Monday, April 21, 2014

Writing in pencil

I like to write in pencil. For preference, I use an inexpensive mechanical pencil with an eraser at the end. I write most of my poems with a pencil like this, typically over a cup of coffee in the early morning. As I write and erase, the page takes on the quality of a palimpsest, with one layer laid over another, and another.
    Writing in pencil, there is little fear of consequences. If your first efforts fall flat, you rub them out, cross them out, or just let them go.
    There is a sensuous engagement with the writing process.
    Sometimes there is a sense of magic, as if the pencil is a wand.
    But there is a huge problem. It's not that my handwriting is illegible to others. That is great, because it means what I write by hand is in a secret code that requires no effort on my part. The problem is that my handwriting becomes illegible to me, too, within an hour or two of setting my hand to a page.
    So I need to transfer my jottings to a more permanent vehicle as soon as possible. On days when I am leading workshops, I can do this by sharing at least part of my fresh writing with the group. Reading aloud is already a form of publication, and has its pleasures and rewards when you are sharing with the right people.
    I will still try to get to a keyboard before the new material goes cold and the memory traces blur, to enter it in a folder in my electronic documents.
    As I ramble in sidelong, circuitous ways into the territory of the next books that are beckoning me, I am minded to go back to writing more in pencil than I have been doing of late. I opened an old journal at random just now and found a dream from early last year that seems like a huzzah for this idea:

Graphite Wand

I am writing with a stylus in a field of powdery graphite that is also the night sky. I am writing with great loops and flourishes, rather as I wrote cursive in my early days at school. My words make patterns of silver stars, moving together in spiral rhythms, like a turning galaxy.

(dream report from January 22, 2013)

When I write in pencil, I am easily drawn to add sketches to my texts. This pleases the boy creators in me, who love to draw and paint at least as much as writing.
    Now I am curious about the origin of the word "pencil". I see that the use of the word for a graphite writing implement is relatively recent. It originally meant a fine artist's brush. The English "pencil" derives from the Old French pincel (cf modern pinceau), in turn derived from the Latin penicillus, meaning a painter's brush or "hair pencil". The Latin term literally means "little tail", a diminutive of penis ("tail"). Yes indeed, there is something quite sexy about writing in pencil.