Lit Critiques by Ren Weber

Today in class Maia Ipp came in to teach us about Lit Critiques. For those who don’t know, Lit Critiques are papers written to extrapolate literary devices/analyze a piece of writing. Accompanying the essay is a creative response that demonstrates some of the literary devices in the poem, fiction, etc. that was analyzed. For the first lit critique of the year we work on the essay with our writing buddies, which I feel really helps the freshman become less confused. We need to complete one per marking period (six per year) so these papers are an anticipated and vital part of CW, and as a freshman I felt somewhat anxious about making my first one.

Maia first explained what a lit critique was supposed to do and have, and then told us the different between form and content (shown in the photo). She gave us examples of literary devices, which really made it easier for me to understand what to write for a critique. Then we split up into our writing buddies and showed each other the pieces that we could choose. My writing buddy, Clare (’17), and I came to a consensus on the piece we would work together on, and got to work analyzing the poem (“The Poplar” by Vladimir Nabokov).

Overall, today was a great day. I’m excited about writing my first (of many) lit critiques, thanks to Maia.

Ren Weber, Class of 2019

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Being Happy and Being a Writer by Emma Eisler

Today it rained more heavily in San Francisco than it has in a long while. Naturally, this prompted me to suggest we take a quick roll in the glass. I raced down to the field with Davis and Clare, laughing loud and strange from somewhere deep in my stomach. I collapsed in the grass immediately and felt the rainwater seeping into my sweatshirt and jeans.

Emma B eventually came down to the field and joined us, and then we ran back and forth across the field in a hysterical, wobbling line. I kept yelling, “It is raining and I am so happy,” over and over in a voice that was loud and uncontrolled like I must’ve sounded as a kid.

Later, in thinking about this moment, I realized what an accomplishment this kind of happiness is at sixteen. It is so easy to become caught up in the drudgery of work and routine and to lose sight of the incredible color and texture of the world. As a little kid, it is easy to be moved to moments of intense wonder or joy but every year the threshold for what is beautiful and what is important becomes a little higher and losing oneself in the feeling of rain in hair and grass on skin becomes just a little harder to obtain.

After coming to this realization, I began to wonder, as I always do after this kind of revelation, how this new understanding relates to my writing. The answer I came up with is pretty simple. When I am writing, I am attempting to portray a more heightened, more vivid version of the world. I am attempting to create something that somehow succeeds in being more real than the literal world around me. In order to succeed in this kind of writing, however, I need that basic love and respect for the world I see day to day. I need to be sensitive to changes in the weather and all the tiny and glorious phenomena that happen every day. Although people usually think of writers as being mature and self-contained, I find that my best writing actually emerges from the intense, unrestrained emotions of childhood and the days before maturity became a relevant idea.

Emma Eisler, class of 2017



On The Ocean by Angelica Joy LaMarca

Considering I am not a very good swimmer and I rarely visit the beach (despite having lived next to it all my life), I guess it’s quite surprising that the ocean is present in almost everything I write. I began to notice this last year, and it’s something I still exhibit subconsciously, whether it’s the central theme of a poem, or just a little simile. The ocean seems to invite itself onto my page. I don’t even like the ocean that much! I dislike how the cold slides around you when you step in, and that one time I had a pet hermit crab, he escaped his cage and a week later we found him kneading his way across the tub, probably suspecting of my contempt for sand. So, if the ocean isn’t necessarily a place of comfort for me, I thought, why are eels, sea­foam, and anemones so often laced in my writing?

When walking through a lively street, clotted with powerlines and cement, it is easy to forget that at any point on the San Francisco peninsula, you cannot be any more than roughly four miles away from water. In Pacifica, where I live, literally everything is named after the ocean (“Oceana High School” “High Tide Cafe” etc). I only noticed it when one of my SOTA friends pointed it out, and I realized that the ocean is such a consistent element in my life that sometimes, I may even take it for granted (as cliche as that sounds). But on another note, how can I forget something so vast, and when I see it’s name advertised on every street sign? Maybe this is where my original question comes in. It is compelling to think about how our environments influence our subconscious, and this can be both in a physical sense and in a place of mind. I noticed that I found it slightly difficult to write this past summer, cooped up in my bedroom with just my dog and a blank Word doc for company. It only took a few days into the school year to sync back, and I suspect it is because of the creative stimulants that SOTA offers. As writers I think it is vital we acknowledge our surroundings because in more ways than one, we are products of our environments, hence what we craft will reflect it.

Angelica Joy LaMarca, class of 2018



The Culture of Suits by Isaac Schott-Rosenfield

I’ve always wondered why it stopped being proper practice to wear suits, not just in the
workspace or at court, but as everyday wear. They’re comfortable, attractive, afford a fine range
of movement, and, most importantly, they signify an interest in a more mature brand of social
interaction: a proclivity for adult grace. They pushed The Beatles to fame, the Mafia to infamy.
They look brilliant on “The West Wing,” “Madmen,” “Brideshead Revisited.” So why do we
abjure the trappings of professionalism, of power and elegance, in favor of ripped jeans and
sloganized T-shirts? For the “comfort” of stiff Levis? Alors vous êtes nonconformist? Alors vous
êtes cool? It is this culture of studied indifference that I find insulting. It’s not so much that
people don’t wear suits, but that were I to walk into a school in a suit, I would be mocked, the
occasion questioned, my reasoning examined and discarded. A suit is ridiculed as formal and
snobbish, cast aside as foreign and outdated, replaced with a ragged pretension of nonchalance.
These same principles apply to writing and speech. I recently watched a TedTalk with a man who spoke of texting as “writing like you talk,” saying that it would be ridiculous to speak like good writers write. Why? What’s wrong with eloquence, with literacy, with speaking with more than a thousand words, more than ten basic sentence structures?  Would it be so bad if people thought a little before they opened their mouths? I’m not advocating that we speak in regimented sentences, or force a manufactured word into a situation where it doesn’t belong. I’m not saying that casual speech should be lost on us, simply suggesting that we drop the tired offspring of an incestuous diction, to speak with dignity, with care and with grace.
Isaac Schott-Rosenfield, class of 2017

On Physical Beauty by Killa Heredia Bratt

Today in Creative Writing we had a new teacher, Ms. Eisler. (Emma E.) All the CW II students have to bring in a short story or excerpt, and then ask us thought-provoking questions based on what we just read. After, they give us a prompt. Today, Emma handed out to us an excerpt from How To Breathe Underwater called “When She Is Old and I Am Famous.” It is a smooth and powerfully written tale about the relationship and conflict between two cousins. The narrator, Mira, is a twenty-year-old visual artist who is studying art in Italy. Her cousin, Aïda, is a fifteen-year-old model visiting Mira. There are many contrasts, such as Aïda being skinny and having physical beauty in her youth, and Mira being corpulent and, in the ways of making art, creating art that lasts far beyond surface beauty.


When I’m reading any type of teenage-fiction novel or even a novel like East of Eden, there always seems to be that perfect girl. You know what I’m talking about, those girls who have ideal bodies, a gorgeous face, has everyone awestruck by her beauty and sheer perfectness. They also seem to have that manipulative personality that makes everyone like them. The cliché of all the guys wanting her and all the girls all wanting to be her. They come off seemingly getting whatever they want and having no problems what so ever. This is how I found Aïda to be portrayed, and whenever I find this character in books, I get this mixture of excitement and exasperation. Excited, because they do give the story somewhat of a zest. Exasperated, because they’re so unrealistic. (I have only ever met one person who had the physical perfectness down pat. But getting to know them more, I realized they too had similar problems to me that I would never think someone with such physical beauty would have to deal with. And they have to work just as hard as everyone else. As I’m writing this I realize how superficial I’m sounding, but in truth these past few weeks of high school has actually taught me that even if you have good looks it will only take you so far. Personality actually does matter.)


To cut to my point, these seemingly perfect characters only are in books. But authors seemingly like to leave these perfect characters perfect. There is no humanization, it’s almost as if they’re a whole other species. (Similarly to how I gave said person-in-real-life a whole different expectation than everyone else, even though they’re just another human being.) However, in “When She Is Old and I Am Famous” there was this moment where the cousin-model Aïda was talking about how she’d have a few good years in her career, then settle somewhere and be forgotten. I feel like this (along with the title) really gave the message. The longevity of art and physical beauty are not the same. Art can last on forever, a beauty that is everlasting. All these seemingly perfect looking people, whether they are in your math class or on the cover of Vogue, their beauty will fade.


And beauty is the eye of the beholder! It really isn’t that important. I’m sorry if I turned this into another rant about beauty being superficial. Super huge thanks to Emma E. for bringing in that excerpt! It was easily the best, most mind-boggling thing I’ve read in the past six months.

Killa Heredia Bratt, class of  2019

Drawing Inspiration from the Bay Swim by Anna Geiger

On September 28th, the SOTA creative writing department visited the Dolphin Club, which is a private establishment bordering the San Francisco bay where members can swim in the ocean or spend time on the beach. The first two weeks of every creative writing year are dedicated to building community, and this outing is my favorite of the many that we do. Plunging into the frigid waters of the bay as a class always proves to be a bonding experience, as well as great inspiration for creative work. I have always been fascinated by the ocean, particularly the sensory experiences, including the smell of saline air, the texture of sand, sounds of waves breaking. After the trip this year, I sat on the bus on the way home listening to music and thinking about how I would creatively respond, when the song I was listening to ended, and Clair de Lune began to play. For those who are not familiar with the piece, it is a classical movement composed by Claude Debussy. It is slow-moving and elegant, reminiscent of a lullaby, and rhythmically reminded me of hearing waves crashing on the shore of the Dolphin Club. The piece primarily features sequences of light, high notes followed by a low note, which in my mind mirrored the sound of waves rising and falling evenly against the sand. I wrote a poem for my response, in which I have used rhyme, meter, and musical vocabulary to portray this aspect of the theme. The poem is included below:


Song of the Sea

My legs are swimming in heavy blue sheets,
head resting where a maternal hand meets;
whose hum sways to a movement floors below,
whose lithe fingers dance as chords ebb and flow.

Woodwinds whir through the month of November,
strings sing until the end of December;
my apricity each day that only fades
as sleep marks the close of cold winter days.

On my head, mother plays the Clair de Lune,
reclines in a bath of light of the moon.
Behind my closed eyelids, in darkness seeps,
and slowly I’m slipping, into the deeps.

After three breaths of cadence, one of rest,
I resurface to find that I’ve left the nest.
To a haven where song comes to run free,
I am cradled in the arms of the sea.

Into flowering seagrass my toes sink,
wading through schools of fish dotted with ink,
Leaping over anemone blowing
as the arm waves, flowing and reflowing.

As the tide rises, my limbs rise up too,
dancing as I bid the seastars adieu.
It’s been a short visit, but I’ll return soon
when my mother hums as I greet the moon.

There is a song found only in the sea,
that lives in the waves and is played for me.
A crescendo as the sea’s arm takes hold,
a cado as I succumb to its fold.

The Freshman Rock: A History by Stella Pfahler

    About a week or two ago, Heather told the entirety of Creative Writing that she needed rocks for a demonstration in one of her English classes. We were to sneak into a closed-off construction site near the theater and get some after school let out. About half of the department—including Ren (’19) and I—set ourselves upon doing this. We were about halfway to the theater when we spotted a huge hunk of cement that was being used as a doorstop by the cafeteria. Without another thought, I grabbed the rock and proceeded to lug it back up to the CW room. It must have weighed twenty pounds.

            Heather was surprised when we brought it in—it turned out she had wanted stones, not rocks, for her demonstration. She dubbed it the Freshman Rock and I foolishly agreed to spray paint it yellow in time for Field Day. A few minutes later, six or so Creative Writers staggered in with an IKEA tote bag full of head-sized rocks and Heather had to re-explain her mistake.

            It took a lot of effort to get The Rock home. Kayne (’18) helped us out by lugging the rock up three flights of stairs. We then had to take it on the 44, where we were yelled at by a MUNI officer about our “art project.” By the time Thalia (’18) and I had gotten to my house, both of our laps were covered and dust and we had accumulated more than a lifetime’s worth of dirty looks.

            On The Wednesday before Field Day, I realized that I was lacking the obnoxiously yellow paint needed to adorn The Rock and enlisted my dear mother to buy some—you have to be 18 to get spray paint. It took a little bit of doing, and a lot of blow-drying, but the rock was painted and dried in time for Field Day. It now resides on top of a bookshelf in the CW room. Now, our only obstacle is getting Isaiah (bless his heart) to approve the new, glaringly yellow member of the CW family even if it doesn’t comply with his aesthetic sensibilities. 

Stella Pfahler, class of 2019

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Having a Muse by Davis

I’ve been wracking my brains, trying to find a way to incorporate kpop into this blog post that’s supposed to link everyday life to my writing, and I’ve finally found something:

I am obsessed (if anyone reading this blog doesn’t know this they soon will) with a very articulate and coincidentally very attractive Korean rapper named Rap Monster, but I will refer to him by his given name: Namjoon. I was never attracted to rap music until three years ago, when I first heard Namjoon growling about societal pressures in South Korea, and the strain that students are under from age six onwards in order to get into a good school. All of the rap music I’d ever heard was demeaning towards women, and even though it took reading translations of his rap to understand what Namjoon was speaking about—since I unfortunately cannot speak Korean (yet)—I instantly connected with him and his message. It didn’t matter that most of his raps were in Korean, it didn’t matter that he was incredibly attractive, what mattered was that I felt drawn to him, and his art made me want to create art.

I really wish that I could tell him in person how much he has influenced my art, how before I knew about him, I avoided talking about societal issues like they were the black plague. As a matter of fact, I’m meeting him tomorrow, in concert, but the signing of an autograph isn’t enough time to tell him everything I want to say, so I’ll just have to keep writing to him, and echoing back his art with mine.

Davis Dubose-Marler, class of 2017


On Field Day and Traditions, by Thalia Rose

For nearly all of us at SOTA, making artistic progress is just as important as making academic progress and thus, most students perform a balancing act on a regular basis. A friend of mine has several auditions for orchestra, recital practice outside of school and AP music theory homework, all on a weekly basis.  For me, academics alone, there are at least three hours of homework each night. I don’t find this impossible or particularly unpleasant. I have been told that being an artist is a foolish choice with no revenue, a completely impractical occupation. In theory, it does seem quite impractical – from a purely mathematical perspective, the workload seems dreadful – but that is why it is so important to snap out of personal preoccupations and focus on managing time with all the determination one can manage. I feel that a reason for the emphasis on competition at SOTA is that the different departments want to prove to the others that we, as artists, should be taken seriously, that we need to be taken seriously because we are all working so hard.

This year, all art departments participated in an athletic competition. Representatives were chosen from each department while the remaining forces basked in the sun on the bleachers. Some activities are about synchronicity – like the hula-hoop chain, the three-legged race and the human pyramid; some are about trust, i.e. two people holding a donut from a string and one eating it; and some are about the sheer power of physical force like tug of war, which, incidentally, Creative Writing rarely participates in.

Seeing twenty-six people all dressed in the most fluorescent yellow that they could find inevitably offers a sense of solidarity. Heather ritualistically chanting, “Banana dance, banana dance, banana dance!” and the rest of us joining in until Colin succumbed to an interpretive banana dance somehow eased the stress of competition. Traditions offer cohesion. It is comforting to know that, despite stress and routine obstacles, there is a department full of people that I care about and that care about me. I write now, and I will always write, because being in an environment where improvement of art is so strongly encouraged has helped me stay fastened to my goals and the progress of my peers motivates me to improve.

Thalia Rose, Class of 2018

Field Day Prep by Clare Sabry

You may think that us SOTA kids are artistic recluses. We sit in a school all day with next to no windows and have been known to hiss at the sun like vampires, but you would be surprised how much we interact with the natural world.

            Sometimes nature comes to us, this week in the form of rainwater falling from the hallway ceiling. But tomorrow, School of the Arts is coming to nature, the field, more specifically, to take part in a legendary event aptly named Field Day.

            At Field Day, the departments battle it out in a variety of competitions including the human pyramid contest, donut-eating, a three-legged race, and a chain of people trying to fit themselves through a hula hoop. Historically Creative Writing has been a frontrunner in these events, winning the grand prize on two different occasions, and we always take preparations seriously.

            Thus emerges today’s montage of running and climbing, singing and yelling, all necessary steps to get ready for tomorrow’s games. Good luck, SOTA CW! May the best department win.

 Clare Sabry, class of 2017