Over the holidays I came undone. What got me wasn’t the stress of holiday shopping or the added holiday traffic. It wasn’t the extra work of decorating the house or even the dreaded holiday travel necessary to meet up with family. No. In fact it was something so benign, that it surprised me. It was the close-up of a single bee hovering over a dew-drenched flower, or perhaps a whole field of orange poppies glowing in the afternoon sun, or a glassy lake reflecting the purple mountain behind it. I don’t even remember what serene landscape it was that’d been deliberately chopped into a million tiny pieces for no reason but to vex me.
When we first discovered the puzzle at the AirB&B beach house, I thought it was the perfect thing for a holiday with cousins. “How fun.”, I said. Something we could sit down and do together, over laughs with family. Good old-fashioned fun at a slow old-fashioned pace. But for some reason, whenever I sat down to what should have been fun for me, the work of piecing together one of the millions of little pieces made specifically for the purpose of trying to trick me, became quickly tedious and I kept finding myself getting agitated. There was much good conversation to enjoy with my very smart relatives during this little brain game. Yet still, the very notion that some quiz master somewhere had assumed that I would care enough to take up their stupid little challenge, and hang in there, through the mist of that pretty waterfall up in the right-hand corner where all the colors are COMPLETELY INDISTINGUISHABLE just PISSED ME OFF.
“Come on now, Renaissance man.”, I thought to myself. “You run a theatre. In L.A.! You can do this. Just relax.” But then I’d look down to see the seven lousy pieces of the straight edge that I’d managed to put together against the trillions of pieces in the middle that seemed to be multiplying faster than rabbits. I know that I have a longer attention span than the kids today with their digitally wired brains. At least I used to know that… but now I sit staring at the pieces trying to calculate how many weeks it will take me just to get the center of this ridiculous recreation stitched together. I envision uniformed officials with a gurney standing behind me as I’m slumped lifelessly over the table with the sounds of laughter wafting in from the summer beach. One of the paramedics says after removing the puzzle piece that is stuck to my cold forehead with his blue-gloved hand, “That’s sad. He was only 5 pieces away from finishing it.”
The whole puzzle thing left me disappointed in myself. The frustration I felt every damned time I faced this stupid little fun thing left me facing the sad truth that I too have devolved to an attention span of zeroes and ones. What if the puzzle was digital, and to put it together you’d drag and drop the pieces into place on your phone? Okay, now that sounds fun, right? Wait, what? See, I just failed the grown-up test yet again. That’s the point of a real puzzle; to calm you down and exercise your patience. I know that. Slow, like a fine wine. But then…every time I walked by that table I was reminded that I hadn’t even made a dent because some puzzle maker somewhere decided that 1000 pieces isn’t as good as 5000 pieces. Why not multiply the frustration by 5, or 10? I stand alone by the table while the relatives clink glasses by the fire and fantasize about telling whoever turned a perfectly good nature photo into a haunting pile of 10,000 bits what my average day looks like. And in that rant I savor the words “how dare you” and “the gall!”
The last thing we did as we scurried around our rented beach house the day after Christmas cleaning up all of the evidence of our debauchery, was to break it all up. With absolutely no ceremony whatsoever, all the work, the few pieces we’d managed to painstakingly marry were snatched up by one of my cousins and thrown into the box with the other gazillion pieces that had refused to be tamed. Just like that. Game Over. We never even came close. We never even got the outside border put together. And I get that the point of this hideous puzzle wasn’t in the completion of it but rather in the joy of the process. I get it. The fucking joy. But I also get that I am now a digital kid. An ancient millennial. With a shamefully short attention span…who looks at quaint, real-time things like puzzles with bored eyes that say, “Seriously? There must be an app for that, right? Like…right?”