Metaphor MouseBackground: the metaphor technique is something I’ve adapted from Suzette Haden Elgin‘s teachings. It’s an amazing tool for destuckifying.

It’s also how I discovered that I work on a pirate ship and defeated the hackers. And cured my fear of being beautiful.

More recently we turned my dreaded Tickler file into an Iguana Watcher’s Guide And doing taxes happens in a Secret Money Cave where I visit my treasures and make Tribute to the lands that allow me access to their fair harbours.

Metaphor Mouse to the rescue!

The situation.

So. I was talking shop with a [very nice, very successful, male, significantly older than me] colleague, and we ended up in one of those clashes of opinion whose entanglements are primarily semantic.

He was using phrases like “taking over the world” and “world domination” and “full growth potential” and “building your empire”. And “taking it to the next level”.

And while I’m into biggification that happens in a mindful, conscious way, all this talk of dominating hugeness is sooooo not my cup of grown-in-my-backyard tea.

So he was thinking I was hitting some personal walls of my own fears of biggification, which okay, yeah, I have some.

But as we talked it out* it became clear that this was really more about vocabulary.

* NVC FTW! It is still astonishing to me how many disagreements turn out not to be disagreements as soon as I remember to apply Non Violent Communication.

Wait! A really important thing that needs to be said before I continue with the post!

Words are individual. Definitions and associations: even more so.

So if you like having an empire or dominating things, that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. And it doesn’t mean that your way is wrong, or that we can’t be each others’ right people.

It just means that each of us gets to work on our own stuff in our own way. This is me figuring out things for me. And I sincerely hope that me-working-on-my-stuff and processing out loud doesn’t step on your stuff, because that’s not my intention at all. Okay?

Okay. Back to the stuck.

He really couldn’t understand why I didn’t want an empire. And I couldn’t understand why wanting one was so important.

It took us a while to figure out that we actually both want similar things in our businesses. We just have really different ways of talking about them.

As it turned out, it wasn’t my biggification monsters showing up. It’s a much more basic discomfort (and personal associations) with this vocabulary of dominance and dominating and kicking-of-ass.

Which is not a culture I feel at home in.

[NOTE: I don’t at all need things to be huggy and lovey. There can totally be Bruce Lee moves and jedi stuff. I just don’t want to dominate anything. Not my style.]

So it was clear that — whether I want to biggify more or just be able to talk about what I’m already doing — it’s time to find a vocabulary that does describe what I want.

And who better for that job than … Metaphor Mouse!

All together now! To the tune of I am Iron Man. Yes. Still.

I am Metaphor Mouse … doo da doo doo doo doo doo!

Unpacking my current relationship with this.

What are the qualities, aspects, associations, attributes of my PERSONAL DEFINITION of the problem word (including what *is* working — if anything)?

(EMPIRE = ?)

[+ crushing opponents]
[+ unkind]
[+ sprawling]
[+ conflict]
[+ governed through strength]
[+ rapacious]
[+ unclear boundaries]
[+ constant growth]
[+ hard to get a handle on]
[+ requires forceful maintenance]
[+ can’t afford to be compassionate]
[+ dominance]
[+ masculine]
[+ imperialism]
[+ mainstream]
[+ influence]
[+ power]
[+ ability to get stuff done]
[+ respected]
[+ thriving]
[+ could be awesome]
[+ Death Star]
[+ storm troopers]

Reminds me of? Makes me think of?

Alright. I know I was going all Star Wars there, but when I asked this question the first thing that popped into my mind was: Napoleon.

So Napoleon it is.

Learning more about my IDEAL metaphor (X = ?)

What sort of qualities, aspects and feelings does the thing I want contain?

[+ power]
[+ sovereignty]
[+ thriving]
[+ clear boundaries]
[+ I get to be Pirate Queen]
[+ nonviolent]
[+ well-defined]
[+ contained]
[+ silly]
[+ playful]
[+ sustainable]
[+ good relations]
[+ independence]
[+ margins]
[+ support]
[+ community]
[+ queer-friendly]
[+ grounded]
[+ strong]
[+ fierce]
[+ creative]
[+ using powers for good]
[+ healthy growth]
[+ respected]
[+ flexible]
[+ freedom]

Reminds me of? Makes me think of?


Safe harbour for my pirate ship and my people. Something with both isolation and connection. An island kingdom? Treasure island? An enchanted island? A hidden island?

It’s definitely an island. But not some little island with a lone palm tree sticking out of it.

It’s substantial. And also protected from other people’s imperial enterprises.

It’s more like … Vancouver Island. Size-wise, I mean.

If Vancouver Island was home to the Emerald City. And belonged to me. And had a lagoon that was named after my duck.

It’s like … Sovereignty Island.

What do you think, Metaphor Mouse? Are we at metaphor?

Uh, no. But this is a really bizarre (and therefore excellent) direction.

What needs to happen next?

My designer needs to produce a map. A gorgeous, gorgeous map.

Also, at least one city needs to be called Selmopolis. Okay, maybe that’s going a little too far.

But definitely a lagoon. We need a lagoon.

And how do we make it more fun?

We’ll start with the maps and go from there. But I have some ideas …

Anything else?

You know, it’s so hard to know where word-resistance and/or personal definitions come from.

In the case of me and my friend, we’re both successful entrepreneurs. There isn’t a class gap, but there are gender and generation gaps.

And it can be so difficult to tell how much of our talking past each other is due to that, and how much is more about our personal values and associations related to different words and concepts.

For me, the take-away is: it’s useful to take time to unpack the words I use, so that I can either rewrite my own personal definition of them or find a new word.

Because if my resistance to something buried in that word is keeping me from moving forward, that isn’t good for anyone involved.

Again, words are individual.

You can absolutely have an empire if you want one. I will still like you.

This process isn’t about deciding which words are good. It’s about figuring out what stuff trips us up so that we can rewrite it.

And often as not, a word or an association or a metaphor that works wonders for one person is meaningless for someone else.

Here’s what I don’t care about: what you end up calling something. Here’s what I do care about — a lot: the freedom and play that come with consciously interacting with words and with everything else in your life.

Play with me! And comment zen for today.

Anyway. You are more than welcome to practice your own Metaphor Mouse-ing in the comments — anything you’re working on is fine.

Or to think out loud about stuff that’s troubling you. Mess around with words and wordishness! Or get brainstorming help from other commenter mice.

Maybe you just want to be happy for me and my new baby metaphor. Always appreciated!

As always: we let people have their own experience, and we don’t tell them what to do (unless someone specifically asks for help).

Come play. It will be fun!

The Fluent Self