SOMEWHERE IN TIME—It started out slowly, just like the virus. With some extra time at home, why not embrace an activity that takes patience and prolonged effort? I borrowed a puzzle from a friend, thinking it would be a bit of fun in the few weeks or even months it would take COVID to abate.

Puzzling was a whim and something to engage my mind and my hands. Call it an inexpensive version of self-care that allowed me to focus on small pieces of laminated cardboard. The goal was to distract myself and reduce the growing anxiety of the outside world where I flinched if anyone came closer than six feet.

Jigsaws afforded a personal feeling of accomplishment, but I craved public approval. I began posting on Instagram. It was a cry for attention and a pat on the back I so desperately needed. I challenged myself to try increasingly difficult patterns and images. All so I could share my progress and success. I’m ashamed to admit that I even did a time-lapse—it got the most comments.

As the months of isolation turned into more months of isolation, my infatuation became increasingly rabid. I couldn’t walk by the puzzle table without stopping and making a few connections. God help the partner, child, or pet that dared to disturb my latest project! Often, I stood in a fog over the puzzle, fixated on a single piece as I tuned out the cacophony of a trapped household pulsing around me. I talked strategy with friends and searched out reviews online. Do the corners first, they said. Sort the pieces by colour, I was told. Use my discount code on Areaware!

I was wearing jigsaw goggles and could see nothing else. Gentle, bucolic scenes were replaced by more complex landscapes. Then came the joke puzzles, followed by the social commentary imagery. Finally, there was the gradient puzzle featuring a single colour. It was both the pinnacle of difficulty and a metaphor for how life had become a monotonous, amorphous endurance event composed of a single hue.

Like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, puzzles are my Wilson. And the same way Hanks’ character will never again play volleyball, I will refuse to even look at a puzzle once COVID is banished. Years from now, I can imagine being at a cottage when someone pulls a dusty box from the shelf. In that moment, I will be transported back to a time of puzzle madness.

By Molly Donovan

I grew up in the USA, but don't hold that against me because I'm also Canadian. Just think of me as the mole.

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