Walking on the ceiling.

February 4, 2011 § 16 Comments

The non-conformist in a world of all-the-same.

Sometimes I write these posts and wonder, am I the only person who thinks this way?

Like now.

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…

by word…

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!

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§ 16 Responses to Walking on the ceiling.

  • I’d never thought of it before you asked, but apparently I think more in similes than metaphors. And I’m smiling now, Adrian, thinking of how that difference is reflected in our writing styles; we have 2 separate ways of arriving at a similar point.

    The metaphors you use in your own life are strong, visual, cemented in life: a jug, an pyramid, a fly. You’ve written them so well, I see them as clearly as the objects now on my desk.

    Josie’s thought is beautiful and surprises by working on more than one level, something I suspect is a lucky side-effect of her complex and scientific mind.

    Mine are more emotional, ephemeral, more a recalling of one experience and relating it to another. I think this might stem from my innate need to connect with people by searching for common ground.

    Recently, I swam with an endangered baby manatee within minutes of learning another young one had been found dead. In trying to describe it later, I immediately thought of a childhood wonder. The feeling I had as a kid watching E.T.’s heart glow red when he touched Elliot’s chest for the last time, was the same bittersweet wonder I felt when the endangered baby manatee swam up and kissed me on the face.

    Not strictly a metaphor, but a similar effect.


  • tgumster says:

    My beloved Gumby lived for “beagling,” a trait ascribed to those beagles who remain completely focused “on the scent.” Soon, I shed my exercise euphoria for the scent of each moment of each walk. Before long, I began “beagling” through life. It came in handy.

    As we lost one possession after another, we took it in stride, sometimes literally, other times figuratively, whatever the traffic would bear.

    We trod through one “insurmountable” issue after another, focusing on what we sensed: cracks in concrete, Dogwood in bloom, fallen leaves scattering, the promise of public transportation.

    Gumby crossed the Rainbow Bridge and no doubt still “beagles” as do I. It’s not quite the same, of course, but then, that’s the promise of “beagling.”


    • There is so much to learn from animals–especially dogs, although this is probably just a personal bias. I learn every day from my dog Moo that NOW is all we have, and all that matters. I’ll be darned if I don’t forget over and over and need to be reminded. In our elaborate thinking (which includes metaphors) we humans miss so much. Thanks for reminding me to beagle more often.


  • Adrian I hope that your Slow Dance Journal essays are collected into a printed book.
    They soothe me the way music from a river cane flute does. & they inspire me the way march music invigorates my soul.


  • As a doctoral candidate in music I endured a particularly challenging oral exam that left me wondering why I had chosen the rather masichistic life of academia-one that seemed at that moment to be too daunting to continue. Why, I wondered, had I chosen that road, and was it too late to become a shepherd on a Colorado mountain side and contemplate the universe? Now, whenever life begins to implode, I take myself to that mountainside of pine and cedar scents and the sounds of wind rushing through the tops of the trees … and silence … and I am again at peace. Thanks for the reminder, Adrian.


    • Creating a place of beauty, silence and peace to go to, even if only in your mind, seems like a very practical strategy. And now that I’ve used the words “practical strategy” I feel silly. The soul walks toward light–too simple a notion to qualify as a strategy. It is closer to phototropism and completely involuntary.

      Mind if I join you on that mountainside from time to time ML?


  • Jen says:

    Metaphor is viscerally affective, says this article in the NY Times.

    I live on metaphor, one thing standing in for another less comprehensible, coded messages sent between the lands of thought and feeling, experience and understanding. Sometimes I worry, what the decoder key is faulty? What if it gets lost?


  • Hi Adrian,

    Us metaphorians need to stick together . p.s. not as fly paper and flies….

    Hear is one foe you. I’m making it up right now so be nice.. What I do is take two quotes and treat them like grapes. I through them in my mental wine press and let them ferment a bit and drink the wine. Wine tends to lead down the wine river. My boat is my mind, my prattles my pens.

    Mnememeaphors .



  • Welcome my fellow metaphorian. Your comment was so full of wisdom that WordPress instantly identified it as spam.

    I rescued it, a diamond ring that slipped off the finger of a woman washing dishes and went down the drain. Be kind–I’m thinkin’ on my feet too!

    Glad you found my blog. It is always great to meet another metaphorian. Those of us who admit to being one are few and far between.


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