On Memory, at the Pratt Chat.

Here is a very interesting piece on memory and poetry from Comrade Brian on Pratt Chat:

How is your memory? When it comes to certain things, my memory is like a steel trap; but otherwise, it’s more like a soggy noodle. I’ve always been impressed by my friends who can quote things verbatim, especially long works of poems. My one friend can recite Poe’s The Raven from heart, and I had another friend who recited Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner while we were sailing on the Chesapeake one day (a perfect setting).

But memory and poetry have a long, interlinked history—and some may even argue genesis—together, going back to the first poets, who most likely sang the epics from memory accompanied by a lyre. And during Shakespeare’s time, it was pub game to begin reciting a line of poetry from memory, and your partner had to finish the poem, or so I remember one of my English teachers telling me. (More here.)

Note: The friend who can recite “The Raven” by heart is Yours Truly. I double mastered it when my daughter was small and didn’t like the light on for reading sometimes but still wanted to hear poetry.* But Coleridge by heart — that’s impressive!

I think an interesting feat of Pencil Memory (and I can think of a few Pencil Bloggers who can probably do it; I can’t) would be to recite the Pencil Dynasties from the great German pencil companies!

[*I am also known to spout very loud renditions of Shel Silverstein poems at people named Paul.]

Jar-Based Pencil Sharpener.


Inspired by this Mason jar pencil sharpener I forwarded to a few Comrades recently, Brian has created a jar-based pencil sharpener in less than a day. I was hoping one of the Creative Minds to whom I sent that email would attempt this, seeing as how I am…not very good at things like that or, at least, not confident in my competence. Beyond, a jar-based pencil sharpener by Brian in Baltimore:*

Well, here are some pics of my attempt to make a jar sharpener. Not too bad for a 15 minute first attempt, and shelling out a total of $.40. The trickiest thing was drilling the appropriate sized & spaced holes, and finding small enough screws. (I repurposed screws used to hold together a old audio cassette — a trick I highly recommend.) It works fine, but I would prefer a metal sharpener. Also, the one screw is a hair too close to the pencil hole — I’ll have to correct that the next time around. I am also not too sure how durable the set-up is — only time and use will tell if the screws will hold the plastic. If I were serious about making these I would contact the Dux Co. and try to buy some in bulk from them, with the pre-drilled screws. Also, I didn’t use a Mason jar this time around for fear of messing it up. What do ya think?

Personally, a large-ish clear container to hold a month’s shavings is attractive to me. I collect mine in a stoneware vessel my wife brought back from a trip this fall. (Then I store them for tinder.) My method is not pretty. It’s actually a little sooty. Brian told me this is a Faber-Castell sharpener he picked up at our local Plaza Art in Mt. Vernon. I can’t find a link, but I have two. They are very good little sharpeners, though the opening is a little narrow to accommodate Japanese pencils (Palomino, Hi-Uni, et. al.).

*Makers of the famous Inkwell Sharpener, a very fine jar sharpener indeed.

Hemingway Scrapbooks Made Public!

EHC385tApologies that this took so long to get out (and many Comrades probably already know about it, but just in case…). But, as Brian tells us, Hemingway’s family scrapbooks are not just available to the public. They are digitized and available to view for free online via the JFK Library, home to the Hemingway Collection! Check out the scrapbooks, where it looks like many passages are written in pencil. (And look at how that ink has faded!)

[Image credit.]

Writing Makes Us Smarter?

Via Comrade Brian.

Don’t trade in your pencils and paper for a keyboard just yet.

A new study that compared the different brain processes used for writing by hand and typing has found that there are cognitive benefits to putting a pen to paper. These findings give support to the continued teaching of penmanship and handwriting in schools.

Children who don’t learn the skill of handwriting, like generations before them had to, may be missing out on an important developmental process. Compared to using two hands to type out letters on a keyboard, writing with one hand uses more complex brain power.

Read more at The Huffington Post.

Hobo Signs and Traveling.

This is another post from the Enoch Pratt library, the public library system in our Home Base of Baltimore (HON!). Pencils seem to mix with literature which seems to mix with walking which leads to wandering, and we were wondering, Why not put this on PR for the benefit of Comrades not lucky enough to inhabit Charm City? (there’s far too much coffee and too little punctuation in HQ this weekend, as you can see).

Read the entire article here, written by frequent Pencil Revolution contributor and featured writer, Brian.

A little over two years ago, Field Notes introduced the Steno, a 6×9 stenography pad made with just truly excellent paper (and I should make a dozen of them my birthday present this year, yes). There are hobo symbols on the inside of the heavy cover. I toyed with the idea of hobo symbols for my door, but we lived in an old apartment. Now that we have a house and a door (an old wooden job) of our own, I think I have to get out the chalk.

What’s the symbol for “Pencils and memo pads for helping me vacuum?”


Wheel of Information at the Pratt, in Baltimore.

This is not especially pencil-related, but it is written by frequent Pencil Revolution contributor Brian Manning, who works at the central brand of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore City. Folks calling the library Telephone Reference Service get their answers via paper books, contained on a custom-built device designed to make finding books faster and easier.

Call the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Telephone Reference Service (TRS) with a question—ranging from the correct spelling of “insurrection,” to what the heck is in scrapple?—and librarians are waiting to answer your questions using both computers and books.  But while computers are prone to their glitches, fusses, and viruses, there is a tried-and-true partner for these information detectives that is spinning into its 45th year of operation: the information Wheel (a.k.a. “information carousel,” or “Lazy Susan”).

Despite the proliferation of computers in society in general and libraries in particular, computers cannot replaces the Information Wheel, “which is still a necessity in this modern age because the internet does not have a reputable answer for every question.”

We’re not making this up! Comrades can call 410-396-5430 to have their questions answered. Of course, let’s not jam up the lines and time of the hard-working folks at Charm City’s main library.

Read the rest of the piece here.

Excellent Vintage Pencils Ads.

From Comrade Brian in Portland Oregon, we have some great scans of vintage pencil ads. Unlike usual, these expand when you click them! Brian writes:

“I found a bunch of pencil adds in some old “Industrial Arts and Vocational Education” magazines from 1951, and thought you might find them interesting, so I scanned some for you. I thought that it was interesting to see these ads, and know that there was once a time and forum for the art of the pencil in its different amalgamations and uses.”

Many thanks to Brian for always being on the lookout for great pencil stuff!

Clean Pencil Sharpener.

(Click to enlarge.)

Comrade Brian sent this very cool dispatch from Portland (OR):

“I checked a book out from the Library called The Boy Mechanic: 200 Classic Things to Build, which is a neat little book that collects a bunch of old D.I.Y. projects from old Popular Mechanics articles, and this little blurb about a sharpener that collects the its own debris made me think of you, and your recent posting on Pencil Revolution. I made a scan of the article for you. I don’t know how practical such a device would actually be, but it’s fun to think that someone tried solving your dilemma.”

With some very nice wood (read: red cedar!) and an attractive handle, this could be a great device to keep on your desk, to sharpen the dulled-but-exposed lead in your pencils.

Pencils from Brian.

I’ve mentioned before (from Zack and from Dan) that I have a lot of very nice and generous friends who gift me with pencils — and that I am always happy to receive them (!).  My friend (and roommate in college) Brian (also a Pencil Revolution contributor) was in Baltimore yesterday.  He came to supper at a local Mexican restaurant bearing a present consisting of a pack of My First Ticonderoga pencils and the iron sculpture you see in the photo.

It turns out that Brian has been taking blacksmith classes and made me this iron pencil, inscribed with the word “REVOLUTION” on it!  It’s really incredible to hold, and, well, beautiful.  He says he doesn’t have more for sale, but, hey, if enough people ask, perhaps the pencil deities will inspire him to create more?

Book Review of Robert Walser’s Microscripts.

Today’s post comes from Brian E. Manning, a writer and cyclist who works in Porland’s Central Library. Brian is also the editor’s good friend and even was also his roommate in college!

Robert Walser’s Microscripts. [New Directions, 2010. $24.95]

Robert Walser (1878-1956) was a German-speaking Swiss Writer.  His writing was admired by Kafka, and Hesse, to name a few names of notoriety.  I became acquainted with Walser through his short stories, as well as his acclaimed novel, Jakob Von Gunten, both published by NYRB books.  His writings are whimsical, quirky, and fanciful — showing an acute understanding of human nature through subversive, fairytale-like backgrounds.  In 1929, Walser admitted himself into a mental ward, and remained there for the rest of his life, essentially ending his professional writing endeavors, quipping to a friend that he was there to be mad, and not to write.  However, after Walser died–on one of his habitual walks, in the snow, (hotos of which exist for morbid perusal on the Internet) it was found that he actually continued writing while in the hospital, albeit, in as subtle a form as physically possible: that is, on fragments of paper, in the tiniest of handwriting.

At first, the executor of his estate thought that these tiny markings where evidence of Walser’s mental instability — an undecipherable loony/secret code — but, it was later discovered that Walser was writing in a miniaturized Kurrent script, stemming from the medieval ages, that he had learned as a schoolboy, as was the custom of the time. From there, it took some dedicated scholars, some magnification, and some linguistic guesswork and translation to yield us the English instalment of this endeavor: Microscripts.

I have been fascinated with Walser’s story of late, and have been looking forward to getting my hands on this book.  For the most part, the writings are small sketches and musings, sometimes unfinished, but this is understandable since Walser most likely never meant for them to be “read” (deciphered) by us, which makes them feel even more intimate to read.  Although they are brief (sometimes not exceeding 5-6 pages in length) Walser’s wit and style are still evident in these works–whether he is writing of marriage proposals, or the experience of listening to the radio, or putting characters at play in their settings, Walser’s humane style abounds in these small scripts.   I find that the real treasure of Microscripts, however, are the sporadic color facsimiles of the microscripts themselves included throughout the book.  These examples of Walsers diminutive sketches not only show how impossibly tiny his writing was (1-2 millimeters in height), but also conveys how visually stunning they are.  Whether written on the back of a business card, or on a letter, they are a fine of example of visual art rendered through small script.  (It is also worth mentioning that there are plenty of footnotes throughout this book, giving more detail behind Walser and the individual microscripts; and for those of you who can read German, the original, enlarged German renderings are also included in the back of the book.)

(Mr. Manning’s Microscript — Click for full-sized image.)

But, you may be asking, why should readers of Pencil Revolution care about Walser and his tiny writing habits?  For that matter, why did Walser even start writing in this fashion?  I was surprised to find that the answer to this, as given in the intro of Microscripts, lay in the formative power of yielding a pencil.  According to Walser, he found that using a pen became a physical & mental stumbling block, one that he could only overcome by using a pencil, as wrote to a friend:

With the aid of my pencil I was better able to play, to write; it seemed this revived my writerly enthusiasm.  I can assure you I suffered a real breakdown in my hand on account of the pen, a sort of cramp from whose clutches I slowly, laboriously freed myself by means of the pencil. [Microscripts, pg 13.]

Although this does not necessarily explain why Walser started shrinking his script, he definitely found his voice again through using a pencil; this is of such critical importance that the original six-volume German edition of the microscripts is entitled Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet, or “From the Pencil Zone.”  In Walser’s Microscripts, then, we find a man whose salvation was imparted through this modest writing utensil.  I can’t help wondering, however, how often he would have to sharpen his pencil in order to write such tiny script…?

[Photo, C. Rondo; Microscript, B. Manning.  Used with kind permission.]