I do not enjoying writing while I’m travelling. This is ironic, because travel is one of the few opportunities I have for uninterrupted composition. Airport terminals, coach seats, quiet hotel rooms—all should afford occasion for concentrated scribbling. But ever since one of my nice rollerball pens ruptured at 39,000 feet (making me look like a rather blotchy version of Bradbury’s illustrated man), I’ve found writing on the road to be challenging. Yes, pens leak in airplane cabins. But regular pencils tend to break while riding around in your pocket, while the mechanical kinds too often run out of lead. You can hardly unfold a laptop in a tiny airline seat or find a free power outlet while waiting at gate A12. Hotel rooms are a little better, although I like to spread out when I write, a computer to one side and a stack of scratch paper to the other as I alternated between jotting and typing. It’s not quite the same with napkin-sized hotel stationery and a cheap ballpoint that quickly runs dry. Thus creativity gets squashed by a thousand small frustrations. If only there was a way to get started while on the plane with a pad and a pencil that wouldn’t break and didn’t need sharpening.
Well, there now is thanks to the Perpetua pencil.
At first glance, the Perpetua looks like something a fifteen-year-old graphic-design wannabe might’ve made for Luc Besson’s 1997 rainbow-colored dystopia The Fifth Element. A matte-black shaft with a single side sheared flat sweeps into an inch-long eraser that comes in any one of 11 bright hues. (Mine is cherry-red.) Stamped lettering on its haft not only promotes the brand name, but proudly proclaims that it’s “80% graphite.” That’s where Perpetua’s first minor miracle comes into play. Most everyone who its surface immediately assumes it’ll rub off on your hands. That’s what graphite does, after all. Only it doesn’t. I gave the Perpetua a test run on a recent trip to the northeast, and it didn’t mar my fingers or pockets. It’s also anything but brittle, the tip breaking only once since I’ve owned it and holding its point for a surprisingly long time. And that seemingly incongruous flat side is actually designed to keep the thing from rolling off a desk—or a plane’s tray table.
Not to say the Perpetua is “a real revolution in the world of writing” as its ad copy claims. It’s simply a tough, attractive pencil some practical virtues and a few unfortunate flaws. For instance, the Perpetua isn’t as bold as a classic no. 2 pencil. That flat edge can make your hand cramp after writing for extended periods. Due to its odd shape, you’ll need a sharpener with a larger mouth. And the $13 price point is a bit steep. Still, the Perpetua helped me reclaim travel time, and I consider that worth the cost.