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.

10 thoughts on “The pleasure of the puzzle

  1. “…the delicate thrill of an abstract and yet tactile satisfaction.”
    “…it was the doing that mattered, not the product.”
    Thanks for the words for this engaging process which I too find satisfying, although I am at the Christmases and vacations level, not the daily level. I play a lot of golf.

  2. Dora, it might be a way of calming yourself, of settling your spirit after such a big change in your life. I remember when we moved to Winnipeg from Kitchener I looked forward to an embroidery project which I did every day in the late afternoon.

  3. Now that’s something of a different post, Dora! Thank you.
    You say it just right in the final paragraph — “I’m simply looking for the next piece, challenging myself, relaxing, experiencing the ‘delicate thrill’ of a fit.”
    The last time we did some serious puzzling at our house was during a visit some three years ago of relative from Germany.

  4. It is a great metaphor … I enjoy puzzles too … each piece put in place is a small victory and keeps hope alive to continue the journey.

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