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Sometimes I get weird questions from people when it comes up that I underline a lot when I’m reading a book. “Why,” they ask, “would you want to mark it all up?”

I want to scream, “And why wouldn’t I? Many writers write so beautifully that I simply have to underline their spot-on character descriptions, spunky verbs, fresh metaphors, and much more. It’s almost like an addiction to chocolate for me. I see chocolate; I have to eat it. I see a metaphor; I have to underline it.”

And now I have a bona fide rationale to tell people when I’m questioned again. A few weeks ago at the Calvin Faith & Writing Festival, I attended a session by Jeanne Murray Walker titled “All the Work That Metaphor Can Do.” I thought I will for the last time get metaphors down.

Not so fast. In American Lit in high school, I learned about metaphors and similes for the first time. A simile is a comparison using like or as. A metaphor says one thing is another (like metaphor is mystery!).

I got similes all right, but nailing the use of metaphors has escaped me all these years. Therefore, since I got serious about writing in 2000, I’ve been underlining these clever little things every time I spot them.

And, since 2000, when I was writing Caring Lessons, different teachers suggested I make the whole book a metaphor. Imagine my angst! If I can’t even think up one metaphor, how will I ever do the idea of a whole book? You have to know that I’m the gal in high school that thought Moby Dick was a whale. Period. Don’t even try to tell me there’s some big moral to that story, something about good versus evil, because I’ll tell you my copy was about Captain Ahab and this big whale. And that’s it.

So imagine me when one teacher suggested I call my book White Caps. He thought it clever because, he’d just found out I was a nurse, and didn’t all nurses wear white caps, and I could just use the white cap as symbolic of something that would somehow materialize in my metaphor-free head to encapsulate all the ideas in my book in a gripping character-driven plot that would show my ups and downs as billowing oceans or maybe rolling streams or cascading waterfalls, or maybe even that white fizz pouring out of my kitchen faucet.

Waterfall at Tennessee Fitness Spa

Waterfall at Tennessee Fitness Spa Metaphorically  Representing the Constant Splashy “Downs” of My Life

No one will ever know about those White Caps, because, clearly, I called my book Caring Lessons for a reason.

But in the session I went to at the Festival, Walker clearly explained metaphors. And there is more than one kind! Who would have known? Not only that, she gave us a handout of examples with their templates. It’s just so glorious to have her clear handout with sections of poetry and of  narrative with the metaphors and their templates listed after them.

So, the real reason I’m writing on metaphors today is that on the bottom of the third and last page, Walker gives me (and others, I imagine, but it’s me I’m worried about right now,) quasi-permission to underline metaphors! She says I must keep a metaphor journal. I must use the metaphor templates she’s given us, and write ten metaphors of my own (but I plan to find the ones I’ve underlined in a multitude of books) and fit them to the right template. She even says I can have fun with this and not get too serious.

I am so relieved. Next time someone asks why I’m underlining like crazy, I can say, “Walker made me do it.”


Jeanne Murray Walker is  a poet and the author of The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimers.

One example, with its template, Murray gave us from her book:

“A mob surging and swarming, swelling…spilling…”

the X (mob) performs actions usually attributed to Y’s (the ocean or bees or something liquid)


A WordPress prompt a few days ago for the Zero to Hero challenge in which I’m participating  was to write to my dream audience. My dream audience (now and then) is a group that loves being a student, listening to good teaching, and seeing the fun side of things.