Puzzles provide a lesson on life

I’ve never been one to follow patterns. And it drove my grand­ma, a perfection-driven seamstress, crazy.

“Malinda, you’ve got to use a pattern,” she’d say. Or, “Slow down, SLOW DOWN,” as I took off pell-mell down the straight hem of the whatever-we-were-making-that-summer item.

I always loved sewing with Grandma, but her logic never quite lined up with my…ahem…innovation.

I’ve had success with my method, but not perfection. For instance, last summer I got fed up with my pool bag that wasn’t big enough for five beach towels. I shopped around, but came up empty-handed. Enter the fabric store. And a lovely black and white, heavy-weight fabric. But no pattern.

I did have several photos of different bags pinned on Pinterest. But there ended visuals and entered innovation. And I love my bag. The sewing isn’t perfect, but I’m proud of the design.

Detailed, step-by-step instructions don’t strike my fancy. I can follow them, but the more tedious the subject, the quicker I find something else to do. So I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you, but I’ve never liked puzzles.

It will also come as no surprise that as a mom, I’m required to do them. It’s part of the job description. Peg-puzzles were OK. But honestly! How many turns does it take to fit the dog in the cut-out?

As my kids get older, the pieces increase. (And don’t even get me started about a certain John-Deere-green tractor company who boxed five 100-piece puzzles in one box. Do you know how long it takes to sort that out when a toddler is involved?)

Anyway, one of my children wanted help on a puzzle (not the tractors). Deep breath. Hidden sigh. No husband in sight…so, OK, guess this one’s on me.

But when I sat down, I couldn’t help but laugh, as I saw how my child was choosing to “do” the puzzle…from the middle-out. Guess this sweet child is innovative like me.

As adult in the situation, I quickly began explaining the rules of puzzles. First, sort the edge pieces from the center pieces. Next, work the frame of the puzzle. Finally, make the image come together.

And as I worked with my child to develop the image of wild horses galloping through a creek, I realized something.

Life is like a puzzle, you never know….

But all joking aside, there really is an individual and corporate lesson in a puzzle.

For one, legwork. Some­times I get impatient with the legwork. As I continue to move forward into life-freedom, I keep finding some missing edge pieces that, when in place, will give my puzzle a polished look. And yes, while it IS possible to complete a puzzle from the middle-out, it’s not the best, nor easiest way. And generally leads to frustration.

Also, don’t forget that each piece builds on another. If you’re holding the center piece, but there’s nothing to connect it to, what do you really gain?

The same goes corporately. Perhaps life feels stalled. But maybe it’s because someone else hasn’t laid down the connecting piece. If you’re waiting on the piece, keep watching. Fill in another spot, but don’t stop.

If you’re holding the next piece (maybe with a tight fist)? Lay it down! You don’t know how many images you will help complete.

I’m doing that this week.

I’m taking a big flight of obedience to a writer’s conference in Charlotte, N.C. When I first signed up for the She Speaks Conference, I was merely going to attend and learn—because I felt like this summer was my time to go.

But then, a few weeks ago I was notified that I made it off the waiting list to meet with book publishers. When I read that email, I knew that any sort of book deal would be a long shot, and yet, there I was with a puzzle piece.

So I laid it down and got matched with a couple different publishers.

I’ve been hammering out a book proposal and one-sheet—which, it turns out, is quite an involved process, and for new writers, includes three full chapter samples. I was naive, and my time has been short.

But, I’m now working the final design tweaks and content edits. Even though this process has been grueling, I’m glad I decided to go for it. There have been moments where I’ve been going pell-mell down a hem and needed to refocus.

There have been moments when my innovation has come in handy, and moments when I’ve had to start again.

But the entire process has been worth it. I have found so much joy in it. And I can’t wait to see what piece goes in next.

Because you never know.

Malinda Just has been writing her monthly column for the Free Press since 2008. She can be reached at malinda@justs.org.