Changing Life’s Metaphors

“Back to the salt mines,” Nathan said as he prepared to take Sarah to her before school math prep and then head off to work.

“What does that mean?” Sarah asked.

“I’ll explain in the car,” Nathan said.

Off they went.

Later, Nathan posted this article on Facebook. “The Salt Mines. Really??” In this article, Natalie Houston discusses the possible origins of the phrase, which includes the fact that convicted prisoners were often forced to labor in salt mines, with the commensurate risks to life and limb. She writes:

“Through metaphor, the language we use both reflects our perceptions and shapes them in a continual feedback loop. Each time you say something like “back to the salt mines” (which is usually accompanied by a shrug, or slumped shoulders) you reinforce your own attitudes about your workplace as being somehow like a dangerous mine where prisoners labor. “

This made me think about the metaphors that guide and/or  influence my own life. Over the past few days I’ve recognized that it is time to change my metaphors, or at least re-envision them. First, however, I must be able  to identify them.

Life as Journey

Walking a path.

Walking a path.

This is by far my favorite metaphor, as anyone who has been reading my blog for a long time might realize. I often talk about life as a journey. If you search for the term journey within my blog, you will find 143 entries that  somehow refer to journeys and the journey of life. Maybe I need to get some new material.

Anyway, this is a metaphor that I do try to live by, however it has its dangers. It all depends on how one perceives the journey. When I think of this journey as having a specific destination–as one with  a path that I’m meant  to follow that gets me to some mysterious endpoint–then I take less pleasure in the journey itself because I’m too worried about not getting to that point. When I can think about the journey as the destination–a meandering path that takes me to the next part of the journey–then I usually can just let my feet lead me wherever I am going.

I want to focus on the second type of journey.

Life as Speeding Train 

This is perhaps one of my least favorite metaphors for life. Do you ever feel like you somehow got trapped on a train that is heading toward an unknown destination without any stops? It keeps going faster and faster, and someone else is driving it. You have no control. No matter how many times you pull the emergency cord, the train will not stop.

Sometimes, for me, the train is a roller coaster car, speeding up and down at speeds that defy thought.

Have  I mentioned that I hate roller coasters? The last time I was on one with my sister, long ago at Knots Berry Farm I felt too short to be held in safely and was convinced I would fly out on one of the crazy loops. I haven’t been on one since, except for  the roller coaster of life.

When I lived in Japan, I loved the idea of riding the Shinkansen, because it allowed me to visit more places in less time. However, the difference between riding a bullet train and being trapped on a speeding life train is crucial to recognize. It’s possible to get off the Shinkansen once in a while, to enjoy the journey.

English: A Shinkansen awaiting passengers in T...

English: A Shinkansen awaiting passengers in Tokyo. Français : Un Shinkansen attendant ses passagers à Tōkyō. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


“Another Day, Another Dollar”

Or in my case a few more pennies.

I thought  of this metaphor this morning after reading Houston’s article.  Too often lately, I’ve focused on the fact that I seem to work hard for very little  financial reward.

I don’t  like thinking like that. If my focus on life is on the journey, and the journey  is the destination, then I want to be working  on projects that fill my life with joy and purpose. I suppose the purpose could be to make money, but I don’t want  the metaphor for my life to be “Life as means to financial gain.”

Of course, I recognize that money does play a role in life, but it doesn’t have to be the focus of life.

It’s time to drop this metaphor from my life.


What are  some of the metaphors guiding your life? What are some of the metaphors you want to change? What are some  of the metaphors you would like to embrace?


Face it: LIFE is confusing!

Seven-ring classical labyrinth of unknown age ...

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday’s Post A Day suggestion asks

What part of life confuses you the most?

My answer is simple. Life confuses me.

To try to explain this, I will resort to a confusing mass of metaphors–a bubbling stew of life’s issues that contains ingredients that only clarify for a moment before melting into a more confusing whole.

Seriously, nothing every really makes sense. Even when my faith was strongest (rather than conflicted) the answers were never clear. One day you may feel like you understand everything that is happening around you, and 5 seconds later something else is thrown into the mix–a grenade that blows understanding to oblivion. (I warned you that I was going to mix metaphors)

Life is a series of questions that only you can answer for yourself. Your answers may be right for you, but wrong for someone else. Questions that add to the confusion:

  • Why are we here? Is there a purpose to life?
  • Do we have destinies? Are we fated to follow certain paths?
  • As we make our way through the labyrinth of life, do our choices always lead only one place? I mean, yes we all are heading to death, but do all paths take us in the same direction even if we think we have chosen something new?
  • Why does my to do list never get done, or regenerate itself when I think it is finished?
  • Why do “good” people get smashed and “bad” people win over and over again?
  • Why do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, when the laws of kindness and common sense should treat us all equally?
  • How do pets and children take up so much space in bed?
  • What do I want to be when I grow up?
  • Why does it take hours to clean up a mess, and only minutes to make one?

This list could go on forever. I’d love for people to add to it in comments below.

Of course, for me, one of the confusions of the moment is: Why does the food I love have to be so bad for me? Why can’t I just live on chocolate and cinnamon buns and all sorts of decadent gooey-ness? Why? Why? Why?

Now I am off to find a healthy (although less yummy) breakfast.

Life on a Speeding Train or The Show Must Go On

Yesterday morning I posted this as my status update on Facebook:

I really should have done that.

The day started with  creaks and groans as I slowly tried to make my way out of the station and gain some momentum. I eventually managed to work my way through the rust of an aging train (okay, I know I’m not really that old, but just go with the metaphor) and chugged forward.

I wrote a few words.

I talked to a new passenger.

I gathered a little energy and started moving forward, although still cautious and hesitant.

Eventually I made it to the first dangerous section of the track. This is the section that moves at high-speed with loud clangs, bangs and arguing passengers. If I don’t make it to speed then the train will come crashing off the tracks and everyone on it will fall into the chasm below.

My class.

Yesterday I taught Theater Appreciation. I approach the class by introducing the variety of elements and work that go into the making of theater. We read plays, we watch, we talk about acting, directing, designing, etc. We don’t just talk about it though. I have my class do activities to experience all aspects even on a small-scale. So my class rarely consists of lecture, but more of active participation and discussion.

This semester, I have about 26 people in the class. Of those, only about 6 are female. Of the remaining 20, a large portion are athletes, including about 3/4 of the basketball team. Those players, as can be expected, tower over me  as they approach the proximity of 7 feet tall.

I am only 5 ft tall.

Needless to say, there is a slight intimidation factor in the room. Despite the fact that I am the instructor with the multiple degrees (or the conductor if I am going to stick with the train metaphor) the combined testosterone in the room can get a little overwhelming.

Yesterday, they decided to act like 5-year-olds. I was writing some information on the white board that they needed to have when someone flashed those obnoxious red pinpoint lights at me. The team snickered.

Train derailed!

I got angry and caught the culprit, confiscating his toys. Then they went into a mutual sulk, only wanting to work if they were “getting extra credit.”

I wanted to throw some passengers off the train over a really tall bridge.

I managed to regain control and careen through the rest of the class, eventually moving on to a calmer stretch of track.

After a few more twists, turns, and rumbles I arrived at my final stop of the day; aka the circus. (Okay, not really the circus, but rehearsal for School House Rock!)

Just when I think it will be safe to stop the train, unload the passengers, and get the show started disaster strikes! Someone built a gigantic brick wall on the tracks; I’m not sure if it was intentional sabotage but it sure felt malicious. With a loud  squeal of brakes, I crashed.

One of my actors quit. The one with the most lines. The one who plays the teacher. Now, he insisted on calling that the lead role, but in reality the role is kind of just the focal point (or if I am going to rejoin the circus metaphor) the ringmaster. All the other acts are more spectacular and exciting, more musical, but the role exists to help guide the audience to the next ring.

And he quit. 5 seconds before showtime (aka rehearsal).

His explanation, “I have deep issues with musicals. I don’t value them, and this one is just not going to work” or some such inane blather.

But, as any good show person knows, “The Show Must Go On!” I gave myself a minute to gather my emotions together, announced the change of plans, and went on with rehearsal. I think I have even come up with an interesting solution as long as I can convince someone to take on a new role.

The fort made of blankets seems even more appealing today.

Thanks for going with me on a journey of mixed metaphors. I hope today’s ride goes much smoother.

Otherwise, look for me in a pile of blankets somewhere. I won’t be coming out for a while.

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