Remember freshman English when we all learned what a metaphor was and how it enhanced writing and contributed to the figurative language of literature? Me neither. I tended to be the one foolin’ around in the back of the room.
But somewhere along the line, it did sink in. It’s when a word for one idea or thing is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them. For example, “the ship plows the sea,” or “the lapping tongues of the lake ate away the shoreline.” And it strikes me that, as a card carrying member of the Lead Pencil Society, that thin stalk of yellow wood that encases a vein of graphite and is topped with that ever present pink eraser is just such a metaphor for what used to be in our culture, in terms of both pencils and people.
Ah, the lowly lead pencil. It never skipped, was always ready when you were to jot down the latest nudge from the Muse, and never stopped writing in the middle of taking frantic notes from the prof in Creative Writing 101. However, you could always count on knowing when that might happen ahead of time by simply looking at it to see how much ammo; i.e. lead and length you had left. And that little plastic pocket sharpener was a companion that provided piece of mind.
Ever notice the pencils they have now? They’re made of plastic and are at least a third shorter than the original. They’re still yellow but you have to rotate the precast pointed writing end in order to get the lead to peek out, and you never do know how much lead is left to twist out and use until it’s too late and the last nub of lead comes tumbling out. Now what? You’re sunk, unless you happen to have another modern “pencil wannabe” with you. Oh, and that plastic clip for attaching it to your pocket or a pad, if the material is thicker than a Kleenex, it breaks right off.
The good old wooden lead pencil. It was honest. It was forthright. It was unpretentious in warning of its own demise as the shrinking nub snuck closer and closer to the pink eraser, or your hand just couldn’t grasp what remained as it softly whispered “Good-bye.” One simply grabbed another sturdy wooden pencil or two and off you went, confident, secure and fully loaded for the next challenge.
Now I ask you, when was the last time a ballpoint pen was that reliable? Remember when, all of a sudden, (aghast!!) the ballpoint would stop writing at a most critical time? Why, it just couldn’t be, right? Impossible! After all, the clear ink tube in the pen showed it wasn’t empty yet. Kind of like what some believe about our computer age: If it’s on the internet, it must be true. I believe the ballpoint pen was one of the first confirmed warnings of the blatant dishonesty of inanimate objects.
So, boys and girls, family and friends, in-laws and outlaws, and ladies and gentleman of the jury, I submit to you that, metaphorically speaking, the lead pencil stands as a reliable and responsible example of what both pencils and people used to strive for in our culture. The ballpoint pen? A shallow trinket of early technology.
And now we have smart phones, driverless cars (Is a driver’s license going to be obsolete?) and microchips tinier than a cell of my epidermal tissue. Each chip probably having an intelligence quotient 80 points higher than my own. ... Oh, the humiliation! My car already locks the doors on me for no apparent reason. I bathe, I practice regular oral hygiene, I use deodorant, I wear clean socks and undies, but it still won’t always let me in!
Always be careful about reading the fine print ... there’s no way you’re going to like it. And do you realize that in about 40 years we’ll have thousands of old ladies running around with tattoos, and rap music will be the golden oldies? Egad, man!!
Ron Weber is a multi-award winning poet and writer who lives in Stevensville.