BOX CITY




Not everyone can look at a brown cardboard box and see pure opportunity. For me it symbolizes the early development of one of my favorite attributes: a vivid imagination. As a young child, summer boredom led to the best utilization of large boxes that I've ever seen. This event induced a surge of creativity, opening my eyes to see past the face value of the mundane objects of my world.

Yet Mr. Papin, who owns the furniture store down the alley from my house, merely saw the cardboard boxes as receptacles for his tables, dressers, and futon couches. After his furniture shipments arrived, he heaped the empty, used crates next to the garbage dumpster in his parking lot. I discovered the possibilities of these boxes one July morning when I was eight years old. My younger sister, my next-door neighbor, Megan, and I had exhausted all our normal summer activities and were strolling down the alley when we caught sight of the monstrous boxes stacked against each other. They were an inspirational find, as if left behind by a deity. Soon we were each towing our own box across the street into Megan's grassy expanse of a backyard.

At the end of the day a new town had been erected. True, most people would just see a cluster of old cardboard boxes with window cutouts, painted shingles, and shoebox mailboxes, but to us it was a town of splendor--all our own creation. Armed with scissors, crayons, and paint we spent the next week carefully transforming each box into a house, complete with pictures on the interior walls, homemade doorbells, and skylights of every shape and size.

Our community soon grew as neighborhood kids joined us, expanding our humble cul-de-sac into a thriving metropolis. Because of the increasing population, it was necessary to develop our own laws and mores: share the supplies, respect privacy, and appreciate othersí boxes as personal works of art. Each of us had our own home and a role in the "urban" system, such as a postal deliverer or gardener. We created a utopian society modeled after the adult world, but with our own alterations. I became a leader in turning nothing (a pile of cardboard) into something special (a make-believe land of excitement).

The first rain of late summer turned our hard work into a soggy mess, but it didn't dampen my creative fire. For several years after that discovery, we continued to design and build our structures every summer. It inspired me to think outside of the linear limits of normal pastimes (video games, Barbies, and tag), and beyond the boundaries of merely accepting our given environment as immutable. Although I didnít quite know it at the time, my creativity stemmed from the subconscious realization that I have the power to shape my own surroundings. As an eight-year old this meant building a city of boxes with my friends. As a seventeen-year old, in retrospect this symbolizes my capacity to sculpt and mold my world to fit a vision. I see the richness of lifeís possibilities, and I know that I have the potential to make dramatic changes in my society. Although I don't make box cities anymore, the sight of a brown cardboard box still triggers some wild ideas...or at least some memories.


By Maya Seligman, written February 1995.



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