I must have been twelve when I bought my first pencil. I held the solid graphite stick in my awkward adolescent hands. For the first time, I could sketch a world of gray - a world lacking permanence, fluid, open to change. It was a medium that fit my life; leaving the flat agrarian haven of Kansas and into the industrial smokestacks. Gray. Movement.
True, I played tag and leap frog in the streets. But when the world felt too compressed, I'd crawl into the fire escape and open a crisp, blank sheet. I would begin subtly, with tentative lines and the occasional bold stroke. I'd hear the mockery from below. They called me Graphite Geek and Pencil Pusher. I suppose our neighborhood had a special affinity for all thing alliterated.
Still, I'd shade the lines, blending carefully with the tips of my fingers. For some, the smell of grass brings back the sense of nostalgia. For me, I experience a flood of memories whenever my thumb accidentally brushes up against a sheet of paper. Mostly I drew fantastical creatures, with dragons and sorcerers and wood gnomes, always taking place in the flat lands of my Midwest memory. The pencil seemed to expand my world while also allowing me the freedom to mourn the loss of space forged by the factory.
In high school, I would pull out my well-worn journal and sketch out a world of words, bound only by iambic pentameter. I would carefully erase a line of verse until it felt done. Except it never was. For all the talk of mastery, the pencil would silently remind me, "there's always a time for change. Nothing is permanent." The modern age, I suppose. Nothing is permanent. Perhaps we'll someday abandon the iamb and move to free verse as well.
The pencil became my refuge, that dingy fire escape my place to think through life. I guess that's what I'm hoping for - a place for pencils. In our factory-built urban environment, I want students to experience the freedom of pencils. A fire escape of sorts.