Pencil Beats Disk

I love pencils. Cheap, available, usable. I have a pencil on my nightstand next to some index cards–in case I wake up and need to remember something but don’t want to turn on the light. A pencil always works. In the dark, without looking, the pencil will work. Ballpoints and fountain pens, which I also love, sneakily need to be warmed up and I don’t know when they’ve started working.

Yellow pencil. Colored pencil, ink. © Q. McDonald

The other night, I wanted to remind myself to take the white board to a workshop. I used a ballpoint pen (the cat had absconded with the pencil to blissfully chew the eraser to bits) and the next morning I read “uh tc bca d”because missing halves of letters looked like different letters–half of a W turned into a U, the O into a C.

When I got to the journaling workshop, I was asked the most popular question I get–why not just blog? Why not keep a journal on your computer? I love tech toys.

But I also have a shoebox full of diskettes in various sizes that no one can open and read. Some are in word-processing programs that pre-date MS Word or Wordperfect. Anyone remember Multi-Mate? Of course not. Some are on formats for which there are no matching slots in computers. The big 5.5-inch floppies. Punch cards. Those computers are long gone.

Lascaux cave drawing, hunt scene

It’s true that I lost a pile of journals to a flood in the basement, and to another to a fire in the attic. (Ah, the Old-Testament years.) But in each case, the journals I found were still readable. For that matter, so are the drawings in the Caves at Lascaux, which are about 30,000 years old and made with charcoal, an early pencil-substitute.

My son’s first drawings, love notes I scribbled, my parents notes to each other (my father favored light poetry directions and directives to my mother), in fact, my father’s sketches from when he was 6 years old–over a hundred years ago–are all still intact because they are in this simple medium. Pencil on paper. Timeless.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who uses pencils, pens, computers, and inks to make meaning. Anyway she can. She’s also a creativity coach.

18 thoughts on “Pencil Beats Disk

  1. There’s another thing–when I read old journals, I can tell a lot about my mood by the way that my handwriting looks. I can’t do that with anything digital. Even the coolest software doesn’t have the same variation to it. I’ve become concerned about how much of our lives we trust to digital formats, without thinking how quickly those formats can change. The world will be a poorer place without written documents chronicling our daily lives.

  2. And have you noticed that a parent will make a keepsake of those first recognisable drawings their child does but not the first computer generated anything?
    I love pencils too, the real ones that you need to sharpen which is a pleasure in itself – mechanical pencils just don’t cut it somehow. Mmmmm the smell of the wood and the sight of those curly shavings peeling off, and then there’s the physicality of writing . . . this could get a B rating if I go on like this!! Actually I prefer an HB or and H so it doesn’t wear down quite so quickly.
    Most of my journal writing is in pencil, and I don’t use an eraser – it’s just the pleasure of pencil.

  3. Thanks for this reminder, Quinn. I, too, love technology, but the simple act of using a pecil is a metaphor for how I continue to want to live my life.

  4. i get much more of a release from physically writing than from typing on a keyboard- not sure why exactly – and i guess i really don’t need to understand the whys- just know what works – and the pencil always works – carry a little pencil sharpener in with my journal to keep a sharp tip.

    • There are all sorts of neurological reasons why that’s true. I can actually type in pages of material while thinking of something else. The finger/brain connection is tenuous.

      • Oddly enough the more you know about computers I suspect the LESS likely you are to upgrade. But there’s no need to dump stuff; even paper tape and punch cards are still readable. Assuming, of course, the cards haven’t been folded, spindled, or (gasp) mutilated!

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