Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

in which i compare a puzzle to life’s great metaphor


I’ve been really anxious lately. Lots of racing thoughts, funky stomach, sweaty palms. This morning while laying in the dark, I tried to calm myself with some slow, deep breaths. I’ve been taking a lot of slow deep breaths lately.

I’ve also been doing a lot of puzzles. Not sudoku. Not crossword. Old-school jigsaw, baby. Three hundred pieces? Don’t insult me. It’s 1,000 or bust. Five hundred if I’m short on time.

What an amazing distraction a puzzle is. Your mind narrows in on a singular focus, and with each piece that clicks into the greater whole you get a quick hit of accomplishment. It’s overwhelming at first, all these tiny random pieces cluttering up the place, but after you start seeing sections come together– a pond here, a tiny clasped hand there– the picture becomes clearer, your goal reasonable and within reach. Puzzles are a great metaphor for life, don’t you think? Upfront they’re a big old mess– random, scattered, messy, unclear. But you keep at it, piece by piece, and eventually things start making sense. You see the forest through the trees–sometimes literally, depending on the picture.

puzzle 2

I’m partial to puzzles with a lot going on. I want buildings, people, cars, colors, textures. You need pieces that distinguish themselves from the others. Growing up we had a 2,000-piece monster of Santa Claus. Not one jolly guy, which would have been reasonable, but 50 tiny Santa Clauses, which is just scary. When it comes to choosing a puzzle, you want to avoid too much repetition or sameness. No one wants to piece together 40 stacked logs of firewood or an endless flat ocean. Go for the Victorian street scene with colorful hoop skirts and old gas streetlamps and pushcart vendors and tiny street urchins. Put yourself in the middle of Times Square with bright yellow cabs, blinking Broadway marquees, breakdancers, buildings, the Naked Cowboy, people dancing around with chickens on their heads.

I realized my affinity for puzzles during the blizzard last month. I needed something to keep me occupied, so I found an old box in the back of the closet and went to town. It was a challenging puzzle– a tropical scene with lots of blue ocean, blue sky, pebbly sand and dark palm trees, but I stuck with it because I often start things and never finish them, and I wanted to prove to myself that it didn’t always have to be that way.

During the workday, I’d text Vin and ask “Is it sad that all I can think about is getting a happy meal and finishing my puzzle?”.

I finished it in six days and felt a glowing beam of pride. And why shouldn’t I have been proud? I took tiny pieces of compressed cardboard and turned them into an ocean. Where once was nothing, I planted towering trees. In under a week, I built the entire sky. 

Vin came home and admired my masterpiece.

“Do you want me to take a picture of you with the finished puzzle?” he asked. He meant no sarcasm. He is genuinely supportive, no matter my hobby. 

“Do I want you to take a picture of me in my bathrobe and dirty hair in front of a completed jigsaw puzzle?” I asked. “No thanks. I think I’ll be able to remember this moment.”

I’ve done a few more puzzles since then. We went to Texas several weeks ago, and I was feeling overwhelmed by something so instead of wine I suggested a puzzle. We pulled out a card table and four of us silently got to work. Last weekend in Vermont, my girlfriends and I knocked out an abstract 500-piece jammy in just under two hours. When it was finished, we did a three-way high-five and felt like champions.

It’s nice to finish something you start. It’s good to do something other than fart around on the internet. It’s good to feel like your brain has one mission, and one mission only. These days, it’s often hard to see the forest through the trees. Puzzles help you do that. I hope 2016 does for puzzles what 2015 did for adult coloring books.  

As I broke the pieces apart and tossed them back in the box, I couldn’t help but think that served as a metaphor too. Clear the decks, start fresh, take on the next challenge.  

Or you know, just eat dinner at the table again.


Jenn P.

30-something psychotherapist. Loves cooking, hosting parties, exploring new places. Texan by birth. New Yorker by choice. Likes to tell little stories. Pull up a chair; I'll tell you one.

  • Ellie
    Love this! When my mom was commuting 2 hours each way to earn her masters in social work, working full time, and keeping up with 2 elementary school aged kids, she puzzled like there’s no tomorrow. I still remember her saying, “kids, this puzzle is my cigarettes”. She even has a foldable puzzle board so you can move it off the dining table and then back.
    • Jenn from much to my delight
      Haha! That is awesome. Also, I need to look into this foldable puzzle board! Game-changer!
      • Ellie
        Yeah they’re really cool! Perfect holiday or birthday gift to yourself. Or it’s just an investment in your general sanity/mental health haha.
  • Gail in Rhode Island
    I’m more of a crossword puzzle gal myself, but wanted to tell you I’ve missed your posts and am happy to see you back!
    • Jenn from much to my delight
      Oh, thank you Gail!!
  • Steph Gregerson
    YES! This makes me so happy. We kicked off our New Year at a house in Woodstock, NY putting puzzles together as a group. We “finished” two 1000 piece puzzles (a few pieces were missing from each – which was frustrating, but a little funny.) It was wonderful, especially since it was accompanied by wine, cheese and a roaring fire. I love taking time to notice the tiny details.
    • Jenn from much to my delight
      Good Lawd! Two 1,000-piece puzzles in one evening? I bow down to you and your friends! Also: PUZZLES ARE THE GREATEST. I know you feel me.
  • Paige
    I recently took up doing puzzles myself! and I never really put two and two together. I often feel like life is just going by so fast, and yet I feel like I have little to show for it (besides a full time job, a husband, and 4 dogs) Adult-ing is hard. And you have perfectly summed up my feelings about how a puzzle slows you down and makes you really focus. Thank you for making me feel a little less crazy for having a Christmas list full of different puzzles :-)