I like to leave reminders to my future self. An old flight ticket in a book, a receipt from a restaurant in a coat, or perhaps some foreign currency folded in the back of my wallet.
Small things that teleport me to a different time and place, and make me smile a little.
Such teleportation happened to me this morning.
After landing in Paris the day before, I dusted off my coat for the first time in nearly 2 years.
I was standing in a park watching my daughter jump around on climbing frames and slides, possibly seconds from causing herself a critical brain injury but enjoying herself nonetheless. And then I felt a wine cork in my pocket.
This was a reminder from my past self.
It was pulled from a fantastic bottle of red wine I sampled in Bordeaux nearly two years ago.
It reminded me of standing in the beautiful countryside, aggressively sampling wines and pretending I understood everything that was being said in French by the owner of the vineyard.
But most importantly, the cork had been chewed on.
My daughter was barely 10 months old on that visit to Bordeaux, and corks were the perfect materials for teething little creatures like her.
She'd happily chew and dribble all day long and clearly at some point I decided to bookmark this little memory by saving the cork.
The cork is a device. A trigger, a gentle poke in the arm from a past self. And in writing that is exactly what we strive for to bring our readers into a story: devices that transport them into another reality.
The most powerful device in writing is metaphor. I suppose the cork could be a metaphor for a metaphor. Or not, I'm not very good at metaphors.
The best stories, songs and sonnets have more power than the sum of their parts because of the devices they use to impart meaning.
Usually a cork is just a cork. But today, for me, a cork was a vacation, it was the taste of wine, it was vineyards, it was the life of my daughter, and reflections on how I am as a father.
Poetry is probably the purest form of metaphor. Recently I've been thinking about how I have always struggled with poetry, and I how I struggle to create metaphor in my writing. Since school I somehow lacked the patience to engage with poems, which is a great shame.
On the flight to France, the day before finding the cork, I highlighted some advice from Ray Bradbury's 'Zen and the Art of Writing':
"Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand. And, above all, poetry is compacted metaphor or simile. Such metaphors, like Japanese paper flowers, may expand outward into gigantic shapes. Ideas lie everywhere through the poetry books, yet how rarely have I heard short story teachers recommending them for browsing."
I have the feeling someone is trying to tell me something because it was the second such recommendation I heard in the last two weeks.
So, I'll heed the advice: each day I will read a poem and attempt to write some lines about what it meant, to me.
Hopefully over time I'll improve my nose for good writing and a good metaphor. Or, at the very least, create something more poetic than a chewed up old cork.