― Orson Scott Card, Alvin Journeyman
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Back in October, I wrote a post about metaphors—those intended or inadvertent comparisons we use in our daily lives. At the time, I was exploring the metaphors we use to describe the “kingdom of the sick,” and how they exert a subtle or not so subtle influence on our daily lives. How we think of or see a thing often influences the actions we take concerning it.
I was reminded that post on metaphors or comparisons again this Sunday morning, (late Saturday afternoon or early evening for those of you in North America) the day before I return home from Okinawa. I was reading through my students’ responses to the first week of assigned readings for “Transformative Writing” an online course I teach for UCLA extension Writers’ Program. We’re using Louise DeSalvo’s excellent book, Writing as a Way of Healing, as the text for the first half of the course. Her first two chapters coupled with an article by psychologist James Pennebaker got students thinking more about how writing—no matter the form—can have health benefits, whether emotional or physical. But it was in the use of metaphors two of the students responded with their reflections that got me thinking about how we use comparisons to describe something.
One student described negative emotions like “bad dinner guests.” I wrote back, suggesting that the feelings we have out of woundedness or a life threatening illness are not so easily dismissed as an unpleasant dinner guest. His response got me thinking how we sometimes use metaphors or comparisons without stopping to consider what they actually imply. While poetry abounds with metaphor, the poet’s choice is a considered one, for through them, the poem’s meaning is conveyed. If you were to trying to describe hurt, grief or fear—emotions that arise out of trauma and serious life situations, would you think of them as “bad dinner guests” or something more onerous or lasting? What is the metaphor you’d use, and why?
The beauty of a metaphor is that it calls up an image and conveys meaning in a single word or two. Even DeSalvo’s book is a comparison: writing as a way of healing. The second student wrote how DeSalvo’s chapters made her realize why writing is so important for her. “Writing is breathing,” she said. I understood immediately—for those of us who write, it is natural and necessary as breath. I’ve often described my daily habit of writing as “a meditation” or “prayer.” How would you describe any of your “life-giving” activities using a metaphor or comparison?
This week, think about the metaphors you use in the rhythm of daily living. Are there ones you find yourself repeating? Others that, as you stop to think about them, they don’t quite convey what you intended? How would you describe—using a metaphor or comparison—negative or painful emotions? Or, if writing is important to you, then how would you convey that with a metaphor, e.g. writing is _________. Think about the meaning behind the common comparisons you use. Explore how you use metaphors.
I’ll be writing next week from my home office in California, my heart filled with gratitude for the time I’ve been able to spend in Okinawa with my daughter and my delightful, never-a-dull-moment two grandchildren, experiencing their lives, the culture in which they’re residing, and experiencing so many truly wonderful moments with their friends. As for finding the metaphor or comparison that sums it all up, well, my heart is so full, the words don’t quite do justice to describe my experience just yet! Yes, I think there are also times in life when no words quite capture what we experience or feel.