What’s In the Box?

My life’s all empty boxes and that’s OK

Kent Mitchell
4 min readApr 26, 2023


What if I’m not supposed to know what I’m doing: why I’m in a job, a relationship, or other role? What if a person was to just be in it, without knowing why? If I’m doing my real estate job, on the phone, on email, working with colleagues, I’m in that box at that moment. And why not? Maybe I use whatever role I’m playing at a given moment to create a familiar place to focus. That could be useful, helping me move through life with a sense of purpose, but it also doesn’t say what I’m actually doing inside that particular box…

What if I didn’t need to worry about what I was doing inside each box? That would be a different take. For one thing I wouldn’t have to spend so much time trying to figure it all out. Can you imagine, just being present without worrying about why or if you’re doing it right, or even why you’re doing it at all? You could just appreciate the moment.

I feel good, satisfied, purposeful thinking of myself as a photographer. Also, sitting at my son’s Ultimate Frisbee game, seeing planes coming in low and close in front of the dry mountains, I feel tight, contained by the role of parent, and at the same time reminded — by the planes — of flying above barren valleys near Mammoth days before, thinking, as I flew, of returning to take photos. Boxes within boxes contain me as I see myself inside and outside of them. I see myself as Father, Photographer, Traveler — and within and without these roles I’m lost. Because the roles don’t really define me. They don’t really help me find myself. Or do they? The way the roles contain me helps me move and think and feel like I’m defined and alive. The boxes are arbitrary definitions that don’t matter in themselves. What matters is the person inside and outside of the box, the person not defined by the box, who uses it as a tool for making life a bit easier.

There’s nothing inside the box of photographer. It’s as empty as the experience of photography is unknowable, even while it occurs. This is true of every box. Being a father and coming to a frisbee game is a box that needs to contain nothing because I want to experience my relationship with my son. I don’t want the experience predicted or predefined for me. Inside the box or outside the box is where I encounter my son, we relate, and I find myself. Because I can only be myself within a context, whether it be relationship, activity, or even my own conception of myself. My conception of myself is as much a box as any of these others!

We need boxes to define our time and space in relation to others, but there’s nothing inside the boxes except our experience of the moment that cannot be known in advance

Writing is a box. I find myself writing and yet what I find is I’m lost. I don’t seem to know anything of import about myself even though I’m in the box, yet the writing box helps me both notice that I am lost and, at certain moments, feel found in the writing. The pain of being lost is assuaged through painfully diving back into writing, dedicating myself to maintaining that structure. And in so doing I survive the pain, I move through it and I’m able to feel a range of sensations and emotions. Pleasure at this intellectual drive through a Sunday morning. Discomfort in the chill breeze on a Berkeley street corner cafe with homeless people occasionally shrieking in the street. Fear that everyone I see and everyone I know is both unknowable to me in their internal experience and in their meaningful intentions. Fear that I am not only alone but surrounded by shadow people interacting with my shadow self. Anyway, thanks to the writing box I can sit here and better process these thoughts and feelings.

the box is like a handhold on a climb, it’s a way to stay in reference to things around me and inside of me as I try to figure stuff out

At least I know my life is unknowable except for experiencing it. I’m not going to be able to figure anything out without encountering the world and testing myself against it. And, however painful, I can keep reminding myself of that necessity. Maybe keep stepping back whenever I’m tempted to react to every single thought, feeling, sensation, and everything I hear and see and all the demands that others make of constantly. If I step back I can see the box, probably in reference to a larger box, but I think it’s good to have a sense of the box you’re in. Then you can use the box to learn something about the world you’re living in, and about yourself.