The other night, my seven-year-old son Jack came home with an ELA assignment to write a poem. “Try to use a metaphor,” the directions said.
“What’s a metaphor?” he asked me.
Apparently, he had zoned off during that classroom discussion.
“Well, what do you want to write about?” I asked him.
He said, “I want to do a poem about the fish in the sea.”
“Great,” I said. “And what colors are the fish?”
“Red, blue, green, yellow and orange,” he said.
“A red fish, wow!” I said. “What do you think that red fish might look like?”
Confused, my son said, “It looks like a red fish.”
I smiled. “But does it remind you of anything else?” I asked.
“Yes, it reminds me of a red fish,” he said.
Eventually, I managed to get my son to think of his fish as soda cans, soccer balls and other things, but all along there was a little voice inside me that kept saying, “Yeah, I’m with you, kid. A fish is a fish. Leave me alone.”
Metaphors don’t come easy to me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a more comfortable and confident writer, but to this day when I’m writing a sentence and feel the need for a metaphor coming on, my mind freezes, particularly in a first draft. I’ll think, “What am I trying to say here? What does this remind me of?” And, more often than not, I won’t be able to think of a damn thing.
But I’ve learned to let it go and that if I have to think too hard about creating a metaphor, it wasn’t meant to be. Generally, my metaphors — and similes and all those colorful techniques of grammar — are created in the revision stage, when I’m reading over my work, and relaxed, and an interesting or more lively way of saying something suddenly hits me.
Otherwise, I tend to let a fish be a fish.