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Weapon of Choice


By Bill Levine

I Just completed the sorting of a 550-piece jigsaw puzzle into five-quart size storage bags, each with hopefully related pieces. This was my first step towards climbing, for me, the Mt. Everest that is puzzle solving with my limited spatial abilities. It has though been an engrossing activity. My last attempt at solving jigsaw puzzles was probably around age 10, when I just gave up, fitfully trying to fit pieces together. But now I am using puzzles as my weapon of choice against dementia, hoping that even sorting and then attaching these pieces will generate new neural paths, even though my puzzle solving abilities currently are paths to nowhere.

I did give thought to other ways of fostering neuroplasticity. There was, for me, the possibility of concentrating on puzzle solving’s evil twin: woodworking. I admire those retirees who become master bird feeder craftsmen. Not in my bailiwick, though. Industrial arts was the only class I got a “C” in during junior high. I did eventually bring home the requisite wooden salad bowl, but really this was an item that was pretty much ghost-crafted by the IA teacher.

Besides, I have had some earlier bad vibes about the woodworking curriculums based on an unpleasant experience at age 7 or 8, when my parents sentenced me to weekly sessions at The Splinter Club. A future handyman’s after school woodworking program run by a Tool Time type guy. The woodworker kids were older, so a little intimidating, as was the woodworking. I remember, most, just the frustration of not being able to craft a project. All I gained in the workshop was an introduction to shellac, which was the one aspect of the session I could go solo on. I was a decent at shellacking, even though I took a shellacking to my basic competency each week.

I also thought about taking a language course. Studies show that bilingualism can lower chances of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, I am not bilingual. I perhaps had an opportunity as a child to gain a little proficiency in Yiddish, as my parents and grandparents would slur others in Yiddish, shielding me from unsavory English. I didn’t pay rapt attention when these ungenerous statements were uttered, so I missed my chance to an Isaac Bashevis zinger. The closest I got to bilingualism was in sophomore honors French class, which truly was a bilingual nurturing space. I was clearly overmatched in this class, as it was totally conducted in French. When I couldn’t muster the phrase for “I need to go to the boy’s room,” I asked out of honors.

My first attempt in developing new neural networks was to advance my non-existent iPhone photography skills. Starting from scratch, I bought the iPhone for Dummies book. I thought of photography as an extension of my creative inclinations, albeit with certain technical skills required. I thought I could achieve enough as a photographer to continually entertain my friends with 10 consecutive still lives of my dog, Mabel. But I stopped reading the Dummies book when I got to chapter 3 which was entitled “Setting Up Your Camera For Photographic Greatness” as I determined I was not bound for glory, camera-wise. I did learn how to hold the iPhone camera that allowed me to center my favorite photo subject—invoices.

So, I am now challenging myself with the aforementioned 550-piece puzzle called Food Truck that is centered on a very colorful Mexican portable Cantina containing too many pieces with similar color patterns. Fortunately, though, the puzzle features a food truck menu, and yes, I can solve an interlocking piece that, for instance, spell “tostadas.” Matt, my son, asked for pictures showing discernible puzzle progress. I’m confident that I soon will be able to send him a picture of the completed food truck menu, centered perfectly by my proper iPhone camera holding position. MSN

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