Living in Your Metaphors

Metaphors are powerful things. Even though I don't fully believe that metaphors create a seamless universe entirely out of contiguity and related qualities (or at least a universe devoid of reference to an outside, and somewhat solid reality), I do believe in the power of metaphors.

For me, metaphors gain their greatest power when they provide me with frameworks for evaluating my life in ways that allow me to step outside of my snap judgments or leanings. While some people call these metaphoric frameworks "conceits," I would differentiate these framework metaphors from the more arresting literary devices employed by Shakespeare, Pope, Donne, Joyce, etc. For one thing, these framework metaphors tend to happen by happenstance. I discover these metaphors in unexpected places.

One of my favorite framework metaphors, running, comes from an activity that I detested as a child. Running was something one tolerated to do something one loved. I ran to get in line for the basketball or Lite Brite at CCD every Wednesday. I ran to catch the football that was miraculously thrown in my direction. I ran at the "Indian Day" race to show my classmates that I wasn't quite the outcast they sometimes intimated I was. Even when I was older, I learned to tolerate running to make the college tennis team and to win respect while playing pickup basketball against high school, semipro and even professional basketball players on Phoenix, Arizona basketball courts.

It wasn't until I met my partner in graduate school that I discovered running was something I could love. I resumed my running career as a way of trying to impress her. She loved running, and I hoped that she would find me intriguing enough if I managed to at least give it another try on a date. As you may suspect, I soon fell in love both with her and with running. Everything I detested about running--the discomfort, the drudgery, the seeming pointlessness of it--became something that helped me locate deeper meaning. Pain? It became something for me to notice and then shelve. On long runs, I would call the process of cooly monitoring these pains "sitting on the Barcalounger." It became a wonderful way for me to think about the adult ritual of subjugating certain comfortable parts of your life in service to other, less concrete goals. Grading papers, writing scholarship, attending to family obligations no longer seemed something unrelated to the fabric of who I was--something to be tolerated without much thought. Instead, I would see these difficulties as part of sitting in the Barcalounger--a place where one could take pleasure in the possibility of abstract and long-term success despite short term pain. I don't think that I would have seen this relationship if I had not discovered running serendipitously. This metaphor came along for the ride.

Another quality of these framework metaphors is that they seem to expand and even shape the experiences that give rise to them. My experience of running has deepened since I have started to accumulate the injuries and aches that come with striving past one's prime. I have run a few marathons, half-marathons, and 10k races. In each, I have been neither first nor last. Instead, I tend to start at the back of the pack, get passed by a few runners, and manage to pass a few myself. While this was mostly annoying to me as a young runner, I have begun to enjoy the feeling of being in the middle of all of that connected humanity. The point isn't winning. Even if I could, I don't like the idea of only sharing an experience deeply with only a tiny subset of such a motivated and enthusiastic crowd. I also don't like the idea of luxury boxes at sporting events or concerts for this very reason. Instead, I like the idea that we are jumbled in the crowds, slower than most, faster than some, but sharing the pain and love of the race with all. The chance to get past our pettiness and pain-avoidance and just run is only heightened when we are aware that we are falling well short of our delusional desire to fly without disappointment. That chute of fans who clap for some and cheer for all heightens the in-between experience that spans starting gun to finish line BECAUSE you know that you aren't going to get definitive, metaphysical answer. We don't run because we're the fastest. We don't run because it doesn't hurt. We run because we can and because others can when it hurts and when we aren't the fastest.

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