Saturday, November 16, 2013

Natural Metaphor

Turn to Clear Vision, Dallas TX, 2013
I often refer to something in my writing classes that I call "natural metaphor." What I mean by it is what is called an objective correlative - something in the story that expresses the emotions of the characters (usually in fiction).

A great example is this: a student wrote a few weeks ago about liking sitting on the floor, but especially liking to sit on the ground outside. She described her ideal sitting circumstance: the form is comforting but not too hard or too soft, she can sit up without any effort on her own, a feeling of sitting on a cloud, able to lie down but not falling down. She described her connection to nature: sky, open fields, mountains, water.

When she was done, she laughed: "Of course, this is really about the whole of my life - not wanting to fall down, to be comfortable, to have enough open space around my emotions..." and we all laughed with her, but the description was both a) more powerful and b) more complex when she also described how these emotions/cravings manifest in a directly physical way, too.

If we write really allowing ourselves to see what arises, then these natural metaphors will form themselves and prove to be more powerful than anything we could have "made up."

My favorite, older example is a student I had who lived in Montana for many years. She lived on a ranch in a sort of absurd situation: huge open mountains and plains in front of her, but her yard was fenced in to protect her dogs from the bulls/bulls from her dogs. Every day, doing Morning Pages from the Artist's Way, she wrote about her dogs, how she worried about them, how she wished she had a better situation for them. That is literally all she wrote about for six months. Finally, one day she got sick of it, kind of threw a fit on her paper, and looked back over her writings.

She realized, of course, at that moment that she hadn't been writing about her dogs - or she had - but she had also been writing about herself: feeling penned in while staring at wide open space, etc. Not just her physical situation, but also her emotional state. She couldn't see it when she went to ask herself how she was feeling. She had to write about her dogs, until she tired of it, then she could see what was really going on for her.

Life is literature, literature is life. Life is, as the saying goes, often stranger than fiction. This is one of the many reasons why memoir is a powerful form. Whether you are journalling or trying to create an entire manuscript of memoir, please watch gently for the themes that just won't go away. The things we can do for others - as a student mentioned in that first class where someone wrote about sitting, she sometimes expresses compassion to her daughter then leans in on that to get some for herself - we often can't yet do for ourselves. So watch for complaints about others, concerns, relationship issues and the basic underlying repetitions.

The more mundane - sitting, your penned in dogs - the better.

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