The Carpet by Esther Barad Thompson

Walking into the Creative Writing room for the first time, not the first day of school, but the very very first time, during the tour of the SOTA campus while I was in eighth grade was a truly unique experience. The first thing I noticed: the strange formation of tables. A big circle of tables, that all surrounded a large, old, gray carpet. It was almost as if Creative Writing worshiped The Carpet. Little did I know, we do…

…Okay maybe I’m over-exaggerating, we don’t worship The Carpet, but we do love it. Coming into Creative Writing on the first day of my Sophomore year (my first year on the campus) I noticed the formation of tables, chairs, and the carpet was identical to how I saw it two years before. What was so special about this old carpet? Over time, I began to appreciate The Carpet, its shaggy formation, and the fact that if you dug around enough you could probably find around $30 worth of pennies. The Carpet was always there when I needed it. On unbearably hot days, everyone would sprawl out onto the carpet, exhausted from the heat. On unbearably cold days, everyone would curl up and chit-chat with the other Creative Writers on The Carpet. No matter how many times I accidentally, (or on purpose) stepped on the carpet (I just wanted to know what would happen!) even though you “DONT WALK ON THE CARPET” The Carpet still loved me. No matter how many times I dropped a few crumbs into The Carpet, it still loved me. Even when one of my beaded bracelets broke, and hundreds of beads went into the little nooks and crannies of the carpet, (sometimes I still find a bead or two) The Carpet still took me back. The Carpet and I have a complicated relationship, but it was definitely not one-sided, the amount of times The Carpet has coughed up a hair that was not mine is too many to count. although we have a love-hate relationship, our bond could not be stronger. In a time when everything is changing, The Carpet has stayed and has always been in the center of the room I spend time doing something I love.  I dread the day The Carpet becomes just too disgusting to sit on, and I must say my farewell, but I hope the day never comes because I could never depart from my beloved carpet. 

Poetry or Fiction? by Starlie Tugade

Growing up, I’ve always thought of myself as a fiction writer, a storyteller. But one semester in Creative Writing shifted my perspective. We study three primary units in CW: Poetry, Fiction, and Playwriting. As a freshman, I’ve only experienced one poetry unit and half of a fiction unit. We started the year off with poetry, and because we spent months writing, reading, and analyzing poems, fiction became a distant thought for me. I started calling myself a poet before I called myself a short story writer. Poetry came easily to my tongue, and even easier to my pen. I would find inspiration everywhere. I could write a poem about anything: the rusty paperclip lying on a deck, the repetitive circles of a fish in a transparent sphere, the thoughts of two lovers as they boarded separate trains. 

The start of a new semester, however, also meant the start of a new unit: Fiction. Heading into Creative Writing in August, I was excited for fiction, wishing it was the first unit and thinking I was better at writing stories than poems. But months of writing poetry each day led me to a different conclusion. Poetry was easier for me. It came more naturally. In the past, whenever I would write a story, I would plan it out before writing. Every minute detail, from the shade of the main character’s eyes, to the type of shoes the antagonist would wear. When I finally planned it all out, I would start writing. Majority of the time I jumped into the writing portion with excitement, excitement that slowly fizzled out, leaving me tired of the story. I’d learned that poems were detailed, but every reader interprets them a different way, which left less pressure on the writer, whereas short stories were simpler, straight to the point. I loved both, but the switch from writing poems daily to writing one short story a week was jarring. The way I saw the world changed. I looked less at the small details, more at the overall picture. I focused less on the way the light shone through leaves on a tree and more on other peoples’ conversations. But I haven’t forgotten the joy that writing poetry brings me. I’m simply working on honing a different perspective, the short story writer in me, that had hidden for a few months. 

The Creative Writing Balcony by Hazel Fry

The door to the creative writing deck winks at me like a familiar friend, beckoning my body to leap into the weather that cloaks us in comfort and magic. I wait all day to feel the fog nuzzle my shoulders, or to free my face to the sun rays. Heather always brags about our special little balcony, and I understand why. This place is where we, as a creative writing community, sing birthday songs in whatever manner the birthday person requests, relish delicious snacks, breathe fresh air, and laugh with our friends about our days and random philosophical ideas. 

For Zai’s birthday, I baked homemade chocolate chip cookies, a classic, and brought them to the balcony as we celebrated. I rarely bake anything. As I passed around the thick, creamy cookies I received multiple comments claiming that I seem like a baker. This amused me, yet all I could think about was how everyone in the department finds ways to make each other feel good about themselves, selecting specific, writerly compliments that give us the feeling that we are truly noticed and cared for. Even though I am indeed not a baker. 

The creative writing tradition is to ask the person whose birthday we are celebrating to decide how they would like us to sing the “happy birthday song.” The flowing creativity always surprises me as people find completely new ways to sing the song, verbal or non-verbal. Zai requested that we nod our heads in a manner that conveys the happy birthday vibes, and watching everyone unselfconsciously nod in unison to the internal singing in our heads made me remember how safe I feel with other young writers who simply wish to join together and support one another. Even without words, there is an electric transmission of bonded energy that travels from our pulses into the concrete and swirls through our brains, tying us together in one big poetic knot. 

Other days, when there isn’t a birthday, I gaze down at the field and then zoom out to a crescent of the city. After my contemplative city watching, I often feel inspired to film TikTok videos of my friends and I. Propping my phone on some odd vertical surface, I lovingly tug friends into the camera shot and always end up hugging them or leaning my head on their shoulder. They are probably tired of this by now. But, I know that when I get home and watch the videos I feel like they are standing next to me again, and I can almost feel the light droplets of fog on my cheeks. I would honestly go to school just to hang out on that deck, I think to myself. 

Once the ten minute break is over, Heather has to yell at us to come inside. I know that now I must wait impatiently to rush back to the balcony again the next afternoon. Yet, I look forward to reuniting in the classroom and engaging in rich discussions about poetry and short stories that often leads to talking as a class about topics I never thought I would be lucky enough to dive into with such an insightful group. The warm, misty energy we all absorb from the balcony follows us into the classroom and enriches our conversations and connection. As we share our individual ideas our voices flow freely, tinted with the lingering magic of the soft, frolicking breeze. 

Mandatory Beauty by Amaranta Korngold

Every semester in CW, we are required to attend a minimum of two Art Saturdays to meet department requirements. As the obligation went, and as my curiosity was piqued, I was ready for my weekend homework.

After arriving at Fort Mason and awaiting the arrival of those distinctive and familiar silhouettes, we entered a spacious, red bannered warehouse that held within it a truly unimaginable amount of wealth. Pre art walk we, as a department, had been told that this was a must see, an art fair that Art and Film had never been able to gain access to, with limited availability. So, sure, why not?

Creative writing is not something most would refer to as a visual or performing art. We are not required to draw or paint well, but we are constantly improving our analytical skills. Writing is an art of back and forth inspiration, invention and practice. We are always told “reading is transitional,” and this is true when viewing any piece of art with a critical eye. Together, you and the art are sharing something, doing a group project on meaning and learning.

Walking into the Art Fair, I was met by immediate sensory overload, but upon walking down all the narrow alleyways of varyingly lit creations and filled canvases, I was lost –in a non negative connotational way. I’d wandered into the thoughts and feelings of strangers, doubly intensified by the knowledge that these pieces were considered “the best of the best;” and within that, I found freedom. It was a comparison of size, and I knew that my opinion really only mattered to me. So I could truly think anything I wanted about the art. 

This mindset did not immediately turn everything negative. On the contrary, the worth of the art was placed not in monetary terms, but in my own experiences, more wonder filled and less filtered by superimposed “greatness”. I would look at a piece, notice whatever thoughts or feelings immediately popped up, and let them free flow until I felt ready to move on. If a piece caught my eye, I would ask myself “How come?” and look over the details until I could name it, or, in some cases, couldn’t.

Two hours passed, and the only ones who noticed were my feet, slowly getting worn out by the constant pacing. An admittedly obsessive compulsive part of my brain felt incomplete without seeing every single piece on display, but I also attribute this to me genuinely enjoying being surrounded and overwhelmed by art. After getting picked up from the event, and for the remainder of that day, I would look out the window and think “What an interesting composition” or wonder “What’s the symbolism behind that topiary?”, still trying to analyze the juxtaposition of Victorian and ultra-modern houses separated by maybe a few inches of space, and what that was supposed to mean.

Playwriting by Gabriel Flores Benard

With the end of February came the beginning of March, and with March came the new Creative Writing unit: playwriting. I had only known snippets of the playwriting unit from what others had said. I knew we were fated to write and act out our own plays, which both excited and scared me. The first day was memorable, setting the tone for the unit to come. As we pulled out our notebooks, our instructor delivered our prompt: 

For five minutes, write a list of all your obsessions! This is a free write, and you will not be sharing this part, so don’t be afraid to write out all of them. 

I wrote out what could have been an encyclopedic testament to all the things I loved. After the five minutes had concluded, the following prompt ensued: 

Alright everyone, now what I want you to do is imagine your childhood. What are the first things that come to mind when you think of childhood? What colors? 

Standard prompts, nothing out of the ordinary. Then, the next prompt shook things up a bit: 

Think about your childhood again. Who is the first person that comes to mind? Write thirty“I-” statements from their point of view.

I did not expect this prompt, and I didn’t expect the first thing to come to mind was my best friend back in elementary school. I hadn’t thought about him in a while, and all of a sudden, a flash flood of fond memories rushed at me. I jotted down what I remembered of him, and recalled all the things we did together. It was a solid five minutes of nostalgia that enticed me. Then came the playwriting activity the prompts were building up to: 

Alright, what I want you all to do is to look at the statements you wrote, and I want you to write a scene using three of the chosen lines. 

In 20 minutes, I wrote a play about my childhood friend, and got two of my close friends to act it out. Now THAT was fun. I delved into the mind of my old friend and created a world from that mindset. That was a taste of what it was like to write plays, and it was tantalizing. That scene wasn’t perfect by any means, but I left the class that day feeling content. I wanted to learn how to be better at writing a play. I volunteered in class whenever I could to act out characters from plays we had read the previous day. To become another character is an exciting experience, and a valuable tool in writing. To embrace your characters, you have to understand them, and I believe acting them out is a great way to understand your characters. I’m excited to see how my playwriting skills develop throughout the unit, and I can’t wait to see what I write into existence, and what I bring to life.

Black History Month inspired Lessons by Pascal Lockwood-Villa

Starting this week, we students at Ruth Asawa School Of The Arts Creative Writing department are currently working on a two-week project on African American female authors, specifically Jeysmn Ward (Sing, Unchained, Sing) and Amanda Gorman (Call Us What We Carry). In this project, we are analyzing the works of both of these women, while also carrying out critiques and writing prompts inspired by their pieces of art. While we are only halfway through the unit, I found it appropriate to talk about some of my favorite learning opportunities which I have gleaned from these lessons. 

For starters, thanks to this unit, I got the opportunity to write erasure poems and shape poems—both of which I had never gotten the chance to experience before—and I found that these forms of writing poetry to be extremely refreshing, challenging and exciting! In addition, learning from the works of Ward and Gorman allowed me to witness the importance of their words and absorb their styles and elements into my own—further strengthening my skills. The messages behind each piece by these authors can connect to a myriad of other interpretations, but their choices of diction, tone, and theme allows their stories and ideas to be shared within the text of the page. In turn, the authors serve as conduits of sorts, internalizing the storied pasts and interweaving histories of race, culture and soul, presenting them not in separation, but as a small chunk of a larger narrative. The reason why I am so excited to participate in this unit is because, as a person of color myself, it is always satisfying to see other historically put-down people from any and all cultures or walks of life share their story. It has been a long time coming, frankly. As I relish in the memories of the prior lessons, I am hungry for more to learn, experience, and witness in my time here at SOTA.

Pre-Show Anxiety by Esther Barad Thompson

Last week was our once a year, poetry (and also skit) performance. I, a sophomore went second. This year, although my second year at SOTA, was my first year doing this specific performance. I had performed once before, maybe in front of around 40 people, but this was so much more. Hundreds of people, all listening to me, watching me, all eyes on me. And even though this was my first actual performance, I went second. I’ve never thought of myself as a good performer. I stutter from time to time, I don’t know what to do with my hands, I tell people I don’t get nervous when in fact, I’m just really really good at convincing people that I’m not nervous. So when I heard my name second while a student read the list of names in order, I truly wondered: who in their right mind would choose me to go second?! 

We were all sitting in a row of chairs behind the dark blue velvet curtain that hid us from the audience. I could feel the ground rumble, not knowing if I was making it up in my mind or the person next to me was anxiously bouncing their knee up and down. A bag full of perfectly ripe grapes sat beside me, and on the other side, a friend of mine. The lights had dimmed already, we could hear the chatter of voices and laughter only 50 feet in front of us. My friend and I had learned from a text message from their mom that “lightly bouncing up and down while holding hands helped your nerves.” Although I didn’t really believe this text message, I decided that my nerves truly needed to be saved, so I held hands with them, and we bounced. I had told everyone that I wasn’t nervous, I had almost convinced myself, but as the lights dimmed, and the sound of hundreds of people grew, my convincing just wasn’t enough. The jumping up and down had caught the attention of a senior and a freshman, and they asked to join. Soon, it was five people holding hands, quietly laughing, and jumping up and down (lightly.) I realized as I was jumping how lucky I was. I was around people who loved me, and that I loved as well. The theatre was full of nervous teenagers, but it was also full of love. 

You are going to do so great. They are going to love you. I’m so proud of you. You are amazing and this is going to be so. much. fun. Was all that I could hear now. Not hands trembling, or knees bumping. I wasn’t sure if the bouncing had truly helped, or I was just surrounded with so much excitement and joy that it had consumed and replaced the anxiety. I realized as I was sitting behind the curtain that everyone sitting in those chairs in front of me wanted to be here. They were here to enjoy us, to listen. My friends and family were there to support me and I could feel it. Nobody sitting out there was there because they didn’t like me, but I had convinced myself that something was going to go wrong. So what if I had stuttered, or was actually nervous! They wouldn’t care, they were here to see me, not some perfect, faultless person. As the crowd cheered, watching the first performer walk off the stage, I confidently walked my way to the middle of the stage. I wasn’t nervous. If I had my mask off, people would have seen it. I couldn’t have been smiling more, this weird, yet pure adrenaline-fueled- joy. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so uncontrollably. I don’t remember reading my poem, just the fact that when I walked off that stage, I was sure that It didn’t matter if I had messed up, I was still smiling, and happy.

The Week of Organized Chaos by Celeste Alisse

In Creative Writing, whenever we have a week to focus on our work, it generally means our Department Requirements are due soon. At this point, it’s common knowledge and once the words “Break at 3:00” are out in the open, we all know to get out our computers and start writing. 

The comfort of these weeks are unlike any other “rest weeks” I’ve had. Sitting in small circles on the rug or around school with all my best friends is entirely calming and revives my energy at the end of each day. It’s always a week full of plentiful laughs and bathroom breaks, before the work begins once more. The room will go silent as everyone delves into their respectable work, keyboards clacking just as loudly as mine is now. The soft, dilated breaths of everyone in the room, pulsating in and out of each individual’s throats synchronously.

One of the department requirements, Lit Crits, are my achilles heel; they are my weakness in all of Creative Writing, making these weeks extremely important to me. Lit Crits are essays based on the literary devices found within a poem, and using these literary devices we form our thesis. The jumbled up nonsense in my head will display itself on the page in clumped, uneven proportions I don’t seem to know how to organize; yet this past week I delved deeper into my analysis of my chosen poem and forced myself to sit at my seat until I wrote what I wanted to say. I ended up getting the best score I’ve ever gotten on a Lit Crit in my life, and I felt so accomplished when I saw my grade!

Below is a poem I wrote midway through the week, when I had started feeling more confident as well as improved in my writing. I attempted to capture the joy I had achieved in that week in this poem, to convey to all how joyful this feeling of self pride is.

Organized Chaos of Me

A faucet of words spills from my mouth, 

that I try to chew back up-

but the wild energy in my head demands attention-

so it calls to the crowd.

Waiting for it’s chance to spew itself into my thesis-

waiting for it’s chance to prove its nonsense can make sense.

It does.

Rankings of low are what seem to suit me best-

when it comes to my writing.

No hopes of higher grades excite me,

for there is no hope of them. 

Only now,

the mish-mash from within has mashed everything into the right place,

and the chaos I contain is organized into sections,

ready to pummel each word into its own category.

There is dedication and confusion,

passion and hate,

energy that’s drained-

And organized chaos within me.

This poem, just like my Lit Crits, still must obtain a lot of work to attain “excellence,” yet it conveys my excitement and how proud I was of myself in that moment. A feeling I hope to achieve more often throughout the “rest weeks” to come.

Fact in my Fiction, and Fantasy in Reality By Emilie Mayer

This -January 3rd, 2022- marks the first week of Creative Writing 2’s creative nonfiction unit. Going into this unit, I felt a sort of reserved hesitancy. I started writing stories during my recesses in elementary school because the playground noises felt dangerous. I built myself fortresses out of fiction, writing multiple-part stories in which a young, dazzlingly beautiful, charismatically brave girl makes friends with the world and wins the affections of all. 

In a nonfiction piece, that little girl would be best friends with her teacher. In a nonfiction piece, a teenage writer would spend more time at home or at her minimum wage job than seeing any great expanse. I don’t write nonfiction, not because I don’t respect the craft of it, but because I worry that my life might be too boring. 

In a fiction piece or even in poetry, I can translate my emotions into scenarios removed from myself. Exhaustion becomes applicable to a knight burdened by duty rather than a student and writer struggling through deadlines and AP classes. In poetry, I can write floral declarations of sentiment and take comfort that their surrealism distracts from my genuine experiences.  

All this to say, I had my first non-fiction deadline this weekend and had no idea what to write about. I wouldn’t call my life eventful, and as a person in general, I have issues with sharing. In order to begin the process of my looming piece, I sat by my computer and typed. And type. And typed. And forty-five minutes later, I had a semi-coherent essay about my fear of greater emotions. From that essay of about three pages, I selected one scene -about a paragraph long- to become the foundation for my new piece. 

I am still in the midst of a complicated relationship with nonfiction, but what I have decided after an arduous weekend of writing is: nonfiction, or at least for now, does not have to be lofty. My piece is about a fifth grade trip to a planetarium– rather than my inability to love. If I start with small instances, the greater thematics of my life will reveal themselves as subtext. 

My life in its entirety does not have to be interesting. I just need to find small instances, moments, breathes in between larger structures to build a narrative about myself. 

A Whole New World, and in the Worst Way Possible by Jesper Werkhoven

Hot off of a mind-numbing disaster, the class of 2024 has been thrust into High School life a year too late. I’m sure everyone else is taking it just fine, but it’s always a struggle for me. Everything’s always a struggle. But that’s what makes the payoff so great. It wouldn’t have hurt for the pandemic to interrupt my Sophomore and Junior years, though. 

Getting reacquainted with school has been more enjoyable than I thought it would be, actually. It never occurred how integral being in-person was, and how much more enjoyable Creative Writing is because of it. It’s definitely something to ponder on. Although, now that the pandemic is in the past, I can’t help but long for it again. I wish I could go back to a lot of things, mostly things I’m either worried I’ll never get back or just straight up won’t. 7th and 8th Grade Halloween, going around my friend’s neighborhood with a group of my closest, Mr. Sanchez’s amazing 8th Grade U.S. History class… a lot of things from Middle School. Appropriate, seeing as I never really got to say goodbye. I would hardly count an online graduation as fitting. I still need to go back there when I have the time.

High School itself, while better than I thought it was, has had it’s lows too. Being cooped up inside all day, and especially back when the pandemic seemed very literally endless, left me with nowhere to go besides inside my own head. It’s created a complicated me; I feel like I have the greatest understanding of myself I could possibly have right now, being able to more or less describe my current flawed ways of life with pretty succinct explanations. I’ve become a lot more observant, often picking up on or predicting friend group-related events before they happen. My favorite and last gained trait has got to be my memory; it’s a fickle thing for everyone, and I hear that memory gets pretty warped over time (believe me, it does; I’ve seen it firsthand, but I like to think mine is less so), but I remember a lot more than any of my friends do. To the point where I remember and thus know more about my friends than they know about themselves sometimes, which is, to say the least, pretty disconnecting. So much has changed over the pandemic, including them, that I have no idea what to do. I feel like I’ve stayed exactly the same, and while they’ve made complete 180’s in some aspects, I remember many times earlier this year when they were what I’ve thought was their ‘normal’ selves. It certainly hasn’t been fun to deal with that, and more, but I’ve got my Creative Writing family to be with while I sort that out.

Whenever I think I’ve got it down to a science, the flask explodes in my face and I have to build it all over again. School life has been tough on me for the past few years, and the pandemic hit just when I thought I was crawling out of it. Now, though, I think a change is going to happen. It has to happen, at least. Finally getting up and sorting things out. It feels nice.