Directions for Metaphor
The following advice on metaphor comes from Luci Shaw and her book Breath for the Bones.
Find a picture or an object.
The high school parking lot will do. I didn’t have a high school parking lot when I went to high school. This is not because they hadn’t been invented. My guess is when the school was built there was no need for one since I don’t think there were cars. Teachers and principals and probably parents too were building with the imagination they had and maybe that’s what a school stands for anyway — a solid place where imagination can be tended to, grown, and used. Of course the building will change — that is what a school does.
Once you’ve chosen an object, “derive sense impressions from it.”
This means collect data, if you will, according to the five senses. The parking lot is mostly grey with broad bands of purple here and there. (Purple for the Pioneer Pioneers. Not the Purple Pioneers. That would be logical. Just the Pioneer Pioneers, or PP for short.) It is surrounded by various sports fields, tennis courts, the school, and across the street is the giant “M” in all its maize and blue glory. When we first moved to Ann Arbor, and my daughters and I were learning our way around, that M was our guide. “Mmmmm!” one of us would say like Animal from The Muppets, because the largeness of the letter reminded us of the scene in The Muppet Movie when Animal got really big. Back then the kids were were 9 and 7, and so we don’t do that anymore.
Once you have a few impressions, try to “see a pattern or derive significance from the image.”
The M glows on the parking lot on the mornings I drop Hadley off at school for soccer practice. It’s not technically soccer practice. These are strength and toning workout sessions. “We’re in the pit,” Hadley tells me and frankly that sounds intimidating and dangerous, but Hadley loves it and so at 6 in the morning, when there is no sign that the sun remembers what it was created for, we travel to the high school and sit in the parking lot until we see the coach walk to the front door.
The M shines in the background, unnoticeable, and Hadley and I discuss Taylor Swift lyrics, or we talk about what’s going on in our days. Sometimes we don’t say much because we are both exhausted. Some days, because she’s learning to drive, I’ll tell Hadley that the parking lot can be the most dangerous place to drive.
“Nobody follows the rules,” I say.
Hadley laughs and says, “Like you?”
“That’s because this parking lot,” I swipe my arm out in front of me in an effort to express the lot’s vastness, “is confusing.”
Hadley laughs through her nose. “You’ve been driving here every day since, like, August.”
“Directions are hard for some people,” I say.
Hadley gets out of the car, then leans in to pick up her backpack. It is huge — with breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack, a change of clothes, books, and a computer. She slings it over her shoulder with ease, then points to the exit. “That way, then left,” she says, grinning.
“Har, har,” I say, but she is right. I have to remind myself which way to go.
The silence and the space are palpable as it’s always been when my children vacate the car. I wonder when I’ll get used to all this, I think as I reach the parking lot’s edge, and the M is shining. I give it a nod, then turn right.
I wonder when I’ll ever find my way.
This week, use the directions for metaphor as a prompt for your own hermit crab essay. Or write a poem that gives us directions for metaphor.
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I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.
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