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Pleasure Hunting

“The Hunt” was painted by Scottish artist Robert Burns around 1926, as part of his coherent Art Deco interior design for Crawford’s Tea Rooms in Edinburgh.

Deep into the first puzzle of the season, a light snow drifts down again. We’ve all ordered our puzzles for the year, and since everyone else’s were primarily blue hues, I chose different colors. There are so many factors to review in choosing only one puzzle per year. When I first got addicted, I made my selection solely by the image itself. As it became clear that more recent puzzles feature more complex cuts, I began looking for harder puzzles, those with fewer edge pieces, smaller pieces, more intricate whimsy pieces, and now, knock me over with a feather, there are several with alternative solutions!

How did I never think of doing this before with the whimsy pieces?
All the pieces are whimsical but whimsy pieces have a recognizable shape, either an animal, plant, person, or part thereof, or they’re geometrical or symmetrical. Whimsy pieces are at the heart of what makes these puzzles works of art in their own right.

The seemingly infinite variety of the cuts, as Liberty’s designer gets more inventive season by season, brings surprise and delight in each new puzzle; older puzzles in our community collection continue to gratify as I do them again with a different strategy each time: from the outside in or the inside out? starting with a color, or a figure, or clockwise or counter-clockwise…? The designer’s puzzler fans here are growing with him and seek more complexity in each puzzle we choose. This winter we’ve all opted for challenging puzzles, one even designated “Experts Only.”

Opening the puzzle box that enticing new puzzle scent wafts out. I have a particular way I sort the pieces, as I unpack them from their tissue paper nest. Whimsy pieces all to one side, obvious edges at the top, and then some other classifications as each unique puzzle invites. People have asked if I have a strategy, and the truth is that the particulars of each puzzle dictate how I sort its pieces, and all following aspects of my strategy: each strategy is unique as the puzzle that shapes it. So I’ve sorted all the pieces, played Forest House with them, and it’s time to stretch my legs, my back, give my eyes a break from close-up for awhile.

I look away from the table, and movement out the south window catches my eye, three does leaping the picket fence. A small forky buck strides up under the apricot tree.

No wonder the does leapt. As he stalks stealthily west across the yard and leaps after the does, I notice a good-size three-point buck in the brush left of them. Scanning for more I glance away, then am drawn back by odd movement. The buck has something caught in his antlers, and seems to be struggling to scrape it off — is it wire? God no! I’m always worried I’ve left some stray piece of wire or fencing around that will accidentally snag a buck.

Then I see he’s got a juniper branch stuck in his antlers: he does, then suddenly he doesn’t, then he does. Then he stands tall with his white antlers free of green twigs, and looks to the right, into the woods, from which emerges a larger three-point buck, stalking in that wild restrained way of rut. The smaller buck casually veers off to the south, and the big buck comes to the same juniper, a small sapling I see now, about four feet tall, and rages through it with his antlers in the same manner. Both have been spreading their scent all over this little tree from their forehead glands. Topaz sleeps in her cushioned bed on the sunroom table missing the whole thing. She would’ve enjoyed watching it. The large buck turns back into the woods, herding an older doe ahead of him.

Not a great photo, but observe the buck’s lips, partially obscured by a twig: His upper lip is curled, and nostrils squeezed, in the rut behavior called flehmen, where he inhales directly into a scent organ beyond the roof of his mouth. Many mammals do this for different reasons, and in this case he’s scenting the female he follows in hopes of breeding.
The observed distracted by the observer, he drops his lip and watches me for a moment, before continuing after his quarry.

It’s been a thrilling wildlife interlude, more fun than I could have asked for in a ten-minute break. After they’ve all moved past the boundary fence I let the dogs out to read the air, and we stroll around the yard before returning to the now oddly more relevant puzzle.

Not only is this ‘complex whimsy’ piece that stands on its own four feet precious by itself, but with the first connecting pieces in place it reveals one of Diana’s nymphs. The other nymph lurks in the corner…
This kind of truly whimsical detail just brings me a quick hit of joy. And they pop up throughout doing the puzzle, like little mental pop rocks all sweet and fizzy.
Corners can now be made of three pieces, not just two! Notice the little bat full of toes?
While sorting, there seemed to be a lot of flat edge pieces. There are actually a lot of flat fake edge pieces semi-symmetrically arranged, above, and below.

At this point, on the third morning, I can hardly bear to finish the puzzle, yet I can’t stop myself from working it. So few pieces left, only barely easier than it was at the beginning to find a matching space for each. So complex, so alive, a naturalist’s delight. Fleas as one-of-the-leopard’s spots! A tiny monkey face in the top left corner and another half monkey, magpies flying all across the top; pink toes, too many feet! But they all fit into their perfect places perfectly. It’s time to invoke Kathleen’s Rule.

I’ve been working so far with Seymour’s Rule, which is usually called into play before starting the puzzle, but can be invoked at any time. Seymour’s Rule dictates that you may look at the cover image once, before starting the puzzle, and never again until you finish it. At first it seemed unimaginably challenging to me, and I excused my lack of willingness to play it by saying, I enjoy the original artwork too much to not look at it from time to time while doing the puzzle. But now looking makes the puzzle too easy, seems almost like cheating, which is what Seymour obviously thought, and also Philip, who insists on this rule.

To start a puzzle, I usually pick a distinct color there’s not too much of, in this case the black jaguar’s pelt, and gather and assemble as many pieces as I can find of it, sometimes invoking Kathleen’s Rule for just that section. There are always missing pieces, that show up later in the puzzle with just the tiniest fleck of the color.

Kathleen’s Rule states that once you pick up a piece from the table, you must place it before you can pick up another piece. You may slide pieces around to get a closer look, but once you’ve lifted it, it must go into its proper slot. You don’t want to invoke this rule too early in the puzzle, or it might drive you mad, so it’s usually only called when there are a few dozen pieces left out. However, I find myself enjoying doing more of a puzzle in this methodical, meditative way, and often start with nearly half the pieces left. But of course I bend the rules when I play alone. All except the cardinal rule, No Food or Drink on the Puzzle Table!

I like to save a special piece for last, which, again, the nature of the puzzle dictates.

And there she is, Diana and her Nymphs, and her jaguars, and monkeys, and magpies, in her mythical jungle, together after two and a half days of concerted focus. A weekend well spent, with a few chores and exercises squeezed in between bouts of obsession that left me with a stiff neck and blurred vision. Next long weekend, I’ll tackle the alternative solution, unless another puzzle comes my way first. Notice how the weird, imperfect symmetries of the original solution now make sense.

It took a few times looking at this image to discern that it’s a stag’s head. Getting my myths mixed up, I thought at first perhaps it was a tree. Now it’s so clear I see nothing else: Actaeon, the hapless hunter who stumbled upon goddess Diana bathing naked, and whom she subsequently turned into a stag.

Why I Didn’t Report That Rape

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… a spoonful of sugar… 

It was the only one that happened to me, let’s get that out of the way. Was it violent? Sure, in a way; no knife or imminent gun, just brute force, and my willingness to submit without escalating the violence. There were plenty of guns in the house, though, and a temper that took them out on rabbits in the desert: the guns and the temper, he took them both out together, and with them took out some rabbits. Taught his little four-year-old how to do that, too, so I often wonder what kind of man that poor kid grew into. Maybe as macho a one as his dad, who, though, still retained a soft spot for his college (occasional, accidental) lover, another macho athletic man. But that kind of hypocrisy is another issue. (Or is it?)

I was raped in my ex-boyfriend’s bed within minutes of making it clear that I was breaking up with him. So why didn’t I report it? Well, I could just hear the arguments, because they were and still are pervasive in our culture. They’re already in our heads. (If you aren’t aware that you’re hearing these patriarchal voices in your head, you’re in even more trouble.) So that while I knew this was rape, I also believed that no one else would think it was ‘a serious rape.’ And we lived in a small, intense community in a rural outpost. I wasn’t willing to fight about it, it was best for me to just lie there and survive, then walk away.

In that case, the argument would have been similar to a wife claiming rape, maybe more insidious, and it was this: You went over to his house. You’ve already fucked him a hundred times, you can’t claim rape. Something like that. “It wasn’t really rape,” or “It wasn’t really rape.” The idea that if she’s already your woman, it isn’t rape. I say maybe more insidious than the argument against a wife’s claim, because an entrenched idea of ‘ownership’ remains a sad condition of marriage; with a girlfriend, the idea that no doesn’t mean no expresses an even deeper level of gender-based ownership, i.e., men rule women.

We saw this gender-based entitlement on vivid display in the second half of yesterday’s hearings. I personally could not watch, the heartrending snippets I heard in the morning having sent me into flight mode. But I listened and watched some evening news coverage, and saw the tempers explode and the spittle fly, and the ‘snarls of hatred and contempt,’ from Kavanaugh, Graham, and other angry white men. Somewhere in here is where the hypocrisy issue lies, claws nestled in those dark hearts. Are these really the people you want making the decisions that will affect your children’s, and your grandchildren’s, lives?

Women, if you live with a bully for a husband, or boyfriend, or father, you are living with abuse; if the man or men in your life belittle, degrade, threaten, slap or beat you, you need to see it for what it is. You don’t deserve it. You may not be able to argue or stand up to your abuser right now, but you can step into the privacy of your secret ballot this November, and every election, and say NO to the prevailing culture that now sanctions this abuse of a nation.

And now for some gratuitous beauty:

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Life goes on, turn, turn, turn….

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It helps to make time to appreciate beauty and the company of friends.

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It helps to walk with dogs.

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It helps to allow both joy and sorrow, love and rage, faith and uncertainty, in your heart at the same time; to practice equanimity… with ferocity, when necessary. 

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Living fire in the back yard, and in the ‘extended’ back yard.

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