above and below

The light of the moon shining in my bedroom window has woken me up the past few nights before dawn. I love sleep but it is difficult to ignore the pull of the full February moon.  Instead I have gotten up to write and watch her move across the sky and slip below the horizon in the early morning light. Each night there has been a moment so breathtaking that I considered running to my studio for my tripod. I am looking at such a moment now, but the message for the past few days has been to sit, pay attention, take in the moment and not try to do anything about it. As I have sat up with the moon these past few nights I have been questioning why interests and activities that were once really important to me have been reappearing in my life like old friends that show up unexpectedly at a party. I had an idea when I started writing that my focus would be on the challenges of forging a new identity as a single woman after 30 year of marriage. I thought I knew where this journey was going to take me. I did not imagine when I set out that the challenges would appear in the form of Coyote, Horse and Hawk.  I also did not imagine that the path would pass by forgotten passions from my childhood, but that is where it has been leading me. As with the moon I am feeling the pull of old memories and interests, and am sitting with them and paying attention. At this moment it seems that I need to go back and pick up a few forgotten pieces before I can go forward again.

When I was a kid I used to spend hours alone sitting cross-legged on the floor in the middle of my room putting puzzles together. I must have been around 10 when I started because all my memories are in the bedroom I had upstairs after my parents remodeled our house. Generally I think of puzzles as a shared family activity. There was some of that. I remember my brother groaning in frustration over how quickly I found the pieces. Eventually, I retreated to the solitude of my room. I remember the feeling of sitting alone all afternoon focused on fitting the pieces together while my fantasies and thoughts roamed free. I wish I could remember those fantasies and the worlds I spent all of that time in. I gradually progressed to harder and harder puzzles –Monet, Op Art, Monochrome.  It got to the point where all I saw were the shapes. I could see the pieces that fit together without touching them or trying them. I had hours and hours and hours of practice. I was a very sad, lonely kid.

Over winter vacation this year one of my children pulled out a puzzle and we started working on it together. We had discovered puzzles of wolves, and dinosaurs earlier that day while sorting through and giving away toys and books in my son’s room. We put the dinosaurs together first. We worked on a low coffee table. The TV was on in the background. There was a small degree of competition between my kids and their approach was not always compatible.  Occasionally one of them would comment on how good I was at puzzles and I would remind them that it was the result of all those hours alone in my room.  Night after night we returned to the puzzles.

A few years ago on my birthday my kids had given me a puzzle with no straight outer edge, and 5 extra pieces. I had never been able to finish it. We pulled it out next and finished it. We started on the wolves, but the grayness of that puzzle was daunting and uninviting. I pulled out the two remaining puzzles from my childhood.  I owned dozens as a kid. I remember them stacked unevenly in the hall cupboard by my bedroom. The two I have left are both octagons – Aquarium Fish and Peter Max. They are not my favorites but I am happy I have them.  They are the only two that survived the year my cousin lived in my mother’s garage and systematically sold my stored childhood possessions. We finished Aquarium Fish and started on Peter Max. My son returned to college. My daughter and I finished Peter Max and are once again struggling with the wolf. It has been very slow going.

Sometimes after a long day I sit down with the puzzle for a few minutes when I get home. I find that putting a few pieces together smoothes out my rough edges. I can still feel the fierce determination of the child inside of me and remember working hour after hour with the pieces scattered across my bedroom floor. Putting puzzles together was a form of prayer when I was a child.  “One more piece and everything will make sense.”  “One more puzzle and the fragmented pieces of my life will form a picture I recognize.” I have a friend who took up knitting after her mother died and would chant as she worked, “ I’m stitching my life back together”. Putting puzzles together as a child was like that for me. In a similar way this winter, my kids and I were reconnecting the shattered pieces of our family as we put together the pictures of dinosaurs and fish. Kneeling on the floor hour after hour over the small table, our heads almost touching, I could feel the cells in our bodies reconnect, rewire, and relax. Time passed in 45-minute increments marked by the mantra like repetition of the theme song from One Tree Hill, as entire seasons played on the television.

I don’t want to be
Anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately….

I used to joke as a kid about finding a way to make a living from my puzzling skills.  As with so many original talents, it was difficult to value it without ascribing a goal or purpose to it, or seeing where it could lead me.  My friend Mel Andringa has turned his love of puzzles into his art form.  He combines different puzzles together and creates original pictures of his own. I love his work and would love to travel back to Iowa next month to see his new show at Cornell College’s Peter Paul Luce Gallery.  He is not trying to put things together as they are supposed to be.  He is not trying to make the world right again. He is creating new worlds of his own design from the pieces he has to work with. My puzzling years have evolved into an ability to make connections between people. Sometimes I see the fit between friends before I introduce them. Ironically I did end up using what I learned during the years spent looking at the scattered pieces on my bedroom floor in my work. Those hours alone created an opportunity for me to become comfortable with my inner world and I draw on that comfort now in my writing, my art, and with my clients. Every day I sort through the pieces that come up, spread them out, turn them face up and look for the connections.

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