Over the course of a week, I engaged in a battle of wits with an inanimate object, the aftermath of which has left my brain addled and ruined.
The object in question was a 750 piece jigsaw puzzle of a scene painted by Thomas Kincaid, depicting Mickey and Minnie Mouse holding hands on a beautiful woodland bridge. One week later, I can still remember every vivid detail of the scene, permanently burned into my consciousness as if it had become my brain’s screensaver. How did this happen to me?
Puzzles are toiling work. It has been so long since I’ve done a proper puzzle; the sheer exhaustion they impart was forgotten to me. I do many puzzle-games on my phone, but they never leave the impression left upon me by the old-fashioned cardboard one I just completed. Doing the puzzle was physically and mentally draining. My joints ached from stretching across the table in vain searches for pieces. Fingers tired from flipping over upside down pieces ones over and over as they would be shuffled and re-shuffled in the box. Completing the puzzle wasn’t fun—it was exercise.
I must note, we only bought the 750 piece puzzle because all of the 1000 piece ones were purchased by panic-buyers preparing for a long quarantine. May some higher being place mercy on their souls.
I did a puzzle swap with my girlfriend’s family for a 500 piece puzzle of a train roaring down the countryside. Unlike my fiendish Disney landscape, the pieces in this one are mostly uniform. They lack the bizarre jagged edges and indescribable peculiarities of the prior preoccupation. I constructed the border of this new puzzle easy enough, but now find I have no motivation to continue. The 750 piece Goliath broke my brain to the point where I no longer welcome an easier reprieve. Rather, I am feeling empty without a bigger challenge. In my brokenness I now desire a larger white whale to shatter me further.
Doing this puzzle changed my perspective on life. The whole time I was working on it, my mind wandered into thoughts about what life must have been like in the past where there was nothing to do other than build jigsaw puzzles or drink mercury. Everyone surely would’ve been a little bit crazy. Not the kind of crazy we are all today, where our phones and our televisions constantly beam us billions of information points for our brains to try and process. It’s the type of crazy where a single thing occupies your mind and craves the attention of every synapse. Instead of trying to learn one detail about a million things, I found my brain absorbing a million details about one thing, plunging me into a deeper state of thinking than I’ve felt in a very long time. It’s as if my whole state of being was broken into little bits and slowly reassembled, leaving me more whole than I was before.
Vincent Rendon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @VinceSagebrush.