Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Instructions

This is the big day, they said. This is it.
This is the day where you get to show what you know.
This is the day where you get to prove yourself.
You’ve been practicing so long.
And now it’s time to show your skills.
And you’ve got them. You’ve got the skills.
We’ve drilled you well and we know you have the skills.
Now it’s time to show what you know.
In a minute we’ll be passing out the papers.
But first, there are a few instructions we want to go over with you.
Don’t forget to write your name on the cover page.
If you don’t write your name, we won’t know whose paper it is.
Simple. Right?
Put your name on the cover page in capital letters. In pencil.
You must use pencil. Do you understand?
We feel that you are prepared.
You have been preparing all along.
We have been preparing you.
Though you might not realize it, you are prepared.
But the most important thing to remember is the box.
When you are filling in your answers, write inside the box.
Don’t write outside the box.
You must only write inside the box.
When we practiced, sometimes we allowed you to write outside the box.
But that’s because we were just practicing.
Now you know all the right answers.
Now you know exactly what you need to write.
Don’t make up your own stuff to write.
Just write what we told you to write.
If you make up your own stuff, you will need more space.
More space means going outside the box.
If you make up your own stuff, you will have the wrong answer.
Wrong answers mean failure.
And this is the real thing.
You can’t fail.
So you can’t write outside the box.
We can’t stress this enough.
You can’t write outside the box.
If you write outside the box the scanner won’t read what you wrote.
The scanner is programmed to read only what is inside the box.
So make sure you stay inside it.
If you go outside the box, you will fail.
We can’t stress this enough.
The scanner won’t read what you wrote.
Don’t go outside the box.
Do you understand?
This is the big day. This is it.
This is the day where you get to show what you know.
This is the day where you get to prove yourself.
You need to follow the instructions.
Write your name on the cover page in capital letters in pencil.
Don’t write outside the box.
If you write outside the box the scanner won’t read what you wrote.
If you write outside the box you will fail.
Do you understand?
You need to follow the instructions.
Name on cover page in caps and pencil.
Don’t write outside the box.
Write outside, and the scanner won’t read it.
Write outside, you fail.
Get it?
Name on cover. Caps. Pencil.
Don’t write outside the box.
Write outside, scanner won’t read it.
Write outside, fail.
Don’t write outside the box.
Don’t write outside the box.
Get it?


  1. Hi Everyone,

    I left this post without labels on purpose. I will be curious to read your various interpretations on what it means for you. It will be interesting... Thank you all for being so awesome!


  2. I'm not sure I'm able to convey the many different interpretations that are zooming through my head right now, but I can say that it practically screams at me to break out of this box!

  3. "Suffocated" is a word that comes to mind.

  4. Very, very good, Nevine!
    They don't want us thinking outside the box at all. They want us to be robotic, they want to be able to erase our individuality, that's why the pencil.
    I write only in ink!


  5. Eric Arthur Blair @ Goerge Orwell

    Another great piece..mental gymnastics for me, love it:) I love you blog more and more each day:)

  6. big brother - generally - in the most literal way - control [mind and physical] - conservatism - conformity - the limitation/removal of individual freedoms -
    but the writing world/art world specifically perhaps - censorship - sales - only go for that which will "sell" - don't do anything unique - again, conformity -
    and the symbolism of the pencil versus the ink - yes, to erase our individuality our uniqueness - and like secretia, i write only in ink, as well!

    another fabulously thought-provoking post, nevine! can't wait to read all the comments to come!

  7. pencils can injure... print inside the box with blunt crayon ONLY!

    all this sounds like what a friend in alaska told me is how computer scanners grade folks looking for employment, specific words left out in the application mean immediate FAIL!

  8. Beautiful....
    We are confined to the box..... We are prepared for that from a very young age... It's so familiar, this is what we were told to do when in school... ...I totally agree with Secretia...
    That's what I think too...

    You have a wonderful way with words...
    Love your writing....

    Cheers Always

  9. this is a good way to make brain wash on people teatching that if they don't live and behave inside the social standard , the rules , they are going to be losers . and nobody wants to be a loser .

    thank you for this Nevine .

  10. This, in a nutshell, is how our education system works.


    I always told my sons, when you go to school, you will be learning the things other people already know. You will be reading about, being schooled about, other peoples' work, history, beliefs, etc. It's up to you to take all of that and use it as the basis for developing your own and original thought.

    Think about all the names you know from History. They did things first. Or better. They thought things first. Or deeper. They won things first. Or greater.

    They etched their way onto our consciousness by thinking, doing, creating, outside 'the box'.

    Exactly opposite what, to mind mind, occurs in your post.

  11. Ah Nevine,

    The first thing that came to my mind was the visa form which I filled recently. It gave me the creeps. An assortment of questions and if one carefully reads, most of the questions are similar with certain changes. All this implies one thing - FEAR. The fear of everything.

    I would go with LceeL who talks about the education system. Everything leads to something. Every damn thing is a means to an end. The end is also devised and planned. Everything is what they want it to be.

    "Don’t write outside the box.
    Don’t write outside the box.
    Get it?"

    Strangely I also think of America (No offense here).

    Nice idea to evoke responses dear Nevine. An interesting dialogue.

    Joy always,

  12. it reminds me of Another Brick in the Wall, By Pink Floyd and that video where the pupils like in your photo had no faces... all a bunch of robots made equal... it's when you get out of the box that you are yourself... that's not good, nope, naughty girl...How dare you!
    i like writing so much outside the box.

    the repitition is astonishing...annoying-- it drives you mad.YEs, through it is how you eventually learn > through repetition

    Thought provoking. Now it's time -or it will be- for you tell us!

    Hugs queenie!

  13. Don't write outside the box!!
    What I could interpret from this post of urs is that once u think or do things which are non-agreeable on others part or are non-useful to the majority, you are suppressed by everyone in every possible way.
    This is all about individuality.
    Man was afraid of fire but then someone tamed it. It is the individual and not the group who can think out of the box but that individual is suppressed. No one believed the roundness of our planet until telescope was discovered.

    Very thoughtful message Nevine.
    Loved it once again!!

    Keep writing..



  14. What it means to me:
    Don't sweat the small stuff...
    It's about what you do, not about all the stupid little rules people impose on us.

    or not....

  15. Hi again, Everyone. Wow! is all I can say about the different comments. They’re certainly unique and varied, and I had interesting reactions reading them. And I started to think that maybe, at the end of all the commenting, I will post a final comment and tell you all what inspired this piece for me. I just might do that… :-) I will also be commenting individually to each of your comments; I just want to see what some others also have to say, first. Know what I mean? ;-)

  16. Yes Nevine we know what you mean. AND we are waiting . . .


    Joy always,

  17. When you're conditioned to obey the rule, 'Don’t write outside the box', you definitely won't think outside the box either.

    Today, there are many people who live in morbid fear of failure, not coming up to someone else's expectations.

    I wonder if mass manipulation and control has ever been so intense.

  18. This is such a wonderful piece, the repetition is effecting and powerful. Having just set an science exam, I can completely relate to everything in the poem - my teachers stood at the front of the hall and sounded exactly like that, "Don't write outside the box"...

  19. Fabulous!

    This can be interpreted in so many different ways I don't know where to start. I love how you use the simple stressed rules of an examination to suggest lots of other themes. Like being different and not always following the rules. Or being told what to do, even brainwashed into doing what others want. Or the idea of a writer breaking out of the mold. The definition of failure is another interesting theme.


  20. Nevine, this one really punched me in the gut! Reading this, I was a teenager again and sitting my final exams trying to find answers to things I never did know nor ever really cared about for that matter.
    What interested me was not taught in the schools I attended and was often frowned upon in the country and environment I grew up in.
    To this day I remain an advocate for the corrosion of conformity - not always an easy path to follow but so much better than being a lamb ;-) It is better to think for one's self than not to think at all.
    Great work!

  21. Hello again, Everybody. Thank you for the most intriguing comments. I know all of us are bombarded with all sorts of subtle and sometimes not so subtle “suggestions” and “recommendations” on a daily basis. Sometimes those pieces of advice are just blatant instructions, and inevitably, we are at the receiving end. Your input has been amazing, so far, and I will be sharing the inspiration for this piece with all of you as a final comment… in a few days.

    Bard – I think you might have felt suffocated by the voice in the piece. It’s intimidating, even for me... and I created it. But, I only created this voice for this piece. THE voice is one that is all too familiar in the real world. And it’s interesting you should mention “many different interpretations”, because this can mean more than just one thing to any single person. I entirely see where you’re coming from when you feel suffocated. You even had to write your comment inside a box. And you could have kept writing and writing, but at a certain point the box will only allow you so many words. I guess the key thing is to make each word, each day, every living breathing second, count.

    Secretia – “They” is an interesting word. And I also used it in the very first line of the story. Because “they” could be anybody. You also mentioned two very important words: “robotic” and “individuality”. When we lose our individuality, we do become very much like automatons. We all speak and think and behave the same way. And the pencil. Spot on what I was thinking! What a disaster!

    Zachary – “1984” is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. And if this piece elicited thoughts of that book, then, well… what can I say? Is that where we’re headed? And flexing our mental muscles is a must, otherwise they rot and stagnate. Blech! That doesn’t work, or for sure we’re headed for “1984”.

    Jenean – Oh, you mentioned so many things. But the word that stood out most for me was “control”, because “control” is very much what the rest of the words and thoughts are all about. It’s so sad to know that we realize what is happening around us, sometimes. We do realize! That’s a positive thing, right? It’s supposed to be, anyway.

    LW – You always have something interesting to say… Crayon, hm? And you mentioned employment. Yes, I know how some of those job “sifters” work. Your “application” is scanned for those “key words” and if they’re not there, you’re hosed. Isn’t that sad?

    Seema – Welcome, and thank you for leaving such an interesting comment. School is an important part of any person’s development, it’s humbling to even consider that truth. When we’re children and we go to school (considering that we’re lucky enough to be able to do that) we spend most of our waking hours at that very place. Most of what we learn, and most of what we want to learn, is acquired at school. It’s devastating to think that some children, in fact, many, are taught in this manner. Somehow, it becomes up to them to challenge this “box” mentality. And, at what cost?

  22. Gerry – “There”. Where’s “there”, Gerry? If you come back and read this… you have to give me a little more. That little droplet leaves my mind spinning and wondering… I’m curious and nosy. Only if you come back and read this… and only if you want to elaborate.

    Caio – Brainwashing is such a dangerous word. But it is no more dangerous than the reality it incarnates. Brainwashing happens to each of us daily. And sometimes we’re aware of it, and sometimes we aren’t. Sometimes it is just that subtle that we don’t see it for what it is, and before we know what’s happening, we’ve become one of the bunch.

    Lou – Your sons are lucky to have had a parent that explained the facts to them. My parents did the same for me, and if my husband and I had decided to have children, we would have done the same for them. Unfortunately, not many parents explain to their children that the people who made it into “history” are the very people who dared. And this is a fact.

    Susan – Government forms and applications of any variety give me the creeps. If we ever meet, Susan, we can exchange stories about our experiences with those. Ha ha ha… I laugh about my experiences, now, because in the end I win. You see, the fear you’re talking about is what makes “them” try to get “us”, even when there’s nothing to get. And when you keep poking it in their faces enough times that you’re just an ordinary person and that none of those questions that are all one and the same are going to catch you, you become an even bigger target… because now, ah! You know your rights. And ah! You’re intelligent!! And oh no, we can’t have intelligence around here, can we? That would destroy the “order” we’re trying to maintain. “1984” and “Animal Farm” again! Yikes!

    Dulce – I will tell you! Soon… But you mentioned “Another Brick In the Wall.” Why is that such a close song to my heart? Because we don’t need no freakin’ education! And I like to write outside the box too, Sweetest. Who wouldn’t? Life lived inside the box is like a sky with no air. Forget that! We dare!!! Yes, we do. And isn’t that repetition so in your face? But that’s how they do it. I’ll tell you about the inspiration behind it… coming soon! ;-)

  23. Nipun – Yes, it is about individuality. And about how we become anonymous when we can’t be individuals anymore. And nobody believed the earth was round, like you said. And when one person dared to say it was, he was a heathen for it! I wonder if those before us had it harder than we did, or if we just lead ourselves to believe that because it makes coping with the hardship of living today just a bit easier?

    Pat – Ah, simple! Why can’t everything be so simple? Wouldn’t we all live easier lives? Don’t sweat the small stuff… we try. I try. What a challenge, Pat!

    Martin – You used one of my favorite words: conditioned. I observe all sorts of Pavlovian responses from people to other people’s behavior and speech. And it’s amazing just how much of our behavior is conditioned and how little of the rest of it is impulsive, on the spot. I do know that we are creatures driven by our situational dynamics and all that, but I wonder if sometimes we can’t just box ourselves up the way we would like to be boxed and protect ourselves from all of that conditioning that is happening to us against our will. I, too, wonder about mass manipulation. We’re always made to believe that in the past, people had tougher lives because they had so little control over their destinies. Do we really have it any different?

    Jai – The rules of an examination seemed ideal because almost everything we have to do in life is presented to us as if it were a test that we must pass or forever be a failure in the eyes of all society. If we break the rules we fail. If we don’t conform we fail. If we’re different we fail. If we don’t agree we fail. We stand out like a rotten orange in the middle of a seasonal fruit basket. We can’t win, can we? Glad your mind went flying with it, Jai!

    Jessica – I love your final sentence! You’re absolutely right. Because when we think as others have programmed us to think, we’re not really thinking, are we? When I share the inspiration behind the writing of this piece, I think you will smile to yourself… maybe with a bit of bittersweetness. :-)

  24. You guys are amazing! Keep them coming... and keep reading!!! :-)

  25. Nevine, I look forward to your revelation with eager anticipation :-)

  26. Sam - I missed you... didn't mean to. I apologize. You made such a valid statement. I can just see the teachers standing outside the classroom doors marching you into the classroom and speaking those "reminders" into your ears. It's a sad reality in many educational systems, unfortunately.

  27. several things run through my mind as I read confined by others expectations...learning to not conform...even something as simple as sat's....

    very very well done, as always my friend.

  28. On the surface, this reminds me of testing in high school. But when I explore deeper, it explains much of how I feel now. I believe life can be a box. To be ourselves and be truly happy we must live outside the box, but then we fail. Don't we? Then we aren't what they expect or what they want. If we are independent from the instructions of life, they can't understand us, and in their eyes, maybe then, we aren't worth understanding. I'm not sure if any of this is coming out right, but you hit a nerve. I feel like this every day.

  29. it's funny, Nev- what I thought of was the Roman Empire. Also a card trick I used to know. no matter how crazy it looked to the spectator you always arrived at the same card. Governments and how they make you believe it's your choice. Your doing. but maybe I just need more sleep. love ya, Kiddo~rick

  30. Wow! Now this is sure getting interesting. I wish we had George Orwell and Pink Floyd part of this discussion. They would have had their two bits to say.

    All of you are amazing.

    Still waiting . . .


  31. is it ok if I guess write?

    cause it sounds like all these "rules" are only for the tests that everyone hates.

    not only do you have to use a pencil, they specifically say a number two.

    should I stop?

    or keep going

    even if wrong?

  32. that's hardly learning, is it... stifling, it is! well written. and i see you didn't stay in the box!!!!

  33. This is so scary and more scary even because it's so true... It's all around us and it has always been. The paradigm created for us.
    What an interesting image you chose, Nevine.

  34. Steven - "learning to not conform"... So few people want to take that risk, unfortunate as that may be. When we take risks, though, it seems like we grow, and effect change. At least we try... yeah?

    Eva - I understand what you're saying entirely. "Then we aren't what they expect or what they want. If we are independent from the instructions of life, they can't understand us, and in their eyes, maybe then, we aren't worth understanding." Yes, that seems to be what happens. People become disinterested in you because you're different, or else they're interested only to the point of wanting to bring you down. It's sad, really.

    Rick - Leave it to you to think of something so out there... I would never have imagined the Roman Empire. But then, why not? I see where that thought would come from... now that you mentioned it. And, did you play that card trick? I've always been amazed at how those work. Funny what the eye sees versus what reality is, yeah? And... Ah, more sleep... don't we all need that? It's such a pleasure to read your feedback, Rick. Really!

    Susan - Can you imagine if Orwell and all of the members of Pink Floyd were here? Ah, we dream... But I'm also amazed at all of the different responses. Some of them just never crossed my mind. We're all so similar and so different...

    Dusty - It's okay if you guess. There are no right or wrong answers, here. The right answer for you is your answer because that's your interpretation of what you read. And I remember taking tests, and yes, those #2 pencils we had to use... That was such a long time ago, for me, Dusty. Such a long time ago... :-)

    Shadow - No, there would be no learning involved in this scenario. The kiddos would just be memorizing and vomiting out information. Unfortunately, this is a reality that is so widespread. And staying in the box? I have to get out, every once in a while... ;-)

    Vesper - It is very very scary. And the scariest part is that we see it, and we're kind of helpless. That image is amazing, isn't it? It captured my attention over all of the other images I was looking at for this piece. Thank you for coming by, Vesper, and for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

  35. I am loving each and every comment and reply..
    The world is the playground and Nevine has learned how to play!!

    Kudos to u dear!!

  36. This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. Hello everybody!

    As I'm a bit late I've read the post (an amazing one) and I've also read all the comments, and I must say everything was a great pleasure! It was all very enthralling!

    The post makes me think of the way you are taught to write a "dissertation" (= more or less an essay) in France!
    You just have to submit to very strict rules and I always had bad marks because I just couldn't and can't comply to silly rules which restrain your mind!

    Now let's wait for Nevine's key to the text;-)

    Big bisous and enigmatic stars*******

  38. You made me feel like reading again..

  39. On and off topic. You just reminded me my test when I went for my Oberstufe in German. Saying that, though, the Mittel was exactly the same. The exam papers used to come from Germany, completely sealed and they were opened on the day of the test before our very eyes and everything had to tally with the answer from Germany. You could not deviate one iota.

    After reading your compelling, masterful and vibrant poem, I thought to myself: 'Maybe failure is not a big thing after all. Fail more often.' If only to piss off the powers that be. :-)

    Great piece.

    Greetings from London.

  40. I hated educational environments like this. I'm a gray area person. I personally think it's more important to learn how to learn than it is to learn things. The things you need will eventually fit in but unless you can use that information well it is pretty useless. The best teachers/professors I've ever had let me write a bit outside of the box. Sometimes I failed and sometimes I succeeded, I was allowed to try though. When I got into a class where I knew it was just going to be strict memorization I always just tuned out and didn't bother taking notes.

  41. So true, Nevine! Love it!:)
    They want us and expect from us to obey the system,in general not only the educational environment. That's the plan today.
    Have a blissful Sunaday!
    Betty xx

  42. It makes me feel like I do when put infront of a hard task, something that makes me doubt myself although deep inside I know I should be able to do it. Like there's people looking at me, djuging me and they make me perform worse than I would normaly do.

  43. Nipun - Playing is so much fun, too! We all need to play a little, every now and then...

    Cremilde - I can imagine how that would feel. In fact, I know. I've been there, and many times I just said, "To hell with it! I'm writing what I want to write and let them bite me!" My two bits are coming soon... Thank you for joining the conversation, Cremilde. Gros bisous, ma belle!

    Zachary - You can read again as often as you wish...

    Cuban - Ah, you made a comment that will make you smile when you read my own response, coming up, to what inspired this piece. You certainly will smile, Cuban!

    Christopher - And who the hell wants to be black and white? And learning how to learn is exactly right. If we can't do that, then we just swallow what they feed us, vomit it out, and then move on with nothing.

    Betty - There are so many systems in place for us, and we're expected to follow all the rules and listen to all the instructions. We're like robots, sometimes. Happy Sunday to you, too!

    Belle - Self-doubt is one of the most destructive things I know of. And yes, when you know you are being watched, you become self-conscious and can't focus on the task, even if you know you can do it well. I know...

  44. It reminded me of the scene in Schindler's List, where everyone is lined up and they have to state their names and occupations, the outcome of which may determine their fate. Yes, the exam thoughts were there, but the hectoring tone reminded me so much of something else.

  45. Taken very literal this reminds me of the tests I had to do in school. But when this piece is taken in a metaphorical way, the possibilities are endless in interpretation. Very well done. (:

    I found you from Eva's blog and I'm glad I did. I'm definitely following cause you're right. You got skills. (:

  46. Mme. DeFarge - What a movie, huh? And you're absolutely right, Mme., because the exam feel is a superficial cover for a more sinister reality.

    Gavin - Welcome! And we are all pretty much reminded of school tests, but we all have various interpretations as well. It all depends on who we are and what we've experienced. I think, though, our first taste of this "aura" was experienced in the very test room, and might have stuck with us more permanently than we can ever imagine. And Eva is a gem of a writer... I'm so glad you followed the trail from her blog and found your way here. I hope you will enjoy the ride, Gavin.

    Akasha - Shades, yes. And thank you, dear!

  47. it is, for me, the writer's journey. we work to learn the craft, to master the techniques, create a story, and then we are ready to write - but, we must be aware fo the rules, the expectations of the reader, the critic, the writers who would help us... and then we know, there is no room for what we have to give...within their box - the limits we are given...

    my thoughts, anyway.

  48. Well, Kim, you're a writer, so I can see entirely where those thoughts come from. And all writers have those thoughts, because all writers have limits, too.

  49. OMG - I soooo want to write outside the box!!! I hate the idea of being confined - unless it's my choice to do so.

    A rule is initially made for a reason, but then in time, that rule may become obsolete/unnecessary. Yet there are people who cannot function without rules and insist they all be followed regardless of whether they still make sense or not. I grew up in a home of obsolete rules. VERY frustrating.

    And being told over and over again what to do, like they think you're an idiot or a troublemaker, only makes you want to break the rules that much more.

  50. Felicitas – You’re exactly right! If we confine ourselves, then that is our choice. But when others try to confine us, we just want to fight that suffocation all the more. And there is nothing more ridiculous than a rule that continues to exist without a purpose. But like you said, some people can’t live without those parameters. They equate confinement with order. And I’ve never been able to understand that. It truly is frustrating. Thank you so much for coming back and reading this, Felicitas. Your opinion and perspective are both very much appreciated!

  51. I could almost hear Hal's computer voice reciting this, you captured so well the mechanistic impulse of such directives. So much is contained in a simple repeated phrase like "inside the box" or "outside the box." So much is implied by their mnemonic quality. Their perversity crackles with repetition.
    Well done.

  52. sad indeed... and few bother to tell the applicant exactly that.... :(

  53. Judith - The repetition of instructions does become robotic after a while. You hear the same phrase over and over again, and the person repeating it begins to sound like a machine. And my automatic, impulsive reaction, is usually to tune out. Imagine with teenagers...

    LW - They don't want to tell the applicant. That's information they like to keep for themselves. That information is their weapon.

  54. oh wow. you've captured it so true!
    I've spent the past 10 years undoing what the education system is doing to my daughter, and it's an endless task. making her unlearn the brainwashing. letting her know that it's OK to write outside the box. that she can make up things as she goes along. that a failed grade doesn't mean she's a failure - on the contrary, sometimes it means success! now that she's 15 - I see that I've done a great job! she regularly writes outside the box! :)

  55. Good for you, Khulud! I always say that if the system and the teachers mess up the kids, it's always the job of the parents to get things back together. Thank goodness for a few good teachers who see the light and don't want for children to become automatons. And thank goodness for parents who guide their children to think for themselves. You can't even begin to imagine how many parents I run into who allow their children to be stifled by all the brainwashing. It's scary! I'm happy to hear your daughter has taken after her mother, :-) and that she writes outside the box!

  56. I am speechless
    the repetition is so good
    the words are drummed into your head
    its truth makes it frightening

  57. CFM - This is a truth we all live with, just about every day. I think that's why it's so frightening... Thank you for stopping in!


Your thoughts are deeply appreciated.