Come to our show this Friday! 7:30 @SOTA Mainstage, free for students, $15 for adults!
On Saturday, Abigail, Frances, Mykel and I piled into the Schott-Rosenfield minivan and drove down to UC Santa Cruz, where the annual National High School Ethics Bowl was being held.
This is only the second year since its inception, but competition was intense. Schools from across the Bay Area sent one or two teams— Bentley, Kirby, Hillsdale. Competing teams were given fifteen cases to prepare for before hand, each with its own ethical dilemma to consider. The day of the competition, two teams went head-to-head, giving a five-minute presentation, a three-minute response to the rival team’s rebuttal, then ending in a ten-minute section for judges’ questions. We were scored on presentation, depth of argument, and cordialness to our opposing teams.
There was talk of starting an Ethics Bowl team in SOTA since the end of last year. Jerry Pannone, SOTA’s previous Orchestra director, led the charge in November; we had two months to prepare. SOTA managed to put out three teams, so three graduate students at SF State coached us in the cases regarding argument and presentation. The team of CW Seniors (we actually didn’t plan it? It just ended up that way? Maybe?) got Matthew (or Professor Howery, in his classes), aaaand…
We got to semifinals! I’m typing with a stupid grin on my face. We won against three out of four teams and went to semifinals!
So philosophy has this reputation of being all, “So what is the meaning of life?” with bitter old men and wine, and there were concerns going into this that Ethics Bowl would be like that. It’s not that at all, thank the powers that be. We take very real, very contemporary situations (Frankenburger, Indian Child Welfare Act, One Child Policy, Trayvon Martin, just to name a few) and determine the essential ethical conflict, then decide on a stance to take. I’ve found that often times, I would discuss a situation and immediately have a gut feeling about it being right or wrong— the case that comes to mind is “Political Sex Scandals,” in which the question is whether or not it’s moral to reinstate a politician who conducted sexual indiscretions back into office. My gut feeling told me No, that’s just bad. However, Matt then told us to redefine the question, specifically where “sexual indiscretions” mean “a breaking of a sexual contract between the politician and his or her partner(s).” Given that the politician does not misuse public funds or violate another person’s autonomy/cause them harm, the question becomes a little bit harder. Ultimately, it was an argument that Mykel gave in favor of “Yes, we should reinstate the politician, if his/her previous track record proves his/her competence” that solidly changed my mind— that it was the duty of the voters to be rational and get over that gut feeling if the politician produces good results. This is just one case in which my ethical intuition (as it were) became more fleshed-out.
Competition day was intense. I’ve never done anything like debate before, so I was shaking, and I had a stomachache, and I was dizzy, and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears… It started out somewhat dreadful. As the day went on, though, my confidence in and love for my team grew more and more— gosh they’re so cool. Bee-Gail had this stately, austere way about her (as she often does), Frances was precise and eloquent, and Mickel was a boss on articulating snap responses. My favorite moment was when Matt was, I guess, so happy with one of our responses (I think it’s when Frances shot down someone’s attempt to draw a Hitler analogy) that he put on his shades in the middle of the relatively dim competition room. In that moment, I could feel my confidence sky-rocket.
Conclusion of this story: ethics is a ton of fun. Our team wants to begin building next year’s team now, as to better prepare them (as we found out, meeting once a week for eight weeks was not enough time). Also we just want to keep debating ethics. An interesting topic to possibly have in Creative Writing— questions such as the ethics of writing fiction (misrepresentation of reality?), or even a character exploration exercise in developing how they respond to the ethical dilemmas proposed in our cases. I’m already writing one for a character in my thesis. Matt is super cool— our team talked for hours during celebratory dinner on Tuesday night, and we’d love to share his brain and person with the rest of CW. (He’s even a cat person. Wow.)
For a week in September, Maia Ipp came into Creative Writing and taught a “Craft and Critique” class in order to prepare us (well, us being CDubs sans seniors, ’cause our three years of sweaty toil has earned us privileges, dammit) for a new department requirement— the literary critique (see Smolly’s Daily Report for reference).
We began by defining the word “critique” and its connotations— for someone to be critical is usually negative, though to look at something with a critical eye is pragmatic and sort of good. Using these definitions as a springboard, we then worked to redefine “critique” and came up with a new operational definition: analysis of the text and its effects with the intention to either better it or to simply point out its success.
(Yes, those are my words, and yes, they are carefully diplomatic, but that’s the jist of it, I think. Y’know, people always say to not shoot the messenger, but what if the messenger screws up?)
(No I change my mind. Please don’t shoot this messenger.)
We also discussed ekphrasis, which is sort of the evolved version of part two of the lit critiques, which are the creative responses. An ekphrastic piece of art is inspired by another piece of art in another medium— the example we looked at was a poem inspired by a painting. The poem stood on its own well enough, but with the painting there was a basis to work from, and there was suddenly a synesthetic duality to its evoked meaning.
On Friday, September 20th, Maia’s class ended on a high note. We visited the de Young museum and the Diebenkorn exhibit (which I will admit I did not see, sadly— it was just so… populated there) to create our own ekphrastic pieces of writing. And it’s kind of hilariously awesome, because Maia was so inspired by all the poems we turned in, that she took lines from all of them and created a group found poem, so it’s something like meta-ekphrasis.
(Though if we really did the math, it’s 1.5 ekphrasis, because while not everything we wrote was poetry— mine certainly wasn’t— words to words still doesn’t count as an entire ekphrasis, I don’t think. Hence the point-five.)
On top of that, Frances (’14) and Lizzie’s (’14) poems were chosen for special mention. Here they are below:
After the de Young: a group found poem
The poem that follows is composed of lines taken from the Fold-Up responses. Every Creative Writer is represented, and lines have been only minimally changed where necessary.
Tell me about the life you’ve built
the way it seems to fall apart
in the drifting winds that run through empty houses.
I, too, remained nameless that year.
A stretched film over the skywater above us.
It fractures though, by gravity or worse.
How hard it is to keep it together:
the water that was made in darkness.
The sun is smooth and patient, a pulse of light wavering between leaves and branches.
The ocean offers a flat relief.
I would die in this place,
my body slouched on a blue plastic chair, the door
open for the world to see.
Skin the taut surface of water—
A round, flat eye.
It is dangerous without being alive.
Examine for bloodlessness the bold predawn birth.
I had golden feathers,
but now everything is moonlight
Stung, bitter, by our blackened palms.
I found you beached,
your burnt snow gills gleaming.
To do something with these arms—
I nod quietly, stare into wind and snow, letting its sting replace the one I feel in my chest.
I am not to be approached.
The most refined woman is nothing but texture.
You may be full to the core with honey and old water.
So soon, we’ll both be useless things.
Frances Saux, after Richard Diebenkorn, Untitled, 1955
I, too, remained nameless that year—learned in the clench of summer the constituencies of self, somehow—
One night she’d gone and I took three, four tries at a match, but too selfless to start supper I let them die out—
What was moving that year, what was anything?
I needed medicine and thought a spoon of vinegar, a slice of lemon looked all right.
And I thought I’d go on a walk but of course I didn’t. She came home, I stayed seated, she let the water run in the kitchen sink, I thought about the lengths of water, for lengths, the anonymous water.
Lizzie Kroner, response to The Wild Swan by Alexander Pope
It is wild—it is like painted taxidermy. The swan hangs so majestic but still so pathetic in its demise, tied to a door. With its full, faded head it can only exist as a symbol now. It evokes meaning without having a meaning of its own. In its death, as in all deaths, it has lost life, but its corpse, bright and beautiful and sprawled, wings spread, emanates such vivacity you have to question whether it is really dead or not. Of course it is dead, its webbed feet are tied by a string to the hinge of a green door and its gold is only visible when it is directly under the light. But the stillness of its heartbeat means nothing. The painting doesn’t have a heartbeat either, neither do these words, but they mean something.
by Lizzie (’14)
As this blog post is delayed and I have had the weekend (which seems like ages) to think (or rather not think) about class, much of my memory of Friday CW has been muddled by the utter blur of Saturday and Sunday. However, here are the details of class that have prevailed—It was a beautiful day, disproving Jenna Maroney’s (of 30 Rock) snarky remark on the Bay Area, “Have fun always carrying a light sweater,” for no outerwear was required. Now this point may seem irrelevant to CW but the presence of the sun completely alters the CW environment—everyone seems to have a sunnier disposition (pun intended). With that in mind, our class discussion on our soon-to-come show was light-hearted and (although correlation is not causation) thus more productive. Yet this was only the first half of class. For the second half, we went, as a class, to the Ruth Asawa memorial held in the Dan Kryston Memorial theater.
It was a well-staged production that reflected and respected Ruth Asawa’s artistic vision. The memorial began with a Taiko performance and ended with a ballad sung by the entire vocal department. Not only did it honor the life of Ruth Asawa but it also boosted the morale of us SOTA students, combining our art forms in a moving and well-executed way.
by Midori (’14)
On Friday, we visited the de Young museum, the cherry to top off the ice cream sundae of Maia’s Craft & Critique unit (this is for you, Jules, and all of your food analogies. Except, of course, Jules doesn’t actually read the blog, so I should actually slander his name, the jerk). We received a cute little fold-up worksheet and had free reign over where to go, the caveat being that we should do this quietly, preferably alone, as to enjoy the full museum experience.
I spent most of my time in the Inuit art exhibit, with all of the walrus tusk-carvings of intricate little creatures. I was particularly caught by the smoothness of it all, obviously pieced together yes, but fitted so proportionally that even the seams seemed natural. It’s awe-inspiring to consider it was all done by hand, the stone, ivory, and bone pieces as small decorations around the house, just for fun.
There was a room in particular that caught my eye, for it was really… weird. The de Young channels the sparse, elegant galleries very well, until one stumbles upon this room, with its brilliant array of glass and colors and stuff, all kind of crammed together, so there’s something strange everywhere you turn.
Well anyways, it was super fun (italics absolutely warranted). I work right across the street at the Academy of Sciences, and I rarely go to the de Young. It’s a completely different museum experience than the hustle and bustle and screaming children of the Academy, and I must say, it’s nice to just settle down and enjoy art.
by Mykel Mogg (’14)
Volunteering with the preschool readiness program at Excelsior Family Connections brings up personal challenges for me, specifically around power and teaching. My internship at Hoover last year also made me engage with this issue, but over almost two years, I have not been able to find peace with the level of coercion I am expected to use while teaching children. How can I, as an anarchist and a person who strives to take children seriously, be comfortable picking up a four-year-old and plopping her in a corner for not following rules? I don’t know whether coercion is necessary to all safe learning environments, but it is certainly a requirement for teaching in our current school system. I always try to be rational, patient, and respectful in the way I enforce rules with kids, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m exerting power over them– power that comes from the fact that I happen to be older. I never bring these issues up in the classroom, but I think about them a lot. Obviously, there’s no single answer to question, “how do I fit into a system that isn’t in line with my values?” It’s an internal dialogue that everyone has to go through at one time or another.
Besides thinking about power dynamics, my experience at EFC has been nothing but fun. I love showing up every Monday to see how the kids will interact with whatever toys and “science stations” we’ve put out that day, because they always subvert expectations. I’ve learned a lot about the benefits of a messy classroom. Je Ton Carey, one of the teachers I work with, is a big proponent of sensory play. She brings in big tubs of sand, leaves, shaving cream, water, and homemade play-do to the classroom for the kids to interact with. Their senses of touch and smell come alive as they get their clothes wet, rip up flowers, and dump sand all over the floor. This reminds me of the true nature of education: helping people discover what’s amazing about the world.
I learned about this event from FunCheapSF:
The Lit Slam: Page Meets Stage Poetry | SF
The Lit Slam is a monthly, live performance-based poetry anthology that tries to find find the best art at the intersection of page and stage, mixing local and national touring poets.
Every third Monday, editors are chosen at random from the audience before each show, and those editors decide which poets and poems will appear in Tandem, the annual publication created over the course of the season.
The Lit Slam
Every third Monday. Doors at 8pm, show at 8:30pm.
Viracocha, 998 Valencia St, SF
$5 when you mention FuncheapSF at the door. Otherwise, $10.
Sounds a little wacky, but it could be fun. The venue (Virococha) looks interesting as well if you are into things like old typewriters and such. If anyone has been to one of these lit slams, please let us know what they are like.
A literary party not to be missed!
by Frances (’14)
Sometimes it takes a while to figure things out. I learned this in my internship this year. Because of the self-governed, self-created nature of the Community Internship, I had chances in class to reflect on the direction I think we should take the project. However, I quickly realized that I do not have very much experience in outreach or volunteer-work, which were the two initial ideas from which we constructed the internship. In class, I could easily identify the problems we needed to fix—not enough diversity in Creative Writing being one of them—but I couldn’t think of any good way to stop it.
We spent most of our internship classes discussing the problems, as well as possible solutions, before we all agreed as a group that it was a problem too big for us to really tackle. Instead, through the conversations, we found a new window open to us, which still had to do with work in the community, and by extension, outreach; we decided we wanted to volunteer, write about, and learn about various people and organizations in our community.
I found this to be a positive experience. Although outreach did not succeed this year, Giorgia and I will renew our efforts next year, running a portfolio workshop at 826. Now I know the problems and obstacles in organization and leadership, and I feel prepared to tackle them.
by Abigail (’14)
On Friday the third, Umläut had a successful (and profitable) release party for the 2014 issue, dubbed Plastic Knives! We pity everyone who wasn’t there, and we’re sure those who came didn’t regret spending the night before Prom with us.
While the prime attraction was, obviously, this year’s Umläut— as professional and polished as ever, but with a new matte cover this time— there was also great music by Rin Tin Tiger and Mayya Feygina, food donated by Arizmendi and CW parents, and a raffle. It was probably one of the balmiest days we’ll see this year, but most people managed to stay inside long enough to listen to several of the published authors read their work.
We couldn’t have done it without 826 Valencia’s generosity in offering us the space for the night, free! Thanks to the parents who contributed to covering what 826 usually charges.
If you missed the party, we trust you won’t make the same mistake again next year, but you can get your new Umläut at SOTA at lunch (we’re selling outside of the CW room) or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Soon it should be available to purchase online at http://sotashop.myshopify.com/products/umlautliterary-journal.