The Perfect Metaphor For What It’s Like To Be a Writer

This morning, sitting in traffic on the freeway, I thought of a great metaphor for being a writer.

You know how when you’re sitting on a plane and it’s about to take off, perhaps it’s moving slowly, and the flight attendant is standing in the middle of the aisle demonstrating the safety procedures?


They tell you how to snap the seatbelt, how to use an oxygen mask.

They always tell you that in the event of losing cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will fall from the top.

And then they say this every single time:

If you have a small child with you, put your mask on first before you put it on the child.

 And I’m almost certain that everybody or almost everybody, like me, is thinking, Hell no!

child ox

I understand the logic of it. If I don’t put on my mask first, I may faint trying to help my baby, but nonetheless my instinct tells me no.

If I have my baby next to me on that seat, I am going to put on her mask first, so if somebody faints it’s not her.

I don’t care if I lose air and pass out. She comes first.

It would be interesting to know how many parents would actually put their mask on first. There’s something fundamental wrong about that idea, even though I know it’s logical and that it’s the “right” idea, in the world of malkuth.

But your love for that baby rises so much higher than established actions.

Your love for your child, your love for the one who is dependent on you is so great that you would give up your life.

Her life is first.

Well, That’s a perfect metaphor for writing.


Because no matter what is happening in the life of a writer, they will put writing first.

If they found they suddenly had a terminal disease and only two months to live, like my friend the poet Andres Montoya, who found out he was going to die when he was 30 years old, they are going to do what he did.

He spent days and nights on his deathbed with a pen and a notepad writing poetry to God, writing letters to family, writing. He had a little time left.

You could read some of the poems he wrote while he was in his deathbed, knowing he was going to die, in his posthumous book a jury of treesby Andres Montoya.

jury of trees

I don’t care how much time a writers has, whether it’s 30 seconds, a minute, or even an hour, a writer is going to put the oxygen mask on their child (their work) before they’re going to worry about whether or not they will faint.

That is to say, that a writer (not all of them) puts writing first.

But THIS ISN’T TO SAY that a writer cannot love their family above all else, their children above all else, their social responsibility above all else; it rather means that all those things they love are encompassed and inseparable from the act of writing.

I have a daughter.

If I was on my death bed, with a month left to live, I’d would probably be writing her letters and stories and poems.


2 thoughts on “The Perfect Metaphor For What It’s Like To Be a Writer”

  1. Interesting point, Daniel. I use the same metaphor all the time when I give advice to students but the opposite way–I tell them to put their oxygen mask first. So many students drop out of college because they feel responsible for helping their parents with rent, babysitting siblings, etc, that they neglect their own needs, sometimes to the point of dropping out of school because they are too busy taking care of others or helping their families. So I tell them to put on the oxygen mask first because you can’t help anyone if you are passed out on the floor. If they nurture their dreams they will get to a place they can help their families without sacrificing so much. All that to say that I feel the same about writing. You can’t write it you are passed out on the floor.


    1. Yeah, I can see it that way too! Great thing about metaphor is that it cannot be locked into a single meaning; every image creates metaphorical possibilities. Nice: “You can’t write if you are passed out on the floor.”


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