Wise man and friend D, author of the Joe Felso: Ruminations blog, had a posting this weekend that is so good it can’t be paraphrased. Rather than sending you there (although it would be time well spent since this is just one of many thought-provoking posts), I’ll make it easy and include the full text here.
Because he is a teacher, poet and a visual artist (among a number of other significant identities) his explorations into the creative process often feel closely aligned with my own. I suppose I could make my own list of seven metaphors, but I’ll use the excuse he proffers at the end of his piece–it’s summer and I’m feeling lazy…
Teachers are great sharers—or show-offs, depending on how you look at it—and often compare the clever and cruel tasks they’ve given students. In the summer, all of these assignments float up, borne as by some ocean current to my desert island, and I plot ways to use them.
An obstetric nursing teacher once told me she asked her class to come up with seven metaphors for childbirth. She wanted them to shift their assumptions, to see the process as something more than procedure, as something new. As is often the case with clever teaching, they hated their commission. Nonetheless, sharing the results was, she said, one of her best classes ever.
I can’t ask my class to find seven metaphors for childbirth—they would wonder who possessed their English teacher—but I might ask them to create seven metaphors for something as central to a literature class as childbirth is to obstetrics, writing.
As such assignments are easy to give and hard to do, I thought I’d try it first. What would my seven metaphors for writing, as I’ve experienced it, be? Here’s what I came up with:
1. a seam between mirrors
I lived in an apartment in college where the landlord chose two smaller mirrors instead of one large one. The wall beneath wasn’t altogether even, and, standing in the middle, you were split. On either side of the seam you weren’t quite the same person. From one perfect spot in the bathroom you could look at yourself and not look at yourself at the same time.
2. postcard postage
In the U. S. postal reality, something nearly the same size and weight but without an envelope costs 15¢ less. Either privacy has a price or saying what you need to say in less space and out in the open means you deserve a break. I’m not sure which.
3. a two week beard
For me, two weeks is the point when people begin asking if I’m serious. It’s also the point at which I wonder if I’m serious. Is what’s on my face a beard or questionable grooming? The person wearing facial hair is not always qualified to determine. Surprisingly, it’s often a matter of perception.
4. pocket yahtzee
My pocket sized electronic yahtzee game gets harder as it goes along. At first, I can easily believe a full house or straight will arrive shortly and somewhere along the way I WILL yahtzee. But hope never lasts. Abandoned games outnumber finished ones three to one, and even in your high score game, your total is never perfection. It’s still the best you could do under the circumstances. Maybe that’s what keeps me wasting time on such a silly gadget.
5. a key you ground for no lock in particular
Imagine making a key from scratch, not knowing what lock it’s truly intended for or whether that lock really exists—it’s more than a leap of faith, it’s believing in magic, a sense there’s an unrealized deficit in the world, a strange order that awaits your completing it.
6. the replacement idea
My working memory is much smaller than my stored memory, and I forget most of my good ideas. I walk around repeating them like incantations and still they evaporate. When it comes time to work, I’m left with the second best alternative, trying to find something to replace what I was really thinking and feeling. Sometimes I believe the second is better than the first, but is that only because I can’t remember the first?
7. the wooden frame beneath the arch
Studying arches, you discover the most dramatic structures began with wood to support them. The addition of the keystone makes it appear as though the arch simply happened, but that last stone—perfectly sized and shaped to fulfill its destiny—is what allows the frame to drop away.
Were this a true assignment, the next step would of course be explaining each of these metaphors. However it’s summer, and I’m feeling lazy.
Just for fun I’ll leave the other half of the assignment—the meaning of these comparisons—to those most metaphoric creatures, readers.