Today in hot trends: the humble pencil! Here’s my evidence:
1. The hilarious/absurdist Artisan Pencil Sharpening skills of David Rees, who offers his service by-mail from his home in the Hudson Vally. Because… why? Who cares. It’s funny. (Here’s David Rees chatting with The New Yorker.)
2. An exhibit called “The Secret Life of the Pencil” opens in London this week featuring photographs of the writing implements of famous artists, writers, and designers. Dying to know how Dave Eggers sharpens his pencil? I wasn’t either, but I clicked on this link and read the story anyway.
3. A pretty young hipster lady in New York City has opened a store called C.W. Pencil Enterprise which sells (you guessed it!) pencils. She has a tattoo of a pencil on her forearm. Her store has been described as intoxicating and charming. Then there’s this: “Her store is the size of a juice box, with a checkered floor and jars of yellow button chrysanthemums sprinkled around. With its spanking newness and luminous blocks of color, the place looks like an Edward Hopper canvas.” It sounds terribly twee and yet despite my cynical whining I still really, really want to visit!
Pencil, I’m so glad you’re finally getting your moment in the limelight (after being No. 2 so long to the pen). (Ugh sorry, I seriously couldn’t help myself.)
My work is incredibly important to me personally. It brings me joy and it brings me life and it brings me meaning. It doesn’t necessarily have to be important to the people who read it. It would be nice if it did bring them life and meaning, but it doesn’t have to. It’s not their fault that I wanted to be a writer. I just want to do it because I like doing it and it’s a pleasure. I always quote Tom Waits, because I had this amazing experience of getting to interview him and every single thing that he said was so Socratic—he’s just biblically wise about the arts—and he said something like, “You know, it’s not that important what I do. I’m just a guy that makes jewelry for the inside of people’s heads.”
OH GOD Elizabeth Gilbert nails it, all of it, in this very long, very wonderful interview with The Rumpus. Most people know her from Eat, Pray, Love and many “serious” writers and readers tend to dismiss her because of the chic lit nature of that particular book. But she’s so much more than that! She’s a wonderful nonfiction writer (The Last American Man is one of the most fascinating true stories I’ve ever read) a sharply funny fiction writer (Pilgrims, her short story collection, is also worth a read) and one of the best TED speakers ever (seriously, go watch this right now—it’s awesome).
I’ll stop fan-girling now and stick to the facts. Fact: Elizabeth Gilbert makes me feel better about getting rejected, because that’s just a fact of writerly life. Fact: Elizabeth Gilbert recognizes the value of hard work and fights against the whole idea of genius, a toxic concept that’s killed plenty of genuine creativity. Fact: Elizabeth Gilbert also recognizes that writing isn’t truly that important. It’s not! It’s a wonderful thing to read and a wonderful thing to write, but it’s not the be-all-end-all. It’s one way of addressing the existential despair and the turtles-all-the-way-down nature of the unknowable universe but it’s not life or death.
And, once you recognize that slightly uncomfortable fact about our work, there’s no excuse for not having some goddamn FUN with it.
Above image: sculpture by Ellen Jewett, a Canadian artist who creates fantastical and otherworldly animal pieces.
Like other narrative arcs that replay over and over in our fairy tales and myths, the poison dress resonates for a reason. Clothing is intended to shelter us, to provide a firm barrier between the squishy stuff of our personhood and the sharp edges of the outside world. Clothing should protect us and shield our nervous parts from the thorns of Eden.
But despite its intended function, clothing is often harmful—particularly to the women who wear it and the workers who make it. Beauty is pain. And it’s a pain that begins far before Glauce tightens the strings on her golden bodice, long before ladies shimmied into their arsenic-laced gowns, long before we stepped into our Forever 21 high heels and stumbled towards the nearest bar. It’s a pain that begins in production.
I keep forgetting to post this, but it’s one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever written. Support your local freelance writer! At the very least, you’ll learn that there is a shoe museum in Toronto which is amazing and filled with gorgeous old things. It’s a bit like my hair art piece… but even more fun to research. Go read it!