Chanukah and Kwanzaa by Lena Hartsough

My family celebrates Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa over the winter holidays.

We’ve taken to calling this mix match of holidays Christmachanukwanzakah, and I haven’t yet encountered another family who celebrates all three. In fact, many of my friends don’t know what Kwanzaa is. It is an African-American holiday not affiliated with any religion, and I’ve met people who think it’s a Muslim holiday from northern Africa.

Recently, I was able to go up to Yosemite for three days to take part in a teen winter retreat at a Jewish camp I go to. The two nights I was there were the fifth and sixth nights of Chanukah, and also coincided with Ujima and Ujamaa, two nights of Kwanzaa. I had been planning to bring some candles or electric tea lights to light, but in the rush that occurred the morning I left, I forgot. I remembered once we were already in Yosemite, and asked a few staff members if they had tea lights or black, red, and green candles. They didn’t.

So, when bedtime came around, I slipped out of the cabin to celebrate Ujima, the principle of “collective work and responsibility.” I ran into the counselor in charge of our cabin, who asked if everything was alright. I awkwardly told her I was celebrating Kwanzaa, which felt a bit odd after we had just lit the Chanukah candles. She nodded, and went back into the cabin.
My family always celebrates Kwanzaa by singing a song called “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as “The Black National Anthem.” I imagined a black candle for Umoja, the
first night, a red one for Kujichagulia, the second night, and a green candle for Ujima. Then I sang the first verse of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” quietly and a bit nervous that someone inside would hear. When I went back inside, the counselor asked if I could tell her about Kwanzaa the next day. I agreed.

The next night, before we went off to bed, all forty-one of us (plus some of the staff members) participated in a guided meditation that was about spirituality. I mostly thought about my Jewish identity, and realized almost for the first time that I am very proud of being a Jew. Later, just as I was getting in bed, I remembered that I had forgotten Kwanzaa, and got back out of bed. That night, Ujamaa, represents cooperative economics. As I was leaving the cabin, my friends asked where I was going. I told them I was going to celebrate Kwanzaa, and they looked a bit surprised. So when I came back in after imagining the candles from the previous nights and another red candle for Ujamaa, then singing the first and last verses of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” my friends asked me questions about Kwanzaa. I explained what I knew of the answers, and was again proud of my identity.

Celebrating an African-American holiday at a Jewish camp was interesting, to say the least. When I was considering spirituality, I left out Kwanzaa, and focused mainly on Judaism. Kwanzaa is, however, a big part of my spirituality, and my identity as an African-American is just as important as my identity as a Jew. Although I’ve been celebrating both Kwanzaa and Chanukah for as long as I can remember, and we’ve even combined the names to speak of our winter holidays, I’ve always thought of them as separate. After celebrating them both on the same night, but one with a large group of people and one alone, I have a new perspective on the two holidays.

Lena Hartsough, class of 2019


Bruce Connor: It’s All True by Ren Weber

“I am an artist, an anti-artist, no shrinking ego, modest, a feminist, a profound misogynist, a romantic, a realist, a surrealist, a funk artist, conceptual artist, minimalist, postmodernist, beatnik, hippie, punk, subtle, confrontational, believable, paranoiac, courteous, difficult, forthright, impossible to work with, accessible, obscure, precise, calm, contrary, elusive, spiritual, profane, a Renaissance man of contemporary art, and one the most important artists in the world. My work is described as beautiful, horrible, hogwash, genius, maundering, precise, quaint, avant-garde, historical, hackneyed, masterful, trivial, intense, mystical, virtuosic, bewildering, absorbing, concise, absurd, amusing, innovative, nostalgic, contemporary, iconoclastic, sophisticated, trash, masterpieces, etc. It’s all true.”
–Bruce Conner

It’s All True at the SFMOMA is a collection of Bruce Conner’s work over fifty years as a Bay Area artist. It’s an almost overwhelming exhibit: a combination of experimental film, photographs, collages, paintings, etc. My vivid recollection of this exhibit is due not only to Conner’s ability to stretch far across many genres and medias, but also how well he carried it out.

His first film, A MOVIE, is a twelve-minute edit of old newsreels. The non-narrative film is similar to others in the collection: incorporating a washed-out, hazy black and white style and also having no story, rather a collection of images or one long shot. CROSSROADS, made in 1976, is an extremely slow-motion replay of an underwater nuclear test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. The intense slow-mo gives the audience room to capture every detail as the mushroom cloud descends towards the camera, expressing a deliberate destruction. Conner, who is clearly a fan of replaying and rewinding clips, includes this in BREAKAWAY, my favorite in the exhibit. The five-minute movie is a black and white rendition of Toni Basil (known for “Oh Mickey, you’re so fine”) dancing to her song, “Breakaway.” The entire film is made up of very quick shots of Basil, rapidly changing from close-up to far away, all moving quickly so she looks feathered and a flurry of white against the black background. When the song is done the clip and track rewind, becoming an eerie, indistinguishable gurgle.

Besides the films, Conner showcased his paintings and assemblages, which often include different textures created with netting or fabric layered on photo collages. These pieces as well as his ink drawings have a distinct color scheme: monochrome, dusty brown, or beige. The exhibit has a wall dedicated to punk rock show photos, appropriately gritty and faded, and in the next room the “angels,” gelatin silver prints of human silhouettes with hands outstretched towards us. These collections of photographs, as well as his avant-garde films, relay a signature style of white figures against a black background.

With many artists these days, I feel there is an underlying fear of “stretching oneself out too thin” in art. At SOTA, with separate departments, the idea is furthered that we should hone one art. However, if anything, Conner’s art disproves this in a way. His work is a full, vivid, synchronized range of art that surpasses the limitation of genres, blurring the lines and filling the gaps between them.

Ren Weber, class of 2018

About Good Books by Liam Mullan

About Good Books to Follow And the Writing of Them

Of Finn McCool of county Antrim it is said he was a giant, but I never imagine that he was very big at all, for it is not his strength that is intimidating, but instead his wit and his broth that stirred within him from a very young age, and so when he heard of the Scottish red-footed giant Benandonner and his challenge to fight, he said “Okay” and with many black hexagonal stones made a bridge to Scotland and called to him from behind a cliff’s side that he was there to fight him and that he had made a bridge from Antrim with his own hands because he did not want to get his shoes wet, and when old Benandonner appeared he was much larger than Finn had thought and so he ran back home to Antrim and to Oona, his wife, said:

“Oona! For a Scottish giant named Benandonner is after me and he is currently crossing a bridge of hexagonal black stones I happened to make across the Northern ocean, and so I need you now to dress me as a baby and convince the poor man that I am our little baby son and you must also make a batch of griddle cakes and leave an iron griddle in the middle of one and say to him ‘Old Finn eats these all the time’ and perhaps then he’ll truly fear me and will never come back” And so this Oona did and she dressed her husband in baby’s clothes with even a little baby’s hat and sat him down upon a bed and when Benandonner knocked on their door said to him that Finn was out but that he would be home soon for a dinner of griddle cakes but in the meantime would he like to come in and see her baby son and also have a griddle cake, which I find very sweet and hospitable, and Benandonner of course said “Okay.”

When Benandonner saw the little baby, who was funnily enough Finn McCool of Antrim, he said that he had never seen a baby so big and he then became very nervous indeed, for if poor Finn’s baby was so big then how big was Finn himself! And so he broke a large rock and said to Oona look how strong he was that he could crack such a rock and she said it was impressive indeed and if he would like his griddle cake now and Benandonner of course said “Sure.”

Oona fed the red-footed giant his griddle cake and within it was the iron griddle itself and so when he bit down upon it out came three teeth and he said Damned is this, for if Finn eats this his teeth must be very big indeed and Oona assured him that this was Finn’s favorite meal and that never had he broken a tooth on it and she then fed a griddle cake to the baby, who was funnily enough Finn himself, but this time it was just a soft little griddle cake and had no hellish iron griddle within it, and so the baby ate it comfortably and it is then that it is said that Benandonner of Scotland wailed and screamed and ran from the house back to Scotland and destroyed the hexagonal black stones along the way so as to make sure old Finn never came back and then Oona and Finn laughed for many days.

☘ ☘ ☘ ☘ ☘

I tell you the story of Finn McCool so as to explain to you what it is I mean to have a sure and definite idea of the broth within you, which I can say I do, and that is all I know now for I am only a certain amount of years old and am not very wise or experienced, in fact I was just born, and perhaps when I am much older I will write a good book so as to tell you how I think you should live and the procedures you should complete to go about doing so, and I reference now what I believe to be the greatest book ever written and a beautiful account of the sad pauper life: “’Tis said in the good books that describe the affairs of the Gaelic paupers that it’s in the middle of the night that two men come visiting if they have a five-noggin bottle and are looking for a woman,” and so I believe one day my book should be the same and will tell you how it is you should be looking for a woman. But alas, I have never found a woman myself and was just born and so don’t have much more to say about that now.

Liam Mullan, class of 2018

Chair Stacks by Samantha Friedman

I had been thinking about endings as this year’s first semester came to a close. I was relieved, but not satisfied. It was the last period of the last day and I stood in the center of the Creative Writing room, desks sloppily pushed together and a sole candle quivering in the corner of a windowsill. I thought I would have written more, written better. I wished my grades were higher. There was enough left of my list of wants that I wasn’t ready to move onto the next chapter of my freshman year.

For my last story for the Fiction Unit, Heather and I discussed that I needed a different ending. At my computer I cried and screamed. I can’t do endings, I decided. I don’t want to write endings, or experience them, or think about them. Ever. My first semester went by so fast that the memories don’t feel like my own. It’s almost that I wasn’t fully present in the moments I can recall and the lack of awareness and appreciation makes them not count. I didn’t utilize the resources to improve my writing and I backed down from challenges. Looking back on that now, from after the end, is hard.

What makes an ending bearable? It’s not a steadfast finish. The world doesn’t topple over from its axis. There’s always more to come. On the last day of school I promised that in Creative Writing I’d learn from my regrets. I realized good things could come from an end. Our Artist in Residence, Carson Beker had the class listen to When it Ends, He Catches Her by Eugie Foster. Foster wrote this story while ill, and used her ending to create something beautiful. Foster’s short story’s ending had something mine never had, a satisfying ending.

So on the last day before Winter Break, Creative Writing never started. The students were dismissed. We cleaned the room one more time, wiping tables and erasing the whiteboard. I brought the last chair to its appointed stack. Looking around the room one more time, I plopped the chair on top.

Samantha Friedman, class of 2020


Reflection on Marina Abramović by Julieta Roll

Marina Abramović is a Serbian performance artist born in Yugoslavia. In her nearly five decade career she has preformed radical and questionable feats pushing and defying the limit for
what art can be and what performance art can be. I went to see her talk with City Arts and Lectures, a privilege I had been given through the Creative Writing Department. It was at the Nourse Theatre with interviewer and mediator Maria Popova. I was completely blown away by this women. I was seated in in the balcony, straining to see the large yellow-lighted stage where the two women sat facing the audience in large upholstered chairs. They seemed so far away but when Marina Abramović spoke her voice echoed powerfully and filled the theatre space making her seem close, nearly touchable.

Some of Abramović’s most significant work includes “The Artist is Present” and “Rhythm 5” among others. “The Artist is Present” (2010) was shown in the New York’s MoMa where Abramović sat unmoving in a chair, a table and another chair opposite her. Visitors were welcomed to sit across from Abramović where she would simply maintain stable eye contact with the guest until they left. The piece lasted 750 hours, stretching over several months and thousands of people waited in line to sit across from the famous performance artist.

In “Rhythm 5” (1974) Abramović constructed a wooden star in which she soaked in petroleum, sprawled in the center of, and set on fire. The piece was brought out of Abramović’s thoughts on the strict Communist government that Yugoslavia lived under. In the interview she talked about how the Communist star was everywhere growing up: on buildings, in her house, on her birth certificate, and how she wanted to get rid of it, how she wanted to “burn it” so it was no longer apart of her. She also discussed while performing “Rhythm 5” she fell unconscious due to

the lack of oxygen in the burning star and how this frustrated her. She felt she had lost control and was angry at the fact that the body had limitations. I thought Abramović’s work raised the question “What is art?” and “Why is this art?” as her pieces were so unfocused from the traditional lense of the fine arts and even modern arts.

“I learned very early if you want to be an artist, not to compromise….I make my work without any compromise” said Abramović as she discussed the struggles she faced trying to become successful through her performance art. “The plumber had more money than the performance artists” she remarked. This inspired me greatly, to see a women who had come from so little and had made her way to place where she could talk freely about her ideas and create what she wanted. She spoke with such wisdom and gracefulness her words kept the audience at an attentive silence. I was extremely engaged the entirety of the talk, Abramović charismatic personality wrapping me and afterwards leaving me with more questions than I began with. Although this wasn’t a usual reading I did not exit any less inspired.

Julieta Roll, class of 2019


Notebooks by Max Chu

My notebook, in which I write all of my prompts and poems and draw all of my stick figures and mindless doodles, is larger than most; or at least larger than the standard composition notebook that one uses in math class, with the ruler and metric conversion tables. The cover is vibrantly red, with a three sided black diamond drawn in sharpie and a looted bar code sticker pasted in the middle. The pages are blank, not lined, and presumably are intended for professional drawings and paintings, but are instead covered in multicolored ramblings about the ocean and interesting words or phrases overheard. Everything about my notebook is uniquely me. Every inch has been touched or written on, and it’s been shoved in my backpack so many times that the corners are all crinkly. There are many stories in my notebook, literally and symbolically and if you ever meet me, ask to see it, and I will gladly show you the place where there used to be a sticker, but I decided against it, or a list of books I’ve been meaning to read, or some drawing that looks like it took seconds, but in actuality took hours.

Kenzo’s notebook is small and black and a very nice Moleskine, which he’s drawn all over with gold sharpie. The front has his initials, K.F., in the center of a diamond. Every one of the pages in his book is taken up by a comic strip in which two detailed stick figures are forever fighting. In fact, there are more drawings in his book than actual writing. You’ll see a place where he finished detailing a prompt, and then in the last minutes, drew an entire comic book. Harmony’s notebook is large, but not quite as large as mine. It’s light blue and somehow gives off the feeling of being cloudlike and holy. The pages are lined with a block at the top of the page for the date, in which I’ve seen her put quotes, drawings, and on occasion, the date itself. Huck’s notebook is a purple variation on the classic black composition. It’s contents are very too the point, no doodles or drawings, only sentences in Huck’s scrawled handwriting. It gives you the feeling that he’s someone like DaVinci or Newton, someone who’s thinking great thoughts at a rate that’s too fast for his hand.

Every creative writer has a notebook like this, where they put their deepest darkest, most controversial fears, or where they are outlining the next great dissertation. Each one is unique and reflects the writer’s own style and aesthetic so well that if a stranger were to look through the notebook, by the end of the reading they would know the person as if they were a friend. Every single thing that we put in our notebooks says something about who we are, from the size and style of our handwriting, to what’s in the blank spaces of our sentences. The variety of styles that you could find in creative writing just goes to show how much creative wiggle room we have; how much ability we have to express ourselves as the unique individuals that we are. The painters have their palates, the musicians have their solos. We writers, well we have our notebooks.​

Max Chu, class of 2020


My First Kirby Cove by Nina Berggren

When I arrived at Creative Writing’s annual camping trip to Kirby Cove, I came wide-eyed and eager to experience all of its glory. The Marin sun breathed heavily on our necks, and the tall, beautiful trees, provided a welcoming shade.

Late afternoon, all the Creative Writers went down to the beach, where the seniors struggled hilariously to dunk the freshman in the frigid bay, a refreshing, but also numbing, Creative Writing tradition.

When nightfall came, we gathered around the campfire to eat sausages, while listening to a delightfully creepy story, told by Sam, Heather’s husband. Following the story, the Creative Writers retired to the bunker for Hot Seat. What transpired at that time can not be repeated, but it brought us all together as a class and made me feel much closer to my peers.

It was two in the morning when Hot Seat concluded and tired writers began to give in to their exhaustion, shrinking away from the bunker and into their sleeping bags– all but a lively eight of us, who decided to pull an all-nighter. We sat around the fire with the dark, raccoon-infested forest at our backs, and the hot, crackling flames heating up our faces. Time slipped by as we listened to Max Chu (‘20) strumming his ukulele while we talked and laughed. My peers were slowly being exposed to my wild side, a result of me being delirious.

After a competitive game of “B.S.” we walking back to the ocean at around 4:30am. We treaded carefully across the smooth, icy stones to a nearby rope swing that had been used by tourists all day.The swing was now empty, but not silent. The foghorn sounded often in the distance. Heavy fog encircled us as we took turns soaring upwards on the swing, an exhilarating feeling that belittled any stress I once had.

After returning back to the campfire to warm up, we returned to the beach to watch the glistening stars give way to the soft light of dawn. The fog was thicker than ever and the Golden Gate Bridge was entirely shrouded in the white wetness. We watched the ocean transform from deep black to a crystal blue. The water swung repeatedly over the edge of the beach like the swing over the water. That moment was serene. I was amazed when a pink and orange glow was revealed, originally hidden by the fog. We watched the fog move and listened to the foghorn wish us good morning. I could now see the Golden Gate bridge in all its entirety, as well as downtown San Francisco’s skyline, a silhouette surrounded by warm, red and yellow hues. The colors deepened slowly and finally faded when the full sun could be seen. Wind followed us back to camp for coffee, muffins, and fruit, a glorious ending to my first Kirby Cove.

Nina Berggren, class of 2020

Writing From Impulses by Solange Baker

Impulse writing is how I have written for most of my life. Up until freshman year I had not received many prompts. “Prompts” in Creative Writing are exactly as they sound; they are meant to elicit ideas and to get you started on your creative process. In Creative Writing one we are given a warm up every morning to help us organize our thoughts and to get ideas down onto paper. We recently had a guest speaker come in. He answered our questions on his book and on writing in general. One of the tips he gave that stood out to all of us was that he writes out of impulse. He finds the idea of not knowing how a sentence will end to be enticing, an opinion that I must agree on.

The following day the head of our department, Heather Woodward, immediately jumped onto this concept. This time we began class without a prompt. We wrote down the first thought that came to mind and did not stop writing until our ten minutes were up. Through sharing the newly produced paragraphs it quickly became evident that writing on impulse was generating some astounding imagery and ideas. While it is helpful to have a prompt given to you when you have hit a block in your writing, often your brain has the capability to spawn wild and alluring plot and character ideas on its own. It is an understatement to say that the imagination is the writer’s most used tool out of their arsenal. Although it may seem overwhelming, partnering the imagination with a little spontaneity can sometimes be the key to writing your next big piece.

Solange Baker, class of 2019

Why I Write by Amina Aineb

I write a lot about my dreams. Or at least I try to. How can you
describe the surreal beauty of dreams? It’s near impossible. I used to
keep a dream journal. All the sentences are incoherent, all the syntax
just doesn’t flow right. But I can see and feel the dreams perfectly
in my head.

They say you should write everyday instead of waiting for inspiration
to strike. The remarkable things in life happen everyday, meaning you
can remark on everything. There is no “writer’s block” and there will
never be a day when there is nothing else to write about, nothing new
to say. If you are a writer and feel that you can’t write anymore,
it’s because you don’t want to. That’s fine. Go for a walk instead.
Write later.

As hard as it is to write down your dreams, you can also lie about
them, because thank God no one saw them but you. In a dream you open a
cupboard and see an amorphous red shape. Change it to a small doll. Or

Here is why I write. I want to do the world justice with the right
words. I want to show you how good it feels to wake up with the sun on
my face. You probably already know how that feels, but isn’t it
excellent we both experienced it? I want to soak all of this up and
then ring it out into a cup for you to drink, so you’ll be ready. I
want to make you cry until I start crying with you. I want to describe
my mother’s herb roasted chicken and mashed potatoes until you can
taste them in your mouth. I would make dinner for you, but I can’t.
I’m a lousy cook.

Amina Aineb, class of 2017

Where Do We Go From Here? by Stella Pfahler

The election of November 8th was a shock and surprise to many, especially at SOTA, which is a progressive and diverse school. Coming to class throughout the rest of that week was emotionally exhausting; on November 9th, I arrived to my chemistry class to a room full of weeping students and dejected teachers. Each of my instructors addressed the issue differently, while still maintaining the obligation of political neutrality, which is required by the school district. In my English class the election spurred a conversation about art and its relation to protest and political dissidence. In AP World History we related the events to past instances of tyranny and regime. My history teacher permitted students to make signs in class to display at several walkouts and rallies, both condoned by the district and not, that took place in the several days following the election. Myself and hundreds of SOTA and Academy students joined upwards of two thousand student protesters in walking from school to Aquatic Park. Some students even made it onto KTVU, CNN, and Fox News Atlanta. It was impressive to see so many different types of people unite against a single cause. Even more awe-inspiring was the level of student of involvement during a time when most adults became defeatist and accepting of the election’s outcome.

The hardest conversation about the election was the one that took place in Creative Writing. I slowly began to realize how dire my situation had become despite my privilege and affluence. The class discussed how, in repressive and silencing governments in the past, artists have always been the first citizens to be jailed or persecuted. As Arin Vasquez (‘18) put it, “artists are the most dangerous.” We are also more vulnerable in times like these. I also considered how difficult it had been for me to produce creative work following the events of November 8th. I understood, at least intellectually, that periods of turmoil and fear are the most important times for artists to produce and speak out. However, with the country’s fate churning in the back of my head, as well as my peers’, as well as the fear of coming of age in Trump’s America, it became nearly impossible for me to focus on “trivial” things like schoolwork.

Over the last week or so I have gradually been able to return to a normal school life, and writing comes easier now. I decided to not partake in any more walkouts- as doing so, in my belief, would not only rob me of an education-which is exactly what Trump wants-but also rob my school of funds for the day. The question of art’s role in politics, and visa versa, is an ongoing discussion that I am not willing to end anytime soon.

My message to applicants is this: at the crossroads we stand at, currently, as a nation, there is nothing more important than your art and your creativity. Keep creating and create louder than ever. In times of tyranny, artists are the first to be silenced. MR. Trump has already expressed interest in the silencing of the press, which is not only unconstitutional but horrifying. Even if political art feels whiny or pointless, try it out anyway. Read books, read the news-and not just the kind of news that you like to hear. Be disgusted. Be angry. That’s okay! Channel it into something productive or positive-and most of all, keep writing. This country is going to be fine.

Stella Pfahler, class of 2019