Remember the de Young

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
undersea.
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.

[DR]: Friday

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.

[DR]: Thursday

by Justus (’15)

After excessive quantities of democracy it seems a sort of constitutional monarchy has been established in Creative Writing: we have our no-longer-negotiable show idea, the still-currently-unnamed show involving aliens and cruise ships (possibly Starboard or Alienation Generation, among other suggestions). We are also not allowed to argue about what the skit– er… interludes’ themes will be anymore, by royal decree of our Monarchs Tony, Rachel, and Carol. Finally.

So today it was time to create our skits interludes, and we split into groups to begin the plot outlining process. I myself was in the group dealing with the opening of the show, in which we attempted to introduce the characters of our alien protagonists, while still making them seem like aliens (“what they communicated via interpretive dance?” and “is crash-landing a UFO a totally normal thing in alien culture?” were just two of the important decisions our group needed to make). The other groups held meetings on how best to discuss the themes of [Redacted][No spoilers] through our unconventional plot thread.

The democracy in Creative Writing has been overthrown. Let the group writing begin.

[DR]: Democracy

by Avi (’15)

Democracy.  It isn’t what you participate in on the first Tuesday in November. Nor is it a system of government through elected officials (thank you Google).  It means to raise your hand and vote!

Today in Creative Writing we closed our eyes, covered our heads, and raised our hands high to vote for the theme of the show we liked the best.

And after the results were in, and ALL tallies were counted, we found our answer, our result, our president: The Yet to be Titled Show Involving Aliens and Cruise Ships!

It took some discussion, it took some frustration, it took some back-tracking, but like a green alien, it finally came to us… in a UFO containing Jules’ brain (what a wonderful genius he is, what a shame he isn’t taking Calculus.)

After voting on whether or not we should choose our script-writing groups, we divided ourselves and began the arduous process of writing our scripts— excuse me, interludes (as skits are FAR too elementary, get with the program.)

For those of you non-Creative Writers reading the blog, you should be— need to be— worried, confused and most importantly, excited. Preferably feel all of these emotions at the same time.  Just know that the aliens of planted CDub are coming to a stage near you… if you live in San Francisco.  Sorry Grandma and Grandpa, you will need to fly out, no C-Dub wants to perform in fifteen feet of snow in suburban Minnesota.

[DR]: In Process

by Emma E. (’17)

One of the most exciting parts of planning anything is watching it begin to come to life. During Creative Writing today, we began discussing details of what we want our fall show to look like. Although we are still in preliminary (and top secret) planning stages, the show already feels real and immediate. To help us begin working on the show itself, we had two artists, Tony and Rachel, come in. One of the nice things about enlisting outside help is you get the benefit of their ideas and opinions. Having Tony and Rachel in helped us make our plans more detailed and organized. It’s crazy how much can happen in a class period; at the beginning of the day, we hadn’t even decided on a theme and now our show is already taking shape! One of my favorite parts of the day was when we each said one thing we could bring to the show that was specific to us; the list included knife throwing and onstage cooking, so it’ll definitely be exciting. Today was both productive and enjoyable and I can’t wait to keep planning our show and seeing the new directions it takes!

[DR]: Onset of Fall

by Jules (’14)

It’s no secret these days that it’s rapidly turning into autumn. It rained this saturday, I can’t wear just a tank top and a sportscoat at night anymore, and, perhaps most importantly, the Fall CW show is just around the corner. Today in Creative Writing we spent most of the period listening to theme ideas from Tony and Rachel and Carol (the person who gave birth to me, for anyone who didn’t know), our artistic directors. They took us through the various stages of David Bowie’s work as an example of an artist who has both gone through a very complete journey, and as an artist who works within in many different personas and genres. We then got to propose our own ideas for the show, which, like many matters of national security, will remain secret until it comes out of our proverbial oven, so to speak (to give a little food analogy retort to Midori who assumes I just never read the blog and so seeks to slander me with being an unpatriotic CW student).

[DR]: de Young

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.

colors everywhere

colors everywhere

stuff everywhere

stuff everywhere

on the ceiling, too

on the ceiling, too

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.

 

[DR]: Lit Critiques

by Molly (’15)

we practiced critiquing on this painting and its ekphratic poem

we practiced critiquing on this painting and its ekphratic poem

Once a marking period, freshmen, sophomores, and juniors are required to write a review on a piece of published writing, focusing mostly on the craft. I doubt anybody really looks forward to writing these lit critiques, but by now it’s a bit of a rite of passage within creative writing, and this practice improves our essay-skills drastically. Recently, Maia Ipp has redesigned the way lit critiques (formerly lit reviews) are to be written; instead of focusing on the work inside an issue of a literary magazine, we can now choose any work of creative writing, and have the chance to study it in-depth and write a longer, more comprehensive essay.

Today in Creative Writing, Maia, after noting the despairing looks on our faces after being confronted with this new assignment, had us workshop our first lit critique drafts with our writing buddies. She even kindly extended the due-date toMonday so that we can be sure to have greatly improved our essays with the help of peer-editing. Thank you, Maia!

Let’s Talk Petrarch

I’ve been reading Petrarch— Scott, my Euro Lit teacher, introduced him to me (well, introduced him to the class, but I took major interest and asked to borrow some books). Prior to this, I’ve known Petrarch only as that one Big Deal Poet Laureate who got the crown from the Pope who wrote love poems to a Lady Laura. Y’know, the standard famous poet stuff.

Now, I know he had never met Laura, and suffered from a crippling depression that I’m surprisingly familiar with.

It’s just weird, y’know, to consider that this figure of practically-myth is actually such a familiar character. He glorified Laura to frightening heights and longed to reach that height, but obviously never could. The funny part though? Is that he knew exactly what he was doing. He was making Laura unobtainable, and hated himself all the more for not being able to obtain her love. This self-crippling cycle seems a very modern thing— we rarely think of figures from Back In The Days suffering from anxiety and depression.

Self-doubt is a very familiar feeling for me, and… Well, I don’t know if it’s comforting to know that Petrarch also had it, but it is somewhat easier to forgive myself when I remember that. It’s such a funny thing, see— just being told that your anxiety is all in your head doesn’t really help, because if it’s all in my head, it’s all on me, and I’m making a big deal out of something that doesn’t matter at all, isn’t that embarrassing? It just makes me more anxious, if anything. Reading famous poetry that many people studied and liked and empathized with reminds me that it’s not just me. Other people are people too; I am not living in a world of perfect Lauras. I shouldn’t hoist the greatness I perceive in everyone else above myself, because that’s not fair to me or to them.

This has been a little life advice, to myself more than others. Just ease up, man. Make like Petrarch and write through the sadness. Frances should make that into a motivational poster.

A Self-Contained Explosion

I love entertaining the thought of stars aligning– I always envision it to be like Hercules, where these giant planets just kinda sidle up against each other with the arrogance of frat boys and collectively build up this awesome mega sonic beam of power that pews down to Earth.

…And then something blows up, but in this Hollywood day and age? That’s practically a prerogative, even for non-film-tastic grand celestial phenomena. All ye beware, here there be C4.

So, there’s that whole thing about planets in orbit and electrons in orbit, which means it only stands to reason (actually, it really doesn’t, but whatever) that the alignment of stars is graphically comparable to the alignment of thoughts.

I googled “pretty picture of neurons,” which is something I’ll have to live with forever

(Tangent Anecdote: Photoshop is one of the things many middle school master Escapists learn to do in their spare time, and as a devout Anti-Realist of that time, I dedicated hours of my life learning to simulate those sparkles (which are, of course, just dots with the glow effect) on a hipster non-Photoshop program. It involved too many layers and manual dotting to count, and I soon gave in and used my father’s ancient Photoshop 5, which was a very decent step up. I now have family pictures buried in USBs all sparkle-tastic and color-balanced.)

In the scatterplot of life, how awesome would it be to be able to derive the the perfect linear function? Instead of completely random events and happenstances, I can say my life is f(x) = 12x + 11. Like, not even quadratic– we’re talking seventh grade-vanilla math. How awesome would it be for my writing to just be input-output simple and correct? Perfect in content and easy in execution. It’s so dreamy.

I’m dreaming and dreaming, and all of a sudden I hear Heather’s voice in my head, all excited-like:

But it’s not perfect or easy. Life’s not perfect, writing’s not easy, and that’s what makes it all so worth going through.

And yeah, snaps to that. I mean, why else would everyone get bored in math class? It’s all so predictable after a while, like eating exquisite European banquets every day and crying with feelings over fried rice (my entire family has a Chinese food complex, I don’t even want to talk about it, oh my god). It’s kind of the entire point of writing, y’know?

(The non-perfection, not Chinese food.)

(Though it’s debatable.)

If I had to identify my life philosophy, I’d probably say Absurdist (yes that’s a perfectly legitimate philosophy shush), which, to rehash sort of all my previous posts, is the notion that Life seems to mean so much when it really means so little, and that’s the joke. Absurdism easily turns to a kind of bitter nihilism once you lose the humor, so you can sprinkle in a bit of existentialism there too, that nothing matters unless you make it matter. It’s why I write, to assign meaning to things so I can better maintain my brain-filing system (just call me Radar O’Reilly, bugle under B, clipboard under K).

So this filing, most of the time done with intention, but sometimes, things just line up, y’know? Jules (’14) tells me that someone told him that things come in waves– the happy wave, the sad wave, the people-getting-the-wrong-orders-at-random-cafés wave– and maybe, maybe. It’s a fun thought to entertain, but a bit too unsubstantial for me (which is strange, because I’m certainly not above superstition and strange beliefs, like whistling at night or untying friendship bracelets). Though there was the time with the Connecticut school shooting happening right after CinéClub showed Elephant, and the intruder alert practice at SOTA soon after. Maybe I don’t consider three “a wave,” just connections. Perhaps if five or six folks in my life all gave birth at the same time or something I’ll consider it a wave (of babies, so many babies), but it’s too big a unit of measure for me to consider viable.

Well anyways, things happen, big surprise there, and when things happen, other things happen, and though correlation is not causation, correlation is correlation. When things happen that I feel connect, the stars align. Stars move fast in my world, all this hyperactive spinning, and sometimes, I get three in a row, or an apple, a pile of gold, and the Taj Mahal. It’s all very motion sickness-inducing, but also awesome when I find the connections and draw a straight line.

I like bookend endings, so I often scroll up to reread what I’ve written and find the one thing to nicely tie things up (though Maia Ipp has told me to refrain from that urge, because it’s not necessary). Now, though, I can’t think of anything to tie back into Hollywood explosions, except maybe that they’re unnecessary, but is kind of necessary (c’mon, Pacific Rim was awesome)? Just like life. Alright there we go, ending tied up, life is unnecessary, but also kind of necessary. You know what I mean.