I’ve been thinking about jigsaw puzzles lately and I’ve even looked over all the ones I have in my closet. When I go back and look at puzzles that I’ve done in the past, they are like old friends and they bring back memories and feelings.
Puzzles can be quiet solitary pursuits; they can be almost like meditation, with your attention focused on finding each piece with just the right color scheme and shape and repeating this over and over again. I often get new puzzles at Christmas along with new music. So I remember hours of working on puzzles with Robert sitting in his chair reading and both of us listening to the music. The music and the puzzles become blended in my memory. Doing puzzles alone is such a contemplative, relaxing process.
I also love doing puzzles with other people. While the puzzling skills are the same, the experience is very different. Usually when doing a puzzle with one or more people, each person stakes out a part of the puzzle to work on but then everyone rotates after awhile to do a different part of the puzzle. You may talk about lots of non-puzzle things, but you will undoubtedly talk about the puzzle as you puzzle. Early in the puzzle project you will all agree that there are too many pieces for this one puzzle. Then towards the end, you will all swear that there are not enough pieces to complete the puzzle. And each of you will announce, probably many times, that the very piece you are looking for is just not there – it must be the one piece the dog ate. Then you will all share tiny triumphs when someone finds that piece that everyone has been looking for. Doing puzzles with other people is a very communal and bonding kind of experience.
Mostly I have good feelings about the puzzles I’ve done. When I look at the puzzle boxes, I remember the parts of puzzle that were my favorite and the parts that were difficult. I might remember the section that was all different shades of purple or that was full of flowers; the part along the edge where I placed the wrong pieces and got all confused; that guy’s eye that was so impossible to find and ended up not looking like an eye at all; and the final part of the puzzle that is always the hardest because you’ve done all the easier parts, but that is so satisfying when you finally get it all put together. I also remember environmental things about doing each puzzle — what music I was listening to, who I did the puzzle with and what we were talking about, the time of year, and the way I was feeling and what I was thinking about as I did that puzzle.
I’ve only had a few puzzles that I didn’t like. There was one puzzle that was really frustrating. I just couldn’t make progress on it and it sat on my table for weeks. I would sit down to work on it and I just couldn’t get interested in it. I felt like it was taunting me, so I finally just put it back in its box and gave it away. Another puzzle that was difficult for me emotionally was the one my mother was working on at her house when she died. It was a puzzle of dalmatian puppies – black and white puppies on a white background. I brought it home on the puzzle board with the intent of finishing it, but I couldn’t. It was just too sad for me, so again it went back in its box and off to Goodwill.
I once saw, in an art gallery in Italy, the original painting of a puzzle that I had done several times. It was a large round painting and I laughed when I saw it. I knew that painting so well, every inch of it and from every angle. I knew all the people in the painting as well as the little dog under the table. I remember getting the dog’s curly fur mixed up with the curly hair of one of the men! I almost felt like I had painted the picture, I knew it so intimately.
I haven’t done a puzzle since last Thanksgiving. We spend Thanksgiving with a large group of friends. We always do one or two jigsaw puzzles. Last year, we were racing against time to get the puzzle finished before we all left the next day. I stayed up too late with one staunch puzzle friend trying to finish that puzzle. We had to leave it unfinished, a sad thing. I haven’t done one at home on my own for awhile, because I haven’t felt like I had the time to do one. It does take time. I can’t just sit down and start finding puzzle pieces. I have to get used to each puzzle – to learn to see it and to understand its color scheme and the shapes of its pieces. I feel like I have to put on my “puzzle eyes” and that takes awhile. And once I’ve got the puzzle out, all the pieces turned upright and have put on my puzzle eyes; I know that this is what I will be doing for the next several nights, if not weeks. But I do look forward to doing my next puzzle. I have a new one I haven’t opened that is just calling to me.