Be the Purple


Go then and act your tragedy, but I will not do so. You ask me, ‘Why?’ I answer, ‘Because you count yourself to be but an ordinary thread in the tunic.’ What follows then? You ought to think how you can be like other men, just as one thread does not wish to have something special to distinguish it from the rest: but I want to be the purple, that touch of brilliance which gives distinction and beauty to the rest. Why then do you say to me, ‘Make yourself like unto the many?’ If I do that, I shall no longer be the purple.

The Discourses of Epictetus
(translated by P.E. Matheson, 1916)
Chapter II, “How One May Be True to One’s Character in Everything”

When you use a hand-held pencil sharpener, you get these nice little wafer-thin wood cones:

Be the Purple - 2 of 4

Lately, I’ve been calling them “hula skirts.”

If I had gobs of free time, maybe I’d sit on a park bench in the town square and whittle tiny dolls, and I could use these little shavings as realistic-looking skirts for the dolls. And I’d only use twigs that fell off the tree on their own. And I would make glue and varnish from ingredients I foraged locally. But time is moving way too fast for all of that.

The Staedtler Noris's hula skirt has a stylish multicolored fringe.

The Staedtler Noris’s hula skirt has a stylish multicolored fringe.

As pencils approach midlife, sharpeners will start digging into their foil-print. On the Faber-Castell Dessin (shown below), the tiny scale will get shaved off first. On a Palomino Blackwing, the little horsey is the first thing to go. If you have any empathy at all, you cringe a little bit when this happens–like when you take that first bite of your chocolate Easter bunny.

Be the Purple - 1 of 4

A bittersweet moment, for sure…but it gives the shavings that “touch of brilliance which gives distinction and beauty to the rest.”

Be the Purple - 3 of 4

(Note the touch of brilliance.)

Perhaps, instead of “hula skirts,” they should be “tunics.”

[Editor's Note: Please, no jokes about pencil skirts.]





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