Recently we came across this article about the allure of pencils highlighting a book titled Pencils You Should Know, and it sparked thoughts about Jamie Bernard, the inspiration behind POBA|Where the Arts Live. Today would have been Jamie’s 33rd birthday.
Colored pencils were one of Jamie’s preferred mediums. And clearly Jamie had a unique relationship with writing utensils, as described in his high school writing assignment, A Day In the Life of My Pen, shared below for the first time on POBA.
POBA has created greeting cards with two of Jamie’s colored pencil drawings. In addition to continuing to circulate his art in the world, the cards help to inform others of the work of the James Kirk Bernard Foundation to preserve creative legacies. Jamie’s life was short, but with your help, his legacy can endure.
In honor of Jamie’s birthday, become a POBA Friend with a donation of $25 or more and receive a set of 6 of Jamie’s cards. We are so grateful for your support and assistance in keeping the arts alive!
A Day in the Life of My Pen
by Jamie Bernard, April 2005
Life sucks, for I am a pen. I cannot sing, and I have no arms or legs. I cannot do anything except be turned about on my head to spurt ink about a piece of paper. I suppose I have it better than some. Not being a pencil, I do not grow blunt and do not have to be shoved in a sharpener every hour during use until I grow subject to dwarfism. Nor did God design for me to be born as one of those poor, destitute souls known as crayons: fat, short-lived, messy things destined to die up the nostrils of some wailing little shit.
But my life, my friends, still sucks. As I sit here in the darkness, I think what it would have been like to be the pen of William Shakespeare. I would be longer and suppler, with one of those beautiful feathers thrusting from my backside. I would be dabbled lightly into a jar of fine ink, instead of being stuffed with it at birth like turkey, and William would put me to his lips, just slightly, before he put me down to write. And oh, the things he’d write! The most beautiful things a human being has ever put to paper, flowing through his head and out of mine in a fine, black stream. And after a few hours of writing, going by as if they were minutes, he would put me away, carefully so not to bend my feather, in a fine wooden chest, so I could rest.
Such, my friends, is not my lot. I am currently in the greasy, stank clutches of a pale, slobbering boy-child named Jamie Bernard. I know this, because I’ve had to write his name above every crappy, error-ridden paper he’s had all year that he has been too lazy to put to a keyboard. Noble friends, I would rather be used to scratch the back of every 300-pound, inbred Broncos fan in Denver. The things I am forced to write (kicking and screaming, if I had legs to kick and a mouth to scream) are a travesty to the English language, to say the least. As of now I am, not in a pencil pouch or even a pocket, but in the itchy darkness of his backpack’s bottom, along with cookie crumbs, a shattered protractor, about a million-dollars’ worth of pennies, and countless forgotten homework assignments yellowing and scrunched upon themselves like accordions. If I had a nose, I’d say the whole thing smelt like failure.
He’s in his English class now, but I am not needed. His teacher is lecturing on a book he should have read, and now, as in all lectures, he’s sleeping. So, I took to my left at my brand-new companion, a red pen he borrowed yesterday from some other kid and forgot to give it back. Most of us other pens don’t like Reds, because they’re always used to go back to the stuff we’ve done and mark themselves all over, pointing out sloppiness and such as if they were better than us. But this guy seems scared and lonely, so I’ll say anything to cheer him up. And to make me forget what I’m being used for. “So, my friend, how’s it going?”
“Not so good man, not so good at all. Who the hell puts his pens in a place like this, man?”
“He does apparently. He doesn’t much care about the likes of us.”
“Is that a rotten banana peel over there, under his math book?”
“Be easy, kind sir. It’s safe down here; it’s nice down here. At least we’re not being used. It’s always better down here than being used.”
“Tell me, this last kid who used you, what did he write about?”
“Well, you know, the usual. Conversations, and books he read, trigonometry and email addresses, things about his week.”
“Well, this kid writes about boogers and pieces of cloth he thinks would taste like fish. He’s written a thirty-page plan on how to kidnap Ronal McDonald, and yesterday I think he tried to spell ‘because’ with a y.”
“He’s insane, his grammar is terrible, his spelling is worse, and even right handed he’s able to smear our output across the page as if south pawed.”
“Jesus. Listen man, I’m a veteran. I’ve been used to grade college essays, man. Been in the shit. But I don’t think I’ve ever been in any situation as scary as this.”
“It’s alright. You see, it’s terrible, but it’s short. He’s managed to lose every other pen he’s ever had faster than he’s able to write with them. Nobody else stays here for more than two days max.”
“I’ve been here for six months.”
“Life sucks, huh.”
And then, in the middle of this conversation with this unfortunate red fellow in the cloth-formed nothingness, I heard a girl asking Him a question that half woke him from his slumber.
“Excuse me, do you have a pen I could borrow?”
“I said: do you have a pen I could borrow?”
And down, into that black nothingness, like a fat, blind shark swimming through the abyss, came the familiar pale, white talons of boy-child that had so often throttled me down to paper to spew forth his nonsense. And I prayed that he would pick me. It was well known to all pens that women took much better care of writing utensils than boys. If those fingers choose me, it would mean safety in a neat little pencil pouch forever more, of course, that damned monkey hand fumbles over to the red pen, and clutching him lightly, it begins to haul it up to felicity. Life really does suck.
“Well, I guess life sometimes works out like that, huh?” he said.
“That’s… that’s not fair! You’ve been here for just one day.”
“well you know, this kind of things is pre-ordained, I think. Maybe it was destiny for me to be picked instead of you.”
“Fuck thou, you crimson whoreson. I hope she uses you to clear wax from her ears!”
“Thanks Jamie. Hey, aren’t you going to write down the assignment?”
“You know, to study for the exam she just announced we’d have tomorrow.”
And then, more silence. A seeming eternity in blackness darker than the ink of my bowels, stewing in my own rage. And then third period is was over, and I was being carried to creative writing. The term to pay attention to in that is “writing”, for it is inevitable that he should find me soon, and hack me about his paper like a butcher’s knife at the whim of his teacher.
“Okay guys, take out your pens and let’s begin our ten minutes of writing.”
Oh, joy. And back comes that hand, that filthy, five-fingered torture rack, squeezing through textbooks and wrinkling novels like a hairless tarantula in an effort to find something to scribble with. He searches and he searches and he searches, and just when I get hope that he will try to borrow another pen, he finds me. Up, up I go, to the light, and then I am turned around in working position, and he moves me to write… and nothing comes. I hold the ink inside as hard as I can, with the hopes that if he thinks I am dried out, he’ll throw me away. There’s a faint grunt of discontent, and then I am being held up to his face like a chicken drumstick.
“Kill me now you ape, break me upon your knee, but I refuse to write another damn sentence to appease yo … arrrgh!” He shakes me up and down furiously, as if that would work with a pen, and then he puts me down to the page once more and begins scribbling up and down, up and down as hard as he can. This almost always works. I try to hold fast, try as hard as I can, but it is no use, and soon enough there is a blue stain on the edge of his page. And then those horrible ten minutes begin.
Minute one: “Oh swell, at least you can spell your name right, you asinine prick. Oh, Twenty Ways to Burn Your Furniture, what a catchy title. I hope they lock you up!”
Minute two: “Oh, no, go ahead, scratch that word out, yes, waste all the ink you want. You’ll just replace it with another stupid word anyway.
Minute three: “That is not how you spell ‘incincerate’! How, could you possibly put two O’s in incinerate?”
Minute four: “My goodness! What manner of beast raped you through your nostrils to batter your brain so badly you must write such? Release me at once!”
Minute five: “Burnaded? That’s not even a word!”
Minute six: “Think of Shakespeare, think of Shakespeare, think of Shakespeare, think of Shakespeare!”
Minute seven: “Please turn me over, please! I promise I’ll never pretend to dry up again. I’ll do anything, please. Hey, wait a minute, what are you doing? No don’t chew on me. Nobody chews on pens, I …”
Minute 8: “ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR…”
Minute 9: “RRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!”
Minute 10: “The horror. Oh god, the horror.”
… to awaken to the nudge of an elbow. Before I knew it I was rolling forward to the edge of the desk, a prisoner still in jail stripes rolling down the hill away from his prison. I turned and I turned and I turned, all the while getting closer to the edge, and I told myself that I’d never get away, that caveman’s club hand would snatch me up before I got there. Then I was sailing away to freedom, as if I really did have a feather on my backside and I was using it to fly. I hit the ground noiselessly, and I kept rolling, almost all the way to the end of the room, to land at the feet of the teacher. She looked down at me, and then without a pause, kneeled down to pick me up, lifting me into the air with the hands that had years of experience with pens.
An English teacher, hallelujah! The very pinnacle of reason, grammatical perfection, and knowledge in spelling! The very best person to belong to as a writing utensil. I was made; I was going to live the good life. If I had hands and feet I would cart wheel and jig about making-merry like some common piece of chalk. But then I heard the voice. That horrible voice.
“Cerena, could I borrow something to write with? I seem to have lost my pen.”
“Okay, Jamie, I just found this one. Just keep doing your assignment.”
“Yes, you’re supposed to write for half an hour about… yuck, there’s bite marks on this.”
“That’s okay, thanks.”
Life sucks, for I am a pen.