A Better Pencil

I’ve spent a lot of my career as a journalist writing about the issues of my people. It’s been an educational journey and there have been a lot of highs and lows in both the stories I covered themselves and how they’re perceived by Canadians. Building bridges is exhausting sometimes.

            When I started as a reporter in 1979 the world was a wildly different place. We used typewriters then. Our newspaper pages were typeset, we used tape recorders and our cameras used film. I still use pencils though. Some things never change.

            No one mentioned self-government in 1979. There was no Bill C-31 and Indian women who married non-native men lost their Indian status. It was different the other way around. Non-native women became card-carrying Indians when they married a status man. That’s all changed now and marriage doesn’t make you Indian.

            There was no National Aboriginal Healing Foundation back then, no Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the idea of a Prime Minister standing up in the House of Commons to apologize for abuses would have been greeted with hooting and catcalls.

            But I still use pencils. Isn’t that amazing? A stick of wood with a thin vein of graphite remains a valuable tool for writers and is on nearly every desk you see. I like the tiny erasers at the end. They seem to be more manageable than the pink “rubbers” you can buy.

            Pencils were writing’s first technological advance. They made the act of writing possible. They moved the world from oral storytelling to paper and the world changed forever. Nowadays digital technology has altered our sense of things and everything is faster.

            But there’s a pencil on every desk. Why? I like to think it’s because we all have an inherent love of tradition or because simple times are something we all long for. So I think we should try to connect to that more. Really work at old-school approaches to things.

            We could talk more and email less. We could visit each other in person instead of Face Booking. We could write letters instead of tweets – in pencil with the mistakes rubbed out. It would make us better in the end, better communicators. Technology after all is just a better pencil.


About Richard Wagamese

I am a published author with 13 titles published by major Canadian publishers. I am a First Nations person from the Ojibway Nation in Northwestern, Ontario, Canada. As a professional writer since 1979 I have written for newspaper, radio television, magazines and book publishing. I love the culture of books and the people who populate it. 2012 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communications. View all posts by Richard Wagamese

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