Tag Archives: metaphor

Metaphor Monday: Carpet Conundrum


The new house has these great wood floors in it. They’re lovely — dark and smooth and soothing. A real upgrade over the carpet we had in the old house, if you like that sort of thing — and, as it turns out, we do.

There’s a problem with them, though. If you have similar floors in your house, probably you already know what I’m about to say: they are a bear to keep clean. With the little kids and the pets running around, our floors get (and pretty much stay) filthy.

It’s all manner of stuff. Crumbs. Dust. Pet dander. Hair. Little pieces of paper. Tiny gobs of this slime stuff the kids are playing with lately (god I hate toy manufacturers). Cat claws. Grass clippings and dirt from the yard. Dried-out bits of Play-Doh (god I hate toy manufacturers). Toenail clippings. Laundry lint. Scraps of candy wrappers. More crumbs.

Yesterday, I swear, we opened the back door and the little breeze stirred up a tiny cyclone of detritus. A tumbleweed rolled through the kitchen. And I’m thinking to myself: “I just swept yesterday!”

Turns out that, though we love the look of the wood over the comfort of the carpet, the carpet was comforting in other ways too: it hid the disgustingness of our existence from us. But now, if we don’t clean it up every day or two, that dust is gonna show out, and there’s no hiding it from anybody.

But here’s the rub: in the old house, with the carpets, sure — we could go a week or so without vacuuming. Most likely, nobody would notice — sometimes, not even we would notice. (“When’s the last time we vacuumed?” “I dunno, March?”) But that doesn’t mean that the gross stuff wasn’t there. It was just disguised. Camouflaged. Trapped in the fibers underfoot. Out of sight and out of mind.

Which seems like where you want it — out of sight — until you consider that the longer it lurks there, the more it piles up. And every step kicks that stuff up into the air, into every room in the house, into your lungs. Where it lurks and festers and crystallizes and congeals into gunk that’s got you coughing and sneezing and feeling cruddy year-round and you don’t even know why.

Not so good after all.

When it’s out on the hardwood, we can see it, so we can clean it — as unpleasant and tedious as that may be — before it has the chance to pile up and do damage. So the floors might look dirtier than ever, but on balance, I know that in reality, they’re cleaner than we’ve had in years.

So I wonder:

How much crap is hiding in the carpet in my headspace?

Well, a lot. Probably an unconquerable mountain of it, if I’m honest. These are troubling times we live in, and unfortunately, a lot of the feelings and thoughts and shock and awe and disgust and sorrow and anger and regret … all of that stuff gets swept under the carpet. Mass shootings. Bigotry out in the open. Injustice and indifference to the common man (and woman). Death and destruction and general bad behavior everywhere you look. (And that’s just the past weekend in Trump’s America.) To say nothing of the everyday stuff in my own neighborhood. Work. Parenting. Neverending effing yard work.

All of it piles up, and unfortunately, it’s got nowhere to go. So it just gets pushed around. Pushed out of sight and … well, in this case, decidedly NOT out of mind. It just sits there, grinding itself deeper into the fibers, suffocating the productive thoughts I want to have and making the air unpalatable for the new thoughts I haven’t had yet. Which probably explains the drought I’m in — have been in — during this terrible, awful, no good, very bad year.

And while I usually like to take a positive tack here in these posts, I’m not sure where it is in this instance. I don’t know how to rip up the carpet inside my own head.

It sure does seem like I could use some hardwood up there. Even if it’s a pain in the butt.


Metaphor Monday – The Creative Eclipse


As Neil de Grasse Tyson pointed out on twitter a few days ago, the hubbub over the eclipse is a bit overblown. Solar eclipses happen every two years or so; they’re just not common in your area thanks to orbital trigonometry or some such sciencey nonsense.

Still, it’s a hell of a thing. And but for the things we know about science, it could be thought to be a magical thing. Certainly for many it’s a spiritual thing: a reminder that we live in a world of wonders where the strange and unusual not only happens from time to time, but is actually guaranteed to happen. For those of us in the right place, at the right time, we get treated to a celestial light show that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime.

But it’s funny, isn’t it? All the attention we’re giving to the sun in the past couple of weeks and days, just because the math happens to line up for a tiny subset of the population of our pale blue dot. For the sun, after all, today is a day not a speck different from any other. And for 90% of the planet, today is a day not a speck different from any other.

When was the last time you even considered the sun? Aside, perhaps, from wishing it didn’t shine into your eyes at precisely that angle on your evening commute? When was the last time you thought about when it would be at such-and-such point in the sky, or where the moon was in relation to it, or how bright it might be, or how long you could look at it and with what protective eyewear?

You didn’t, that’s when. The sun went about its business, and you went about yours, and the only time you cared about it was when the sun wasn’t going about its business, which is to say, when it was blocked out and day became night and the lizardmen roamed the earth and every bird everywhere flew into the side of every house in hopes of escaping the impending apocalypse.

But the sun didn’t know, or care, that today was an eclipse. The sun shone down on our insignificance today like any other day, and it was only through the luck of our particular geolocation that we experienced anything unusual at all. We only noticed anything was unusual because our perception of the thing got interfered with.

In other words, the thing was working fine; we only noticed it because it seemed not to be.

Which is basically the perfect metaphor for the writer’s brain.

Your brain, your creative engine, the beating heart of your imagination — it’s a glowing orb of nuclear fusion burning brightly away between your earholes. It’s always there, always kicking ideas out, always doing what it does. (This, I’m pretty sure, is why I’m always having off-the-wall thoughts that I immediately dismiss, i.e.: what if the cars just started floating off the highway right now? What if we all suddenly forgot what words meant and we had to start over from scratch with current technology? What it there was a guy who could literally see time? (For some reason, my creative stream-of-consciousness sounds a lot like my stoned college buddies.)

All of which is fine and good for the writer working on projects and having all the time he (or she, obviously) could want to give vent to those ideas. Like the sun spraying out heat and light and radiation in all directions, the brain just goes on creating.

Until something gets in the way.

Like your job. Or your much-delayed move. Or a shattering sense of unworthiness and self-doubt. These things get in the way of the flow ideas, much like the moon moving across the path of the sun, and screw up the daylight. And then, all of a sudden, we’re like “why isn’t my brain working? Why can’t I get anything done?”

When of course your brain is working just like before; the radiation of ideas just isn’t penetrating the morass of goop gunking up the rest of your head.

And how do you de-gunk the goop?

Well, if I had that answer, I’d have a lot more work done on my current WIP than I do, and I wouldn’t have lost nearly the productivity I lost over the summer. Like the moon drifting through the path of the sun, I tend to think it’ll happen on its own. But also like the drifting moon, it seems to happen in its own time.

Which is a bummer, to be sure.

But — one last thread to connect this metaphor — even a sliver of the visible sun is enough to bring daylight to the world, and even a sliver of creative energy is enough to get you writing again.

In the meantime, get yourself some shades and enjoy the light show.

So, just wait. It’ll pass.

Eventually.

I think.

 


Metaphor Monday: The Painted Closet


Metaphor Monday is a new thing we’re trying out around here. Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments. And yeah, I’m a day late today — you’ll see why below.

We’re moving (finally!) and as a result, most of my thoughts bend in that direction. The whole affair got delayed and postponed and we ran out of time this summer to deal with it the way we would have liked, and now we’re having to rush through things. Instead of two weeks to sort our lives out before we got back to work, we were left with more like two days, so it’s a frantic rush of movers and building furniture and unloading boxes and the house looks like a war zone if the war were fought between rival manufacturers of styrofoam peanuts.

So we’re hustling to get the kids’ rooms painted (because if we don’t do it now, it’ll never happen), and I catch my wife sort of staring into the closet. Hands on hips. Thoughtful frown on her lips.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“I don’t know if I can handle these closets,” she says.

I look. While most of the rest of the house is immaculate, the closets are not — especially the ones in the kids’ rooms. They were obviously occupied by kids before, and bear the scars of it. Dings and chips in the drywall where toys or sporting equipment were chucked heedlessly in. Aimless, careless scribbles in crayon and marker — not a design or an attempt at artwork, just an outburst of uncertain creative energy.

I shrug. “It’s a closet.”

“I know, but it’s going to bother me.”

Really? I’ve got bunkbeds to build and a rain forest in the backyard to trim down and about a bajillion boxes to haul up the stairs and you want to waste time painting a closet? Why? Who’s going to see it?

Come to think of it, I mean, when’s the last time you saw the back of your own closet, let alone anybody else’s? Leaving the closet in that state is a crime without a victim; literally nobody will ever know. I begin to protest, but I don’t get very far.

“No, I really want to paint over them.”

Happy wife, happy life, they say. So I go down to the basement in search of the primer. We crack it open and go to work with the rollers, and the job is done in less than an hour. We don’t even do a good job, really — the color’s not a perfect match to what’s in there already, and some of the really dark marks show through — but the closets look miles better.

And my wife is smiling a little more.

And so am I.

So, what’s a painted closet have to do with anything? Well, it’s exactly what it is: a lovely little detail that nobody else knows is there. It’s Van Gogh’s signature twisted into the whorls of a sunflower. An authorial flourish added, not for the well-being of the observer, but for the well-being of the author.

An oft-quoted bit of advice for the writer is “kill your darlings.” Generally, it means that those weird little things that you stuck into the work for your own benefit? Because they made you laugh, or amused you, without serving the story as a whole? Those are things which distract from the narrative, that seem to stand for bigger things and thus demand the reader’s attention, and then frustrate the reader when they don’t. They’re a waste of time, in other words. Everybody involved has better things to do. So they deserve, to butcher syntax in a way I feel rolls right off the tongue, to be got rid of. (Diagram that sentence, Ms. Finch!)

But a closet doesn’t take that much time to paint, and there’s the odd house guest who might poke their nose into the nooks and crannies of the place; wouldn’t we rather give them a nice, finished closet to look at rather than a pockmarked and graffitied (graffiti’d?) hidey-hole we hoped would never see the light of day?

By the same token, a story needs a few diversions. A few rabbit holes for readers to dive into, even if there’s nothing hiding at the bottom.

And, after all, a happier wife is worth an hour’s worth of work with a paint roller.

 


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Press Your Luck


There was this show, pretty big-time in the 80s, called Press Your Luck. My dad absolutely loved this show, and so did I: it was basically a run-of-the-mill pure luck-based game where you spin a wheel to win cash and prizes. No skill involved as I remember (except for that one guy who memorized the pattern of the game board and won literally tens of thousands of dollars before they booted him). Just push your button and take your chances.

In retrospect, I’m not sure why we loved this show so much, except for one thing: the Whammies. Every game show of the era had its way to rob you of everything you had won in a moment’s bad luck — the bankrupt slice on the Wheel of Fortune, the wager-what-you-will spots on the Jeopardy board. Press Your Luck had the Whammy. Now, the Whammy took your money, but it was worse than that. The Whammy was this little turd-looking gnomelet in a banana-colored superhero cape who, when you hit the wrong square on the board, would swoop in and take your money. Not because he was a thief, but because he was an idiotic asshole. He’d drive a car in, lose control, and wipe out, taking your cash with him. He’d fly in from the sky, come in too hot, and punch a hole through the ground, and your cash would drain out.

But there was no great equalizer to this game. You couldn’t rely on trivia knowledge to save you from the Whammy. No amount of literary or linguistic savvy would ward him off. (Come to think of it, the show had female Whammies, too — which was actually rather gender-conscious of them for the time, though having a female turdlet character is a dubious gain for the women’s movement). If you wanted to win, you had to brave the Whammy.

I never realized what a perfect metaphor for life this show was. As prepared as you might be, if you want to achieve anything, you have to brave the Whammy. You could write the best book, be the most talented actor, paint the best picture, or, to quote a certain presidential hopeful, “have the best words,” and no small part of your success is still going to hinge on luck.

The Whammy of the real world might not take your money, but he (or she!) might very well take your dignity, your hope, your self-esteem, your dreams.

Luckily, the real world is not Press Your Luck, and we have our pockets literally bulging with free spins and re-spins — if we only have the guts to press the button.

 

 

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: The Anchor


So, you’re a writer.

And you have this project.

It’s a project that you’ve had for months, or maybe even years. It’s a project you return to time and time again, when inspiration for other work deserts you or when a bolt from the blue strikes and you just have to, have to, go work on that project again. Maybe it’s your first project, maybe it’s your latest one, maybe it’s a project you started and forgot about and go back to every few months. When your mind goes blank, inevitably your thoughts turn to that one project, and even if you’re not actively working on it, your brain is always bent toward it.

This project is the anchor.

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Like a security blanket, you need this project. It comforts you in times of need, it fills you with nostalgia; even just opening the file (or turning the pages, or unrolling the parchment you scribed it onto, you insane purist) makes you smile. Like a true anchor, this project keeps you moored. Keeps you grounded. Keeps you from getting off course, keeps you true to yourself — or at least true to the self you were when you started the project. Without the anchor project, you wouldn’t be the writer that you are, you wouldn’t write the way you do.

The anchor project is a good thing.

But the anchor project can’t stay forever.

Like a security blanket, it works wonders for you for a while, but eventually, you start to outgrow it. People stare if you’re still dragging it around in public. It gets threadbare and worn-out, and not even functional for its original purpose beyond a point. Like a true anchor, well, it keeps you from drifting off during the storm, but it also keeps you from letting down the sails and exploring the ocean.

Comes a time when you have to cut the anchor loose, when you have to accept the fact that you’ve outgrown it and move on. When you have to drop the anchor and sail out into the wild blue. When you realize that the anchor is not the project that needs your time, your effort, your constant thought anymore.

Accidentally Inspired has been my anchor project since I was in college, which is to say, for about fifteen years. The idea was born in a scriptwriting class in 2002, I expanded it into a full-length play by 2004, when it actually saw production with my old high school. Then I mothballed it for almost a decade, though I always hung onto the idea of turning it into a novel, and there it nested in the depths of my brain, ripening on the vine.

Well, I’ve followed through on that seed of an idea, finally. I wrote the novel. I’ve revised and edited it through several iterations. I’m working on one last edit now.

And somewhere along the road in this last edit, I realized it’s time to cut this anchor loose.

I love this project. I always will. but the longer I keep reworking it, the more I’m neglecting other stories I want to tell, the more I give in to the fear of putting it out there and letting it walk on its own, like a wobbly-kneed colt.

I’ve got about one more month left in this phase of the work, and then it’s time to pull up roots and let this puppy go.

Bittersweet, to be sure, but the time is right. It’s time to move on.

Am I alone in this, or is there an anchor holding you back, too?

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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