Memory: No Metaphor/Metaphor
On Tuesday I met with writers at The Cabin's Free Drop-In Writing Workshop, writing a memory in different ways to discover two, three, 20 ways of seeing the same moment.
We started by reading from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which was part of my fun summer reading this season.
From The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
by Mark Haddon
I find people confusing.
This is for two main reasons.
The first main reason is that people do a lot of talking without using any words. Siobhan says that if you raise one eyebrow it can mean lots of different things. It can mean “I want to do sex with you” and it can also mean “I think that what you just said was very stupid.”
Siobhan also says that if you close your mouth and breathe out loudly through your nose, it can mean that you are relaxed, or that you are bored, or that you are angry, and it all depends on how much air comes out of your nose and how fast and what shape your mouth is when you do it and how you are sitting and what you said just before and hundreds of other things which are too complicated to work out in a few seconds.
The second main reason is that people often talk using metaphors. These are examples of metaphors
I laughed my socks off.
He was the apple of her eye.
They had a skeleton in the cupboard.
We had a real pig of a day.
The dog was stone dead.
The word metaphor means carrying something from one place to another, and it
comes from the Greek words μετα (which means from one place to another) and φερειν (which means to carry), and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn’t. This means that the word metaphor is a metaphor.
I think it should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards. And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person was talking about.
My name is a metaphor. It means carrying Christ and it comes from the Greek words χριστος (which means Jesus Christ) and φερειν and it was the name given to St. Christopher because he carried Jesus Christ across a river.
This makes you wonder what he was called before he carried Christ across the river. But he wasn’t called anything because this is an apocryphal story, which means that it is a lie, too.
Mother used to say that it meant Christopher was a nice name because it was a story about being kind and helpful, but I do not want my name to mean a story about being kind and helpful. I want my name to mean me.
What do you think about Christopher's idea of metaphors? That it’s a form of lying. Is it? To you? I'm not sure I agree, but it's an enjoyable perspective.
I love hearing about metaphors from a neurodiverse perspective.
Is a metaphor a lie that tells the truth? What else do you notice and pull from this short chapter?
Take a moment to find yourself in a memory.
This doesn't have to be the first that comes to mind.
Maybe it’s the third, maybe it’s buried.
Make it a strong memory. One that brings an emotional response.
Might be a favorite, might be a very difficult moment.
Might be a long time ago, might be very recent.
You can close your eyes and put yourself there.
See all around in this memory.
Notice everything you hear and feel and smell and taste.
Look forward, backward, up, down.
Pay attention to everyone there, every moment, walk yourself through this time.
Once you have this moment fully in you,
write about it in a way that Christopher might approve.
Use no metaphors. A simile might be okay, but try avoiding figurative language.
As much as possible. Metaphors, personification, hyperbole, idioms.
Try instead for very specific detail. Sensory detail. Exactitude.
Don’t leave anything out.
You can include emotions, but be sure to capture every moment.
Every moment and everything you can see, hear, taste, feel, smell.
A moment-by-moment, accurate, even objective view of everything.
Write for 20 minutes.
Great. Now let’s try for the opposite.
Take that same memory and write about it completely in metaphors.
Line by line.
The entire thing might be a metaphor, or maybe you try for one after the other.
A list of metaphors.
There can be other kinds of figurative language too.
The whole thing might be a giant fabrication, exaggeration.
You might create the myth or fairy tale version of your memory.
Or an apocryphal story.
Don’t be afraid to offend and confuse Christopher completely.
Write for 20 minutes, or as long as you can.
Which version do you prefer? Why?
Did you prefer the process of writing one version?
Do you enjoy what came out of that same writing or the other version more?
Now, write a version that blends the two, in a dealer’s choice way.
Write a new memory that’s mostly metaphor but a bit of exact detail.
Or one that is full of exact detail with a few bits of figurative language thrown in.
Two truths and a lie? Two lies and a truth?
Or take parts of what you’ve written already and combine into something new.
A blended poem or a very short bit of prose or fairy tale, based in truth.
You can use the same memory or a new one.
When you read back over what's been written, or share it with a friend,
What do you hear in what you wrote? What is meaningful? What resonates?
What is useful in this process?
What can you discover in seeing the same memory in multiple ways?
Thank you for writing with me!
Heads up: the first play of the Boise Contemporary Theater Season is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, based on Mark Haddon's great book.
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: