Friday, January 3, 2014

Dead Metaphors: A Look Ahead To 2014

For some time now, I’ve thought about writing a book. During my high school years, when the extent of my writing portfolio consisted of a collection of English essays, I didn’t care what the book would be about. I knew that I wanted to write one, though. Articulating ideas on paper was a task that cost me little effort. There were times that I actually enjoyed it.  I decided to test the water by joining my high school newspaper staff, served as Editor in Chief and even did a brief internship of sorts with The Cleveland Plain Dealer. What I discovered was that, at a time when fewer and fewer of my peers were reading anything, much less their high school newspaper, many of them seemed to enjoy my writing. Some even claimed to look forward to my columns. So I was decided: I would go to college and become a journalist.

But that didn’t happen.

I never forgot about the book though, and I kept writing. During my brief stint in Idaho I got the opportunity to author a short-lived column/fishing report fort The Teton Valley Citizen, which I dubbed, Fish Fodder. I don’t know what that paper’s circulation was, but it made its way around a small community where people actually seemed to care about the local fishing report. Every once in a while someone would bump into me around town and reference something I’d written. I didn’t get paid for the column, but I never thought about that when I was writing it. The fact that someone else was printing my words for others to read was validation. At 22, fresh out of college and without a career “path,” I didn’t necessarily need validation, but it didn’t hurt either.

When 2013 began, I was 26 years old, and I’d added a few new chapters to the would-be narrative. Cancer, marriage, and home-ownership had thickened the plot. This was the year, my bride and I agreed, that we would restore some normalcy to our lives. Maybe ease off the gas a little bit with the whole coming of age process…“take a deep breath,” as they say. I’m not entirely convinced that 'normalcy' has any real meaning any more – if it ever did. But, the steelhead streams of my native northeast Ohio seemed a good place to start looking for it.


It could be a personality flaw, a comment on my generation, or a more pervasive human characteristic: Inevitably, when I stumble onto something good, I soon after start the search for something better. Right about the time I started developing a certain knack for watching a bobber tethered to a spinning rod, I decided that it would be unequivocally more awesome to watch that bobber if it were tethered to a fly rod. And when that bobber started going under fairly consistently, it was brought to my attention that doing away with the bobber altogether would produce infinitely more rewarding results. And when my swung fly began intercepting steelhead with some regularity, I couldn’t help but fill my head with visions of 12-pounders boiling behind skated dry flies (no such luck in this department to date). So it stands to reason, I suppose, that as one season is reaching its zenith, my natural tendency is to look the horizon. With the spring run peaking, I’d already begun the search for suitable quarry in places both near…

And far.

After consecutive summers of cross-country road-trips covering thousands of miles and multiple mountain ranges, in the back of my head a quiet but persistent notion was developing. Perhaps I was missing some opportunities closer to home. Perhaps, if we broadened our horizons and took the trout goggles off we could find fish, landscapes, & experiences to whet our appetites without the 3,000 mile round-trip ticket. But first, I got an unexpected invitation back to Montana to catch a few fish and take some pictures.

When I got back to Cleveland, Alex more or less had the Big Orange saddled up and ready to go. I punched the clock at work a couple times, threw some bags together and by 6:00 AM that Sunday we were barreling north.

I’m an Ohio boy through and through, but I’ve got a not-so-secret crush on the state up north. Simply put, Michigan is an angler’s paradise. Our visit left me with such an impression that I couldn’t wait until I got back to start telling the story; I began punching keys right then and there in the back of the Big O as a constant wave of asphalt-warmed air poured over me. As it turns out, that story should be hitting the shelves any day now in volume 5.2 of The Fly Fish Journal.

In July I got my ego checked by some big wild browns on the West Branch, followed by a cannonball run to Maryland to tune-up for the Southern Comfort Tour. Arriving to the Volunteer State without much of an itinerary, we dabbled: Trout, stripers, carp, life-changing barbecue and a whole lot of whiskey. We also crossed paths with some pretty awesome people and had one helluva good time before we had to head back to Cleveland, where wander withdrawals and the end-of-summer doldrums awaited. 

Having exhausted my PTO reserves, I needed something on the home front to keep my motor running until the steelhead circus made it back to town. I started tying really big flies, conjured as much blind faith as I was capable of and took to casting until my shoulder hurt. Finally seeing that first snaky set of teeth and fins behind one of those flies was reward enough, and it changed the angler in me in a way that I doubt he’ll ever recover from.

So often in life, in an effort to encapsulate our experiences into easily digested doses, we turn to metaphor. We do this quietly and privately in our own minds, publicly in conversation, or in the case of the writer, on paper for others to absorb as it suits them. Metaphor offers a means of distilling a world so vast, so complex, so utterly mystifying, into perspectives that add direction to directionless lives. The circle of life, The river that runs through it, the birds and the bees, etc.  On a day-to-day basis, metaphors allow us to explain ideas or experiences we don’t understand by relating them to those that we do.

In order to have the proper effect though, metaphors must be used in the appropriate context. As cultural contexts shift over time, many commonly used metaphors separate from their original meanings. Literary scholars refer to these figures of speech as “dead metaphors.” We go on using them in everyday conversation, oblivious to their origins or intended meanings.

By October of this year, after another summer punctuated by memorable fishing trips, I was feeling pretty good about the way my narrative was taking shape.  I saw my life as a metaphor for something bigger - not that I necessarily knew what that something was, but that I could find it if I looked hard enough. I even thought about that book from time to time.

And then my wife handed me this:

My brain surged with electricity as a tidal wave of emotion crippled my logic machine. After a frozen moment I began to comprehend. I exclaimed my elation, gave her the biggest hug I could muster, and politely requested that she head upstairs and take another test: it was positive, as was the third. A quiet chaos began brewing inside of me, born of a rare concoction of joy and fear that few life events are capable of inspiring. The insular worldview I’d built my life around to this point had just fallen victim to a car bomb: Whatever metaphor I’d planned on using to tell my story was now dead, its context shattered into cavernous oblivion by a seismic shift. I’d need a whole new set of analogies to distill any sort of perspective from the maze of questions that now entrapped me. I found myself confronting my own mortality, even as I was about to bring new life to the world.

I’ve spent the last few months preparing my psyche for the sea change that lies ahead and revisiting my college-aged quest for enlightenment. I even dug out a few of my old notebooks. Just the other day, I came across some notes from my Philosophy 201 class relating to the science of understanding. I could even read my own handwriting:

“Understanding a phenomenon involves perceiving that phenomenon as a part of a pattern with which we are familiar.”

My notes tell of the different causal patterns through which we might come to understand various phenomena. I had to re-read one description in particular:

“Final Cause: An object or event is understood if we know what its ultimate “end” or “telos” is: that is, to what fully developed form it is heading, or how it is part of a larger whole which is heading toward the same end. (Note: the “end” may just be stability in its current form). This kind of understanding is based on a worldview in which everything has a purpose or end.”

The death of a metaphor is not a sad story. It begets new metaphors with new meanings, even as we struggle to define them. I once fished worms for panfish and now swing flies for steelhead. I’m not sure what the fully developed form of either endeavor is. Perhaps, the end is just stability in it’s current form.

The book will have to wait. Baby Lampros is expected to arrive on June 21, 2014 – the longest day of the year. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m sure it’s a metaphor for something.


  1. Those last few paragraphs are beautifully written ... it all is .. but I really like those last few. Nicely done. You're soon to discover that being a dad changes everything - especially our priorities. Good luck and enjoy the ride ... there's nothing better - not even steelhead on a swung fly.

  2. Congratulations! There is nothing better than being a Dad!