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Pencil me in 

As life dulls me down, I work to stay sharp

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO
You have to write a shopping list, so you reach for a pen—only to find empty space. You glance next to the refrigerator. Nothing. In the cup next to the computer, there’s nothing but a dried-up orange marker. Aha! The junk drawer! Wedged in the front is an old, 6-inch, unsharpened, faded yellow pencil, its eraser worn to a nub. Impatient, and with a sigh, you pick up the substandard implement, and while making the list, the dull scratch, scratch, scratch assaults your eardrums.

I cringe just thinking about it. I hate dull, unsharpened pencils.

Is it true that our perceptions, our likes and dislikes, are often rooted in deeper issues? Does my distaste for dull, unsharpened pencils possibly have implications beyond the mere irritation of the writing? Could my dislike of unsharpened pencils actually represent something metaphoric or symbolic? Is my dislike of dull pencils actually a manifestation of some subconscious part of my brain, my life, my personality?

This may seem like a contrived and exaggerated exploration, but through much thought and consideration, I have decided that in some ways a dull, unsharpened pencil does have meaningful implications and is actually a symbol for (drum roll please) … my life!

“Wow,” you’re probably thinking, “How in the world could she compare her life to a dull pencil? The word ‘dull’ is certainly not flattering.”

Actually, I am referring to the word ‘dull’ as smooth or rounded and worn down. Segueing to information about my life should explain. I have lived for 48 years on this planet. I’ve done and seen much. Raised with four siblings, I grew up in a happy family. More recently, I helped nurse my aging father, only to watch him die from cancer. I’ve experienced marriage and giving birth to two daughters. I recall the joy of reading with my little ones on my lap, and I recall the horror of my teenager yelling, “I hate you!” I’ve experienced the pain of divorce, as well as finding new love and learning to ballroom dance. From my 20 years as a teacher, I recount my successes with many students, as well as regrets for those I was unable to reach.

The winds of life have swirled around me, sometimes bringing fresh air, and sometimes pushing me off the road. If you throw a sharp rock into a stream, the constant water wears away the sharp edges. I am now more smooth and polished. Not quite as eager, or ambitious, or optimistic as I once was, I am more settled. I am more resigned. My rough edges are worn away to expose a certain dullness. While life offers beauty and joy and laughter, it has also sometimes been brutal and unfair. The latter parts, while making me stronger, are not anything I’d choose to re-experience.

Continuing with the pencil theme, I am also attracted to new pencils. I love the ones with a fresh eraser (fluorescent pink makes me happy), the point crisp and sharp and black, the yellow siding bright and shiny. And yes, this too has significance to my life. I find I must fight to keep my sharpness, so I participate in activities like going to an aerobics class or long walks on the weekend. Reading lots of books. Trying new recipes. Learning new songs besides the ones I listened to in the ’80s. And my latest thing: eating chia seeds, which are amazingly high in fiber, vitamin B-17, protein, and Omega-3s. This sharpness also involves seeking out and recognizing the wonder and beauty of the world. Sometimes, I have to remind myself it’s there, as it isn’t always so readily apparent.

I think about what I have written and I laugh. To look at my life as compared to a pencil seems ludicrous; but then, isn’t that the human brain, always working and seeking to find meaning, to find connections, to see patterns, to look for constancy and familiarity? And if I can find meaning through my perceptions of a pencil, then so be it. Also, this writing, this doing what I ask my students to do (writing essays), is another step to keeping me “sharp” with my creativity, my passion, humor, and spirit of communication. Life is what it is, and it’s not always easy, or kind, or fair—but it’s also wondrous and magical, and hope does reside in my heart. So, here’s to beautiful, sharpened pencils, and may your desks, binders, and drawers be filled with them!

Janice Mundee has lived in the area since 1979. The Templeton resident—who lives with her husband, Ted, and two dogs and two cats—teaches English at Atascadero Junior High School. Send comments to the editor at


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