metaphors and boxes

Posted on April 30, 2008


I picked up a seashell
To illustrate my homelessness
But a crab crawled out of it
Making it useless

And all my metaphors fell flat
Down on the rocks where we sat
She asked where are you at?

– “The Opposite of Hallelujah” – Jens Lekman

I like words. I like reflection. I like being clever. so, when I have to make sense of my life, I like using metaphors.

metaphors, I’ve found, are convenient. they help me to distance myself from past pains, and ascribe some transcendent, narrative quality to past heroics. in the span of a few sentences, I can cram nearly any situation into a rigid allegorical box, which I can then proceed to stack into neat little piles of personal development. sure, sometimes life doesn’t fit neatly into these easy-to-manage boxes, but that was the convenience of it all.

but as life gets increasingly nebulous and complicated, I’m realizing that my reliance on simplistic ways to frame my understanding won’t always cut it, and ultimately may keep me from developing wholly.

I find myself in frames of mind stemming from three distinct times:

  • anxieties and uncertainty stemming from my current situations, circumstances, and experiences present themselves with every instance my alarm clock goes off.
  • as I ready myself to enter another phase of my perpetually TBD life, thoughts of future plans, successes, failures, sorrows, and joys run rampant.
  • reminders of my past shortcomings and eff-ups quietly creep their way back into my conscience and quell the roars of hope and excitement. and, to counter that, memories and lessons of previous victories desperately fan the embers of anticipation and the unknown.

and as much sense I’ve made and wisdom I’ve gained by extrapolating lesson after lesson through this wonderfully disconnected way to frame my firsthand experiences, I’m slowly learning that it’s an imperfect system. not completely faulty, and by no means invalid, but imperfect. not every experience will bring a lesson, and not every lesson can be translated. not every experience can be tamed and corralled into a tiny cage to help me “get it,” nor will every experience come with a convenient, clever metaphor.

the irony of quoting a song isn’t lost on me. metaphors and imagery and allegory and allusion certainly have their places in the process of understanding. metaphors will fall flat, and I’ll just have to frame, learn, and grow in other ways.