The pleasure of the puzzle

In his memoir Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov describes the pleasure of a jigsaw puzzle, which his mother loved:

What had seemed to be the limb of a horse would turn out to belong to an elm and the hitherto unplaceable piece would snugly fill up a gap in the mottled background, affording one the delicate thrill of an abstract and yet tactile satisfaction.

Yes, exactly that.

I enjoy jigsaw puzzles and used to allow myself one a year, at Christmas. I would take some care to choose “the right one” for the special annual ritual.IMG_6106

Now, since moving to B.C., I’ve almost always got a puzzle on the go. Mostly 500-piecers, which fit a small table I can set in front of the sofa, or move out of sight at will, many of them picked up at the local thrift stores, sometimes unopened, but generally used.

Every puzzle becomes its own event. Some are harder than others. There was one that had eight pieces missing once I’d assembled those in the box! But no big deal, it was the doing that mattered, not the product. (Gluing the puzzles together? Absolutely not!)

Another was a scene from Butchart Gardens. In the middle of it we went to Vancouver Island for several days, including an excursion to the Gardens. A bonus then, to see the scene for real.

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Spring 2017 garden

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Puzzle garden

I’m on my 17th by now. I finish one, pack it up and start another. I poke along, a little every day, while watching the news or listening to music.

I’m not sure how I ended up on this steady string of puzzling. Maybe it means I’m still in transition. Maybe it’s good for my brain, a kind of meditative state. Maybe it’s because I’ve never wanted to golf.

I’m not sure why, actually.

I suppose I could justify this activity by turning it into a metaphor, say it reminds me (as I work) of how life is accomplished piece by piece, or how eventually, patterns emerge or stuff fits together. That, after all, is what happens when I tackle an essay or some creative nonfiction. And I’m old enough to see patterns in my past. But that’s not what I’m thinking in the midst of. I’m simply looking for the next piece, challenging myself, relaxing, experiencing the “delicate thrill” of a fit.

Mom, 95 today

Reposted from Facebook, for the record.

This woman, my mother, is 95 today. Recently I came across something I’d forgotten, a line in a journal when I was 18 and she 46: “Mom and I went out into the bushes by the ball park to look for lady slippers…” It took me back to the person she was long before her current immobility and cognitive decline, never bound to domestic duty but curious, “let’s go see”, still linked by this delight in nature to her childhood spent on a Manitoba farm with its similar excursions into the woods… So grateful for her!

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Words will be wanted

I was so ready for this. For this weekend. A festival of women writers called “Growing Room,” put on by the ROOM journal collective.

I’ve been happy in our move, I can certainly count the ways I like Tsawwassen, but I was unusually excited about the opportunity to be in the middle of writers again. Never mind that I wouldn’t know anyone. Or would have to plan and plot my getting there on a map. I was reading at the launch of ROOM’s latest issue (below) on Saturday evening, since it contains a creative non-fiction piece of mine (“Notes Toward an Autobiography”). Why not spend the day at panels and workshops? Why not spend the next day too? Just to hear the familiar vocabulary of writers’ talk. Just to hear them read, even complain, about their work.

Why not indeed? And a rich two days they were. A highlight: a panel on writing about trauma with Evelyn Lau, Christine Lowther, and Sonnet L’Abbe. Another: a panel on “rewriting the stories we tell about our bodies” with Lorna Crozier, Francine Cunningham, Nilofar Shidmehr, and Juliane Okot Bitek. Continue reading