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One Year of Writing and Healing: A Retrospective: Nine Metaphors

Posted on Jun 26, 2007 by

Well, I took some of my own advice and made a clean copy of some pages from my site. What I ended up doing was printing out the pages under the category of Healing Images. The first surprise—more pages there than I realized—it printed out to 38 pages—which makes me wonder if the site isn’t getting a bit too bulky. Not sure what to do with that observation yet. So what I decided to do instead is attend to those images that seem now to resonate. And when I did, what emerged was nine images—nine images which could also, I suppose, be called metaphors.

Nine Metaphors for Writing as Healing
Each offered with a link to its post—and to some of the poems that were a source of these images:

Writing as a café. Or as any clean well-lighted place that stays open and is there when you need it. In the story by Hemingway, an old man sits on the terrace of a café at closing time. It is late, but the old man, the last customer of the night, is reluctant to leave. A young waiter wipes off the old man’s table with a towel and tries to shoo him out. But a second waiter, older than the first, understands the old man’s need to linger. “Each night,” he says, “I am reluctant to close up because there may be some one who needs the café.”

Writing offering a sense of possibility. Like the pumpkin in Cinderella. That moment in the story when all seems lost—the stepsisters have torn Cinderella’s dress, they’ve gone on to the ball without her. Cinderella’s heart is breaking. And then the godmother comes. The pumpkin becomes a carriage. It maintains the lines and shape of a pumpkin, but now it has wheels—and a door. Cinderella climbs inside. The carriage begins to move. . . . Something there—that moment. The godmother comes. The pumpkin becomes a carriage. Writing is like that—or it can be like that—that possibility of transformation—the pumpkin becoming a carriage—and the carriage beginning to move—

Writing as a way to sweep out the guest house that is the self. From the poem by Rumi. The Guest House. If being human is a kind of guest house, and if every morning we can expect a new arrival—including, sometimes, those more difficult guests—sorrow and so forth—and if those guests are capable of sweeping out the house of the self—preparing us—for something (who knows what?)—then maybe, just maybe, writing can facilitate all of this. A way to name the visitors and help them sweep. Writing as a broom.

Writing as a kind of map to the healing quest. It’s there in Adrienne Rich’s poem. Diving into the Wreck. “The words are maps.” First, you gather the resources you’ll need for your quest. In this particular poem, this involves a book of myths, a camera, flippers, a mask. A ladder appears and you begin to climb down. To explore the wreck or to search for treasure—or both. Writing offers the map. A way perhaps to keep track of where you’re going—or where you’ve been—or where you’d like to be going. “I came to see the damage that was done/ And the treasures that prevail.” Writing as a way to record the damage and begin to discover, in the process, what remains—what has been born out of (or borne out of) the wreck. The treasures that prevail. Writing as a way to recognize the treasure.

Writing as a container. From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The stone basin filled with a silvery vapory substance that Harry Potter discovers in Dumbledore’s office. And then Dumbledore explains: “One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them in the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”

Writing as a vehicle. From Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. Healing as a process—a quest—toward some kind of North Star—and writing as the small beautiful boat—the vehicle—that can help carry one there.

Writing as a way to remember the sky. From Mary Oliver’s poem by the same name. The speaker of the poem invites us, the reader, to tell of despair and she will tell hers—and then—reminding us—-“Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,/ are heading home again . . . . ” This poem as a kind of template—the way the word meanwhile can always enter the writing—and perhaps transform it.

Writing as refuge. Writing as a way to conjure the old woman in the cottage who might take you in. She recognizes the need for refuge. And she also seems to understand the most basic elements of refuge. She invites you to come back with her to her cottage. She leads you back, ushers you inside. She shows you where you can take a hot bath. She lays out towels. A clean robe. When you come out of the bath she’s laid a place at the table for you— a bowl of soup, a basket of bread, a pitcher of water. She shows you to a bedroom with a clean soft bed. You sleep and sleep, and she lets you sleep. When you wake you find her out in the kitchen. She offers you a cup of tea, or perhaps a mug of coffee. She asks you to sit at the table. And it’s only then, after you are warm and fed and rested, that she asks you to tell her all about it. About all that has happened and what your hopes were at the beginning and how those hopes have been dashed. She has, she tells you, plenty of time.

Writing as conversation. Like the conversation on the porch in Michelle Huneven’s novel, Jamesland: “Now that she had a willing ear, Alice’s story of the deer unwound like a ball of string rolling down a street. This was the first time she’d been able to tell it all the way through, without interruption, and nothing she said seemed to invite dismay or contradiction. Helen nodded and sometimes narrowed her eyes as if listening to a familiar piano sonata or poem . . . .” Writing as one way to conjure that willing ear. And then, in the presence of that willing ear, the ball of string beginning to unwind– down through one layer, and the next, and then the next.