Why do we do jigsaw puzzles?

Julia and I began a new one on New Year’s Day although we hardly made any progress until this weekend. 1000 pieces that when finished will be a Venetian scene.  

I love Venice and I hunger for traveling, so it is a bitter sweet endeavor.  As I separate the lavender sky pieces from the butter colored Doge’s palace pieces, I wonder and wonder if I can begin to make summer plans.  To Venice or London or, Julia’s desire, Japan.  I know, the first two are cities and the third a country.  Japan would take a lot more planning; I know nothing about Japan. Julia, however, has texted me the address of the park in Tokyo where cosplayers gather on weekends to show off their costumes. We will make that stop.

Last week, an acquaintance on the HILR email list, wrote that she was looking for ideas for a summer trip to northern Italy.  I immediately responded, with a longer than expected description of Orta San Giulio, including restaurants, walks, the mysterious island in the middle of the Orta and the hydrangea in gardens in August. My enthusiasm leaking out of my fingers.  

Of course, right now, the idea of a road trip a state away seems to be tempting fate.  Neither of us has had any form of Covid in close to 2 years.  Should I add, yet? Sure, driving in my own care with Julia riding shotgun poses little if any risk, but unless we are set upon aimless driving . . . Hard to know where to draw lines—plan that summer travel like old times or continue another year of covid seasons? 

But back to puzzles.

Julia has always shown more patience putting together puzzles than I have; however, over the Covid months I have pondered puzzles.  I am good at sorting—for color or content and especially for edge pieces.  I have a system, boring though it may be.  This is the way I always begin, and I need to look at pieces again and again before I actually see them, before I can recognize how and where they fit together.  And sometimes, I have lacked the patience with the time it takes to begin to recognize pieces.  

Julia has worked in completely different ways.  She will take to a great expanse of a single color in two ways—willy-nilly and noticing shapes.  With simple puzzles, willy-nilly trying pieces that might fit together is not a bad method.  It doesn’t produce huge results but over the course of an evening a solid block of sky can be finished.  I’ve watched Julia do this and marveled.  I have no patience for this method!

For puzzles with many, many pieces, I’ve watched her refine her style.  She looks more closely, like I do, color and content, but she also has a keen eye for shape—something that I am woefully missing.  I have watched in awe as she looks over single-colored sky pieces and picks the exact shape that fits into the piece she picked and fitted moments ago.  I primarily look for content, be it the window panes in the Doge’s palace or the winged lion of Venice.  I work around the content pieces putting those together first and only afterwards do I tackle the solid color or solid design pieces.  

And I look for the content that is easiest to recognize first to work on.  Julia will start almost anywhere after she does the edge, but she loves to do the edge first and find out how big the completed puzzle will be.  

When she was little, Julia used to draw using the willy-nilly method.  This was especially true during her very long dinosaur phase.  She could begin anywhere—a foot, the tail or a spikes—and her drawing would become a perfectly proportioned dinosaur.  Rarely she would fill in one part before moving onto the rest of the body.  As she became interested in drawing anime figures “correctly”—as near perfect copies of what she sees in books—she has very slowly adopted much more conventional ways to draw.  She’s aped the circles she finds in drawing instructional books and then refines, refines, refines.  At times, drawing more with her eraser than with her pencil. 

It may be a too far stretched analogy, but Julia appears to be in the willy-nilly process of adulting.  She develops skills here and there for different tasks at different rates, usually not globalizing a skill from one area to another, and nothing is learned in a systemic manner.  She refuses to use calendars or timers to help herself remember when to take the garbage and recycling out to the curb or to wake up in the mornings, but  she does not want to burn what she is cooking. 

I don’t know if the need to multiple reminders will ever go away!

She still does not take well to advice but she shows pictures to me, asking what I think.  She will argue with my assessment that the neck is too thin to support the warrior’s neck, or the legs need some muscle, but I notice that in subsequent drawings, necks are more realistic and she has been looking at leg muscles. This elongated manner of taking advice started with her drawing hands.  Hands are hard and hers were pretty awful at first.  No, not awful, just completely unskilled.  And then they looked more like hands but were too small.  She would be dissatisfied with what she drew but would still defend their  perfection.  And then she began to make changes.

She made lunch from leftovers and rice this weekend.  She needed to be instructed a few times and she added too much hot sauce one day.  One evening, we worked on English muffin pizza and she did a great job but forgot to check them in the toaster oven and the tops burned.  

The pizza still tasted good and she was proud of herself, noting, however, that she would not let it burn next time.  

Observing Julia cooking, like observing her puzzle making and drawing, I am struck over and over how her methods are not mine.  Sometimes I have tried to fit her square peg into my round hole.  Often I have tried for systematic approaches—lists, sets of instructions, and the general starting from simple tasks and working up to something complex.  

But that is not Julia’s way at all.  And I have acquiesced in embracing her willy-nilly method.

I am learning!

2 thoughts on “willy-nilly

  1. If what you mean is where do you keep a puzzle in the process of being put together, my only solution has been to use a table. I used to have a large board that was good for small puzzles but there was never enough room for any puzzle over 500 pieces. And as we moved it around, trying to put it out of the way for a few days, lose pieces would fall off or the finished bits would fall off and break apart. I finally stopped using the big board when Muta, the cat, decided to nap on the half completed puzzle! Now, I use the small half folded table in the dining room which works well. The only down side is that the table is then not available for any meal and considering January is a 2-birthday month, we have only the kitchen table to celebrate on. During shut down when we spent hours on puzzles, it seemed like a decent tradeoff.

  2. I enjoyed the crafty wordplay in your writing. The detail in your descriptions captured my attention. I have a puzzle sitting on my shelf. Maybe I’ll open the box soon. How do you keep the pieces intact as you go along?; Thanks.

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