By Dr. Dolly Berthelot
“Little Boxes,” a catchy and meaningful song I’ve loved since the 1960s, echoes in my head (yep I’m that old): Little Boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky, little boxes on the hillside, little boxes, all the same.”
The focus of Malvina Reynolds’s creation, which Pete Seeger popularized, was on shoddy, bland houses devouring the countryside as suburbia spread. But the sentiment applies to various boxes that we are forced into, or put ourselves into, too often limiting our work and our lives. The phrase “think outside the box” has been overused ad nauseum. However, like most clichés, there’s a reason it caught on: inherent truth.
As a professional writer, educator, and communication consultant over varying decades, I have enjoyed the blessings of anti-boxes. My work has included newspapers, magazines, books, fiction, nonfiction; teaching 7th grade through high school and university and adults of all kinds; consulting with Fortune 500 firms and educators and physicians; editing for other writers, publishers, professors, even renowned scientists (though I understood little of their content); creating and providing seminars in human relations, unity in diversity, teamwork, “friendly persuasion,” life story and memoir writing; also, smatterings of poetry and theatrics and design and photography and art and antiques and…well, not boxes.
Boxes, and the “foolish consistency” that often accompanies them, may pay better, and certainly would provide better future retirement, but boxes can be boring. Poking out of boxes and tiptoeing cautiously off prescribed paths can be risky. We each must choose what matters most to us, what we are willing to risk.
I have always chosen, and have thoroughly enjoyed, wandering around a more meandering path through the wild side. (Intellectually and professionally. Otherwise, not so much). I dislike, sometimes distain, the boundaries that too often limit our thinking and our creating.
Flowers for Algernon (on which the movie “Charley” was based) is one of my favorite books ever. The imaginative little story is in the voice of a psychology research subject who starts out developmentally impaired and becomes a genius. For a time, he admires, even adulates the professors, so learned in their respective fields, often experts in their esoteric minutia. As Charley’s mind expands, however, he sees the relationships that they do not, between all knowledge, the connections, rather than simply what is within the boxes of particular disciplines and confining “areas of expertise.”
New ideas and even new disciplines emerge from refusal to stay in the prescribed boxes. Communication was one of those relatively new disciplines. That field, which became my field at the University of Tennessee, grew out of World War 2, with the rise of propaganda, and the need to better understand humans and systems and the myriad ways words and actions impact everything. As a then-new academic discipline, communication integrated communication aspects of all the behavioral sciences (notably psychology and sociology) plus journalism and media, later cyber technology and more.
Most of the great work that pushes or catapults our world forward blurs boundaries, blends unexpectedly, integrates, smashes stereotypes and assumptions, leaps out of and over the boxes and may flatten them. Or use the boxes to build new things, new paradigms.
Creativity, whatever its form or field, thrives beyond the boxes. This blog, representing the perspectives of multiple and diverse Energion authors, will deal with all kinds of creativity–understanding creativity, nourishing creativity, helping creativity flourish.
Coming soon: Jan. 20, 2 pm., at the Pensacola State College’s Chadbourne library, as part of a literary series open free to the public, Dr. Dolly Berthelot will address some principles and issues that apply to various kinds of writing. See details here. The first edition of Dr. Dolly’s amusing and thought-provoking little book, PERFECTLY SQUARE, a fantasy fable for all ages, is being newly distributed by Energion. Energion is also producing an e-book version of PERFECTLY SQUARE, which will be available this month for the first time.
Featured Image Credit: OpenClipart.org (gustavorezende)