Monday, October 17, 2005

What is evil?

Let me just say that I wrote this a long time ago, when a vast and compelling person asked the
question: what is evil? In addition to pencils, I believe my list also included Burger King and the Yankees. Here was my elaboration on my answer:


Allow me to justify “pencils” on my “evil” list, and explain my approach to creating the list:

I believe I understood the “assignment:” what is evil? What otherwise innocuous item or being or concept is haunting or chilling or oozing bad vibes at you? The thing is, when I started to think about what those things might be to me, I had a sense of peeking behind a dark, heavy curtain that I had hung long ago and never disturbed, a place where I unconsciously keep all those things that are evil to me… the list I sent to you was just a sample. This is not a fearful thing: I keep them, I put them there to simplify my life and smooth my progress, not out of fear. They are away from me now, separate from me, unable to affect or restrain me.

I know everyone has these lists, some short, some very long, some comprised of an inability to comprehend or cope or accept, some that list representatives of that which is despised or envied. I am aware of my and others’ reactions to these stimuli, and I decided long ago to rid myself of these burdens. They don’t bother me now – I only made my list to protect everyone else!

I don’t use pencils. I stopped using them altogether a few years ago, although it was a gradual process. When faced with the ubiquitous mug of writing instruments, I would hesitate, then choose a pen, any pen, over a pencil. Mechanical pencils were a lurking menace – in selecting what looked like a pen, the psychic jolt when I quickly stroked the paper with the nib and saw a thin, gray line instead of a rich, bold black or blue was startling. I tried to make peace with them: maybe it was the yellow-coated six-sided body of the traditional utensil that repulsed me, and the sleek modern mechanical would carry me to the future of pencils…but no. The silver or gold clips, fine materials, capped erasers, fussy twist-open body revealing thin, fragile pencil leads seemed foolish to me – all this hoopla and effort and fuss to create a PENCIL line, something so ineffectual and fleeting, so easily erased! How many times had I seen notes, words, ventures, proposals, created, then erased after their weight had been considered? How easy it is, how nonchalant and cavalier and meaningless it is to write something with a pencil. Go ahead, write it down. Don’t like it? Didn’t mean it? Didn’t think it all the way through? A mistake? Erase it. It’s gone – no guilt, no consequences, no qualms - no lesson learned. Start again.
How much time has been wasted, writing with pencils? How many brains have been trained to write, erase, write, erase, without considering the impact of the written word, without intending what is written? How will these brains react in other situations of choice, decisions, judgements? The impermanence of words written in pencil is a symbol of the flaw that permeates our society: meaninglessness. To borrow from Lewis Carroll, Write what you mean, and mean what you write.


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