Tag Archives: metaphor

Metaphor Monday: Rip Tide


I’m out at the beach with my kid.

Tybee Island has some of the most gently sloping beaches you’ll ever see; the difference between high tide and low tide feels like about forty yards, and depending on the time of day and where you choose to explore, you can wade way out and still find yourself only in water up to your waist.

So we’re way out. A good thirty or forty yards from shore, which is about as far as I care to go. (Thalassophobia. I don’t have it, but I get it.) And we’re bobbing around on these tubes, my son delighting in swooping up and down with the gentle waves, me trying to relax (at least as much as an appropriately paranoid parent can relax when his six-year-old is floating on the ocean, which is to say, only so much). One of the sprout’s favorite things to do is to pretend to fall out of his tube — he screams, dramatically, “oh no!” and tips it over sideways, pitching himself into the drink, then swims up under it and hoists himself back in so he can do it again. He’s doing this over and over, and I’m only kind of paying attention. My mind is wandering the way it only can when you’re floating, feeling weightless in the grip of the great salty blue. (Okay, the waters at Tybee are pretty murky — but you know what I mean.)

Next thing I know: “daddy, get my float.”

I turn and look. The float is a good twenty yards out. I paddle lamely after it for a moment, doing a sort of backwards butterfly with just my hands while floating in my own ring. That ain’t working; every foot I gain, the waves push me back. So I flop out of the ring and make to wade over there and get it — except my feet don’t touch bottom. I go under and catch a nose full of salt water, and come up spluttering.

Well, that doesn’t seem right. I whip around to glance at the shore, see how far out we are, and oh boy oh boy have we drifted. We’re about twice as far out as I thought we were, and the people on the shore look disturbingly tiny.

I start paddling after my kid’s float, but with a head full of seawater and my not-so-great swimming skills, it ain’t going so hot. Plus, I’ve seen Jaws, and I know that a human flailing around in coastal waters triggers an ocean predator’s prey drive like a fat, oblivious seal — so something like panic is flooding my system too. (Even though I know that’s ridiculous.) In my head, I see images of that riptide warning poster that they post everywhere at the beach:

Image result for riptide warning signs

And I think I might actually be caught in one of these things. (I’m not, as it turns out, but just try telling that to a brain that thinks it’s simultaneously drowning and being stalked by sharks.)

I turn to look toward shore once more and I see that my kid is paddling out after me. Something about that short-circuits whatever thinking I’m doing at this point. My lizard brain kicks the rational part of me out of the driver’s seat. Now it feels like a fight for survival. It suddenly feels like there’s miles of open water yawning beneath my feebly kicking feet, like the ocean itself is a living thing pulling me and my kid out.

I shout at him to go back to the shore, but he’s six — he’s a worse swimmer than I am, and though he’s doggie-paddling dutifully toward shore, he’s drifting even closer to me. I throw a glance over my shoulder at the float — it’s even farther away now, which seems impossible. My thinking brain sends up one last smoke signal that bubbles through my lizard-brain haze: It’s a five-dollar float, you idiot, help your kid!

With that, I hook two fingers into my kid’s swimming vest and paddle back toward the shore in earnest. We make it back without a fuss. My wife’s looking at me a bit oddly — to be fair, I’m a bit more spluttering and wide-eyed than usual. I turn around and look for the float; it’s basically a speck, floating a quarter-mile out from the shore. To make matters worse, it pretty much stays there for the next hour or so.

And I just have to watch it. And feel shame.

So.

Since it’s Metaphor Monday (when was the last one of those??), this is the part where I say this thing is like writing, and man, it’s easy to do. Sub in my project (or, in fact, yours, faithful reader) for the float, and you’re done.

I allowed myself to be distracted and took my eye off the float for a moment; next thing I know, the circumstances (my kid flipping the raft, the current, maybe even the wind, who knows?) had the thing out of reach and quickly drifting farther away. This is my writing project: you take a little break from it, and the tiniest things can push it away — out of convenient reach, where it doesn’t feel like you can get around to it, or out of mind entirely, where you don’t even think about it for a little while.

Next moment: I’m paddling after it but I’m in over my head, and I’m panicking as a result. I look up, in other words, and see that the project has gotten away from me, so I panic and make it a lot more important than it is. (If I don’t write a little bit today, I may never get it back.) Not to mention, I’m not the strongest swimmer (writer!) so even paddling after it feels like not making any progress at all — I sit down to write and feel like I just can’t do it, or I try to brainstorm on the project but my mind immediately wanders. Bang, it feels like I’m in a fight for my life — or, at the very least, the life of my project.

Next moment: I realize my kid is out here with me and decide to let the float go. In other words, I grasp that my family is still here on vacation with me and not going anywhere, and the choice of where to spend my time seems suddenly very obvious. I grab the kid and swim for shore — I give up on the project (again) and let it float away, as frustrating and painful as that may be.

Finally: I have to sit there and watch the float bobbing on the waves a quarter mile out from shore, unable to do anything about it. Well, that one’s obvious, too — no matter how much distance I get from the project, it’s never really gone — it just hangs there in the back of my mind (or, as t’were, floating on the horizon of my subconscious) waiting for me to swim out and get it. Perhaps taunting me. Because now, the work required to get it back is, admittedly, huge.

Interestingly, that’s where the metaphor breaks down — because while the float is well and truly gone no matter how frustrated I get or how silly I feel (or how much I lament the fact that it will probably end up choking some poor unsuspecting sea animal — and that does hurt my heart, unless it’s a shark, because seriously, I’VE SEEN JAWS), the project is not in any way gone. In fact, I sat down just this morning to put some words on the page and, while I’m nowhere near on the timeline I wanted to be, the project feels very much in reach again.

Writing, in other words, is just like riding a bike. Doesn’t matter how much time you take off, it’s right there waiting for you when you decide to go back to it.

Wait, that’s a different metaphor entirely. Damn.

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(Sorta) Safe Landings, or Hell Week in the Theatre


Rain hammers at the windows as outside, a lance of lightning splits the sky. The rickety Cessna’s every seam rattles in the ensuing thunderclap. It’s been through its share of storms, but every storm is different, and this one is a humdinger.

Flashes of lightning sporadically light up the faces of the passengers. There is screaming terror, dumbstruck panic, horrified weeping. Some are praying, rocking as they mumble in their own tiny space. Some look ready to vomit at any moment. One, at least, has already done so.

There’s a BANG and a shudder rocks the plane. It’s impossible to say exactly what, but something has come off. In the spasmodic flashes of lightning, smoke is now visible out the windows. The wind tosses the craft around like a toddler with its favorite toy.

The scene in the cockpit is grim. A pilot mops sweat from his forehead, wrestling the stick for control of the plane — it bucks and thrashes in his hand like an angry python. Dimly he hears the screams of the passengers, but he’s much more concerned with the wind and the lightning and the looming mountain. Not enough altitude. The wheels clip the tops of trees, branches scraping the bottom of the plane like the grasping fingers of restless corpses. Another lurch as the wheel on one side is wrenched away.

But over the top of the hill — there, the landing strip. A faraway, flickering oasis. The engine coughs and stalls. They won’t be making it that far.

The doomed craft careens through the sky, passing low — too low — over farmhouses and fields toward the airfield. It wobbles drunkenly, smoke streaming from one engine like it’s a coal power plant before anybody ever heard of the EPA. It dives, banks hard to one side, dives again, and banks back, like a baby bird learning to fly on broken wings. It clips the top of an abandoned barn, blasting away part of the rotted roof in a shower of splinters.

Then, somehow, when by all rights the thing should be ditching in a cornfield, it levels off. The engines whine and sputter back to life, belching out gobs of black smoke, but giving it a burst of altitude. It just clears the power lines and rumbles toward the  a clumsy touchdown like an eighth grader stepping onto the dance floor for the first time in his life.

Pandemonium as it touches down. The one wheel smokes while the un-wheeled leg gouges a terrific gash in the thin asphalt, gravel and tar scattering. The plane wobbles, fishtails, and finally flips over. One wing decides it’s had enough and sails off into the night. The tail crumples as the plane rolls over and over, flinging luggage and clothing across the tarmac.

Groaning like a tranquilized bear going under, the airplane topples to its side and lies mercifully still. One wing pointed toward the sky, the wheel a useless strip of deflated rubber spinning on its axle.

Then, sounds of life within. Traumatized groans and wails and exclamations of amazement as the passengers kick the door away and tumble out into the darkness. The pilot follows after them, cut and bruised and wild-eyed, but unhurt. They stumble across the runway clutching tightly to one another like starved refugees crossing the border.

And then the plane explodes. A glaring, angry fireball turning night into day.

###

This, then, is hell week in the theatre.

cessnafail

Image lifted from aviation-safety.net. Clearly from a “how-to” page on landings.

Every little thing is a crisis, every argument or misfire a question, seemingly, of life or death. An actor gets laryngitis. Another twists an ankle. Costumes don’t fit or can’t take the strain. The patches you put on the set to shore up the damage it was taking now have patches themselves. Literally every item of clothing you own is covered in flecks, if not splotches, if not gouts, of paint. The whole production, which you’ve spent months rehearsing, seems in danger of coming apart at any moment. You question every life decision which brought you to this point. Yet somehow the show survives. Somehow it crosses the finish line and everybody’s in one piece.

And, stranger still, some part of you wouldn’t have it any other way.


Metaphor Monday: The Snow Field


Our little suburb of Atlanta took on more snow than just about any other part of Georgia this weekend, so we were treated to several days of the white stuff. As a guy who has lived in the South for all his life, this is a treat: we don’t see snow very often, and when we do, it’s usually either a sad little dusting on your grill and the top of your car, or a slushy, icy slurry that freezes roads and locks up traffic for days. But this was the real thing. A bona-fide blanket.

Driving around the neighborhood, we saw a picture-perfect scene, right out of the Christmas movies of your childhood. Entire blocks awash in white, roofs radiantly shining under a brilliant blue sky. Fields sprawling under a soft, silent cover. Treetops bowed and glowing, crowned with frost. A true winter wonderland. Perfect in its completeness, perfect in its simplicity, perfect in its total transformation of the city.

It was so perfect, in fact, that we almost hated to disrupt it — but disrupt it we must. We have kids, after all, and they weren’t about to let such an event slide by without the requisite snowball fights and snowmen and snow angels and the fuzzy blankets and flannel pajamas afterward. And of course we had to move on with daily life, too. The trash must be taken out. The roads must be braved for an emergency trip to the grocery store. And yes, the dog still has to go out (watching her do a dance while neck-deep in snow was beyond satisfying.) So, within very little time at all, our beautiful, snow-blanketed yard became pretty disgusting. Footprints all over the place. Deep divots where the green-brown of grass beneath has stained the snow. Wide swaths of exposed ground, sodden and muddy. An eyesore. Especially next to the neighbors’ yards — neighbors whose kids have either grown up and moved on or who are nonexistent, neighbors who had the good sense to stock up in preparation for the storm, neighbors who hunkered down and hibernated like bears when the first flakes began to fall.

My father-in-law called up my wife to lament that they don’t have any kids in the house to go out and play in the snow this year. (Their youngest is a college freshman.) They got out in it a little bit — walked a neat line of steps to the sidewalk and around the neighborhood — but left the bulk of it undisturbed. Unenjoyed. Unplayed-with. What a shame.

After a day, our yard was trashed. But then, isn’t a snowy field meant to be trashed? Isn’t it the ragged snowfield, marred by footprints and muddy patches, that has lived up to its full potential? It’s been played in, kicked and thrown around, stuffed into shirts — it’s lived, unlike its slumbering, undisturbed counterpart.

A lovely, but ephemeral, glimpse at a perfect world.

Which of course puts me in mind of the ever-present writer’s paradox: the blank page.

When you start a project — or when you return to a project on a new day — the same lovely, terrible expanse greets you. A perfect blank page, unblemished and interminable. It’s so lovely and so calming and so pristine, it seems like a crime to defile it. Any words we might write upon the blank page are just that — a defilement to its perfection. A crime against its peace. A hurled tomato against its steamed and pressed costume. I look at that blank page, and I think I can’t possibly make it better. Then I start writing, and not only am I not making it better, I’m actively screwing it up. The words never come out right on the first go-round. Some sentences come out as grammatical train-wrecks. My overapplication of modifiers is like so much yellow sprayed across the snow.

But, screw it up we must. Just like my muddy, stomped-in front yard, the blank page’s perfection is just temporary. It’s lovely to look at, but its true function, its best use, is not to just sit there and be perfect. Its calling is to get messed up, to suffer the wordy slings and arrows of our halting, harried advances. The blank page is never so alive as when it’s strewn with ink, letters stamped indelibly into its surface, the heavy plow of purpose and inspiration carving deep furrows across its face. The blank page yearns to be written upon. It begs to be ruined.

The page that you leave blank is the page that never lives up to its full potential. The blinking cursor on your screen is its coy invitation. Go ahead. Type a few words out. Roll up a snowball or two.

ortler-1449017_1280

Pictured: maybe not exactly my backyard. By Simon.

Your yard will be ruined in no time.


Metaphor Monday: Breath of the Fall


Looks like Metaphor Mondays just come on Tuesday now. I guess that’s just the way it’s gonna be.

Fall feels like it’s arriving late this year. Seems like the summer, like a bad movie, has gone on and on and on — hot, sticky days without end. Days without a breeze. Weeks without rain. Doldrums. Ennui. The itch slowly settling in.

And then, one night, like magic, it changes. The damp, drab air gets swept unceremoniously out the door and in rushes that cool, chilly sting. You leave the windows open at night and wake up shivering. You leave for work in the morning bundled up in a sweatshirt you’re going to leave at work because it’ll still be eighty degrees when you get out. The summer’s not gone yet, but it’s on its way out, and the morning tingles with possibility.

Even the night skies get clearer as the haze dissipates. Stars hidden from view for months pop back into being: diamonds on a velvet backdrop. The air is cleaner, lighter, sweeter.

You step outside in the morning and you feel alive. You breathe it in and it lifts you up. You shiver, whether with cold or anticipation, and it really doesn’t matter, does it?

I like fall.

But there’s no telling when that first breath of the fall is going to come, is there?

I mean, sure, the seasons come more or less on schedule every year (but if you don’t like the weather around here, just wait five minutes, AMIRITE?). But you don’t get notice; you can’t mark it on your calendar: actual fall weather starts here. Circled in the ombre of falling leaves and scented with pumpkin spice deodorant. It doesn’t work like that; it’s rather more like the crappy toy on the back of the cereal box that you saved up for as a kid. You dutifully tore off all those UPCs, stuffed them in an envelope with your greedy, gooey kid fingers (seriously why are kids’ fingers always so gooey, brb buying stock in Purell). And you waited. You knew that, some day in the future, your prize would arrive, but there was no telling when — one day, when you’d almost forgotten about it, your dad would walk in with a weird little brown package, toss it on the table, and say “who the hell is sending YOU mail?”

Magic.

Which is basically how inspiration works.

Inspiration, I find, is largely a load of horse puckey in the commonly understood sense. Writers (and artists of all ilks) don’t wander around in fields holding radio aerials hoping their new ideas will strike from the heavens. The ones really getting inspired are the ones slavishly returning to the page day after day whether they feel inspired or not. You have to work for it. You have to sweat it out. Languish in the doldrums. Ripen and rot under the unforgiving summer sun…. and after a long enough sojourn into the word mines (as CW would put it), the lightning strikes.

And when it does: well. It’s like the first frosty breath of fall on a mid-October morning under a sky full of sapphires.

Chilly out there this morning.

Makes me hungry for the blank page.


Metaphor Monday (Kind of): Your Eyes Are Idiots


Take a look at this:

2012693_f520

Okay, so you’ve probably seen that before, but pretend that you haven’t. Or step into your time machine and visit the thoughts and feelings and emotional earthquakes that your younger self experienced upon seeing it for the first time.

Are you there? Good.

You glance at that picture, and immediately you see something.

(Physiologically, your brain is doing just another of the million miracles it will do in any given day, but this is one you can be a little more conscious of. It interprets the lines. The brightnesses. The shadows. It forms these things into shapes and patterns. Then it goes and categorizes those shapes and patterns and tells you you are seeing –)

Bam. A young lady, in a mink coat and choker, her face turned demurely away from you.

Or —

Bam. An old, homely woman, with craggy nose and chin, swaddled in furs, looking forlornly down and to the front.

Either way, the moment you looked at it, you saw either the one image or the other. The A, or the B. And your brain can’t process them both at the same time. So when you see the young lady in (A), you’re locked in to that, and when you see the old crone in (B), you’re locked in to that. And, probably, upon first viewing this illusion (or, as Neil de Grasse Tyson calls it, a “brain failure”), you couldn’t even conceive of the other possibility. “You don’t see the old woman?” “No, are you kidding?”

But then, if you look at it long enough — oh, the choker is a mouth, now, and the little dot of the young lady’s ear is the old woman’s eye — then all of a sudden, the picture snaps from one reality to the other and the crone is all you see.

You can go back and forth on whether the girl in the picture is young or old, but you can’t see them both at the same time. It’s one or the other. X perspective gives Y result. Schroedinger’s cat could be dead or alive before you open the box, but once you open it, the cat is either very much alive or very much not.

That’s the funny thing about our brains, though; the image is neither that of a young lady or an old crone. The image is just a collection of lines and different areas of black and white. It’s merely the suggestion of one form or another (or perhaps, of many forms), and it is only in the eye of the viewer that the image takes on any meaning at all.

Which brings me to this week’s metaphor. (Which, if current trends continue, should just become “the weekly metaphor” and not the “Monday metaphor”, but that’s a digression for another non-Monday.)

For the past year and a half or so (actually, I should probably go back and look to make sure, but going back and looking to clarify is a thing that, today, right now, I will decidedly not be doing, because the answer would almost certainly destroy me emotionally), I’ve been working on this story.

It’s a good story. Or at least, it felt at its inception and on a conceptual level like a good story. But in the editing process — which is dragging now into the 6 month period, and given my progress (or lack thereof), is likely to go on for quite a good while longer — the story is failing. Or flailing. Probably a little of both. I feel like I have all the right pieces, arranged in the right way, working toward the right goal — but the outcome is not what I wanted. Worse than not what I wanted, it’s not even functioning the way I intended. I asked for a picture of an aristocratic lady, and I got a hag instead.

To clarify this a little, I set out to write a “Voyage and Return” variant of the seven core stories. Add in a little “Overcoming the Monster” and it’s on its way. But the more I edit, the more I chip away at this block of wood in front of me, the more it seems like the “Voyage and Return” story is the part that’s falling flat. The much more powerful (and more interesting — at least to me) story is the secondary one, the Monster.

Problem is, since I thought I was writing a V&R, I bent most of my energies and spent most of my words on that channel. On that perspective. On the cat being alive when we open the box.

But I think the cat is dead. I think it is very, very dead.

(Have I mixed my metaphors enough for a Monday? {Sorry, a Tuesday.})

All of a sudden, though, I realized that the picture I’m looking at doesn’t have to be the picture I thought I was drawing. I thought I was drawing the young lady, but it turns out I was drawing the hag all along — and as it turns out, I think I like the hag better.

In short, I think the story is much more about the Monster than it is about the Voyage, possibly so much so that the Voyage (and the 40% of the novel that’s directly concerned with it, to say nothing of the 70% that is at least tangentially concerned with it) is superfluous. Which is troubling. And I’m sitting here pondering all the words I’ve written, and all the fargoes I’ve sunk into the story, and I’m asking myself:

Do I scrap 50% of the novel and start over?

Do I trunk the entire project and move on to something that won’t vex me so much? (Although that’s its own Schroedinger’s Cat, innit?)

Do I wait a few days for the feeling, like an unexpected kidney stone, to pass?

One way or another, this crappy rabbit sure isn’t helping anything.

DuckRabbit

 


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