The First Box
Paper, glue, tape, scissors, time, thoughtfulness, kindness and love
I made my first collage box 25 years ago. It was summertime and my best friend and I were in my sister’s classroom - she taught art at a local school - trying to find something with which to occupy ourselves while we waited on her to finish her work. We found a stack of magazines, some small, used jewelry boxes that were headed for the trash, scotch tape and scissors. We set out to work cutting out anything that called to us. When we cut out something particularly special, we would silently show it to the other and nod knowingly, or giggle as only teenagers do. We didn’t think too much about what we were doing at the time, but were happy to have something to keep our hearts and hands busy.
That first box I made still sits on a shelf in my mom’s attic, collecting dust, but never relinquishing the secrets and treasures that adorn it. As time went on, more boxes found themselves dressed up with words and images that were a reflection of me, my surroundings, the times and my secrets. Slowly, as they got better, more intricate, so did I. When I moved away to college, the boxes were left behind, a keepsake of a time of naivety and innocence.
But, the boxes would make another appearance, this time, even bigger and more elaborate. I found myself 1000 miles away from home, living by myself in a tiny efficiency, in a much bigger city than I had ever lived. I loved my new home, but I missed my old one. And I had been taught from a young age that if you miss someone, you tell them. It's up to you to make an effort to stay connected to those you love. Growing up during a time when it was hip to brag about how many penpals you had, I was no stranger to the art of letter writing. I thought of it more as a part of normal life than something one did on occasion.
At some point I decided I wanted to mail not just a letter, but a package, and when I looked at that plain box, something just didn’t seem right. It needed to say more. So I did what I had forgotten I knew how to do, and I pulled out any printed material I had, junkmail, magazines, scrap paper and set to work. I’m not exactly sure when I mailed that first gift box covered in carefully cut out images and words, but it has now become my signature way to send a package.
I have heard from more than one person that they have brought joy to not only the recipient, but also to those along its shipping route. They are for special occasions or just because. Each box is filled with small items, letters and lots of love. And though the gifts are always personal and meaningful, the outside of the boxes has come to mean just as much as what is on the inside, maybe more.
I found that the process of thinking about the individual I was creating the box for began to feed what I was choosing, and how I was arranging the pictures and words. The collage became another way for me to express feelings and thoughts that I had a hard time putting into words. And though they were intended for another person, to share joy and lift their spirits, the process of creation began to have an effect on me. It made me feel closer to those I loved. Even though I knew they were far away, I felt less lonely.
I strongly believe that love is infinite, reciprocal and spread through real action. I also believe it has the power to do just about anything, including eradicating one of the most debilitating, fear-causing, isolating threats to our well-being as humans - loneliness. But in order for love to have power, we must put our hands to tasks; we must take action; we must do.
My collage boxes are an extension and expansion of that understanding. They are also meant to be a starting point, an inspiration, a blandishment - gently persuading another to action. Sending love, sharing joy, invigorating one with the thought that someone, somewhere took the time to think of them and put their hands to action in physical form so that they might be energized to feel loved enough to do the same. Scraps of paper, glue, used boxes, tape, scissors, time, thoughtfulness, kindness - these are the types of things that when melded together with love will keep the world turning. And maybe, just maybe, help us remember that we belong to one another.