“Working a Jigsaw” by Barbara Shoup – selection #52 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♠2♠ Two of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Spades is my suit for short Indiana-related non-fiction works.

The Selection: “Working a Jigsaw” from my copy of the “Not Like the Rest of Us” anthology of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, which along with Deal Me “IN” 2016, is a fellow Legacy Project of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

The Author: Barb Shoup, the director of the Indiana Writer’s Center in Indianapolis. A couple years back, I enjoyed her novel, “Looking for Jack Kerouac” but didn’t blog about it. My buddy Dale at the Mirror With Clouds blog did, though.

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up postlegacy project seal of approval 2For a look at my deck of cards/storyroster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. The 2016 iteration of Deal Me “IN” is also a “Legacy Project” officially endorsed by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission!

Working a Jigsaw

“The puzzle becomes a piece of my life. An object. A week in time. The ghost of an unwritten story. And this snippet of understanding: every beautiful thing is made of many pieces, each one complete in its own way, utterly, maddeningly, gloriously itself.”

In “Working a Jigsaw” Shoup describes a planned week-long personal writing retreat where she intends to get some serious work done without distractions. Describing items she’s packing for the trip (books, notebooks, computer, printer, paper, pens, etc) she then adds “As an afterthought, I brought along a puzzle.” It’s not just any puzzle though, it’s a jigsaw puzzle of a painting by Vermeer, she “impulse bought” when in Wales.

Over the course of her week, she becomes seduced by the puzzle, being unable to walk past it without stopping to work on it. She is “…mesmerized by the task of fitting the pieces together. I look at each piece carefully. I look at its shape, its markings. Is there any clue in it to the whole? A dash of orange, a thin green line, a silver curve? An eye, a fret, a finger? Usually, there is not. Usually, each piece seems much like any number of other pieces I pick up – and at the same time maddeningly unique. Hours and hours I meant to spend writing pass as I stand staring at the picture of the painting, then at some section of the puzzle I am trying to complete.”  

Shoup describes going through many of the frustrations puzzle workers are familiar with, surmising, for example, at one that “…surely, there must be some pieces missing.” Sound familiar? In the end, though, she begins to realize that working the puzzle has a lot in common with her writing:

“Just now, I am typing these black words onto a white screen. Am I working? I am not doing the work I planned to do. I am working a puzzle, looking hard at a painting in order to put each piece in its place, and, from time to time, I am writing down facts and memories and odd insights float up, pieces of another, bigger puzzle. This puzzle has no picture on the box to help me, though. Just pieces.”

I looked up Vermeer after reading this story and, although I’m not certain, I think I may have found the painting that the puzzle in this story represents.

♫♫Personal Notes: Do you enjoy jigsaw puzzles? Did you do a lot of them as a kid, but don’t do them any more? I bet a lot of us fall into the latter description, myself included. Sort of. I remember several large puzzles we had when I was a kid that we liked to do over and over again. One was of a couple boys being given spoonfuls of castor oil by a woman while they were sitting among scattered green apple cores as a sign that they had over indulged. Another favorite was one of the presidents. It was unique because it was circular in shape, with small portraits of the presidents around the border and a seal of the United States in the middle. Of course, we were frequently vexed by lost or missing pieces.

Periodically I enjoy a rebirth of jigsaw puzzle working. This has happened a couple times during family reunion weekends at various Indiana State Park Inns, where the “community room” usually has a bookshelf full of games – including jigsaw puzzles – to fend off guest boredom on rainy days or post-hiking evenings. Then there was the fateful day I was having coffee with a friend who told me about the jigsaw app you could buy for your iPad or tablet (see a recent before & after example below that I worked in between blog posts). Warning: Do NOT get this app! It will eat up vast chunks of your time and prevent you from getting important things done. Oh, and you’ll love it. 🙂

Well, with this post, my Deal Me “IN” 2016 project is complete. I’m a couple weeks ahead of schedule because I was desperately trying to finish on Indiana’s exact birthday (12/11) but I missed it by a day. Soon I’ll have a summary post with links to all the stories I’ve read this year.  It’s been quite a fun challenge and I’ve “met” a lot of new authors that I’m sure I will see again over the years.  I’m already starting to plan for the “7th Annual” Deal Me In Challenge in 2017.  The official announcement/sign-up post will be on 12/21, the shortest day of the year. Thanks for reading!


  1. Dale said,

    December 12, 2016 at 11:07 am

    I’ve never thought of writing as being like putting together a puzzle without a picture on the box. What a great insight on Shoup’s part! It makes sense.

    In Looking for Jack Kerouac, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the young male protagonists’ encounter with the Weeki Wachee mermaids!

    It’s been great reading about the Indiana stories and authors on your list, Jay! I’ve made lots of new discoveries myself. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jay said,

      December 12, 2016 at 11:17 am

      Thanks, Dale. I’m glad you enjoyed them, and I appreciate your ongoing support of Bibliophilopolis and your continued support in the Deal Me In challenges! Hard to believe next year will be the 7th year I’ve done DMI. Sometimes I like to think of it as if the other participants are doing “scouting reports” on authors or stories I might read some day, saving me having to do the research myself. 🙂


  2. December 12, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    My grandma used to do jigsaw puzzles, mostly in the winter. I remember being home on winter break in 1995-96. Oma and I were in the kitchen working on a puzzle and watching Doctor Zhivago. Meanwhile, my grandpa was in the front room watching Nebraska play Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. He wasn’t football fan, but he’d always watch the bowl game.

    I’ve finished 2017 Deal Me In list, looking forward to signing up!


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