End of Metaphor

28 Mar

Old School Beverly Hills

When I first saw David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive a decade ago, I turned it off  right after the demon appears in the back of Winkies Diner. Something about that scene turned my stomach. This week, I keep replaying it.  That’s because these days I’m in Mulholland Drive territory–literally and metaphorically. Not far from Beverly Hills, the Mulholland neighborhood, with its winding streets, eerily gargantuan fronds and succulents,  old Cadillacs and shadows evoking an ominous nostalgia like something out of a, say, David Lynch film–speaks to me.  And as for the metaphorical aspect, well, the film’s sensibility resonates with my current emotional “neighborhood”–a place where a demon from a nightmare has re-emerged. Plaguing someone I love, someone who should be loving life and exploring it with youthful abandon, and hope, and passion.

Instead, he’s struggling with a disease that is like the demon: abrupt and powerful. Clearly a guy in a costume, the ugly creature in the film should be laughable, but is horrifying because it’s as if the demon is of the character’s own making. . .always there, waiting for him.  Like Frankenstein’s monster, it makes a gesture that is familiar, seductive and destructive.

I should have seen this coming. Maybe that’s why I keep watching the scene of the demon. . .rehearsing the fact that sometimes nightmares are real, what your unconscious cooks up might just show up leering in the back of a diner or, in my case, leave a voice mail while I’m at the gym.  As I emerged from the gleaming marble and glass world of Equinox, I heard the message, and  collapsed on the stairs. Beverly Hills strangers picked me up and drove me home.

I remembered a place near L.A. where my loved one could get help for his disease, someplace I’d investigated several years ago. I went on line, made phone calls.  “Everything happens for a reason,” a friend said, and I agreed because I needed to, because this was happening when, thankfully, I’d had time to settle into this geography long enough to think almost straight, because it was the spring equinox, because I’d just sent him a hat with “California Republic” written on it, because I’d dreamed the night before of large white worms roiling under the sidewalk of Beverly Hills.

Everything happens for a reason? I wouldn’t say that to this guy, who regularly sleeps down the block.

Reeves Park homeless man

The good, bad, ugly–most things are, as my students would say, “random,” gruesomely or exquisitely so. But there was some kind of  design to how the week played out, and a few days after the phone call, the person I love was able to get on a plane in New York, and land at the Burbank Bob Hope airport, a cartoon-y hole in the wall of a place. But there we were. I hadn’t seen him in almost three months. He is going to get the help he needs, at a place tailor-made for him. I am here. He is here.

We stayed overnight in a hotel, something we’ve done countless times for fun, adventure, luxury. . .this was not like that.  I was sad, confused, and angry about the demon. He was sick, contrite, sad, confused, and angry about the demon. We watched half of a talk show, and then turned off the lights. We slept. Like the dead. Or the homeless.

In the morning I suggested he take a shower, an idea he resisted. “Don’t you want to do it for the metaphor–starting fresh, feeling clean?”
“I am done with metaphor.”  That shut me up.

Then he took a shower.  And then we drove to his new For The Forseeable Future Home; he did not want to go in, but he did. He’s always been good that way. I drove to a mall parking lot to fall apart inside the car. After a bit I went into Staples to buy a filing system. I was NOT done with metaphor; I needed order.

files in staples Imagine:  a place for everything, everything in its place.  He in his, and me in mine, close. Passover and Easter, and a full moon right around the corner. Everything happens for a reason. I bought some jewel-toned plastic files, and thought about the last time we’d dyed eggs together.  We’d always gone for Mulholland  shades: blood red, sunset orange, midnight blue. Those eggs lolled  in their cups forever. We’d flick them lightly with spoons, turning them so that the rich color would spread evenly. They never came out without gradations, one blurry patch curving into another.

Clearly, I cling to metaphor as a kind of order-forming graph.When something is like something else, you can get a handle it–uh, love being like a red, red rose. (Bad Example.) The story impulse is the same: This Led To That  which means that Things Might Happen For A Reason, which might mean we are on a road toward Serenity and the Occasional Moment Of Joy and  A Perfectly Dyed Egg.  Driving aimlessly away from Staples, I got on a road, a small numbered highway.

I found myself in a place called Topanga Canyon.

Topanga Canyon (2)

I felt the way Jake does in The Sun Also Rises when he leaves France behind to enter Spain, his holy land of rural simplicity. “It was hot. The air was clean.  I fished. I caught some fish.  It was hot. The air was clean.” Something like that. Hemingway’s prose uses metaphor sparingly, and I love that. I stopped at a little oasis. It was hot. The air was clean.

Topanga Canyon

This was not Mulholland Drive. Not Beverly Hills. A little Ithaca-ish, in fact, and a woman my age with gray hair and nice earrings was eating a tofu sandwich from the back of her pick-up. Wherever you go, there you are. Everything happens for a reason. My mind, stuck in the rut of aphorisms, was like a kid sucking her thumb. (I did that until I was. . .forget I said that.)  Copycatting, I  bought and ate a tofu sandwich. And kept driving. Up and down hills, I just kept turning the steering wheel. Until the ocean appeared.

beach after rehab

I’d reached the end of Topanga Canyon Road. But certainly not the end of metaphor. This was The Journey Continues writ large. Suddenly the Prius looked like a red hot Easter egg.

Prius at end of canyon road

I walked into the Pacific.

toes in water

                                                       Here for a reason.

I got back in the Prius and drove along the ocean. I put in CD Never Stop, by the jazz trio The Bad Plus. I’d not listened to it since driving across country two months ago. Track 5, “People Like You” was playing. My loved one had seemed not like himself.  Did he need to find a way to return to his former self. . .or a new self?  Impossible for me to get away from metaphors of journey, re-birth, the egg, the ocean/shore thing. I kept going until Santa Monica beach.


A mirage in the sand, this carnival squealing and singing and whirling at the edge of the ocean. Parking was eight dollars, which I paid in order to take this picture, because I’d run out of words for the time being. (But Reader, this place seems like a complete impossibility, doesn’t it? Metaphor. . .)

I made it back to my apartment, where I watched Mulholland Drive again. Identities blurring and characters exchanging narratives; it’s either brilliant or a total mess. Or both. Good, bad, ugly, forward, backward, in the end more about sound and image than story or symbol, I think?

A final image. In honor of a person who asked for help, who is saving himself from a demon, saving himself–for himself. Whoever that may be. Who said that he was “done with metaphor,” and took a shower for a reason of his own.

wistful sea birds


5 Responses to “End of Metaphor”

  1. Robin Botie April 1, 2013 at 1:50 am #

    Whoa, this was breath-taking. Ohmygosh I want to hug your person, hug you. And the metaphors – endless – that’s the way we learn.


    • kwasson2012 April 1, 2013 at 4:57 am #

      Thank you! That is the way we learn . . .!


      • maw14747 April 8, 2013 at 12:33 am #

        I learned in this beautiful, soul-scorching entry that demons are everywhere, the scariest ones perhaps in those we love, that a scarlet Prius can be an Easter Egg in the rough, that driving can be curative when metaphors are not enough. And then, suddenly, they are. For they are the beginning, not the end.


  2. elainemansfield April 10, 2013 at 2:06 am #

    Dear Kirsten,
    So much seems to happen for no reason at all, even though I spend most of my mental life rooting around for THE reason. The fact is I’m buffeted by life and do what I can to stay upright. Still I won’t give up thinking there is a reason, no matter how hopeless the search. I wish him well. I wish you well. I think of walking on Santa Monica beach and strolling the path at Venice Beach, watching the variety of humanity there with costumes, dogs, hair, and bicycles built for two. I’m concerned for the one you love. Sending out little blessings to you in your other world. But still, there are those tofu sandwiches to connect back to Ithaca.
    We knew you when you were a struggling professor in a small town…


    • kwasson2012 April 10, 2013 at 2:10 am #

      Elaine, what a moving response. . .thank you so much. . .I feel less invisible. You are so good at seeing someone and calling out to them! ________________________________________


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: