A dream, briefly: I am house-sitting, a house I don't recognize. But through the back door I see a familiar sight. It is summer. A boy, age 10 or so, reclines in the dirt against a patch of fence that sweet peas would climb. A few trucks and cars--Dinky Toys, we used to call them--lie scattered around him, but he seems content just to feel the heat of the sun and the dirt. When he sees me, he says, "Do you want me to leave?" I tell him no, it's ok. I know this kid, I realize, watching him out the back door. He's me.
If in my English classes I can get students close enough to their own material of this sort--the images, stories, memories, identities only they can access--then their writing will be that much more effective. I mean writing of all sorts: poems and stories, personal essays, even formal essays of commentary and argument about The Catcher in the Rye, Richard Ford's "Sweethearts", John Newlove's "The Double-Headed Snake", or any other work they encounter.
It's as if their writing voice needs a place to come from.