miscommunication on the idea of story

Sometimes people say, "tell your story," and that's not what they want to hear.  What they want is, "tell us a bulleted point list of your accomplishments."  What they mean is more "tell us your resume" than "tell us your narrative, rife with conflict, character development and confusing paradoxes."

I missed that idea entirely today at a Very Important Meeting.  One of the judges for a large education grant asked me, in the middle of my class, "Would you share your story of pencil integration?"

"I guess it's a bit of a love story," I explained.

He furrowed his eye brows and stroked his handle-bar mustache.  "I'm not seeing your point entirely."

"You know it's a bit trite, I suppose.  I fell in love with pencils.  I mean, I thought I knew pencils.  I could talk about the feel of a pencil in my hands and the moment of excitement when I first scribble some words. But I think I was in love with the idea of pencils.  I mean, it was the notion of writing and editing my words - the idea of it - not the act itself that I loved."

"I'm not sure I'm understanding it one bit," he answered.

"I do this with all technology, I guess.  I fall in love with it before I know it.  Then I see a dark side and I run.  For me, with pencils it was the notion of the temporary side of pencils that scared me.  It was the question about sloppiness.  I love to write, but I was afraid I would be too casual and my writing would decline."

"And .  . . "

"So, I threw away my pencils for a few months.  Then I decided that I love pencils.  I love the writing and editing process, the shading and smudging of pencil art, the feel of a notebook and the marks on my hand.  I love the power of a temporary medium - the notion that all could be erased at any moment.  'Pencil me in' isn't as permanent as 'having ink done.' Seriously, would anyone ever have a pencil tattoo?"

"I'm not sure where you're getting at."

"See, so much of my life is permanent.  And that's good.  Marriage, family, my profession.  I love the permanence of that. But pencils are constantly changing. And I fell in love with them for the very temporary nature of it all. It was the classic boy meets pencil, boy throws all pencils away and then boy comes back to pencils forever narrative."

The grant man just stared at me blankly and said "thank you," though I don't really think he meant it at all.  I could hear him, perhaps in my head, tell his colleague, "I simply wanted to know how he uses pencils in his classroom. I need to know that he'll use our money wisely."


  1. Interesting, it is an ephemeral medium. Still it is powerful despite that. Thoughts are ephemeral too, except they are sustained through repetition and sharing. We have built a culture on castles in the air.

  2. Yes! Ephemeral, that's the perfect word for it. Thoughts are a stream. Stagnant thought leads to mosquitos and disease. Not my idea of fun. Pencils, in that sense, reflect the ephemeral nature of the thought process.

    Now if only they could invent a device that could record all thoughts, allow one to instantly edit said thoughts and then broadcast them to the world - a sort of telegraph meets typewriter!