Saying “Bye” to Performance Fears by Starlie Tugade

How many people can say they’ve written a play, or been in an intensive class taught by a playwright from New York? I’m sure there are some people out there, but not the majority of the population. A couple of months ago, I couldn’t either. In Creative Writing, we have a playwriting unit every spring, taught by an artist in residence. As a freshman (or freshpeep as Heather likes to call us), I’m fully immersed in my first playwriting unit, and I can easily say that it is one of the most fun things about Creative Writing, but it is also one of the scariest.

A few weeks ago, Ella, our playwright in residence, assigned us drag performance as a character in the play we were reading. We had a week to choose the song we were lip syncing to and choreograph, before performing in class on Friday. This assignment was somewhat of a wake-up call to me, because before, I had naively assumed that as writers, we would have to perform our own work, but not put on “Performances” with a capital P. However, being an introvert wasn’t enough to deter me from performing, and so I came up with a song and started thinking about different ways to choreograph my performance. I enjoyed coming up with different ways to act out my character alongside the song, and the night before, I put on a performance for my family, in hopes that my stage fright would disappear. That worked for the most part, but in the hours preceding the performance, my nerves were still present. 

One of the things that I love most about Creative Writing is how supportive the environment is, because everyone is ready to support and lift up one another. The nerves I had faded the minute I watched the first performance and felt the energy all the Creative Writers radiated. We were all here to enjoy an afternoon of fun and bravery to make a fool of ourselves in front of each other. When I got up on stage, my nerves were gone, and I performed better than I even imagined I would. Afterwards I was riding on a high, and I’m never going to forget the love that the community gave me as I stepped past my comfort zone.

My Senior Thesis by Parker Burrows

When I first learned about the senior thesis project all the way back in my freshman year, I was terrified. I couldn’t fathom the scale of the project, that every senior in the department would have to showcase their mastery of writing by producing a book’s worth of work. It was too much for me to even think about as a freshman. 

Now, as a senior who is less than a month away from the final thesis deadline with almost a full final draft completed, the project still hardly feels real, but for different reasons. Throughout my life, I’ve had a habit of picking up long-term projects and dropping them soon after, whether it’s a lengthy book, a video game, or learning a complicated skill. I had formed an idea about myself that I wasn’t someone who was good at committing to projects, and this thesis has amazingly shattered that idea. Looking back at all the work I’ve completed, it’s hard to believe the hours I’ve consistently put into creating these poems that I’m so proud of. I found myself canceling plans to spend time writing and editing work. I’ve brought my notebook everywhere just to scribble down new ideas for improving my thesis whenever I can. This thesis is a document of what I’ve learned from my time in Creative Writing just as much as it’s a monument proving that I am capable of committing to something I am passionate about. 

My Three Tones and The Voice of a Writer by Jesper Werkhoven

A creative voice is something especially unique. It’s why not everyone is in Creative Writing, and it’s how we flaunt our writerly blood over the creatures in Theater, among others. Everyone has their style; just within the Sophomore class, we have a writer who scribes poetry based off of ever-complex familial connection, a writer who infuses the medium with taboos that most wouldn’t touch in order to fully express both themselves and their identity, a writer who crafts mystifying and beautiful mental landscapes, a writer who orates both generally-historical and culturally historical works with conviction, a writer who can birth something vastly interesting from the purest mundanities, and last but not least, a writer who is me! Whether it’s a fantastical battle between a guy and twelve elder gods, or a disastrous future where a slightly better trained guy fights bug-people under the payroll of platypus-people that juice people-people into smoothies for fuel, I’ll write about it as long as it has nothing to do with anything real.

We all have our voices. Burgeoning ones, at least, ready to sprout into something truly unique! However, despite these descriptions, the voice is never one thing. It’s a style, yes, but it’s more like a preference than something concrete. I had to use my most likely limited knowledge of my fellow Sophomores to describe them, and I do not feel like I have done their voices justice. That’s what’s so beautiful about them! What I’ve found most interesting about my personal voice is how it changes, not from piece to piece, but from form to form. Creative Writing 1 tackles Poetry first, then Fiction, then Playwriting, and I’m sure my preference for fiction writing is known far and wide by now. But, unfortunately, I can’t write only fiction all the time, and discovering my voice in the other genres has been highly interesting.

In poetry, mystique and vagueness is king. Not to an absurd, caricaturing level, but generally a sprinkling of subtlety helps rather than hurts. I love to take a more fictional approach, too, describing burdened knights wandering an infinite abyss rather than some dude doing something infinitely less interesting but endlessly more “real.” Poetry’s simple, bite-sized snap writing is refreshing to bite into every now and then, considering my fiction writing generally requires a lot of self-imposed preparation for worldbuilding’s sake (it’s really fun). I even throw in a game reference in the title for fun.

Then with playwriting, I’ve found that I enjoy a comedic approach first and foremost. Back at the very beginning of the 2022 unit, I came up with the idea that would become When a Man Has Nothing, He Will Have R/Atheism, my main piece for the unit. It follows caricatures of an intense debate; religion versus atheism. Is God real, or is he not? Personally, I’m atheist, but zealots are some of my favorite characters. Religious language is very appealing, both phonetically and connotationally. On the other end, the inclusion of very specifically r/atheism in the atheist caricature helped a lot on the comedy side. Their names were chosen accordingly as well; Penrod Weevil not being the best name to take seriously, and Crozarias being a bit over-the-top. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed writing in a grounded setting; not a single elder god, despite a brief hint at Crozarias’s cult that I forgot to develop, or enormous space fleet. Just too crazies arguing with each other… until I revised it, and, with the nudging of the instructor to include an event that they could reacting, put them smack-dab in the middle of a nuclear war, made Crozarias the cause of said war, and then made him and Weevil have an epic duel where they both died at the end. I’m incredibly proud of what it became, and sorely disappointed it was not chosen (a mistake was made). My next one will be a court drama, and the murderer will be called Crawzunga.

Bite-sized, insightful fiction, comedy, and jumbo-sized, less insightful fiction; three tones that make up my personal writing voice. Witnessing and writing about my own creative voice is a lot more enjoyable than hearing my actual voice, and I am beyond excited to grow it into something even more entertaining!

Blink and You’ll Miss It by Gemma Collins

SOTA has an infestation. I came to this conclusion as I was trying to pay attention in class. Everyone knows it’s important to listen to your teachers and follow directions (Duh). In creative writing, it is instilled in us both to always put forth one-thousand percent of effort, and also, that we are constantly thinking from the perspective of a writer; processing everything we see with a macular lens. Since my freshman year, I have learned to take everything I see as the beginning of something. Even if I don’t act on it, there’s a story possible. I write poems, stories, and even plays based on what I come up with from things I’ve seen. This may be partly because of my personal approach, however, creative writing has taught me skills that are applied in many other areas. One of these being a willingness to run with an idea no matter how wild to see what might come of it. Much of the time, I don’t use what I start, but it’s helpful to have a plethora of ideas at my disposal every time we get an assignment and it feels impossible to think of something within the confines of deadlines. (A masterpiece cannot be rushed!) This leads me to how attentiveness in everyday life provides copious ideas for every time I get exhausted from writing about trees, rain, the sound of rain, trees rustling, perhaps a blade of grass—Back to the infestation. As I was diligently paying attention in class the other day, I noticed a blurry black speck in my periphery. I glanced over to see a small (but not so much that it didn’t warrant at least some drama) spider making its way along the edge of the table. It was tiny but had quite thick legs. So I scooched as far away from it as possible and went on with paying attention (although mildly disturbed). This minor incident was furthered by the sighting of a mouse (A MOUSE!) in the hallway. After hours, the furry thing dashed along a row of lockers and ducked into some crevice where who-knows-what-else lives. So essentially, I am saying that if I had a creative writing assignment due the first thing tomorrow, I could do it. You’ll never get stuck when you utilize what you saw on the sidewalk yesterday (plus a bit of imagination) to create something bigger than a splotch of dried-out gum. Getting pooped on by a bird is only bad if you don’t make something out of it.

Play-Right, Play-Wrong by Raquel Silberman

When I was little, I would watch Little Miss Sunshine on repeat. Once a week for a year. This week I watched my own play performed at least twenty times. But the difference is, Little Miss Sunshine never got old and I never doubted if it was a good movie or not. We call ourselves critics when it comes to others, but I have wanted more to curl up in a ball when faced with my own work than I ever questioned the quality of Little Miss Sunshine. This is why I have become fond of the term “self critic,” it is a nicer way of saying we hate ourselves. Our seven week playwriting unit has made me realize something similar: sometimes we need to be embarrassed. 

During our unit, we wrote ten page plays to the prompt of revulsion. The entire week we rehearsed my play, I couldn’t stop worrying that people were going to hate it. I knew people would think I was gross. When the performance day came, I watched everyone’s plays in the audience. My play then came on, I was barely watching it. Instead I was looking at the audience to see what they thought. The lights went out and the audience applauded. I heard someone behind me say: “that was so weird.” What surprised me more than the fact that I hadn’t curled into a ball when my play started was that I didn’t break into tears or feel embarrassed after I heard that, I smiled, because it was weird. Playwriting is a weird process and an even weirder outcome, my weird outcome is that I never would’ve written what I wrote if I didn’t accept that it would make me feel embarrassed. I’ve also noticed that plenty of plays have at least one weird thing about them, depending on what your portrayal of “weird” is. So, today I’m going to watch Little Miss Sunshine again for the first time in years and accept that it was a little weird too.

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.