Words by Kate-Lois Elliott
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the boxes we are put into, the boxes we voluntarily put ourselves into, and the boxes we didn’t even realise existed all around us. The cemented, archaic rules that govern our societies are man made. It doesn’t have to be this way. It can in fact be any way. Normalities can be eradicated by simply thinking them so… like the child in the Matrix who bends the spoon.
From the moment we’re born we become part of a demographic. It’s humanity’s natural way of making a world full of complex individuals into a world full of groups of others. We like to categorise: plants that produce food types with seeds are fruit, animals with feathers and wings are birds. Tick. That makes it easier when trying to explain, well, anything.
‘There are boxes everywhere, everything is box shaped’ said a recent podcast guest of mine, ‘We’re living in a Tetris!
I read an article in a magazine recently that talked about how naivety is often the cause of success. Two female CEOs talked about how the fear of being wrong, the knowledge of their own ignorance, in their early 20s wasn’t there. With this lack of self (or box) awareness they were therefore able to suggest ideas with conviction and deal with problems as they came.
When I graduated, everywhere I went I was told to get back in my box. I even remember that one time, when I was assistant editing on a book in 2014, the woman who hired me urged me not to tell the rest of the team that I was also an actor, in case they ‘got the wrong idea’.
Then one day I got some advice, ‘Just do what interests you while you still have the freedom to’. I started doing things because I wanted to, and not because I thought I should. I had a go at things, and taught myself new skills. I did things I’d always liked but never considered I was allowed to, stepping away from what is safe and taking chances, believing my thoughts were worth something. Everyone always thinks their thoughts are unoriginal, of course they do, because our thoughts are seldom surprising to us. But others think differently and one person’s thought is another person’s treasure. So I stopped telling myself I wasn’t allowed to do things, or that if I did them there wouldn’t be space for them. I stopped apologising. I started to realise there weren’t any rules.
I was invited to a private view recently, a tour of the Christian Dior exhibition at the V&A, where I met some really wonderful women. It was an inspiring morning and it was an honour to be invited amongst all these successful, hard working humans.
At the end of the tour we exited through the gift shop. I was standing by some post cards, thinking I might buy one and stick it on my fridge. The post cards were pictures of Dior outfits throughout the years. A woman came up behind me and started talking to me. She was quite fabulous, and was doing a PHD in German Philosophy.
‘I am on sensory overload’ she said.
‘Me too,’ I said, ‘I don’t have the vocabulary to talk about how amazing everything was.. all I can say is.. that dress was pretty, or that must have taken ages to make, that one with the cut up silk’ .
‘My sister is a fashion designer’ she said, ‘I know that this piece - was by a guy called John.’
She pointed at a huge, grand red dress in the centre of the display. It was like a Disney Princess dress circa Cinderella, but with bigger ruffles that made it look like a an elaborate meringue dish. If you wore it to the Met Gala, you’d have to bring a team of people to help you get up the stairs. Now that I was really looking at it, it completely stood out in the stack of nicely designed, wearable suit jackets and evening dresses that surrounded it.
‘Who told John that was OK?’ she said, ‘Where was John when they called everyone into the room to explain the exact rules of dress making and specified that this was not OK? Because I do not think that John was in that room.’
John didn’t know the rules. No one told him not to do it so he did it.
Be more John.
Mould your own box.
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Kate-Lois Elliott is an actor and writer. She has worked at XYZ Magazine Brighton and Mouth London. Kate was the assistant editor for The Shapers Project book with The Creative Society, Jazz FM and Mishcon De Reya, has had her short fiction read out on Wandsworth Radio/Either-Author and had her work staged at Theatre 503. She regularly champions first time playwrights with her company Backbone Theatre, who run workshops and readings at London venues. Past Backbone productions have played at the Roundhouse, The Bush Theatre and the Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell. (Spotlight: 2212-9084-8035). http://www.kateloiselliott.com/
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