Sending Love to the Virtual Holiday Show by Paloma Fernandez

In this unconventional year, the arts have been forced to make many adjustments. The SOTA community is no different. Every year all the departments come together to create a Holiday Show. I myself have never been apart of the traditional Holiday Show, yet, this year I was put in charge of leading a small group of Creative Writers in creating a play, and putting on a staged zoom reading to submit. 

I can only assume that the creation of this show is much more enjoyable in person than online. At times it was proven frustrating. At first, the nine of us attempted to write together, but we got extremely little done during this time. We would get distracted easily, and then I would get distracted while trying to get everyone back on track. So, in our two days working as a whole group, we were only able to produce an idea and a single page of writing. At this point, we decided to split into groups of two or three, and each group would write a couple of pages before passing the baton to for the next group to take over. With this system, we ended getting the play done in a week rather than the year I assume it would have taken if we were to continue as a whole group. Then came the time to do a staged reading of the finished product, but it was much more difficult to get six people on zoom at the same time that I thought. 

I know for a fact that I missed out on the playful whole group atmosphere there is most years. I know that at times it was more stressful than fun. But, I am still glad I did it. In the end, we produced a piece titled “Medieval Matriarchal Merriment,” and it follows five medieval women during a white elephant gift exchange, and it is everything but traditional. I will not say much more because it will be online soon enough, and you can go see its glory for yourself. In the end, I would just like to say, thank you to everyone who worked on this project with me, I love you all endlessly. 

Link to the Holiday Show: https://sites.google.com/sfusd.edu/asawa-sota-wintershowcase2020/home 

Paloma Fernandez (Class of ’22)

CW2 Final Poetry Project by Otto Handler

In Creative Writing Two, we finish off each unit with a larger project. Due to the fact that we have different fellows teaching each of these units, these projects look different every time. I am a junior and getting ready to finish off my first poetry unit in Creative Writing Two. The project that our current poetry fellow, Angie Sijun Lou, introduced was a call for seven poems, most of which we had already been working on over the course of the unit, plus an artist statement, a short artist biography, and an introduction to your work written by another student in the class. This all may seem like a lot, but I planned out my timing well enough and it worked out fine. 

When I started the poetry unit back in early October, I was purposefully trying to write my poems in a singular voice so that the collection would be unified. I had recently immersed myself in the work of Raymond Chandler, and my poetry is inspired by his short and precise images. Chandler was an American writer best known for his mystery stories, including The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.  His characters are lonely and sharp-tongued, and the world they live in is dark and desperate.  My poems’ speakers feel like the similar people, the way many of Chandler’s stories feature the same famous detective, Philip Marlowe. My poems talk about isolation and being stuck in one’s own thoughts–I was, without meaning to, writing about the pandemic. 

My poetry has taken on a new tone throughout this unit, either because of the current turmoil going on in the world, or just because I felt like I needed a change from the work I was producing before the pandemic started. Whichever was the case, I feel as though this change was an improvement and a sign that I had grown as a poet since Freshmen year.

Otto Handler (Class of ’22)

Poetry Helps Re-Write the Pandemic by Hazel Fry

My cursor glides over monotonous grey squares, each marked like a tombstone commemorating a missing face with a name my tongue never had to learn to pronounce, names the memory compartment of my brain has never registered with a face. I click the irritating red button at the bottom right of my screen. “Leave meeting.” Then a more prominent “leave meeting” button appears, as if Zoom doesn’t understand that the so-called class is over and I am ready to leave. I click it.

I click it every morning at 9:55, again at 10:55, and again at 11:55. Then I click “leave meeting” at 2 pm, and some days at 12:44. I was eager for high school, the dramatic wonderland almost every teenage movie is about. Eager to be the awkward new kid who makes unlikely friends, who trips and drops my books in front of my crush’s locker, and breaks into song un-ironically like they do in the movies. I was eager to sit in the Creative Writing classroom and be able to bump knees with whoever was sitting next to me. I was more than ready to leave behind the friendship “cliques” in middle school. But high school so far has been me sitting alone in my room surrounded only by computer “clicks.” My dad comes home late afternoon from a job where people can’t mute themselves when they’re bored of talking to him, or vanish into a grey square when they realize there’s food on their lip. I’m jealous of the luxury of conversations. 

Creative Writing is the only environment where I am able to have full conversations without random mid-sentence-muting. The community is close knit, and Heather leaves room for the freshman to get to know the people in the rest of the department. Being surrounded by all these incredible writers that I am envious of, has motivated me to write more and explore my creativity. Phrases I hear, insignificant interactions, one footed pigeons on the sidewalk, poetry I read, and major events in my life inspire me to write. One would think that the person deeply inspired by one footed pigeons must feel inspiration to write about the pandemic. One would be wrong. Starting my freshman year of high school sitting on the wooden kitchen chair that I moved into my room, in my house, is beginning to feel more real than I would like it to. The day ending by closing the Zoom tab on my computer, and clicking on the “Google Classroom” tab to begin homework from the same neck straining position I’ve sat in all day is beginning to feel more real than I would like it to. The simple, usual notion of my parents asking “How was school today?” sending me into tears every time is beginning to feel more real than I would like it to. 

Writing poetry allows me to escape into the unreal. Poetry is much too beautiful an art to be insulted with my worry that my family will get sick every time they leave the apartment, and my fear that I could kill my own grandparents by laughing with them, by hugging them. So, when I write, the pandemic feels like a short story I began but didn’t like and decided to rewrite.

Hazel Fry (Class of ’24)

Poetry With Angie Sijun Lou by Zai Deriu

Our first Creative Writing 2 unit of the year has come to a close. In Creative Writing, we are either taught in one large class with all four grades, or split in two, with freshmen and sophomores in CW1, and juniors and seniors in CW2. This is the first year for my grade, the class of ’22, to be a part of Creative Writing 2. Rather than being taught by Heather, our lovely department head, we are taught by fellows artists. In normal classes, this would typically mean working in the annex of the CW room, but now, it means a separate zoom meeting.

This past unit was poetry, taught by Angie Sijun Lou. Despite all the current difficulties of maintaining a successful class online, Angie has been a wonderful teacher for these past seven weeks. We would typically read a few pieces of poetry, discuss them, and then spend the rest of our time on a writing exercise. Other days, we would workshop each other’s poetry, offering compliments and criticism. By the end of her unit, I feel sad to see Angie go. Being stuck at home and doing school online makes it difficult to feel motivated, and without leaving the house, it is easy to feel as though the days mush into one another. The structure of CW during Angie’s unit helped remedy that for me. 

Being taught in a small group with the class of ’21 again for the first time since my freshman year feels quite nice. With the smaller group, class feels more intimate and community-based. I feel close with my own grade, and I think we and the class of ’21 work well together. Moreover, after two years of being taught by Heather in CW1, it’s nice to feel as though I have graduated to my next stage of writing, so to speak. Still, I am excited to go back into the larger group in the coming week and help CW1 with their poetry workshops.

Zai Deriu (Class of ’22)

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)