Tuesday, July 3, 2012

This Open Letter to: Mechanical Pencils

Dear Mechanical Pencils,

I am really glad I have you around. You are truly a noble invention, one that has propelled humankind forward into the twenty-first century. Truly, without your very existence, our lives on earth would be cheapened.

You are such a simple concept. I simply click on the eraser and lead comes out. No longer am I subjected to the fickle whims of the pencil sharpener. No longer do I I have to find the right angle to stick the pencil into the sharpener, only to turn the crank furiously and realize that I wasn't accomplishing anything, as if the sharpener itself was laughing at me.

Many of us have had to do the pencil sharpener walk of shame. During a class, a meeting, a test, we heard the tip of our trusted pencil snap. Often we were in denial about this happening, thinking that the tip didn't really just break, it was simply the pencil creaking. And when we realized that the little piece of lead was sliding out of its wooden sheath, we still tried to go on, searching for that one grip, that one perfect angle to preserve the lead.

But no, we had to face facts. The pencil was broken and we had no spares. No one was going to lend us one, not when we still had so much left in ours. We were forced to stand up, announcing to the world that we had been irresponsible and frivolous with our writing implement. We bore the shame and degradation of pencil failure, and if everyone didn't know of it when we stood, they had no doubt when we placed the pencil in the sharpener and ground away. That is a sound of shame. Shame, and also annoyance because it pretty much drowned out anything anyone else was trying to say.

And what if, upon reaching the sharpener and trying to get it over with, we find that the sharpener is full, fully gorged with the ground of remnants of pencils past. We could try to ignore the problem and hope that there was just enough room for our job. But, alas, this was not such an occasion. No, we were forced to further our humiliation by emptying the sharpener. The result, as we all remember, was a thin film of wood and graphite dust that stayed on our hands for hours, small shavings that inevitably clung to our clothing, and a cloud of dust that meant we were literally inhaling pencils.

But as terrible as those monstrosities were, they were nothing compared to the utter hell of the electric sharpener. If we thought the mechanical sharpener on the wall was temperamental, we soon learned that was nothing compared to the self-important diva that was the electric pencil sharpener. Oh, don't expect this thing to work quickly, it sharpened at its own pace no matter how much of a hurry you were in. And if didn't press the pencil just right, that electric sharpener just wouldn't work. When it did work, you didn't get a dignified cone with a razor sharp tip, you got a small, squat, little nub that was barely sharp and would quickly lose its ability to write, thus resulting in yet another trip.

Some people thought they could beat the system with their own personal sharpeners. They looked upon us smugly as they whipped out their little sharpeners, put it to the end of their pencils, and started turning. Of course, those that lacked the container for the shavings were left with a mess or had to hunch over a trash can like a raccoon digging for food. If these sharpeners did have a case, it was only an exercise in false security, as at any time, the catch would fail and a small cloud of pencil shavings would blow up in their face.

This is why I thank you, oh saint of the number two writing implement. With you, we are free. With you, new pencil lead is only a few clicks away. What's that? Some people don't have the click pencils? Their pencils require you to turn the tip? Oh, those poor souls. Truly, theirs is a dire and bleak existence. They should embrace the true mechanical pencil, that which clicks, either from the top or side.

But that is a war of purification for another time. This day, I simply wish to issue my many thanks to you, my friends and allies against pencil sharpeners everywhere, you mechanical pencils.

Clickably yours,

Charles B. French

More Open Letters


  1. Charles, your eloquent prose never ceases to crack me up. Thank you for the laugh this afternoon, I appreciate it.



    I used the blogroll feature along the left hand pane of my blog. It gives a link to some blogs and the title of their last post. I am pleased to feature the Writers Page in that list. Thank you for your brand of intelligent mirth.