Writing as a metaphor.

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Writing is taking your brain to The Container Store.

The Container Store. Have you ever been there? It’s a perfectly organized space full of every size container imaginable so that you may too, have a perfectly organized space in your house. The Container Store has a solution for every random item one chooses to keep. You can buy a tiny basket that sticks to your dryer with magnets and is labeled “Pocket Treasures” for all those random objects that go through the wash.

You can buy a jar that fits really long pasta just so, keeping it fresh and accessible. With The Container Store, (and lots of money to give The Container Store), you can ensure that every single object in your house has a home, freeing yourself of clutter and stress!

So, for me, writing is taking my brain to the container store. The second I sit down to write, all my cluttered thoughts begin to sort themselves into appropriately sized boxes. At first some ideas might try to stick together, thinking that they belong in the same poem or blog or memo. Sometimes they do belong together, and sometimes the writing process allows each idea it’s own space to grow and fit into a format all its own. Writing gives each thought a home, allows me to organize those thoughts to stack on top of one another neatly; or to store them away in a moisture proof under-the-bed clear bin so that I can revisit them when the time is right. Writing turns some of my ideas into cute little phrases that decorate the hall, complete with tiny hooks and no real purpose other than to hang my keys on. It turns other thoughts into massive filing cabinet sized stories that I can fill with a hundred other related thoughts, neatly organized into chapters.

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I suppose that Lakoff and Johnson would call this all a conduit metaphor, a term coined by Michael Reddy. The basic idea of this is that “Ideas are objects. Linguistic expressions are containers. Communication is sending.” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). They take issue with conduit metaphors though, believing that they limit our worldview into what will fit inside our metaphor boxes. This may be true for a single box, there is only so much space after all. But, if Lakoff and Johnson had ever visited The Container Store, they would see that there is an endless variety of new boxes to put new ideas into.

Of course, the real issue with conduit metaphors is that they rely on the idea that the words themselves hold all the meaning necessary for proper communication. This is not true, context matters in many situations, take jargon for example. A cop might say “I’ve got a suspect on the box and I’m gonna run code on this apb.”

The words alone mean nothing unless you have the context of being a cop. Viewing a single metaphorical box on it’s own cannot be expected to send the whole message.

For example, I would never expect someone to understand how my laundry room is organized just by showing them my “Pocket Treasures” basket. They would of course have to see the entire scope of perfectly curated containers that always keep my laundry room ready for the cover of Country Living. In this same sense, one paragraph of a story is not enough to understand the message I am trying to send. You would have to read the whole thing, all the thoughts organized and lined up together because for me, writing is visiting The Container Store.

*The Container Store did not pay me to write this.

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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