Lessons from a Jigsaw Puzzle

Jigsaw-Puzzle4My mother did it.  She bought a jigsaw puzzle – 1500 pieces – for the family to put together as we gathered over the holidays.  Well ‘the family’ became me.  Even though it’s probably been over a decade since I last put together a puzzle, it wasn’t long before I was in puzzle mode again.

In this state of mind I sit down to try a handful of pieces.  I pick up one, find a place where colors and patterns match, and turn it around to see where the shape fits.  When I find a match and the pieces click together, a feeling of satisfaction rolls over me.  Then my hand reaches for another piece.  Quickly ten minutes become half an hour becomes two hours.  I am engrossed in the process – getting to know the shades of blue and gray of the area on which I’m working.  The shapes of the pieces.

Usually it takes me at least an hour to really get into this state of mind.  The intensive focus allows me to differentiate small gradations in shades and shapes.  As I sort through the pile of pieces, I start to intuitively know where to try each piece.  This light grey piece with a slight fleck of pink goes over here in the upper right corner.  That more taupe looking piece with a faint white line will go where the ocean meets the shore. Eventually over a week of these moments, I finish.

This creation took time.  Piece by piece a final picture came into view.  But it wasn’t merely the quantity of time that was important, but how this time was dispensed.  I didn’t take five minutes here and five minutes there throughout a day.  Instead, uninterrupted hours of time allowed me to get into this groove.

When I finished it hit me how important it is to make space for this use of time within other areas of my life.  Often I take shortcuts to finish a project.  Or, I think I can get by with scraps of time here and there.  So, I leave half an hour to put together a graduate student discussion.  Or, sit down to write for only 15 minute stints.  Or, think that I can finish a quilt one afternoon.  Then I wonder why finishing large creative projects eludes me.

A book revision needs some in-depth attention.  Those quilts – well the picture just doesn’t come together in only 15 minute increments every other month.  Each time I site down in these short spurts of energy, it’s like I’m starting all over again.  Before there’s a chance to really become attuned to the project and make significant progress, I stop.

It’s time to get into puzzle mode and allow myself to be carried away by the creativity needed in the large projects before me.  There may not be a picture on a box to direct the completion, but that only makes it more inviting to begin.


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