In my ever-puzzling experiences observing the differences between how creative types and linear types go through life together, another example showed its face the other day – that is, how B. and I approach doing jigsaw puzzles. In short, he loves it and I, it seems, usually end up curled up in a corner with some chocolate. Muttering about never attempting this piece-full, non-peaceful pastime ever again. To wit:
We have a closetful of puzzles, purchased at various times over our 25 years together, always with the intention of doing them in front of a cozy fire on a winter evening while sipping hot chocolate spiked with amaretto, some great jazz spinning in the background The reality? We’ve barely looked at them in years; our apartment doesn’t have a fireplace; and these days our hot chocolate is spiked with nothing more exciting than whipped cream. The jazz, though, is accurate.
So there we were a couple of evenings ago, thinking we’d segue back into puzzle-doing slowly by delving into a set of puzzles I’d bought years ago. The assortment holds a couple of 500-piece puzzles (uh-oh), a couple with 300 (doubtful), and four with 100 (my best shot). The small ones were where we began.
Here’s where the different mindsets first showed. B. chose a beautiful nature scene. Soothing colors, easily defined images, challenging but in a good way. And here’s where I decided to go (aside from straight to puzzle hell) – a snapshot of Times Square, filled with tons of lighted billboards and neon signs.
The colors – seemingly hundreds of them – looked so pretty that I got distracted, both to the fact that the pieces were so small that that amount of detail would be hard to decipher, and to the fact that, if I’m honest, I just don’t like jigsaw puzzles. (Crossword puzzles, yes. Jigsaw, no. I mean, just the name “jigsaw” brings up images of slasher movies.)
As any puzzle-doer knows, the first thing to do when puzzling is to build your outside frame. Look for all the straight-edged pieces and fit them together. Which is exactly what B. was doing. While also sorting his pieces into groups – all the pieces of the boat in one spot, all the pieces that looked like they were part of the mountainside in another, all the pieces of clouds in a third. All the while annoying me to no end.
First, because I was sure that some of my straight edges were missing. After sorting through my cache at least 20 times, my frustration growing, two were still nowhere to be found.
Me: I’m done. They left two pieces out. There’s no way I can do this puzzle without the frame.
He: (frame finished, starting to fill in the center of his puzzle) I’m sure they’re there, you probably just need to look again.
Me: Nope. Not here. Can’t do it.
He: (stretching, totally relaxed) Are you sure? Do you want me to help look?
Me: (shoulders starting to creep up to my ears, lower back knotting up, teeth beginning to grind) Yes, I’m sure. And no, I don’t need you to look.
He: (eyebrows going up a fraction) Okay.
Me: Yes, I need you to look.
He: (scanning my pieces for a few seconds) Here they are.
Me: That’s not possible – how did you do that? You planted them!
Back to our separate puzzles, my frame completed at last, it was time to work on the rest. And here’s where my creative mind started looking creatively for something else to do. Because sorting patiently the way B. does just isn’t the sort of thing my brain does successfully. He can methodically go piece by piece and put each one with its brothers and sisters; me, not so much. I’ll collect two pieces that go together and then get distracted by something else. I call it the “related piece, related piece, look there’s a flower!” method of doing a puzzle. Here’s a hint – it doesn’t really work.
And when B. says he’s looking for “a piece with two openings, one notch, and a tiny stripe of red on it,” I’m looking for a way out. That uber-rational, utterly sensible, completely scientific method of thinking may build puzzles successfully but it makes me plain nuts. I just want to cast my eye over the pieces and immediately sense what fits where. All I want is to see the beautiful visual at the end. And then maybe make up a story about it.
The end result? B. finished his puzzle while I was still lost in Times Square. When he graciously offered to help me, I grudgingly agreed. And he didn’t even mind my interruptions of, “Ooh, look at this pretty color pink!” or “This shape looks like a witch’s face with two warts!” Because he’d say, “Pink? That must be part of this building sign,” or “A shape with a couple of tabs sticking out? I’ve been looking for that. It fits right here.” I was happy creating and he was happy analyzing and figuring out.
Maybe that’s the answer to how a linear mind and a creative mind can live together happily – one builds the foundation and the other has her head in the clouds.
©2021 Claudia Grossman