To Carry a Pencil

by nicolecallihan

A student in one of my classes, a young man from Korea, wrote a lovely composition about having chased David Beckham down for an autograph. The student, breathless but so pleased to finally be in the company of his hero, stood waiting. Beckham agreed to the autograph and asked for a pen, but the student was empty-handed. He had nothing. He remembered the sun beating down hot and heavy as he called out to anyone who passed in hopes of finding a pen, but eventually, he had to walk away, still empty-handed.

And so today in class, I read aloud a tiny story from Paul Auster’s The Red Notebook. In it, an eight year-old Auster stands in front of Willie Mays begging for an autograph only to find that he, too, is pencil-less. Auster claims that he hasn’t left home without a pencil since and that this is what made him a writer. What fascinates me is that as I read the story the students started reaching for their pens. By the end of it–by the time Auster announces himself a writer–they all sat, quite straight-backed I like to think now, their pens poised, ready, indeed, to write, to write as if their lives–or at very least their memorabilia–depended on it.