As I continue reading the poetry of Theodore Roethke, one thing that strikes me is how much confidence and variance he commands while utilizing the same analogy repeatedly (if not excessively). I went into depth earlier this week concerning Roethke’s use of garden and plant images and metaphors, and how those pertained to his life. What this has me wondering is, what would be the analogy that best reflects my life’s writings?
As I discussed my brand new poem “Laps of Love” with a friend, we realized how often I write about people as “ideas” instead of as people. Belittling human beings to mere ideas, including the poor self-perception it takes to do that to one’s self, is a theme that, the more I think about it, has pervaded my writing for years. I wrote a short story for one of my college courses about a man who gets separated between body and spirit; therefore, he is able to have conversations between his logical, emotionless self (body) and his conscientious, emotional self (spirit). Although I enjoyed writing within this conceit, I’ll admit that splitting a character into such distinctly binary halves caused each half to come across like sketches of a human instead of a fully realized being.
I believe I wrote that story in early 2014. Let’s flashback a few years to 2011, when I wrote a favorite song of mine, “SaturdayAM.” This song immediately jumps into the first verse with the lyrics, “I’m in love with the idea of perfection, I’m in love with the idea of love.” Admittedly, holding to these sorts of ideas is stifling. Inventing supposedly “perfect” people and “perfect” circumstances in one’s head can only hinder one’s ability to function with real people in real circumstances. At the song’s (in my opinion, haunting) climax, I sing, “I’m in love with the idea of more,” referring to the only logical conclusion I could come to, which in my mind still stands even five years later: to seek perfection from others or from yourself will leave you in a desperate cycle of wanting more and more yet receiving less and less.
All this goes to say… I don’t use analogies very often. My writing style has pseudo-affectionately been described with the phrase “tell-it-as-it-is.” However, a few analogies did manage to sneak onto my album Act, Action, and the Peace that Never Was, a concept album that explores the same themes as described above. In the penultimate track, “My Nightmare,” the main character realizes he’s fallen in love with a version of a girl he created in his head that was more like him, rendering him incapable of seeing the girl for who she truly was.
Debatably, this song goes in and out of three different analogies (…gross, right?), but I’ve never written about how the two pre-choruses tie together. In the first, I sing, “Now with this summer’s closure, I can see clearly that you were just the breeze in the wind I thought I could catch.” As time passes leading into the second pre-chorus, I alter the lyrics to, “Now that this summer’s over, my vision’s moved beyond the blind spot we’d left in my eyes from staring at the sun too long.” In the former, the main character is attempting to take hold of something that cannot be grasped. In the latter, he figures out he was grasping for a ghost, something that didn’t exist to begin with.
What’s hilarious to me about these two analogies is how they are so clearly rooted in songs that I loved a whole lot back in 6th grade. The first is “Mind’s Eye” by dcTalk, which contains the lyrics (ironically enough in its own pre-chorus), “Can you catch the wind? / See a breeze? / Its presence is revealed by the leaves on a tree / An image of my faith in the unseen.” The second is rooted in Thrice’s 2004 single, “Stare at the Sun,” (consequently one of the first rock songs I liked, ever). In the song’s chorus, Thrice vocalist Dustin Kensrue belts, “I’ll stare straight into the sun / And I won’t close my eyes / Till I understand or go blind.”
What’s clear is how easily we borrow from our influences, plus how unoriginal these analogies are. Thrice would debunk dcTalk as my all-time favorite artist come 8th grade, yet although I’ve held both artists in such high regards, I’m well-aware how constrained they, too, are to their influences. Theodore Roethke openly admitted how often he directly stole from the British Romantics.
All in all, this was an enjoyable and illuminating thought exercise for me. As of now, I don’t have any consistent analogies I wield, and even when I try, I don’t “wield” them with much skill. Perhaps I’ll never be the type to regularly use similes and metaphors, so who’s to say I’ll ever need a “life analogy” to dependably fall back on? If I stick to my “tell-it-as-it-is” style and do that effectively, I’ll be fine. I love my influences, but ultimately I hope to write like myself, not write like my influences. I’ll never forget an interview with My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way, discussing how flattered he was when his band would receive comparisons to their hero, the 70’s/80’s band Queen. Way responded to these comparisons by saying, “I’d love for My Chemical Romance to be the second Queen; but I’d much rather My Chemical Romance be the first My Chemical Romance.”