I’m good at puzzles. And like doing them. Comparing slightly different shapes, distinguishing subtle color variations or pattern shifts. I’m sure it’s a way of engaging the part of the brain that explores space. (Have you ever seen those tests that have you look at a drawing of an un-assembled box and then predict its shape after folding–in your head–along the dotted lines? Well maybe I’m weird but, combined with the adrenaline of sitting for the GRE, I swear I got a high taking the “quantitative” section. Question after question coming at me with boxes to fold or unfold. I soared through “space,” got a high score too. Of course, it was an expensive pleasure.) It’s its own special thrill to study the puzzle picture, look at assembled-so-far pieces, pore through and pick from the many available, and have one fit!
So what happened? What changed a decade ago that I hadn’t sat down to a jigsaw puzzle since?
Back in the day, I guess I was carefully honing a prejudice about efficiency. My head space became increasingly crowded with expectations about long-term goals, billable hours, blame about mistakes, shame about results. I began to just say no to puzzles, those piles of random pieces that consume unpredictable commitments of time. Too much chaos, too little payoff–I thought.
I thought and thought and thought–until I filled the available nooks and crannies of my head. I was like a hoarder of conclusions. Me, a person who enjoyed the process of bending, became inflexible, foredrawn. No room for puzzles meant no room for the puzzle of being human. Might have been lethal . . .
But luckily life-changing–for the better. I set about cross-examining myself about the choices I had made until, finally, this year I even called my thought PROCESS into question. (A friend recently quoted some contemporary wisdom: “If you argue with yourself, you have a 100 percent chance of losing.”) I stumbled across the truth of that concept! It was a heady win win: Hey! I can choose to make a case and argue it but I can also choose not to. ARGUMENT can be a waste of time, of inner space–space designed for comprehending lovely shapes.
Then–perhaps to help me absorb what I had learned–a jigsaw puzzle arrived by accident . . .
Actually, I bought it for its box. I was presenting a project to my daughter (another post) for Christmas. The afternoon before our gift exchange, I dashed to DI. The box–that I planned to line and cover–right-sized, thin, flat, square with an abstract oil painting printed on top contained an un-assembled 500-piece jigsaw puzzle which looked surprisingly beautiful dumped out on my coffee table. Before our little party though, I cleared away the pieces. Brought them back out after. What if I just started? Would I still be good at it? Would I spend too much time?
Time was what I had. Having run from one holiday activity–decorating service, acting, concert singing, church music, gifts and food production–to another all through December and before. I needed to suspend schedules and hibernate. I put on movies and worked on the puzzle.
Despite the aesthetic pleasure of its swirling bright colors imposed on large random cardboard shapes–(I bagged these for some future use )– I gave up on the abstract oil. Too hard and I suspected several edge pieces–the easy ones–were missing. I replaced it with a distinct photo puzzle–New Harbor, Copenhagen–still factory sealed, 50 cents.
So my restart included the premise was that there were no lost pieces which gave me some security as searches for key connecting colors, interlocking shapes produced frustration.
And, gradually, even against frustration, I began to argue less. Why shouldn’t a puzzle be puzzling? Why wouldn’t I want to study, look really hard, sort through types and patterns in my head, experience the joy of discovering clues I hadn’t known before? Doesn’t building tension actually increase the pleasure of nailing a solution?
Opening closets full of judgment and emptying out their unhappy contents, I sensed more available memory–and heart–for the project at hand. And built my satisfaction.
Puzzle solutions require organization. After I finished the photo puzzle, started this fairly hard one (a map of Yellowstone shown here upside down). First the edges, then sorted out all pieces that had a thin, red “main road” line going through them. (Spread them on two round trays easy to spin.) Dotted lines (dirt roads) also helped distinguish among numerous subtle details. But to further complicate, the box illustration cut off the picture on three sides. Bogged down by not knowing relative locations of park features, I turned to Google. I had studied the puzzle long enough to figure out where a piece would fit using internet written description.
Find what’s your . . . truly, danscir52
copyright 2013 Dan Christensen all rights reserved