Cardboard – a metaphor for life

“Cardboard,” said my artist friend, Roseanne, when I remarked on a recent drawing she’d done on cardboard, “is a metaphor for life.”  I asked her what she meant.

Vest drawn on cardboard
One of Roseanne Dix’s cardboard artworks

Roseanne’s reply

Cardboard Discarded – waiting for evolution ,

            picked up and carried to a state of grace,


            torn and manipulated to reveal its soul.

Soul manipulation to conform to a preconceived idea .

then to re-arrange itself and direct what is to transform the bland roughness of its outer skin…to keep the inner intact and ungiving.

we all do that.

Non attachment.

A cheap school suitcase revealing its soft pulp on a bruised corner,

contents holding the secrets of an imagined existence – a life worth living.

A perfectly shaped fragment of the corner of a cereal box stuffed into the toe of a leaking shoe.

A box, scrounged from the local Spar, holds the small contents of a remainder of a life.

Cardboard – The Lover of charcoal, of graphite, of crayon and glue and pages of a ruined book which will be reborn to receive ink.  

Roseanne Dix  

Artist | Poet | Hiker

Cardboard art
Another of Rose Dix’s drawings on cardboard
Rose Dix hiking
Between a rock and a hard place: Rose Dix celebrating her birthday

Ten More Metaphors for Life

Inspired by Rose’s profound take on cardboard and life, I asked other creative folk I know – viz MediaHub colleagues –  to share their metaphors for life.  Their responses were as varied as life itself. Taken together, they make for an interesting guide to living.

1. Keep perspective

Lipstick on your teeth
Lipstick on your teeth in your wedding photo
Iza Grek

Life is like having lipstick on your teeth in your wedding photo.

You can plan every last, minute detail and something will go wrong, but you have to focus on the big picture (pardon the pun).

Iza Grek

Writer | Editor

2. Add vooma

Adventure biking
Stand up to conquer the challenges

At times the road we call LIFE, becomes a challenge. It could even scare us to the point where we turn back, or take short cuts, or divert from our original route and head for another destination.

The riders of adventure motorbikes deal with this almost every time they head out on a dirt road, but we have acquired the technical skills to overcome the fear, negotiate the uncertain, often scary terrain, and stay on course until we reach our destination. Or we just choose to enjoy the ride, pitfalls and all!

We follow this mantra: Stand up, look up and power up!

Jedri Harmse

When we tackle those almost impassable dirt roads or rocky mountain passes, we have only a little bit of rubber on only two wheels that connects us to the dirt. Momentum is your dear friend or your worst enemy and you hold the keys to success in the flick of your wrist on the throttle and the attitude you display while your brain screams ‘Brake, brake!’

It works like this: Dirt road gets real nasty – there is a sharp turn in the road ahead with a huge, rocky ditch in between. You need to get to the other side and around the bend at a speed of at least 80 km/h to get the bike through the sandy or rocky parts while staying upright (the main aim of the whole exercise).

STAND UP – you do not sit on the bike on a rough dirt road, you stand on the footpegs, legs slightly bent to act as suspension so the bike can do its thing beneath you – you just keep the balance and stay upright.

LOOK UP – this lesson was learnt by WW2 pilots who often flew right into the debris of the exploding enemy plane they’d just shot down – because they watched as their foe went up in flames. It is not a case of ‘look where you’re going!’ It’s a case of go where you are looking – see if you can keep your car in its lane while looking over your shoulder! So, on your bike, you do not look at the ditch (the problem) you watch the stretch of road after the turn, that safe place where you want to go to, and then …

Jedrie Harmse
Jedrie’s selfie taken at the top of the Swartberg pass in the Little Karoo

POWER UP – you need enough momentum to get through the rough parts of the road. Sometimes, when the going gets really tough, common sense and every nerve in your body will scream at you to go slow or rather brake – but that will surely bring you down in a sad, hurting heap of bone and metal. So, you twist that throttle and you break through the obstacle! It will be worth it when you get through that bend in the road.

So, next time life overwhelms you, do like we do on our adventure bikes: Stand up, look up and power up – there is victory even for the not so brave!

Jedrie Harmse  

Writer| Photographer | Storyteller   

3. Pause to reflect

Alexis Grewin
Alexis Grewanreflecting on the Oxford comma

Life is like the Oxford comma: it is seldom understood, frequently abused and its true magnificence is ignored. It has real value, but finds itself misplaced because it cannot fit into a defined box.

They sent in the clowns, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

Andrea Abbott

Even a name change imposed from serial comma to Oxford comma, merely through century-old tradition, was not by choice or self-definition, but as a result of exploitation. Ha! In fact, the Oxford (serial) comma, indeed, is all of life. It has the choice to help or to hinder; it can offer meaning and it can define pleasure. Bring it on, but use it wisely – with care, utmost respect, and grateful purpose.

Alexis Grewan

Writer | Editor

4. Life’s a puzzle

Puzzle it out
Sam Basch – portrait of the writer as a puzzle.

Without a picture on a jigsaw puzzle box, it would be impossible to know what the final product – or life, for that matter – would look like. As the pieces fall out in a jumble from the box, one would first pick out the corners, then the edge pieces. These initial bits provide a start, albeit rudimentary. Then lay all the pieces face up to try mapping out the picture… mapping out one’s life. There’s no way to envisage how it will finally turn out – until all the pieces are in place.

Sam J Basch

Journalist | Editor | Photographer

5. Shrink or swim

Sometimes there is a red or blue item that tinges us all…

Niki Moore
Niki Moore – (according to AI artist) – brightly emerged.

Think of life as a washing machine.  We all get thrown into this whirlpool, all colours together, whether we like it or not, and we very quickly find out if we are the right stuff (the right material) to handle a hot cycle.  Some of us shrink, some fall apart, but most of us emerge bright and clean and fresh-smelling, even if we might be a bit stretched or ragged round the edges. Sometimes there is a red or blue item that tinges us all, and then it remains to be seen if future washes will get rid of the taint, or whether we are permanently stained. The main thing is – we can decide.  Either we bewail the arbitrary wash cycle, or just sit back and watch the colours go round and round.

Washing machine
“…watch the colours go round and round”. Image: engine akyurt on Unsplash

Niki Moore

MediaHub Editor |Journalist | Writer | Researcher     

6. Recharge

Remember the advert for the Duracell bunny?  

emergised bunny painting
A bunny re-energised

“The energetic bunny concept is what I’ve related to for years and what many of my friends refer me and my life to, hence the animated painting I was commissioned to do”.  Delilah Nosworthy

Delilah Nosworthy
Delilah – recharging in the great outdoors

With seemingly limitless energy and endurance, Delilah’s life, like that of the energised bunny, involves bouncing around her warren completing one task after the next. “Some of those tasks involve inspecting reams of writings, correcting another species’ grammatical errors, typos, misspellings, and a range of errors in speech and writing”.

Most of her time is spent honing her organisational and research skills, especially in the areas of corporate governance. But she thumps her paw to her own time and tune.

“Recharging is crucial and I thrive on escaping the confines of my warren to explore the trails less taken, either by foot or bicycle. When the battery cycle is dangerously low, writing and painting are my outlets of choice to restore power.

Delilah Nosworthy  

Proofreader | Copyeditor 

7. Rock and roll

Many ups and downs. Image: Matt Bowden on Unsplash
Peter Ucko
Peter Ucko

Life’s a Roller-Coaster: Slow start. Many ups & downs. Many highs. A few lows. Some sudden drops. Always followed by an ‘up again’. Combinations of high speed and slow lazy leisure. Full of thrills. Sometimes scary. Even upside down.  Plenty of fun.  Some screaming. Then it’s over. 

For a roller-coaster you can get on again. For LIFE – I (we all) have only one shot. So do it right.

Peter Ucko  

Writer | Voice Artist | Actor | Speaker    

8. Run a good race

More than 50 years after my first recorded race, I still have on file my first certificate: Under 7, 40 yards dash, 2nd. Warner Beach Primary School.

Since those early sprinting days, my running career has evolved in ways that bear no relation to the absence of mental acuity required to simply pitch up for a barefoot dash over a grass ‘track’ within sight and sound of the Indian Ocean.

Goal-setting, commitment, anxiety, triumph, joy, disappointment, recognition by peers, and sleepless nights have all played a part in the journey. As they do in life.

Blake Wilkins running
Blake Wilkins – Running is Life. Or perhaps running for life?

When I celebrated my 50th birthday with a slice of carrot cake and a glass of orange juice, my mother remarked that now that I had achieved my ‘majority’, I could give up running.

Her visit to the bowling green three times a week had more to do with social activity than sport. She’s not made the transition from part time sport to lifestyle activity.

Perhaps more than a metaphor for life, running is so integral to my daily lifestyle that separating one from the other would require a laser cutter and a highly trained operator. And that’s disregarding the fact that I would be armed with an aluminium baseball bat.

Blake Wilkins

Writer | Editor | Runner

9. Savour the flavour

When you least expect it, a cherry on top is a delicious bonus.

Gillian McAinsh
Gillian McAinsh celebrating her birthday with ice cream

“My last birthday party (pre-Covid, in 2020) featured ice cream and bubbly with friends and family, and here is what I told them:

Ice cream is like life because it comes in all sorts of flavours but you have to choose because you can’t have them all at once (well, you can try, but it will make you feel sick).

If you put quality ingredients and love into your ice-cream, it doesn’t need toppings or sprinkles.

Pick your flavour and enjoy before it melts

If your ice-cream is too hard, you can’t eat it, but if you neglect it for too long then it’s a puddle of disaster.

When you least expect it, a cherry on top is a delicious bonus.

So … pick your favourite flavour and … enjoy before it melts! “

Gillian McAinsh  

Writer | Editor | Content creator 

10. One big adventure

The steepest hills; the lowest troughs  

Tricky situations

Deep waters; abrupt challenges

About turns, tight corners

A Land Rover named Farrokh – promise of adventure.

Bumpy rides; unforeseen glitches

Discomfort; adventure

The best of times; the worst of times

Muck, mud, and mutterings

Risk of defeat; the thrill of triumph

Magical encounters

The freedom of the open road

Sunrises and sunsets

Trouble, victory, hardship, hope, joy

Such are life’s promises

And those of an old type Landy Defender.

That’s life

They say that about 2/3rds of the original Land Rover Defenders that were produced, still exist.

Some are in prime condition; others battered and bruised; others on their last legs.

That’s life.

Andrea Abbott   

Writer | Author | Proofreader | Editor

Readers – do you have a metaphor for life? If so, please share it with us.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.


6 Responses

  1. Thank you Andrea. Nice to hear what others see as a metaphor for life. If I had lipstick on my teeth in a wedding photograph (did Iza?), it must have been my wife’s. Like Gillian I enjoy the variety of ice-cream flavours. Often I have to create my own “cherry on top”. Like Jedrie, I ride motorbikes. On and off-road. Both metaphors for life in different ways. In common with Alexis, I love the Oxford comma, which I overuse, as I overlive life. Unlike you, I don’t have a overused Landy, but I’ll bet that you have fully lived life, and had extraordinary adventures, in it.

  2. What an intriguing collection of thoughts – about life – about icecream.
    Thank you , dear Andrea, for giving me this opportunity to air half thought thoughts.
    I muddle through each day and worry about commas and apostrophes.
    Love this. Love life. R
    ps Im 3 years older than my photo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *