Warning: I’m about to make the word “metaphor” lose all meaning and sense, just by repetition.
I spent my day tuning pianos in a church. I do that quite a bit. Actually, I probably spend more time at church than a lot of Christians, even though I’m a very ‘non-declared’ agnostic/Taoist type person. This is only relevant because of how I got to that point, both in profession and faith.
Like several people I know, I went through a pagan/Wiccan phase back in high school and college. No, not because I was rebelling or angry at God. It was actually the first thing that ever rang true to me. Problem was, I was studying and discovering those paths on my own. Okay, not so much a problem – I count myself lucky. But it meant that when I finally found others of ‘my kind,’ they were – well, not so much. They took everything too literally, and I just couldn’t take it seriously. I tried for a time, though. I went to a couple of nifty pagan gatherings. I made my own hand drum. And I came to the huge realization that you can find metaphors in literally anything.
On a spiritual and psychological level, at that age, it was a pretty hysterical discovery: I was in my early 20s, barely recovering from a massive broken heart, failing college… basically just one big, hot mess of angst and turmoil. I was driving home from classes one day, and there was this dog in the middle of the road. Damn thing would not move, was nearly getting hit by both directions of traffic, and why? Because it was fixated on trying to gnaw on a rotten, flattened carcass of a dead animal. And that – that was THE metaphor for my life at that time. Stupid dog risking its whole life over a rotten thing that was probably going to make it violently ill, anyway.
Did God/ess come down and construct this scenario for me personally, as some sort of cosmic message? Fuck no, man. I mean, I could find a metaphor in my old stuffed bear that’s tattered and covered in dust but still sitting in the corner of the dresser my husband and I share. That’s the point – metaphors are what you want them to be.
This is the shit I think about while I’m tuning, by the way. And yep, tuning pianos is another metaphor – for writing. I wanted so damned badly to learn this craft, I turned down a starting admin job at $30k (which was big money for me in my 20s), to make $7.50 an hour learning to do this. On Boston’s cost of living, no less. They started me out in the shittiest college piano practice rooms possible – if we could make those pianos just play correctly, then we could learn how to tune them. I was lucky – I’d studied physics of sound in college for my original major, so I already understood things like beating waveforms. And I’ve played since the age of five, so what little bit of music there is involved in tuning, I already got. My first tuning took me eight hours. Pretty standard – every tuner’s first piano takes around 8-12 hours. Then you just do it over and over again until you get your time down to 2 hours or less. For us, it had to be one hour before we could graduate to the nicer practice rooms and beyond.
I used to sit in those goddamned practice rooms and cry. Just sob, while trying to tune clean unisons. It was that grueling, that tedious. Eventually, though, I graduated to the nice practice rooms. Then to the classrooms and teaching studios. Then to the recording studios and stages, and then to the public stages for concert tunings. I’ve tuned for Alicia Keys. Harry Connick, Jr. Carly Simon. The Boston Pops. Lyle Lovett. And many more. And you know, it was still grueling, tedious work. I only ever met one of the artists I tuned for. I didn’t get paid thousands or even a hundred dollars for it. And in the end, I’m still just here, barely paying my bills, tuning for churches and homes and teachers and the like, so I can support my music and writing habits.
This is a metaphor, too. Because I know, I know damned good and well, that writing is ultimately no different. The shitty practice rooms and little-to-no pay (really, I was very fortunate to get paid to learn – that’s unheard of in tuning), the “glamour” of being able to say you’re a professional piano technician while you take on jobs like scrubbing cat placenta out of a piano, or simply trying to make someone’s grandmother’s water-damaged 100-year-old upright play. And in the end, even when I can tell a story about how I just managed to *not* giggle when HCJ gave me The Smile – it’s still Work. It’s work that doesn’t do itself. It’s work that I can charge what I do for it now, because I did my time in those smoke-stained practice rooms, crying my eyes out over 8-hour tunings. But even still, my house is falling down around me because we barely make ends meet.
Writing is no different. The person who thinks they can just fly through their first piano tuning with a smartphone app in hand will 99 percent of the time come out with a hot mess on their hands that needs to be fixed by a professional for twice what a regular tuning would have cost them. The person who thinks they can just fly through their first novel and submit their NaNoWriMo to RandomHouse – well, you get my point. And let’s not turn this into a rant about that. THIS rant is about metaphors.
I like them. That stained glass up there? It’s a metaphor, too. I can’t remember exactly what I thought it was when I took that picture, but at some point it will apply to something.