“I love you.
You’re my breathing castle.
Gentle, so gentle,
We’ll live forever.” -Richard Brautigan
I teach students how to write artist statements. I teach (TRY to teach) them how important voice is in writing, especially when writing to colleges who receive bazillions of application essays. Before any teaching takes place, I just have students write a statement, without any direction from me. 600 words, more or less, with the goal of communicating what their art is about and why they made it. By and large, the essays are terrible. Some are very academic. Some are technically sound. Nowhere is there voice. A literate gerbil could write those essays.
So today was for teaching. I always run this workshop (you say lecture, I say workshop) differently, and oftentimes I use a lot of good Anne Lamott quotes because if you are teaching art and you have not yet used her words, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor,” then you are not teaching art. Today, however, I ditched Lamott because I was inspired by an NPR interview I heard this summer about a woman working with recovering/surviving women, and, if I recall correctly, it was about a poetry class she was teaching. In the class, she asked each woman to write a poem about themselves as if they were pie (if you know me at all, then you know that I sat in my parked car in my driveway until this radio interview was complete because it was about PIE).
First I asked my students to write two sentences about why they make art. They wrote generic, cliche awful things about how pictures say things words cannot and how they have always loved crayons and expressing themselves. I then basically vomited on that and prompted them to to write about broccoli or their pet. Then they read their “broccoli’s” and they were hysterical to hear aloud and we all giggled and the ice was broken.
Following the NPR guru’s lead, I next asked them to write about themselves as if they were a slice of pie. One kid was an award winning, state fair pie, a pie that everyone envied. One kid said he sure wasn’t a cheap-ass-store-bought-pie; he was rich and homemade. Today I heard 50 students describe themselves to me as pie, the most memorable of which was a very quiet girl, who bravely read, “I am the slice that nobody wants.”
And suddenly we have voice.
I will never in my life forget her saying that. I will NEVER IN MY LIFE forget to remember that when I am standing in front of a group of children, there is bound to be someone in that group who feels unwanted, unloved, frumpy, and crumpled, and expired.
Her saying that made me instantly think about the Richard Brautigan poem in which he describes his love as his breathing castle. It’s my favorite poem. I haven’t a clue why the poem popped up. The weight of her words? My heart sinking? I kind of think it was prayer in the form of poetry…please, oh please, make everyone know how much they are loved.
I married my breathing castle.
I am cherry pie, homemade or store-bought, or even sitting alone in a hospital cafeteria. No matter. To me, cherry pie means home. It means that once a year, growing up, on “field trip day,” my mom and dad let me have a sugary Hostess cherry pie in my school lunch. Cherry pie. Full of anticipation and comfort and sometimes just a little bit sour.
My deepest wish for my own children is that they grow up knowing what it means to find their own breathing castles, and that in the meantime, they feel like a valuable contribution to the whole.