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My Name Is Iden | The limits of metaphor

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I love books. I love reading, but that isn’t what I mean when I say, “I love books.” I mean I love the whole experience a book brings.

I love the weight of a book in my bag, the way it tugs on my shoulder with gentle urgency, reminding me that there is something inside waiting for me. I like to be able to hold a book, a complete story right there in my hands. I can see the beginning. I can flip it over and see the end. I can open it to my place, the place I marked, and see how far I have come and how far I still have to go.

But the best part of a book, to me at least, is the invitation it gives, to strangers and friends alike, to approach you and ask: “Whatcha readin’?”

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I love that question — “Whatcha readin’?” — as much as I love the book itself, because it almost always is followed by “Oh, what’s it about?” If you are a fellow book lover, you have probably been asked that many times. I like to answer that question. I always have because I have always felt that “why?” is an important question to ask.

When I was a kid, I would answer with a full recap of the characters and all of their comings and goings. As I got older, I realized that a summary would do. Then I became “educated.” I learned how to write a story by learning how to read them. I learned that what a book is about isn’t necessarily what it’s about.

I grew up in the era of “close reading.” Metaphors and symbolism abound in my world. The idea of a purpose deeper than a simple recounting of events appealed to me so much that I began to apply the practice to my own life and story. I was the sort of young person who did not like uncertainty. When I began something I needed to know when I would finish it and I needed to know why I was doing it at all. I had clear goals, a clear path and a clear understanding of my purpose. My life was just like my books. I could see where I started. I could flip it over to see my goal and I could open it up and see how far I had left to reach it.

Except it doesn’t work like that, does it? If I were to travel back through time, find little 20-year-old Iden sitting reading the book of her life, and say to her, “Whatcha readin’? Oh, what’s it about?” I am certain that she would answer with great confidence and clarity. I am also certain that she would be wrong. She didn’t understand what she was reading. She didn’t understand at all — not the plot, not the characters, and she definitely was missing the deeper meaning.

I don’t hold that lack of understanding against her, though. I have read a lot of books since then, literally and metaphorically. I have lived a lot of life and I have asked myself a lot of questions. I think it’s natural, when you are a person who does not like uncertainty, to want to see life in metaphors. It is natural to want to decode the deeper meaning to the things you see and experience.

But here is the thing — the thing young me didn’t understand: Life isn’t a book. I am not saying that each of us isn’t writing our own story or witnessing other people’s stories. What I am saying is that life is not something that one can hold in one’s hands. We can’t really see our beginnings. We can only guess at them. We certainly can’t turn it over to see the end. We maybe can see how far we’ve come, but that loses meaning if we cannot see how far we have to go, and most painfully of all, we may never be able to decode that deeper meaning. It may not exist at all.

I will never be able to read back what I’ve written in the “Story of Iden” and say with confidence what it was really about. Metaphor has a limit, and when it comes to our own stories, there is no secret meaning there. There is only a simple recounting of events. That is hard for me, as someone who has always needed to know “why.”

It is hard to have read so much, lived so much, and have no deeper understanding of myself and my world than I did as a child. I don’t want that to be how things are. I want life to be like books. I love books. I love certainty, and being certain of uncertainty does not satisfy me. But it may be how things are. We are not books, but we do have stories, and nothing ruins a story like certainty. I hope I am writing a good one. I hope that the “Story of Iden” is full of adventure with many twists and many ups and downs. I hope it is full of heroism, villainy, romance and just the right amount of sex.

It would be great to know that our story was a story that people enjoyed reading. It would be amazing if people found some deeper meaning in it, but what really matters is that we enjoy writing it. What matters is that when we feel life tugging with gentle urgency on our shoulders that we respond because there is so much waiting for us there. Does life need to be any deeper than that?

In memory of my friend Brett Bartlett. Your story was short, but your writing was brilliant. May you be peaceful, and may we meet again on the next page. 

*Iden Crockett lives in Yellow Springs with her wife and three children. She is an artist, poet, writer and habitual over-sharer. If you would like to see more of her work, you can visit her website,, or follow her on Instagram and Facebook.


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