Observing Life as a Metaphor: A Writing Exercise
As a new school year approaches, this English teacher is, once again, on a quest to find and create writing prompts and assignments that help my students grow as writers. For the first time in my career, I will be teaching the AP Language and Composition course at my school. Preparing to teach this class, I find myself looking for more sophisticated writing assignments that are not necessarily longer writing assignments.
On that quest, I came across a file of my writing that I had published on another, now defunct, site. I read the piece below and had an "aha" moment, as this would be a great exercise to do with my class when we study and discuss extended metaphors.
What Is an Extended Metaphor?
Most students can likely tell you that the definition of a metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that have common characteristics. As students mature, it is important to go beyond simple examples and to explore more sophisticated ways to teach metaphor. One way to do that is by exploring extended metaphors:
An extended metaphor “refers to a comparison between two unlike things that continues throughout a series of sentences in a paragraph or lines in a poem” (literarydevices.net).
In my AP Language and Composition class this year, I plan to assign weekly writing assignments in a response journal. These assignments will allow students to practice their writing, explore and mimic different styles, respond to what they are reading and observing in the world, and discover what they can do with the written word.
When we study extended metaphors, I will share the writing piece below as an example of my own writing. It was one of those days where I observed an event that prompted me to just sit down and write. In many ways, this writing piece was “off the cuff.” I will tell my students this, as it is important for them to know that writing doesn’t have to be laborious; sometimes it just arises from a moment we observe in the world.
After sharing my essay entitled "An Evening Walk" (below), I will assign students to write their own extended metaphor based on an observation of the world around them. I will urge them to think of moments that occurred in their recent past as well as the week of the assignment. I will encourage them to discuss and share and support each other, as finding that moment that develops into writing inspiration may not come easily.
An Example: "An Evening Walk"
Sometimes life presents us with a metaphor to teach us or remind us of a life lesson. We just have to pay attention. Several weeks ago, I paid attention and watched as the events unfolded. Here's the story of my walk:
A young teenage couple was also out for a walk. We were going in opposite directions around the circular, one mile road that surrounds our apartment community. The first time I encountered them, they were very clearly arguing. The argument seems to be about "the answer." They saw me coming, but it was as if I was not there. They didn’t lower their voices. I over heard her say, “I don’t know the answer!” He waited to respond. For a split second I thought they would hold off until they didn’t have an audience, but he was waiting for the opportune time. Just at the moment when we were passing and should have exchanged a friendly greeting, he chose to strike back at her. “Women are unreasonable,” he said. He then looked at me and smiled. I gave him a tight lipped smile back.
I felt bad for her. I was thinking about her as I kept walking. I felt like pulling her aside to give her some friendly woman to woman advice. Yet I knew that would be inappropriate, as I don’t know her and they were merely arguing. I decided to keep my comments to myself, and I kept walking.
The next time I passed them, they were running. She was a good 20 feet ahead of him. This time when I walked past him he said, "She’s a rabbit." He said it with an accusing, condescending tone. I gave him another tight lipped smile, as speaking would have ended in me telling him what I really thought.
The third time I passed them, they were still running. The exchange was almost an exact mirror of the previous one. However this time there were three older Indian gentleman gathered on the sidewalk having a smoke and pondering the growing grass. This time the teenage boy addressed his comment to the Indian gentleman standing on the sidewalk. He said, "She’s a rabbit." This time his tone was one of knowing, like the men on the sidewalk should know. Like I should know. Maybe he felt like announcing it to the world would make him more powerful, yet he was still 20 feet behind her.
The fourth time I passed them, she was still running strong. She was well ahead. This time when I passed him, he was clearly struggling. His breath heaved. This time he said, "I'm going to throw up. I'm going to throw up." I smiled again. “Good,” I thought.
He was trying to put her down. She was a strong powerful woman leaving him in the dust. He saw an unreasonable rabbit. I saw a woman who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. I saw a woman who was powerful enough to beat the competition. I saw a woman who was confident enough in herself to keep her own pace and run ahead.
Early on I wanted to tell her that she doesn't deserve to be treated with condescension. In the end, I was glad I hadn't spoken. She knew. I knew. Someday that young man will know too.