I have no idea who came up with the phrase, but its popularity grew from the nine-dot puzzle which challenges people to connect three rows of three dots each, using only four straight lines, without lifting the pencil from the paper.
That’s the pickle I find myself in each time I sit down to write this blog. How to connect the dots. How to express my scatter-shot thoughts creatively and tease the muse into action when she’d rather snooze.
For me, trying to think outside the box, week after week, gets stressful.
So today, I take solace - and inspiration - from folks who think inside the box.
1. Each Tuesday, in Rotorua, New Zealand, a group of 120 retired friends — the D.I.Y. Kiwi Coffin Club — meets in a makeshift workshop to build coffins. The meetings are held against background noises — whirring power tools, the hammering of nails, the soft swish of paint brushes. Dues are $7 a year. Members range in age from mid-70s to ninety-four. The club dubbed their coffins Fine and Affordable Underground Furniture. On a recent Tuesday, Coffin Club President Roger Terry welcomed new members, Eleanor Mahony and Jean Meux-Hunter. The following exchange is part of the minutes of that meeting:
Grace Terry (Roger Terry’s wife): Do whatever floats your boat. Put book shelves inside it. Use it to store wine.
Jean Meux-Hunter: I have a shoe and handbag fetish so is it okay if I decorate my coffin with pictures of shoes and handbags?
Unidentified member: Bloody good idea.
Ruth Whateley: I’m getting measured up today. When I’ve finished my coffin I think I’ll cover it with photos of my dogs.
Grace Terry: Good on you, Ruth. My coffin is painted mauve and decorated with deep purple hydrangea blooms and it’s sitting right in our front parlor, next to Roger’s recliner, waiting to be lined.
Roger Terry: I’ve seen people come alive making their own coffins. We have a heap of fun, preparing for the inevitable. If you don’t have humour, then you may as well nail the coffin lid down now.
2. When it comes to thinking inside the box, the D.I.Y. Kiwi Coffin Club is not unique. Every year, Tokyo hosts the Shukatsu Festival. Shukatsu means preparing for one’s end, and the event annually attracts 5,000 people. During this try-before-you-die gala, participants choose their funeral outfit, put it on, and lie down in a flower-filled casket. Should you have a yen for a more soulful experience, an attendant applies deathly pallor make-up, covers you with white blankets, and takes your picture. “That way,” say the festival organizers, “people can see exactly what they’ll look like at their funeral.” Want the attendant to close the lid of the coffin while you’re inside? Ask, and you got it.
3. To the D.I.Y. Kiwi Coffin Club and the Shukatsu Festival, let’s add a service offered by a clinic in Shenyang, China, where over 1,000 patients have so far been ‘reborn’ by pretending they’re dead. Tang Yulong, a consultant at the clinic, says, “People who suffer from psychological problems can be helped by simulating death. We take them into a ‘death experience room’ where they write down their last words and crawl into a coffin. After five minutes of serene time, the sound of a crying baby breaks the silence, a consultant opens the coffin and with this rebirth people get a new outlook on life.”
4. Going one step further, Professor Qiu Daneng of Taiwan’s Rende Medical College, buries his students alive in coffins in the floor of his classroom - for at least 10 minutes - to make them appreciate every second of their lives. And, hopefully, treat their future patients with more empathy.
5. Finally. We add Ukraine, where coffin-maker Stepan Piryanyk offers people the chance to lie down in one of his comfortable coffins in order to get used to the afterlife. “When you lay in the box,” Piryanyk says, “it feels just like a bed. It’s the same sheets, the same pillow. After a hard day’s work you can come in and just relax for fifteen minutes. It’s great.”
6. I wanted to include the story of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai who faked his own death and had his students schlepp him in a coffin all the way from besieged Jerusalem to General Vespasian’s tent, but that was waaaaay too many dots to connect.
Maybe another time.
So this, my friends, is what happens when I think inside the box.
Truth be told, these days I think inside the box a lot.
May sound grim, but don’t worry.
I’m well aware of time passing,
but not ready to stand on a street corner with a sign that reads:
The. End. Is. Near.