I’m a week into my thousand piece puzzle of Monet’s “Sailboats on the Seine.” It’s a peaceful scene of five sailboats on a cloudy day on a rippling river. There are houses on the far bank and a tall poplar.
I am done with the straightforward parts. The edging, the orange-sherbet colored sailboat in the foreground, the acid green grassy bank, the various masts, each in a different shade of brown, some with pink edging, some with black.
I’ve happily listened to podcasts of the Brian Lehrer Show and the Cycling Podcast as I’ve approached these sections, day after day. I usually turn to the puzzle late in the afternoon, when my lawyer work is done, I’ve exercised, I’ve studied French, I’ve written, I’ve grocery shopped, I’ve paid bills, I’ve read the news, I’ve monitored the garden, I’ve re-inked my pens, I’ve brushed the cat. In other words, when I’ve done everything I can possibly do to keep my brain and heart and spirit intact – and it’s still too early to start making dinner, to drink wine, to watch TV.
But today? Today there are about four hundred blue pieces for me to sort through and place. Yes, there are differentiations. Some have a bit of cloud, some are obviously shadowed water or a flat grey sail, some have what seem like pixillated colors. Perhaps not a single one is just blue. But that’s what it looks like from across the table.
Can I do it? Oh, yes. This is not my first pandemic puzzle challenge. I’ve done collections of beetles and butterflies, Victorian imaginings of triumphal Roman parades, and a riotous collection of twelve Van Gogh paintings. When I finished each one I felt great satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, feelings that are harder to come by now than they were a few months ago.
Today, I’m not sure I want to experience satisfaction from combing through little cardboard pieces for hours. Even if I put the air conditioning on and lower the shades.
So – a radical idea – what if I don’t finish it? What if I let it sit for a few days and then crumble all the pieces back in their box? All I need to do is give myself permission.
Isn’t that the most challenging part?
I am a finisher, a completist. My life has been earmarked by setting out to do things and getting them done. School, the bar, opening law practices, raising children, running charities, learning Spanish, German, Italian, writing books. Whatever it is, I have finished.
I’m told I’m in a stage in my life where I can consider leaving some of that behind. My to do lists. My charts. My outlines. My rules.
I’m rolling all of that over my my mind. Now, with old hard-baked routines perhaps gone forever it’s easier to think about these things. To contemplate not finishing.
I think of other seascapes I’ve admired. Other Monets, yes. I mentally lock on all those dreamy paintings left behind by JWM Turner. You only know some of them are seascapes because someone has told you so. They are a sweet meld of gold and grey and sunlight. Unfinished, we are told. So there.
If Turner could leave works unfinished, why can’t I?
I will consider my orange sherbet sailboat and acid green grass a success of concentration and study. Right?
Maybe for today.
That’s as far as I can let myself go right now.