Daily Prompt: In Things We Trust

The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 12 asks, “Machines, appliances, and gadgets sometimes feel like they have their own personalities—from quirky cars to dignified food processors. What’s the most ‘human’ machine you own?” (I wrote a piece that touched on this earlier; this question gave me a chance to add some more thoughts to it.)

In “The Li’l Guys,” I wrote that I believe some of my writing utensils are friends and some can not be trusted:

“I have a superstitious nature, something that I am loathe to admit to. Place two identical pens before me, give me a day or two to use them, and I will declare one a favorite, and the other? I will have held it perhaps once, but I will have felt something about it frustrating or ‘wrong,’ and left it alone. From then on, forever. I buy replacement pens even though I own many pens and have not been without a pen in decades. (The Zebra F-301 or G-301 model, for completeness’ sake. Black ink, 1.0 mm point size.)

“Pencils, too. I am probably the ideal Blackwing 602 customer, but I like money more. A 12-pack of the pencil will set a customer back approximately $20. That is a lot of money for a dozen pencils, eight of which I might very well ignore for forever in my writing tool superstition. So even though I have held a Blackwing 602 only one time so far in my life and I drooled over its swift action on the page, I have not purchased a set and I tell myself that it is because these are knockoffs made by a company that bought the naming rights and not the classic pencils themselves. Those, the original ones, pop up on eBay with an asking starting bid of $100 for two pencils. Yes, unused.”

(This listing is current as of September 12, 2014.)

If you ever hear about me spending more than one hundred dollars cash money on a pair of pencils, a couple dramatic changes must have happened in reality that you will have to bring me up-to-date about when you see me do this. First, wealth must have happened to me. Because if I have spent fifty bucks per writing device, the inner cash register that is always ringing in my head must have been disconnected. I had better be able to sell everything written or doodled or listed on a piece of paper written by my hands with one of those pencils clutched in it. I had better be able to find a cash buyer willing to buy the shavings in the sharpener from those pencils. Nothing can go to waste.

Second, the only way I could purchase those pencils would be if something else was disconnected in my mind: the thought that some pens or pencils work for me and some do not work for me, out of the same pack. The thing I confessed above. It is one thing to spend a few dollars on a bag of pens or a few more on a pair of Zebras, and discover that one pen is instantly my favorite and it gets used for everything while the rest sit unused forever in my desk, but what if I discover that neither of these $50 pencils “works” with me, does not “feel right.” This would be tragic, unbearably sad.

So I ascribe things like motives and intentions and feelings to inanimate objects like pens, pencils, and notebooks. Thus, I usually think of the world of machines as one in which I must fend for myself and keep looking for friends where I can find them. It is one thing to find the right pen, the pen that will be a partner for life while you ignore the rest from the same pack, but it is another to buy the “wrong” computer or big-ticket item. I have purchased the wrong computer and regretted it:

“My writing implement superstition has reared its head in my life with computers, though, sad to say for my wallet. At this point, it would take me longer than you have available for me to recount the number of computers, laptops, and handhelds I have owned. (I loved the Treo 90 and owned a half-dozen over the years, some of which felt right and some of which did not.) Some computers I became attached to like a beloved typewriter, others were only employed to go online and make sure I was still alive when I discovered that typing on them just didn’t ‘feel right.’ Four years ago I purchased a full-sized laptop on which I tried to write a book. Either the keyboard was built too sensitively or I typed on it like an orangutan, but it no longer produces the letter C. (One of the top 13 letters in our alphabet.) When the briefly popular Netbooks came out (the era lasted approximately six months in 2006), I bought an Acer. Upon learning that the full-size machine was resistant to writing, at least any words that needed the letter C, I returned to the Acer and discovered I was making more progress on that book project. It sat, happy to be employed, on top of the full-size laptop.”

One laptop, in a spiteful fit of pique, even started to shed keys on me, to prevent me from writing on it any longer: The backspace key came off. I could not correct anything. Everything I wrote had to be the final draft. It knew I did not like anything that I was writing on it anyway, so it took matters into its own hands. Like many of the pens in my desk that are still full of ink, my many very sharp and long pencils with clean erasers, and the composition books on which I have only written the date, it knew that I was never going to compose the Great American Anything with it. I no longer have that laptop, but I still have its backspace key, somewhere, to remind me to make friends with my tools.



  1. Leigh W. Smith · September 12, 2014

    Fascinating, Mark! I used to trade pencils and pens with a girl friend of mine when I was about 10, and I still get a weird thrill out of shopping for notebooks, pens, crafting supplies, and the implements of writing. I don’t ascribe anything to them or personify them per se, but some pens definitely feel better to my hands and I am detectably sad if I lose them or they run out of ink. I used to use pencils for everything, unfortunately, but I got out of that habit once the pencil marks of years ago started to smear. Fortunately, being frugal (as you can identify with!), I use the el cheapo 10- or 12-pack of ballpoints for a couple bucks (and less if I can find a deal). I think I attribute more personality to non-human animals and perhaps occasionally the computer (latter due to operator error) than I do to things, although between my husband and I we have [too] many collecting hobbies (books, coins & paper money, Asian art, stamps, Star Wars, sci-fi, Jackie Chan/Hong Kong cinema, and you name it).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lifelessons · September 12, 2014

    Every computer I’ve ever owned—averaging one every 3 years for the past 30 years—has done a strip tease and shed most of its letters. Either they wear off from use or I have some acid in my fingers that removes them. My present computer is 14 months old and the first letter to go is the “o”, followed closely by the “n.” The “c” is still fine. I, too, have had keys pop off and I must say it doesn’t work to glue them back on. I’ve had the entire number row stop functioning and the bottom surface of the computer start to curl as well. Our computers are like a much-loved doll, I think. The fact that we wear them out shows our devotion to them. As for the letters, thank God for touch-typing and the vigilant stubbornness of my high school typing teacher. Enjoyed your post…Judy

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jeffrey Meranto · September 12, 2014

    I only use pens and pencils that come from somewhere other than being purchased form a store(by myself that is). Insurance Companies, Churches, Radio Stations, and even Minor League Sports Teams are far too eager to spend their own money that I may at some odd moment jot a note, of Thanks or Regret, to some worthy person or cause. Advertising kissing Convenience being hugged tightly by the grip of my own Stinginess. Now that’s what I call American!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. genusrosa · September 15, 2014

    I am intrigued with the idea of being able to find a market for my sharpened pencil shavings. Please let me know if you have any success with this. Otherwise…I enjoyed your post a great deal; it reminded me of back in the day when I was attempting my first novel on my dad’s old manual Corona typewriter. I used to joke that somehow that typewriter knew when I sat down to write without lipstick on. Nothing would work right until I corrected the situation. Once appropriately ‘lipstick-ked’, keys would no longer jam, words would flow. Whatever it was that was looking back at me, strongly disapproved a shabby, unkempt air, as though, in essence, one wasn’t really trying. My current device couldn’t care less.

    Liked by 1 person

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