We're all searching for the perfect metaphor
Recently, we've been receiving résumés and conducting interviews to fill our vacant sports writer position, and I'm going to tip off anyone who interviews with me in the future here, but one of the questions that I just love to ask is this: "We're in the business of telling stories, so what's your story?"
And you know what I love about this question? It's so open-ended and vague, that it forces a bit of on-the-spot creativity — or it did until I just gave it away.
But really, when it comes down to it, we're all searching for a way to tell our story — whether we're in the business of telling stories for a living or we're just trying to go about our daily lives and communicate with those who are around us.
Figuring out a way to make our story a memorable one is important. For an interviewer, it's important because it could help show the creativity and quick thinking that help earn a job, and for each of us every day, it's important because it helps us to clearly communicate our own stories.
One of my favorite ways to tell stories — and trust me, this isn't original to me; it's been going on for ages — is through the power of the metaphor.
I've used plenty of metaphor stories in my days of column writing already, and I'm sure I'll continue to use many more.
I've compared playing Little League baseball to dandelions growing in a field; I've used a broken mirror as a metaphor for the brokenness in our lives in my self-published book; and I've compared God to an alarm clock in one of the pieces for my "work in progress" book.
The thing with metaphor is we all connect so well to a comparison.
I like metaphors because they take on the power of the familiar.
It's our way of communicating something that seems unclear by comparing it to something that's perfectly clear to the reader or the listener.
As I've already said, the power of the metaphor certainly didn't start with my writing. O
ne of my favorite authors is C.S. Lewis — now famous all the world over for his Narnia series.
I know that Lewis used tons of metaphor on that series, but his writing that I enjoy most are his reflections on faith, because he's always using metaphor to connect the reader to his point.
Metaphor is a powerful tool, and when used properly, it can certainly lead to a powerful sense of communication. Metaphors really help us tell the story.
And the story that we're most often trying to tell is the story of life — not just our own lives, even though that's tough enough, but the big, vague idea of "life" in general.
The number of metaphors that have been used for life is certainly
uncountable. A few come to mind quickly, and they come from all genres.
In the music industry, many have used their lyrical genius to try to wrap their minds around life with a metaphor.
• "Life's a dance, you learn as you go. Sometimes you lead, and sometimes you follow. Don't worry 'bout what you don't know. Life's a dance, you learn as you go," sings John Michael Montgomery in an old country song that I hadn't heard in years, but one that came rushing back into my head as soon as I started thinking about life metaphors.
• Many picture the American Dream and the work force as a ladder. Life can be viewed in the same way. We're always aiming to climb higher, but we're not always doing a great job of climbing to the right spot, right?
• Another country song metaphor, because I love country music: In Kenny Rogers' song "The Gambler," the man on the train known as the gambler compares life to a card game, telling his newly made friend: "You've got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em; know when to walk away; know when to run. You never count your money, when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealing's done."
• A quick Google search brought about this metaphor by the ever-famous writer William Shakespeare: "Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Apparently, it was one of his more hopeless days as far as his outlook goes, but we often compare the life that we live to a good book, because all the good books out there are stories of the life we live.
• As a writer, I also like this metaphor (and wrote it down to remember it later: "Life is a run-on sentence. The object is to punctuate it with experience," (William Finegan, "The Sporting Scene — Playing Doc's Games").
We're all searching for a way to make sense out of life.
In my personal faith walk, I was once asked to try to explain the Trinity, which is a Christian belief that says God is one God, but in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
My attempt at explanation turned to metaphor (or more of a simile, because such abstract concepts require a bit more wiggle room).
"The Trinity is like a ceiling fan," I explained. "The fan has three blades, but it's just one fan. And when the fan is doing its work, the blades are almost indeterminably the same, but when it comes to rest, you can see each's work."
My professor wasn't a huge fan of it, but I still love it.
It speaks to me on the level of helping me understand a concept so extremely abstract.
Now, it doesn't fully encompass what's going on with the Trinity, but it does help me relate just a bit to a very hard-to-understand concept.
We're all searching for things that will help make our journey — our short time on this world — easier to understand and easier to deal with.
Internet memes — those pictures with words — have taken over part of the responsibility of helping us understand life in an easier way by allowing us to simply hit "share" on a social networking site and show the world what metaphor for life we're using that day.
Comic strips also can turn to metaphor to tell a quick lesson.
One example I came across is a conversation between a man wearing a "LIFE" shirt and a young lady.
Life: I am giving you a cookie.
Woman: Yay! Thanks life.
Life: Yes. Now, I am going to kick you in the shins.
Woman: ... Wha...?
(Life kicks woman in the shin)
Life: I am also going to take the cookie back.
Woman (flat on the ground from the force of the kick): OK.
Life's metaphors are usually about the hard parts, about how we get through the hard parts. Some are about how we learn to dance through the pain, but a lot of them come down to it.
I'm still searching for my perfect metaphor.
As I said, I self-published a book about life being like a cracked mirror (and I still have copies if you'd like to read about that metaphor) but life is ever-changing, and therefore, so is my "perfect metaphor." It's ever-elusive.
Right now, the metaphor that probably best suits my take on life is this: Life is the novel "Jane Eyre" that I had to read for English class in high school.
When we had to read "Jane Eyre," I was constantly giving the review that nothing really happened in the book, and I always said that I wasn't really all that excited about reading each portion.
But at the end of the process, despite the fact that very little had happened at a time and the fact that I didn't like each day's reading, I liked the book.
In fact, I really liked the book. And I couldn't explain why all that well. It had just sort of grown on me.
Life's kind of the same way. It doesn't feel like a lot's happening at any given time — at least not a lot worth enjoying. The good stuff doesn't come in large enough doses most times to make it seem like a memorable day or week.
But when I look back on life, I can honestly say that it's been a pretty good ride. I can't explain it all that well, but I guess living life has just sort of grown on me.
So, for now, "Jane Eyre" is my perfect metaphor for life (not the story line, but my experience with the book). What's your perfect metaphor?
I'm a fan of metaphors, and I'd love to hear your own, but even if you never see me or tell me, I invite you to embrace the importance of thinking in metaphors.
It really can be a life-changer by helping us relate to unrelatable topics.
Zak Lantz is the Editor of The Punxsutawney Spirit and an avid fan of metaphor. Some would say he's a warm breeze moving slowly through a crowded room.