His office looked out on the quad where you’d heard the Talking Heads playing just a week earlier.
And just beyond that, the dorm where the gentleman you know as “pink cloud” provided you with LSD in order to experience more fully the secrets the Dead whispered in your ear.
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).
You told the Dean none of this, simply shrugged your shoulders and began to cry.
At which point the Dean cleared his throat and wished you luck.But of course you couldn’t say that to the Dean, as he swiveled in his chair, so official in his gray suit.He clasped his hands on the oak desk and waited for you to explain yourself.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.So I’m going along chronologically, calling up (and enhancing, exaggerating, manipulating) all the slights and hurts of an ordinary life.I’m having a marvelous time, because this voice is so detached it can say whatever it wants.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.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.