Tag Archives: writing metaphors

Metaphor Monday – PBV Syndrome


Since buying our van a few years ago, and having now driven it all over, I’ve noticed a phenomenon. It’s not tied to me, as far as I can discern — rather it’s a phenomenon that occurs in other drivers that seems to happen when I’m around.

I call it PBV (Passed-By-Van) Syndrome.

The phenomenon is this:

We’re driving in the van, and we approach and slowly overtake another vehicle. Before we can fully pass said vehicle, it begins to speed up, matching our pace and disallowing our passage. It continues to match our speed — oftentimes in great excess of its original speed — sometimes for miles. This continues until the driver decides that they really don’t want to be going quite so fast and they fall off. Occasionally, though, the opposite will happen: the other driver will speed up even more to pass us again, gaining a little buffer of roadway in front of us before it returns to its former speed and the process begins again.

I should note, too, that neither I nor my wife drive at particularly excessive speeds. At most we go maybe 5-10 miles over the posted limit, which by Atlanta standards means we might as well be standing still, given that speed limits in Atlanta are more often taken as baseline minimums to be left behind at the earliest opportunity than as legal maximums. Yet still we pass people, and still they try not to let us pass.

I have yet to conduct double-blind studies, but the most frequent afflicted seem to be trucks and SUVs. However, any driver of any sort of vehicle seems to be susceptible to PBV — I’ve seen it in fancy sports cars (why are they driving slowly enough to get passed by my hulking van?), ridiculous little Smart cars (if the purpose is good mileage, why are you trying to “beat” me anywhere?), and even other minivans (what happens if two drivers afflicted with PBV find themselves passing each other? Does spacetime disintegrate and collapse on itself?).

The phenomenon isn’t limited to my van, either — before we upsized, we had a tiny, sporty little Toyota Yaris, and we’d get the odd pacer there as well. Nothing like what we get with the van, but significant enough to notice.

Motivating factors are difficult to fully determine, but the assumption is pretty simple: some people just don’t like getting passed by a pansy vehicle like my minivan. Because we still live in a society where, somehow, your status on the road and in your vehicle is inextricably fused to your notion of self.

In other words, if you’re getting passed, it’s because the other guy has a bigger, uh, engine than you.

WHICH CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO STAND.

Treatment: well, none, really. Perhaps a bit of introspection. A little consideration of why your foot tends toward the gas when you see a minivan creeping up from behind. Do you really, suddenly and for no discernible reason, just feel like getting more quickly to wherever you were headed? If so, why weren’t you driving faster in the first place? Did my van somehow make you realize you were running late?

If it’s about “beating” the van somewhere, that’s foolish — we almost certainly aren’t going to the same place. And even if we were, the difference in travel time from me going a few miles per hour faster will make a difference in arrival time measured in seconds, not minutes. Ridiculous!

If it’s about a van going faster, then why get uptight about a van over any other sort of vehicle? Again I fall back on the perception thing. Vans aren’t “manly” (but what is “manly” anyway, when it comes to cars? Truck and sports car commercials would have you believe it’s about horsepower and maneuverability, towing capacity and “sleek lines” whatever that means, but again I say: if you are drawing more than a modicum of your personal identity from the vehicle you drive, you are probably a bit of a jerk), therefore getting passed by one makes one ultra-unmanly. Of course, that assessment comes up short, too, because I’ve seen a fair share of women afflicted with PBV.

So.

It’s Metaphor Monday and all, and that means I’ve got to tie this weird phenomenon to writing, and to life in general.

But it’s not that hard to see, is it?

You’re driving on the highway. You see this dinky little minivan creeping up on you, about to pass you, and something in your lizard brain says “DON’T LET IT HAPPEN.” You’re paying attention to what the other guy is doing instead of focusing on the road in front of you, which is all that should really matter anyway. You’re comparing yourself to somebody else when no comparison even makes sense. You don’t know where I’m going. You don’t know if there’s an urgency for me that doesn’t exist for you, or vice versa. You don’t know if I’m late to a meeting for backyard lawn darts enthusiasts. (My new backyard would be so choice for lawn darts.) You just want to beat me there.

And what’s the internet, but a big ol’ information highway, with writers to the left and the right? Internet’s lousy with writers. Some of them driving souped-up muscle cars and churning out thousands of words per day. Some of them puttering on mopeds, coughing up maybe a thousand per week. And you look at somebody’s website — let’s call it, I dunno, a minivan of a website — where she talks about having a full-time job, two kids, a spouse, all those things that you have. And he further claims to be getting two thousand words a day.

You just got passed by a minivan. What are you gonna do about that?

You’re gonna stomp the gas, is what — after all, they have nothing going on that you don’t have, and they are getting it done. You deserve everything they have coming. And you need it now!

Except, as my dad used to tell me (or maybe it was merely a construct of my dad as I tell myself I remember him — you can never tell), it ain’t always that simple. Sure, the stuff you can see is comparable, but you don’t know what’s going on in their life, what’s kicking around between their ears. In short — you don’t know why their minivan is going faster than you. It just is.

As long as you’re writing, you’re making forward progress. You spend the unmitigated bulk of that time slaving away in silence and solitude anyway — what kind of good does it do to compare your slaving to somebody else’s? It’s a good way to burn out. Get frustrated. Get disillusioned.

And when your brain gets disillusioned or frustrated or burnt out, well, your whole vehicle breaks down, dunnit? And when your whole vehicle breaks down? Everybody passes you. Even that grandma scooting around on her moped.

The point? Don’t give in to PBV syndrome.

Stay in your lane. Eyes on your own road.

Let the minivans pass.


Spiderwebs


What else in nature is like the spider web?

Horrible, lovely little creations, woven by horrible, lovely little creatures — a perfect little metaphor for writers and their stories.

Well, kind of.

Spiders, after all, spin webs not because they’re getting older and they’ve always wanted to be web spinners, and if not now, when? They spin webs because their spidery nature compels them to. They spin webs because if they don’t, they will literally die. That’s writer-y.

And when they spin their webs, they don’t stress out about it. They don’t look to the great web spinners of days gone by or read web-weaving advice on the interweb (haw). They get that hot little urge across the thorax and set about spinning the web that nature intended. Writers, on the other hand, are a bit prone to obsessing. A bit emotionally attached to their work. A bit more neurotic.

And they (spiders!) weave these bloody marvels. Stunning in their perfect cascade of concentric circles, yet shot through with smears of imperfections. Mathematical in their construction, yet organic in their execution. Each one a thumbprint or a snowflake — perfectly like every other, yet perfectly distinct. Poetry in nature. The kind of thing that could make even a frozen-hearted atheist like me think there’s a design behind all this.

(Of course, the spider web’s design isn’t there for beauty, it’s there so the spider can entrap hapless insects and devour them from the inside out, but that part doesn’t really work for my metaphor, so we’ll just skip over that.)

But that’s hardly our regular interaction with a spider web, is it? Our usual, default interaction with a spider web goes something like:

  1. *walking along, minding my own business, probably thinking about that video with the fainting goats I watched*
  2. *steps into spider web strung between a car and a tree in a parking lot of all places*
  3. *staggers around blindly trying to pull invisible threads off my face and shoulders*
  4. *spots a speck in my peripheral vision and oh GOD IS IT ON ME IS IT ON ME*
  5. *sets fire to self in an effort to banish that sticky feeling*

Because we just don’t notice them. They’re not a part of what we’re looking for as we go through the world, so we walk right by them never knowing they’re there in the best case, or blunder into and destroy them in the worst. And we therefore miss out on a treasure trove of ephemeral jewelry every day.

Unless something forces you to see them.

Like, for example, a foggy haze hanging over your early-morning run.

Fog is its own wonderful writing metaphor. It obscures what’s in the distance and forces you instead to pay extra-close attention to what’s all around you. Like the spider web hanging in the branches of that tree overhanging the road. Or that one nestled in your neighbor’s topiary. Or that one clinging to the underside of a streetlamp. Or — holy sharknado, there are spider webs EVERYWHERE.

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Like this one, captured with my terrible smartphone camera.

Invisible and unnoticed most of the time, the kiss of the morning fog makes them explode into life. Each of them the tiny and insignificant void-shout of a creature fighting for its survival in a pitiless universe. Insignificant, that is, for all but the unwitting fly that finds itself ensnared.

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Or this much prettier one by AdinaVoicu.

And those are a writer’s ideas, aren’t they? Perfect little imperfections spun into existence by a creature that literally doesn’t know how not to spin them. Beautiful and terrible and sticky and OH MY GOD IT’S IN MY HAIR AND I CAN’T GET IT OUT.

Look a little bit closer. Notice an idea that might have slipped by otherwise.

Get some spiderwebs in your hair.


Get to the Awesome (Writing Sucks)


Writing is always a struggle.

Put aside questions of whether a story is “good” or not. Even the simple acts of spinning ideas together out of nothingness, giving life to characters who are mere inventions of the mind, building worlds out of the scraps of imagination, are beyond the reach of the average person. Sure, they could do it. But they don’t. Writing, it turns out, is too much like work.

Because like work, it’s taxing. We all have a battery powering the clockwork that makes our bodies tick, and the battery can only carry so much juice. Work. Exercise. Family. These things drain the battery, even when they’re enjoyable. So, too, with writing. The energy you use for writing comes at the expense of other things in your life. Reading. Working overtime. Vegging out and watching that Walking Dead marathon of a weekend.

It’s not an uncommon day that finds me taxed and tapped out. Rough night with the kids (ours have been fighting off sickness for, oh, I dunno, A MONTH). Extra reports and paperwork to fill out at work. Meetings that run long even though everything that gets talked about could easily have been sent out in an e-mail. Traffic on roads that, on an ordinary day, flow like melted butter, but when it rains out, clog up like the arteries of a sixty-year-old meatatarian. On those days (and often more than once on those days) I’ll have the moment when I say, nope. Too much. Can’t do it. Not writing today.

The thought comforts me. I reclaim that hour. I don’t have to think about my spaghetti-plate plot. My oddly malformed characters. How I’m going to possibly bring the whole thing to an ending that makes any sort of sense.

But as is its wont, reality starts creeping in at the edges. My (admittedly arbitrary) deadline isn’t going anywhere. If I don’t write, my characters will stay lost. If I don’t pick at the plot (like a kitten snagging its claws in a strand of yarn), it’s going to stay tangled. If I don’t get out and push, the story is getting no closer to its ending.

In short, just like anything else in life, if I don’t sit down and do it, it ain’t gonna do itself.

Which means that the six months I’ve sunk into this project so far are wasted. Which means that all the mental effort I’ve dropped on this project turns into smoke. Which means that the story I’ve been building pulls a Jimmy Hoffa and vanishes from the earth.

And that’s just unacceptable.

Now, one day off doesn’t wreck the project. One writing session missed doesn’t put the story in the ditch. But one day all too easily turns into two. Two becomes three. Then it’s a week. Then a month. Momentum matters, and even after a year and a half of steady writing, the lure of falling back into a non-writing sloth dangles there, just at the edge of vision.

Can’t have it.

bilbofaint

So, here in the closing days of the project, when fatigue is at an overwhelming high and I’m really ready to throw off the heavy mantle that is spewing out the first draft and be done with it, even on those days when I really feel like I simply just can’t anymore, I return to the page and I bang out a few more words.

And that’s why I think writing is just a little bit like magic. Because those first few words each day are work, make no mistake. And though sometimes it feels like it takes all of me to do it, there’s a satisfaction in it. The universe balances itself. As I exhaust my battery, using up its reserves on this creative endeavor, so too do I fill the reservoir. Even if the work never comes to publication, I get back something that I can’t even really articulate. And that’s the magic. It fills you up as it wears you down. As you give to the writing, the writing gives back to you.

It’s sort of like a religion, that way.

Come to think of it, writing needs a church where you could make proper offerings for blessings from the gods of prose. Burnt offerings of unpublished manuscripts. A donations plate for brilliant scraps of dialogue. Sunday school lessons in pacing and tone-setting.

A human sacrifice to atone for all the writing sins ever committed, including this particular blarg post.

Too much? Maybe too much.

Point is, writing sometimes sucks, but it’s always awesome.

Some days you have to push through the suck to get to the awesome.


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