Monday, March 28, 2016

Broken Chain

I spend a little time each day looking for, I call it “hunting for”, metaphors. Metaphor is the stuff humans use to build god(s), and so it is infinite, terrible, and resonates with the human condition. Taking down a trophy metaphor can be like bagging a god. Writing about it is a taxidermy of the atheist experience.

Broken Chain

“Broken chain” is a great name for a metaphor. By itself it conjures twangy country songs about “unbroken chains”. One can picture chains binding a slave, and the broken chain showing that slave their path to freedom. I, of course, mean a bicycle chain; the bicycle chain delivers power from the action of the cyclist (pedals) to the desired impact on the world (bike moving forward), and so is a great species of chain metaphor. However, the title of a metaphor is not where the process starts for the hunter.

The hunt begins with experience. Fertile hunting ground can be found in events that impact the hunter in emotional ways, but where there is a respite of contemplation afterwards for the details of the event to become mixed with whatever else the hunter is contemplating.

I recently went on a short ride. Before the ride I had replaced the chain on my Kestrel as it had stretched to the point that it was interfering with shifting. I put a new SRAM 1051 chain, and used the powerlock™ to complete it. After twisting a few adjuster barrels the Kestrel shifted like new. My head was full of unfinished emotions and so I was raring to go out and take both my head and the bike for a spin. Although the day’s weather report featured constant waves of drizzle and rain there was a momentary letup, and I leapt out the door. I shot downhill for the first mile as gravity nudged me out of my sedentary thoughts. I took a right and headed up a canyon that mercilessly winds for miles uphill before it crosses a steep mountain pass and lands in the Salt Lake Valley. I only ground up the grade part way before turning back into a light sprinkle and pedaling in pursuit of the speed gravity promised. It was a left, and then a left again before I hit a short 12% grade section of the ride home. A car ahead of me turned so slowly right onto the grade that I had to stop and lose any momentum my excitement had gifted me. I shifted, and then stood on the pedals to gain leverage, and … then …. SNAP. The powerlock™ had uncoupled. The chain flew into the spokes of the rear wheel, and I was given the contemplative time needed to capture a metaphor in the form of a long walk home in clicky-clacky bike shoes.

Two very good potential metaphors pop out of this event. I chose the “broken chain” since it allows me to infer the second “weak link”, and is almost a two-in-one metaphor.

Literally I was pedaling to move the bike forward, but I was moving the bike forward to get out of some thoughts in my head. The new chain was put on to make that process operate more smoothly. The break occurred when the chain reached maximum stress, and could not take it anymore. The break was independent of my efforts; an externality that halted the planned excursion. Each of these observations can be used to map the chain breaking onto other events. I can describe what is really going on in my head with what really went on in my world. Once that is done the metaphor is captured.

Did I kill god with this metaphor? No.

There were many aspects of a trophy metaphor here, but what was lacking was the perspective of the hunter. I was caught up in some less universally interesting mental ping-pong. If I had opened my mind to the nature of life, or the universe, or everything, then I may have bagged a trophy worthy of at least a minor deity.

Instead I found out a new way of saying something important to myself. I have that metaphor hanging on the wall of my mind. It will get dusty in time, but I think it is a nice enough one to clean off and admire for a long time to come.