Metaphor Monday (Kind of): Your Eyes Are Idiots

Take a look at this:


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.



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.

The Weekly Re-Motivator: The Butcher’s Shop of Edits

So, you’ve got a draft in the bag and you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, this feels good. No, this feels awesome. I wrote a BOOK. I deserve a cookie.

And you do, maybe. But there’s a danger in that line of thinking, and the danger is in thinking you’re in any way done.

It’s easy to do. Typing the conclusion to your story has a lovely ringing finality to it, especially if you’re particularly dramatic (like me) and brazenly type an all-caps middle-finger-to-the-tribulations-of-the-draft “The End”. And certainly the draft tires you out like a machete-hacking slog through vine-tangled jungle. The problem is that when you hack through the jungle like that, you leave a path of carnage behind you, all broken stalks and fallen branches and trampled flora. Sure, you left a path. One with wrong turns, with dead ends, one that doubles back on itself like a stuffed bear hunting woozles.

And if you wanna do anything with that story, you’ve gotta fix that thing up.

Time to shift metaphors.



The draft, magnificent as it may be, is untamed, untanned, raw, like a side of beef fresh from the slaughterhouse. It can one day become a dazzling array of savory filet mignon, perfectly marbled ribeyes, staggering sirloins and lip-smacking ribs, but you can’t just toss the thing on the fire and expect it to come out delicious.

Maybe it calls for the hatchet.

Separate the poor dear into its component parts. Look at how this part connects to that part, then level the axe and hack it away. Dice the monster up into bits, first torso-sized, then leg-sized, then hand-sized, then bite-sized, ready for stewing. Examine each bit for disease and rot, weed out the tainted, and package up the rest for market.

Perhaps the knife.

A more delicate approach, but a more elegant one. Your story is riddled with extra fat, extra gristle, and before it’s fit for consumption, it needs trimming. So you go to work. Shave off a bit of overdone character development here, open up a gash in some disarticulated plot points there. Maybe a thin gash all through that one vein of a ridiculous MacGuffin you planted to let the rancid blood out. You slice, you shape, you shave, and send the leaner, comelier carcass on down the line while repackaging the trimmings to send to the dog food factory of your future projects.

Or maybe the Rocky treatment is more your style.

You’ve got some seriously pent-up rage from your trip through that disastrous first draft. The story came out hard and angry, like a kidney stone on methadone, a tight-wound spur of bone and tendon and agony. It needs tenderizing, and you’ve got a prize fight coming up. Time to tape up your knuckles and take out your aggression on the story’s knotted bits. Overly preachy villain? Bam, a gutshot to take his wind out. Malformed plot-lines? Skrak, a wicked cross that scatters their teeth across the stain-resistant cement. Mushy middle? Wap-wap-wap-wap, a flurry of undercuts to punish the soft flesh, and the bowels turn to water and the poison gushes out. You punish the knotted, sinewy flesh to a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth buttery consistency, which serves the double function of icing your knuckles and venting the anger and hurt and frustration you’re nursing from the draft.

(Funny sidenote: run a google image search for “Rocky punching meat” and you will find the above image, again and again, in varying color washes, resolutions, and sizes, like a bizarro Sylvester Stallone stained-glass mosaic, as if it were a painting from the 1300’s.)

Whatever tool you choose, the thing to remember is that the draft, as incredible as it may be (and it is incredible; for god’s sakes, you wrote a fargoing book, how many can claim that?), is not a finished thing. It’s a step along a path, the first few miles of a marathon, a pit stop at the moon on your way out to Mars. Whatever tool you use to get on with the fixing, you must wield it fearlessly, recklessly, even brutally.

Which is not to say you shouldn’t stop and take a moment to appreciate the draft, as imperfect as it may be. Do that. Put the pen down and appreciate for a moment the story you’ve built for the thing of beauty it is. Some of its imperfections will serve to make it perfect. Most of them will not. Stand back, have a drink, and bask in the magnificence of those imperfections.

Then put the story on the block and start lopping those imperfections off.

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.