Thursday, January 30, 2020


            A friend texted us recently to apologize for not getting back to us sooner, explaining that she has been very busy at work.

            “I’ve been busy, too,” I told her, “working on a jigsaw puzzle.”

            Why work on a jigsaw puzzle? Good question, I suppose, especially when I see Kim so busy doing real work – cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. Yes, I do some real work, too, most of it involving snow, but my jigsaw puzzle contribution to our functioning home carries with it a seasoning of guilt. I’ve told Kim several times that one thing I really enjoy is being useful. This puzzle is not that one thing.

            Kim has been great about it – not giving me any static about wasting my time. Occasionally she will walk by the puzzle and put in a couple of pieces. (As it turns out, all colors of blue are not the same, and dark blue is not the same color as black.) Keep in mind—to give you a feel for the speed at which I operate—that I’ve been “working” on this puzzle for about a month. Kim has also offered, several times, to help by putting the unfinished puzzle back in the box.

            I am proud to say that I put together the entire outside border, and I ended up with two extra pieces with straight sides. 

            What causes puzzle-pleasure? It may be a deep enjoyment of creating order. The world seems to be a mess, a jumble of pieces, in so many ways: the Middle East, the planet’s health, domestic politics, just to mention a few. There is not a lot I can do, in the British phrase, to “sort things out” in those areas. But I can do that with my puzzle pieces sprawled on the table. Kim suggests that I can also create order by cleaning up the top of my desk.

            At least, I think I can create order out of my puzzle pieces. My progress, already slow, is getting slower, and I do have to find a place for those straight-edged pieces. Pretty much all that remains are about a hundred nearly identical black pieces. I’ve started to think of excuses: I bought the puzzle used, and maybe somebody deliberately messed with the pieces, and that’s why I’m stuck.

            Meanwhile, here’s a poem I wrote some years ago after a successful puzzle experience:

  Taking the puzzle apart

begins with a corner piece.  It
sticks.  I work it loose, place
it in the box.  Next I grab
a section where trees meet sky.
Pieces lift in an elastic mat.
I snap my wrist to separate
a hunk, then hold it over the box
as I gently work the fabric
apart and drop each piece back
into the box.  Doing this,

I think back to the work
I set aside to lock each
piece where it goes, music
I heard, the book that stopped
when I walked to the table,
sat, found the spot where peaks
edge the sky, or where the snow
on the mountains streaks just
so.  I learned the different
greens of trees left and right,
but now all pieces
some gray backs up, down
in a heap back in the box.
Sky, trees, mountains, shrubs,
thistle, daffodils all disappear,
faster piece by piece.  It feels
good to get down to the maple
table, clean except for blue,
green and brown dust.  A sponge
takes that away.  I place the box
back on a shelf, find a sky piece,
slip it beneath the lid.


            After realizing that a number of pieces were missing, we scrapped the puzzle and dumped the pieces back in the box, headed for recycling. It feels really, really good having done this – another way to bring order to my world. Kim, as usual, was right.

1 comment:

  1. We have a tradition of doing a jigsaw puzzle every year at Christmas. Different family members have different levels of enthusiasm about it, but most people sit or stand around the table at some point to contribute. Like you, I love the sense of making order out of chaos (I often think this is the primary task of my professional work, too). But the other thing I like about the puzzles is that over the 3-4 days we spend together, just about every combination of people in our group comes together to work on the puzzle. It's kind of a neat excuse just to spend time together doing nothing but being quiet and working towards a common goal. Kirsti