I’ve been trying to find some fun things to do that aren’t story related (like reading or watching TV/movies) to give that part of my brain a break, so when I found some jigsaw puzzles on clearance, I bought a couple. I had images of cozy autumn and winter nights, sipping hot cocoa and listening to classical music with a scented candle burning nearby while I leisurely worked on a puzzle.
We used to work puzzles as a family when I was a kid. At Christmas, there was usually a “family” gift of a big puzzle, and then we’d set it up on the dining table (which we generally didn’t use except for special meals) after Christmas dinner, and we’d work on it off and on, whenever anyone wanted to look at it, until we finished it. But it had been a very long time since I’d worked a puzzle, so I thought I’d start with something a little simpler. I had a couple of old Star Wars puzzles I’d taken from my parents’ house when they were clearing out my old things, and I started with one that was aimed for kids, with only 140 pieces.
And I found myself utterly consumed for about an hour and a half as I worked it in one sitting. I was supposedly watching TV while working on it, but I didn’t remember anything I was watching and had to rewatch those episodes. I also could barely move when I went to stand up and had a sore neck. This should have been a warning.
The next puzzle up was 500 pieces, a more complex Star Wars puzzle for older kids. I started it one evening. It was too warm for the candle (candles don’t play well with ceiling fans) or the cocoa, but I did have the classical music playing. The first evening, I mostly tried to find the edge pieces, so it wasn’t too bad. The obsession kicked in the next day. I kept getting sidetracked when I passed the puzzle and paused to see if I could just find that one piece I needed to complete a certain section, only to realize an hour or so had gone by. I didn’t do my usual Friday-night movie because I wanted to finish that one section of the puzzle—and then a couple of hours later it was too late to start a movie. That repeated on Saturday. I dreamed about the puzzle on Saturday night, and the first thing I did the next morning was look at the puzzle. I nearly missed the beginning of online church because I started working on the puzzle. Then I paused by the puzzle on my way to get lunch. There was one piece I needed that I thought would pull a whole section together, and the shape and color should have made it obvious. There weren’t that many pieces left, so I should have been able to find it easily. It did tie it all together, and from there the rest of the puzzle fell into place. I was getting a bit lightheaded, then realized that two hours had passed.
So, I may have a wee bit of a puzzle problem. Thinking about it, I don’t like to have something unsolved, whether it’s a jigsaw puzzle, a crossword puzzle, or even just an error in my knitting. I don’t like to put it down until I’ve figured it out. Puzzles tend to put me in a flow state, where I’m hyper alert but unaware of the passing of time. Up to a point, this can be a positive thing that’s good for the brain, but not when it keeps you from sleeping or doing anything else.
The reality of my puzzle evening is less like the relaxing time with cocoa and classical music and more like me sitting there, wild-eyed, at midnight, going, “I’ll just get that one piece and then I’ll go to bed. Okay, maybe one more piece. One more …”
I don’t know how the 1,000-piece puzzles I bought are going to go. I may have to wait until I have nothing else going on to work on them, or maybe I can cover them and try to put them out of sight and out of mind. Or I’ll set a timer so I don’t completely lose track of time and make myself take exercise breaks. It’s still something I enjoy, and it works a different part of my brain than writing does. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m not starting another puzzle until I have my time-sensitive projects done.