Tag Archives: metaphor

Metaphorically speaking

A neat journaling exercise which works well when you think you’ve got nothing to write about is to pick a seemingly mundane object or activity and explore how it is a metaphor for your current experience.

One of my wonderful participants in this year’s Spring workshop series had a lot of fun with this, and found herself writing about her bowl-of-soup-life, her lantern-life and her smartphone-life. But the best one had to be her kazoo-life: “narrow at both ends and big in the middle, with a lot of input from the top.”

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For me my own metaphorical insight happened today as I was rolling paint onto the bathroom walls. (I am purposely redecorating – this wasn’t some insane aberration, though it might be close.)

It struck me that to paint the walls is to take on new habits and new perspectives. When you reach a point in life where a new lick of paint is needed, something to freshen up tired old attitudes and beliefs, the paint roller is your friend. Although it often takes more than one coat to completely eradicate the previous colour, and you’ve got to be careful that you’ve made good the wall, so you’re not just papering over the cracks. (Oops, guilty!)

Sometimes you try a new colour and hate it. I always regret the colour I’ve chosen after I’ve covered two thirds of the wall with it. And I step back and wish I hadn’t bothered. But of course this is when the new colour is still patchy with the old colour showing through, and when the new paint hasn’t dried yet. You’ve got to give new thought patterns time to bed in, to get established – at least time for the paint to dry.

Then there are the edges. How I hate the edges. Messing around with masking tape and then using a brush that’s never the optimum size. And then realising that you hadn’t quite cleaned the wood work properly so the brush gets covered in dust and fluffy bits which you’ve got to pick off really carefully by hand before wiping your paint soaked fingers on the jogging bottoms that weren’t quite your scruffiest clothing item when you started but which definitely are now.

I guess I’m more of a broad bush, not too much attention to detail kind of person. Impatient. Wanting to roll the paint on in quick-sticks and not too fussed about neatness round the edges.

However, when it comes to peeling off the masking tape oh boy! How I love a neat edge! It’s so satisfying to see the join where the two colours meet, and realising “I did that.” Figuratively and literally.

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Become an outrageous rock star – or write a journal

Although a teen of the 80s I used to be really into David Bowie’s albums from the 70s – Diamond Dogs, Aladdin Sane, Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust – so last evening I was interested to see Cracked Actor, the BBC’s 1975 documentary about Bowie’s conquest of America.

Coincidentally I’d mentioned Bowie in the journaling workshop last week, and how as journal writers we might learn from part of his creative process – chopping up different words and phrases and randomly piecing them back together to generate lyrics. Sure enough there he was in the documentary carefully piecing together little strips of paper with snippets of sentences. I got excited. He then went on to mention how he’d taken this approach with old diaries he’d kept, chopping them up and rearranging them in ways he claimed actually seemed to predict the future. I got very excited.

Since Bowie hasn’t been much in the public eye for a while I’d forgotten how candidly he speaks, and how he takes care to describe his experiences in simile and analogy, likening his rise to fame to the sensation of accelerating really fast, when you’re not quite sure whether you’re enjoying it or not. He also referred to the precariousness of earthquake-prone Los Angeles, and how he always felt an underlying tension and unease about the place because of it. And when asked why he’d taken on so many Americanisms since he arrived in the US he likened himself to a fly floating around in his milk carton – a foreign body getting a whole lot of milk!

One of the American interviewers from the time got irate with Bowie’s seemingly evasive attitude, accusing him of speaking in riddles, but personally I love this metaphorical approach to reflection, and believe it can often reveal more truth than literal responses.

The other thing that excited me from a journaling perspective was Bowie’s explanation about the different characters he portrays in his music. He said he believes that we are all made up of so many different personality facets, and his character creations were his way of exploring his own make up. He then commented that if he’d encouraged other people to explore some of the different characters that make them up then that’s something.

So journal writers there are things to learn from the Thin White Duke. But if becoming a Bowie tribute act is not quite in your grasp, take up your journal instead.

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Beatrix Potter and the whale

Beatrix Potter was a big feature of my childhood, from the little books, an LP album of stories read by Wendy Craig, and numerous holidays to the Lake District. Miss Potter, and later Mrs Heelis, was a force to be reckoned with in regard to the conservation of one of our most beautiful landscapes, as well as a gifted artist, story-teller and botanist.

The Pie and the Patty Pan has to be my favourite Beatrix story – thanks to the restrained bitchiness of Duchess and Ribby, the confusion over the pie made of mouse, and the shameless greed of Doctor Maggoty.

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In the enchanting opening sequence of the film Miss Potter in which the title role is played by Renee Zellweger, Beatrix describes the magic of beginning a story, and never knowing where it will take you. Similarly when we write in our journals we rarely know where we’ll go, and this in particular is what happened to me last week.

I began with the kick-off phrase “I want to write about…” and the word that immediately sprang to the end of my pen was creativity. What followed was an incredible extended, and rather conceited, metaphor about not wanting to reinvent wheels, but make sure the right wheel is available for the vehicle. From there I went to realising that the vehicle I’m driving doesn’t have any wheels at all. Instead my vehicle floats and relies on the wind for propulsion. Of course I ‘m stuck if there is no wind, so I need to devise a way for my vehicle to be self-propelling when necessary.

And so it meandered on, a surreal meditation on what my vehicle really is. In the end I determined that I’m navigating upon a sleek, living craft – which somehow in the midst of all this metamorphosed into a giant whale.

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Oookayy. There wasn’t any waccy baccy at hand honest. Just a willingness to allow myself to follow creativity wherever it might lead. I spent an amazing hour expanding possibilities, planting new seeds in my mind, and the following day I outlined ideas for three new book titles, plus a novel.

So Miss Potter was right, writing takes us where we least expect. And gives us a whale of a time.

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Does form influence content in our journals?

Part of the joy of journal writing is having a beautiful notebook into which to retreat, with gloriously smooth blank pages to receive the ink without splodging, and a gorgeous cover that reminds us of the treasure inside.

But over the years of writing in lots of different types of notebook I’ve started to notice an eerie trend.

A couple of years ago I was given as a gift from my Dad a lovely handmade notebook by Katherine O’Connell, book-binder and proprietor of Handmade Books Online.

Here it is:

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It’s A5 size and its cover is a page of genuine scored accordion music. It was appropriate at the time because I was trying to teach myself how to play, and it turned out to be one of my most fulfilling journals.

I was inspired to begin new projects, and leafing through it I find a log of my early days writing the Handbook. It’s amusing to see lists of chapter headings that may or may not have made it into the final book.

The more notebooks I have owned the more I see myself responding to their design and form. For example, the music notation on this journal evokes a study, a set of scales and arpeggios that one would practise prior to beginning to play the real pieces. And inside there are so many warm-up exercises for the book that I was beginning to write.

In contrast, my current notebook has an anchor motif on the front. When I selected it from a souvenir shop on holiday in Turkey I didn’t really give a thought to what it might mean for me. But as I began to use it in September last year I realised that the anchor symbolised my need for stability and security, a grounding influence as I was beginning to head towards publishing my book. Whatever happened I needed not to be thrown off course – and the anchor has served me well so far.

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I’ve often been attracted to journals with heart motifs on them. The first one I used, again from the same souvenir shop in Turkey (I’ve visited often!), was OK. It was light-hearted and it accompanied me on a stage of my life when I really began to think and learn lots of things. When the pages were all full I wrote on the back cover: “To this journal I want to say thankyou, and I wish you a fond farewell. You have captured my most exciting ideas and my most profound musings over the past 6 months and it has been an utter joy to write in you.”

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However my second heart motif journal accompanied me through much darker times when I felt betrayed, confused and exposed. This was my bleeding heart journal, and it looked like this:

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I’m not really into supernatural stuff. I believe that our journals reflect our life rather than our life imitating our journals. But what if there is some metaphorical link between the form of our journal – its design and motifs – and the types of experience we record within its pages? Another fascinating question about which to raise our awareness, perhaps.

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Journaling to coax out the joy in playing

When life feels tough and heavy our journal can be nothing short of a life-saver, but journaling is not only for times when our circumstances are difficult. Writing in our journal can also coax out our joyful, playful nature, and this is as valuable in the long run as ‘brain-dumping’ stressful thoughts and emotions.

Play is intrinsic to who we are as human beings. It is a sign of our intelligence; is socially cohesive; provides a contained environment for our competitiveness; offers an opportunity to be other than we usually are; and is an arena for learning about ourselves and others.

So naturally I want to introduce play into the pages of my journal. If I were a photographer or good at drawing or craft my journal might contain visual and tactile play – images, sketches, doodles, swatches of fabric, a whole narrative built around colour, texture and artefact. Creative journaling and scrap-booking help to make our lives look and feel more beautiful – another important function of play.

But I deal in pen-and-ink words. I have no patience for fiddley sticking and drawing. How can I get playful in my journal?

One journaling technique which never fails to get me playing is list-making. I love the extreme challenge of “100 things in 10 minutes”, and I can choose a topic such as “things that make me laugh”, or “favourite games”. The structure and constraints of the list operate like the rules of a game; the topic of the list lends it its fun element; and because it’s a private journaling exercise, with no right and wrong, I can be as candid or rebellious as I like.

Another idea which requires the ultimate act of play – that of assuming a radically different perspective from that we would normally adopt – is writing metaphorically. Metaphor sounds complicated. It can be complicated to explain – but it is surprisingly easy to use. In fact it’s as if our brains are wired for metaphor. Try this exercise: cast yourself as a household object, a favourite literary character, a colour, an odour, or a piece of music, and write about your day from that perspective. Once I reflected on what my life would be like lived at the pace of a power-saw – the prevalent sound I could hear from my journal-writing spot. It contained a salutary lesson, and spawned a greater appreciation for the incredible wisdom we are capable of when we allow ourselves to play.

By journaling about the playful things that bring us joy we become more familiar with them, and we prepare ourselves to accept and embrace them into our lives. This is how playfulness on the page translates into playfulness in our real lives.

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