my life is like a cactus. / by Anna Li

The more I teach my own language, the more I realize how little I understand it. I've never seen my language from this outside perspective before. There are rules in English that make no sense--my students point this out to me as many times as they can. I can't explain all the rules. The rules are there, but they are innate within me and enigmatic to my students.

But sometimes I think these rules stifle our creativity. Our words and images are slotted into these rules. We get writer's block because our language is too innate within us; we don't know how to express in our native tongue because we are afraid to make mistakes within the rules we establish. 

When you don't have the innate rules, though, there's a poeticism that emerges from this limbo stage of language. My students have a flexibility and boldness with syntax that I envy. They jar together images that I never would imagine because they still have not absorbed the rules that tell them what belongs and what does not. Today, I did a class on similes with my eighth graders. Here are a few of my favorite ones: 

The ocean shows peace, like the trees in the forest always quiet. - Donalyn

My life is like a cactus. - Joan

The building is deep like an ocean. - Mary Joy

My sister is like an owl. - Marilyn

I love these images. They rebel against the rules that I teach them. They are strange and elusive and lovely all at once. I hope someday I can emulate their boldness and liberty with words, a place where sisters are like owls and lives are like cactuses.