By Simon Barget
My box is something nice and comfortable with extra padding if I sit down too quickly or trip up on things in my path. If I fall I’ll always have something to slump down on. Most of the time I’m inside my box. Now I come to think of it, almost all. I can easily convince myself my box is more than adequate -- maybe not the best box around -- but certainly a long way from being the worst. And since adequacy is such a reliable marker of self-satisfaction, if not the best, I navigate by its compass. To be better than adequate is far more than half the battle. I might not have pretensions on having the best box in the world but I’ll defend my right to be in the upper quartiles.
My box is much better than average because what would an average box look like? Very bland, unornate, dull, something no one would want to spend time in. So sure am I that my box is better, you won’t convince me otherwise. Show me all manner of box ostensibly more impressive than mine; fur-lined, bejewelled, boxes of teak or mahogany, boxes that sing, boxes that dance, or better yet, ones that are completely automatic and self-regenerating, you could show me box after box and I won't be dissuaded. I’d take one look and then turn away. It might feel like I hadn’t even seen them. Maybe I didn't see them. But that is my choice. I can admit that. I suppose you could say I’m proud of my box or you could say I’m deluded. Maybe they’re two sides of the same coin; the sides are so close to each other because they meet at the edges, and if the coin was truly flat, you wouldn’t be able to distinguish one side from the other.
I realise that an average box is something you'll never see. Yet I firmly believe they exist. They must exist. But what do they look like? Something not quite up to the quality of mine. But they have a right to exist. I won’t interfere with them. They must be numerous, dotted all around the world. But the abiding condition must be that I never see them. If I see them then I know they’re not as average as I’d have liked to have thought, and I might have to concede that they’re as adequate as mine is. But I don’t have to prove them in order to manifest them, I don’t have to provide irrefutable proof to be able to at least make the claim.
I haven’t always loved my box but I like it more than I use to. Perhaps that’s why I’m even more wedded to it. But then I wonder; if I don’t have the very greatest box in the world, what is the point of it? Should I not just upgrade? Boxes are inexpensive, probably easy to come by. What is the point of all my misplaced pride and attachment to my little box, even if it is, say, a good deal better than average? What makes it so endurable? You see, I am proud of my box to a fault. I could go and get a new box but I don’t want to. Perhaps it’s not so easy, fraught with logistical problems. Do I really stick with my box out of intransigence? Is it not true that I spend too much time in it anyway? I could get a new one just for a change. I mean, I hardly ever come out. All my food is delivered to my box. My toiletries. There is ample space for clothes and books when I need them. My box is not enormous like some of the American boxes but it’s big enough for essentials. There’s still plenty of unused space.
What I’m driving at is this correspondence between the quality and the time spent inside. The correlation is clear. It stands to reason. But why is the relationship necessarily causal? I know plenty of people whose boxes are fabulous but who are infrequently in them. They could lounge about all day inside, and yet they don’t. They’re in and out of their box like jack-in-the-boxes. They seem to make it a precept to be out of the box more than they’re in it. They delight in being outside. They seem to say: ‘we don’t need our box, but we have it when needed.’ Of course they go back, they never indefinitely stay out. It’s not to say you could take away their box. Because they delight in the knowledge they have it, whether as refuge or just out of some barely concealed sense of conceit, I don’t know. In any case, it is quite easy to spot someone slightly disengaged with their box. They look like they know something you don’t. Or they make it look that way so that you think that they do. Perhaps this is something that has evolved from their not being inside the box very much, perhaps it’s just a by-product. I don’t spend so much time with these people so I don’t know what makes them tick. I cannot second-guess them; claim to understand them.
There must be something then about the box that they don’t like, despite its comforts, its warmth, its safety, its sense of purpose, there must be something that doesn’t appeal. Boxes are generally desirable. And then you wonder whether it could actually be the thing outside the box that drives them so much to leave it. Perish the thought though! What is there really outside the box? Such an impossible question. Outside the box is, in my view, only something imaginary. What can we say about it? I can only speak from personal experience. When I try to leave the box I am almost instantly sent back. It might be by just one man. It might be a local policeman. It might be some regular nosy do-gooder citizen. At least whenever I have tried to leave the box, it appears to me that it will be very difficult to leave it. To start with, my box has a series of interlocking ladders, and so just to get to the top of the box, I need to arrange them all in only one particular order, and this is at the very least very arduous, I do it about three times a year, only under duress, and the ladders are heavy and cumbersome and can hardly move across their coasters without getting stuck. You have to remember also that we are not always at the top of our boxes. Some are quite deep, deeper than you think so it’s not just a matter of flipping the lid and poking your head out. Even when I get this far, I always think I'll be caught, I am always waiting for that moment. I am so inhibited by then that I might as well not be outside. They smell your inhibition a mile off, which makes me wonder how all those people I know manage to leave their own boxes with such apparent self-confidence. How can they be so at ease at the moment of stepping outside, into an unknown box, or maybe even into someone else’s, how do they contain their uncertainty?
That’s not to say I haven’t ever come out. I have stepped into other boxes, other people’s boxes and they are so full and cluttered, so full of stuff I couldn’t begin to know what to do with, where to put it, not to mention the very real problem of knowing exactly where to stand. You can sit, but if you sit, you might never stand up again. All those objects might fall down on you, making it almost impossible to regain enough leverage to pick yourself up from the bottom of the box. Or then you have to quite immediately jump into another completely unknown box, from frying pan into the fire perhaps, bringing with it all manner of different issues, different size constraints, different places where you have to hang your head, or pull your arm right in, or sometimes even stand on one leg. We don't have our boxes to have to perform bizarre acts of contortion. When you consider the option of lying on the soft cushioning of one’s own comfortable box as opposed to this, the choice must be clear.
Admittedly then, I have not actually ever been sent back, since it’s not got that far. I have always worked a hasty retreat. I would not wait for the shock of it, I would not wait to be caught, to have to be told I was supposed to stay put when I knew all along. Do they take me for a fool? My very last refuge is my self-possession. I could not put up with the glee with which the exhortation would be surely imparted. I would not want to be forced to have only the very weak consolation that I knew all along. I know that these men are not interested one way or the other if you knew, even if you do have the time to say it to them. The moment would be so fraught, the words would get caught, lost, they would be frittered away. I know they derive such pleasure from directing, from catching you red-handed. It is of such scant consolation to say I knew it all along. It would be infinitely better to be able to say: ‘I would never dream of it in the first place.’