As I settled in with my morning espresso and the first delightful chapter of ‘Life Outside the Box’ I thought of Arianna, the Bloomingdale’s seamstress. Years ago I’d watched her fold hems of designer trousers, take pins out of her mouth, line up the fabric just so, pin it again. I saw her nip in the waist of an Armani jacket, and check that the lines in back fell flat and sharp.
And so it was with that image and many others that I immersed myself in the stories of ten remarkable individuals who worked relentlessly with their hands and their hearts to craft objects, relationships, stories, and lives, of lasting beauty and meaningfulness.
The writer’s voice makes you want to dive into these stories with that same generosity of spirit. And then you’re on the journey. You see shoe designer Ruthie Davis in her first red Mary Janes and sense that first spark of wonder. You marvel at tap dancer William Orlowski’s take on a physical disability-he sees it as something that helped his creativity because it forced him to use his brain cells in a different way. And you’re moved to tears when he creates Art Meets Havoc to bring professional theatre to the elderly, thereby fusing his artistic talent with a new awareness.
Through Catherine MacGillivray’s eyes you see people whose daily struggles are often so much a part of our social fabric we stop noticing. Catherine never stopped paying attention; “I never wanted anyone to feel small or invisible.” And her creation, Beauty Night, gives a presence and a voice to disenfranchised women. As someone who has worked with “Dress for Success” I’m familiar with that immediate smile and straightening of the shoulders when a woman who has suffered a lifetime of abuse stands before the mirror, wearing a suit, heels, and lipstick, and sees the face of the successful woman she will become.
“There was a very specific before-and-after moment when everything changed, when an inner door opened to a passion long held dormant.” Julie Salisbury, Founder of Influence Publishing, chronicles her journey as a series of life-altering events. She recalls the time she’d flown first class to the Philippines. When she opened the curtains inside her luxury hotel she saw a slum where children ran around in bare feet. She felt the disconnect and immediately began to question who she was, why she was here, what it meant for her life going forward.
Shane Koyczan, a young poet whose works give hope to the victims of bullying, addresses these light bulb moments in verse, and echoes the sentiment shared by all ten individuals in this collection.
“We Are More” (an excerpt)
we are an idea in the process of being realized
we are young
we are cultures strung together
then woven into a tapestry
and the design
is what makes us more
than the sum total of our history
we are an experiment going right for a change.
Therein lie the qualities that these successful creators share, the choice to see what’s around them, the awareness that all human beings are part of the whole, that our lives and dreams interlock, that we can make each other better.
Michelangelo believed his magnificent sculptures were already imbedded in the blocks of marble and it was his job to bring them to light. “Outside the Box” takes that view of the creative process. You start with a passion that has yet to define itself. You chip away, mold and shape. You embrace obstacles as opportunities to re-imagine. You build bridges and connect with others. You see how you can harness your talent to better the lives of those who are less fortunate. You design your craft to be part of the larger framework; a better world for future generations. Somewhere along the journey the right strategy emerges, as clear as light. And then there is no stopping.
Through it all the joy of immersing oneself in work one loves and believes in cannot be underestimated. Yet another empowering message in the book. Which brings me back to Arianna with her pincushion and her sewing machine. I noticed that in that large room filled with retailing executives and affluent shoppers, she was the one wearing the biggest smile.