February 15, 2007

Agents of Metaphor

We’re in Din Ho Chinese Barbecue -– barbecued pork, sizzling beef with black pepper, clay-pot-baked eggplant in garlic sauce, vegetable lo mein – when it occurs to Agent 97 to ask me to remind him what a metaphor is.

“Well, do you know what a simile is?”

“Yeah.” He seems mildly offended -– he’s in fourth grade, after all. So I explain that a metaphor is like a simile except you take out the like or as. We start thinking of metaphors and similes: the lake of sauce in the serving dish, the strands of noodle are like Agent 97’s hair, and so on and so forth.

“I’ve always thought that similes are pretty childish,” Agent 95 puts in.

“Well, er, um,” I stammer, trying to grasp at justifications for my use of similes over the eons. All I can come up with is that a simile sometimes sounds better than its equivalent metaphor. It’s true, similes are on the whole less sophisticated than metaphors.

Scary. It’s like being perfectly happy with your clothes and then being told they're so twenty years ago.

I’m becoming concerned that Agent 95 has taken his first steps down the road to perdition. He saw my copy of the coffee table book The Writer’s Desk, which shows various famous writers pretending to work (looking out their garden windows thoughtfully, abstractedly petting their dogs, etc.) the other day, and lunged for it and yearningly asked if he could have it. Yes, of course. So I had to start explaining to him who Richard Ford and Eudora Welty were. God knows where it will end. I feel like Fagin in Oliver Twist, teaching an 11-year-old to be a pickpocket.

Labels: , , ,