Land of the Hand

MI PalmUnless you’re from Michigan or know someone who is, it may not occur to you that Michigan is shaped like a mitten. I’d grown up in a boring rectangle state and lived for years in California, the long, misshappen left coast.

When my family moved to Michigan in 2000, we were mystified why people put their hands up to show me where they lived. I know, it seems so obvious now, but never in my 45 years had I seen anyone present a body part to describe geography.

At the time, my daughter was a high school sophomore. Having had enough of the hand, when asked where she lived before, she threw her left arm over her head, bent her elbow, and pointed to a spot about 2-3″ from her armpit on the outside of her arm. I love her quick wit and thought it was brilliant.

I’ve come to love my adopted state, but I’m still not comfortable using my hand for directions. My default is using directions and miles in relation to cities. Next year, I’ll celebrate two decades of being a transplanted Michigander…maybe then I’ll start using my hand.

The Mystery of Metaphors

It’s been a minute since I’ve written a post. I’ve been struggling with my writing and haven’t felt much like admitting it. I’m a butt in the chair, get it done kind of person so editing my memoir feels like a root canal. It’s hard to be motivated when writing feels like a chore.

This month, to shake things loose, I’m taking a memoir class with former Michigan State professor Lev Raphael. He assigned three memoir openings for our first assignment, we were to comment on them and reflect on our own.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch immediately caught my attention and I wanted to read more. I checked out the audiobook from the library and listened as Fitch wove her sad tale of mother drama. Her use of metaphor to bring home a point was masterful, and brought clearly into focus my woeful use of them. I’m still learning to write in the show, don’t tell manner and I struggle with metaphors. It’s much easier to cut to the chase and tell it like it is, but it’s not nearly as interesting to the reader.

This morning I read Marion Roach Smith’s essay on seeing metaphors all around us, then I took a mile-long hike around Trout Lake. I saw what she meant: use what we see to describe something in a different way so the reader can interpret their own meaning.

On my hike I saw an invasive plant species choking the shoreline and seemingly harmless tent caterpillars on tree limbs weaving webs of death, both illustrations of looking below the surface to see the struggle to survive. Even the hike that was easy just a year ago now left me breathless, a metaphor for my editing journey.

In hiking as in writing, the lessons are in the journey. I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other and my butt in the seat, and let the destination take care of itself.