I intended to keep busy in retirement doing important things I couldn’t do before, but it turns out my timing was wrong. As I calmed down, COVID ended. And because of the pandemic shutdown, I couldn’t leave the house for days or even weeks at a time. I had to find things to fill the time sitting at home.
I turned to a bit of gardening and cooking, watching TV (thanks, Netflix) and other hobbies that I had put aside when work and children demanded more time. ‘Warning.
One of those hobbies turned out to be puzzles. I rediscovered the joys of puzzles before the pandemic, but once the shutdown started, the idea of putting together little pieces of cardboard with wavy edges into some kind of picture became really compelling.
Why? you ask.
First of all, puzzles are a huge waste of time. You open the box, start putting the parts together and then hours have passed. Sometimes it even seems like days or weeks have passed. If I really get into a puzzle, I can forget about snacks, naps, and even detective stories on TV.
Second, like most puzzles and games, puzzles provide little bursts of happiness every time you get a correct answer. I can sit there for long anxious minutes staring at a bunch of tracks, and then – boom! – two cardboard squiggles magically fit together and my brain releases a small spritz of chemicals that momentarily produce elation. And with puzzles made up of 1,000+ pieces, those spritzes often happen.
An eclectic mix
Over the past 15 months, I’ve put together all kinds of puzzles. I reconstructed images of shells and trains, airplanes and automobiles. I made great art again by assembling tiny pieces of paper into paintings of Heaven and Hell by Hieronymus Bosch and Wheat Fields by Vincent Van Gogh. I created folk art visions of classic record covers and posters advertising national parks. I’ve even traveled to big cities conjuring up a Parisian street scene and New Yorker magazine covers depicting, among other things, summer at the beach, fall in Central Park, and a street market down a block. bustling houses.
I learned a few things along the way. Puzzles are excellent teachers. They grant patience, self-control, temporary bursts of self-esteem, and can make you ponder deep philosophical questions such as, “Why am I still sitting here staring at these puzzle pieces when I could watch detective shows on TV?”
Six life lessons
Here are half a dozen life lessons that I’ve learned by confusing myself.
- Do not abandon. The answer is in there. Don’t worry if things don’t seem to gel at first, because every piece has its place. Unlike the real world, puzzles make sense. You will eventually understand it.
- You’re probably going to be disappointed anyway. Nothing is perfect. Rule number one applies alone if you’re assembling a new puzzle fresh out of the box with the shrink plastic lid still tightly bound around it. If a puzzle has passed into other hands, all bets are void. Some pieces have probably already been lost, and the pieces that remain in the box may not even be from the same puzzle. (See rule number three.)
- Some old puzzles will never be completed. Something must have been lost. Once you place that last piece of the box, you’ll find an annoying hole right in the middle of the puzzle that begs for an extra piece or two.
- Don’t worry about missing parts. If they were in the box when you started, they’re on the floor somewhere or stuck in a shirt pocket and they’ll eventually show up, weeks or years after the puzzle is complete and put away. When they do, of course, you won’t remember which puzzle they belong to, so you just stick them in a handy puzzle box for later. (See rule number two.) If they weren’t there when you started, too bad. The whole process was doomed from the start.
- Enjoy the attention. When you’re working on a puzzle, everyone secretly wants to be you. No matter what people say about how you waste your time, you can see how envious they are every time they stop by your workspace and, when they think you’re not looking, stealthily stick a piece in the unfinished puzzle.
- Don’t worry about the time you spend on the puzzles. That time can’t be better spent doing something else, no matter what. To fill those long hours, all you would need to do is watch more crime shows on Netflix. And it wouldn’t release as many spritzes of those feel-good chemicals.