Friday, January 4, 2013

Making the Big Picture a Bit Smaller

This is where I want to be.

Some days I get to do more than other days.  Today the sun is shining.  The sky is blue.  The air is fresh and crisp.

This is where I am

And I'm stuck at home with a series of infections and a whole bunch of antibiotics in addition to my other disabilities.  Oh, and I'm also alone. My kids and sweetheart are on a hike.  It's easy to feel sorry for myself.  But I've decided not to.  Why?

Well, I'm listening to Vaughn Morrison and the Chieftains and there are two jigsaws puzzles to be worked on, and the light is just right.  (Plus I'm a bit selfish: I don't like people messing with my "system."  My daughters are exempted from messing with "my system," but it's still nice to have a chunk of time to puzzle on my own.)

There's something magical about the meditativeness of working on a puzzle.  For me, I find myself in a space of  mindfulness and complete in-the-moment awareness.  Where is the piece whose color matches this area?  What shape do I need to find that will match where the puzzle is just one mass of the same color?

One of my favorite young adult novels is Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.   The main character, 13 year old Brian Robeson, finds himself piloting a Cessna plane on his own when the pilot has a sudden heart attack and dies.  He crash lands in the Canadian wilderness and learns to survive, one small step at a time.  For example, after many unsuccessful attempts at spearing fish, he realizes that light refracts so instead of spearing the fish exactly where he sees them, he has to shift his spear to accommodate for the refraction.  Success!  The whole book is a lesson in observation and learning by doing.  (Teacher talk: constructivist learning at its best!)

In one part of the novel, after many failed attempts, Brian constructs a bow and arrow that is sturdy and on the mark.  He is desperately hungry, has already learned to make fire, yet cannot seem to catch any of the local fool birds, despite the wealth of them everywhere.  He is desperate.  And then suddenly he knows.  He just knows what to do.  And he catches his first fool bird:

And that had been the secret. He had been looking for feathers, for the color of the bird, for a bird sitting there. He had to look for the outline instead, had to see the shape instead of the feathers or color, had to train his eyes to see the shape […]
It was like turning on a television. Suddenly he could see things he never saw before. In just moments, it seemed, he saw three birds before they flew, saw them sitting and got close to one of them, moving slowly, got close enough to try a shot with his bow. 
I always think of that part of Hatchet when I am doing jigsaw puzzles.  The big picture can help with parts, but sometimes you need to slow down, stop looking at the color and the surroundings and just stare at those shapes, letting everything else fade away.  And then, voila, there is the elusive piece that, for all other appearances, made no sense being where it finally fit.  It was the shape.  The last thing to be seen.
That's me with most things.  I am the person who sees the biggest of pictures.  In the case of today, the big picture is that I am inside on a sunny day and my family is outside.  Then slowly, I close the gap a bit more.  Here I am in the house.  So what?  Well, it's warm, the music is radiating some motivational energy, I've got some Earl Grey tea with sugar and lemon (my favorite!), and a cut up mango at my side.  What a perfect combination!

And the puzzles are waiting.  Waiting for me to find my focus one piece at a time.

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