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I’m submitting to the voice of the essay, allowing the form to lead me where it will go.And as I follow that voice, the notes begin to demand more room, wanting to break free of the concise form and allow for more in-depth story.
We regret to inform you that it will take quite a while before you grow up, and it will take some cataclysmic events of your own before you really begin to find the role that suits you.
In any case, we wish you the best in all your future educational endeavors.
When you had your exit interview with the Dean of Students, you were completely inarticulate about your reasons for leaving, perhaps because you really have no idea.
You know there is a boy you might love, living in Santa Cruz. You imagine playing house with him, growing up there in the shadows of large trees.
Hermit crab essays adopt already existing forms as the container for the writing at hand, such as the essay in the form of a “to-do” list, or a field guide, or a recipe.
Hermit crabs are creatures born without their own shells to protect them; they need to find empty shells to inhabit (or sometimes not so empty; in the years since I’ve begun using the hermit crab as my metaphor, I’ve learned that they can be quite vicious, evicting the shell’s rightful inhabitant by force).And my eye landed on “rejection notes.” So that is where I began: April 12, 1970 Dear Young Artist: Thank you for your attempt to draw a tree.We appreciate your efforts, especially the way you sat patiently on the sidewalk, gazing at that tree for an hour before setting pen to paper, the many quick strokes of charcoal executed with enthusiasm. In fact, the smudges look like nothing at all, and your own pleasure and pride in said drawing are not enough to redeem it.And I’m not really thinking about the content at all; I’m engaged in honing the voice of the rejection note, creating a persona on the page that can “speak back” to me, in a humorous way, all that had gone unspoken in real life. Here’s one that comes early on in the essay: Grader: Thank you for your application to be a girlfriend to one of the star players on the championship basketball team.As you can imagine, we have received hundreds of similar requests and so cannot possibly respond personally to every one.When I teach the hermit crab essay class, we begin by brainstorming the many different forms that exist for us to plunder for our own purposes.Once we have such a list scribbled on the board, I ask the students to choose one form at random and see what kind of content that form suggests.This is the essential move: allowing form to dictate content.By doing so, we get out of our own way; we bypass what our intellectual minds have already determined as “our story” and instead become open and available to unexpected images, themes and memories.After all, who knew that the semester you decided to come to UC Berkeley would be so tumultuous: that unsavory business with Jim Jones and his bay area followers, the mass suicide, an event that left us all reeling. It truly did feel like the world was falling apart, we know that.After all, who among us has not mistakenly followed the wrong person, come close to swallowing poison? We understand how you took refuge in the music of the Grateful Dead, dancing until you felt yourself leave your body behind, caught up in their brand of enlightenment. And given that you were a drama major, struggling on a campus well known for histrionics and unrest: well, it’s only understandable that you’d need some time to “find yourself.” You’re really too young to be in such a city on your own.