Journaling in metaphor

Sometimes it helps to have a creative method for letting out and tracking your moods. A mood is more than feelings; it is an outlook and an energy level. It can be hard to put into words, particularly for those of us bipolar folks who experience “mixed states” which combine symptoms of both mania and depression.

One of my favorite things about metaphors is that when you find a good one, you can actually work from inside it and think through it, letting it do the heavy lifting. I think that lets you work through something while keeping your more analytical mind in the dark a little bit. It’s one way to approach poetry. I’ve also found it works for journaling.

I’ve never been good at journaling – especially when it comes to putting my feelings down on paper, in plain English. What was originally true for me with poetry (in my early days with the art form) is still true with this quasi-poetic form of journaling: I tend to mostly do it when I’m feeling relatively negative emotions, such as sadness, loneliness, or a vague sense of longing, or mixed feelings that need to find expression in order to be understood.

So I’ve found this set of three simple metaphors that help me make a little bit of sense out of my feelings. I started it years ago, traditionally just before turning out the light to go to sleep. A year ago, I started it up again in a lovely bound journal I was given the previous Christmas. New entries seem to find their way into the journal rather infrequently – which may be a good sign; maybe I’m feeling pretty good these days.

The first entry in this journal will show the basic pattern. I describe what the window, lamp, and clock are up to (even though I no longer have a lamp beside my bed, as I did years ago):

1 July 2012
The window faces outward.
The lamp beside the bed never meant to let go its light.
The clock slurs and staggers like a drunkard.

Night time has always been my most productive time for writing, poetry or otherwise, since I’m very much a “night owl.” I wrote a lot of these little mood journal entries over the years, particularly when I wasn’t feeling inspired to write much else. Eventually I arrived at some theories about what the window, lamp, andclock signify, but I try not to think about that when I write a new entry. Here’s the second:

3 July 2012
The window is silent.
The lamp beside the bed gives off strange light.
The clock has lost its voice.

Then there wasn’t another entry till August:

1 August 2012
The window shudders for no reason at all.
The lamp beside the bed responds with a flicker.
The clock does not stop.

That last line echoes Sylvia Plath’s poem, Mystic,” one of my favorite of her poems. The last line of Plath’s poem—”The heart has not stopped”—might be a clue about what my clock symbolizes, especially given its use in my own poem, “By Art or by Physics.”


2 August 2012
The window is shattered, but hangs inplace.
The lamp teeters and casts a long shadow.
The clock may be to blame.

But the next entry is an example of a positive, contented feeling:

11 August 2012
The window guards the light inside.
The lamp glows warmly.
The clock registers this moment.

A little over a week later, that feeling had changed:

20 August 2012
The shattered window tries to mend;
The lamp sends light and heat;
The clock ticks out a work song.

21 August 2012
The window quietly moans.
The light gently hums lullabies.
The clock is fingering beads.

29 August 2012
The window holds the stagnant light inside.
The lamp beside the bed bathes everything in grey water.
The clock hums so much white noise.

2 September 2012
The window turns its back.
The lamp beside the bed drones the same thing, endlessly.
The clock keeps repeating itself.

9 September 2012
The lamp beside the bed burned too brightly, now is going dim.
The clock can’t tell.
The window is so far away.

15 September 2012
The lamp’s light gropes at the corners of the room.
The window eludes its grasp.
The clock gives no hints.

As you can see, the order in which each “actor” appears varies. This probably means something too.

28 September 2012
The lamp beside the bed makes notes.
The clock interprets them inchant.
The window smiles broadly, a sympathetic audience.

30 September 2012
The window spins around, giddy and disoriented.
The lamp slowly drips out light.
The clock anxiously counts.

If I were looking for insight, I’m not sure the following entry would help much:

1 October 2012
The window is glassy.
The lamp sheds light.
The clock ticks.

3 October 2012
The clock is telling stories.
The light absorbs them all.
The window can hear nothing.

4 October 2012
The window is stuck, half open.
It lets the light escape,
and the clock considers jumping.

Now I’m going to skip entries, since no one probably wants to read them all. This one shows me playing with the format more than usual:

10 October 2012
The window reflects back the
Light, in pulse to the beating
Of the clock.

The following would have been written while I was home in Detroit for a visit. Apparently, while there, I occasionally wrote two in a night.

22 October 2012
The clock is of two minds.
The light beside the bed wrings its hands.
The window is busy negotiating.

The window is scanning the horizon.
The light kneels beside the bed.
The clock is parceling out prayers.

Feeling sleepy:

23 October 2012
The clock winds down toward stopping.
The light beside the bed dims.
The window is closing its eyes.

Feeling happy:

1 November 2012
The clock chirps,
The light whistles,
The window keeps time.

More variations:

11 November 2012
The window
Closes on the light.
The clock surveys the remnants.

13 November 2012
The lamp flickers in time
To the second hand of the clock;
The window is the only source of light.

16 November 2012
The clock ticks religiously, but it’s the silence between ticks that counts.
The light shows up on walls and things, but goes unnoticed in thin air.
The window is an empty space surrounded by a frame.

21 December 2012
The lamp hurls itself out the window.
Time can be heard passing
Even in the dark.

22 December 2012
Tonight, it’s the clock
That hurls the lamp out the

28 December 2012
If the clock seems erratic,
it’s only because it’s scrambling to capture scraps of light
let go by the dying candle’s wick;
Scraps which crumble to the touch of indelicate darkness
the window lets in.

31 December 2012
The window lets in light,
but the lamp is not redundant: it gives warmth.
The clock is lulled to sleep.

20 January 2013
The lamp’s glow is subtle, but warming.
The clock lowers its voice to a drone.
the window turns a gentle smile out to the world.

1 February 2013
Last night the light burned over-bright; tonight
It glows just enough to see.
The clock is steady, the window shut.

18 February
The clock has picked up its pace.
The window is a protective barrier.
The lamp exhales a warm light.

19 February 2013
The lamp refuses to be turned off.
The clock is giggling.
The window is oblivious.

22 February 2013
The window is sealed up in cellophane.
The light is like liquid.
The clock can’t keep time.

1 April 2013
Light ricochets
Off the window at such tremendous speed,
The clock winds up a month ahead.

22 April 2013
There is no reasoning with this clock.
The light pools up beside the window,

That nearly catches us up to the present. Only a couple more entries—30 April and 11 June—follow that last one. No entries at all in May.

I imagine this sort of thing can be done in many art forms, such as music, photography, dance, or painting. When it’s too tiresome to say how you feel in ordinary language, what creative outlets do you use?

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