I’m currently reading I Could Tell You Stories by Patricia Hampl. In it she recalls her first metaphor. It came to her during her first piano lesson. Her instructor, Sistor Olive, began by teaching her middle C.
[Sister Olive] emphasized the importance of middle C, its central position, a sort of North Star of sound. I remember thinking, Middle C is the belly button of the piano, an insight whose originality and accuracy stunned me with pride. For the first time in my life I was astonished by metaphor. I hesitated to tell the kindly Olive for some reason; apparently I understood a true metaphor is risky business, revealing of the self. In fact, I have never, until this moment of writing it down told my first metaphor to anyone.
This got me thinking. Hampl triggered an interesting question, what was my first metaphor? I can’t guarantee this was my first but it’s the earliest I can remember right now. When I was a kid my family used to take an annual summer vacation at a cabin on a lake. It must have been early grade school when I conquered jumping off the end of the dock. Once conquered, it was done again and again. My brother, two years older than me, was in on the jumping also. My recollection is that my sister was a bit too young to join in with jumping but she did join in with watching and laughing. Anyway, we started a little game where we would come up with different scenarios to equate the jumping with. We’d say we were going to fight a dragon and then jump off the dock as fulfillment of that intention. We’d say we were going to jump off a cliff and then jump off the dock. We’d say we were going to attack a burglar and then jump off the dock. You get the idea. Each jump was accompanied by a loud and prolonged yell to further demonstrate our courage and summoned energy to tackle the danger ahead.
I’d say that game of pretending qualifies as metaphor even though it doesn’t have the fine literary quality of Hampl’s first metaphor. Jumping off the dock as metaphor for being brave, doing a hard thing. What’s more, I suspect that as we were pretending to fight a dragon we were really practicing being brave to face something hard at school or to not be afraid of the dark or to face any number of childhood hurdles or fears. Multiple layers of metaphor.
Maybe Hampl’s story got you going back in time as well. What was your first metaphor?