National Pencil Day

Because it's National Pencil Day and this is primarily a pencil blog (with some other stationery thrown in for good measure), I thought I'd talk about what pencils and this hobby mean to me and how I got into it in the first place.

I'd like to say that I've known I was into pencils and stationery since I was a little  kid, but that's not true. I wasn't one of those people obsessed with school supplies and I didn't have to have everything color-coordinated and "just so". I had a generic 3-ring binder I stole from my dad's office that was plastered with punk band stickers and I bought Mead loose leaf college ruled paper to fill it when I ran low. The school part of high school was spent going through the motions until I could get out. I did have a cool dark green Jansport backpack that everyone seems to be keen on these sure as hell wasn't hipster-expensive like it is now.

I've always been a Techie-Luddite mix. It's kind of like saying an "extroverted introvert" I suppose. I was the one in my family that would be called over to Grandma's house to fix the printer or hook up their new TV, but while I did that I would rummage through their old records and take what I wanted. I loved vinyl...but I had one of the first iPods. I went to film school at a time when we actually still shot on film; as you can see by my YouTube channel, I still haven't properly figured out digital. I got out of film school and after a short stint at Fox in L.A., I decided it wasn't the life for me and moved to Chicago. Broke, I needed to find work to pay my student loans, so I started working at a record store. That's when I started to go full Luddite. I spent a whole year without TV or internet access. I had a computer, my trusty Power Mac G4 from college that lasted me well over a decade, but without the internet, it wasn't even worth turning on. I explored the city on my off days with my 35mm camera and rolls of film. I lost more rolls than I ever developed, and I couldn't tell you where most of those pictures are now. I always had plenty of film around, but never the cash to develop it. They are lost to the many times I've moved and to the sands of time. I used pencils at that point because of this time spent photographing Chicago. I wanted to have a way to track where I'd been, the pictures, the rolls, time of day, etc...all the things you do when you don't have GPS and other metadata attached to every photo. So I had a small 3" x 5" Mead Memo Book, top spiral bound, and whatever pencil stub I could snag from work, usually a Dixon Ticonderoga. I only took them when they were short enough to fit in the spirals and brought them back when they were too small to write with. This was pre-Field Notes, but I guarantee I have a picture of the neighborhood and possibly the building that FNHQ is now located...that's my old neighborhood and I explored it in depth. My trip up there for the Draplin event last December was cool, but one of the other reasons I wanted to go was to explore the old neighborhood and see what changed (a lot).

This was pre-iPhone...hell, this was pre-Razr. The only reason I even got my first cell phone is because my first roommate up there refused to get a land line. It was whatever they had free with the plan in 2003. So my note taking wasn't digital at all. I had been a blogger in college, back when they were called weblogs, in the early days of Blogger. Yes, I have found some of that old stuff on the Internet Archive, no you cannot see it. I didn't use my real name either, so you're not going to find it! I had no real topic...nobody did back then. It was link lists and musings on current and personal events. There was no "monetize your readers" bullshit back then...hell, Google wouldn't even index blogs. Mine was just a journal. I wanted to continue that, but without internet access, I turned to writing in Composition Notebooks. I maybe have 4 or 5 of those still around, some in pen, some pencil, mainly angsty song lyrics and problems that I WISH I had now.

I moved back to my hometown after a series of unfortunate events...job, lease, and relationship ended all in the same month...that's a sign, right? At least I got to get the internet again. Right as I was leaving Chicago, Field Notes was starting up. I was a Daring Fireball reader back then (still am) and Gruber, being friends with Jim Coudal, was talking about these new things, so I got on whatever mailing list or RSS feed (I don't even remember) and made sure to get some of these things when they came out. Honestly, I thought they looked cool but I wasn't interested in them at the time. I got a pack and used one about halfway through and gave away the others. I didn't bother with getting a Colors subscription back then because I was more into the 5 x 7 journal sized notebooks. That's when I went through my Black Moleskine and Pilot Precise phase. I probably have 20 of those hardcover black Moleskines full of journal entries and doodles in storage. I thought that's all I would need forever.

Then the iPhone came out.

I had been Mac-obsessed for a long time. My grandpa had one in the early days, we had them in junior high, but there was a brief time before Jobs came back that I had a Windows machine, high school and the first years of college. That one computer lasted me a while, but I went back to the Mac with my Power Mac G4 and never looked back since. The iPhone pulled me into full techie mode again and I was convinced analog was going the way of the dodo. But a funny thing happens when you're supposed to be dying: it could be argued that the very people creating analog replacements saved paper. It's a well-known trope that hipster, designer-y people like notebooks. Field Notes' popularity soared, as did Moleskine's. Kickstarter has launched a thousand pens, notebooks, and other stationery things. "Instagram-EDC-picture-culture" exploded. The internet has helped makers find customers, and helped like-minded people find each other. There are podcasts about anything and everything, including pens, pencils, and art supplies.

The groups I'm part of have helped educate me, have made me laugh, and have helped me get through tough times. I've made friends from around the world through this fondness for stationery. And I'm glad that a tech nerd from San Francisco by way of Indiana, a teacher with a buttery voice from Tennessee, and a tattooed philosopher / rad dad from Baltimore all came together to talk about this fondness, or I wouldn't have rekindled mine.

How did I stumble upon the #2 pencil podcast on the internet? Crossword puzzles. I bought a box of Ticonderogas (not sure, but probably Hecho in Mexico) and they suuuucked. Too hard for the crappy paper in the crossword puzzle book I was trying to complete. I also started using a Moleskine iPad case for work, which had a notebook opposite of the iPad. The paper sucked for the pen I liked at the time, the Pilot G2, and the thing was overly bulky, so I scrapped it and started carrying pocket Moleskines and one of those Ticonderogas behind my ear. They were too hard and left a light line for the grade they were supposed to be. I wanted something that mimicked the bold strokes of the pens I had been using. It was around this time that I looked into Field Notes again and tried a pack. They were just more fun than Moleskine books. A healthy appreciation quickly turned into an obsession...but it's turning back into just a healthy appreciation. But with that first order I got one of the Field Notes pencils. They aren't great, but they're better than the Made in Mexico Tics were at the time. It was a revelation. It was darker and reeked of cedar. Right then I knew there was something better out there, and the internet could help me.

So I went on a search for a better pencil. Two years and a massive deep dive later, here we are.

I never claim to be an expert in this at all, and I hope I don't come across as trying to be one. I am constantly learning, and I think that's been my lifelong mission: learn everything about everything I love. That's why I review so many pencils. I'm on a mission to learn about them all. I love blogging and getting to be part of the community in a small way. I'm floored every time I look at the analytics to see that people from all over the world have been visiting the site and that the audience has been growing. And I'm humbled to be mentioned by the big fish in this little pond from time to time. I only hope that I can get better at this for the readers and the community at large, and that I can maybe contribute to its growth and vibrancy in my own little way.

I still haven't finished that crossword puzzle book yet.