Metaphors and the Spectrum

No two people on the Autism Spectrum experience it in the same way. There are however common tendencies that are nonetheless present in many such people.

One of those common (not universal) traits is difficulty with metaphoric language. The use and interpretation of metaphors can lead to confusion for many on the Spectrum, even those like myself that are in the so-called “high functioning” camp.

For example, in conversation one might say that today they are “blue.” Some on the Spectrum would have difficulty with this, seeing as how the person speaking is obviously not the color blue. Even once it is explained to that person that blue is a metaphor, and that it stands in for feeling sad, the problem isn’t solved. Plenty of people on the Spectrum would then ask why the other person didn’t just say they were “sad.” Sad after all is literally the truth. “Blue” is simply not true, metaphor or not. What’s the point of saying one is blue then?

This isn’t the case for me, as I not only understand the definition of a metaphor, but understand their application. I have no way of knowing if this is due to my being a writer, and making use of words for so long, or if it just happens not to be a situation with my particular ASD. I can only say that that this specific difficulty isn’t present in my mind.

Or perhaps it is.

I picked up a used book last week. I’ve not had a chance to sit down and read it proper yet, but I was skimming through it a few days ago. Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers by David Madden is exactly what it sounds like. While I skimmed it, my eye fell on a question the book asked at one point.

It asked the author to consider if they were using simile when metaphor would be better, or metaphor when simile would be better. The question was still on my mind during my next revision session on my upcoming novel. That’s it when it occurred to me; I use simile much more than I do metaphor when I write. Rough guess, 5 to 1 ratio, or higher. Enough to be noticeable.

Not only that, I recalled at that point how often I have, in previous manuscripts removed similes, because I deemed I’d used too many. Only part of the time did I replace them with a metaphor.

Quick high school grammar review. A simile is a symbolic comparison that uses “like” or “as.” “Tight as a drum,” is one cliched example.

“My heart froze like a hot dog dipped in liquid nitrogen,” is another, (albeit asinine ) simile.

A metaphor is a symbolic comparison directly applied but not literally true. “There was a storm brewing in Sarah’s eyes.” (That should vary enough to avoid a lawsuit I hope.) No literal storm, but the point is made.

Back to the realization about myself. When I write symbolically, especially a first draft, I default to simile. Why? As I realized, I do in fact experience a slight resistance, barely perceptible, to metaphor. I use metaphor when I speak as often as anyone else, and I can follow metaphor when reading. Yet it finally occurred to me that in the sometimes mile-a-minute nature of writing a first draft (or second), a metaphor registers in  my mind as de facto “bad writing,” even if it is not.

A sub-conscious calculus is made. Some part of me says, “there’s no storm in a person’s eye. Fix that.” The most direct way to save the symbolism, the visual, is to then say, “Her eyes light up like a storm.”

The presence of “like” stamps the ticket for the sentence to get past my subconscious. Anything can be “like” anything else. That’s writing. “You may pass.”

No doubt my work has ended up with fewer metaphors than otherwise it might have. Some might have even been good writing.

Could this small resistance to putting metaphor down in writing be a watered-down version of metaphor difficulties experienced by plenty of people on the Autism Spectrum? My version perhaps confined that particular trait to one tiny office in the corner of my mind, but an office with some power under the right conditions.

I can’t prove this, of course. Makes sense, though.

Whatever the exact reason, I’m determined to use metaphor more often. It can be overdone of course, but to me, pound for pound metaphor is the stronger symbolism. It’s more direct and in the reader’s face. “Like” or “as” put a barrier up between the reader and the text. In most cases a simile has an authorial subtext of, “but not really,” embedded in it. A metaphor provides nowhere to  hide, and hence carries a more forceful punch.

Metaphor requires more trust for your reader as well, don’t you think? As long as the concept of, “it’s only like a wrecking ball, but not literally so” seeps in, we don’t give the reader full control. We hold their hand a little longer. (I think I’m in the clear with that example too.)

It also requires me to trust myself more. I need to believe in my ability to compose a useful, interesting, effective metaphor in order to do so. No crutch.

So I’m making a conscious decision to make greater use of metaphor. The change won’t come overnight; it’s like a marathon. But I’ll get there eventually.

 

 

 

 

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Writing Can Be Depressing. It’s Okay.

There is clinical depression, which is a medical condition that requires treatment. Then there is being depressed. The latter can be a prelude to the former, but not always. Sometimes we are just very down, and can be for quite a while.

Certain situations are inherently depressing. That doesn’t mean everyone will find themselves depressed when confronted with those situations, but rather whatever one’s natural tendency is to be depressed or gloomy is enhanced by being faced with said situations.

I think writing is one of those situations. To be more specific, writing and not finding your audience is depressing. Needing an audience is depressing. Even the process of writing can in fact be depressing.

Let it be so.

By my observations, the prevailing advice to struggling (and not so struggling) writers is that this world we inhabit wherein we create worlds for others to inhabit ought always to be awe-inspiring, or at least joyful. “Don’t let it become a burden! If writing has you down, you shouldn’t be doing it.”

No, perhaps you need a break from it if writing is starting to depress you. Or maybe, just maybe for some people depression (non-medical) is part of the writing concept as much as or even more than is ebullient toiling.

Who declared that something worth doing must always be joyful? Let’s face it, if we put as much work and heart into any other type of long term project as we do writing a novel, only to have it come to nothing for anyone else, it would be depressing in many cases. We’d own it, lament, and then, hopefully, move on to another project. Why should it not be so with writing?

I’ve said before I write fiction to be read, not merely to say I did it. Writing novels, and increasingly, these blog posts straight into oblivion is a depressing, disenchanting experience for me. The time might come when I stop doing it altogether.

Or, I may just decide that being depressed about the state of my writing is nothing to be ashamed of. I may choose if not to embrace than to at least accept that for my and my psyche, being depressed is for now part of the bargain. Not right or wrong, simply a component.

Let’s not shame the depressed writer anymore. Even if they are in the doldrums for a while, let them be. Especially if they continue to write even if they find the whole idea depressing. Let’s not tell them to “give it up” if it depresses them. What they need is encouragement and appreciation for the totality of their writing mood, wherever they happen to be in the journey. We serve them well by accepting that, and them, without judgment.

 

Indie Squared

Due to the fact that I self-publish my work, the term “indie-publisher” could apply to me in a sense. I am, after all, independent of a press or publishing company. The term  probably more often refers to small presses, I realize, but there is likely some leeway there.

“Indie author” is the more exact term for what I am and do. The judges will also accept “indie writer,” I assume.

I publish “indie books” that tell “indie stories.” Indie, indie, on and on. Beyond a certain point, it’s all just so much trendy vocabulary to a degree. Like saying a word over and over in a short period of time, it loses cohesion in our brains, and begins to sound nonsensical. (You’ve done this.)

The term doesn’t quite cover all of it for me, no matter how many times I use it. (And out of necessity, I use it often.)

For I am not merely someone who publishes my own stuff. That is a huge part of what I do, but it is more the vehicle. What is truly “indie” about me is the nature of the stories I generally feel compelled to compose.

By this I don’t mean that I am doing things that nobody in the world has ever done before. (Though a few concepts in some of my work have been called “unique” by other writers.) No, I simply mean I don’t adhere to any one code, message, or even genre. Taken from a percentage standpoint, most of my novels could be placed in some type of fantasy genre, I suppose. But on the whole the majority of my short stories could not.

What?

It’s because I am independent of not only the connection with an agent, or a house, but also with most tendencies of even self-published authors. An indie’s indie if you will. Though perhaps not unique on a worldwide scale, the things I write have, in a sense, nothing to do with what the world is up to, or what the industry is up to. Of course I write things that I believe some type of person out there will enjoy reading. If I didn’t think that, I’d probably not bother writing it.

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Yet for the most part, my fiction and to a lesser extent my non-fiction comes about as a result of what I want to exist. Not the next fantasy novel that I want to exist, mind you. I write a fantasy novel because a fantasy tale is what I next want to exist, just as when I published Murder, Theatre, Solitaire it was because I wanted a murder mystery to exist. I’ve not felt the need to make a mystery novel exist since, so I haven’t written another.

Put another way, I am independent of the idea of being a mystery writer. Just as when I wrote that novel, I proceeded independent of the idea that I am not “known” for writing mysteries. I didn’t market research it, I didn’t check it against my brand. As I said, at that time, I wanted a murder mystery to exist, and I brought that one into existence.

How wise is this? What does it do to the all important, (but to me still illusive after all these years) personal brand? If you want the truth, I have no damned idea what it means for all of that. Which of course means it may not be wise. It may be weakening my personal brand. For my own part I don’t see why being this way cannot be a brand in its own right, but in general they say it cannot.

Yet what can I say? Writing is hard work. It takes time, energy, thought. It causes stress, frustration, loss of sleep sometimes. On top of that, people may not read it anyway. Am I to put myself through all of that in order to create something I don’t feel a particular need to bring into existence? Put all that into something that makes sense with “my brand” or with the standards of a “fantasy author” whether or not the story calls to me?

I don’t see how. I’m too indie for that, I guess.

 

Book Review: Gods in Everyman

I don’t usually post a book review here. I write them on Goodreads when I finish a book, usually, and leave it at that. Yet in this particular case I am posting it here because of a surprising connection to writers and writing.

Gods in Everyman: A New Psychology of Men’s Lives and Loves, by Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen was first published decades ago. I came across my copy at a used book sale. It cost me a quarter. When a book costs a quarter, my threshold for justifying purchase is quite low.  In this case, part of the title, and the cover image of an ancient statue, generally called “Hermes and the Infant Dionysus,” was enough. (Hermes and Dionysus being two Greek Gods with whom I identify most right now, and each of whom I have invoked on numerous occasions.)

It wasn’t long after I started reading it, (out of sequence, as the nature of the sections allowed) that I came to appreciate my purchase; I’d have probably paid more than a quarter for it had I known.

The author is a Jungian psychologist. The premise of the book is that every man (and woman to an extent) has within their psyche the archetype, the appetites, goals, reactions of one of the gods of Ancient Greece. By coming to understand which deity one is by nature aligned with, one can, so goes the thesis of the book, work with one’s strengths, and “appeal” to aspects of the other gods within one’s self to find a more balanced, successful life.

In addition to some general psychological chapters about society’s patriarchy and other overviews,  the book is broken down into single chapters, each dedicated to one of the male Olympians.  The goals in love, leisure, sex, work, inner life and so on of each god is explained and explored by way of an overview of Greek myths involving the god. A comparison is then made to people who, consciously or not, are patterned in similar ways.

As I said, the book is about thirty year old now. Jungian psychology may have moved away from the author’s basic premise by now. It’s also possible that there have been understandings of Greek mythology that might have changed in that time, though I have no particular proof or examples of such. And modern pagans would probably not be pleased with the notion of their deities reduced to mere psychological tendencies. (Though this is done with respect, in fact.) Still, however, I got far more than a quarter’s worth out of this book for what it can offer my writing.

Yes, my writing. My fiction writing, specifically.

A Jungian self-help psychology book from the 1980’s would appear to be well out of its wheelhouse in the world of fiction writing at first pass. Yet consider that each chapter is dedicated to a god, and each one parses in detail the unique motivations of said god, as well as how they relate to others, their views on living, their strengths and weaknesses and their origins. It wraps up each chapter with how all of that informs the decisions, conscious and unconscious made by the god, and the mortal who has a psyche based on same.

In other words, fellow writers, it is am unintentional primer of sorts on character building.

Of course, the myths themselves have been told and retold, mined for material, interpreted, re-interpreted, borrowed and even at times profaned. I myself wrote Flowers of Dionysus, wherein the titular god visits an actor. Yet this book, although retelling several of the myths, is not a book of stories starring the Olympians. Rather an analysis of what propels the gods, and the mortal psyches that identify with same. That analysis, whether one be a Jungian or not,  is of interest to the writers out there. Or should be.

So you aren’t looking to rewrite a myth. And you are not out to determine how to proceed in your career with the help of an Apollo archetype. Your next protagonist may be doing so.

Or that antagonist you just can’t get right because you don’t know what he wants, or why he does what he does. Could be living a Poseidon archetype through and through. Or the other way around. The book is a quick reference to how such a person would react in a given situation.

One could of course research and determine such details themselves through original research. No doubt plenty of authors have used the Greek gods as character templates. But if one is looking for a compact, accessible reference for such knowledge, one could do a lot worse than this book.

In the preface, the author explains that the book came about by popular demand, after her previous book, Goddesses in Everywoman became a success. I’ve not read that one, but perhaps I will seek it out now. While the author is quick to point out that these god archetypes can in fact exist in women as well, there is still a bit of an afterthought to that concession. Product of its time that it probably is, I imagine more classically so called “feminine” qualities would be examined in the first volume. I’ll let you know if I find out.

In the mean time, consider this book officially recommended by me. The psychology and world view, though not exactly archaic does show its age in places. It is not a religious text, nor is it the place to delve deeply into the ancient adventures of the Olympians. Yet you might get some psychological insight from it for yourself, and if not you’ll have several literary skeletons on which to build, if you are not in the mood to start cold for your next story.

All writers could use a template now and again, don’t you think?

 

What Not To Write

I was in college when I took part in an unusual theatre experience. Actually, it was all objectively new to me, because it was only the third show I had ever done in life, and the first that was not a one-act.

Part of the experience was a months-long workshopping (read: rewriting) of the script. You’d never get away with doing that in most cases, but as we were a college, I suppose we had more leeway. Or, our professor didn’t give a shit, and did it anyway.

It was a trying experience for me during the first month or so. I didn’t know most of the people in the show very well. Being the introvert that I am, I liked to think before I answered, and most of the rest of the group liked to think out loud. (Quite boisterously at times.) They found chaos in most cases an exciting impetus to creativity. I found it to be headache-inducing to the point of withdrawing from the process and refusing to even try to talk over the madness after a while. I was getting shot down all the time anyway.

Short cut to the irony in all of this; what started as a frustrating, unproductive waste of time for me ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in theatre. Perhaps in life.

All of us had great fun being in the eventual show that came about. I knew early on that I had been affected by the experience in ways that the others had not. I admit I couldn’t at the time understand how most of them missed the significance of what we were able to accomplish, but in the end I was content with the fun we had together. Between one October and one January, antagonists became friends. That, I had never experienced before.

Eight students all told. For a while there, we were most of one another’s free time in a way that even theatre doesn’t usually require at that level. We even all had to come back to campus a week early from Christmas vacation, and somehow I didn’t mind.

Then it was over. We came back one night to campus from the venue we had taken the show to, took the shit inside the theatre, and that was that. Literally, the eight of us were never in the same room at the same time ever again.

Most of them left the college after that year. I and a few others didn’t. That summer I decided to commemorate the experience which even months later was informing my perceptions on the power of  collaborative arts. I wrote a brief, (80 pages), what I hoped to be pithy but warm “memoir” of the experience. I planned to gift to each one of them a copy.

It was of course from my own point of view, but one with which they were already familiar. There were some friendly jabs in it, but none that we had not made in person during the experience. I had a great time that summer mentally reliving the experience as I wrote down anecdote after anecdote about the (for me) one-of-a-kind show.

In retrospect, I know this was the time when the seed of a realization was first planted in the soil of my creative mind; sometimes a writer should not write something.

Perhaps I overstate the case. But perhaps not, considering what followed.

Two of the people involved read it, and said they enjoyed it. Simple as that. I’d hoped for a little more, but if they smiled, great.

One, then out of state, wanted to read it, and I sent him a copy. He sent it back with a few thoughts. No condemnation of the effort, but it was clear he thought I’d been a bit unfair. In either case, that polite-enough note was the last significant communication I ever got from him.

One started, but didn’t feel like finishing it. Two were not interested, one straight up refusing, saying that they didn’t want their own memories of the show affected by someone else’s perspective. They preferred to remember it “in my own way.” Attempts to befriend this one on social media were abandoned years ago, when it was clear that said invitations were not going to be accepted.

The other one, I flat out do not remember if they read it or not.

Though I have, presumably, the only remaining copy, (paper at that), I myself haven’t read it in years and years. The response to the memoir lessened even the memory of the show itself.

Sometimes a writer should not write something.

Did my mild Autism make me blind to an otherwise obvious truth? Did I misjudge so many other people to such a large extent? To a degree I imagine both are true, at least with some of the people involved.

Yet I have wondered for quite some time now if the real lesson, (if there is any) was that writing words is different. It changes things. It alters the meaning, the staying power of even a true event. Observations spoken and jabs batted back and forth among “friends” can become, to the very same friends, distasteful when written down and read.

Can I prove beyond doubt that my writing of that memoir was the direct cause of some of the distance that evolved between me and some of the others? No. The timing sure adds up though. Couple that with good old fashioned instinct and I feel justified in the deduction still.

I still communicate with two or three of them. Funny thing is, they are the two or three I got along fine with from the very start of the show before the communal realignment that made us all fond of each other those short months. Four lifetimes later, it’s like it’s back where it started. Possibly because I may have seriously misjudged the nature of my own writing.

Perhaps my fiction suffers from a similar problem. Does my fiction occupy an unusual point of view and follow a narrative so off kilter from the our world because of my mild autism? Am I once again latching on to what I perceive is touching or exciting or just a damn good yarn because of my atypical, Autistic perceptions and understanding of what would make an appreciated written gift to the world?

I lack the answer.