At twenty-six, in 2006, the year before the iPhone launched, I found myself driving a red Subaru Outback—the color was technically “claret metallic,” the friend who’d lent me the car had told me, in case I ever wanted to touch up the paint—on Highway 12 in Utah. I was heading to the East Bay after a painful breakup in New York. I remember, wrongly, that I was listening to a book on tape, a work by a prominent linguist, as I moved through the alien landscape, jagged formations of red rock towering against a cloudless sky.
Consider the metaphorical association of argument and war, the linguist says in my memory, the way we speak of “attacking” or “defending” our “position.” If we frame an argument metaphorically as armed conflict then we will think of our interlocutor as an enemy. But what would happen, the voice asked me as I gripped the wheel with both hands, tense from fifteen hours of continuous driving, having pulled over only for gas and Red Bull and granola bars and Camels since departing Omaha, where I’d napped and showered at the childhood home of a college friend—what would happen if we shifted the metaphorical frame and thought of argument as a kind of dance, as a series of steps undertaken with the goal of mutual expression, satisfaction, even pleasure?
The wheel began to shake in my hands; the road had grown slick, as though with oil. I thought something was wrong with the car and I slowed down, then pulled over. There was no traffic; my solitude was total. I got out to look at the tires. It took me a few seconds to comprehend what I was seeing, what I was standing on. There were these very large, very black crickets everywhere, a dark sensate carpet covering the road, extending hundreds of yards into the distance on either side of me. I must already have crushed thousands of them. They were perfectly indifferent to my presence; without adjusting their pace, they moved over my shoes. If I’d had a smartphone, I would have protected myself by taking a video, establishing a frame. A slow black wave spilling over the highway and across the arid soil. My car was still on, the audiobook still playing: Here are three tools for identifying implicit metaphor.