Your Literacy Experience, through Metaphor and Simile
Write two or three similes (comparisons using like or as) or metaphors (implied com- parisons, not using like or as) that express some aspect of your literacy experience. Then write a page or so explaining and expanding on the ideas and feelings you expressed in one or more of them. Here are some examples from professional writers:
Writing is like exploring . . . as an explorer makes maps of the country he has explored, so a writer’s works are maps of the country he has explored.
— LAWRENCE OSGOOD
The writer must soak up the subject completely, as a plant soaks up water, until the ideas are ready to sprout.
— MARGUERITE YOURCENAR
Writing is manual labor of the mind: a job, like laying pipe. — JOHN GREGORY DUNNE
If we had to say what writing is, we would define it essentially as an act of courage.
— CYNTHIA OZICK
To get at the meanings in your metaphors and similes, it may help also to write ones that express opposite ideas. For example, if you begin with “writing is like building a house,” you could also try “writing is taking things apart, brick by brick” to get at both the constructive and analytical aspects of the process. Or you could try “writing is walk- ing into a new house” to move from the work involved in composing to the discovery of something new.
IN COLLEGE COURSES In a linguistics course, students are assigned a paper in which they are to discuss published research in the context of their own experience. The class had recently read Deborah Tannen’s Gender and Discourse, in which Tannen discusses differences in how men and women talk about problems: according to Tannen, women tend to spend a lot of time talking about the problem and their feelings about it, while men typi- cally cut short the analysis of the problem and focus on solutions.
One student decides to write about Tannen’s findings in light of a conversation she recently had with her brother about their father’s drinking. Before writing, she rereads a diary entry she had written shortly after the conversation, which she found frustrating. She begins her essay by reconstructing the conversation, quoting some dialogue from her diary and paraphrasing other parts from memory. Then she analyzes the conversation, using Tannen’s categories. She discovers that what bothered her about the conversation was less its content than her brother’s way of communicating.
Remembering an Event
IN THE COMMUNITY As part of a local his- tory series in a newspaper serving a small western ranching community, an amateur historian volun- teers to help an elderly rancher write about the win- ter of 1938, when a six-foot snowstorm isolated the rancher’s family for nearly a month. The historian tapes the rancher talking about how he, his wife, and his infant son survived, including an account of how he snowshoed eight miles to a logging train track in order to get a message to relatives. On a second visit, the historian and the rancher listen to the tape recording and brainstorm on further details to make the event more complete and dramatic for readers.
The historian writes a rough outline, which he and the rancher discuss, and then a draft, which the rancher reads and elaborates on. The rancher also offers several photos for possible inclusion. The historian revises and edits the story and sub- mits it, along with two photos, to the project’s editor for publication. (For more information on the layout of the published version, turn to Thinking about Document Design, p. 55).
IN THE WORKPLACE A respected longtime regional manager for a state’s highway department has been asked to give the keynote speech at a meeting on workplace safety. The manager has long considered employee relations of paramount impor- tance in keeping the workplace safe, so he decides to open his speech by recounting his recent dra- matic confrontation with an unhappy employee who complained bitterly about the work schedule he had been given and threatened to harm the manager and his family if the manager did not give him a bet- ter schedule.
The manager reflects on his fear and on his frustration over not knowing how to handle the con- frontation: the department’s published procedures on workplace safety offered no specific advice on such a situation. Finally, the manager summarizes data he compiled on the nature and frequency of such work- place incidents nationwide and concludes by calling for new guidelines on how to handle them.