Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Day at Hedgebrook Part Two: A metaphor- finding my way in the dark . . .

OK. I'm going to use a real metaphor: Finding my way in the dark at Hedgebrook. 

The day we arrived at Hedgebrook one of the staff members drove two of us and our luggage to our cottages in a golf cart. Taking in the beautiful surroundings, I did not pay attention to the route she took. And I did not realize that on Whidbey Island, 35 miles north of Seattle, darkness falls early on a December day. Add overcast skies (with very little assistance, therefore, from the moon or stars) to the conditions, and by 5:30, dinnertime, it is very, very dark. Chilly and dark. I had brought a flashlight, and another was provided in my cottage. So I struck out bravely, two flashlights in hand, thinking I'd be sure to happen upon the farmhouse; after all, our guide had said, if you find a gravel path and follow it downhill, that's where you'll end up finding yourself.

She obviously didn't know me.  

There are many paths at Hedgebrook. And some are quite level. Very little, except perhaps the garden, is laid out on any kind of grid. That is part of its charm. Each cottage feels private, but from my window I could view at least one other cottage, from its side or back; the illusion of absolute solitude is carefully preserved and cherished. If you should need a neighbor, you have one. (There is also an alarm button that, when pressed, will alert a security company, which will call Hedgebrook folk, and someone will come and find you in a hurry. And there's an air horn which one can use as a stopgap if necessary. I was tempted to try it just to hear the sound, but didn't want the resulting commotion, so I wisely left it alone.)

At Hedgebrook, meandering paths are covered with pine needles, leaves, and bark, and there are many different and circular ways to reach the woodpile or the pump room or the bath house (all close to my cabin but hidden in the trees) and the gravel path that leads to the farmhouse (a 5 minute walk). So on that first night, I set out bravely with my flashlight, wishing I had a walking GPS programmed to deliver me from here to there. 

Well. I finally did see, above the trees, the occasional light in the distance. Was that Useless Bay, a section of Puget Sound, which meant I was heading downhill, or was I completely turned around? I was not born with a sense of direction, and didn't think to bring a compass, so the light didn't offer me any answers. I kept on trudging, trying to judge if I was actually going downhill, and thinking that surely I would run into the farmhouse, perhaps by accident, and how far away was it? 

I saw another light, closer, this time, and with palpable relief I approached it. I thought of a sailor seeing the beam from a lighthouse, and I was that sailor. Was this even on Hedgebrook Property? Through the window I could see a woman who had to be a writer. I just knew it. As I got closer I realized it was a cottage, larger than mine, with a car parked in front of it. Beside the cottage was a retaining wall. I shone my flashlight onto the ground below it and estimated the length of the step I'd need to take to step down from the wall. 

Wrong. I went down with a crash - - - -well, as much of a crash as one could make on a relatively soft, spongy surface. Head, shoulder, hip, knee, all hit the ground, but miraculously, not the ankle! My right ankle is a part of my body that I protect very carefully. Two failed surgeries have left it less than fully functional; tears are evident in the tendons. It doesn't take much to twist it and feel the pain for days. But the ankle was spared. The shoulder, however . . . . well, let's just say I was very stiff and sore for a couple of days but that was all. Until today, I haven't told anyone about my fall. It wasn't important, though I kept reliving it in my mind for hours. Funny how the mind works. If anyone from Hedgebrook should happen to read this, I was not injured and I will not sue you. I am guilty of poor judgment and that is all. 

Back to the cabin and the writer(s) in it. I knocked at the door, quite shaken by my fall, but determined that no one would hear about it. After all, I was back on my feet and I was a self-sufficient woman. "I'm looking for the Hedgebrook Farmhouse," I said to the white-haired woman who opened the door. "Well, that's where we're headed!" she said, and ushered me in. The two women donned coats and shoes and grabbed flashlights and led the way to the farmhouse, which was just down the path.  . . . around the curve . . . over the wooden bridge and there it was, warmly beckoning us, a welcoming sight. 

The farmhouse in daylight. 
I wondered if I would find my way back to Willow Cottage after dinner (more on the food later), but we all struck out for our cottages at the same time after dinner, and I did know where my cottage was in relation to Owl, so when Owl's occupant said goodnight and headed toward her front door, I knew I would find Willow somewhere to the left, not too far away. With my trusty flashlights shining on the path in front of my feet (to watch for anything that could cause a misstep), I did indeed find my lovely cottage. 

Every night after that, I left nearly every light at Willow cottage blazing when I headed to the farmhouse in the darkness; it was a waste of precious electricity, but it was also the welcome light I needed to guide me home. 

Here's what Wikipedia says about metaphor:

A political cartoon from an 1894 Puck magazine by illustrator S.D. Ehrhart, shows a farm woman labeled "Democratic Party" sheltering from a tornado of political change.
metaphor is a literary figure of speech that describes a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object. Metaphor is a type of analogy and is closely related to other rhetoricalfigures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison or resemblance including allegoryhyperbole, and simile.
One of the most prominent examples of a metaphor in English literature is the All the world's a stage monologue fromAs You Like It:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances; — William ShakespeareAs You Like It, 2/7[1]
This quote is a metaphor because the world is not literally a stage. By figuratively asserting that the world is a stage, Shakespeare uses the points of comparison between the world and a stage to convey an understanding about how the world works and the lives of the people within it.

The word "metaphor" was tossed around regularly by a couple of the writers last week, but I wasn't one of the verbal jugglers. I listened instead; my use of metaphor is often sadly lacking. Sometimes, and when it actually works best for me, it just happens. 
For example, I shared an essay, "Baking Day" with the women. It is by far the darkest piece I have ever written, and the only dark essay I shared all week. I can read it aloud without choking up now, as enough time has gone by that I can almost read it as someone else's work. The language is cut and dried and instructive as the story unfolds. But I could hear gasps and soft moans from my listeners, so I think it still has some impact. 
"Baking Day" came about during a writers' workshop I took with Sandra Jackson Opoku, at Writers@Work in Salt Lake City, about ten years ago. Our assignment for that evening was to take a short piece of our own and rewrite it. Re-order the chronology, or tell it from a different character's point of view, she suggested . . . whatever we  wanted to try. The point was to experiment. 
She had read us an essay by Jamaica Kinkaid, "Girl," which affected me profoundly. It is basically a "laundry list" or lecture that a mother delivers to her daughter. It starts innocently enough . . . this is how you iron a handkerchief, this is how you  prepare this or that dish . . . then the tone gradually changes. The mother notes that the daughter has reportedly misbehaved at mass. Finally we hear a response from the daughter, who protests, "No, Mama!" but is ignored. The list becomes uglier as it predicts what the girl will become when she grows up: a slut. 
How Kinkaid communicated that powerful piece in a "list" format made me think of a day that began in a routine way for me, as I was carefully following a recipe for a cake. In one unscripted moment, my world as I knew it fell apart. By the end of the day, my heart was changed forever. However, I put the cake in the oven, baked it and served it to our guests. 

I had never written about that day; I could never bring myself to do it. Why not describe it in the form of a recipe? That night "Baking Day" took form. I didn't do much editing; it is what it is, and recently took second place in a national essay/memoir contest. It can still elicit a "sucker punch" from a listener. 
I am proud of the piece and will never forget the lesson it taught me. So, yes, I do use metaphor, rather sparingly, and not always consciously. And now I realize I have used two: baking a day and finding my way in the dark. Oh, and the sailor and the lighthouse. Well, what do you know?


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