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Inspiration often comes from a surprising direction.

I recently had a birthday and my sister sent me a gift. It was a pack of pencils, with a cunning two-stage sharpener and a “point guard” (a metal cap that fits over and protects the pencil’s point, a thing of which I never before heard and now wonder how I ever lived without).

I have a thing about pencils. I’m very particular.

I do not like mechanical pencils. I positively loathe the disposable mechanical pencil (such wastefulness should be resoundingly decried). Give me a pencil of wood and graphite, every time.

Over the past six decades, I’ve always had a preferred brand.

  • First and for many years, it was the old-school yellow Ticonderoga #2. Nothing could beat it for availability, economy, smoothness of draw, and dark positive line.
  • Then I discovered Blackfeet Indian pencils and immediately fell for their natural wood finish and aromatic cedar wood (not to mention the cedar wood box each dozen came in); I was faithful to them for years after they were discontinued, but recently the price of a box became too expensive.

Disappointed by replacement options and running low on my stock of (now prohibitively expensive) Blackfeet, I did what any self-respecting stationery nerd would do. I switched to a fountain pen. I wrote all of the Fallen Cloud Saga with a fountain pen, but recently, as I’ve been concentrating more on poetry, I’ve returned to my first love, the pencil, meting out my Blackfeet Indian pencils with miserly oversight, running each one down to the absolute nub.

Then my sister’s gift arrived.

The pencils she sent are Blackwing 602s. As with the Blackfeet Indian pencil, they had a long and storied reputation; 602s were the preferred (and often exclusive ) choice of great talents: artists (Chuck Jones, Don Bluth), composers (Copland, Bernstein, Sondheim), playwrights (O’Neill, Laurents), and novelists (Steinbeck, White). Also as with the Blackfeet, the line was discontinued in the late 1990s (at which time Sondheim reportedly bought himself a lifetime supply).

The Blackwing 602, however, was revived in 2010, and my sister, knowing my love of All Things Stationery, gifted me with a dozen.

And they are wonderful.

Smooth, long, lean, requiring only the lightest touch for a dark line, with graphite tough enough to hold a fine point (but easy to re-tip, using the 2-stage sharpener), and with a wide eraser that can be extended as it’s used up, they are my new favorite.

“But wait,” I hear you say. “What was that bit up there about inspiration? Where does that come in?”0

Well, it turns out that, as I’ve been toying with these new pencils, using them for notes and analyses for my day job, I’ve grown dissatisfied with using these perfect pencils just for jotting down procedures and sketching out data flows. Even using them for poetry wasn’t enough.

The obvious thing, then, was to take out The Wolf Tree, the novel I’ve been working on since before the pandemic, which still needs a lot of writing.

Which means that the gift of a pencil has unexpectedly provided me the inspiration to get back to work on my novel.

And that’s a gift with a worth that’s far above rubies.

k

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