The Treasure in the Box


A few weeks ago I spent the weekend moving a family member’s possessions into storage.  We moved furniture, sorted clothing and packed box after box of household goods, knick knacks and such.  We threw things away, and donated other things to charity.  But one thing caught and held my attention.   It was a white stone box, with leather straps keeping the lid from falling off.  I’m not sure what stone it’s made of, nor whether it’s actually worth anything, but I couldn’t help being fascinated by it.  It’s here in my house right now, not holding anything.   I’ve always been drawn to boxes.  Small ones with jewels on the outside, large ones carved of wood with locks to keep the contents safe, paper ones so delicate a single necklace is almost too much to put inside, metal ones with ships etched on top, glass ones with silver embellishment….I love boxes.  Let me wander in a flea market or a junk store, and I’m likely to bring home at least one box.  I can’t even be trusted in a Hobby Lobby or a Micheal’s, because there are lots and lots and lots of boxes in those places.  The thing about all these boxes isn’t what’s in them, nor what I can use them for.  It’s the thought of what might be in there.  Looking at the outside of a uniquely designed box automatically charges my imagination.  Treasure is hidden in boxes, as well as danger.  Pandora kept the world’s evils in a box, after all.  Schrodinger’s Cat lives (or doesn’t) in a box.  Closed boxes hint at secrets kept, magic enclosed and excitement contained.  All sorts of amazing things might be within the enclosed space of a box.

That white box is sitting in my house now, on my dining room table, teasing me with its possibilities.  Nothing’s in it, yet every time I look at it, I can’t help wondering what it’s supposed to hold.  And it occurred to me that books are boxes.  When I go to a bookstore, (or the library) and have all my chosen books in my arms, there’s nothing quite so exciting as the potential.  Five or six books in my arms aren’t just a pile of paper and ink – they are magical doorways into other worlds.  If I open a box, I have no idea what I’ll find.  When I have a new book in my hand, the anticipation is almost tangible.  Magic is about to happen.

Even better though, is the blank page.  Sure it’s torturous to begin, and sometimes getting that first line is harder than drawing blood out of a turnip.  But that’s okay, because sitting down to start a story or to add more words to the ones you wrote yesterday is no different from opening the lid of a box.  We can guess at what might be in there, but we don’t know with absolute certainty.  Ask any writer, and he’ll tell you that no matter how tightly he’s planned and plotted, sometimes the story takes off on its own, the characters walk their own paths and the plan has to be revised.  The treasure reveals itself as you slowly lift the metaphorical lid.

I’m working on something right now, something that hasn’t been contracted and might not even ever sell (although I’m doing my best to make it good enough for a publisher to want.)  And even though I’ve planned the story start to finish, twists happen.  I could be listening to music and suddenly realize a great idea from a random lyric.  I’ve been flipping through junk mail and discovered some skill my magical hero has, something I never thought of before.  It’s those shining details, the small things hidden in the box of my imagination that change my story into something so much better.  So I’ll continue to bring home boxes, and let them whisper to me.  I’ll bring home books, their pages packed full of thrills.  And best of all, every day I’ll put before myself the open page, where I can revel in the delicious expectation of the adventure ahead.

What treasures have you found lately?


17 comments to The Treasure in the Box

  • To extend the metaphor to theatre, I like lab theatres or ‘black box’ theatres: flexible, open spaces where anything can happen, theatres that invite creative activity, theatres that demand the presence of actor and audience bodies as a source of story and character. Boxes of potential treasure just like your blank page.

  • Unicorn

    I do love it when stories go zooming off in an apparently random and totally unexpected direction with the poor writer hanging on for dear life. I think that may be one of the reasons why writing is so thrilling. No matter how carefully I’ve planned a story, my blood always pumps in the climax, my heart is in my mouth; I know, or at least think I know, what’s going to happen in the end. But if I was really, really sure of what was going to happen, then why do my hands shake when I write a combat scene? Sometimes, the adrenalin burns in my veins, because the thing is that I can plan as carefully as I want but I’m never exactly certain of how it’s all really going to turn out. Blank pages, boxes… New days; when the sun rises, there’s always a hint of excitement about stepping out into the day, because no one can be absolutely certain of what will happen next.
    I would hate to know the future. “What happens next?” is the most glorious question.
    Thank you for the post.

  • This post reminded me of something I heard J.J. Abrams talking about. He said that he always loves the mystery of a locked box. And you’ll find them in most of his work Alias and Lost are riddled with them (the biggest is the Hatch from Lost). That mystery, that unknown quantity, in itself can be enough to drive a story. Of course, when we open the box, we want a payoff but oh the anticipation can often be a reward all on its own.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    I must agree with you that boxes are pretty awesome for the potential they represent. And it’s certainly POTENTIAL that really drives me when it comes to both my creative and my scientific work. Just the word makes me want to dance around a little bit. However, more than boxes, I find myself most drawn to windows, to seeing the juxtaposition of two spaces side by side while still retaining some of the mystery of both.

  • I’m with you, Misty; empty boxes are magic, and the more interesting the box, the more compelling the potential for great magic. I have a serous case of empty-white-stone-box envy right now. You’ve got to find something REALLY cool to put in it and then hide it in the attic for your grandchildren to find 50 years from now. Maybe a printout of the manuscript of the story you’re working on now with a handwritten note at the end? How cool would that be when your grandchildren find it?

  • “I could be listening to music and suddenly realize a great idea from a random lyric.”

    Misheard lyrics – and the occasional full-blown Mondegreen – are great sources for ideas. (I call it creative listening, which is more active than mere creative hearing.) People who ask writers where they get their ideas simply aren’t paying attention to the world around them. Where can you *not* find an idea? The entire world is a box waiting to be opened.

  • I’m with Edmund. I too have a bad case of the greeneyes over your white box. Is it alabaster? White jade? Calcite? (rubbing hands together) I don’t guess you want to part with it, huh? 😀

    I *adore* boxes! I have trunks stacked two high in one corner of my dining room, with a stack of increasingly smaller boxes on top. And beside them is a stack of the books I’ve finished that are going to my nephew, books with the contents plumbed and ready to be shared.

    And yes, Misty, my excitement with writing is a lot like your box theory. I never what is inside!

  • I like the idea of mysterious boxes–though I don’t often think about boxes in general. I did stop buying knicknacks because I moved often and was tired of putting them into boxes. 🙂 My ideas come from lots of places… from worn-out, almost hysterical brain overload; from a fireplace; from a broken landscape in central NC; from a halloween music concert; from porky pig; from the idea of bargains. All over, but a lot when I’m alone, esp. in the shower.

  • If you dig a little deeper into the Pandora mythology, what she really released was Knowledge … puts a whole different slant on things doesn’t it? …

    (what’s really in the box Misty?)

    … and makes sense why mythology revisionists swapped it for Evil! Much easier to explain to those who want their answers pre-packaged… kinda like the difference between the Brothers Grimm’m version of Snow White and Disneys version.

  • Wonderful metaphor, Misty.

    I have a writing notebook. At first, most of the treasures I kept in it were autographs (Tamora Pierce, Sir Ian McKellan, Wil Wheaton, etc). But beneath his signature back in September, Wil wrote specifically, KEEP WRITING. And that encouraged me. Now it’s become a journal for notes (such as keynote speeches during meals at the writing conference I attended) and impressions (idea fragments that I hope will collide with other fragments and that my subconscious can continue to mull over).

    Then last week, we were up at Whistler for a few days. They close the mountain before dark, so we did have some down time every day but Tuesday to bum around the hotel, wander the town, hit the hot tub, use the Internet … and for me, write. However, DH doesn’t have a laptop with him, so necessity dictated I must share mine. I took my special notebook and started writing by hand. And I managed to work past several scenes I’d been having trouble with. So the notebook gave me more treasure: BIC when I didn’t think I could, and the ability to power through something I wasn’t getting from my word processor. 😀

  • I love your metaphor too! The mystery of a box…it reminds me of a major plot point/ a host of minor ones (it’s hard to explain) in my WIP. I have a whole bunch of magical keys that each have to unlock something, and some of those things are box-ish.

    It also reminds me, like you say, of my WIP itself. I’ve been chasing plotholes like crazy the past few days, but sometimes it works best when I don’t try so hard, or when I just go on and write a scene to see what happens.

  • mudepoz

    There are a lot of boxes at my job. Some are from the 1800’s and contain bones that were never properly cleaned. Interesting how even mold will die and dry into interesting forms. Oh, you meant a METAPHOR. Never mind. *Goes back to cataloguing the bones in the closet before the next lab practical.* Oh wait! Cool! Dinosaur eggs!

  • Mud, real boxes and metaphorical ones, they all have the same cachet for me. I want to see the dinosaur eggs! 😀

    Ed, that’s a great idea! I was told it was white jade (it’s not, darn it) so I’ll put something neat inside and then one day pack it away. And tell stories about the mythical white jade box so my grandchildren will have a treasure to search for.

  • (raises hand)
    Is Mud — the priestess of the Peanutbutter Powers That Be — giving away dinosaur egs?????

    I want one! I’ll build a box to put it in!

  • I collect boxes like I collect notebooks. Infortunately, my parents seem to have thrown a lot of them away while I was in Japan. 🙁

    For me, though, the blank page is not so much like a box as it is like an open sea, which sometimes makes it hard to start. I love that pristine page, like a flat, beckoning sea on a sunny day–so full of possibility and places waiting to be found and explored. The first sentence is like the captain of a ship pointing in a direction, though, narrowing the focus. The problem is that it suddenly rules out all those other directions you could possibly go. That first sentence sets up all the parameters of where you now cannot explore.

    But I guess there are always more voyages, and you can only do one at a time. (Isn’t it awesome how we’re able to write more than one story at a time? Eat your heart out Chris Columbus.) I can see why explorers usually die exploring–I hope I die exploring the page. 😉

  • mudepoz

    Just for Misty. Yes. This is a photo album. I think it might be appropriate. What I have in my boxes and closets are a bit different from most people.

    Um, FAITH! Back off. You’re worse than a little sister trying to borrow things from my closet:)!/photo.php?fbid=1818213410887&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater

    Why I might be inclined to write about zombies, or, what is in the boxes in MY closet.!/photo.php?fbid=1818210010802&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater!/photo.php?fbid=1818211090829&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater!/photo.php?fbid=1818212370861&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater!/photo.php?fbid=1818214210907&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater!/photo.php?fbid=1818215450938&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater

    The other part of my job.!/photo.php?fbid=1818237771496&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater!/photo.php?fbid=1818238571516&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater!/photo.php?fbid=1818240211557&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater!/photo.php?fbid=1818242331610&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater

    And when I have time, I repair models from the 1800’s!/photo.php?fbid=1818216210957&set=a.1756626111243.2100268.1106691725&theater

    Just work pix.

  • I love boxes, too, especially wooden ones. I have a few, and I fill each with different sorts of treasure. But my favorite magical box is definitely the blank page….