Yellow-Bodied Pencil V. Sharpie Pen

Earlier today, even more so yesterday, I was really disappointed with the way my blog was becoming solely a book blog.  Yes, I love reading.  Yes, I hope for everyone in the World to one day be able to put “reading” as a skill on their resume (it IS a skill.  Be thankful if your eyes are grazing over this blog right now).  But, the whole point of my writing life isn’t just to read and spew out opinion on how I found the book appealing or not.  Writing life is also about people-watching, interacting with the living (and maybe the dead depending on what you’re into – personally I like to write poems to & about my dead grandmother), and to write about my life and/or my character’s life.

I used to hate when teachers would ask me to read a novel and then just vomit up the facts on their multiple-choice tests.  For one point, I’m not so good at multiple choice, and on the other hand don’t you want to hear my passion and loathing for that particular book.  (Passion-Catcher in the Rye, Loathing-All Quiet on the Western Front).

So, obviously, I’ve been thinking about the topics I could write about that were personal, or that I could have some say about what is happening – not just another book review.  (Most of the time this turns into a teaching rant, a gay rights rant, or a feminist rant).  The point is, if I’m exhausted from reviewing books and I want to tell you about my exotic and strange plant collection…then you must be tired, and ready to learn about the hot pink cactus as well.

So, without further adieu, I have a new plant to add to the collection of miscellaneous, speckled, shelled, vagina-looking plants that sit on my desk next to a picture of my three-year-old nephew going on thirty-five.   My dad has saved plants from their sudden deaths in the orange covered yards of Boca Raton, Florida.  He’s rescued them from snow plows, snow drifts and snow boots in the nine-month winter’s of Buffalo.  And in the eighteen years we’ve lived in North Carolina he has decorated our kitchen area like a maintained jungle.   He proclaims to have once stuck a stump in the ground and grown two elephant-ear plants that now sit side-by-side near our fireplace.  I think they’re in the palm tree family, so they look especially nice when it’s snowing, and we have a vacation spot right in the living room.   It’s probably safe to say I get my plant rearing from my father.  (And hopefully my child rearing from my mother, no offense dad).

However, he liked the perfectly pretty plants and I like the strange, what-the-hell is that plant.  My brother and I both, I think, (since he bought my dad a “Satan” plant for his birthday one year because that’s what my brother used to call him during his teenage and formative years) choose plants based on name, or look.  In my collection I have a moon cactus that is hot pink and growing new tumors monthly.  I have a speckled purple orchid that is my lady vagaga plant because it opens like the folds of a woman (just being perfectly honest).

Brain Fart

And, now I have a South African Stone Plant that I have named “Brain Fart.”  My old roommate and I had walked around the NC Farmer’s Market for a bit after I ate two larger-than-my-head chocolate chip pancakes at the restaurant there.  I feel at home there because all of the waitresses speak North-Cacalacky English and wear overalls.  (This means lots of “ya’ll” and a slow drawl to their voice).   I secretly wanted to go to the Farmer’s Market for the carrot cake lady, but she wasn’t there on Saturday and I had to settle on cinnamon bread.  Christine bought a watermelon that we both equally had trouble carrying, but we did learn when purchasing a watermelon, the darker green the better.  So, there’s a tip for the fruit extraordinaire.   We were walking through the plants, eying but not touching the miscellaneous, obtuse cacti.  Groaning over the outdoor planting of an “egg-plant” and rustling in the bushes.   Instead, both of us went cheap, since we’re both working at jobs for the good of the people and not for the good of our bank accounts.  The cheapest, oddest plant was of course, the  South African stone plants that feel like hard skin.  Maybe a pregnant woman’s belly?  I’ve never actually felt one, so I’m not too sure.

Other than that, I worked, what else is new in my life?

The only other thing I wanted to discuss is thanks to a woman author I met on  Earlier today, Meg Clayton, author of The Four Ms. Bradwells, The Wednesday Sisters and Bellwether Prize finalist The Language of Light wrote a new blogShe’s quite spectacular and every time I walk into an independent bookstore, her book is always in the recommendations from staff.

Anyway, she wrote a blog post today about the use of her favorite writing tool: the pencil.  With the creation of the new “sharpie pen” and Target’s sign for “rollerball, ink, erasable pen, mechanical pencil, ballpoint, fountain” we have lost all friendship with the stringent pencil.  I know for a fact that Nikki Finney has a favorite yellow bodied, pink erasure pencil that she refuses to live without.  She has gone so far as to buy out the Native American manufacture that made these pencils when they closed their doors, just in case she may ever run out.  She keeps them in a wooden box like the kind from Cracker Barrel.

Here is what Meg had to say:

Pencil, from the Latin penicillus, meaning “little tail.” Little tail?

Not everyone writes even occasionally with the old fashioned yellow pencil with pink eraser top anymore. This astonishing fact came to my attention through a more newfangled way to communicate, the Facebook post. But the lowly pencil remains my writerly tool of choice. I use #2 lead, no doubt a holdover from my formative bubble-tests years. The lead isn’t really lead, either, but rather graphite mixed with clay; I’m okay with that.

I’m not exactly monogamous in my writing tool relationships. I write my novels (and everything else I write for publication, for that matter) primarily at a keyboard. When I journal I often use a pen, blue or black ink, I don’t much care. But there is nothing like the freedom of a pencil as I’m taking the muck that is first draft and trying to make something of it. Not quite right the first time? Erase and try again!

I keep a yellow Ticonderoga in a white marble pen holder my uncle gave me many, many years ago, so that I always have one handy. I carry them around by the ten-to-a-box in my backpack. I have an electric sharpener, and a tiny little manual one, and I sharpen far more often than I floss.

Still, I wear out the erasers long before I use up the pencil lead.

Like many a pencil-user before me, I struggle with the dilemma whether to toss a shot-eraser pencil or not. Such a waste of fine pencil lead (or graphite with clay, as the case may be), but the alternative is to be forever cringing at the scrape of eraserless metal pencil top over manuscript page.

Perhaps I erase with too much enthusiasm?

It turns out I’m in good company on the eraser-thing. Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote and rewrote everything in pencil, had this to say on the subject: “My pencils outlast their erasures.”

Great writers erase.

There is another downside to my pencil affection, or to my eraser addiction anyway: dirty pink pilly eraser detritus. On my manuscripts, my chair, my clothes, and sometimes even my dog. But I’m as okay with that as I am with the graphite and clay thing. All those pink pilly things filling up my world mean the writing is going well. That I’m open to change. That a few not-exactly-right words aren’t the end of anything, but rather the beginning of something else. – Meg”

You can also read the entire blog and see her website here.

I like this little diddy on pencils because I flat out refuse to write in pencil.  My right pinky is always smearing the page with it’s graphite mixed with clay residue.  E’s are turned into long, elusive characters that I’m not able to read because my fingers are rubbing along the way.  Later, after the page has been through the moving-vans and moving-boxes and numerous bookshelves, I can’t even remember what the poem was saying about my high school boyfriend being like an eagle, or my mother’s red hair summoning the mermaids, who the heck knows?

All I know is that I would spend my entire life savings to stalk up on the Sharpie Pen.  They make my hand-writing less sorority girl.  They come in packs with green, blue, black and red so I can make my poems bleed while I revise, or I can feel like I’m putting the green back on the trees with the emerald pen.

Mostly though, I type.  My first draft is ALWAYS hand-written so I can get everything I need right onto the paper without worrying about grammar, or mistakes in general.  This is much harder to do than you would think because it means keeping quiet that inner critic.  I don’t know about you, but my inner critic doesn’t believe in the idea of “global warming,” has schizophrenia, and is balding at the age of forty-five.  That’s just a small snapshot of how I imagine him while he spits nasty words to me about my writing, and about the general mass of pimple families arising on my chin.  He’s quite a dirty guy, and always forgets to zip his fly, by now I think it’s on purpose.

Rather than a pencil, I always need a pen that makes my handwriting look stylish so I don’t dwell on that instead of dwelling on my crying girl character alone in the woods.  (Just for example, I’ve never actually written this character, she just came up onto the stage from writing this blog).  As much as I’d like to keep my second-grade pencil biting habits alive, I can’t say I’m doing a very good job.  But, I can rest assured that Meg is out there in all her yellow-graphite glory for all of us, former-pencil-people.

One more thing, on my blogger ball with Meg, I came across this awesome, awesome, awesome blog about feminism and abortion and rights, and questions, etc.  And I just wanted to link to this.  RIGHT HERE.

5 thoughts on “Yellow-Bodied Pencil V. Sharpie Pen

  1. shelleyworkinger says:

    I envy your gift your with plants. I’m also drawn to the strangest looking ones, and I thought I might’ve had a fighting chance at the “brain” cactus. Not so much.

  2. Kelly Hashway says:

    Hi, Cassie. I’m stopping by for the She Writes blog hop. I’m terrible with plants. They always die on me, but I have a feeling my cat may be to blame. She’s always trying to eat the plants in my house.


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