A violin, a wine glass, a mobile phone & a pencil: what’s the connection?

Posted on: November 7, 2014, by :

Think about the violin for a minute. The violin has four strings and is the smallest bowed string instrument in the string family. The violin can range from a low G to a high C. The violin, the magnificent string instrument, is essentially one of the oldest string instrument created and forged by humankind, needed literally by all orchestras for all types of pieces, for its versatility, sharpness, agility, and warmth; for its styles and sounds, its impeccable tune, varying from a low pitch of a roaring gorilla, to a sharp, chirping bird, where nearly everyone could hear it, whether you are millions of miles away from it, or merely inches beside the bridge of the strings.

Violins can be set up in just under a minute, after the bow is rosined and the strings are tuned. Violins have a beautiful fingerboard where the fingers are positioned on the strings, giving it a different tune every time a finger is positioned at a different place. However there is always a risk when this happens: A terrifying string snap, leaving a painful sensation to the performer’s fingers, an ugly scratch to the performer’s performance, and a loud screech to the listener’s hearing. A string snaps when the performer becomes careless, pressing the string on the fingerboard too hard, causing the string to have a tension that is too high, and by the time the performer finds out about that, it is too late. The loud snapping sound has been heard, echoing in the distance, from the stage to the audience seats, and everyone, including the stage director, looks at the performer in shock, wondering the origins of the snapping sound. Even the performer looks stunned, while thick, dark red blood dribbles down the performer’s fingers, drop by drop to the ground, tainting the ground with dark red spots, causing a small pool of red, and everyone starts to panic and scream at the performer. This snapping is like a game of hide and seek, where the hider finds a spot the seeker least expects to find the hider. In this scenario, the hider is the horrific string snap, while the seeker is the performer. The string snap can happen anytime, anywhere, and in any situation that the performer least expects, like in the case above, a beautiful performance, scarred by the fact that the violin string has broken, while the performer has no choice but to change the strings, bandage his blood-stained fingers and halt the performance. The blood from the fingers continues to drip slowly, and the color becomes darker and darker, from bright red to a darker red, somewhat looking more like grape juice spilled onto the floor.

Grapes are one of the most important ingredients used in fermentation of wines. Wine is fundamentally one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world, and one of the reasons why people enjoy drinking wine is that the accessory used is also unique. The wine glass, a large bowl, a thin stem and a large foot once more, is used; you guessed it, for drinking wine. The wine glass, however, has many variations for different types of wine. Like spoons and forks, there are specific types of glasses for specific variant of wines, even the simplest variant. But all of these wine glasses have one thing in common: they are very fragile. One slip from the fingers can cause a mess to everyone. The glass drops to the hard, solid ground, and glass shatters into shards, scattering around various places, some flying to the high ceiling in the restaurant, some flying into hairs and faces of people, guests and staffs alike, scarring their faces in the process, while some remain on the ground, leaving a chunk of glassy mess to be cleaned up by the custodians. Glass shattering sounds cause everyone to quiet down suddenly and painful screams by the ones with glass shards on their face and hair are heard. At the same time, the wine in the glass splashes on the ground, drenching the floor, leaving a stain, and never to be tasted by the wine taster. Such a pity, because no matter if it is the tastiest wine, or the most beautiful wine glass in the world, if you take proper care of them, the lifespan of the wine glasses may be a few hundred years; if you just treat them like inanimate objects, throwing them into the cabinet like they are cheap and not valuable, their lifespan may be reduced to merely days, and in any way, the best wine in the world in a broken wine glass will just turn into a waste, a beautiful but still, waste, drank by mice and cockroaches which scavenge the waste discarded by humans.

Humans throw away a lot of old, clunky technological devices, such as an old monitor, an old printer, an old cell phone. Cell phones are one of the newer technological devices, as it was only introduced to the public in the late 80’s, while telegraphs have existed since the late 19th century, and television existed in the late 40’s. Cell phones replaced the ever-faithful pager, a device used by 90’s people to communicate with one another using codes, which are now used in the modern-day hospitals for doctors to communicate with one another. Cell phones have evolved from a big, mono-colored, landline-lookalike device to a smaller, high-definition colored display, computer-like device. The current technology allows it to function like a PDA, like a Walkman, like a drawing board, which continues to amaze the public. It can even be a device that can track your running distances, your sleeping patterns, or your routine locations. The cell phone has become one of the necessities in the daily life, as people will stare and look at you if you say you do not have a cell phone, wondering where you live. But like other technological devices, cell phones get out of fashion easily. It gets old, it lags, it gets battered, and the worst of all, the screen cracks. An accidental slip from the pocket can cause your iPhone to sustain permanent, costly damages. The slip causes the phone to drop from your pocket to the ground in a matter of seconds, and depending on your luck, the screen may be unscathed, because the body collided with the surface of the ground, or in a more unfortunate case, the screen may be cracked, because the large, glossy screen collided with the surface of the ground, causing it to have a large thud sound, and before you know it, the screen has scars on it, cracked in a shape of a lightning. A sudden jolt comes into you, and then you realize that the screen crack will cost a hefty sum, like a month’s allowance, or a small but still significant part of your paycheck, if you decide to repair it. In a far more extreme case, the cost of repairing may be even more than the cost to buy a new phone, and because of this, you decide to get a new one. The old, battered phone with huge scars gets chucked away in the trash can, its existence is forgotten, and the process repeats.

Writing is a strenuous process. It could take days for you just to write an essay, months to write a short story, years to write a book, and sometimes having a deadline adds to the stress faced in writing. We could use lots of tools to write, ranging from the new-age technology, the computer, to the old-fashioned pencil. The pencil can draw a straight line for 100 miles, and can write millions and millions of words, which may be the case why some writers prefer pencils. The pencil lead, in fact, is not made from lead, but from clay and graphite. The largest pencil ever made is in a Faber Castell factory in Malaysia. The largest pencil looks like it is a tall skyscraper for visiting, and it is. The tip of the pencil really contains a large amount of graphite, or what we colloquially call it, pencil lead. Pencils have both the traditional ones, made from wood cut from trees, or the mechanical ones, the ones where you insert the pencil lead into the “pencil”, and lead automatically comes out as it is used, which are considered more “eco-friendly” than the traditional ones. The pencil, unlike the pen, is erasable, and hence every mistake you make is reversible. Every time a traditional pencil is sharpened though, the lead becomes less and less, until the pencil has an extremely short stem, and it turns to nothing. One of the few reasons why we sharpen our pencils is because it is blunt due to usage for a period of time, or because of our carelessness, the pencil drops onto a hard surface, breaks into two, one side is left on the floor, the other picked up by us and we have no choice but to sharpen the pencil again and again. The mechanical pencils, on the other hand, need not be sharpened, but like traditional, wooden pencils, if the pencil is dropped onto a hard surface, let’s say, a tiled floor, the pencil lead breaks, and what’s gone is already gone. We cannot reuse the pencil lead as the broken pieces are too small, nor we can use the pencil without refilling lead in them, as the pencil lead will run out one day.

A window shatters from the ball kicked by the kids at a playground. A ceramic mug breaks from a drop to the floor. So many things that can be broken in a lifetime, year, a month, a day, an hour, a minute, a second. We break many things, but we do not see that we have broken a person’s heart by being what see we say carelessly. This carelessness is the one where it seems to have a minor effect, but it actually has a major, negative effect on those people. A boy calls a girl “fat”, a straight man calls a homosexual person “a fag”, a mentally capable person calls a mentally challenged person “stupid”, these scenarios depict exactly how “careless” we can be and hurt another person’s feelings. When a young girl calls her grandfather “old, slow and stupid”, family members, including the grandfather can easily forgive the granddaughter because she is still young; when the young girl becomes an adult woman though, if she says the same thing, she gets scolded by her elders, ignored by her peers, shunned away by the society for being so cruel to the grandfather. Family members might say to the grandfather: “Walk away and pretend nothing has happened”, but do you think that the grandfather can do so? When a heated argument surface between a couple, and the boyfriend says something very insulting to the girlfriend, calling her cheap, the girlfriend looks shocked and offended. Then, she can react in many ways: A bloodcurdling scream, an intense shouting, or in a far more extreme physical cases, a slap, a kick, a punch to the boyfriend. The boyfriend could always say that “It will never happen again,” but do you think that boyfriend will never do so again? “I’m sorry” may be also said by the boyfriend and the woman, but can the girlfriend and the grandfather take that into account, respectively? These three words has become an immune system to the girlfriend, or the grandfather, and sometimes they would even reply that apologizing using those three words is not sincere enough. The boyfriend and the granddaughter can only change themselves; try to think before saying anything, and hopefully the change can make them a better person.


The piece above is a Doyle-shaped essay, named after the author of “Joyas Voladoras”, Brian Doyle. It is known as a Doyle-shaped essay because the style of the essay was mimicking the style of Brian Doyle’s writing, which included a few seemingly disconnected objects, linked through bridges of words, to reveal a larger human truth about the society today. The Doyle-shaped essay was an assignment given by my instructor, Ms. Maria Nazos, to, in her words, “unlearn the rules of an essay”. She wanted us to write an unconventional essay using Brian Doyle’s style of writing, which included repetitions, detailed descriptions and usage of lists. The following essay demonstrates that even a violin, a wine glass, a cell phone, and a pencil can be linked together to relate to a larger human truth, carelessness.

Leland Chow Li Ren

Introducing Leland Chow:

Leland is a sophomore studying finance and communication at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on a Global Laureate Scholarship. This maiden contribution to this blog was written as an essay which earned him a Grade A from his instructor.


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