edit: I realize now how pretentious this probably sounds. My academic background is usually just the excuse I give for not having [m]any “skills.”