Life’s Little Puzzles

While in Barnes & Noble the other day I saw a jigsaw puzzle section and knowing I had 4-5 days alone in a summer house I thought it would be a good idea to have one with me.  I’ve always liked doing jigsaws and did them as a kid, finishing with a solid red one. After that one I gave it up, feeling I had mounted the Everest of puzzles.

I took it up again later when my kids were at an approximate age to help but while they would join in for a bit at the start it was always my passion that finished the last piece and several more close to that.  I like puzzles.  Crosswords. The thing-o-grams where you have to figure out a pattern of letters which stand for other letters.  Jigsaws and of course writing compute code.  The last being the only one that pays although that fact didn’t seem to keep it from getting boring.  I have a short boring tether, if you haven’t noticed by now.

It had been a few years since doing one, more for lack of a large smooth unused table than a desire, but as Barnes & Noble and some smart marketing person would have it, it seemed like a good impulse purchase for the weekend ahead; the 2 books notwithstanding, I was going to have time on my hands.

I like jigsaw because there’s a system: the first finding the edges, then color patterns, which as you familiarize yourself with as the details emerge.  There’s the thrill of finding the piece that fits in exactly and the smugness of picking up a piece, looking it over, and just snapping it into place like you possess  some special Holmes-ian intuitive skill. Delusion needs no skill to master. Then when the easy parts are done, there’s the dirty job of finding what’s left by shape.  There’s the T shape with two little ears out each side.  There’s the Arabian castles which are pointy shaped balloons. There’s the 2 innies (the female as it were) the 1 innie, 1 outtie (the male as it were—perhaps an Irish male).  There’s the 4 sided outtie and the 4 sided innie, although those are usually Arabian castles….you get the idea.  It’s a disease unto itself. You separate those and then dive in by shape.  It’s all you have on a single red one–obviously color is no guide.

When you finish and the last and most obvious piece you were looking for didn’t look like what you were looking for, then you aha! yourself and are glad no pieces fell under the sofa or the puzzle cutting people didn’t let anything go missing.  (Unlike the people who send you furniture to put together and neglect to include the screws to attach the last piece.  That’s another issue for another day.)

If you’re a true Buddhist you look once, crush it up and then toss it in the box.  If you’re partly zen you leave it for a few days to admire before storing it for another rainy/snowy/bored patch and if you have trouble living in the Now you glue it and hang it on a wall. I fall into the middle category. I’m still a Kharmic work in progress.

What struck me this time around is the life analogy of doing a jigsaw puzzle.  Probably because I’m here alone, waiting for my guy to show up, contemplating my life.  Again. For a change. Dating is like doing a large puzzle.  A large frustrating puzzle.

With puzzle pieces you have to know what you’re looking for.  A black piece where the outtie is red but the edges of the innie are green.  If you know what you’re looking for it’s easier to find.  You need to study the details to find what it is you’re looking for or you can miss what is later so slap-on-the-head.  Because really it’s not what you were looking for exactly.  The red on the outtie is only a little strip at the end, not the whole bulb.  The green actually ends before the innie, the piece is essentially black. When we calm down, let in the possibilities, suddenly the piece appears.  It’s not quite what we were looking for but it fits anyway.  One always thinks they know what they’re looking for and yet, because of life’s vagaries, the harder you look for exactly and only what you think you’re looking for it becomes more evasive.

There also the right time. Sometimes you’re so fixated on a certain spot, I’m going to finish this cat with the blue eyes tonight! That you miss the pieces in front of you that all go together. This white and gray thing MUST be part of his tail and you try the same piece in the same spot just to make sure but it never goes. And you try it again and again, sometimes because you forgot your tried it in that spot already and sometimes because you think, no…this HAS to go there.  Instead it goes on the tea cup which has been missing one white piece for 2 days. Ah! Didn’t notice the gray shadow on the edge because we were fixated on the damn cat.  When you leave the cat and say ok, today’s not the day to finish the cat, all the other white pieces seem to find their homes. It’s funny that way.  If you had been ready to deal with the whites 2 days ago the tea cup and the clouds would have been done by now.

There’s also the question of knowing what the end result looks like.  Someone once reprimanded me for checking the picture on the box, but if you weren’t supposed to know what it looked like why would they give you the picture? Why not make it just all red? So you examine the box.  Learn that the book spine’s are not a solid color but really kind of worn around the edges, allowing for the possibility of grey.  You like grey on the edges, who wouldn’t? But if you were looking for solid blue you would never find it.  Or perhaps there’s a lollipop in the jar on the window with a white stick in it.  If you didn’t see the stick, how could you finish the jar? So if you don’t figure out what it is you are seeing, you do not know what you are looking for.  A white stick in a field of grey can make all the difference. Being stuck in the all jars are grey template would not allow for a white stick. Then where would you be? A small floating red balloon over a jar on the candy counter and what is that all about?

The last thing I will say though is the fit has to be right. Once in a while it seems to fit right but then the other pieces don’t connect. Despite a perfect fit it’s the wrong piece. And when you look closely you see clearly this is not the right fit. Why did it seem to fit in so perfectly and yet afterwards it’s so clearly not.  Hindsight being 20/20 or sometimes we just don’t apply closer examination because if it seems to go that should be good enough.  And besides, we were tired, we’ve been at this thing for a long time, the desire to have it fit is larger than the fit itself. Are you still following and have you gagged yet on the analogy? Still, the right piece will fit there and stay there because a piece too large or too small just won’t do.  Or it doesn’t look like it’s going to fit but you try it anyway and there it goes!   Size perception can be misleading (and most men will point that out.)

I finished the Barnes & Noble puzzle. I appreciated the timing, the logic, the patience, the persistence. The get up and give it space, the go back and give it another try.  This one I might keep because some are worth keeping.  If you’re still following the analogy.