Earlier this week, Caroline Weaver, the founder of CW Pencil Enterprise in Manhattan, announced that the shop would be closing its doors by the end of the year. If you’ve spent any time in the online stationery world, CW Pencils has been one of its pillars, devoted almost entirely to pencils and everything related to them. Many people are probably sitting here and thinking “Wait, there’s an entire store devoted just to PENCILS? Is this an episode of Portlandia? Why do you care about the closing of a pencil shop in a city over 1000 miles away from you?” These are valid questions.
You see, around 5 years ago or so, I started to use pencils a lot. Almost exclusively actually. My job as a teacher requires keeping physical records of grades, attendance, and more, and all often involve a lot of erasing and rewriting. Pens made this impossible, so I migrated more and more to pencils. Then one day, a student left a broken Mitsubishi 9000 HB pencil on the floor of my room. I picked it up and was immediately struck by the deep green paint and the gold imprint on the side stating Made By Elaborate Process in such a matter-of-fact way. Then I sharpened it and began using it, and it was a revelation. It was such a satisfying writing experience, and I used that pencil down to the very last millimeter. After that pencil gave its last, I began to seek out more information on where I could order those pencils, and this led me down the rabbit hole into the online stationery and writing community. While browsing around for pencil recommendations I found the CW Pencil Enterprise website, and this led me to other niche blogs and resources relating to writing tools such as Pencil Revolution, The Pen Addict, The Erasable Podcast, JetPens, and Field Notes. In essence, CW Pencils was the thing that eventually led me to my entire writing, journaling, note-taking, and archiving process that I still use to this day. These things have had a big impact on me, especially in my personal development, organization, journaling, mental health, and spiritual life. The store was something that I made a point to stop into while on my honeymoon in New York City. Yes, part of the plans on my honeymoon (apart from eating pizza every day) was to visit a pencil store, and my wife graciously indulged my ridiculousness. She patiently waited while I geeked out and bought pencils for over an hour in that tiny store on the lower East Side, and I planned on returning to the store whenever Amber and I made another trip to the city.
So when I read the announcement of their closing, I felt a tinge of sadness. It’s always a shame to see a small business close its doors, and this has sadly become a common sight after the emergence of COVID-19. Every small business has lives and livelihoods orbiting around it, and when it disappears, lives are affected, and I hope that everyone involved in the store finds new and better opportunities because of it.
There is something that Weaver said in her statement about the closing that has stuck with me. She spoke about the difficulties of having a brick and mortar retail store in the age of Amazon and she said “It’s easy to say that you support small businesses, but in practice, do you actually?” As I thought about it, I’m guilty of this. Sure, I bought some things when I visited the store and made a couple of online orders with them, but more often than not, I would browse their site for ideas… and then buy things off Amazon (I find it somewhat prophetic that I had literally just finished opening a new order of pencils from Amazon when I read the announcement of the closing on Instagram). Like so many of us, I am often a slave to convenience.
It’s easy to say things. It’s a lot harder to actually do things. Am I doing what I say? Am I putting in the time and work into my faith? My marriage? My role as a father? Or am I letting convenience dictate my actions? At the end of all things, my words amount to nothing. I can say I believe X or I should do Y to my dying breath, but without action, it is all for naught. If I approach my faith and my relationship with Christ out of convenience, I will eventually find myself in the most inconvenient of places, be it literal or spiritual. Christ doesn’t care about convenience, and to approach him in that spirit is the epitome of pride and arrogance. “Oh no, I’ll see you when I’m ready”. This is setting me up for a hard hard fall. If we only do what is convenient, we will only get inconvenient results. We cannot be afraid of doing the work, no matter how hard it is. G.K. Chesterton said that “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” At times, I have left things untried because it was hard, and I tried to let my words pull the weight for me. This never works out in the long run. I cannot let myself take the easy road through empty talk. There is no fruit at the end of it. As Christ said in Matthew 7, “You will know them by their fruit.”
What are my fruits? Do I care more about my convenience or Christlikeness? Do my actions show Christlikeness? Catholic priest Josemaría Escrivá once said, “How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: ‘This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.” This has been a prayer of mine as of late, and in many cases, I’ve failed to live up to it more often than not. It’s a humbling realization, and all of this came from something as simple as pencils.
It’s amazing how God can use the closing of a pencil store to give me a much-needed reminder.