As a freelance writer, I spend a lot of time sitting in coffee bars with my laptop, tapping away at little keys scattered like Chiclets across my keyboard. And while it’s certainly an efficient way to get words onto the page as quickly as possible, I find the plastic tapping a bit soulless — not nearly as satisfying as the flow of an old-fashioned ballpoint pen across paper.
That’s one of the reasons I always start my day with the very sensual, very satisfying experience of doing the New York Times crossword in pen (yes, I am one of the three or four Americans under age 60 who still gets my news on paper). Each and every morning of my life, I pour myself a cup of coffee, fold over the arts section, and pick up one of the many Pentel medium-point pens I keep scattered on my desk (I’m currently fond of a dark pink one, with a sophisticated little strip of black on the finger grip). As I fill in the blank grid, the pen flowing gently across newsprint, swirling my capital E’s and occasionally crossing out the wrong answer, I get a visceral thrill that could never be replicated even on a touch screen.
As for pencils, well, I don’t do the crossword in pen because I’m some sort of cruciverbalist snob, I just don’t like the instability of pencils: Is it sharp or dull this morning? Will the point break off halfway through 64-across? The gentle pressure of a pen, on the other hand, as the ink magically and steadily flows from that tiny aperture, is always satisfying. I even take pride in those smudges that invariably cover my knuckles — I suspect it’s the closest I’ll ever get to having a tattoo. It’s just a little thing, a plastic writing utensil costing less than a dollar, but it makes me smile every morning before I am forced to rejoin the tech world of the 21st century.