No Box Required

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on

My grandfather used to laugh at his seemingly bad luck when it came to making money. He once proclaimed that if he had bought and sold all of his real estate investments at just the right time he would have been a millionaire. Instead he tended to purchase high and sell low. At the time of this death his savings were depleted and he lived in a rented room. Nonetheless, he was an exceptionally happy man who had lived a long and very interesting life. 

My husband has a friend who might be counted as a modern day version of my grandfather. This man has had so many inventive ideas that seemed outrageous at the time, that it would be difficult to name and count them all. Sadly he was never able to convince people of the potential of his creative mind and so it was left to others to ultimately bring the innovations he imagined into the world. 

I recall sitting with my husband’s friend attempting to be polite and not roll my eyes in disbelief as he described business ventures that he was certain would be his golden ticket to prosperity. Long before streaming or DVRs he envisioned a machine that would allow households to record their favorite television programs even when they were not home. With great excitement he spoke of how such a machine would revolutionize television viewing. No longer would individuals have to be at home at a certain time to catch their favorite programs. The days of deciding which of two conflicting series to watch would be over. Best of all people would be able to keep and watch their favorite shows over and over again. 

I suppose that I was never meant to be an inventor because I thought that his idea was absurd. I could not imagine the necessity of such a machine under any circumstances. I politely told him that most people like me are not concerned about seeing every single episode of a show and we certainly would never want to watch a program more than one time. I was not able to share his enthusiasm for such an idea and neither was anyone else in his circle of friends, so his concept died on the vine, at least for him. I would regret my lack of foresight as time went on and I realized that he had been at the forefront of innovation in a time long before anyone was talking about such things. 

The same man once asked if we would like to join him in purchasing a machine that would transform plain t-shirts into message boards of sort. He spoke of making the front of a shirt a kind of canvas for images or sayings much like athletic jerseys. Once again I found his idea to be at best a one time rage after which it would undoubtedly go away along with hula hoops and disco. When I now see all of the printed t-shirts on humans from nearly every part of the world, I lower my head in a kind of shame that was I unable to see our friend’s grasp of the future.

T-shirts have become the billboards of the world. They immediately identify nameless people as witty, political, supporters of certain causes or teams. They tell us where someone has traveled or would like to travel. They provide us with a glimpse of how a person thinks and believes. They are the grist of political campaigns and the stage of a quick joke. They celebrate holidays and victories and sometimes even mark personal milestones of life. Who could have possibly predicted the popularity of personalized t-shirts other than our very inventive friend and others like him?

I personally now own a large collection of shirts with messages. Most of them are from universities that I have visited or evidence of my support for sports teams. A few represent my travels and some just have witticisms or quotes that appeal to me. They are made so well that it takes years to wear them out, but I always feel a tinge of sadness when I must let them go. I suppose that if I were so inclined I might turn my favorites into a quilted throw like many have done with their dearest old t-shirts. Some of those creations are not just lovely and useful but serve as sweet memories as well. 

One of my teachers once commented that there are people who create wondrous things and those who simply appreciate their efforts. I suppose that I somehow do not have the capacity to drum up ideas for products that will change the course of the world. I did not invest in Apple stock like my brothers did when it was selling for practically nothing. I saw the company as a flash in the pan that would soon be gone. Still, I can greatly appreciate my bothers’ foresight and I celebrate the success of their small investment.

I create in different ways that bring me joy, but not much fame or monetary gain. I convey information to my many students that will hopefully bring them opportunities to live happy and successful lives. I write my little blogs as a kind of vanity project and delight when I reach someone’s heart or mind. I am a great appreciator of those who take an idea and improve the world with it. I have learned not to be so quick to criticize someone who is thinking out of the box. In fact I now boast a favorite t-shirt that proclaims, “Think Outside (No box required)”