Saturday, January 15, 2011

I'm puzzled

One way to describe life is as a journey. I think mine is a bit more like a puzzle - the 1000 piece puzzle spread all over the bar in my basement, to be exact. One small difference, my life doesn't come with a picture on the box!

I haven't done a puzzle with more than 100 pieces and at least one Care Bear or princess on it for about 15 years now. But when you get one for Christmas and then make the mistake of opening it and find a high spot to do it on, you slowly get sucked in.

I forgot how doing a big puzzle works, until this little refresher. My dedicated puzzle-doing family raised me to diligently sort out the edges, put them together, and work from there.

But ten whopping years or so into my adult life, I do my puzzles (and my life) a little differently. Figuring out the nice neat edges holds no appeal and provides no big picture. In the enormous pile of 1000 pieces dumped in front of me, no one piece is very meaningful or fitting AT ALL.

So instead I just start with the obvious. The biggest hot air balloon with the most unique colors. The artist's signature. I find the pieces and put them together, two at a time. I quickly despair, and text my sister and tell her I'm probably going to give up now and save it for her to fix in a few weeks. I kind of do life this way. College, OK, choose one, and figure out my major as I go. Another obvious step, marry that great guy I met. And have some kids. Finish grad school. Do whatever seems most obvious. After putting a few pieces together, I actually cheer up a little. I gain a teeny bit of perspective of what this thing might look like, and motivation to work a little more on each balloon.

Then it gets more complicated. What about that big pile of yellow pieces I've sorted out? Shoot, five of the balloons are yellow. Look a little closer, and I can see details that help me figure out where each one goes. Or even two or three at a time!

And that mess off to the side? The other 800 pieces?! Little by little, as I rustle through them, a certain shape or color combination jumps out at me now. Something about staring at, eating with, vacationing by, reading up on that family of mine, that career, that hobby for so long builds recognition. Yes, we would love that house! No, that definitely would not be his kind of birthday present. I start to distinguish between the different shades of yellow on each balloon without even trying. Here and there, a chunk of pieces connects to another. Even a couple of edge pieces get connected. It's actually kind of exciting (yes, a puzzle?!). I think it's kind of like being an entire decade or so into my adult life.

So once the six main balloons have begun to take shape, what's left to get excited about in the puzzle? Ohhh, the connections of course - I love the ones where five or six pieces suddenly connect two chunks together. Suddenly you get an even bigger picture. And the details - the little people and fences in between the big bright spots. Maybe a reflection, big or small, or a balloon I didn't even notice initially. And the edges. Maybe I'll get to them, or maybe I won't (my sister even said she'd do them for me). It kind of amazes me how finding the shapes, matching the colors, noticing the details is getting more interesting and more fun (and occassionally even easier) by leaps and bounds on this thing.

If the progress in my puzzle is really anything like growing up and growing older, I think I like it a lot.


Don said...

Very interesting... yet, puzzling!

Fun post. Insightful.

Six balloons taking shape?

(Sounds like the Haan family!)

danielle said...

JOANNA!! save some of it for meeeee. i want to do at least a couple hundred pieces, although the edge itself is probably a hundred. puzzles are GREAT perspective adjusters and life lesson teachers. someone should do a study on the correlation between people who grew up doing big puzzles past childhood and people who didn't and how well adjusted they are at problem solving in life.

Katie Morrell said...

Great post! It will definitely give me something to think about today...