Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Truth About Puzzles.

Last week I did something reeeaaally reckless. I pulled out the Witches' Wardrobe 1,0000 piece puzzle that I did for Andrews & Blaine for Barnes & Noble. I put the box on my dining room table, and dumped out the contents. In doing so, I declared war. I had never done the puzzle before, and I've had it for over a year. I've thought about doing  it, several times. But...

The puzzle lives in a glass-doored cabinet in the living room. I see it every day. Just by virtue of it being in my field of vision, I think it was actually raising my blood pressure. 

So... We'd been having staring contests over the past few weeks. It had to stop. Finally, I decided to do it. Suck it up. Face the challenge. It was time.

The honest truth is, it's almost never a "good time" to start a puzzle around here, because I am usually pretty busy. But the larger, bigger reason for this, is because I am simply not a "casual" puzzle person. This is a naked truth I only just confirmed this about myself by doing this puzzle.

In the past, I chalked up my puzzling compulsiveness and conviction with reasonable excuses, such as "I did the art for the puzzle, of course I am going to be a little obsessive about it" or "Who wouldn't get obsessive when putting together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that's this detailed?" (Both convincing arguments). Of course there's also my general, um, 'aggressive enthusiasm' for some things, of which puzzles would understandably be included. And then, there is also the "puzzle-obsessed brain" that I think everyone must experience when they are knee-deep in the jungle of a big puzzle. Right? (...right? )

 But I can't just leave it on the table and co-exist with it... do a few pieces here, a few pieces there.  I now know this to be true. If I break out a puzzle, it's "Game On". It's basically "The Old Man and The Sea" redux— with me, dining room table and puzzle, instead of old man, his gear, and the fish.

During the time I am in the puzzle haze, I sacrifice, I make the time where possible in my everyday life, to just complete the thing as swiftly as possible. Without losing sleep or missing meals. It's like being completely consumed by a novel you cannot put down. I have to finish it just so I can "get my life back". Okay, I am not a generally uptight individual! But puzzles... they kinda turn me into Tracy Flick. Watershed moment.

So, last week, I was sucked into the vortex yet again. And yes it was torture.. But yes, I admit that I loved it! (Plus, I could actually feel parts of my brain doing squats and lunges. I kid you not.)

And yes, it was fun...

But after my puzzle session on day one (of five total), my earlier "Yay! This is fun!" had melted into a "Hmphh... this one is a bit.. um... tougher than I thought..." which by (past my) bed-time had morphed into "Hmmmm... THAT'S ALL I got done in ONE night??"

By day two, I was REALLY ready to slay this dragon. And I still was running off first-blush-puzzle-endorphins. I was also under the false delusion that I could finish and still have the rest of the day to catch up on my errands. (Pfft. Yeah, right.) I worked diligently and I saw progress, but it wasn't so visible to others yet. (I didn't quite feel the sting yet, but I was getting whupped.)

By day three, I was practically salivating to finish (when I wasn't stretching the kinks out of my neck and back, or circling the table mumbling to myself). I was also starting to really question what on earth was possessing me to so fervently, diligently work on this puzzle to completion. WHERE was the drive coming from to finish this ridiculously tough and altogether unnecessary task? It was like I was being faced with this stranger in my own brain... So, by this time, I was past the point of no return. I mean, I was having philosophical puzzle conversations with myself, like

"WHY am I doing this, again?

But WHY can't I finish this NOW?

WHY is this puzzle so HARD?

And WHY do I HAVE to FINISH it?!?!"

All the while my brain multi-tasking this whiny conversation with myself with my darting eyeballs searching, searching the puzzle junkyard for a tiny bit of red on a mold-green piece, for a little toe of pink boot, surrounded by grey... Put that one in the pile that makes up the closet door... Oh, wait, there's a separate pile for the closet handle, and one for the front door, and one for the bottom frame... Oh wait the designs are different on each side of the closet... and the four tiny skull's eyeballs all go in different directions... Aaaargh!!  Sound like fun? (Oh, quick, before I lose it-- grab the piece with the rat tail's end!)

Day four... Day four, day four... It was a haze. Finish or Bust. Every part of the puzzle I attacked and conquered like tiny villages within this puzzle town. I couldn't get myself to focus on anything else until this puzzle was finally put to bed. But soon, I was putting myself to bed... with a still-unfinished puzzle on the table.

Day Five!! The Day I Would Finish The Puzzle! Why do people think the edges are the easiest to put together?? They're NOT. I saved them for last and believe me this was not a case of "saving the best for last". Come to think of it, virtually no part of this puzzle was "easy". It's all just varying degrees of "hard". (It WAS FUN!!! But, no bones about it (...well, yes, bones about it.. But, no bones about it), this sucker was HARRRD!!!)

I found myself questioning my own puzzle abilities with this one. It was so tricky (read: cruel) in parts. Time and again, I thought "Gee, am I rusty?? Or do I just stink at this??" The art is so deceiving. It looks so carefree, silly and whimsical. And it is... But, let me tell you this... it bites!! Hard!!

When I finally finished it, I was euphoric, overjoyed!! (Aaaahhh!! Sigh..) I also took stock of the fact that I once again had climbed my own personal version of Mount Everest and I could be really proud of my accomplishment. On a more general but no less personal note, I also once again experienced the really unique, unusual, authentic mental challenge that only a crazy-insane puzzle can deliver!!

Oh, and I also needed a long nap. (My brain did a LOT of squats and lunges.)

So now, I am already itching (just a tiny, tiny bit) to start my latest. But, at this point I'm pretty sure it's just leftover endorphins. Give me six months... maybe I'll be ready by then.

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