On my desk in my office are three large mugs stuffed with a clutch of mostly unsharpened pencils. Collected over the years as cheap souvenirs from museums, state parks, tourist attractions, and airports, they chronicle my paltry travels.

I collect them mostly as symbols of my profession, because I do not write using pencils; but nevertheless, I love their fresh wood smell, their slick splash of bright colors clustering in their containers, the memories of place they evoke when I read their stamped sides.

Some are especially unique, standing out from the rest: an extraordinarily long one from Lincoln’s home, obliquely referencing his height; one with a metal raven atop it, a nod to the ravens which “protect” the Tower of London. Shakespeare is perched atop another, recognizable only by his ruffed collar and blousy pantaloons, a purchase from Stratford-upon-Avon. The clown fish Nemo swims above the sea of erasers, the pencil a gift from one of my girls, who was old enough to know I collected pencils and wanted to give me a special one, but too young to understand I only collected pencils from places I had visited. “Mood” pencils that shift color in the heat of my grip; iridescent ones catching light from the window; a few defying conformity in shape in their triangularity or chunkier diameter.

My writing utensil of choice is a black Pilot Precise, smooth, non-skipping, quick drying, strapped to my writing notebook with a wide rubber band, always at the ready. Yet this clutch of bright wooded pencils speaks of the distances writing can travel, the places it can take me, the worlds I ca create or remember or preserve, so they too are tools of my trade.

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