18 November 2009

Cross words

In front of me on the airplane in the seat to my left is a man sitting with the crossword puzzle in front of him. Staring at the page before him, he’s got his pen resting poised between thumb and index finger. He stares down intently, but makes nary a mark on the page. Suddenly, he shuffles through the magazine until he comes to the answer pages, and he looks for the solution to his particular query, searches for the word he requires to fill in the empty spaces. Finding for the elusive word, he turns back to the empty puzzle, enters the word into the boxes, and reassumes his original position staring at the page, pen in hand, studying the puzzle. After another minute or so, he looks again at the answer page, fills in the boxes, and resumes the puzzle. Thus he fills in the entire square without ever once knowing a single word independent of the solution page.

It is the illusion of progress he seeks and not the work necessary to achieve that progress. There is something amusing about his effort that has the appearance of sincerity, but lacks all evidence of it. As long as he knows that the answers can be had, he needn’t try too hard at all and yet still satisfy himself that he has completed the entire puzzle. Staring intently at the puzzle he looks busy, but he isn’t so at all. What goes through his mind as he stares continuously but hopelessly at the puzzle, appearing earnest in his effort but wholly ineffectual? It is an amusing process to observe, actually. So typical of the times: a lot of appearance and little substance.


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