When I was studying English at school, one of my longest standing debates was whether or not authors were intentionally employing creative techniques in their writing. I always argued that it was absolute nonsense, that we shouldn’t be wasting our time trying to decipher what authors really meant when they wrote something that seemed to me to be a very detailed and somewhat eclectic description of a forest. I couldn’t possibly understand why they would think out their entire story and then go through it and find all the moments that would be enriched by a comparison to nature or to dance or to the human body.
Oddly, it never crossed my mind that it actually happens the other way around. Though perhaps it’s not surprising. When we were asked to write creatively, the marking criteria required that we demonstrate an understanding of a list of techniques: metaphor, simile…… (where is google when I need to try and make a list of things…). At age 15, our lack of any first-hand life experience resulted in a string of unnaturally employed and sickeningly clichéd phrases such as “eyes that sparkle like the ocean”.
My education, though maybe not solely of its fault, led me to believe that Wordsworth sat at his desk and wrote out a poem in plain English prose before painstakingly translating it to a cryptic web of metaphor. Bizarre, it seemed, that he would complicate a perfectly comprehensible description of human emotion by hiding it behind a veil of linguistic technique.
I recently took up indoor bouldering as a hobby. Never before has the entire concept of metaphor seemed more logical. Without any conscious chain of thought, my mind has started to attach the physical and psychological process of climbing to my understanding and experience of other facets of life.
We don’t start by considering profound concepts such as ‘finding one’s path’ and intentionally planning out all of the ways in which it can be related to simpler things. Rather, we naturally encounter those simpler elements of reality every day, such as in nature or sport, that offer less complicated opportunities to change our understanding. Once we’ve appreciated something on that smaller scale, applying it to a larger life lesson seems to make more sense. It’s a hundred times more fathomable to describe the experience of planning a route on a climbing wall than it is to philosophise about the best way to reach one’s life goals.