At birth, everyone is given a giant block of marble. In our early years, our parents place in our hands a hammer and chisel, and show us how to hold them. In school, our teachers show us the blocks of marble those figures of the past carved for themselves. And give us instructions on how we can chisel away at our own blocks.
Soon, we start to lay hammer and chisel to stone, and piece by piece, we slowly chip away at the edges. As we grow older, the chips grow larger and shapes start to emerge from our giant blocks of marble.
For years we carve. Each of us making the best of what we have. Some are given more tools, some are given less. The instructions change, the chisels break, the system is not always fair. But the block of marble is always the same. And, if we’d like, we can shape it the best we can.
Eventually, we will strike the final hammer blow, drop our tools, and step back to see what we have wrought.
It’s a practice that begin in 9th or 10th grade. After seeing the old notebooks of my dad, in his neat, printed handwriting. That very day, I ditched my mechanical pencils and my sloppy, middle school handwriting. It took some getting used to. with lots of accidental lowercase letters and flipping my pen around to erase what were suddenly permanent mistakes etched into my spiral notebook. Now, though, years later, pencils feel flimsy and waxy and less substantial if I try to do anything but sketch. Even writing the date next to a portrait or drawing of a giraffe in my sketchbook feels odd. I just love writing in pen. And seeing pen marking the page.
I had a friend in high school whose love of ball points pens went unrivaled. He was one of the first people I ever met in my large and daunting public high school, in Algebra 1 on our first day of freshman year. His name was Powell. He was usually more tan than the rest of the guys around him, cause he played tennis for the high school and had long tournaments outdoors on the weekends. We had a few classes together through high school, but it wasn’t until AP Government in my junior year that we really started to connect on the pen-front.
By then, the pencils were long gone from my – pencil case. And every other day, I walked into Mrs. Darcy’s classroom (though we always called her Miss Darcy), sat down, and quickly turned to my right, looking one row over and three seats back to Powell, lounging against the back wall, staring me down with a new fancy pen in his hand and a smirk on his face.
We swapped pens and complimented the action on the click. Measured the weight and balance. Tested them on the corner of a page page, just a few signatures and squiggles, with maybe a checkbox or two.
That was the friendship. That’s what I always think about when I think of Powell. And whenever I find a pen with a particularly good click or a line as smooth as can be, I think of Powell then, too.
I write with a Pilot G-2, 0.7mm. It’s basic. But I wonder what Powell writes with these days. I bet it’s got a great click.
I brought this Instagram post up with my sister Theresa today during a conversation about time and ambition we were having across her kitchen island.
After looking at it for a minute, she finally said “I think there’s such a fine balance between cherishing time and worshipping it.”
We can, and should, work to cherish the time we have on earth. The one truly limited resource all humans contend with in the same way. But Theresa was right – the idea of utilizing our time to the utmost extreme can be a mindset that infects and permeates every waking moment. To a point that the incessant thought of saving time could be the thing that causes us to lose it.
Let’s cherish our time. Value it, guard it. But when we worship our time, we set it up on a pedestal like an ornate vase that now stands empty for fear that it might break or be lost. We bask in its beauty without truly experiencing it or filling it with that which matters.
There’s nothing really giving my life structure in this season. Sure, I can create my own schedule. I can give myself firm end and start times or specific hours for work. But without any sort of external influences – going in to an office each day, evenings out of the house, Sunday mornings at church, etc – days are passed without a skeleton to keep the different areas of my life supported and suspended.
Instead, everything piles together – work flops into every hour of the day, swapped and rearranged constantly with household tasks. Interweaved with internet musings and nature documentaries. There is no ‘off limits’ time for any of these without any set schedules telling me when I have to show up for work, or when I’m not allowed to simply lay on my couch and read a while.
With the lack of structure in my schedule comes a lack of structure in my energy and emotional state as well. I find myself drifting fluidly, constantly throughout the day into and from states of laziness, exhaustion or purpose-driven energy. Sadness, happiness, loneliness, inspiration – every moment of the day is seemingly fair game for these and more.
It’s an odd way to live. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Often it’s frustrating.
I have much more than others, and I’m sorely lacking much besides. But days, weeks and months spent without a skeleton can be a messy way to walk for anyone – no matter what else they’ve got.