This time of year, when winter and darkness force us toward inside entertainment, I take both comfort and challenge from a very un-competitive shoreside activity: assembling jigsaw puzzles. Here’s why I find moving small pieces of cardboard around a table so satisfying.
1. There’s a place for each piece; we just have to find it
Much about today’s world doesn’t seem to fit or make much sense. There’s comfort in knowing that focus and time will eventually turn a heap of chaos into the promised picture.
2. It forces me to differentiate between subtle details
When I first dump all the pieces out of the box, only the obvious colors stand out—so, once the edge is mostly complete, that’s where I start. But once that green coat, yellow lab puppy, and all those readable letters on the largest books are in place, I have to train my eye to pick out much more subtle differences. Ah—those more blurry book spines are shelved in the top left corner! And that swirl of plaid is too square to be part of the rug underfoot; it belongs to the owner’s suit jacket.
3. It provides a tactile reward
No amount of creative computer time (including Wordle) can replace the physical satisfaction of snapping a piece into its proper place—especially when it’s a piece I’ve been specifically searching for.
4. I hear my Mom
Every winter visit to my parents’ house used to include working on a jigsaw puzzle with my mother, and her patience and determination were legendary even as her strength waned. I frequently hear her voice in my head, trying to describe a color or placement—and my jigsaw “rules” all come from her; build the framework first, put together the obvious sections, and trust that time and patience and attention to detail will bring the rest into position, piece by piece.
5. Everything’s in the box
In 2009, I told you that I do my best writing when “I focus on the little pieces, trusting that an overall shape and texture will eventually appear.” (Read more in What’s a Rough Draft?) In 2015, a change in my work routine inspired a post about how seemingly insigificant details really represent life choices. Unlike novels or life, I know before I begin that a jigsaw puzzle already includes all the pieces I really need—and nothing more.
Got a favorite off-season habit? Share it in the comments below, or send me an email. I read every single one, with gratitude.