“What were you thinking?”
I imagined my husband’s reaction. Heard his voice in my head when I opened up the box containing my latest win on eBay; 600 vintage advertising pencils.
You read that right; 600 pencils. (And the husband’s voice, despite his death nearly eight years ago? If you’ve never heard the voice of your dead father, mother, or other loved one who has passed away maybe you just aren’t listening close enough.)
What was I thinking when I ordered 200 pencils before Christmas? Whatever possessed me to order another 600?
What was I thinking? This:
Legacy of the Magic Pencil: Engaging power point presentation on reconnecting with your innate creativity, this workshop serves as a jumpstart to the creative life each of us was designed for. Presentation includes a brief background on creativity research and a reflective writing exercise that encourages looking back to childhood interests for clues to our true passions. Attendees will receive their own “magic pencil,” as a reminder that sometimes all it takes to succeed in our writing is for a single person to believe in us; our own self.
With my book, Called to Be Creative, coming out in September, I’m looking ahead to hosting workshops and presentations on creativity. I’m planning at least two trips in late 2020 and early 2021 that will combine pleasure (visiting daughter Emily in CA and sister Joan in FL) with business (promoting my book). Each person who attends one of my workshops will leave with their own magic pencil.
But these can’t be just any pencil; they have to be genuine vintage, in decent shape, with an interesting name or place imprinted on them.
Not all of the first batch of 200 met that criteria, and less than half of the 600 will. In fact, I was initially disappointed when sorting through them to discover the majority were actually art pencils; pastel, watercolor and charcoal. At least I was disappointed until I tried a few, and then I was in awe of the deep, bold colors. It suddenly seemed fitting that much of the lot I’d purchased in honor of my artistic mother consisted of art pencils. It also seemed fitting that inside the box I discovered a single thin Stanley advertising pencil identical to the one that prompted the topic of this book in the first place:
After the last of my mother’s things were removed from her house, I walked slowly through the rooms, checking for missed items, dusting every bare surface. My three youngest daughters trailed behind me. The inventory check and last-minute cleaning also served as a delay to saying goodbye to the home I’d grown up in. The house had become a refuge for me in the previous months while I’d treated it as a private writing retreat. It was hard to let it go. It was the final day before we’d close the house for good and turn the keys over to a realtor.
Running my dust cloth along the windowpanes of the front porch that had served as Mom’s workroom, I contemplated all the hours she’d spent in there. My fingertips hit an object that gave a little, sliding across the sill of one window. It was an extremely thin pencil emblazoned with advertising. I held it aloft for my daughters to see.
“Look. One of Grandma’s magic pencils,” I teased. “Just think. This is a pencil she probably used to draw rough sketches for what would later become a painting.”
The girls were well aware of Grandma’s talent, impressed by her wood carvings, her barn board and canvas paintings, and the quilts and teddy bears she’d crafted. They considered her a bona fide artist. Their mother? Not so much. Scribbling down words hardly seemed a creative endeavor in comparison to painting, drawing, or wood carving. They’d never even seen the thin folder I kept hidden away in a cabinet: quirky sketches and pastel creations I’d saved from the art classes I’d loved as a teen. I’d always been enticed by creativity in its many forms, skipping the more useful home economics classes for art, drama, and creative writing.
That afternoon, I sat at my kitchen table, my mother’s pencil in hand, a sheet of plain white printer paper in front of me. “I used to enjoy art classes,” I thought wistfully, wondering if I’d retained any artistic ability. As a teen, I’d labored over sketches depicting the bare bones of winter trees, with looming trunks and spindly branches, never quite having mastered the leaves. My art teacher had praised those drawings.
I began sketching, pleased to see a tree taking form on the paper. I hadn’t noticed eleven-year-old Katie approach. I looked up when I heard a gasp, my eyes meeting Katie’s incredulous pair. I smiled at her apparent shock, holding up the pencil with a flourish.
“You drew that?” she asked. “You can’t draw! It really is a magic pencil. Can I try it next?” — From Called to Be Creative, Familius, Sept. 2020
The pencils that satisfy my criteria will nearly fill my leather-look tote-bag with the map design, the one I plan on taking with me when I travel.
I can imagine it now; the inevitable hold-up at airport security when the noise of rolling pencils in the bag attracts suspicion.
“Open it up,” one of the airline security workers will order, and I’ll do so, revealing hundreds of sharpened pencils.
His eyes will narrow. His lips tighten. He’ll call one his co-workers over. They’ll lean in for a closer look. Whisper to each other. Finally, they’ll look up from the tote, shaking their heads, and one of them will say it:
“What were you thinking?”