From May to May: the Senior Thesis Writing Project (with Video Showcase) by Gemma Collins

Since I stepped into room 227 on my first day in Creative Writing, I’ve known about the senior thesis project. I read long spreadsheets of deadlines and watched the upper-level students disappear into mysterious workshops. For the past three years, it’s been looming over me—and last summer, I finally sat down and began. Beginning a long-term project is daunting. Before my senior year started, my cohort and I sat down with the older grade and discussed the project. “How do you pick what to write about?” “How do you balance writing with everything else in school?” “What’s it like to work with a mentor?” Questions bounced around the small seminar room like balls of yarn. The seniors met our worries with reassurance and promises of how accomplished we would be after. I sat and listened, unable to visualize an end but eager to get started. 

  I’ve always struggled with committing to long-term projects, and I worried that my excitement and inspiration for my thesis would dwindle quickly. Heather, our department head, assured my class that the project would represent our learning in Creative Writing. I felt daunted by the idea that my four years of high school came down to a stack of 50 pages in my hands at the end of the year. I was motivated, however, to push myself out of my comfort zone and enjoy the process. 

As I’ve almost finished my draft, I’m content not to stress too much over the process and use it to rekindle my passion for writing outside of assignments in class. While one of my favorite parts of the project has been the freedom to write whatever I want with minimal instructions, I’ve realized the significant initiative it takes to delve into this project. As a freshman in high school, I couldn’t grasp what Heather meant when she said the senior thesis was our most important graduation requirement. Now, I understand the depth of personal growth it has provided me through growing closer with my peers and enforcing deadlines on myself.

Touching Emotions by Sophie Fastaia

On the last two days of January, Speak (Easy), our poetry show began. A week before the show, we had chosen and workshopped the poems that we were to read to an audience of about three hundred. I remember on a Friday when we spent the whole two hours allotted memorizing our poems in pairs. Kenny, a Creative Writing freshman, sat with me, as I tried to recall each line. While I read the poem in my head, it felt like it was not being absorbed, like my mind was a strainer that couldn’t retain the words. I had written about a great loss in my life that happened when I was eleven and even though I was not talking about the event directly, I realized that it was hard to memorize because of how it made me feel; I was almost reliving the experience and felt so much sadness building up behind my words. 

The first night of the show began at six. I recorded myself reciting the poem and listened to it multiple times to get the lines to stick. When it was my turn to stand under the yellow spotlight, I felt confident, holding the poem in my head, but then the poem fell from my mind and I blanked. I staggered through, taking long pauses and skipping multiple lines. I was disappointed and surprised because I had never had so much trouble memorizing a poem. I felt vulnerable on stage and had chosen to share a piece of writing that was based on a heartbreaking event in my life. Even though sharing vulnerable pieces can be painful, opening up helped me to slow down and feel emotions that dwell deep. Creative Writing has given me the ability to explore internal emotions and share vulnerability with the support of the people I love around me. I was able to drop down into my wound and touch my grief when I shared it with others. Touching emotions is at the root of what Creative Writing brings forth.

A Cure for Writer’s Block by Gabriel Flores Benard

Creative Writing recently went on a trip to the Botanical Gardens. Although the frigid winds and potential threats of torrents loomed over our shoulders, the Creative Writing class went to see the magnolias bloom. I dislike the rain, and I constantly noticed the clouds above. Puffy clouds peppered the skies as we left, clumps of cotton balls strewn together as they failed to cover the sun. As we arrived at Golden Gate Park, the clouds congealed and darkened, filled with water like an antsy child. I felt droplets kiss my face. 

By the time we entered the Botanical Gardens, the raindrops had faltered and stopped. The congealed clouds roamed close but allowed the sun to peek through. Heather took the Creative Writers along endless trails of flowers and other flora. Large, magenta petals littered the floor and poured over us. The trees grew in twisted ways, yet their branches wove intricate webs that diluted the sunlight. Heather stopped us along the trail to point out the coloration of the flowers, the sunlight peeking through the leaves, and the trees felled by strong winds. A few of my friends and I took pictures while others strung words together in their notebooks. My friend gave me her earbud, and we danced as the sun peered into our eyes; the clouds left us alone, and the wind left the trees to revel in the cold. 

The trip to the Botanical Gardens allowed the Creative Writers time to unwind. Fresh, virescent sights also inspire us writers before entering the next CW unit. Do not let anything stop you from relaxing, observing, and taking time to reignite your literary fire. The cold, sun, rain, wind, and flowers all have stories to tell. Take advantage of every sight and memory; you may find inspiration without trying.

Sluggish, But Fast by Filip Zubatov

I am stalking the clock persistently, like a killer to its prey. The hand’s fingers are frozen, but I wait. My eyes never shift from the clock, for the fingers would sprint away. I would stand helpless, like a deer on the road, trapped in the headlights of a car. Why aren’t you making more friends? Why are you eating that? Exercise. I’ll do it tomorrow. A plethora of hopes, goals, and accomplishments waiting at the end of these minutes; both academic and personal. So I rushed through my days, like something was chasing me. Expecting something, without working to make that expectation a reality. I sit, glued to a desk, watching time pass me by, hoping when the day, week, month ends, my work and self will be improved in some way or another. At the moment, life seems to be going by like a turtle walking a marathon. After the turtle has crossed the finish line, I realize that I let each mile go by uncounted, when I should have utilized each one to create something better of myself and what I can achieve.Start tomorrow. I should have started today. The lit crit isn’t going to write itself. Everyday, putting off the goals you have, expecting results. The quality of my work, no chance of improvement, a stalemate, or so I thought. Waiting weeks without pushing myself, the same results. How could my work for Creative Writing or work towards personal goals have a chance to improve without time spent? Spending time you have for worthwhile activities will ultimately help you achieve any goals you have in mind. There are a plethora of ideals I wish to achieve in the near future, and I haven’t done anything to help myself reach them and rather watched time slip through my fingers. A message to everyone reading this piece; don’t watch time pass in hopes of your ambitions coming to fruition, and rather make your expectations a reality with diligence.

Literary Ditches by Natasha Leung

At the beginning of my first year in creative writing, the seniors gave the fresh peeps a lesson on what might be the most important assignment in the class: literary critiques. We got a lesson about what literary devices were, and how we would have to write an essay about them, but I focused more on the exciting new aspects of writing—poems, skits, and other fun games. While the topic had been mentioned over the course of community weeks (and quite heavily complained about), I didn’t imagine an essay to be the most difficult part of the class. In middle school, I loved writing essays, especially about works of literature. I had thrived in analyzing tiny aspects of topics, and sharing my perspective on the meaning of situations. I had, naively, hoped that I would be one of the few people who at least semi-enjoyed writing literary critiques. However, my hopes were dashed as soon as I got back the comments on my first draft. A slew of comments, mostly repeating the same message: I was completely all over the place, didn’t stay on topic, and overall had a horrible ability to be concise while still making sense.

Wrapping up our fifth literary critique for this year, I’m beginning to find myself closer to the knowledge of what in the world I am even supposed to be writing about. I chose my own poem to critique for the first time, which I found a liberating while also quite stressful experience. The ability to handpick a poem that specifically stood out to me after paging through websites for a good hour seemed to help me get into a groove of digging through layers of literary dirt. After finishing the first draft, I counted four printed-out copies of the poem, each page so covered in annotations I wished for a pair of binoculars. As the due date loomed closer, I traded drafts with a fellow classmate and felt my inner professor kick in, as I peppered their analysis with responses of my own. I spent what felt like years condensing every note, every question, every single thought that crossed my brain in regards to the poem into four pages of connections and realizations.

None of the process I went through is to say that I’ve gotten particularly good at writing a literary critique, one that doesn’t leave my reader scratching their head and wondering how I managed to write something so completely nonsensical. On my most recent one, for example, while doing peer revisions I received at least three comments simply asking “Natasha, what the heck does this even mean?!” I admit I asked myself that many times while writing: “Natasha, what does anything you’re thinking even mean?” Despite this hagarring inability to do what appears to an outside view a simple assignment, I haven’t given up on ever writing a perfect literary critique, something that makes my reader think to themselves, “Yes, you took the words right out of my mouth!” I still believe that I’ll be able to sound intellectual instead of spewing randomness. Despite the randomness, I would have to admit I love the feeling of getting into a poem. I love spending the day as an archeologist, sifting through mounds of gold in the form of words, and finding pieces that connect like bones creating the skeleton of a newfound perspective.

To Speak Easy or to Speak Easier? by Isabella Hansen

Since I am a senior in Creative Writing, I should be a pro at public speaking and performances. Unfortunately, before our annual poetry show, “Speak easy,” I felt nerves twist inside my stomach. Since the pandemic occurred, I have only been able to participate in two poetry shows on the main stage. While one would imagine that performing in front of hundreds of people rather than one hundred would be more daunting, I felt a strike of nerves I had never felt before. 

I imagined who would be sitting in the audience. My family, of course. My friends, maybe. My old Chemistry teacher? Probably. One common misconception is that we sit and write for two hours within Creative Writing. However, our curriculum is more robust than that. Throughout my years in CW, I have learned public speaking and performance skills that have helped me throughout my life. As I stood behind one dark curtain, I felt my hands shake from nerves. While I’m sure most of it was internalized, I felt an absurd amount of pressure. Since it was my last poetry show as a student in Creative Writing at SOTA, I needed this show to be perfect. But as I paced around in circles with friends backstage, frantically chanting the lines in my poem, I realized that this show was not the final moment of my high school career. It was the people I met along the way. I will never forget my cohort, who have made the past few years of my life so special. While the show ran smoothly and everyone was great, my favorite part was the last bow I took with my friends on stage. And if you missed Speakeasy, come check out Speak Easier at Manny’s!

City Boy Thesis by Jude Wong

Every year each senior creates their own thesis, which might be a play, long-form fiction, or a collection of poems based around a single theme. I began writing last September, working to create content within or at least somewhat related to my theme— the city of San Francisco. I chose to write poetry because I have only published poetry before, and I love how I can break and blend existing writing structures. Last week we had to turn in our first drafts of our complete thesis, which felt like a relief but, at the same time, a reality check. I realize people will actually be seeing this and reading it, and I will eventually have to narrate these poems for audiences. It’s scary to think about, but at the same time, if I want to be a writer, I’ll need to do this plenty more. Writing so many poems and then reading them aloud and editing them several times takes focus, and it is easy to get stuck, but that’s the writing process. Working on the thesis has taught me many things besides what it’ll be like to live as a professional writer. Like discipline when attempting to finish work before deadlines and eradicating procrastination. Also, I’ve honed my  style and voice, my writing style has become more distinct. In my freshman year, I was writing about things I had never experienced. I thought poetry was a race to explain profound ideals and abstract concepts with verbose and articulate descriptions. Now I’ve learned to describe the world I move through and make my poems accessible through the simple language I use, and through humor. My thesis is me trying to express to people that poetry doesn’t necessarily have to be about love and nature; it can be gritty, dirty, and honest. It can be about an unhoused man insisting on buying your mask or a death in the subway station you pass on your way to school. Many descriptions are concrete and accessible. Sometimes I read poetry and think, “if I wasn’t a writer, I’d have no idea what this means.” I find it sad because, in a perfect world, all people can enjoy poetry. Here are some of the rough-ish drafts included in my thesis:

Can I Buy Your Mask? 

The collarless puppy nervously circles its own turd like a dreidel

It’s eyes quiver with each rotation, searching for its owner, 

you follow it to two men. 

One rocks back and forth on the curb sucking his thumb, 

a small pool of red blood 

colludes within the creases of his forehead 

and slithers down his nose.

The other shuffles in a puffy parka, 

hands in pockets 

he whistles some canary song.

Seeing you pass

compliments your x-ray skull mask,

before asking Can I buy it?

A swift refusal, given your need for it on the bus

Rosie! The dog  springs forward as if only

having one merged leg in the front and back,

She gobbles up his hand with her tongue

he lets his soot darkened fingers be ingested by her sable fur

He remains solitary like a  bronze monument, before his face crinkles 

and he begins screaming prices as if it were an auction:

HOW boutta FIVA! NO, a TENNA!

Various colored crumbs hop from branch to branch 

Within his forested beard

You firmly decline, your hands pats your own

imaginary dog. The man’s petaled eyes close

as if regressing in the blooming process.

He fires again, 

Fifteen! Or final oFFer, TWENNY!

And at this point even if it would just be easier to 

give in and get the cash.

you continue to say no, 

Still, he persists like an alarm clock on the first day of school.

He steps one booted foot forward, as if two people in a 

coordinated tango, you step one back

His somber curb friend then rises to join in the uneasy dance,

As if suddenly possessed, you run

They lurch forward like a stealthily stalking wave

Their hands seems to ever reach towards you like 

heatseeking missiles, lurching through the feathered breeze

In the nick of time, a silver Prius swerves behind you 

Kissing the curb, it fires a barrage of honks, 

The men fly backwards as if flung by a hunky leaf blower,

Before fading into their darkened tents.

You nod your head to give a brief bow of gratitude to Prius,

Before sprinting to the possessive but safe embrace of the bus stop.

Bart Night Casket

It wasn’t urgently in-your-face like emergency teams on tv shows

The ambulance wasn’t wailing like a newborn in the early morning

The stretcher didn’t speed down the escalator like businessmen at rush hour. The men gathered together, whispering ‘someone died, someone died’

There weren’t any rushed panicked yells like in a house on fire

The trains weren’t on time as if in a high class secretary’s position

The stretcher wasn’t full like a swimming pool in the Summer

The tracks weren’t clear like a freshly washed car

The tracks wasn’t crammed like trains in rush hour

The stretcher didn’t rush back up as if a bomb threat had been called in

The ambulance wasn’t blurry out of focus in the water like a picture in movement

The EMT’s didn’t smile and laugh like it was their birthdays

They remained solemn, faces indifferently clear as if they were at their own funeral, 

In the casket.

A Lesson In Learning by Natasha Leung

Beginning my first year at SOTA, I had many expectations for what I’d be spending the next four years studying in Creative Writing. I had not imagined having an in-depth analysis about the rightful guardian of the baby in Rumpelstiltskin. I did not anticipate starting the year dissecting the different personalities of Earth’s dragons, or somehow enjoying endless amounts of fairy tale history. Yet somehow, the very unit I had dreaded as soon as I saw it on our class calendar, had in less than a full week become a highlight of the year.

As a class, we had been aware of the upcoming unit on fairy tales (taught by Fatima Kola, the first artist in residence I was to meet this year), but somehow it still snuck up on me. One moment I was commiserating about the amount of homework in math class, the next I found myself submerged in the land of fairies, magic and nearly every mythical idea in existence. I assumed a general feeling of panic would ensue due to the amount of ground we were covering, but to my surprise my thoughts seemed to calm down after the initial introduction. Like shaking out a bedsheet and ironing off the wrinkles, Fatima seemed to ease us into the lesson with comfortable discussions and an overall feel of pure fun. I had been nervous, to say the least, about learning from an instructor I wasn’t familiar with; the easy groove that our class seemed to magically fall into was a pleasant surprise. Each activity turned into something different then I expected. The outside perspective of an artist-in-residence became more and more clear as each idea was branched out. One day we re-created fairy tale plays, given the challenge to create a minimal script and ad lib most lines, leading to hilariously portrayed characters and many long laughs. Another day we held a heated mock-trial, bringing up the logistics between the rights of paternal custody in fairy tales; many of us got so engaged in our arguments that we continued to debate long after the activity ended. Each lesson seemed to me, a newly joined fresh peep who was expecting most of Creative Writing to be hours of analysis and essay writing, unorthodox and wholly original. The simple presence of someone with such a vast pool of knowledge so different than any I’ve ever encountered is mind blowing. 

I’m increasingly grateful for Fatima and the countless things I’m learning in class, and I look forward to everything we do in the future. While I may seem to favor our current fiction unit, I’m realizing how in the past how quickly I dismissed activities as not meant for me, and disengaged myself from learning as much as I could. I’ve been seeing fairy tales as trivial children’s bedtime stories that hold no deeper meanings, leading me to dismiss any lessons they could teach. This new perspective so far has taught me so much about numerous different ideas—to me, the most valuable being the enjoyment of learning, and how to have fun.

The Informalities of Fiction by Starlie Tugade

Despite popular opinion, writing fiction has always been a serious, solitary activity for me. I can come up with stories anywhere, at any time, but the actual writing part takes place on my bed, listening to instrumental music. However, we’ve recently started our fiction unit in Creative Writing, dividing up into CW 1 (primarily underclassmen), and CW 2 (upperclassmen), and a couple of the assignments have been collaborative.

Our first assignment was to expand on Richard Brautigan’s one sentence short story: “‘Have you ever lived in a one-room apartment with someone learning to play the violin?’ she asked, as she handed the police officer the smoking gun.” Before everyone separated to write our own one page versions, we performed this story for each other. Eight different pairs acted out one sentence in dramatically different ways. One of the most memorable moments was when two people had to act the scene out without any arms (pantomiming the toss of the gun was a challenge there). Another was when Heather was directing the scene that I was in. I was playing the police officer, and Heather told me that I had to act as though I stubbed my toe, had a twitch in my left arm, and had an extreme case of hiccups. Oh and I forgot to mention, the woman with the gun was trying to seduce me. But all that was for the sake of the story, so I didn’t mind. 

When we came back the next day with our expanded versions of the one sentence we were given, everyone had a completely different tone and approach. One was about improv and another was about putting someone out of their misery. The drastic acting that we had done the day before opened our mind to the many different possibilities that this story held, and as a group of writers, we took advantage of that.

The Beauty of Submissions by Raquel Silberman

The greatest part about submitting my work is the suspense and excitement that overtakes me when waiting for a response. If my teachers do not urge me to check my emails more often, submissions sure do. Every marking period, CW students must submit to three places—journals, magazines, etc.—to showcase their writing voices and possibly get published. My first submissions took a great deal of courage. Reading poems to my classmates was one thing, but sending my work into the world for everyone to see was terrifying. After a year of monthly submissions, I take pride in saying I am a published writer. Submissions have become one of my favorite CW assignments because they give me a chance to extend my voice and share my annoyingly long poems I cannot burden others to read aloud. Another joy I have encountered through submissions was my first bilingual poem. CW has been notably helpful in strengthening my poetic voice, but it is not often I get the chance to read or write my work in another language. Last year I decided to submit a poem in both English and Spanish and to my surprise, it was published. 

The first person I sent the poem to was my grandma and while it may be a stretch to say submissions brought me an inch closer to my family, I like to think she was not exaggerating when she said: “I’m your number one admirer. Besos!” Now, I submit a piece in Spanish every other marking period for good luck, I call it my besos! 

Last night I got a package from a writing magazine which happened to contain a book with my besos poem. I’m proud to say my grandma still admires it.

These moments of joy happened separately from CW but they all link back to one assignment. Without the requirement to submit, I would have never known my work was submittable. Submissions are more than just a slight ego boost, they are an empathetic sort of encouragement in the form of a text message that always seems to come at the right time.