When I graduated from high school a few years back, my parents got me one of the most important, physical gifts with real-life practicality that I have ever received:
That’s right, a pen and pencil set.
It seems a little bit strange to pick apart over 21 years of constant, loving support and choose something like this as an example of something I regard so fondly.
But it does make sense if you think about it!
As a writer by trade, there are few things more important than the right hardware. Notebooks, pencils, pens, audio recorders, etc. I quite literally live my life by these items through my college student/journalist career.
Add onto that a heaping dose of superstition by my allocating generous amount of credit for things like my grades into the old ‘lucky pencil’ cliché and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any of this stuff leave my side.
The thing that really stands out to me, however, is the dichotomy of the two writing utensils. Those differences are essentially what inspired me to write this silly little post.
Just a quick look up-close will show you why. This is the pen part of the set:
Rather nice and clean, even arguably near-perfect for how long I’ve had it, as I mostly use this thing to mark dates on my calendar.
My dad is a fan of fountain pens, and I’ve seen him spend a lot of time keeping them pristine. This pen isn’t quite up to that standard, but I still feel a happy amount of pride seeing the thing look so nice.
Now compare that to the pencil:
Talk about grungy and well-used. Pretty much the exact opposite of the pen.
It’s a perfect depiction of the difference in quality that comes from use, because I seriously use this sucker for everything. It’s worn down, with some of the metal finish scraping off throughout and the grip toward the tip starting to rust and smooth off.
Even the back of the pencil is a shadow of its former self with an eraser that’s used completely down to the nub. I actually have to take the whole thing apart just to add extra lead into the thing.
Compared to the pen, you might think that the pencil being in such a worn-down, kind of disgusting state would drive me crazy.
You’d be right, to an extent. There are moments where I get some raw spots on my fingers from the messy grip, which inevitably serves to leave my hand smelling like worn metal for a time.
Arguably there’s something to be said about my right hand just being a greasy mess. That’s probably the only explanation as to why the pencil would get to this point, and it’s a clear symptom of my overuse.
Yet I think the dichotomy between the pencil and the pen are part of what I’ve come to love about these things so much in the years that I’ve had them. Not only are they great utensils, reminiscent of a nice time in my life given their association with my high school graduation, but they also represent two sides of my psyche at some deeper level:
The somewhat OCD side that prefers to keep things clean; and the hard-working side that will keep working away at the same thing over-and-over until its worn-down and well-remembered.
Or perhaps I’m just putting too much thought into something otherwise negligible.
Who am I to say?