A song from the musical “Avenue Q” cheekily asks “What do you do with a BA in English?” I’ve been asked this question since I graduated, you know, back in the day when people did research from actual books. It’s a fair question, I guess.
Okay, for starters, I’m a pretty good speller. I can write meaningful prose in short order, and I can scan text for useful nuggets like nobody’s business. I’m a source of interesting quotes, and I’m comfortable using words like bildungsroman. I like to think I have a reasonable understanding of the human condition, although it will forever be a work in progress. These are all useful things, in one way or another.
But none of them have had the impact on my life, none of them have contributed to my mental health, my well-being, heck, even the development of my career like my understanding and appreciation of…
That’s right. Metaphor is considerably more than just another item on a sheet of literary terms in grade 10 English. The creative practice of indirect comparison between two unrelated things is and has been my superpower.
There’s the obvious application- I’m a writer. A big part of the job is finding connections in weird places, seeing one thing in another, and wrapping all of this up with ribbons of pretty words (see what I just did there?). Maybe there are writers out there who don’t use metaphor, but I don’t think I’ve met any of them.
Metaphor has also been a huge part of my life as an educator. Planning lessons around it captures people’s imaginations, and reframes difficult material. It humanizes the person at the front of the classroom too. Metaphor makes me a human being who’s just trying to figure things out, just like they are. Metaphor works with wee little learners, and with seasoned, grown up scholars too.
A surprise to me, virtually all of the success I’ve had as an entrepreneur can be traced back to metaphor. Everything I’ve learned about building and sustaining a business, I’ve learned on the fly, and metaphor has kept me from crashing and burning. It’s helped me get my head around sales strategies, decide who to hire, and land new clients. Sometimes it’s the biggest, most important thing I have to contribute to an important discussion. The people I work for have come to rely on my for it.
As essential as metaphor has been in my professional life, it’s been a cornerstone of my personal life. It’s been the lens through which I’ve seen love, and loss, and figuring out who I am. It’s been instrumental in my life as a parent (holy cow, do little stinkers ever respond to it). It’s built into the décor of my house, and a centerpiece at practically every holiday.
And it’s gotten me through the fog of the past year and a half. Let’s be honest, it’s been part of everyone’s pandemic ethos. It’s allowed a lot of us to understand how a virus works, and how we keep a society going through stress and isolation. It’s been our comfort, popping up in the movies, tv shows, books and music we’ve consumed while we waited for the world to open up again. I’d wager it’s been part of how we see each other, and how we see ourselves in the emerging “new normal”.
Words matter, even the fluffy, sentimental poetic ones. Metaphor has been my constant companion since I figured out how to read and write. And now, as I dip my toes into the outside world and a new reality that I never thought I’d have to wade through, I’m counting on it to help me keep my head above water.
See what I did there? 🙂