Canvas columnist Steve Braunias is puzzled by life.
Jigsaws! I never saw it coming. One day I was at large in the world, out and about, someone who saw the big picture. The next I was pinned to the dining room table, silent, intent, my field of vision narrowing to very small points – please, someone help. I'm a slave to the jigsaw.
Jigsaws! It started in Papamoa, that flat, sandy epitome of the pleasant boringness of New Zealand life, with its fantastical street names - Bahamas Key, Riviera Crescent, Emerald Shores Drive, Palm Springs Boulevard – trying to introduce a little bit of excitement. There's no excitement in Papamoa. But it's close to Mount Maunganui, the nearby mall at Bayfair is excellent, and my sister lives there. She has my daughter and her cousins to stay during the school break. They have a grand old time and Minka came back from the last holidays seized with a new enthusiasm. Yes, very well, I said, I'll get you a jigsaw.
Jigsaws! God. The retirement homes, seaside baches and op-shops of New Zealand are crammed with old cardboard boxes that rattle when you pick them up. Pictures of horses, windmills, mountains, meadows, rivers flowing beneath bridges crossed by horses – no, not a great range, although in 1965 hundreds of thousands of Americans struggled to assemble a puzzle of Jackson Pollock's splatter painting, Convergence. It passed into legend as the world's most difficult jigsaw.
Jigsaws! I've never had the patience, never had the time. I'm a very busy person and lead a terribly important life. But I like to spoil my daughter rotten and care nothing for the expense, so I sailed into an SPCA op-shop and coughed up $1. "Look what I got," I said when I got home. "A thousand-piece jigsaw."
Jigsaws! They're a trivial pursuit, a weird pastime. For the past six years a woman in Canada – a sort of Papamoa with bears – has been trying to break the Guinness Book of Records for solving jigsaws. In an interview in 2013, Jodie Desbiens said she turned to puzzles when she quit drinking: "I just decided to quit. I wasn't really an alcoholic. I liked to drink and party and I was young. But it just wasn't so fun anymore and I started the puzzles." She read that the world record was 238. She set about making more and surpassed it, but then read that a woman in the Philippines had made 1028. She set about making more, and surpassed it, then read that a woman in Brazil had made 1047. It remains the world record assault on the number of times someone has completed a jigsaw.
Jigsaws! The one I got is a painting which depicts celebrities at a diner. It must have been made sometime after 2004, because there's Brangelina. There's also Leonardo, Oprah, Elvis, Jackie O, Dr Spock – oh God there's Bill Cosby, smirking. Worse, there's Donald Trump, hollering. The walls are yellow, there are palm trees, meals, drinks, Harry Potter looks depressed. Awesome jigsaw.
Jigsaws! Minka worked on it for two hours solid. I was really impressed. She had stamina, a good eye and first-rate organisational skills. She led the way, quickly and efficiently; I plodded behind her, a faithful dog, pawing at the most obvious pieces. We completed the four borders. We set aside faces and hands. We made a flying start to the jigsaw.
Jigsaws! That was three weeks ago. Since then it's mainly become my thing, my steady, determined mania, night and day, experiencing moments of triumph while staying very close to the edge of despair. A jigsaw is life. It's looking for patterns, it's the war on emptiness. It's trying to make logic out of chaos. It's a slog and it's so very, very difficult. No wonder Harry Potter looks depressed. There's no magic in a jigsaw.
Jigsaws! I'm getting there. I'm picking up the pieces and putting them together. I've got all of Cameron Diaz and most of Dustin Hoffman. Whoopi Goldberg was easy, I don't know the celebrity next to Arnold Schwarzenegger. To jigsaw is to puzzle it out and sometimes it's driving me up the yellow wall and I worry that I'll never, ever finish but actually, there are long stretches when I'm happy, serene, at peace - I'm calmly going about the business of creating a work of art. It's taking shape. It's looking good. It's interlocking; it's a jigsaw.