The Positive Pleasures of Pursuing Puzzles

No one in our house is allowed to use the phrase “new normal” or “in these uncertain times”.

For obvious reasons.

But for reasons mostly unknown to me, I dug deep into a closet not long after the stay-at-home orders began, and I came across a puzzle we never assembled. It was the only one in our home. 750 pieces. Challenging but not discouraging. It was an illustration of a floral shop during Valentine’s Day, which, of course, had passed at the time we were assembling. But it was loaded with cheer–flowers, cards, knick knacks, doodads and color. Lots of color.

I set it out on our coffee table and worked on it during the news (which was quite a bit at first, if you remember). Then I started doing it during briefings from the task force, from governors, etc.

Then one day our teenage son walked over and started working. He was in the midst of preparing for AP Exams. In case you hadn’t heard, they were canceled in their normal form, and were replaced by a very stressful, time sensitive, online interpretation. A year’s worth of studying and work reduced to 2 questions…and half the battle was the stress of wondering if all your technology would hold up. He sometimes stared at those puzzle pieces with me.

I understand if you’re not a puzzle person.

I guess not everyone is. But if you are visual–as I am–or spatial–as I am, you very likely find them relaxing. I do crosswords from time to time. But I find I just am not that up on pop culture or TV or movie stars or Greek mythology. When I used to play Trivial Pursuit, my default answer was always “Barbra Streisand.”

Neverthless, there’s also something meditative and calming about the images. I am very particular about the images I choose for puzzles. I don’t want a loud abstract spiral of pure color. That just seems frustrating and vague to me. But a homey scene with quilts and puppies and red barns and all the reassurances of a time that was simpler? Yeah, that’s for me.

The puzzle above was probably one of my favorites. If you find it anywhere, and you enjoy doing them, I highly recommend this one. And shout out to artist Chris Bigalow. His outstanding illustration is so full of tiny details, that I found myself studying and appreciating every piece. Inside the windows? All those little scenes are tiny puzzles…puzzles within puzzles. What a fantastic graphic. From the details in the upstairs windows to the coffee mug that says “I heart puzzles”, this is just a gem.

What’s the next one in line? I decided to try having a puzzle made from one of my own images. As much as I enjoy floral photography, I prefer illustrations on my puzzles. But I did have one image that I thought would make a fun puzzle.

So this next one is a photo I took while on vacation. It’s always been one of my favorites and the color, cheeriness and general tchotchkiness (is that a word?) would be fun.

Puzzles calm me. I know that people attribute a lot of good things to puzzle-solving. But for me, when working on a puzzle, I am distanced from the chaos and scary-as-hell reality we live in. I’m wrapped up in a world of shapes and color. I used to shun them because, really, what in the world is productive about jigsaw puzzles? You spend hours and when you’re done, you put it all back in the box and move on.

But that’s become a metaphor for me. A metaphor for life. We scramble, we work, we delude ourselves into thinking we must always be productive, but when it’s all over, it’s over. And has anything that any of us done had true lasting value? Our quilts, maybe. But only if someone truly appreciates them. Otherwise, they are just a way to keep ourselves going.

We all do what we have to do.

Next post I’lll share some sewing.

But for now? We keep a puzzle on the coffee table.

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