The ink thing came from my husband. I’d started doing the USA Today Crossword as something to do on my lunch break at work. Before I knew it, I had a small pile of unfinished puzzles at home. Then it happened…Alfred picked one up and finished it.  Ugh.

“Are you serious? I toiled over that for God knows how long and you’re just gonna pick it up and casually finish it?” Not right.

To add insult to injury, he did it in pen.

I have a competitive streak in me and what I’d just witnessed was just too much to bear. From that moment on, it was ink all the way, baby.

There was only one problem; I couldn’t finish a damn one of them. Alfred: “There are just things you learn when you do crosswords…a sort of crossword lingo that comes up over and over again. You just have to learn it and remember it.”

I must learn this language.

Determination. Diligence. Practice.

Before long, the USA Today became passé and I was on to the New York Times. I loved the idea that the NYT Puzz got more difficult as the week progressed, culminating on Saturday and leaving Sunday as a big, wonderful festival of fun. I reveled at the cleverness of the themes (we call ‘em shticks). Genius. Pure genius.

Monday…check. Tuesday…check. Wednesday…a little trouble. Thursday…about half way. Friday and Saturday…maybe one word. “Those days are just for freaks. They’re reserved for brilliant people who can’t function in the world. I’m not even sure I want to be able to do them… “

Fast forward. I’ve stopped doing Mondays and Tuesdays because they’re too easy. I can finish Wednesday and Thursday with just the right amount of struggle. Friday is a crapshoot. I’m thinking I may be able to finish a Saturday puzzle after about a decade’s work (a real thought, no lie).

I had a new dilemma. Crosswords added joy to my life and living four days of the week without that joy was unacceptable. How could I get more clever puzzles?

Instead of labeling Friday and Saturday as too difficult to finish, I decided to think of them as just more puzzles. Just more potential for joy.

And, you know what? They all of a sudden got easier.

I’m pretty sure the puzzles didn’t change. My mindset changed. And with that mindset came freedom and possibility.

One Saturday I was on my third day of being home sick: my bronchitis, my puzzle, my pen, and me. There was no rush; I wasn’t going anywhere. I did what little I knew, then worked the rest. Really worked it. I quickly realized in order to even think about finishing, I had to take risks and guess like crazy. After hours and hours of “joy,” I did it. I finished my first Saturday NYT Crossword.

And let me tell you, it looked trashed: crinkled, full of scribbles, notes in the margins, you name it. I thought I was just looking at the finished product, but then realized it meant so much more…

Sure I could have been safe and done it with pencil, but the easy-way-eraser mars the newspint and makes the landscape all wishy-washy. Ink? It’s all about commitment.

I chose to tread lightly until I was sure I was on the right path. Whether it ended up being right or not, I’d made a mark, nonetheless. Leaning into a possible solution gave me the chance to see if what I was doing was working or not. Should I write over the guess or darken it and proceed with confidence?

At any point, I could have cheated and taken the easy way out ( Instead, I persevered through feelings of inferiority, self-doubt, confusion, and hopelessness.

Yes, I did a lot of scribbling, but it was awesome to see where I’d been on the way to my success in that moment. A path rich with memories.

Choose a direction. Work hard. Do your best. Stay in the game. Celebrate the small victories along the way. Don’t give up. Get a little banged up. Have fun. Live joyfully.

My little puzzle said it all.