Pencils From the Past

photo (18)Reversing entropy. That’s what I call it. Entropy is the way the universe has of keeping things as equal as possible. For example; if you place a drop of dark blue ink in a glass, does it stay in its spot all nice and tidy until you scoop it out with a spoon? Oh no, it spreads throughout the clean water until the whole thing is light blue. Or if you spill a carton of milk, does it maintain the shape of the carton, making it easy to clean up? Forget that; it’s all over your floor making itself as flat as possible requiring the maximum number of paper towels to clean up.

Or if you put one stupid Made in China fuchsia t-shirt in the washer with your husband’s tidy whities and suddenly all of his underwear is Sheriff Joe Pink, is that really your fault? Of course not, it’s the fault of the irritating universe that thinks entropy is a great idea! But I digress….

Reversing entropy is what I call clearing out clutter, getting things more organized, putting everything where at least theoretically you will find it again. Not my favorite thing to do so slapping a scientific label on it makes it somehow more exciting. No, scratch that, more tolerable… less housewifery and more domestic goddess science.

Anyway, when you do these deep cleanings, this opening of boxes that have stayed closed and in piles for a long time, sometimes something suddenly pulls you into the past – your past. It could be a letter or card from an old friend that you couldn’t bear to part with, and seeing it and reading it brings all those times and feelings back. It could be that Dick Cavett poster you had hanging in your dorm room for four years of college. (Still the best interviewer on the planet and pretty darn cute too!) Or it could be a handful of pencils that have hung in there long after their pen counterparts have dried up and been thrown away.

For a writer, particularly those who started writing before computers made things oh so much easier, writing tools have a value and beauty beyond their appearance. Blank notepads and books, just the right pen, a sharp pencil, represent the potential of creating something worth keeping. Pens are for the fast first draft: write it knowing that you will make changes later. Pencils are for the kind of writing that changes as it goes along. Pencils give you permission to struggle for the right word, phrase, sentence as part of the process.

So I’m going through boxes the other day in my eternal quest to become completely organized even though I know it will never happen because of entropy which means that the universe is working against me on this, and I discover a handful of pencils.

Now I imagine there are people who only have one kind of pencil in their lives. They bought a box of Ticonderoga’s at an early age safe in the knowledge that every pencil in their home matches. I am not that imaginary person. It would surprise me if I have more than three pencils that match. Well, except for that box of Ticonderoga’s I bought years ago and immediately lost forever. (Damn you entropy!)

Now here’s the interesting thing. The pencils I found weren’t writing tools at all, they were memory-jogging tools allowing me once again to visit my past with vivid colors.

To start… well, never mind.

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