A Lesson In Learning by Natasha Leung

Beginning my first year at SOTA, I had many expectations for what I’d be spending the next four years studying in Creative Writing. I had not imagined having an in-depth analysis about the rightful guardian of the baby in Rumpelstiltskin. I did not anticipate starting the year dissecting the different personalities of Earth’s dragons, or somehow enjoying endless amounts of fairy tale history. Yet somehow, the very unit I had dreaded as soon as I saw it on our class calendar, had in less than a full week become a highlight of the year.

As a class, we had been aware of the upcoming unit on fairy tales (taught by Fatima Kola, the first artist in residence I was to meet this year), but somehow it still snuck up on me. One moment I was commiserating about the amount of homework in math class, the next I found myself submerged in the land of fairies, magic and nearly every mythical idea in existence. I assumed a general feeling of panic would ensue due to the amount of ground we were covering, but to my surprise my thoughts seemed to calm down after the initial introduction. Like shaking out a bedsheet and ironing off the wrinkles, Fatima seemed to ease us into the lesson with comfortable discussions and an overall feel of pure fun. I had been nervous, to say the least, about learning from an instructor I wasn’t familiar with; the easy groove that our class seemed to magically fall into was a pleasant surprise. Each activity turned into something different then I expected. The outside perspective of an artist-in-residence became more and more clear as each idea was branched out. One day we re-created fairy tale plays, given the challenge to create a minimal script and ad lib most lines, leading to hilariously portrayed characters and many long laughs. Another day we held a heated mock-trial, bringing up the logistics between the rights of paternal custody in fairy tales; many of us got so engaged in our arguments that we continued to debate long after the activity ended. Each lesson seemed to me, a newly joined fresh peep who was expecting most of Creative Writing to be hours of analysis and essay writing, unorthodox and wholly original. The simple presence of someone with such a vast pool of knowledge so different than any I’ve ever encountered is mind blowing. 

I’m increasingly grateful for Fatima and the countless things I’m learning in class, and I look forward to everything we do in the future. While I may seem to favor our current fiction unit, I’m realizing how in the past how quickly I dismissed activities as not meant for me, and disengaged myself from learning as much as I could. I’ve been seeing fairy tales as trivial children’s bedtime stories that hold no deeper meanings, leading me to dismiss any lessons they could teach. This new perspective so far has taught me so much about numerous different ideas—to me, the most valuable being the enjoyment of learning, and how to have fun.

Message to Future Freshman by Filip Zubatov

Another one bites the dust: this is my method when it comes to work. Truthfully, I have found a select few assignments in the first weeks I’ve been in Creative Writing that I’ve relished writing. A multitude of assignments that you will be faced with when coming into this program may not be your forte, but something is bound to be. You’ll be bombarded with work such as reading responses, critiques, and poems; minutes, hours, days, and months will pass as fast as a bullet and you won’t realize where all the time went. I made an atrocious mistake when first coming into this department. Before Creative Writing, I had low self-esteem in myself and my work compared to others. On the first day, walking into the classroom, surrounded by talented writers, I was anxious my work couldn’t even remotely compare. It seemed that I gave up my ghost of pride. I learned later that comparing your work to others will only put you down, so refrain from ever doing so. 

Seven weeks have gone by and I’m starting to feel like I am a part of the Creative Writing community. I feel as though if there is one message I want to give to incoming freshmen it is to make friends within the department. I was lucky enough to have my brother at SOTA to spend time with when I was alone, but those that are coming in solo, talk with people and don’t be afraid to. Future freshmen, keep track of time and stay on top of your work, especially Creative Writing related work. Fall just ended, and Winter is coming in strong without any signs of stopping. Cherish every moment you can before they pass. Even if there are troublesome times, look for the valuable moments, because there will be plenty. Being in Creative Writing for a short time, I’ve already had an abundance of them. Be social, have pride in your work, and keep track of time in SOTA, but mainly in Creative Writing.

Community Field Trips by Itzel Perez Alarcon

When entering Creative Writing you have to know what you’re getting into… and one of those things are the field trips we go on! I can’t tell you how much (and I think I’m speaking for everyone in the department when I say) fun we have on our field trips. When you first enter CW you’ve probably heard a little about annual trip to Kirby cove. Everyone looks forward to that. But before that, we spend time with our buddies at the Botanical Gardens (among other places) to give us a bit of an orientation. Heather give us a list of where we need to go in the garden, then off we go to write an inspired poem wherever the map took us.  It’s definitely a different experience when you’re with your buddy and walking around nature talking and pointing out very little details you notice while getting to know each other. Bonding is a huge priority in the Creative Writing department. And the Botanical Garden field trip was definitely a huge step forward into getting to know and learn more about my fellow writers. 

The following week was the field trip to the Faith Ringgold exhibit at the DeYoung Museum. Creative Writing will give you so many experiences to expand on your writing and getting inspiration is key to achieving that goal. Going to see Faith Ringgold’s work enticed my inspiration even more. And there is definitely more inspiration coming our way! And that’s not all. It’s barely the beginning. If there was a different meaning for the C in our department it would definitely be community.

Kirby Cove. My vocabulary cannot express how much I enjoyed Kirby Cove. Everything we did at Kirby Cove had something to do with bonding. Snuggling and cuddling in our sleeping bags to clumping up together when the fog comes down on us in the morning adds the right amount of getting to know each other. I definitely know Kirby Cove will become one of my favorite traditions. 

All of these field trips have loaded me with joy and bonding. The best part is it’s just the beginning of the year and I’m already so excited to get to know the people in the Creative Writing community even more!

Sharing a Part of You by Kendall Snipper

Creative Writing began the first workshopping sessions of the year this week. We were instructed to print out three of our summer work poems. Wanting something better to work with than the haiku and tanka poems I wrote, there were three longer poems left. I read each line over, making sure there was nothing to be kept away from my classmates.  Each poem was a part of myself, something I had written to express my emotions in the moment. Honestly, I thought about the different ways to avoid the assignment. Writing a newer poem, pretending to forget to print, anything so I wouldn’t have to show this part of me. My writing was never something I’d shared with others. I keep each piece to myself as if I’m rationing off parts of my brain for me alone to enjoy. 

Inevitably, the time for Creative Writing came along and we split off into workshopping groups. In a group of four, I was among a junior and two sophomores. “Freshman first” is such a common phrase at this point, so I wasn’t surprised when I was urged to go first. Each poem I printed out seemed way too cliche for me to read aloud. Reading over my summer work was just like the feeling of hearing a second grader’s joke: cringe-inducing. But I handed each group member a copy of my poem and began to read it aloud. Reading my writing to others was never such a problem to me, it was more of an issue when I knew they had a physical copy. My issue was realizing that somebody could now read over a line multiple times and see that it doesn’t make sense. Sitting at a table in silence while your older peers critique your work is probably the scariest thing I’ve done in high school so far. After each of them finished reading and annotating my poem, we discussed it. Hearing my classmate’s voices on my work was such a relief to the quiet, that I forgot about my nerves. Instead of overthinking what my peers were going to say about the poem, I sank calmly into the discussion. Each and every person was respectful with their critiques, and overall each sentence was something helpful or reassuring. I learned so much about how others can perceive your writing, and ways that I can definitely improve. Opening up the portion of my brain that once hid all my thoughts is something I find enjoyable now. I’m grateful to have a safe place to share and put my emotions down on paper.

Open Up to Vulnerability by Oona Haskovec

As a current sophomore, I associate workshopping with laughs, improvement, and an overall pleasant time. However, this time a year ago, I had an entirely different take on the matter. As a freshman, I was put into a group with only upperclassmen, including a senior, for my first workshopping experience. I was terrified, both of the critique I would receive, but also the critique I would have to share. Those were people who had been doing this for years and I felt incredibly out of place as I smiled and nodded along with others’ intellectual insight. However, as the year progressed, I found comfort in workshop days, and I gained a more established sense of the writing styles of those around me. This could not only aid in better critique for others, but also in getting to know them as people.

This is why, in my second year, I have been making it my goal to enforce workshopping as a marvelous time for this year’s freshmen. Not only does it open up the opportunity for improvement, but also to get to know your peers and their work. The sooner you allow that vulnerability, the easier you will find it to be absorbed by the wonder that is the Creative Writing community, both social and academic. In my personal experience, workshopping opens up ideas in your work that not even you, the author, noticed at first. This can lead to richer pieces as well as richer bonds with everything. 

 I truly find critiquing to be one of the most beneficial activities one can partake in. If you can allow yourself to accept your flaws, and find a way to see benefit in the momentary discomfort, before long, the answer to that awkwardly worded line, or sometimes even just the flow of a piece, will be revealed.

No Time Like Now by Celeste Alisse

How should one define the difference between the good times and the great times? It’s all based on the shine you see in someone’s eyes; when you see the crinkly, wrinkly smile lines appear. That’s the look you see in the eyes of us Creative Writers, especially during community weeks. 

The first few weeks of every school year begin with bonding adventures, camping trips and field trips. What’s better than having fun while becoming smarter? Absolutely nothing. That’s why Creative Writing is so loved, it’s an equal balance of smiles and furrowed, concentrated eyebrows. A walk in the park with your friends while writing poems. A fun field trip where you learn and laugh. With every seemingly “boring” part of Creative Writing, there is something accompanying, making it enjoyable. There are no wants to go home or complaints about the day being too long because Creative Writing makes you forget about all that. You are home when you are in Creative Writing, you are with your family of friends that you have built since you got here. I, for one, love it there!

However the best thing about community weeks are the friendships we build during them. Community weeks are our chance to get closer to the freshman, closer to the others in our grade and every other grade there is! All my best-friends that I’ve made in Creative Writing were a direct result of these event-filled weeks. With treasure hunts, buddy projects and more, there’s no way for community weeks to go wrong and that is because of the community we have built in Creative Writing. A community that loves, supports and helps each other. In my opinion, that is what makes community weeks so special: because there is no other time like it.