Saturday, February 1

repurposed tools

I used to have a little blue pencil sharpener. I kept it in an old emptied box-of-chocolates with my little-used colored pencils. perhaps it is still in that box, which I abandoned last summer in a cabinet in my parents' sunroom.
{image borrowed from Chris RubberDragon on flickr.}

generally, I write and doodle and take notes with ink pens. I learned long ago that having a pencil and eraser in my hand makes me too self-conscious, too primed for seeing mistakes and then fussing over removing them. with a pen, the inevitable sloppy scribbles become part of my work. I am required to confront them and manage them, or sketch around them, or continue ever more determined over the top of them. it suits me better to write and doodle this way. pencils don't grant me access to the same zone of confident creativity for some reason. they are too soft. too easily dulled. too pale. I am more likely to use pencils for holding my hair in a twist than for writing.

sometimes, though, pencils are the tool of choice. sloppy inksplots and scribbly amendments upon amendments (not to mention un-erasable, whimsical curls and squiggles and crosshatching at the edges) are not appropriate everywhere. page proofs, for example--proofs that need proofreading and marking and sending back to an editor + production manager for correction--do not need blue ballpoint scribbles or crosshatching or inksplots. they need a sharp, non-black pencil and as much precision as possible.

for very sharp pencils, of course, you need some sort of tool for sharpening. this is another downside to pencils. they wear themselves down to blunt little nubs every other hour. so impractical. but luckily, you can get these neat little angled blades, fitted just so around your stubby, tapered pencil point, ready to shave away a hundred papery layers of wood and graphite.
{borrowed from arete akarafi on flickr.}

I used to have a little blue pencil sharpener for keeping my colored pencils in a usable state. but I don't anymore.

so last month while I played proofreader and needed a very sharp, non-black pencil, I relied on this pocketknife:

how this pocketknife came into my possession I do not remember. perhaps I unknowingly traded my lost blue pencil sharpener for it in a dream? this pocketknife is a versatile tool. you could use it to skin a chicken, maybe. or for opening boxes or carving your name into fenceposts or trimming your fingernails in a pinch.

I've never used this one for any of that. the only thing I've used it for is sharpening this particular non-black pencil. I kind of like how red graphite is now streaked crazily all over the blade.

they say when the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems start to look like nails. as sensical a proverb as any, this one, but in many ways too smooth, too simple. it might apply best of all to the tiny plastic pencil sharpener. after all, with a pencil sharpener like that, you can't do much beyond sharpening long, slender cylinders of wood. a pencil sharpener would have to ignore and neglect all other differently-shaped problems.

with a sharpened pencil though, you have more options. you can mark 256 pages of that typeset manuscript. you can look out and watch for mistakes in the world, incongruities like hordes of stray animals to be gotten rid of. or you can change your perspective to focus on your hair. all those loose, unkempt tresses begging to be twisted into a lopsided bun.

with the pocketknife? I might wield this pocketknife and want to see sturdy blank fenceposts, ready for cutesy initials to be carved in. certainly pencil-sharpening is not the first task that comes to mind when I heft this folded-up tool in the palm of my hand. nor is fingernail-trimming. maybe in order for a tool to change your world, you need to get familiar with what it can and can't do. you need more practice with the possibilities of a pocketknife.

sometimes I use pens to hold up my hair, too. but most of the time, my pens and I look at the world to see empty pages, full of potential, ready for inksplots and words and scribbly curls.

No comments: