Winter #7: A little metaphor goes a long way
A few notes on the stories I've been telling myself lately, and the language that makes them so believable.
Welcome to Winter, Issue #7 of Making Time. Each week, I share a seasonal perspective on the creative process. This month, my theme is Storytelling. If you’d like to follow along on this year-long experiment, you can subscribe for free.
[Squinting at the sun at the lovely property we stayed at on Orcas]
The past week was a hectic one. Last weekend, Kenn and I took a trip up to Orcas Island, where we stayed in a little guesthouse on a mountain. We were enclosed by trees, but there was a clearing looking out towards the sea. We hiked and ate some delicious food and even had a bit of precious winter sun.
But when we got back, I was so busy that life started to feel a bit out of control. First, it was little things. I didn’t have time to put away laundry right away, so I moved it to the side for a while. Then a bunch of objects started to pile up in the kitchen: paperwork and mail and notebooks and new equipment for work I needed to put together, just STUFF.
But work felt so busy that I completely lacked the energy to do anything about it. This made me feel worse, as I watched the piles grow throughout the week. Chaos was begetting chaos. The stress and anxiety I felt about not taking care of things properly made me so tired that I was less likely to do anything about it. I just wanted to watch The Office in my one free hour of the day before bed. All the peace I’d felt up on Orcas Island just a few days before was spent.
[At the summit, dressed pretty inappropriately. We actually got on the wrong trail and ended up doing a much more difficult hike than I’d intended, oops.]
Life gets like this. It’s a very minor sort of crisis, but it can get me worked up. Sometimes I try to fight with the bad feelings, and sometimes I just let it be. For this round, there was a bit of both, but one thing I found myself doing was actively questioning the stories my inner voice was telling me about what was going on.
I questioned why I was telling myself that I was failing at life because the kitchen was messy, that I would never be able to handle everything thrown at me, that I’d never break free from constant busy-ness, that it was draining all my creativity and making me into a boring automaton that no one wants to be around, etc.
I think we tell ourselves a lot of stories in order to make sense of a situation, or to make sense of our feelings. Sometimes these stories are helpful, sometimes they are not. Regardless, they aren’t facts but post hoc explanations our minds make up to protect us. All that guilt and fear and shame over something as trivial as laundry is just a ham-fisted way our minds have of trying to avoid future pain.
One thing I noticed in particular was the metaphors I used to go along with these stories. Here are some:
“I’m being buried.”
“It’s like I’m on a treadmill that won’t stop.”
“I’m drowning in work.”
“Everything just keeps piling up higher and higher.”
Ok, that last one might be literally true.
Metaphors are powerful tools for framing our conception of the world and of ourselves. In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff argues that our thought processes as human beings are largely metaphorical. He writes, “It is as though the ability to comprehend experience through metaphor were a sense, like seeing or touching or hearing, with metaphors providing the only ways to perceive and experience much of the world.”
This is why metaphor is so central to art, because it conveys something beyond bare facts. As neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran wrote, “Metaphors seem paradoxical: On the one hand, a metaphor isn’t literally true, and yet on the other hand a well-turned metaphor seems to strike like lightning, revealing the truth more deeply or directly than a drab, literal statement."
But not all metaphors reveal truth. Our minds can also wield them as powerful weapons (another metaphor), as they tell us story after story about what’s going on. Telling myself that I’m “drowning” or being “buried” elicits those exact feelings, far worse feelings than “mildly irritated by a messy countertop.”
I’m working on not only noticing the stories more, but the metaphors that make them hurt.
Head, Heart, Hands
Things to make us think, feel, and do.
How to forget what you read. I admit it, I get a little obsessive about note-taking. This contrarian view from a writer I deeply admire makes me feel like I could probably stand to relax.
No, the Other Naomi: An American Supermodel’s Overlooked Legacy
And I Was Alive. An achingly beautiful poem.
I came across this tiny tassels tutorial and now I need just the right easy knitting project to work them on. I am almost done with a sweater that’s taken me the better part of a year, so I need an easy little palette cleanser.
I also stumbled on this antique cutter quilt piece that I fell in love with and want to recreate. This led me to an old favorite website, quilter’s cache, which looks like it was designed in 1998 but has hundreds of quilt blocks. I don’t know why, but I find the ugliness of this website absolutely charming. Anyway, I found that the block is called Blackford’s Beauty.
I got the More Mandy’s cookbook for Christmas, a sequel to Mandy’s Gourmet Salads, and highly recommend for any other salad fans out there. Or anyone who just wants to eat more vegetables. I am not a light eater, and the salads in these books are delicious and fill me up.
I’m also enjoying the newest Melissa Clark cookbook, Dinner in One. Every time I make a Melissa Clark recipe, I think, this seems like it’ll be pretty good. Then I taste it and get my socks blown off. I do have to skip or adjust many recipes with meat, though.
Have a great week, my friend, and thank you for reading.
Thanks for reading Making Time. If you’re new here, you can subscribe for free to receive new posts each week.
After reading (and associating with) the How to forget what you read article it reminded me how often I say “Why did I save/highlight this quote?” when I go back to it. Often it just doesn’t resonate later. That tells me it wasn’t the exact words I read/saved/organized but the feelings that came up in the moment that are important. Feelings don’t need to be “organized” to be valuable or available later. I guess this is another way of saying “reading to shape your sensibility”.
I just want to say how much I have been enjoying your newsletter. I am the type of person who signs up to a lot of emails and only reads about one in ten of them, if that. I have read every single one of your newsletters and haven't regretted it. Everything you discuss and share has been really relatable and has helped me see things I experience in a different or more clear light.
I especially related to this one. I ,too, tend to equate my house being messy with my life being unmanageable, and so I obsessively tidy in order to calm that feeling instead of letting things be messy and making time for things I think I don't have time for (because I'm too busy tidying). It's incredible how much space we can open in our lives and minds with a simple check-in and shift of perspective.
Thanks for all the awesome work you do - you really are an inspiration to me.