In an engaging discussion of the writing life called Why Write?, the novelist Paul Auster tells a great story: When he was eight years old growing up in New York City, he was obsessed with baseball — this was back when the Giants were the New York Giants. He attended his first major league game at the Polo Grounds. It was there, after the game, that he saw the great Willie Mays. Paul went up to him and managed to ask, “Mr. Mays, could I please have your autorgraph?” “Sure, kid, sure,” Willie said generously. “You got a pencil?”
Well Paul didn’t have a pencil. His dad didn’t have a pencil. His mom didn’t have a pencil. In fact, no one around had one — or a pen. Willie waited a while, but when a writing instrument didn’t turn up, he shrugged and told pencil-less Paul, “Sorry kid. Ain’t got no pencil, can’t give no autograph.”
Well, from that day forward, Paul made it a habit never to leave home without a pencil: “It’s not that I had any particular plans for that pencil, but I didn’t want to be unprepared. I had been caught empty-handed once, and I wasn’t about to let it happen again. If nothing else, the years have taught me this: If there’s a pencil in your pocket, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll be tempted to start using it.”
I love this story because it sends a great message worth reminding ourselves of: fortune favors the prepared. If we want the world to share its riches with us: ideas, juicy conversations, great graffiti, wonderful scenes we can use — then we need to have our tools of the trade at hand. I once chanced upon a fabulous quote from George Eliot: “It is never too late to be what you might have been,” which I used to open my book, How to Succeed On Your Own. Where did I find it? On a New York subway poster. Luckily, I had my pen ready. So, whether your tool of choice is a pencil, pen, Blackberry, or iPad — don’t leave home without it!