Talking About Reading by Colin Yap

As a kid, I harbored a secret belief that the way I read was much, much different than the way anybody else read. It wasn’t driven by a superiority complex—I just didn’t understand why people talked about books the way they did. Admittedly, I had no better solution for the problem of how stories should be discussed. I adopted the personal policy that talking about stories ruins them, and that was it for me. Nobody had the right to muck up the pipeline between the individual writer and the individual reader.

Growing as both a writer and reader in the Creative Writing Department has forced me to confront this prejudice. The principal exercise of the department is deconstruction: the dismantling and analysis of the working parts of poems, stories, and plays. No sentence is left untouched, and no theme unnoticed in our discussions. While for most of my young life I thought of this act as poisonous, I’ve come to realize the value in a shared understanding. The more I talk about words and stories, the more I understand them, in a way that is wonderfully separate from myself. There was no big event that spurred this change, just a gradual willingness to step outside of my singular interpretation, and appreciate the hundreds of different ways a piece could be read. In this way, I began to understand the miracle of the word “I,” in fiction and in life, with its innumerable owners.

Being a part of Creative Writing means being a part of a community that values the intentionality of words above all else. It means being a part of a group of people who cares about writers: about Eliot, Hemingway, Murakami. But most of all, we care about each other, and the work each of us is producing. We critique and compliment and push one another. I think my younger self underestimated the idea of conversation surrounding stories. I maintain the belief that I read and write in a much different way than everybody else. However, it’s not a phenomenon that’s exclusive to me. For all of my high school years, I’ve been able to surround myself with people who love words as much I do. They’ve shown me how much I love to debate, to talk endlessly about stories, and made me a believer in a community of lovers of language. 

Colin Yap, class of 2016

Creative Writing Shows by Colin Yap

This week Creative Writing will put on our first show of the school year on the mainstage of SOTA: It’s Personal. It will be the very first show for ten of the twenty-six C-Dubs, an inaugural night. For the first time they will walk silently up to the microphone, adjust it to their height as the stage lights strand them on an island of brightness in a dark room, and read aloud the words that are theirs, solely theirs, as their heads fill with the sound of rapid heartbeats. For me and my seniors, however, this is the beginning of the end. The inevitability of a last show, the last time we take the stage at SOTA, is fast approaching.

Three years of doing shows, of presenting myself and my work in an intensely individual way, has changed the way I think about my work. For most of us, I think the shows begin as a non-voluntary activity. We don’t fight it, but we don’t see the presentation as ideal. When I began thinking seriously about writing, and the necessary narcissism of wanting to be listened to, I imagined my presentation a little differently. My ideal was quiet and reserved, my words appearing between the covers of a book, the only personal identification the postage-stamp sized picture of me on the inside of the dust cover. It was to be perfect in its impersonality, and the intimacy would come from the words themselves, and their own weight.

My first CW show was 2012’s The Nature of Offense, where I read a long, prosaic poem about Chinatown, what I then considered my crown jewel. I was a bit delusional about this, of course, but it was one of the only pieces I had written until that moment that felt original, a unique response to the world. I was convinced in that period that my work was supposed to be journalistic and artistic; that “my art” was supposed to be about meeting my words to reality.

The poem was about four bodies, three of them walking, talking, and moving adjacent to me in a lane in Chinatown. I was the fourth body in the lane, leaning quietly against the wall. In retrospect, the piece suffered a bit from a lack of imagination; I wrote down what I noticed, rendered it as poetically as I could, and I thought it turned out pretty darn good. My senses had not failed me; I had taken in the world, and turned it into lines and phrases.

When the time came to read aloud, however, I was hesitant. I was nervous about going on stage and not being understood. It wasn’t a belief in the advancement of my writing but a fear that, out loud, released into the world, the writing would have no effect and no meaning. Nobody would be able to make it come alive in their own heads when it was just left out like that.

I did what I had to do. I practiced, and mastered my enunciation. I practiced and practiced more. Nervousness gradually faded in the face of relentless repetition. I made the words permanent in my mind. By some miracle, when I went out on stage, in a crooked tie and a beanie, I didn’t speed up or trip on words. I let them into the physical world, one phrase at a time, then left the stage. And I felt really good. (The applause and support and Heather’s constantly enthusiastic, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” at the end of every piece helped that, admittedly.)

The argument I’ve come to is that it’s not about the cliche of “making words come alive.” The words are alive already, and exist alive on the page. The importance of presentation comes with the fact that it takes the whole body. The voice of the reader has to be right; the tone, the rhythm and speed too; even the posture, and especially the eyes. It requires the stance to be steady and the projection to be confident. But when it’s done right, it resonates in the crowd. The audience responds to the concrete realness of the words in front of them, to the body and mind of the writer in harmony.

In a way, it comes full circle. The writer receives the world, in sounds and sight, and transforms it, makes it beautiful, or maintains its beauty, or appreciates its reality; then, the writer become a sound and a sight to receive, a new phenomena of the physical world.

Colin Yap, class of 2016

Revision by Colin Yap


I’ve been writing, in the serious sense of the word, for the past four years of my life, and to this day I don’t think I’ve fully embraced the editing process. Writing is instinctual and the end product is always raw, but as long as a piece of work feels substantial to me, even in its infancy, I am satisfied. Editing is not nearly as easy. Editing is supposed to be a radical reshaping of structure, a thorough examination of the content of a story or poem, with a number of inputs, from advisors, peers, and from myself, about what shifts in the words must take place for the writing to hit as hard as possible. The theme of editing for my work is usually, “trim the fat, embrace the substance.” Basically, understand where the story is, and don’t mess around with anything else.

My fellow seniors and I are in the first trimester of the writing of our theses. The summer was a gestating period: we gained a sense of what we wanted to write, and how we wanted to write it, and we had the vacation months to try to formulate the first 20 pages. It was a necessary first step, with a tangible deadline, and I don’t think it was especially challenging for any of us to get to 20. The fact that I am slowly getting used to, however, is that very few of those pages are really going to make it into my thesis.

In the thesis writing process, I have been transitioning from an identification as a fiction writer to that of a nonfiction writer. In any story, though, editing is tricky. It has always been a bit of an awkward process for me. After a serious assessment of my work, and with lots of feedback from others, I sit down and try to slim down the piece. But there is always some difficulty, and it comes from a fundamental discomfort with what I fear is a destruction of what is original and unique.

The original writing, the rough first draft, is destroyed in the process of revising. This idea, even if its not true, is present in the way the editing feels; it does not feel necessarily right to destroy the order of words and sentences as they originally came. I know that this is a selfish instinct, but it exists in my mind in some form every time I contemplate the red ink. I still have to edit; it’s a writer’s business to edit towards some idea of completion. So I fix spelling errors and shoddy sentences. I haphazardly delete sections I know are lacking. And then after about a half-an-hour, I usually call it quits.

I only write this because I am going through the process of revising a few pieces I want to go in my thesis and it’s hard. I know I have to keep writing. I have to keep thinking about what each piece is going to say, and what the thesis will say as a whole, is going to say. But I know that, as the process of producing a book-length body of work that is presentable and interesting, I am going to have to embrace the editing process.

Editing feels like destruction, and as much as I am sold on the ideal of enhancement, it’s just how it feels. It also feels necessary: first drafts are messy and incomplete. What I think I must do, as hard as it may be, is see the destruction in a positive light. To write draft after draft, to experiment—overlay different versions over one another. The visual metaphor I’ve though of is this: it’s like looking at maps of San Francisco throughout history, seeing where buildings were before tumbling, where the land was filled in, where dry surface that became neighborhoods. Hopefully, in the final draft, the piece will be able to pick and choose which surfaces and textures it wants from all the maps before it.

Or at least that is what I tell myself. Even in writing this, I avoid the procedure of returning to the work. I have a sense, though, that I have ideas I can work with and ideals I want to reach in the interplay of destruction and preservation. Hopefully, I will have an update in a few weeks.

Colin Yap, Class of 2016


[DR]: 11/8

by Colin Yap (’16)

Let me set the scene for you:

Friday, 1:10. We, the students, are inhabiting the minutes after lunch but before class truly starts. It is just the freshmen and sophomores; the CW2 class has vacated the classroom. We sit at the ready, making quiet conversation, waiting and wondering about the class that lies ahead. What are we going to do today, I wonder. . .

Heather calls for our attention. We turn in our poems, the final drafts of the sound poems we have been working on for a while. Heather speaks: “so, going off your instruction from yesterday, and upon learning your weariness and lack of energy, I have decided to dedicate this time to sleeping.”

There is immediate silence. Someone says, “wait. Really?” We all think, “wait. Really?”

Heather smiles, and says, “yes, really.” We cheer. “But we need to clean up this room first; it’s been too long since it has been dusted and scrubbed down fully.”

We get to work, dusting the book shelves and wiping down the tables, trying in futility to align them completely. We play music and dance as we do so, and it is a joyous Friday afternoon.  We spend the rest of the day relaxing, lying on the carpet and reading, even reading poetry aloud in a circle to our peers, just because.

Heather sits at her desk, quietly finishing up her work. Josie and Noa doze off next to the book shelves. Sophie reads Dylan Thomas aloud to everyone. Everyone gives themselves the due time to relax and prepare themselves for the weekend, shaking the stress of the school week off our shoulders. It is a happy and free time in Creative Writing, all thanks to Heather’s respect for the benefits of doing nothing.



by Colin Yap (’16)
From the Sarah Fontaine Unit

Picture 26

In the middle of the ocean, on a circle of land jutting from the blue haze of sea, lies an island. In the center is a city of glass and steel, resting upon fields of concrete. Vertical shafts of glass and metal extend from the ground like trees in a jungle from center of the city. When you stand from very far away, these buildings look like shiny little beacons. You can see the humans within them, standing at the edges of their little boxed-in-rooms, looking out into the distance.

The ground is covered in shards of glass that falls upon the sidewalks. The buildings rise steadily taller until they reach the center of the city, where a tall needle extends into the sky, the tallest tower in the island, reaching into the sky like a hand towards the sky and whatever heavens may lie there.

In the tallest room of this tallest tower lives a very old man. Let’s call him The Loner.

The Loner is one hundred and ten years old. He lives in the silence of solitude and spends his days staring into the grand old distance. Old distance that never seems to change, the ocean churning constantly. He sits in his wheelchair and waits for someone to arrive.

He is the oldest living human being in the world. The medical experts have forgotten about him. The Book of World Records has forgotten about him. All friends and family he has ever known and chose to love has left. He sits in his solitary tower. He can speak, but only in the gravel sounds he produces from his mouth. No one is high enough in another glass tower to meet his eye and say hello.

Once upon a time he was remembered by those who saw him. No one sees him any more, and no one remembers. He exists only in body and not in the mind of any other living person.

He is set with the unfortunate affliction of waiting. The Loner waits patiently for a knock to come upon his door. For someone to remember he is a person, that he still exists and wishes to continue to exist.

Hopefully, he has lived a short and happy enough life, and has not grown cynical. Maybe, just maybe, he still believes. Believes that love and longing is not a condition coming from not wanting to die alone, but a condition that comes from not wanting to live alone.

Surrounding the city lies the ghettos, resting on the outskirts of the city of glass. Woman lives here. She is a tall and skinny, a thirty year old with two kids crawling up her legs. She chose to have them, and she chose the men with which she had them. Woman never looked their fathers in the eye.

The children are covered in dirt and scabs and scars. They have thick brown hair and white eyes that never cease to look forward, piercing through whatever lies before them. They do not cry.

The houses in the ghettos are made of thick adobe bricks stacked up, one by one, red and brown and hard. The houses are short and squat and sprawl across the land where the glass buildings start to diminish. They extend in every direction, upon and down across the plains until the sandy beach starts. In the morning the men and women who live along the beach, who have thick hair and strong arms, walk from their houses to the sand. They push their boats into the water and spend the day from sun up to sun rise in the water. The sun emerges from the water and sinks into the water. The fishermen drag their boats upon the sand and leave them in the nighttime.

Woman spends her nights weaving a long rug of gold and red and silver colors. It is for the plain rooms of her house, so that she can dress the brown floors with color.  She works as a clothes washer, and runs a Laundromat in the day time. Even the Laundromat is made of earth bricks. Few come to wash their clothes, spending so much time in the dirt.

Woman leaves her kids at the school. Once upon a time at the school a fight broke out between her son and another child. Her son, let’s call him Boy, was called an ill-bred faggot by another boy. The boy who called him that ended up with a broken jaw and two missing teeth.

When she was called into the school, Woman did not apologize, and though she did not speak to him, or encourage him to do the same, her son stood with the same distant disposition.

In an event that may or may not have been related, someone set fire to Woman’s Laundromat that night. It was noted in the police report that the child who Boy had punched in the face was the son of a man who considered himself a local thug. He found Woman’s silence unforgivable.

After the fire ended though, the building still stood. It was stained black with soot, yet still stood. Woman did not cry.

The trains run through the glass city like veins. They stop at the outskirts however. There was a man sleeping at the back of the trains. Let’s call him Man. He was sleeping at the back of the train, collapsed upon the ground, not even on any of the chairs.

He awakes to the sound of the train conductor walking up to him, “are you okay?”

“Yea. I’m fine. I’m fine.”

A light is shined in his eyes, and Man recoils, falling against the ground. In the distance are the steamy buildings and the constant hum, the high pitched squeals and motion that would continue long through the night, into the daylight.

“Alright. This is the last stop. You have to get off here. Trains have stopped running, it’s time to go. Come on, get up.”

In the distance, what Man hears is the red light. If you spent enough time among the outskirts of the glass towers, and you looked hard enough, you would find the district for prostitutes and drugs. No one is ever introduced to it; rather, on some Wednesday night, with nothing better to do but get drunk on cheap Whiskey and stagger around in your best set of work clothing, you find it, and the red light finds you.

In the musk of steam and smoke, among the bamboo doors and wooden buildings, you would find uppers and downers, snakes and loose women and loose men. The village of night is a village of alleyways and neon signs. The buildings could easily catch fire, glazed with sweat and oil, made of bamboo. In the desperation of night, you could find something, anything, something unlike the constant boredom of  night.

Yet, if he could, Man would not head out into the distant glow of the red light. He would follow the dirty paths of the ghetto, guided by the pinprick lights in the sky and the sound of ocean waves nestling into the sand. The air would be cold, and he would be tired, and his legs wouldn’t work, stumbling a little bit as they hit the ground. He would keep on going anyway.

He would walk a long time until he came to the ocean. The sun would start rising. It would be there that he would curl into a ball, lie on his side, and watch the surf foam as sunlight shined through the Eastern sea. It is there that he would lie down with the willingness to die, watching through tired eyes the sea burn up the land and him with it.

This is all if he had not, five minutes later, walked off to the red lights that would never cease to burn in the cold night. It is there that he wants to travel to, if only not to be alone once more.

It’s too late to watch the sunset

It’s 7 pm on a Sunday, one of those
hey-let’s-be-alone-days, not
particularly out of choice, but I like it anyway,
because I can do what I want, listen to what I want,
eat what I want, act as I will.
I’m hungry, going out for a bite to eat
on Taraval Street, the winter day outside
is dark except for a few lights
Breaking on the horizon.
I walk out and head down the street,
I have nowhere to be and nobody to see,
Nothing to do but travel.
I have nobody to be, out here
On these streets, the Avenues ticking by,
23rd, 24th, 25th, tick tick tick.
These streets looks like a modern Old West, tired
The tumbleweed and the gun slingers replaced by
Cars and old buses,
the heads that droop to the ground.
Like everything in San Francisco, Taraval operates on
Something almost unnoticeable to the walking feet of
Daily lives, going from
The L-Train passes by, grating roar on the tracks
26th, 27th, 28th, 29th, nothing
But bars and dry cleaners.
In mystomach and my chest
Is the Desert.
I want something to fill me up.
The 30’s pass quickly,
And there is nothing outside
Or inside the Desert.
41st, 42nd, 43rd Avenue,
The rise and fall, the barren stone buildings,
The lights are all out
44th, tick, the sun is disappearing into Ocean Beach.
I can still see the faintness of light
As I pass the dim street lamps
The 7/11 and the parking lot villages.
I crash into the ground, my feet
kicking up the light sand rocks.
On the beach,
There is no sun, setting or naked,
And around me I can see nothing but
The Ocean swaying gently
Blackness without light.
I take off my shoes and walk into the water,
cold and moving, the wet sand is
harsh on the skin of my feet, the salt water
crashes on my legs, eroding the
cracking pillars.
Out in the distance, the sun has fallen off the face of the
Disappeared. Now lost. Now gone. And the

water stretching out along the coast
Into the fleeting West.
I try to find my shoes, but I find nothing
except debris turned into sand.
The stars appear,
And, I,
I remember a diner I had been to a long while ago, a
diner by the Ocean, and I remember wanting to visit it
with my feet bare and sandy and wet,
I see the night along Taraval, the burnt out bulbs
shedding rings of light,
I listen to the Great Highway’s Silence, the cars
rumbling along every two minutes or so,
I stare as two people pass with their dogs, making sure
not to tread on the sandy road,
I look South and see a port stretching out into the
Ocean, burning with lights, orange and red and white,
trying to extend out into the great black panes of waters
I watch as the stars appear, and the star appear, and the
stars appear, until they dot the sky to the horizon,
twinkle and remain, reflected in the Ocean as pale dots
of light.
And I sit on an empty L-Train, taking me back
up the avenues, staring out the window because I don’t
want to sit alone.
–Colin Yap

class of 2016

from “The Divine Feminine

Michael Chabon

by Colin (’16)

It’s funny how even the most experienced writers are constantly bewildered by their own methods and their own creations. At the Herbst Theater, myself and a few other SOTA students had the wonderful opportunity to hear Michael Chabon speak about his life, his books, and his ability to year after year perform his duties as both a father and as a novelist. It was a very full evening, and many topics were discussed in detail: he recalled with tender feeling the way in which he wrote his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh; he talked about the personality and actions of his children (and of his memories of early childhood) that might have bled through into his young characters, giving them a realism that could otherwise not be achieved; and he talked about other writers and their methods in stark contrast with his own. There was nothing he didn’t talk about, and no facet of his literary career was hidden away. And the interviewer, the conversation starter, was none other than Adam Savage, the bearded engineer/artist/theorist/brain/goofball/science-teacher/inventor on Mythbusters!

Our group saw Chabon from afar, our seats elevated above him so that he looked like a dwarf among a forest of redwoods, but it didn’t matter because his words reverberated throughout the theater with intensity and, often, true fascination. In many ways, talking about his writing and his literary idols (Raymond Chandler being one of them) appeared as a liberating event for the renowned author. This could be regarded as a sort of narcissism, but it was really a public reflection on his career and his life, and the crowd loved it. The simple viewing of two men talking inspired sitting ovations and brought upon hearty laughs. When Chabon was asked questions by the audience, he answered them with honesty and elaborate detail, making it equally about the person asking the question and himself. The author, throughout it all, never made a play at being humble, but did truly understand that people were watching him with adoring eyes for a reason, and that he had something legitimate and interesting to say to them. Overall, it was a very pleasant evening. Thank you Ronald Chase and Art & Film.

Mr. Fabrini’s Historical Film Society

By Colin Yap (’16)

I think that from the get go, there was a nervousness in my gut about going to the movie screening. There was all the normal trepidation present of new places and new people, but there was also my own irrational apprehension of seeing a black and white movie from nineteen-thirties Germany with two experienced film aficionados. Would they do the classic thing that I always did when showing people movies I’d already seen of staring at the newcomer to see their every facial expression? Would they leave me behind in an argument about the film’s historic moments and the characters that failed in the story telling? Would I even be able to sit through two hours of angry German dialogue (which we all know is the most intense of all the German dialogues) even with subtitles?

It was, of course, an event organized by Mr. Fabrini’s Historical Film Society (which I later learned was the name of a makeshift society that sincerely wanted to have secret handshakes and code words).

The movie was The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, a historically relevant, beautifully innovative, politically wound up, and sincerely dark film directed by the pre-eminent film director, Fritz Lang. The acting in the movie was brilliant and its plot was captivating; the hosts had both seen the film many times, and their laughs often preceded the punchline. “Oh sweet, sweet Lily, my Lily,” they would say with a chuckle as the character appeared on the screen.

The two hosts were Luca and Paolo, a freshman CW and his father. I’m pretty sure if you asked any question starting, “hey, have you seen that one movie…?” they would answer with a premature nod. It became pretty clear (because they explained it to us) that the ominous sounding “society” was really just the two of them showing other people movies they liked and considered relevant. They had rules and they had passion. I don’t think the Society was ever meant to change the world through screenings of movies (wouldn’t that be kick-ass though?), but rather an attempt to show cool people cool movies and have a chance to talk about the “why” and “when” and “what” with earnest enthusiasm, not following the tragically modern trend of only ironically appreciating things.

Before the movie started, they ran us through some a slideshow presentation, discussing the historical background of the film, the artistic mind behind its execution, and the techniques used at that age of filmmaking. There was never any pressure to take notes or not to blink during the slides, only to listen, and, being a believer in the importance of context, listen I did. It was an interesting history lesson and it told some interesting facts too.

After the movie, they gave out cream puffs for dessert and asked us, their guests, what we thought of the movie. The question was asked with sincerity, like the movie’s director was in the next room waiting to jump out and pummel us if we replied with the generic, “it was pretty good.” And so I replied, “I didn’t really like the Lily character that much.” They nodded in agreement with my sentiments, then went on discussing what they’d thought about it, both having just re-watched a film for the fifth or sixth time.

I left that night unapprehensive about the “society” and its mysteries, yet still excited, feeling ready for more black and white movies and twisting plots and ominous screenplays that never cease being relevant and interesting.