In my grandfather’s desk, he kept a slate and a slate pencil. I still feel the narrow smooth soapstone resting against my already-developing writer’s callous. I hear its tap-slide against the charcoal-gray slate. Sometimes I couldn’t wait for the surface to dry between wet-rag washes, and my marks faded before I could finish an entire word.
When I was ten, I remember the anticipation–something I called “the itch”–of filling a wide-ruled sheet of paper with words. I didn’t know what I wanted to write, but the urge to create surged through me. I still smell the cedar of my pencil. I hear the pop of sharpened graphite against the cellulose fibers of the page. I see my distinct formation of letters, mimicking the example pinned above the chalkboard. But, already at age ten, I was adding my own flair. It was the beginning of my most personal statement: my signature.
One day, although I didn’t know it then, that signature would appear on the title page of my first book listing my name as “author.”
These days I make a conscious effort to write long-hand on paper with a writing implement. It is done with a different intent than when I was ten. I do it because a blank screen is not the same as a blank page. Although in some ways, like the slate, the screen is easier to clear than a piece of paper. But, a blinking cursor and a digital touchscreen fail to give off the scent of sacrificial trees. There is no longer the thoughtful chewing on a rubber eraser. There is no longer the need to exercise through scrubbing away words until the paper rips, crumpling it in a ball, and shooting it into the wastebasket. Now there is a muted clicking of the keyboard or the simulated sound of touch-pad QWERTY keys. Who needs handwriting when we can select fonts and manipulate its size? Who needs ruled paper anymore?
Sometimes I need a clean slate. Sometimes I want a blank page. Sometimes I long to inhale cedar, graphite, and rubber. Sometimes I surprise myself at the euphoric joy of seeing a fading blob of ink on my writing callous. In this digital age, I am amazed and privileged that I still have one.
Then I think, maybe, the tap-slide of soapstone on slate might be the sweetest sound to hear.