What's a Meta-Phor?

Last week I mentioned activities that don't show results until they do. Namely, rowing.

I've spent more time in a rowboat in the past couple of weeks than in the previous 12 months. Rowing is a lovely activity that engages body and spirit, while leaving the mind room to play. Ergo, I've had plenty of time to consider nautical metaphors.

Like: Ships are safe in a harbor, but that's not what ships are built for. Before your ship can come in, you have to send it out. Rowers are natural historians, because they always look at where they've been; canoers (or kayakers) are natural explorers, because they always look at where they're going.

But mostly I've been thinking about the point in a long project when I despair of ever seeing progress. In the boat, it's the spot when I'm rowing out toward an island in the bay (a convenient destination for the family since 1925), and suddenly I hit a hole in the space-time continuum and ... stop ... moving.

Oh, I'm still rowing. If I look down, I can see little whirlpools where I've put oars into the water and pulled the boat along for a few feet. I'm still making whirlpools in different spots, all of which head in the right direction. But nothing else changes visibly: not my island destination; not my embarkation point, back there on the beach; nothing on any horizon. It's a moment made for existential despair.

Until suddenly, as I keep rowing, things DO change. I get visibly closer to the island. The beach I left recedes. Eventually I arrive (though the island is now a bird sanctuary, so I don't get out of the boat). If I'm lucky, I see otters at play.

But if I stopped at that point of despair, I would never get there. As long as I keep rowing, I'm bound to get somewhere.

Which of course returns to writing -- specifically, my difficulty producing coherent large manuscripts. I'm taking a lesson from my rowing experience, though. I'm in the middle of the story. In some ways, I know what is going to happen, but mostly, my job is to keep showing up at the page and nudging the story along. If I stop writing, I'll never get to the island.

It's an imperfect metaphor -- for one thing, otters also come into our bay periodically -- but hey, it speaks to me now. Besides, a metaphor isn't supposed to be a perfect representation of a thing. It's an image of a thing that is somehow similar to a thing. And sometimes, to answer the question in the title of this post, it inspires thought.

Don't despair. It's only August. There's still plenty of time to make progress this summer. Find a metaphor and let it carry you out to where the otters play.