The Marvelous Pencil

When I was a kid, I’d turn a brand-new, freshly-sharpened pencil in my hand.

Inside this pencil, I’d think, are words, waiting to come out. All I have to do is put its tip to the paper and see what happens.

So I’d turn on my imagination and listen to the scratchy sound of lead as it left a trail. And if I messed up, there was the eraser on the other end, ready to forgive so I could try again.

These days I write with a keyboard . . . mostly.

But the other day, my computer couldn’t clear my muddled thoughts. So I went in search of a pencil. I found a dozen. But they had dull leads and worn-down erasers, and chewed-on sides.

After the pencil sharpener ate up my few remaining hopefuls, I lost patience. And just yesterday a box of 150 pre-sharpened, number 2 pencils arrived on my porch.

I’m counting on these pencils to help me think my way out of my muddle. Studies have shown, after all, that writing by hand lights up the brain. Handwriting is more tactile than fingertips on a keyboard. And its sensory nature calls on various parts of the brain to work together to fire neurons and open the brain.

Handwriting slows the thinking process, helping students go deeper and wider. And because writing by hand uses more brain power than keyboarding, students understand more and remember longer.

And besides, pencils are fun. They smell like the first day of first grade. They connect you to trees and to earth-mined graphite. Pencils have been in the hands of John Steinbeck, who is known to have used as many as 60 a day to write his novels and in the hands of American and Russian astronauts, who take them on space missions since pencils work in zero gravity.

So the next time you pick up a brand-new pencil, turn it in your hand and marvel for a moment. The pencil you are holding can draw a line 35 miles long and write about 45,000 words.

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