what’s a meta for?

When I was six or seven, my parents and I were watching Wallace and Gromit’s “The Wrong Trousers,” and, at a particularly emotional scene where the bipedal, sentient dog Gromit dons a yellow slicker and leaves his hapless human friend Wallace with his new penguin friend, I asked what seemed like a straightforward question.

“Why is it always raining when it’s sad?”

I did not go on to a lucrative career in film criticism (if such a thing exists), but I did go on to love metaphors. Metaphors are the building blocks of stories, after all! Or maybe they’re the vanishing point of stories, that gives everything depth. Or! Maybe they’re the pulsing mall-music of stories, pitched at exactly the right frequency to make you vibrate, Tacoma-Narrows-style, with a desire to buy buy buy whatever emotional tenor the author has orchestrated therein.

See what I mean? Good, bad, mixed, or mangled, I never met a phor I didn’t like.

When you’re a writer, this is a desirable quality. If you’re dutifully showing, and not telling, you trot out all kinds of masterful, lyrical symbols to climate-control the biodome of your story’s universe. Every character shaves with Occam’s razor and offs themselves with Chekov’s gun. Things are portentious, ominous, foreboding, pregnant (not literally, of course), and zeugmatic. Of course, spilling your story’s guts into this kind of augury can easily tip into overkill, but if you can keep a light hand, I would argue that your metaphors will be the single elevating grace of any work.

When you’re a person, though, a love for metaphor is dangerous. A metaphor is like a lens into or out of something. It’s a way to see what isn’t there in what is–good for art, bad for life. Because if you let the sundry inconveniences and arguments of normal living in a normal life echo out into Grand Significance, you are going to make yourself sad. You are going to make your boyfriend a Shepherd’s Pie and despair when he adds chili powder because it means he thinks you’re boring. You are going to fall out of crow pose and fret about the intrapersonal implications of not being able to literally hold yourself up. You are going to break your banjo strings and think you are impotent and helpless as an artist. You are going to see the brunch place’s shortage of bacon sandwiches as a sign that you can’t connect with your family while they are in town even though everyone is perfectly content to order eggs instead.

Stop. Don’t think so much. Your life may be your art, but you are not the ultimate artist. Just because you’re a writer when creating stories doesn’t mean that you are a thing written when you are living them out. Some things just happen, and most things aren’t showing you anything. Sometimes you need to break down the imagined artifice of everyday life and remind yourself of facts: your boyfriend likes spicy food. Arm muscles take a while to build. Banjo strings are finicky. Bacon sandwiches are understandably popular and that place has good gingerbread lattés anyway. 

So. It’s not raining because it’s sad, it’s raining because there’s a low pressure system coming in. And  when a double rainbow shows up afterwards, you can drag your visiting best friends out onto the porch and admire your sheer, collective luck at being privy to the unknowable and random machinations of nature.

Say “I love you.” Use your words. Tell, don’t show, your life to yourself.

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