For more than twenty years, collecting pencils has been a part of my life. For the last ten, writing books about them has been a much bigger part.
The last year and a half knocked a big chunk out of that part of my life, since the things I write mean nothing if I just scribbled away in a corner somewhere without contact with the outside world. Periods of solitude are requisite for research and writing, but it is collaboration and interaction with readers that makes these articles more accurate and more entertaining . . . not to mention more fun, both for me to write and for you to read.
I’ve developed many virtual friendships with readers over the years, through emails, phone calls, and social media, and they have been rewarding. However, nothing compares to the in-person meetings with my fellow enthusiasts at shows.
Over these last two decades my pencil life has evolved into a nice steady rhythm, with an annual calendar strategically punctuated by six pen shows: Philadelphia in January, Baltimore in March, Chicago in May, Raleigh in June, DC in August, Michigan in October and Ohio in November.
These shows have kept me on a perfect schedule - a long weekend of immersing myself in this world and the people in it, followed by a few weeks to digest what I’ve found, to research and write, spend time with family, and deal with that pesky day job. By the time the next show rolls around, it’s usually been the perfect amount of time since the last one, to start the cycle anew.
This last year and a half completely broke that rhythm.
Online auctions and social media, mere fillers between the shows in the life I once knew, proved a poor substitute. I’ve joked – or rather commented – that I liked a lot of my friends better when I didn’t know what they were thinking all the time. I’m sure many of my friends would say the same thing about me.
In June, the Raleigh show went off without a hitch during a brief reprieve in our current situation. Other than a few who chose to wear masks and a slightly lighter-than-usual crowd, things felt normal for the first time in a long time. It finally seemed that we might all be taking that first step towards getting back into that rhythm we once knew.
Then rose the scepter of a new variant of this thing, fueled almost entirely by those who have refused to get vaccinated for whatever reason. Rising with it in tandem were concerns and speculation that the 2021 DC Show might be canceled (ironically, to protect those same unvaccinated people). Early last week, Barbara Johnson emailed all the dealers to let them know she had “made the difficult decision . . .”
I had to pause for a moment before I continued reading. I’ve read too many emails that started out with those words, and I found it almost unbearable after Raleigh to read them again. Fortunately, this one was different – Barbara just wanted us to know we would all need to wear masks in the ballroom.
I released an audible sigh. That’s all? If that’s the worst news I hear this week, I thought, it’s been a good week.
The mad scramble to get ready for the biggest show of the year was on. I was pushing things off my desk at my day job, then working late into the evenings restocking inventory for the Legendary Lead Company’s display, filling tubes on a folding table in the garage at my office while listening to the locusts. Even those marathon preparations felt . . . good. Thursday morning, I set off on that familiar road trip I’ve made twenty times. The only difference was that it was my Dad sitting in the passenger seat, rather than John Hall.
Nearly everyone I normally see at the DC Show was in attendance. Overwhelmingly, the prevailing attitude was resolute: we have done everything our government has asked us to do so far. We’ve taken the vaccine for our protection as well as for the protection of our neighbors. We’ve done all that we can do to stop this thing. And . . . with a resignation that is both sad and liberating, the struggle is now likely lost, thanks to the idiots who won’t take the shot.
We might as well live life again. Besides, if I’m going to get this thing, I’d rather get it doing something I love instead of from some unvaccinated jackwagon who happens to be standing behind me in line at a gas station or something.
The show was nearly normal. Yes, everyone wore masks in the ballroom nearly all the time, but that sole concession to the bug stopped at the door. Elsewhere in the hotel, on the patio over our traditional scotch and cigars, and out at nearby restaurants, it was like 2019 again . . . almost, with just a hint of foreboding. At one point Siri asked me, unsolicited, if I wanted to be notified by the Virginia health authorities if I had been exposed to the virus. I put Siri in time out and she sat quietly in the corner for the remainder of the weekend.
Life is just an accumulation of memories. After a year and a half of no new memories – just the same day repeating itself over and over – getting some new memories from the DC Show was a halting step towards restarting the rhythm of life.
The cycle here begins anew, with a folder full of new finds from the show, fertile territory for a dozen or more articles here at the blog:
When I wound up Volume 5, I genuinely thought I had written everything worth writing on the subject of old pencils. It surprised me more than anybody that there was enough new material to put together Volume 6. Now, the articles that have run here since April will fill a book larger than Volume 5 or Volume 6, so it’s time to take a break and format Volume 7 for print.
It’s another part of that rhythm thing.