The Pencil: The Greatest Invention in the World

19 Jun

It’s hard to believe that there was a time in the world when a pencil was only used as something so mediocre as creating price tags. Today, however, an average pencil can be sharpened seventeen times, write forty-five thousand words, and draw a line thirty-five miles long. But a pencil is so much more than that. Pencils help to tell the stories and artistry of our civilizations with such clarity, that they bring alive a myriad of pictures of human life. Leonardo da Vinci’s first drafts of his artwork and inventions were immortalized in pencil; President Lincoln’s handwriting in pencil memorialized the principles of human equality in the Gettysburg Address, considered to be the most important speech in American history; Ernest Hemingway originally wrote most of his works in pencil; John Steinbeck had a fetish for pencils and used as many as sixty cedar pencils a day to complete his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Pages of history are marked by these people, just like their paper was marked by their pencils. I hope that one day, I can mark history as well.

At Kindergarten, learning to hold a pencil was somewhat of a crowning achievement. I would hold one close to its tip, in a tight grip, concentrating on the fine detailed, yet scribbly, letters and sketches. I learned to draw in both literal and abstract ways, also getting a feel for creating short, fictional stories extracted from my wild imagination. These sketches and stories became great outlets for my creativity, and I remember that I would leave my house sometimes with nothing but a few pencils, a notebook, and an overwhelming sense of excitement. I was awestruck by what I could conger up in my mind and write about it. I must have been fascinated as the crowd, during the Convention of Deans, Scholars and Scribes in 1248, watched Dean Niccolo of Padua remove a pencil from his cloak and used it to record the address of his friend from Paris. I believe we all felt the wonder of the endless possibilities of what a mere pencil could record.

It disturbs me to think that this simple writing instrument was limited to only Englishmen during the sixteenth century, a tool only the aristocratic could use. If you had a one, chances are you read as well. Countries had to pay large amounts of money for it, others had to improvise to create their own. Mass education and literacy was made possible by a single pencil. It was a luxury then, and it’s a luxury now, although forgotten. Some people today cannot even afford one and the very thought of being unable to express how I feel and what I know into words would torment my soul. Saying what your creative mind thinks is one thing, but writing it down for everyone to see, forever preserved, is an outer-boy experience like no other. I’ve come to learn that a blank, white sheet of paper is the most sensual and intimate relationship for an artist, but the pencil is an extension of the imagination and talent. The pencil is an extension of the hand, a gateway to the mind, an extension of my own energy. I don’t hold my pencil, it holds me!

When you decide to grab a pencil, remember this: the pencil is a great wonder and it should never be forgotten. So don’t ever forget.


Reading Makes You Crazy …

6 Feb

Or, at least that’s what I’ve learned, ironically through reading Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. 

Published in two volumes a decade apart, in 1605 and 1615, the novel follows the adventures of Alonso Quijano, who later calls himself Don Quixote, and his squire Sancho Panza. Initially a gentleman in a small village of Spain, Quixote spent most of his time – and money – purchasing books on chivalry (If you want, google books on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table) and reading them, and eventually, his obsession turns into a reality for him. Quixote is completely delusional, thinking he’s a knight of La Mancha. He thinks windmills are giants, basins for shaving beards are golden helmets, criminals are imprisoned souls in need of his help, and this list could continue for a while. And once he realizes he’s wrong, he claims a wizard, or an enchanter as he calls it, is messing with his mind and his adventures. He’s completely delusional and I love it. 

What’s funnier is that, although people around him know he’s crazy, they either play along or completely believe what he’s saying is true. Poor Sancho, his squire. He’s so naive. 

I loved reading this novel. It makes me second guess what I’m reading – is what Cervantes telling me really happening? Or am I simply like Quixote and believe that I’m a knight along with him?

I recommend reading this. It’s a great read, but expect to be crazy too. 


The “importance” of learning French

16 Jan

On CTV, (or CityTV, not entirely sure) I saw a particular commercial that bothered me immensely this afternoon. It was about these two children, around six to eight years old, speaking in fluent French while playing a chess game at the park. I wasn’t too focused on their conversation, but what I did pay attention to was the last thing I saw: the screen went white as those two kids disappeared into the white abyss and a phrase – around the lines of the importance of your child learning and speaking French – appeared, to my amusement, in fact.

Literally. I giggled. Aloud, even. Honestly, I think it’s ludicrous that these commercials funded by the government, most likely, are advertising the “importance” of French, and yet children can only start learning it at the age of eight or nine, give-or-take, and depending on the school region itself. It’s bullshit!

I appreciate the French language, I do. Heck, I’m even taking a second-year French speaking class at the University of Toronto for God’s sake! But even though I took French way back in Grade One of Elementary, (back when it was mandated so, and not like now in which French is introduced in Grade Four) I’m still having trouble speaking it, let alone understand it. I’m embarrassed to say that those six-year-old smart asses spoke better French than I EVER WILL, no matter how many university classes I take, or no matter how much I try to perfect my French pronunciation.

If French is so “important”, why introduce a new language later in life? Isn’t it bad enough that life is already complicated with a single language?

In psychology, I learned that a second language is best learned early. That is not to say, that an adolescent, adult, or elder cannot learn a new language, it is just that it is much easier and faster when one is relatively younger. I had forgotten what this theory, but thanks to HowStuffWorks, I know again. It’s the critical period hypothesis, which basically states that there’s “a window in which second language acquisition skills are at their peak”. Some researchers say that it ends by age 6 or 7, while others say that it lasts through puberty. EITHER WAY, once this critical period is over, it becomes much harder for a person to learn a new language. Why frustrate children into learning a new language so late? If it’s beneficial to learn early, why has the curriculum changed to postpone learning for roughly three years?

Yes, I know three years doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but trust me it does. At my sister’s age, who’s ten by the way, I could conjugate verbs in at least two tenses. I knew the basics – like colours, numbers – HANDS DOWN! I even understood simple questions in French: Comment t’appelle tu? Oui ou Non? Quelle est la date? And that was THREE years of learning.

I bet you anything my sister, who started French last year in Grade Four, doesn’t even know how to say her age in French.

Works Cited:

Life is Not a Snow Globe

9 Jan

I was looking through some old files, when I came across an article I wrote back in 2011 about the earthquake/tsunami in Japan. I intended to get this published then, but fate thought otherwise. So when I saw this piece, I thought I’d share it here, and not just because the title of the piece, Life is Not a Snow Globe, is fitting for the weather at home.

Before you continue, you should know that this is based on a true story:

It wasn’t too long ago when I thought the world was a snow globe. As a child, I would shake the sphere as hard as I could and stare at the white “snow” slowly falling down upon the little village. I was amazed by this, and not just because I was a mellow-easy-to-please kind of girl, what astonished me was the fact that in that tiny village, everything looked peaceful – perfect even. So that’s how I perceived the world to be. But what I didn’t realize is that what I thought to be a flawless reality was far from it.

            My snow globe version of the world came crashing down into infinitesimal pieces of glass on the Friday before Spring Break. Ideally, as an adolescent eager to lay back, relax and do nothing for the next week, all thoughts shifted towards those days sleeping until noon. My friends shared the same thoughts and all we could talk about that morning was what we were going to do during our care-free break.

            But then an acquaintance of mine, who shall remain nameless, joined our conversation. Among talks of flying to Florida, going to malls and visiting Niagara Falls, she spoke for the first time. Composed and calm – at least, that was how she looked like – she whispered, “I can’t contact my dad”.

            And then she burst into tears, her confident poise no more.

            I stood there, watching her cry, paralyzed in confusion. I had to look at my friends for answers and it wasn’t until one of them mentioned of the earthquake in Japan that I really understood her reason for shedding tears.

            Right. The earthquake. Today. Magnitude of 9.0. Tsunami. Thousands dead. Thousands injured. And many more missing. Of course I knew before all this happened? Wrong, I didn’t. I was oblivious and was now staring at a girl, overwhelmed with grief of the possibility that something happened to her father.

            Then it hit me, as I was walking away from the scene, making my way towards my first period class. I didn’t want to be oblivious anymore, nor did I want to “stick my head in the sand”.

The world is not a snow globe. It’s not perfect. Neither is life. And it is when only people start to realize this, can we truly make the world a perfect snow globe.


The University Conspiracy: Going Digital

1 Jan

I’ve been attending university for about four months now, and what I’m starting to notice, as if a light bulb literally illuminated over my head, is that university screws you (the student) over – not in the material learned per se, but in the costs required to attend these damned schools.

This past weekend, I decided to sell Psychological Science: Third Canadian Edition, a textbook I used for PSY100H1 at U of T, back to the book store where I initially purchased it. I learned that this store had this “BuyBack” policy, in which the store itself would buy back used textbooks for half its purchasing price. But, to my dismay, when I checked the buyback price online by using the textbook’s ISBN number, I discovered I was only going to receive FOURTEEN FUCKING DOLLARS for it, barely a tenth of what I originally paid for! What’s the point of buying books you’re probably never going to use again, then?

As you could probably imagine, my reaction to this was nothing short of anger and perhaps betrayal. I spent hundreds of dollars for books for my fall semester, – I don’t believe in renting them or using previously-used ones – in hopes of returning them in the spring, and DO YOU THINK THAT HAPPENS?! Nope. It doesn’t.

My new method is to buy an e-reader, tablet, or iPad mini and buy these books electronically. It’s as if these university book stores frustrate me to the point of going digital. Their prices for electronic textbooks are certainly less than the traditional route.

For the past few months I’ve been attending U of T, I’ve contemplated whether to get an e-reader or not. Are ebooks even better than printed ones?

Well, ebooks have become mainstream, like the phrase, “Y.O.L.O”, hispterism, and PSY’s ‘Gangnam Style’. People are hungry for them and I can see why. They take up less space in your room and school bag. You literally don’t have to carry a ton from class to class, everything’s – from hundreds and thousands of ebooks – all inside the electronic device. I see it as your own personal, portable library. Even better, the fonts in ebooks can be adjusted, making it easier for people, like me, without 20/20 vision to read.

However, at the same time, I love the traditional printed book. Don’t YOU just love the “new book” smell? Can you honestly say that you would NEVER smell a new book? You have, at least once, since purchasing something new. Don’t lie to yourself. And if you do buy a new book, don’t deny your nose the pleasure of the “new book” smell.

Not everyone loves or cares for the “new book” smell. Those inclined to purchase an ebook edition over a printed one have changed how book retailers establish their market. Retailers, like Indigo, have expanded their merchandise to include children toys, music, and movies, which I find to be ludicrous! A book store is meant to sell books; adding miscellaneous products is merely a desperate cry for help.

The fact that book retailers are now selling children’s toys, furniture and the like – emphasizing a certain kind of lifestyle – is OF ITSELF a separate rant for me that I don’t necessarily want to get into. So I’ll do myself a favour and stop with that.

There is something that printed books have that ebooks, to a certain degree, will never have: a sense of material history. I’ve taken bibliographical and textual studies, and I’ve learned that the materials used to produce the books we know and read today can tell us so much about history, about the people who wrote them, the politics of a certain era, and so much more.

The argument avid ebook buyers use – that ebooks do not require trees and therefore are more environmentally friendly – is absolutely false. May I add that I was just as surprised as you are to come across this new revelation. One would think that the digital book is more environmentally friendly because it helps save paper, but boy, were we wrong. The making of a single ebook requires the extraction of 33 pounds of minerals found in Africa, 79 gallons of water to produce batteries and printed circuit, and 100 kilowatt hours of fossil fuels, generating about 66 pounds of carbon dioxide (which is bad for us). In comparison, the traditional, printed book consumes only about two thirds of a pound of minerals, two gallons of water, 2 kilowatt hours and generates 100 times less greenhouse gas emissions. Talk about an eye-opener.

Additionally, digital publishing is not equally ideal for all categories of books. A BookNet study analyzed 50 categories of books and identified those that were most likely to adopt into digital editions. The categories that “scored positive for digital adoption” included travel, medical, law, business, fiction, and foreign language, but not all could be easily adopted. This is unfortunate, because some of the books I need for this next semester DO NOT have an electronic version.

So if not every text is available digitally, does THAT not make e-readers better?

I feel like U of T, and perhaps all universities, are setting this conspiracy up; this temptation to go digital. University book stores are urging us to buy an e-reader, buy electronic versions of our textbooks because we think it’s better … evidently, this is a conspiracy to waste more money no matter which way we go.

Like I said before: university screws you over.

Works Cited:
“Canadian Publishing 2011: Challenges and Changes.” Book Reviews, Bestselling Books & Publishing Business News |Publishers Weekly. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. .

“Indigo Books Q1 loss widens on lower retail sales|Reuters.” Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. .

Personne et tout le monde. “La disparition du livre à l’ère du numérique?.” Monctone Free Press. N.p., 27 Jan. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. . {The article I read in my French class}