The Escape From My Pandemonium by Tiarri Washington

This pandemic has molded my world into something I no longer recognize. A routine I follow through muscle memory while my mind is distanced from the surrounding chaos. Every day, my computer, the color of stewed cherries, is perched in front of me as I sit at my dining room table. My mind wanders and I struggle to find the clarity to care enough to take notes on formulas and upcoming assessments. From nine to twelve, my mind is as detached from my body, as I am from the rest of the world. 

It’s only at the slightly tardy stroke of 1:47 when the call connects to Creative Writing 1 that I begin to feel something. Creative Writing 1, is meant for us freshmen and sophomores to be introduced to the basics of CW: the literary critiques, poetry devices, and more that will aid us in our success as writers from then on. Taught by the department director, Heather Woodward, who has taken time, two weeks, thus far to teach us the process and thinking behind the analysis. Yes, our whole group discussions, reviews, and workshops can be unnerving and overwhelming, especially to newcomers. Yet, our teacher takes time from our classes to stray away from the technique and allow us to breathe and enjoy each other’s presence. 

In class, I hear Heather’s bright and joyous, “Hello Tiarri,” followed by random music from varying genres. We’ve heard the unforgettable lyrics of Billie Holiday to the shivering reeds and sensual voices of Soul Train. During this, the chat, filled with sass, compliments, humor, and bribery never fails to bring a smile to my face. These few minutes serve as a gradual transition into the class, followed by a warm-up, given by another student, that explores unique prompts that lean on poetic devices. 

One day out of the week, we’ll break away from all teaching and dance to Youtube videos so our sophomores can receive their PE credit. At the following dance session, we are graded on our performance before we start for the day. This serves as a great motivator and makes the dancing even more entertaining. I currently hold a solid 9.75/12, a decent score that I assure I will increase in the upcoming weeks. Despite the freshman not being required to do partake, most of us enjoy the break anyway. 

I must also note the casual flow of CW 1. This period from routine more often than not. Sometimes, an existential question may come up in the midst of a discussion, that grips everyone’s attention. We abandon the to-do list for the day and casually ponder our lives, desires, and even such a mundane topic like conversations we had with a hairdresser. Before we know it, it’s well past two and our time with each other is up. 

I say all of that to say that CW 1, is a pleasurable suspension from the mayhem of typical online classes. All of these activities, with these people, allow me to tune out the noise of my home, tether my mind with my body again, and connect with people outside the four white walls of my dining room.

Tiarri Washington (Class of ’24)

Daily Thoughts by Gemma Collins

As sophomore year has progressed, I find myself in a perpetual state of confusion. Lately, I ponder what I am doing and what is happening. This feeling has become familiar, as I wait for it to greet me in waking from many daydreams. One question that has recently been frequenting my mind is this: “how did I get here?” An enigma in itself, this thought plagues me, seeping into my head and infiltrating my dreams. The other night I even dreamt of a talking fish, and if that’s not bewildering enough, I do not know what is. I may not be a psychologist, but I would assume this thought comes from a jumbled sense of time. See, each month feels long in the moment, but short in retrospect, and spending most of my time at home causes the hours to blend together, leaving the all but delicious stone soup of my lovely days. The first semester’s end looms, however, I barely remember the beginning months of this school year, hence the question: how did I get here? Still not sure. 

This question emerges occasionally throughout my day in various scenarios, including walking into a room and forgetting my tasks, or waking up and momentarily forgetting where I am before realizing I just had unexpectedly fallen asleep. In these common situations, my memory and logic return soon and the moment of confusion is fleeting, leaving me without much to wonder anymore. Pondering how I am suddenly half-way through sophomore year has proven to be much more difficult to answer. Lately, academic shortcomings provide an exhilarating sense of risk factor that enhances my life, filling the gaps created by my questions. Creative Writing functions as one of those high stakes things that allows me to devote my attention to currently overflowing assignments instead of exploring the ins and outs of existential questions. The question: “how did I get here?” is hauntingly unresolved, however, now I figure it is merely one more item to add to my list of thoughts to attend to at midnight.

Gemma Collins (Class of ’23)

Why It’s Important to Struggle With Your Work Sometimes by Pascal Lockwood

Creative writing has always been somewhat of a “love-hate-but-mostly-love” situation for me.  I enjoy the community, I enjoy my classmates, The fun games we play, the interesting challenges that get posed for me, and I enjoy learning new ways to think about my writing, but there is one part of that system that I have not yet become accustomed to. This is the lit crit. Before I share my personal troubles with the lit crit, It’s important for me to explain what the lit crit is. A literary critique, in the Creative Writing Department, revolves around us Creative Writing students having a poem selected for us or having you select your own. We then write an essay about the poem based on how we understand it. Three paragraphs make up the body, along with a conclusion and a beginning, and you have your lit critique. 

 It is not necessarily that the main idea of a lit critique is troublesome to me, it is simply the most recent issues I’ve had to work through are among the most frustrating moments of my schooling days. The constant struggle of pushing around words on the paper and making them sound good is actually harder than it sounds, but I have faith that one day I will be able to look back on this and laugh. For the time being, however, I think it’s best if I vent my frustrations so you may understand what I’m going through. 

Back in marking period 4, I had written a literary critique about a poem written by William Carlos Williams entitled A Portrait in Greys. It wasn’t the best essay I had ever written, but it wasn’t half bad either.  Just like that, this meant I had to do it over again. The frustrating thing was, I knew I had written better essays, but I did not anticipate the feedback. While I had been writing about the ideas the poem presented, I was actually supposed to write about the literary devices. I know it sounds like I’m whining and moaning. After all, it was my fault! I had written three other lit critiques prior, and I had done them all in the style that was now getting called out over. None of my peers or my teachers ever explained that what I was doing in the lit crit was incorrect, or if they did, I didn’t get it. I wish I’d had the feedback I needed on each of those previous lit crits. If I’d let rip three of  my unearthly stinkers in class, I’m sure someone would have put me straight.

Determined to fix this, I decided to go back with the help of another student and tried to fix my previous essay in an attempt to get a better grade. It was hard at first, considering how stubborn a person I am (If you believe in that Horoscope malarkey, I’m a textbook Taurus) and unfortunately took to criticisms and new ideas on my work like a duck to acid. After a while, the other student and I finally found a rhythm. So what had to happen next? Another lit crit I’d forgotten about. I. Was. Livid. It was bad enough that I was worried about having to work on a completely new essay for this marking period, but I still hadn’t even finished the one from the last marking period. After starting again, and again, I’m stuck at paragraph 2 for the third time. A truckload of other work is also beginng to beat down on me. 

Moral of the story? Always ask about homework before leaving class with ‘no’ work. What that means is, if you’re unsure about something, like I was, you should never be afraid to ask your teachers (or even your peers!) for assistance. The consequences will really suck. Your writing buddy, who usually is a Junior or a Senior, will be a fantastic resource for helping you out when you need it. What I’m trying to say is, enjoy working with and alongside Creative Writing students on subjects you’re confused on. Not once, in any situation, should you ever neglect these resources that are right there for you. I messed up pretty badly with my work more than a few times, and even then, I was still able to get back up onto my feet thanks to the help of my other students and teachers. I know I have a lot to learn, but I really feel the support of the community of Creative Writing. To quote Steven McCranie, “The master has failed more times than the student has tried.” 

I’m learning the hard way; now is my time to fail.

I want to say to anyone looking to join the Creative Writing department: Please do not be discouraged from doing so because of what I wrote. Our department is a lovely place filled with lovely individuals that you should definitely get to know. What I have written, I intend to be a somewhat cautionary tale on why it is so important to not only get help when you’re struggling, but why it’s important to fail sometimes. We grow with each trip and bump in the road. That lit crit I’m re-writing is stronger and more put together than anything else I could have written first-time. 

We fall hard. 

We get back up harder.

Pascal Lockwood (Class of ’24)

Apocalypse: Day 40 by Benny Leuty

I’ve spent many days shadowed by the feeling that we are drawing ever closer to the complete final destruction of the world, an utter apocalypse. The “we” in that last sentence, changes every day. On Friday, for example, “we” was just me and the catalyst for the apocalypse was a missing English assignment. On Saturday, “we” was everyone and the threat was climate change. Today, the “we” was one of my favorite professional cyclists and the impetus for his doomsday was a thigh bone fracture that nearly ended his career. And how could I talk apocalypse without talking COVID? 

I’ve begun to catalog many of my mini apocalypses. The only rule that I have for myself is that I get it on paper. The more interesting apocalypses become poems, short stories, or personal narratives. In one of my earlier apocalypse writings, which would eventually become a short personal narrative, I discovered my retainer no longer fit after not wearing it for a week. In it, I reflected on, and eventually came to terms with, how weird it was that I was fretting about crooked teeth during a global pandemic. But even the less interesting apocalypses usually still get a sentence or two. Shortly after my routine was established, I realized that there are very few apocalypses I can think of that literally spell doom for the entire planet. Even in some of the worst scenarios, there is usually a Noah and his ark and the fish below it. There are almost always survivors of the zombie horde and a case to be made for zombies themselves being “alive.” My day to day “apocalypses” are important to me. Not only because of what they take away from me and stop me from completing but because of what I continue to do in spite of them. I brush my teeth, I eat lunch, I ride my bike, I write. My apocalypses reveal to me what I could let go of. Going to bed later than midnight is one thing I should do away with. My base functions are revealed to me. Because “apocalypse,” in Greek, is a verb. Apocalypse is something that is done. It means to uncover, reveal, and lay bare and I welcome that.

Benny Leuty (Class of ’22)

The Mind of an Enclosed Writer by Tiffany Dong

If I were to describe Creative Writing as one of the new freshmen in six words, it’d be out-of-my-comfort-zone. The sixth word containing my internal scream when I am called on to read my writing out loud in front of others. There were two separate departments— one specifically designated for spoken arts, so my naivety gave me the idea that there would be no speaking or talking required. 

Before fully diving into the gist of Creative Writing, I had the opportunity to attend summer courses for poetry, fiction, autobiography, and more, where I met the upperclassmen prior to the start of the school year. This allowed me the chance to question them about what to expect, despite the given circumstances and differences they had when they experienced Creative Writing and my upcoming online distance learning experience. They warned me about the major requirements, of course– where the aspect of workshopping played into the part of what to expect. As a middle schooler who has freshly emerged out of the habit of blending in with the crowd and never taking the initiative to voice my ideas, Creative Writing was a scare. Therefore, I’m thankful to have something that prepared me for the upcoming monitory that I call “workshopping.” It is a knee-buckling, stomach-churning, and head-spinning sound. Though, nothing is worse than the word, “presenting.” Both workshopping and presenting enable you to showcase your personal work to others. That was a problem. Surely, writing is also quite personal to me where it was considered as my safe space. To have people claw into that space felt like an invasion of privacy or comfort. Of course, that’s what I used to think. I despised the simple idea of a pair of eyes scanning through my work, so it would make sense that I can’t possibly stand a group of people thoroughly analyzing them. Writing here is a crucial passion that lives in every one of us in this department, and we all have our own definition or sacred relationship with writing. 

Heather, the department head once said, “To show your writing is to show your vulnerability and open yourself up.” Even that took a lot of understanding and time to grasp that concept as someone who constantly struggles with the idea of opening up. Now, during this time of distance learning, I realized it is dire to be understanding of our given circumstances. I may not be meeting my upper-classmen face to face this year and that already sets a blockage between us. Through a screen, it is already difficult enough to communicate and genuinely become a part of this writing community, who’s always been supportive and patient regardless. 

It took a lot of mustering up the courage to fully become adjusted to this new environment with many new faces. But as of right now, I’ve decided this is a turning point to finally take a step out of this little bubble I’ve barricaded myself in.

Tiffany Dong (Class of ’24)

Transitioning to CW 2 by Parker Burrows

Since the end of my sophomore year, I was eagerly anticipating the day when I would finally become a member of Creative Writing 2, an intimate class featuring the juniors and seniors of CW, as well as an artist in-residence. Following the conclusion of this year’s poetry unit, I got my wish. After being in the class for a few weeks now, I can already observe the big difference between CW 2 and CW 1. Creative Writing 1, a class for the freshman and sophomores, taught by Heather Woodward, is an opportunity to learn the basics of writing and analysis. Heather slowly guided us juniors through the essentials of writing, such as the importance of literary devices, how to find deeper messages in poems, and how to give constructive criticism in writing workshops. 

Creative Writing 2, taught by the wonderful Angie Sijun Lou, is a completely different world. Here, everyone is on their own, and given an opportunity to apply what they have learned after being immersed in the basics. A few days ago, we read through an Emily Dickinson poem as a class, a poem that I had read and struggled to understand in my freshman year. I found that I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I picked up different techniques that Dickinson used, such as metaphor and rhythm. When Angie opened up a discussion about the poem as a class, I was able to meaningfully contribute to the conversation, and articulate how the literary devices enhance the poem, something I couldn’t have dreamed of doing during my freshman year. 

Workshopping groups are another showcase of growth. When reading a peer’s poem, everybody in the class is able to recall their experience of reading and writing poetry, and can give honest, constructive feedback. On some classes, we spend over thirty minutes identifying the strengths and weaknesses of a classmate’s poem. Every person in the class is extremely familiar with the workshopping process, as a result of many years of workshops in CW 1, which creates a comfortable environment in our CW 2 groups. 

This new feeling of independence has allowed me to think about my growth from a clueless eighth grader to an actively participating 11th grader. I am grateful for Creative Writing 1 for helping me get started in my writing, and just as grateful for Creative Writing 2 for giving me a chance to show what I learned.

Parker Burrows (Class of ’22)

A 2020 Freshman by Esther Thomson

I’ve recently learned that if you travel to Pluto, you would see what the earth looked like 10 years ago. So basically, you would travel back in time. It would all look the same, because ten years isn’t long enough to change so wildly that you can see it from 3.197 billion miles away, but maybe if you looked hard enough you could see a difference, smaller clouds, bigger forests, etc. So I guess what you could get from this is that nothing is important, we’re only tiny beings in a huge universe, and everything we do doesn’t really matter. But, that isn’t true.

When I thought of socially distance learning, I thought of facetiming with my new cool SOTA friends while doing “cool SOTA things,” but of course that hasn’t happened. Our teachers did not give us any time to talk to each other, all of our classes are just lessons, with no time to talk to each other. Though the teachers are not the ones to blame since it isn’t anyone’s fault. When we are put into breakout rooms, we turn our cameras off, and mute ourselves. I mean, what are we supposed to do, talk to each other? Weird. 

It’s almost two months away from half way through the school year and I feel like it’s still the second week of school. We haven’t really gone anywhere with school, or so it feels like. I feel like I’m just sitting at my screen with someone talking to their screen, and I write things down for the next hour. We haven’t made any moments to be remembered, because everyday is endlessly repetitive—just listening all day. Occasionally getting to say something, even if it’s just a hello. I mean, it feels like the whole concept of time is just a social construct. Time has gone by so fast, it doesn’t seem real. It feels like someone is just lying to me on what day it is. How is it possible that almost 4 months have gone by?

So maybe time’s just a social construct that was just invented so we could plant food at the right time when we were cavemen, and now we can’t live without time. We can’t function without time. But if time is really just a social construct, why would we be able to see earth ten years ago from Pluto. I don’t think Pluto has a society, so maybe time has always existed, and we just labeled it time just like we label everything. Nothing feels real anymore, everything is digital, and usually I would love to be on my computer all day, but it’s been half a year, and I want this to be over. I want to be able to make memories with people. I want to be able to laugh with someone. 

Esther Barad Thomson (Class of ’24)

Ren Weber published in NY Times

Our own Ren Weber, CW class of 2019, is being published in the New York Times! Her piece “Tiny Love Story” will run in the Modern Love column  on Thursday the 30th.

Ren has also recently been published in The Rumpus, a short story called Wild Animals written when Ren was 16 and a student in CW.

Shelter In Playce

Every year the Creative Writing department of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts puts on a show of plays written and performed by its students. Due to the COVID19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders, the 2020 show was produced instead as a reading over Zoom.

Applying to College by Hannah Duane

I write this blog post from a cafe in Mammoth Lakes, CA, having just completed the final step in my applying to college, a visit to a ranch out in the White Mountains for an interview. When I embarked on this process, I had no idea how completely Creative Writing would shape my ability to apply to other schools. One of the first essays I wrote, which I will attach below, was from the prompt:

A mathematician and a poet walk into a bar, and strike up a conversation about what they do. As they leave, the poet thinks to himself, alas, I lack the creativity for mathematics. The mathematician thinks alas, I lack the rigor for great poetry. Assuming they are not confused, explain what each party means.

I was, at first, rather dumfounded by how to go about this prompt. In the creative writing department, we deal constantly with esoteric or confusing prompts, and so I did what I know best to do with such an idea: write a story.

Writing creatively is not just an art we do a few hours a day at SOTA. It’s a way to think about framing the world. To understand what one thinks and develop ideas. Writing allows me to be confident and argue with myself, finding the holes in my own arguments and strengthening my convictions.

I hope you enjoy:

Anne Sexton and Copernicus meet in a dingy pub. Say Sexton sits on an upholstered stool in a white blouse, black hair bouncy, eyes tragic and tired. Brandy in hand, she is writing “Christmas Eve.” From across the room, Copernicus notices from the lines in her face that she’s straining toward precision and clarity. Intrigued, he walks over, trying to appear casual. 

Grappa ordered from the bar, one arm casually in Sexton’s space, he asks what she is working on. Annoyed, she pushes the work towards him. He reads the first line: 

“Oh sharp diamond, my mother!”

Copernicus is taken aback. The line is strangely compelling. He feels her longing, and wonders how she manipulated his emotions with such subtlety. How did she condense so many ideas? Balance allusion and originality, denotation and connotation? He deals with absolutes and natural law; he has never had to ponder such artistic questions.

“Why do you equate your mother with a diamond?” he asks. “Why the ‘Oh’ at the beginning of the line and the exclamation point at the end?”

First of all, Sexton explains, the word “Oh” has a long history as a literary motif signifying tragedy. The comparison of her mother to a sharp diamond adds a quality of hard and cutting beauty. The word “my”  introduces a possessive: Sexton’s mother belongs to her. Yet “Mother” is formal and distancing, thus creating tension. The final exclamation point conveys passion, although it could be read as mocking. 

Copernicus immediately grasps the rigor and relentless editing required to achieve such density of meaning. 

Now Copernicus produces from his bag an early manuscript of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, his magnum opus detailing heliocentric theory. He is embarrassed to be sharing an unfinished, unproven work. Still, he shows Sexton his now famous drawing: eight concentric circles, with the sun in the middle. 

“This is lovely,” she says looking over the neat Latin script. “How did you know it’s right?”

“Parallax,” he says. “Hold your arm straight in front of you, thumb pointing up. Close one eye and block a beer bottle with your top knuckle at the end of the bar.” She does. “Now switch which eye is open and which is closed, without moving your thumb. Can you see the bottle now?” She does.

“It’s all about perspective. From Earth, yes, everything seems to move around us. But that does not make it true.” 

Then he produces his list of formulas to calculate the orbits of other planets. First is d=Dsin𝜃, where d is the orbit of an inferior planet, and D is the earth’s orbit or one AU. Sexton is out of her field of expertise. But as she listens to Copernicus, she understands this work is a thing of beauty. Solving an equation is simple. Creating one—in this case, an equation that presumes Earth as one of eight planets orbiting the sun, and asks the orbital period of each— is the real feat.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines imagination as “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.” Sexton’s great subject is herself. Much of what she explores in her poetry has been “present to the senses.” Her job is to ponder, probe, and record. But Copernicus has no concrete perceptions to draw on. Standing on Earth, the ground does not seem to move. He cannot see, even through a telescope, the planets orbiting the sun. He, not Sexton, had to create and define a new perspective, one never “wholly perceived in reality.” 

And so Sexton and Copernicus part, each having realized their respective disciplines are not intellectual opposites. Instead, like the circular scale of political ideology, they meet in extremity. Both conjure new meanings by arranging letters and numerals in a precise form, respecting the laws of nature, bringing clarity to the world.

By Hannah W. Duane

Class of 2020