Open Up to Vulnerability by Oona Haskovec

As a current sophomore, I associate workshopping with laughs, improvement, and an overall pleasant time. However, this time a year ago, I had an entirely different take on the matter. As a freshman, I was put into a group with only upperclassmen, including a senior, for my first workshopping experience. I was terrified, both of the critique I would receive, but also the critique I would have to share. Those were people who had been doing this for years and I felt incredibly out of place as I smiled and nodded along with others’ intellectual insight. However, as the year progressed, I found comfort in workshop days, and I gained a more established sense of the writing styles of those around me. This could not only aid in better critique for others, but also in getting to know them as people.

This is why, in my second year, I have been making it my goal to enforce workshopping as a marvelous time for this year’s freshmen. Not only does it open up the opportunity for improvement, but also to get to know your peers and their work. The sooner you allow that vulnerability, the easier you will find it to be absorbed by the wonder that is the Creative Writing community, both social and academic. In my personal experience, workshopping opens up ideas in your work that not even you, the author, noticed at first. This can lead to richer pieces as well as richer bonds with everything. 

 I truly find critiquing to be one of the most beneficial activities one can partake in. If you can allow yourself to accept your flaws, and find a way to see benefit in the momentary discomfort, before long, the answer to that awkwardly worded line, or sometimes even just the flow of a piece, will be revealed.

Looking Back Through Lesson Leadership by Gemma Collins

When I first came to the Creative Writing Department, I was in awe of how Heather (our department head) was willing to listen to student input and feedback. The seniors took on leadership roles—my ninth-grade self was awed by their intelligence and maturity. I watched upper-level students playing active roles in class and marveled at how they spoke so eloquently. I saw them do presentations and wondered how they talked fearlessly in front of everyone else. I listened to their writing and wished I would one day know as much as them or be able to express myself so clearly. Now, as a senior, I view Creative Writing from the opposite perspective. A few weeks ago, the senior class (shoutout to Emilie) led units on analyzing and writing poetry while Heather was out. We instructed the rest of the group by developing games and fun activities about various literary devices. The lesson included a thirty-slide-long presentation that took racking our brains of every literary device known to humankind to create. I even decorated my slides with funny anecdotes, pictures, and examples. We sat in the room as peers, helping each other deepen the conversation around the poems we discussed. If you asked anyone in this department, I am sure they would tell you that the community is what makes us unique. The units we taught last week showed me how much the students shape creative writing. Heather and artists-in-residence may manage the class, but student participation and discussion fuel the community’s energy. We build our analysis of poetry through hearing each other’s points of view and thrive off of hearing everyone’s creative interpretations. Sitting in class that day made me realize how fast time has gone from being a freshman to being a senior and how I am now so comfortable in a once foreign and frightening place.

Stepping Into the World of the Fae By Sophie Fastaia

Community Weeks in Creative Writing had settled down, leaving us with memories from Kirby Cove and writing poetry among the flowers in the Botanical Gardens. Fatima, our artist in residence, came into Creative Writing ready to open the door to the world of fairy tales. She began class by reading a prose poem about dragons living among humans. I felt as though I were in the world she was describing, where dragons eat discarded sandwiches in the street or mistake a child for a seal pup, eat it, and feel guilty. 

On the first day, Fatima asked us what our favorite fairy tales were. We went around in a circle, telling each other our favorite tales: Narnia, Tinkerbell, Repunzel, La Llorona, Aladdin, and many others. More and more kept popping up into my mind as each person shared the fairy tales that they had grown up with. I found it surprising how the topic could spark up so much conversation. Fairy tales, for most of us, were a part of our childhood that we got to share with each other. 

On the second day, Fatima told us, in her soft Australian accent, about the history of fairy tales, how The Grimm Brothers collected tales from common people during the eighteen hundreds. They adapted and revised stories until the little gifts of hazelnuts, fallen from a sacred tree in an earlier version of Cinderella, transformed into gifts of glass slippers and ball gowns in modern versions. 

On the third day, Fatima told us about the fae, the creatures and beings of fairy tales, such as fairies, ogres, and weird little guys like Rumplestiltskin. Rumpelstiltskin is a little man, who has the ability to spin gold from straw. He helps a woman spin gold from straw, in order to save her from the death penalty. In return, Rumpelstiltskin asks for the woman’s firstborn child. She agrees to give away her child, but when she has the baby a few years later, she begs to keep it. We participated in a mock trial, debating the case of Rumplestiltskin. The trial decided whether or not Rumplestiltskin or the woman should have custody of the baby. 

During the mock trial, Fatima’s position was God. She was articulate and serious about the case, instructing the lawyers and judges throughout the whole mock trial. Fatima talked about Rumplestiltskin and the rest of the characters in the fairy tale as if their world was real and she had spoken to them minutes before the mock trial had started. Her attitude towards the mock trial drew me into the activity; it was as if the characters we were defending were alive somewhere, just not in the courtroom that Creative Writing had become. It felt as though there was a real baby that a weird little guy was trying to take, and the baby’s life was put in our hands.  Believing in fairy tales and the magical beings in stories conjured up something in me; I felt the excitement of the magic from my childhood, a feeling I had forgotten. For a moment, as we all debated about the case, I had stepped into the world of the fae and believed that these magical creatures were real. 

Community Field Trips by Itzel Perez Alarcon

When entering Creative Writing you have to know what you’re getting into… and one of those things are the field trips we go on! I can’t tell you how much (and I think I’m speaking for everyone in the department when I say) fun we have on our field trips. When you first enter CW you’ve probably heard a little about annual trip to Kirby cove. Everyone looks forward to that. But before that, we spend time with our buddies at the Botanical Gardens (among other places) to give us a bit of an orientation. Heather give us a list of where we need to go in the garden, then off we go to write an inspired poem wherever the map took us.  It’s definitely a different experience when you’re with your buddy and walking around nature talking and pointing out very little details you notice while getting to know each other. Bonding is a huge priority in the Creative Writing department. And the Botanical Garden field trip was definitely a huge step forward into getting to know and learn more about my fellow writers. 

The following week was the field trip to the Faith Ringgold exhibit at the DeYoung Museum. Creative Writing will give you so many experiences to expand on your writing and getting inspiration is key to achieving that goal. Going to see Faith Ringgold’s work enticed my inspiration even more. And there is definitely more inspiration coming our way! And that’s not all. It’s barely the beginning. If there was a different meaning for the C in our department it would definitely be community.

Kirby Cove. My vocabulary cannot express how much I enjoyed Kirby Cove. Everything we did at Kirby Cove had something to do with bonding. Snuggling and cuddling in our sleeping bags to clumping up together when the fog comes down on us in the morning adds the right amount of getting to know each other. I definitely know Kirby Cove will become one of my favorite traditions. 

All of these field trips have loaded me with joy and bonding. The best part is it’s just the beginning of the year and I’m already so excited to get to know the people in the Creative Writing community even more!

Intellectualism in Creative Writing by Leela Sriram

Creative Writing has been taking trips to the De Young since before I came to CW. After two years in person and one online, I have started to appreciate the smell of paint and hand sanitizer hung near the exit of each exhibition. I have fallen in love with wandering around each of the cream and maroon colored rooms with my heavy shoes clunking on the polished hardwood floors. 

The De Young is a quintessential aspect of the Creative Writing experience because all kinds of visual and performing arts are influential to the pieces we as writers create. Without learning the technical skills of other forms of art such as film and fine arts, CW would not be as well rounded. My knowledge of different forms of painting styles throughout history has heavily influenced my writing through imagery. A painting is a story told through texture, color, and subject matter. 

The last time CW went on an excursion to the De Young, we visited the Faith Ringgold exhibit titled American People. This series of interdisciplinary fine arts including textiles and abstract paintings explored the dynamics of communal relationships during the civil rights movement. Her use of color and texture in her quilts and paintings immediately made me want to sit down on one of the vinyl benches in the center of the exhibit and write a poem on my relationship with my community. While I have always had a certain sense of distaste for the Art Girl cliche, the De Young has always been an inspiration for me, artistically. When I wander around the museum, I feel like I am walking through time. Every sculpture, painting, textile, has a unique take on the world from when it was made. This will always cause me to ponder how I fit into the world, and how my art can touch on my perspective on society. 

While I do sometimes hate to walk around museums with my hand pressed on my chin in a thinker position, I believe this is excusable in the De Young.

No Time Like Now by Celeste Alisse

How should one define the difference between the good times and the great times? It’s all based on the shine you see in someone’s eyes; when you see the crinkly, wrinkly smile lines appear. That’s the look you see in the eyes of us Creative Writers, especially during community weeks. 

The first few weeks of every school year begin with bonding adventures, camping trips and field trips. What’s better than having fun while becoming smarter? Absolutely nothing. That’s why Creative Writing is so loved, it’s an equal balance of smiles and furrowed, concentrated eyebrows. A walk in the park with your friends while writing poems. A fun field trip where you learn and laugh. With every seemingly “boring” part of Creative Writing, there is something accompanying, making it enjoyable. There are no wants to go home or complaints about the day being too long because Creative Writing makes you forget about all that. You are home when you are in Creative Writing, you are with your family of friends that you have built since you got here. I, for one, love it there!

However the best thing about community weeks are the friendships we build during them. Community weeks are our chance to get closer to the freshman, closer to the others in our grade and every other grade there is! All my best-friends that I’ve made in Creative Writing were a direct result of these event-filled weeks. With treasure hunts, buddy projects and more, there’s no way for community weeks to go wrong and that is because of the community we have built in Creative Writing. A community that loves, supports and helps each other. In my opinion, that is what makes community weeks so special: because there is no other time like it.

Learning The Ways And The Words by Chloe Schoenfeld

I still think of myself as new here. I’m a freshman now and I have been for about three weeks. Creative Writing  is much more fascinating and enthralling than any other class I’ve had before. The department head, Heather Woodward, isn’t here yet, so the seniors have been leading us, and I never thought I’d say I had enjoyed analyzing texts. Sometimes I worry about my place in the group. That maybe my placement here was a mistake or a second choice, or perhaps I am not who they hoped I’d be. I try to reassure myself that I am wanted. Somehow I’ve made friends here, I can converse with people as if I’ve known them my entire life when a month ago we were strangers. 

We began analyzing a poem this week. It was “Self-Portrait” by Afaa Michael Weaver. I read this poem through what must have been at least twenty times, each giving me another understanding and meaning of the words on the paper. This one man’s story has been hosting a raging party with all of the literary devices I learned only last week. I feel I’ve gained so much more of an understanding of Judaism and life and purity than I’ve ever known before. My mind has started spinning every time I look at the words or even my annotations.

I see myself in the shadows of a leaf

compressed to the green blades growing

to a point like the shards of miles of mirrors

falling and cracking to perfect gardens. 

– Self-Portrait, Afaa Michael Weaver

I was delighted to share an “Aha!” moment on this poem with a fellow freshman in Creative Writing, who I’m glad to say is my friend now. I’ve never had an experience like this, one that presents the core of the English language in such an inviting way. These concepts have been driven so far into my head that I’ve started to see them everywhere, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Everyday I continue to be surprised by the talented writers and thinkers that surround me, somehow creating a comfortable environment for everyone even with the absence of the usual teacher.

Watching “Sonny’s Bridge” by Teya Cooksey-Voytenko

It was quiet, except for the occasional squeak of someone’s sneaker, and the low hum of people muttering to one another, discussing ideas and thoughts on different pieces. One out of a pair of headphones was lazily hanging from my shirt neck, the other was tucked into my ear playing some version of a slow song. I was sitting on a bench having angled myself to face “Sonny’s Bridge,” one of Faith Ringgold’s quilt canvas pieces, which was quietly tucked into a back corner of the second exhibition room. The piece caught my eye the moment I noticed it. The colors with the bridge had made such an interesting connection, and my heart almost sang with inspiration when I got a good look at it. 

I could see the outlines of all the other people surrounding me in my peripheral vision. I couldn’t care to pay attention to them though, I was mesmerized, watching my pencil move up and down scratching its lead into the paper, seeing the steady motion, watching as it formed letters and later words. Slowly crafting every piece of the poem, glancing up at the art piece every so often to see if I could glimpse more insight into where to take my writing; trying to fit the meaning of Faith Ringgold’s work into my work. Trying to find the connection between the two worlds. Working to weave the colors, take the strands of cotton, and sew them into my story, tell my thoughts, my journey through the poem. It became a sort of carpal vision: just me and “Sonny’s Bridge.” For the moment in time, it was just us. The whole world revolved around us. 

I sat for twenty minutes, writing, just me and my thoughts. At this point I had put in my other earphone, completely tuning out the world. It was just me and my writing, just me trying to figure out the connection between my thoughts. Trying to think and put it down on paper, where it was just me and my writing. My writing and my thoughts.

Sea-Glass Window into Kirby Cove by Hazel Fry

I gaze out the car window at the trees shaped like witches hats, cloaked by a comforting fog. The path is narrow and bumpy, a windy dirt snake carrying my mom, Tiffany and I to the campsite where all of creative writing is to spend the night. The first “hellos” are never awkward the way they are with most groups of people. It’s the beginning of the year, and here we are inhaling the ripe air of creative writing tradition – the familiar smell of campfire, tree roots, and warm veggie burgers. I grab two bags of Sun chips and scarf them down as I absorb the specific kind of serenity you only feel with dusty pebbles between your toes and bundles of sleeping bags surrounding you. 

All the creative writers rush to greet each other, anticipating the many hours we will spend getting to know the new fresh peeps and discovering things about each other we never expected to learn. It’s strange how openness comes in waves. It comes in the kind of ocean waves that we push the freshies into on the beach, laughing as their cheeks drip with freezing sea water. It’s a tradition, okay? Openness comes in the waves of safety versus discomfort, and my department floats on the very tip of the safest wave. As the sand falls asleep beneath my toenails and my goosebump covered arms are locked with people next to me, I am washed by a wave better than the ocean: the comfort of knowing I have people who will look out for me and who I can look out for too. This is Kirby Cove.

Of course it isn’t perfect. There’s a tick in someone’s shoe that I scoop out with a leaf, a dead and stinky seal on the beach, and scrapes on my elbows from bumping into rocks and sticks in the dark. The thing is, I wouldn’t want to smell a dead seal with any other group of people. When it gets late and the black sky engulfs our faces into darkness, all of us from freshmen and sophomores to juniors and seniors gather together. We are so used to fiction, the way it feels to let ink spell out the billions of made up stories in our heads and read them to each other; we are familiar with that kind of bravery. But we leave our fiction in the classroom when we go to Kirby Cove. It’s refreshing to be vulnerable, to practice bravery in a whole new kind of way. Every one of us knows that we are a safe little bundle of young writers in the woods at night, and secrets prance from our tongues like fireflies. 

After staying up close to all night, I nap right when I get home. But, when I finally wake up, all I want is to go back to Kirby Cove. Next year. 

Jude’s Guide to Writing the Bus by Jude Wong

If a nearly naked man begins bathing himself in milk by the folding bus doors, try to stay dry. Or if a guy playing air guitar in a cascading cream ball gown offers you a lint-laden lollipop, gently say no. But if a dude enveloped in a Power Puff Girls bathrobe and bunny slippers starts describing his tumultuous love life, listen. My family never owned a car, so I grew up taking buses and have penned stories, poems, and even a play using scenes like these from San Francisco city buses. 

In earlier years my poetry tended to be dark, abstract, and related to experiences I had never had. I wrote about ferocious fires, glorious battles, and dying soldiers. I began a dystopian novel set in 3868 about the daring breakout of a slave named Zed. Stories enabled me to build and inhabit other worlds, no matter how removed they were from my life. I used writing to escape into a fantasy bubble, isolated from the people around me.

For my thesis I am writing about lives not often seen in poetry, especially those of the marginalized and disadvantaged people I ride with on the bus. People notice, think about, and help those around them in a healthy, caring society. I want to encourage this through my writing, suggesting that people “shout ‘Thank You!’ to the driver. This is non-negotiable.” Or that riders give up their seats as the “triple-sweatered old lady heaves herself onto the bus … freighted with torn pink plastic bags bearing broken bok choy and broccoli.’’ Or smile and make space for the “life-sapped mother … clinging to a stroller, a boiling tea kettle of sorts … inside a ceaseless screeching”. 

Many riders don’t observe the range of lives around them, often just looking at their phones. I also used to be oblivious to those shaping the city around me. Still, the bus brings other people’s lives so close that we all become “like a can of stewed tomatoes with riders mushed together practically becoming red sauce.”; and these days, I pay close attention. I save fleeting glimpses from our rides that would otherwise be lost, suspending them in time through meter and metaphor. While these moments are random, they are essential because they embody our shared experience of moving through the city together, our community. 

I recently published “How to Ride the Mission 14 Bus” in Parallax Literary Magazine and performed it to a large audience of 300 people in our school theater. I paced my words, leaving time for the listeners to respond, and used arm gestures to engage and draw laughter from them. One person even chased me down in the parking lot to share how much he liked my piece.

I used to write only for myself, but now I use my work to connect to audiences and encourage their participation in our community. I write to inspire people to put down their phones, pay attention, be kind and connect with the people around them. To be present and to observe the little things in life.