To answer your question — no, the puzzle wasn’t that hard. When I say I was crying over a puzzle, I mean that I decided I needed to cry and simultaneously do a puzzle.
It was a quiet Saturday night after the rest of my family had gone to bed. I needed to cry. If you want to know why, you can look to any of the other reasons I’ve confessed to crying over and take your guess. All I need you to know is that the puzzle I was doing wasn’t the cause. The puzzle, I figured, was something that I’d been meaning to do and could finish tonight while I worked my feelings out.
The process was simple enough. As I brought out the “Spider-Man 3” puzzle my friends had bought me as a present from Goodwill, I queued up a few songs by one of my favorite bands — Current Joys — to cry to. As the solitary, somber chords of “Become the Warm Jets” echoed through my bedroom, I poured the pieces out of the box and the tears out of my eyes.
As I sobbed, I used my typical puzzle-assembling strategy — find the four corner pieces first, and then begin assembling the frame using edge pieces. The singer mourned the pain of nostalgia so distant it was an unreachable memory as I split my mind in two between Spider-Man and sadness.
The basic beat of “Fear” began its melancholic melody and countermelody, invoking being afraid of loss and the pain it brings. I finished the frame and began sorting the inside pieces by color. I was still sniffling.
As I wept and went through the same motions as I had with any other puzzle, the quiet absurdity of my actions occurred to me, splitting my mind into three. This wasn’t how I usually cried or how anyone usually cries: on night drives scream-singing my heart out, clutching my pillow/stuffed animal (Mr. Beary and Mr. Terry have been invaluable companions) to my chest, in the arms of a loved one. I’ve cried softly, muffled and wailed out in my empty house, listening to my cries echo around the building like a dying animal. Crying is a funny, accumulating experience for me. It seems to gather up everything I could possibly mourn into my mind, like taking everyone else’s donations to Goodwill because well, you’re already going there. Sitting with the lump sum of my past and others’, neatly packed into boxes to never be seen again. Simple strifes like minor inconveniences or stress buildup turn into existential crises and the emotional infection of old wounds. Donation is where the analogy stops though, as my tears pass on to no one but emptiness in their evaporation.
The lonely drumbeats accompanied the comforting repetition of strumming as the singer began “A Different Age.” The synth grew into a dull roar as cymbal crashes joined the guitar, while the vocals bemoaned a disconnect of a self-hating artist from the people he creates for. They reached toward me in harmony and moved my hand, wiping my tears. I matched the darker pieces with logos, symbiote Spider-Men and city backgrounds.
My thoughts spiraled off into complexities until they reached one of my most common conclusions — the fact that I could write about this — this out-of-the-ordinary, cathartic and appealing-to-readership moment; a chance to make the anguish of my emotions into art. Splitting my mind into four, I began to write out prose in my head. This has happened endless times before, but never mere seconds after the “writeable” moment. All while still assembling the puzzle, I began piecing together key points of phrase and thematic allegories to use. I take care to not simply “intellectualize” these feelings to avoid processing them — rationalizing my intrinsically irrational emotions in an effort not to actually feel them — as I attempt to weave in those very emotions in this somewhat esoteric academic language we find ourselves fluent in. At the same time, I have to take great care not to get lost in some emotional stream of self-conscious consciousness, constructing my mundanities into an engaging story. It’s this fine line between journalism and journaling — creating an informational narrative that still doesn’t alienate the audience and myself from emotion.
“New Flesh” started with successive snare hits as its two melodies conflicted over simple background chords. The bass amped up as the singer cried out about repetitive, abject hopelessness. I pulled together red pieces for the larger image of Spider-Man. My face was nearly dry.
My mind split into five as I thought about the impact of my writing like this — its purpose. I’ve bared my soul and split my mind so many times to what end? Do I analyze everything to ultimately not experience it? Do I live a story for the purpose of writing it? I pitch pieces where I’m asking myself questions about myself and still haven’t reached the answer, racking my brain and letting my life play out until I can reach a fitting conclusion in a week or two after the pitch — before the piece’s deadline. I try to close these chapters of my issues with these conclusions, but then I find myself still in mourning over them. Is this all I can hope to achieve as a writer, attempting to infuse emotion and academia in the most exceptional ways I can dream of? Let me be Claudio taken by Beatrice’s wishes realized — devour my heart in this marketplace of ideas. I will split my chest in half and tear pieces of my still-beating heart right onto the page if that’s what it takes, but I know that each split from my self sacrificed to script leaves behind memories that I still mourn, no matter how much I try to avoid the pain. Those pieces I’ve written, I’ve done so in part to separate that sadness from myself — yet, still those emotions tear those same holes in my heart. My face was fully dry, but my mind was in pieces: the feelings, the task, the contradiction, the writing, the impact.
I put the last piece on my desk into place. I stared at the puzzle for a second, and then started chuckling to myself. It’s incomplete, with a single piece missing, its absence accentuated by the filled-in pieces around it. I paused the music player on my phone and reasoned that a Goodwill puzzle wasn’t guaranteed to be complete. Standing up, I felt the divided layers of my mind reunite as I kept laughing to myself. However, now that I was standing up, I spotted a piece on the floor. With childish glee, I completed my task for the night. Every piece was used in its entirety.
I need every part of myself, even the ones that hurt, the ones that have me crying to myself on a Saturday night. I live and write for what fulfills me, the largest part of that fulfillment being that any audience I reach can help themselves and others with what I’ve created. We can break ourselves into jigsaw pieces and put ourselves back together as many times as needed. So I do apologize for fibbing earlier — it was a puzzle I was crying over. Though, like I said, it wasn’t that hard.
MiC Columnist Saarthak Johri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.