No this isn’t a warning to avoid packages because of germs, toxins, or an irrational fear of UPS employees. It actually has very little to do with literal boxes. And here I go again into figurative land as I present my holiday get-together advice.
And I feel a disclaimer is in order. I am not a therapist, nor do I play one on TV. And I’ve been guilty of moving very far away and avoiding holiday get-togethers in the past. But since I’m currently at an airport about to head out to a holiday gathering, I’m feeling like almost an expert at this. Now, back to the boxes.... patterns and a little allusion to writing and character development.
I’d like to introduce you to the concept of people boxes. (And no, I’m not suggesting cramming the least-liked family member into a box in order to facilitate a peaceful/illegal holiday.) People boxes represent the way we see each other. Often from a very young age, families find ways of creating the people boxes to provide understanding of family members. And once created, those people boxes are often powerful and difficult to change. If in a person’s youth, they were a rebel, they might end up wearing the rebel box their entire lives, even though what they feel inside is anything but the image they wore in younger and wilder days. And the glamour box can be particularly difficult, for those who were stunning cheerleaders in their younger days, and now look like middle-aged, real people. The smart and driven people boxes can be difficult to live up to and end up making people never feel like they are good enough. No matter if the box is a positive or negative image, it can feel solid and static, even though we people are anything but.
People really do change. Some by choice and others because life changes them. We grow in ways that family might love or hate, but ultimately our own journeys are something that not even the closest of families can always understand. And when it comes to getting together, sometimes there can be a struggle because of out-dated people boxes.
And compounding problems are the patterns that once established have a life of their own. Mature, capable adults can suddenly become sniveling teenagers when around their parents and siblings. Siblings who are extraordinarily evolved people can be reduced to “I know you are, but what am I?” within seconds of reconnecting. And those Duran Duran pins that were stolen by a sibling seem to have left a gaping hole in a person, even though it happened more than twenty years ago. Stolen boyfriends, bigger Christmas gifts, disappointments, and words spoken years before become living things, all because of the power of patterns.
So, people boxes and patterns are the problems. And now a writerly solution. Every writer I’ve ever met or even heard of has been surprised by what their characters have done. Those moments when you see and hear what your character is doing and say, “Oh, you did not just do that.” I had a main character up and decide that the love interest I picked for him was simply not good enough and he went for the hotty-potatty bad girl. As much as I argued and whined, ultimately I had to let him be who he was and off he went with the baddy. Stephenie Meyer, in an interview I read a while back, mentioned that Edward’s dramatic actions at the beginning of New Moon completely took her by surprise, but she had to just give in and go on the ride. Which leads us to the writerly advice: let your family members be the characters that shock you, and roll with it. See where the new story takes you. I promise you that if you let go of the patterns and the people boxes, a real chance to get to know people for who they are now will be yours. And what do you really have to lose other than all that is tired and predictable. Life is a great adventure if we let it be. And people are the ever-present part of this adventure. Let them wow you and most of all be open to really seeing people for who they are, not where they come from, what they’ve done (both accomplishments and letdowns), or even the images they might want you to believe. Search for the truth and experience the only story that never really ends.
Quote for the Day from John Denver
"I'm leaving on a jet plane..."