As we were driving to preschool the other day, Gabby asked me what “going to town” meant. Have you ever tried explaining a cliche to a 3-year-old? It’s like nailing jello to a tree. “So…Huntsville?” she asked.
“No, it’s a metaphorical town.”
“Birmingham’s not a metaphor.”
“Yes it is.”
“OK.” Pick your battles, friends.
Anyway, this conversation hearkened me back to my college days. I was a journalism/English major, but I occasionally took some creative writing classes because that’s my idea of fun. One in particular changed the way I saw, and thus wrote about, the world. I don’t remember the professor’s name, but I still have a folder somewhere full of photocopies of poems that he passed out in class (like this).He also liked to tell us every 17 seconds to “Say it new.” (He also once circled a word in one of my poems and told me it didn’t belong there, to which I took offense, you know, as the poet of the poem. Not over it yet.)
Anyway, he insisted that everything we wrote should “say it new.” If you disregarded that advice, he would circle all the cliches in your work and write in big, red letters, “SAY IT NEW.” Meanwhile, in the journalism department, they were constantly telling us to “show, don’t tell.” Do you know how hard it is to paint vivid imagery (“Show, don’t tell!”) without using cliches (“SAY IT NEW.”)? Hard. This is the kind of stuff that separates the men from the boys.
That year, I learned to loathe the cliche. If I was going to be a writer, I was going to say it new. I would stun my readers with the way I perceived the world. I would uncover metaphors in Ulysses that had never been uncovered before and I’d write 20 pages about it without using a single cliche (I did get a 98 on that paper. If you’ve never read Ulysses, don’t, but do trust me that it’s not overkill that I still display that paper on my mantle.) This is how I would “win”; this is who I would be. I would be a writer. A really, really good writer. I wouldn’t dare use cliches. And I certainly would never become a cliche.
But never say never, they say. After all, there is nothing new under the sun.
On the way to preschool the other day, as I explained metaphor (#Englishmajorforever), I took stock of the scene: I was wearing yoga pants, though I haven’t done a single Warrior pose in at least a year. My wet hair was thrown up in a topknot. I was, literally, semi-covered in spit up. I was calculating nap times and laundry piles in my head. I was considering a Target run in the afternoon as a treat. For a moment, I felt all of the other mes I’d ever been shaking their heads at the me I’d become: a big, fat cliche. The stay-at-home mom who never really gets dressed and takes her kids to Target just to wander the aisles (though I never take my kids. I’m not crazy.) Some days, I can’t remember if I’ve brushed my teeth and I find my coffee in the microwave at dinnertime. And yes, you’ve heard this all before.
But there in the car, somewhere between explaining metaphor and confronting cliche, I heard the voice of the Lord whispering an invitation to take a deep breath and a different kind of look. An invitation to see it new: My cliche isn’t a cliche at all. Nor is it a grand calling. It’s a choice. My children don’t me more like Christ, but the choices they challenge me to make sure do, so long as I get out of the way.
Target trips and laundry bins may be the mom cliche, but learning the art of thankless sacrifice isn’t. It’s hard, sanctifying work, work that leaves me in tears many days (and this isn’t just for stay-at-home moms.) Nothing about this work is trivial and nothing about it can be summed up in a cute phrase or meme. I’m doing this work right now because this is how I’m becoming the next version of myself, the one that looks more like Christ. And this work is how I’m coming to admire the cliche.
Besides, the yoga pants are really comfortable.