Thinking Outside the Box

garden gate                    Tomorrow
we shall have to think up signs,
sketch a landscape, fabricate a plan
on the double page
of day and paper.
Tomorrow we shall have to invent,
once more,
the reality of this world.
–Octavio Paz, “January 1st” (translated by Eliz. Bishop)

For my husband’s birthday dinner this week, we invited a friend to join us. He is 92 years old, and regaled us with stories of his first dog, his experiences in the Navy, his career, his marriages, and his children. (I was especially impressed with a daughter who insisted on taking her horse with her when she left home for college.)

After dinner, our friend had several riddles for us, all of which required “thinking outside the box.” These required, he warned, that we focus on certain key words, and not assume that they meant something conventional. So in one riddle (the most straightforward of them) “home” got translated from one’s house to homebase in baseball, but even words like “man” and “distance” and “into” had to be further or more deeply perceived.

Writing requires a constant thinking-outside-the-box. I remember a poetry professor who warned us (back in my MFA days) against including the moon, or love (!), or hearts in our poems. But of course we do want to write about the moon, and love, and hearts. I’m often dismayed by how many other poets are writing about struggles with teenagers, or care of aging parents. But that doesn’t mean we don’t write about these things — of course we MUST write about them.

The trick is to think more deeply, to think in layers, to not write conventionally or through our first assumptions. As I have said before, my goal is to write — and to live — as though the gate’s been left open.

4 replies
  1. terith
    terith says:

    Thanks for your insights, Bethany. The novel I’m writing is in a genre with many conventions and expectations. Your words rang true to me today.

  2. Carolynne Harris
    Carolynne Harris says:

    Hi – My guess it was Orv who came for dinner. Orv has evolved so much, probably because of Bruice’s friendship. I didn’t know he had a daughter like mine except the horse didn’t go with her to college, but she stayed home with the horse and went to college. What a nice dinner guest, in a million years I didn’t see this “miracle” of Orv coming full circle back to me – someone so fun. And yes, thinking outside of the box is the best way, now I play 7 words on the computer – it’s an ap. No pop up ads so far. So happy to read your blog today. Cold and windy here. Sunny right now 60’s. love, Carolynne


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