As part of my natural writing exercises, I’ve been encouraging my right brain to “do its thing.” As a result, I’ve noticed a growing number of metaphors and some interesting imagery creeping into my day.
Yesterday, I watched an interesting video about metronomes and a striking metaphor came to my mind.
The video shows 32 metronomes (for you non-musical types, they’re the little tick-tock timekeepers musicians often use to keep a steady beat), and the videographer starts them all out of synch. The sound is a chaotic rush of ticking, like a river of hazelnuts clattering downstream. Now, if the metronomes had been on a table or other solid, static surface, they would continue this way, but the videographer has put them on a moveable surface (it looks like a suspended sheet of foam rubber). As each metronome swings its arm and counterbalance, a tiny amount of its force is imparted to its neighbor. The result was fascinating.
It’s only 4 minutes long, and rather mesmerizing in its way.
Go. Watch it. I’ll wait.
Did you watch it? What came to mind? Anything?
For me, I had nothing for the first minute; I just watched, listened, absorbed. Then, at about the 2-minute mark, an image began to form in my mind. Toy soldiers from the old movie “Babes in Toyland” flashed through my head. Then, at about the 3-minute mark, a phrase came to me: “How to go from Ancient Greece to Nazi Germany in 4 minutes flat.” My brain had free-associated its way from metronomes to Nazism. How did I get there?
Metronomes. Swinging arms. Marching toy soldiers. Marching soldiers. Goose-stepping soldiers. Black jackboots. Raised arms. “Augen rechts!”
I was stunned by the fluidity of this transition. In the past, I’ve often found my mind has freewheeled from one subject to another seemingly unconnected topic (usually followed by a “How did I get here?” thought-dissection), but this was the first time I’d consciously set my right-brain into motion and watched it work. It was illuminating.
But it didn’t stop there.
My symbolic brain kept going, extending the metaphor. Metronomic soldiers became people. The moveable substrate on which the metronomes sat became the fabric of society. The swing of each metallic arm became peer pressure, allowing each metronome to influence its neighbor. Each metronome’s influence was slight, imperceptible, but as two fell into closer affinity, their effect reached farther, touching others, affecting them more strongly, affecting more.
Metronomes. Swinging arms. Chaotic. Individuals. Independence. Influence. Pressure. Conformity. Uniformity.
And then, over on the right-hand side, there is the one lonely metronome, in synch with the others, but swinging its arm in the opposite direction.
Metronomes. Swinging arms. Synchronous. Opposition. Dissent. A voice in the wilderness. The last holdout. Heretic. The nail that stands up will be hammered down.
At 2:20, the metronome is in perfect opposition to every other metronome, but then, slowly, unable to withstand the pressure of all the others aligned against it, that last metronome, struggling in its conviction, eventually fades in strength, falters, succumbs, and falls in line.
I know they’re just metronomes. I know it’s just foam rubber. It has no deeper meaning. It is not a reflection of society.
Tell that to my Right Brain.