When I was growing up I learned that it was important that I always get it “Right”, do things the “Right Way”. The “Right Way” was never spelled out for me. So I had to watch like a hawk and hope to figure “It” out. But, if I did not catch on in time, I caught a different “It.” This “It” meant a willow switch to the back of my legs or humiliation or harsh words. “Antoinette insisted we put together a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle,” my daughter announced with laughter. “Five hundred pieces! But Annie is only 4. She won’t have the patience for that. Last month we bought her half-adozen 25-piece puzzles.” “She whips through those, Mom. Maybe the big one will be too tough for her, but she insisted. She and I turned all the pieces right side up. Then she kept trying to start in the middle. So I had to teach her how to find the edge pieces and start with them.” I cringed. “Oh, Dee, I taught you to do that, didn’t I? I taught you that’s the right way to work a puzzle. I was wrong. There is no ‘right’ way. Maybe Annie’s way is just as right as ours, and she should be allowed to figure out what works best for her. Her way might suit her better. Or it might be how she learns patterns. So you go back and unteach her right now.” “Whoa, Mom. You feel strongly about this, don’t you?” “You bet I do. The ‘Right Way’ is a trap. Brings your thinking to a dead stop. Fortunately, along the way I had good friends who took me under their wing and showed me that it’s a lot of fun to explore different roads to the same destination. What’s more, the road that is best for me today, may not be the best road for you. And tomorrow’s road may be different yet. “In fact, watching how you and your brother learned things also taught me a lot. Both of you were still babies when I realized you were ambidextrous. I could have forced you to be right-handed. Remember Sister Mary Bernadette? She didn’t allow left-handers. You still have chicken-scratch handwriting. “And we three each have a different way we organize things. I’ll never forget the day I learned to avert my eyes and simply close the door to Ben’s room, knowing he is ‘differently organized.’” When I realize that I cannot see over the top of the rut I’m in, I try to climb out. Here’s a test. Which foot do you start with when you are putting on your britches? Uh, huh. See. Same foot every time. Try alternating left and right each day. It is just a little brain shift trick. It affects our left-brain/ right-brain creativity. And it’s kind of fun. Annie’s puzzle stuck in my mind. I like jigsaw puzzles. I decided to perform a puzzle test. I dug my 1,000-piece puzzles out of the cupboard and laid them out in a row. I chose a winter scene, snow piled high, just like the drifts outside my windows. I dumped the puzzle in the middle of my largest table. I turned the 1,000 pieces picture-side up. I cleared a space in the center. I bravely forsook the siren call of the edges. I picked an obvious middle- section piece with which to begin my grand experiment. In a short while I had cobbled together a section roughly 12-by-8 inches. I learned that a puzzle can be worked from the inside to the outside. I chortled with glee when I finally got to press an edge piece into place. I finished the puzzle and proclaimed the experiment a success. So today I have two ways to put together a jigsaw puzzle. I wonder what would happen if I started on the left side and worked toward the right. Or from top to bottom. Or corner to corner. Next I’ll tackle crossword puzzles. Vertical clues first. (Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://montanatumbleweed. Blogspot.com.)
The 'Right Way'
Published: Thursday, January 28th, 2010
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