Pencil and Paper

A japanese tea room may have paper covering a latticed wooden construction. Tea rooms are meant to be ephemeral, soon passing into decay to that curious wabi sabi aesthetic for which the japanese are so known. Paper, it seems, embodies this ephemerality together with an undefinable elegance, which I, personally, think blooms from its potentiality - which is a potentiality for carrying an eternal and beautiful message. And yet, paper is the medium closest to destruction, blotching, incineration. Paper is cheap, though it defies this. It defies it by nature of its cheapness - by affording us chance after chance to make something good, to correct our mistakes, new music, new words, new drawing flowing from us, and onto that indestructible format. Indestructible not because it is, but because another always takes its place, and gives us another chance.

Enter pencil, the prodigal brother of paper. Like paper, pencil destroys itself, sacrifices itself in the act of creation. I envision the two mediums as chaotic and self destroying things, that stand between the maker and the product, though, between is a vagueness of necessity. The bond between us and the finished product is so complicated, trying to describe it has resulted in books that spend lifetimes talking only about parts of it, and which in themselves talk of something as broad as the human condition. Think of treatises on musical composition, like Fux' "Gradus ad parnassum", or "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White, detailing best practices in writing. These books are mere binders of experience, enablers which seek to sophisticate our expression onto this holy of mediums. And yet, it seems sometimes that the annotated sheet of paper is the final product. A duality then, comes in form of the piece of paper. It carries an eternal message, which is the experience we wish to perceive, but this is only enabled by the paper, which carries little intrinsic worth.

Think of music that has been lost to us, and that is only read off the page freshly after being left untouched for a hundred years. At such time these flimsy mediums seem not so ephemeral after all, but rather eternal - and yet, the piece of paper in your hand, stained as it is strategically with black ink is most certainly not the page in which the music was originally written. No, those pages are surely now a smear of dirt in an ancient trash heap, perhaps so diffuse now that any trace could not be found.

Paper and pencil conveys ephemeral thoughts through its short life, only to be copied into eternity. Or not. Most paper is used once, its contents wasted soon after- as with my sons endless drawings of lines and circles, specks of color. Still, these marks also leave indelible traces in his mind, which will find themselves copied onto new pages in slightly new forms. The paper and pencils become wittgensteinian ladders, stepping stones towards an experience of future proficiency. A stepping stone towards a type of humanity that would not be, were it not for these cheap yet eternal things, extensions of our hands and minds into the world of the extant, the interpersonal. 

It is no wonder that the masters of composition simultaneously describe a skill and markings, scratchings on a white medium. The humanity they describe is a sliver of a society that would not be were it not for the notational capabilities, the foundation of empire and culture - and only through, at least a partial mastery of these can we become that praized of beings, the citizen.

The vote, which extends our selves into a system of bodies, counting up to the idea of representation in a legislative superbody, is a law giving body, which amounts to a writing the minds of our condensed and extended morals into a code that we are to follow. We, the nation, stand on the ephemeral paper and pencil, and define ourselves through writing. 

Abstract is the word, thought abstracted from ourselves, given shape through a technique of composition into a form of communication that describes our experiences, whether of music, words, of vision, and through words, of food and smell, sex and death. But here is the problem. If paper can hold so much, then where do we start?

In a way, those works on composition are not enabling us through and expression of what we can do, but as an expression of what we can't. We reign ourselves in, and bind ourselves to a few forms. Rarely do we see books of music, morse, words and drawing, all falling under one. These competencies are so large that rarely are they found in one person, and so we must cordon off these techniques of sharing ourselves, as we limit our friendships to those who at least intersect with us, with our language and with our spheres of knowledge. Competency lies on a continuum, which we all must inhabit towards one end or another.

There are those who are not allowed to go to school, about a billion of the earth's poorest. Then there is a few percent, a few million with access to the world's best education. Mastery of knowledge, we will see, largely resides in the individual's proficiency at making scratches on paper, to externalise themselves into eternal systems of conduct, of bundles of norms in banks, in schools, in high society, which lives in this paper world, of which money is of course a part. Money. Dirt cheap to make, but expensive to own. The makers of money are the externalised selves who have thrown their whole beings into pieces of paper, who stand on the ballots, who print the green

It's about organisation, often. The words I have here thrown together are snippets of logic brought to bear on an educated mind. They sunder against an educated intellect, and trickle into understanding as packets of meaning, opening up vaults of comprehension that may, for all I know, have been wide open already. These very words are an expression of a competency not inherent in the metaphorical paper on which it is metaphorically printed, but it is enabled by it; as medium, as a part of an education, as an external memory and a holder of arguments. But first, comes the paper.

The empty page, the blank screen. These are the canvases of civilisation. The clay tablet, on which the first pieces of accounting were done wrote and finalized bargains that tied cities into interpersonal relationships. The modern contract is a promise enabling us to live tripple lives. In the now, the past and the future. Perhaps it is the now that is ephemeral, and the paper is the durable - the hard, the forcing. Paper here stands between us, enabling us once again to take on new forms of being.

As you are reading this now, you are engaging in an externalized version of myself which could not be had it not been for you reading this. Such, is the importance of pen and paper.