Puzzle Keeps Student from Going to Pieces

Marcie Holtgrefe, Journalism 1 writer

The New York Times Magazine celebrates the little things in life through a weekly column called “Letter of Recommendation.” For the opinion writing assignment in Journalism 1, Mrs. Weiss asked the students to follow this style and write about something that they have come to appreciate more during the school closure and stay-at-home orders because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Enjoy! (Here is the link to the New York Times Magazine stories where these students got their inspiration.)

At various points during this pandemic, I found myself needing something to do. Something that would take me away from the multitude of tasks before me. I would twiddle my thumbs, unable to focus on anything other than stress and pain. I needed something busy to do while holding back the tears of another day when I couldn’t get that project that was due finished, for no apparent reason except utter exhaustion with school, with the world, and with my own personal failings. I drowned in self-loathing and pain, and just wished I was at school, where someone could yell at me to be done with the entire mess that is me, but I wasn’t. I was at home and I had nothing to distract me. 

Except for a small, mindless jigsaw puzzle sitting on that one table. Something to pick on, besides myself. Something to do besides attacking myself. I never appreciated puzzles before quarantine quite as much as I do now.

Before the pandemic started, I had done a few puzzles. They weren’t the most fun, but they could keep me entertained on a bad day for a few hours. I didn’t fully care for them or the picture they created. However, one day at Walmart, grabbing the last stuff I needed, I decided to buy a 2,000 piece puzzle of Star Wars. It had the Death Star on it and characters from the original and prequel trilogy. It was a screenprint of some painting done by an artist far better than myself. I decided, why not, and bought the puzzle. 

When I got home, I set it up, and spent that weekend picking out the straight edges. I kept working on the puzzle steadily for the next week. It kept my scabs covered and my hair on my head because it gave me something to do when I couldn’t write or draw to take my mind off the uncertainty those first few days of quarantine. 

The frame was finished in a few days, and the middle was begun when we got the announcement that school was closed. I would have gone to my room and cried, but instead I stared at the puzzle, my mind pouring over pieces and linking them together. My mind was focused on the puzzle, not on the stress or pain. Without the puzzle, I would have dwelt on those things a lot more. Assignments, school, everything. I stared at a screen and couldn’t do anything. I needed to go out and film, but couldn’t, not because I didn’t know how, but because my mind was dead to this world. But the troubles all just faded as I clicked in another cardboard piece into its place, finishing the first row of faces.

The background was next. The Death Star, the war, the ships and their battles kept me safe from the battle in my heart. I did schoolwork, I tried not to cry. I gave up on filmmaking as the software crashed my computer and I lost everything for the third time, and I returned to the puzzle. The outlines, the unusual color pockets, then all the little pieces scattered in between.

I became that puzzle, trying to piece myself together, but it wasn’t easy. I kept going and going. Another day, another assignment, another failure, another loss. That puzzle didn’t undo, or crash. It just was. It was a weird consistency that I could fall back on when I didn’t want to fail another film assignment because of my confusion over the software and the unsteadiness of my hand. I could just do a puzzle and forget for a moment about my problems.

All in all, I highly recommend doing puzzles, especially when you undergo periods of great stress in your life. The disjointed consistency of the puzzle helped get me through another day, and provided a reason to get out of bed. I credit that puzzle for being the reason I didn’t go insane during quarantine and throw my computer out the window like I wanted. It may not have helped me not fail film, but it did get me through math, albeit, with a C. 

Had I been in the classroom, I wouldn’t have failed so much, but in quarantine, the puzzle was one thing I couldn’t fail. That moment when the last piece was put into its place, I cried again. I had to do a letter of recommendation assignment for journalism, and I finally knew what to write about. This puzzle that kept me sane. This puzzle, I will always recommend.