Walking on the ceiling.
February 4, 2011 § 16 Comments
Sometimes I write these posts and wonder, am I the only person who thinks this way?
This is a post about metaphors.
You know, the alchemy of turning one thing into another, like that old trick of lead-into-gold that was such a hot human pursuit for a while.
But this post is not about the metaphors I employ as a fiction writer. This is a post about the metaphors that appear unbidden; metaphors that explain and even shape my life.
I see a pyramid of stone. Long-enduring and solid, its base is wide, making the structure nearly impossible to knock over.
This pyramid is my health. I wonder whether this picture I carry in my head contributes to the steady-state of my health, which has always been good. This image is especially useful when I don’t feel great. Picturing that pyramid reassures me–my natural state is to be healthy, this will pass.
I see a huge jug being filled one drop at a time. It will never be full, nowhere near. Each drop makes a hollow plink as it lands.
This was the image I carried for years of myself as a reader. Terrible admission for a writer, but I am a slow reader. Perhaps because I was read aloud to a lot as a kid I read at the pace of the spoken word. Whatever the reason that slow, steady pace has become a habit, as annoying as the sound of my mother typing. The tap-tap-tap coming out of the room in which she wrote was a Chinese water torture played out on a Smith Corona, her fingers hitting the keys with a rhythm as regular as a metronome, and that describes the way I read.
by word at a steady, slow drip.
For years the metaphor of my reading mind as a never-to-be filled jug saddened and defeated me. I was doomed to die having read far too few books to be a legitimate writer. One day I got tired of being doomed and illegitimate and I tried something. I asked my mind for a metaphor that was kinder. And it gave me one. It turned all the written words of humanity into a great river, the land nourished by the sediment left behind each time that river overflowed its banks.
Because of the new metaphor I realized that by reading every word, never skimming, I was not only able to examine a writer’s craft, I was also able to give the thoughts in each writer’s treatise my full attention. I now accept that much of the river will remain unknown, but word…by word…by word, I will be nourished by the books I do read.
I see a fly walking on the ceiling. It seems impossible—and yet it walks without difficulty, until it chooses to fly.
When this metaphor appeared we were living in the Keys aboard a leaky wooden boat. My husband was a commercial fisherman, an unending cycle of boom and bust. I had an art gallery at a time when the Keys had tourists six months a year at best (we used to joke that we passed the same dollar back and forth during the off-season and called it an economy). I was often fearful, until that fly, blithely doing the impossible, came to represent our survival on what always appeared to be way too little.
That image has persisted as I have moved from one get-rich-slow profession to another. I started as an artist and then got sensible and became a writer—it seemed sensible at the time. Money has rarely been easy to come by, but I have learned to trust my ability to walk on the ceiling.
Lying awake last night, thinking about this post and wondering if anyone but me put metaphors to practical use, I remembered my daughter telling me that she saw being alive as having her head underwater, the view of what was real and true distorted. She knew clarity would only come when she finally lifted her head out of the water.
Does anyone else use metaphors like this, or is it a unique family trait? If you do I’d like to hear about it, and if you don’t, give it a try. The alchemy of lead-into-gold has never worked in the real world, but it does work in the realm of the mind. With the help of a carefully chosen metaphor situations that are lead can be turned to gold–or at least copper.
Thanks to the mental pictures I carry I can defy gravity, and sometimes even fly.
After posting this I got a note from my sister-in-law, Bette Gautier, pointing out an article in Ode Magazine (click to read) that explains the use of metaphor in daily life. I thought the practice might be unique to me, but it turns out that you do it too–whether you know it or not!