Writing or Metamorphosis?


We’re kicking off our blog by celebrating the humble pencil: its forgiveness, messy rough drafts and carefree smudges; the way you can wear it behind your ear or spear it through an updo on a hot day.

How it gives itself to us completely: diminished to the nib, so small you can’t hold it anymore – like a melted candle that can’t hold its flame.

The word graphite comes from the Greek graphein, which means to write.

Interestingly, graphein also signifies the act of cutting, since ancient people wrote cuneiform or hieroglyphics by cutting the symbols into wax tablets or stone. They wrote with knives and styluses.

The silver mechanical pencils in the photo at left hint at this: their shapes call to mind medical instruments, bullets, or needles.

No metamorphosis happens without a little violence.


Look at poor Gregor Samsa who transformed into a giant beetle in Kafka’s The Metamorphosis or Ovid’s host of mythological folks who turned into stags, trees, and flowers. Daphne’s arms grew into branches to escape being molested by a god.


These days we write in pixels, carving them into our keyboards. Instead of turning into flora and fauna we just transform fact into fiction. Even poetry transforms the truth – metaphors are filthy little liars.

Graphein is still part of our vocabulary. For example, ts root “graph” can be found in the words calligraphy, graffiti, and monograph.

In The Georgics, the ancient poet Virgil wrote instructions for “grafting” scions of different plant species onto host fruit trees – agricultural editing that shares the same root as graphite.

Virgil’s description perfectly symbolizes our experience as immigrants – and editors – in lovely Italy: our lives have been grafted, or written, onto the landscape here.

(image attribution)



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