Maybe itís time to do a little housecleaning

April 13, 2012 12:43 pm

I have an open box of pencils and pens for easy choosing when I want to write something.

I toss in old and new mixed, some pencils having broken points and some pens no longer have ink in them but have names of people or businesses on their sides that make a sort of collection. Some erasers have hardened and won’t erase, but I keep them just the same because the pencil still writes. They add up.

One day I picked out the pencil with the biggest and best eraser to do some work for me. In the process, we had a conversation in which the Pencil said that it had decided to form a business and make some money. So, I requested a full report on just how it went about this and whether or not it was working.

The No. 1 Pencil with the biggest eraser at the top chose to be the Boss because every business needed to have someone to watch over it. The Boss selected one of the pencils to be the Secretary/Treasurer because it had a No. 2 leaded point.

The other pencils and pens were called Workers. All Workers were judged by the number of pieces of paper they turned in at the end of the month regardless of the type of work they did.

There had to be a way of seeing that all work was accomplished equally in order for each pencil and pen to get the same amount of pay as all the other pencils and pens received, with a bigger portion going to the Boss and the company so that the company could grow larger. That is why they had to turn in their pieces of paper, the No. 1 Pencil told me, so that the Treasurer could put them all in a basket to form a salary pool. Each pencil and each pen was to write the same number of pieces of paper, no more, no less.

I then asked my top No. 1 Pencil how its business was working. “Well,” It answered, “At the end of the month, the contributed papers were counted and payment made for the work done based on the contribution. This meant that if one pencil or pen wrote on its piece of paper too long so that it couldn’t turn in the same number of paper pieces as the other pencils and pens, then the payment rate didn’t come out right. Likewise, if one wrote more pieces of paper than the others, it didn’t get more pay in order to keep things equal.”

It occurred to me that a pencil or pen writing under such a business arrangement would be reluctant to write a better paper than the other pencils or pens or to write more than the required number of papers each month. It could be called the lack of incentive to build a better business by working on attaining a higher quality of one’s writing ability or to contribute any ideas for improvement in any other way. I wondered if I were treating my box of pencils and pens the same way, for I didn’t use all of mine to their

Taking the time to sharpen one’s pencil or fill the pen with ink for clarity would be discouraged lest the other pencils and pens write complaints on their papers, thereby causing static among the other papers so that they stuck together.

While such a system appeared on paper as a fair and equal distribution of work and recompense, in practice it seemed to be questionable for the lack of freedom to write better pages, use more pencil lead or ink, or to take more writing time.

It would also appear to squash the emergence of better free thought and the time in which to develop ideas or a business of their own, for they would get the same amount of time off from work and receive the same amount of money on payday, so why work any harder than necessary to fulfill one’s obligation. There was no ladder to climb to be a No. 1 Boss or to make decisions on how things were run.

Once all the pencils stood in equal line with no one having their point sharpened more times than the others, No. 1 Pencil stated sadly, they appeared to become robots punching the time-clock while being counted as sticks of wood, no more, standing in order in the box. The pens, then, would write as long as their ink held out, but when they ran out of ink they would be of no further use to the company, so they were retired or left the company to get a refill.

Funny how thoughts like this run through one’s head, wondering if the workers were really pencils, pens or human beings. It would seem like one would think twice before having a pencil and pen company such as this or limiting each item’s ability to perform.

As the owner of the company, the No. 1 Pencil with the biggest eraser on top, with which I was speaking, denied bringing pressure to bear on any one pencil or pen, for they willingly agreed to employment terms spelled out by the company.

After our conversation and I had done my erasing, I put the top No. 1 Pencil back in its business box and started to continue on with my work, but stopped in thought.

Why would anyone want to run a pencil and pen company this way, I wondered?

Was I guilty of not running my box of writing equipment better? Should I go through my box of pencils and pens and see what they were really doing?

Maybe it was time to do some housecleaning.

I need to think about that.


Veteran newspaperwoman Dorothy Swart Fleshman is a La Grande native. Reach her at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it