Living with Metaphors

I listen to music a lot–in the car, at the computer, while running or walking the dogs. I like it, but it does spark internal dialogues.

The Song: *fa la la* “What would I do without you?”

[or the variant

“What would become of me without you?”


“What did I do before I met you?”

and so on] 

Me: Well, let me tell ya. You’d get up, you’d make the coffee, and you’d sit at this here red light, just like I am right now. You’d be amazed what you could live without, hon, you’d simply be amazed.

I got over those moments pretty quickly, but my new Mumford & Sons cd has a song that is really lively and I really like, except for this part:

…But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again…

Read more: Mumford & Sons – The Cave Lyrics | MetroLyrics

I sing along while driving and then just kind of mumble and peter out when they get to that one line. I try not to feel bad about it, though. It’s a working metaphor, rooted in a mode of execution that’s pretty much obsolete. I could see why people use it as a metaphor. Luckily, it’s not a trigger.

(Trigger! Again, with the grotesque metaphors!)

But something happens, anyway. When I hear metaphors like that, I let them go, but in the process, that veil comes down between me and them, me and the rest of polite society that uses that metaphor without question, that can think of that metaphor in the abstract without visceral memories of skin, and weight, and pain.

That’s the moment of disconnection that led to the alienation I was feeling early this summer. It’s a pattern that has come up again and again–when a stay-at-home housewife wonders how she’ll get dinner on the table, when a male colleague is all proud for pitching in with childcare, when colleagues bemoan the end of the summer. I get why people say these things, but they are not connecting to me. They are revealing the chasm between their experience and mine, and I feel like I don’t belong in normal society.

I’ve been learning how to get over it, but it took a series of encounters and a change of perspective for me to get here. And I’m not there yet. I’m better at it, but I’m still practicing. I’ve learned to recognize that complaints that seem, to me, to be minor may be truly difficult for the complainer. I respect that it’s hard for them, and they’re struggling. I try not to compare or internalize while still remaining connected to the other person. It’s practice, every time. I’m going to have to do that if I plan to mingle in polite society.

This Times piece by Mark Epstein has been making the rounds. It’s like a palimpest, in that people’s reactions tell you where they are in life. For me, this piece is about the feeling of estrangement that people feel after trauma, that sense of being an outsider. It’s heartening to see someone confirm what I’ve been feeling. Sometimes I hide my feelings because I feel like such a brat. It’s good to know, though, that my feelings are following logical processes of the brain.

I’m a fan of Epstein. He’s a Buddhist psychoanalyst, and I have one of his books at my bedside and one in the car (along with a book of Jane Hirshfield poems) for idle moments. The Guardian had done a story about Sonali Deraniyagala, a Londoner who suffered unspeakable loss in the tsunami in Sri Lanka. As much as I respect differences in our experiences, I felt connected with her in this way: 

Sonali came to New York at the end of 2006, partly to be near her therapist and lifeline, but also craving some anonymity. In Colombo where she had been living, everyone knew her and her story, and when she eventually started to leave her uncle’s house she knew people were looking and thinking “She’s out!” and wondering what she might do next. In New York she could begin what she laughingly calls her “witness-protection-programme life”. Colleagues and acquaintances assumed she was a single visiting academic having a nice time in Manhattan, and she was happy to let them do so.

I don’t know what she went through in the tsunami, but I know just how she feels about living anonymously in New York. But here’s where I felt disconnected with her–she simply moved to New York and got a position at Columbia, and Mark Epstein is her therapist. Honestly, I was a little envious of her. Which is funny, and might be a form of gallows humor….See, there we go again, with the grotesque metaphors. They’re unavoidable, so I might as well just live with them.


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