Making Metaphors in the Mission by Rae Kim

Recently, Eva Whitney and I were invited to teach a lesson at 826 Valencia in the San Francisco Mission district. The building is well-known as a pirate-themed gift shop, but that is only a front: tucked away in the back room is a student outreach and tutoring program. The goal was to pack the young attendees full of poetry over a two-day period, and therefore make poetry more accessible and less daunting. We began a feverish hunt online, looking for poems that would clearly demonstrate one of six crucial literary devices: metaphor, simile, personification, form, repetition, alliteration, and rhyme. The irresistible allure of our lesson lay in the theme of San Francisco, which tied all the poems together. We hoped this would help the students identify with the content of the pieces, which we then hoped would lead to interest in the devices used therein.

As we crawled through countless poetry websites like starving men across a desert, it became apparent that very few poets write a poem with a literary device as their inspiration, as we planned to have the students do. When we got to the lesson with our jumbled bag of poems in hand, shifting from one foot to the other, it was easy to believe nothing we said would make any sense at all. In Creative Writing, much of the learning we do is analytical, zooming in on each word. I wondered: would any of my yammering make sense to people who are not exposed to this three hours a day and five days a week?

Whether or not the students will take the literary devices we introduced to their graves, I believe we reached our objective: everyone wrote an interesting poem or prompt. It was captivating to hear writing that was pristine, that just spilled out of the tops of the students’ heads, written very quickly and with little warning. The students were not huge talkers, but I found that I could learn more about each person through the prompts that we forced them to share. Even if the technicalities of poetry did not impress the students, I think that writing it left them with confidence about poetry, and maybe they’ll even come knocking at the door of Creative Writing during high-school application time.

Rae Kim, class of 2020

At the EPA Hearing by Max Chu

On February 28th, 2018, I attended the EPA hearing at the Main Public Library alongside my fellow Environmental Club.  The hearing was organized so that EPA representatives could hear the word of the people of the Bay Area, in reference to the recent announcement that the Clean Power Plan would be repealed. The people of the Bay Area who were dissatisfied with this ruling came to make their voices heard, including the students of SOTA. Below is the speech I delivered at the hearing from students at SOTA. The activists at this school inspire me.

___________________________________________________________________________

Hello, My name is Max Chu, and I am a 16 year old student. Today, I am here to bring to your attention one very specific idea that I find important and want to share with you, and that is a seed vault. A seed vault is a place where lots and lots of different types of seeds are kept, and in the event that some one of the species kept in the vault goes extinct, scientists can go into the seed vault, replant that plant, and the species is saved. These vaults actually exist, and the one that is most popular and the one I would like to bring to your attention is the seed vault in the archipelago of Norway called Svalbard. The vault is nicknamed the “Doomsday Vault” due to the fact that if the world were to ever need the vault, we would be in or past the point of “Doomsday” and would need the seeds in the vault to reestablish society. This vault is encased in 120 meters of sandstone and chilled in permafrost. What I would like to tell you is that the permafrost is melting. This idea of frost that would never melt, hence the suffix perma-, is melting. The vault is about 800 miles from the north pole but the north pole was 60-70 degrees warmer than normal this last winter, and so the permafrost is melting around the vault, the seeds are at risk, and so when “Doomsday” comes, we’ll have no contingency plan. What I ask of you, EPA representatives, is that in light of this hope of the vault under threat of being extinguished, I ask that you give us some semblance of hope that we are trying to stop this. That we are working against the “Doomsday” and not with. Thank you.

Max Chu, class of 2020

On Wanting by Charlotte Pocock

The morning of my first in a series of near-chronic migraines, someone had taken to an add for discounted Clipper Cards outside the Rockridge BART Station with a sharpie. Black marker blurred over the black type on bold yellow paper with a question, simple in its phrasing but complex in its meaning: WHAT DO YOU WANT? It was underlined twice, the lines crossing sloppily towards the end. You could tell it was written in a hurry. Beyond the throbbing in my temples and the twisting of my empty stomach, I thought of what it was that I truly wanted. I was to take the SAT in a month– a clinical symptom of my college diagnosis– and I had already visited two college campuses, so it isn’t as if my future has not been called into question. It’s all been more about expectation than want, however. Necessity.

I cannot picture a life in college, or how I would be making a living after, but it is without a doubt the path that my life is going to go down. I have modest expectations. But since the discovery of this rushed my transit existentialism, I have begun scribbling my desires down where I can: candle wrappers, cafe receipts, lipstick price tags, the corners of my library copy of In Cold Blood, teal-stained post it notes. Here is a list of what I have comprised so far, but in this process I have discovered is that what I want most of all is to grow up satisfied with what I have. 

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

  • I want small and tiled kitchens and the ability to sustain plants.

  • I want coffee boiling on my stove and fresh nectarines on my table.

  • I want the sun on my collarbones and I want the wind in my hair.

  • I want the orcas outside my window and the museums preserved.

  • I want the Venus di Milo to never go out of style

  • I want my grandchildren to know the ocean as I have.

  • I want mud in my boots.

  • I want to have enough regrets to not wreck me.

  • I want gilded frames and Milan and neon lights and Tokyo.

  • I want my mother to stop worrying and I want my brother to be happy.

  • I want malt milkshakes and French cinema, rainwater and tapioca.

  • I want a thousand lives, each one with more time than the last.

  • I want more than I deserve.

Charlotte Pocock, class of 2019

Maggie Nelson at City Arts and Lectures by Solange Baker

The Nourse Theater is huge. It seats 1689 people, plus added seats in the orchestra pit. Opening in 1927, the theater began as a the in-house theater for Commerce High School, later becoming a public performing arts space. A recent addition to the theater’s shows, are the City Arts and Lectures. Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts, Bluets, and The Art of Cruelty, was this night’s lecture guest. The stage was set with a carpet, two chairs, and a small table with water glasses between Nelson and the interviewer. I had never been to a City Arts and Lecture and did not know what to expect but hoped to leave with insight into the professional world of writing.

Giving an interesting interview is a skill. Being an engaging interviewer is a skill. It became apparent that the woman interviewing Nelson, Julia Bryan-Wilson, had an agenda in mind. She continuously asked Nelson about her love live, changing the topic away from her writing to more personal subjects. “Does having an attraction to butch lesbian woman change the way you write about lust?” Wilson asked in reference to Nelson’s husband. Nelson was clearly uncomfortable. Her spouse is in fact not a “butch lesbian”, but gender fluid (going by “he/him” pronouns). Although their relationship together is central to The Argonauts, Nelson’s most recent release, Wilson seemed to have little interest in the non-romantic content of the book. Despite her visible discomfort, Nelson handled the situation with grace. She told Wilson she didn’t want to talk about the subject and segwayed into discussing the deeper messages in her autobiography. It’s a lesson to be learned for all, whether interviewer or interviewee— don’t press a topic your subject does not want to talk about, and if you are pushed to talk about a topic you don’t want to talk about, politely decline to discuss the subject and offer an alternate topic.

Nelson has identified herself as anti labels both in her love-life and work. Her writing breaks and blurs genre boundaries. It reminds me of an essay we read at the beginning of our speculative fiction unit called “Genre: A Word Only A Frenchman Could Love” by Ursula Le Guin about the boundaries genre creates. While I don’t think genre should be abolished, I do agree that it can be limiting. I’m used to working within limitations, partly because most of my writing is done for school. Something that I’ve found from being at SOTA is that it’s difficult to not slip into feeling like writing is nothing more than another homework assignment. And like Le Guin said, to write outside of genre to create new ideas, Nelson has her own strategies for authors plagued with writer’s block. Nelson talked about switching where she writes to continue the creative flow. She said she lays out her pages to organize them and takes inspiration from her own life. I tend to sit at my desk every time I write and don’t take much inspiration from my own life. If I do so, I find it difficult to remove myself from the piece and I take it more personally when I get edits. But maybe looking at my own life and taking not direct chunks, but inspiration and ideas from my experiences would benefit my writing. I am always open to trying new things to boost my creativity and get myself out of a stupor, and trying out other writer’s strategies is always a good place to start— especially when they’re as well known as Maggie Nelson.

I had not read any of Nelson’s work prior to the lecture except for select excerpts. After hearing her speak and gaining perspective into her character, I am more inclined to read her work. It is inspiring to see a successful author in a day and age in which people say the book industry is dead. Although I do not intend to pursue a career in novels, it did show me that there is still some of that “old world” left.

Solange Baker, class of 2019

Sandstorm by Nadja Goldberg

We are one week into our playwriting unit. The unit is taught by Nicole Jost and, unlike the fiction and poetry units, it includes both Creative Writing I (freshmen and sophomores) and Creative Writing II (juniors and seniors). So far, we have had in-class activities and discussions, read various plays, and written scenes for our own plays based on prompts Nicole has assigned. Each class is usually focused on a particular aspect of playwriting such as monologues and status between characters. Our assigned homework and reading is based on what we explored in class. For example, before discussing the idea of “character status,” we read “Left to Right” by Steven Dietz, a short play with complexly interconnected characters who have distinct status among each other. For the homework assignment, we were told to write a scene involving two characters in which one character has a higher status, but by the end of the scene, the other character manages to achieve the higher status.

This prompt caused me to reflect on how status plays into various relationships and how I might portray that in my writing. I struggled for a while in front of an empty screen, trying to come up with a status-based relationship that would have natural dialogue between the characters, but wouldn’t be too typical and boring. Over dinner, I discussed the assignment with my mom. She offered a few ideas, but I wasn’t drawn to any of them, and our discussion escalated into an argument. Finally, my dad suggested that I write about the conversation my mom and I were having right then about the prompt. I realized that was perfect. Our disagreement had a definite element of status with my mom having the higher status. And as I rejected each of my mom’s ideas, it could have been in an attempt to gain a higher status for myself. After dinner, I returned to my computer and recaptured the banter between my mom and me:

SANDSTORM
By Nadja Goldberg

CHARACTERS
ELLA, freshman in highschool.
BETH, Ella’s mother.

 

SCENE 1

ELLA and BETH sit at a small, round dinner table with emptied plates of lasagna.

ELLA (frustrated)
I still don’t have an idea.

BETH (also frustrated)
Just write whatever comes to mind. You just need to get this done.

ELLA
Write whatever comes to mind?! Nothing’s coming to mind!

BETH
Didn’t we just come up with an idea? You can write the play about a student asking a teacher questions about the class material, and after the teacher explains, the student says something about the topic that reveals they actually know more about it than we think.

ELLA (in a sarcastic imitation)
 That would just be like: I don’t get it.” “Well here’s what it is.” “Oh, actually I get it more than you do. Boo-yah!”

BETH
Well I’m sure you can make it more interesting than that.

ELLA
Exactly!

BETH
Ella, the focus is not on writing a masterpiece. It’s just on completing the assignment so you can get to bed.

ELLA
But I can’t write something I’m not invested in.

BETH
Sometimes you have to. That’s just how it is with school work.

ELLA
I have to write three to five pages! And there’s no possible way if I go with that topic.

BETH
Just write two and a half and get it over with.

ELLA
Two and a half pages is not acceptable for an assignment that requires at least three! And I’m not going to dive into writing a play with a plot I’m not engaged in, because it will be boring and tedious and that’s no way to write!

BETH
Fine, fine… How about the one with the car salesman who is trying to sell a fancy car to a man, and the man, in order to get a good deal, tries to hide how much he loves the car.

ELLA
Eh. I know just about nothing when it comes to cars. And I don’t think I have time to do enough research to convince my teacher otherwise.

BETH
Look. I know both options don’t seem so fantastic, but you just have to pick the one that speaks to you more and get on with it.

ELLA
Pick one of those?! That’s like choosing between eating a rotten tomato or a rotten avocado. Both will be equally mushy and disgusting, but “just go with one that might be a little less so.”

BETH
Ella, I’m just trying to help, okay? You have an assignment that you have to submit tonight at midnight and you just need to get it done. The more you worry about it, the less time you have to work on it, and the more frantic you’ll be later on.

ELLA groans.

ELLA
I’m sick of homework.

BETH
I know, but you still have to do it.

ELLA
I know that. I just wish it would come less frequently and in more manageable quantities. It’s crazy: I’m expected to spend more than seven hours at school and on top of that, do bucket loads of homework. And I have a segment of a play due in three hours and the only two ideas I have are duds!

BETH
I hear you Ella. And I know it’s hard. But I think what you need right now is a positive outlook.

ELLA
Well I think what I need right now is an idea for my play.

BETH
And that’s not going to come if you continue to grumble about it. That’s just the truth.

ELLA (upset)
I’m sick of homework.

BETH
Ella, that’s beside the point. You have homework to do, and you need to do it. We can talk about your feelings later.

ELLA
Well I can’t write a play without an idea for a play. It’s simple.

BETH
Well obviously, I’m not helping. So you need to just come up with an idea. It doesn’t have to be brilliant. Just an idea to get started on a rough draft.

ELLA
My mind is blank! It’s like an endless desert full of blazing frustrations, and the only ideas are sparse, patchy clouds that drift by.

BETH
What the hell do you mean, “you don’t have any ideas?” Likening your mind to a desert— that’s incredible!

ELLA
I mean… I guess.

Lights fade.

End scene.

The Four Fundamental Conditions of Theatre by Xuan Ly

Playwriting is the last of Creative Writing’s three main units (the others being poetry and fiction). This week, for this six-week unit, Creative Writing welcomed our artist-in-residence, Nicole Jost. It is Nicole’s second year teaching CW. She is a local playwright, and is finishing her doctorate at SFSU this spring!

In the week that Nicole has been us, we have read four plays, seen one play, and learned about the four fundamental conditions of theatre. The four conditions include: collaborations, group audience, suspension of disbelief, and perpetual present. These four things, among others, are what differentiates playwriting from other forms of literature. Collaborating with other actors and writers is a crucial part of playwriting. With novels, there is no need for collaborations unless the author is co-writing their novel. Collaborations allow more than one perspective on the play. While reading a novel or collection of poems, there is only one person in the audience. While viewing a play, the group audience and surroundings may reflect how a single viewer experiences the show. Suspension of disbelief implies that the audience must believe that the world that has been created onstage is real, despite any other logical reasoning. Lastly, the idea of perpetual present time urges the audience to forget any past knowledge of what the topic of the play, or what the play is about. The idea encourages the audience to experience it in the present as if they did not have any prior knowledge.

These four fundamental conditions allow audiences to more thoroughly enjoy the piece that the playwright has created. It also helps the playwright take the audience’s experience into account. During playwriting, we are taught not just as writers, but actors as well. I am excited to see what where next few weeks of playwriting with Nicole takes us.

Xuan Ly, class of 2021

Maggie Nelson at the Nourse Theater by Ren Weber

On Friday, January 19th, Creative Writing attended a conversation with Maggie Nelson presented by City Arts and Lectures at the Nourse Theater. There, Nelson talked about her books, The Argonauts and Bluets with Julia Bryan-Wilson in a onstage, recorded interview. I enjoyed hearing about how Nelson views labels and titles, particularly surrounding the idea that she is a “genius” due to the award from the MacArthur Foundation. I noticed how she seemed to slightly evade each question about labels directed at her by the interviewer (about being a queer writer, a poet vs. fiction writer, a genius, etc.) which seemed to parallel the way she dislikes the aggressive way our society attempts to classify and categorize people.

One of my favorite parts of the reading was when questions were opened up to the audience. One audience member mentioned Maggie Nelson’s background in dancing, and asked how Nelson physically feels when writing. I had never thought deeply about the connection between physicality and writing until then, because to me it had always seemed that writing must inherently be a very solitary and stagnant act. I thought it was interesting how she tied movement and writing together, creating a link between the two art forms, almost blurring the lines between the two genres. The excerpts I read before the reading from The Argonauts and Bluets eludes and bends genres as well, introducing layers of poetry, memoir, and literary analysis, which makes one question why we are so engrossed with classifying art into categories.

Maggie Nelson talked about how she can only write from experience, which means that her writing is mostly memoir. I find it interesting how writers seem to pick sides on this debate, either unable to write anything from past experiences or are mostly inspired by moments that have occurred within their own lives. However one may label their own writing, I am wholly of the opinion that art usually stems (if only minutely) from a place of personal experiences and feelings. Seeing Maggie Nelson speak through City Arts and Lectures made me question the way I view my own writing, the way we classify art, and the many boundaries we can cross when we don’t confine our work to arbitrary labels.

Ren Weber, class of 2021

Farewell Fiction by Tess Horton

Farewell, Fiction.

With the conclusion of the fiction unit in Creative Writing 1, our playwriting unit is soon to be upon us. As much as I appreciate fiction and consider myself to be a better fiction writer than anything else, I am excited to experience the legendary “playwriting unit,” of which I have heard so very much about these past few months. It almost feels as if it won’t truly happen: I have come to think of the playwriting unit as something of the future, something I won’t ever go through, and that I’ll simply wonder about for the rest of my days. Of course, the playwriting unit must go on, and go on it will, even considering my preconceived notions.

The fiction unit has been enjoyable, nonetheless. We have read short stories such as “After the Theatre” by Anton Chekhov, “Eveline” by James Joyce, and most recently, “How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien. Most of the stories we have read have focused largely on characters and sentence structure, both of which we have been discussing at length in CW 1. We focused on the aspects of a story that make a story what it is, for example: tone, style, setting, genre, diction, etc. After repeating this process (taking home a short story, reading it before I go to sleep, and deconstructing it the next day in Creative Writing 1), numerous times, I feel as if my capacity to analyze and understand a short story in a more academic, structured way has improved immensely. That, paired with writing three other short stories in response to given prompts, has definitely caused me to find more of a sense of confidence within my storytelling ability.

Although the fiction unit is over, I still have the playwriting unit to look forward to, and hopefully more to come. This unit has been a learning experience for me, and I am eager for my fiction-writing to improve as I grow as both a student and a writer.

Tess Horton, class of 2022

Velvet Jumpsuits by Sequoia Hack

I think the peak of fashion for many people is when they are toddlers or in their teens. So far, I think my peak was when I was about three years old. My parents recall me insisting on wearing an outfit resembling a Goodwill’s changing room to preschool. Many a time this wonderful outfit was composed of a (now iconic) velvet, leopard-print jumpsuit (with large holes worn in the butt, of course), purple sparkly sunglasses that barely covered the whites of my eyeballs, shimmery silver jelly high heels (always too large), and a mop of messy hair. They say I refused to take it off, and would throw a tantrum anytime they tried to get me to shower. If they succeeded, the whole outfit would get thrown back on following the shower, even if water was still dripping off of my body. I wore this outfit to school, I wore it to the park, I wore it clomping around the house. My parents were often amused by my lack of willingness to wear something relatively “normal.” I was stubborn and opinionated, and not afraid to show my feelings.

That flare exists in me today, but much less flaunted through my clothing choices. I have been kindly informed by friends on many accounts that my unhappiness with people shows too much by my scrunched eyebrows and narrowed eyes. I am working on improving my patience and have been trying to do a better job of hiding my displeasement with others, however annoyed looks are an integral part of me. My clothing choices were representative of my bold opinions, as I did not yet have the skills to tangle my face into knots of frustration. Occasionally, I still add denim jeans with orange flares at the cuffs, my father’s corduroy blazer, or Betsey Johnson flowered pants to an outfit, but for right now, my face is the most effective way of expressing myself.

Sequoia Hack, class of 2021

Maggie Nelson at City Arts & Lectures by Nina Berggren

On Friday, January 19th, the SOTA Creative Writing department attended an interview with author Maggie Nelson at the Nourse Theater. The conversation began at 7:30pm, when the interviewer, Julia Bryan Wilson, introduced herself and Nelson. The two women sat comfortably in a makeshift living room center stage, with two sofas, a carpet, and a coffee table, all of which provided a sense of intimacy in the grand theater. First, Wilson praised Nelson for her carefully crafted novels. She reflected upon Nelson’s recent literary achievements, and the success of her most recent book The Argonauts.

Wilson first mentioned the autobiographical aspects of Nelson’s writing, and how her sentences are almost poetic in their fluidity. Nelson responded by discussing labels. How she feels drawn to both “memoirist” and “poet.” How she wishes society could reject labels altogether, as her genderfluid partner already has. She shared that she had to let her guard down while writing The Argonauts. She became vulnerable as she exposed her hardships and deepest emotions. The book focuses on sexuality, violence, identity and gender. She analyzed and questioned her past in creating the text. Nelson’s relationships, both romantic and platonic, played an influential role in inspiring her words. As Wilson interrogated Nelson with questions, audience members gained insight into Nelson’s life. I learned that her partner underwent a double mastectomy as Nelson was pregnant. She learned so much from living with her partner as he changed alongside her.

Wilson then asked Nelson what her writing process looked like. This intrigued me as I enjoy discovering how successful authors manage their time, meet their deadlines, and the conditions under which they write. Nelson shared that she used different structures and schedules for each of her books. She takes more pleasure out of putting together what she has already written, than writing it. She enjoys condensing her books, laying out each chapter visually, and using index cards to organize and mix up various chapters until they work together. Nelson stressed that she dislikes when people refer to her work as collages. This dislike stems from her logic that juxtaposition is a powerful tool. By putting the pieces of her stories together, she is doing so with much thought and deliberation. To her, the word collage seems to suggest a carelessly combined collection of work.

Another point Nelson made that stuck out to me, was how she has been “dismantling the word genius for twenty-five years,” but she “also wants to accept the word” because people refer to her as a genius and she is beginning to believe them. She wants to dismantle the word for men and build it up for women, as it is uncommon, in the world’s current unequal state of affairs, for women to be called geniuses.

Nina Berggren, class of 2021