I'm teaching a writing class at SPU this term that I'm calling Thinking Out Loud, the course text for which is Alan Jacobs' How to Think. Yesterday, we were discussing the chapter "The Money of Fools," which, among other things, discusses the metaphors we live by. The book has been a success in class, though sometimes I worry that Jacobs writes so lucidly that I'll have little work to do. We're trying to frame take-aways from the book: how will we conduct ourselves differently after having confronted these ideas, and for this week, one of them was simply to mark, to listen for the embedded metaphors around us, and then to interrogate those for possible unintended (yet still powerful) influences. We'll try to notice when a political commentator refers to the peaceful transition of power between two parties serving the smae country as "a battle," featuring "victories," and even "casualties." And then we'll try to think of other ways the same phenomena could be framed, perhaps more helpfully.
We talked about the Italian phrase for good luck (particularly on tests)--in bocca al lupo-- "Stick it in the wolf's mouth," and then someone brought up the admittedly strange benediction wherein we suggest to our performing friends that they "break a leg." Our class discussion reminded me of a buried metaphor I heard a few years ago and have been thinking about—on and off— since.
I found myself sitting on the outside deck at Fremont Coffee one summer morning, on what happened to be the summer solstice. I had heard, vaguely, that there was a parade, but saw no evidence thereof until I saw a fully nude man riding a bicycle, standing on the pedals as though looking around for someone. I looked to my fellow customers for verification that we were all indeed observing the same bizarre phenomena. They were non-plussed. Then three girls rode by, looking similarly lost and also in the buff. By that point, we coffee sippers had pieced together that this was some kind of demonstration, likely connected with the solstice, and I thought: four riders; that's about right for the exhibitionist population of a city this size; plus, it's cold out. Then 150 more rode by, variously body painted, pierced, shaved, not, and otherwise just so very there.
It was funny to me how the critical mass mattered. The one guy I took for a pervert. The three lost girls I felt sorry for. But when the parade route rode right down the street I was sitting on, the whole mood changed almost to elation. People clapped and cheered. They brought their kids to line the streets, carrying them on shoulders like at any other procession of mayor and firetrucks and marching bands. And then the man next to me said the strangest thing; raising his fist, he shouted to the naked bikers, "Go get 'em!"
Right then, I asked myself some questions. Go get whom? And how? The clothed? Christians? All that was going to take place, objectively speaking, is these people will ride their bikes naked around a few blocks, then go home, shower, and go out to brunch. But this fellow seems to have thought they were warriors of some kind, conducting a raid. I mused and smiled, and, thinking back now on the morning while thinking through Jacobs' book, I think, I think he imagined these riders as a kind of cavalry and that they were, by airing their fannies thus, going to take down "The Patriarchy," whatever they took that to mean.
I think he thought--and I think they thought--that they were soldiers, giving up their own dignity, rather than their lives, to wage war on Mr. Rogers, or Andy Griffith, or the guys from Mad Men. That somehow, their taking a stand now against the normal worked to undo the very idea of normalcy and thereby of the status quo and somehow thereby against the church, or the married w/ 2.5 kids, or maybe the suburbs.
I suppose that's the strange thing about bacchanalian rites: they're great fun, but one can never quite see what the objective is. But that's also the strange thing about metaphors: they burrow and sometimes need to be burned backward out, like ticks.