I took up jigsaw puzzles in December. My wife got me one for Christmas, and it was on. I started it at about 6 p.m., and I swear the next thing I knew Sylvia was asking me if I was going to bed. “What time is it?” I asked. “3 in the morning…”
I find them endlessly fascinating, very relaxing, and a great example of how much an experience can grow when you settle into it for several hours. That’s a lot of quiet time, and my mind tends to wander a bit. Here are a few of the things that crossed its path.
1. It’s amazing what happens when you stand on the other side of the table. It’s like a whole other world. Imagine looking at a map of the world, except upside down. It’s disorienting, but also enlightening. You see things that you don’t normally see. I have heard of editors that read texts backwards because they know that they will be less likely to fill in the gaps, as their brains usually do, and miss an error.
2. Categories. So many categories. Shapes. Colors. Lines. The little people with two arms and two legs, and the red that is more like purple, and the thing that you thought was metal but is actually wood and now everything is different. Humans are remarkably skilled at discerning patterns. It’s pretty much what we do. I try to remind myself of my own impact on a situation; that the blue piece is also the piece with the lines, and which one I see depends a lot on which lens I use.
3. Persistence counts. All of what you perceive is in there, somewhere, although we might focus on other details in a given moment. You can spend an hour thinking you’re getting nowhere, and then everything opens up, because eventually the pattern sticks. There’s a tranquility in that, I think. It reminds me of screenplay writers who create characters and then just let them do what they would actually do. If what you are doing is productive, or attentive, then eventually you will see results.
Also, they’re fun. And you have an excuse to use the dining room.