For I am Possum, and Possum Isn’t Perfect by Emily Kozhina

I’m at a stage in my life where the most helpful thing for me to do is look to the future. With college applications due in just over a month, all my thoughts have been preoccupied with who I will be and what I will do, as if I’m supposed to have a clue. This stress seeps into my writing, as since the summer, I have found myself introspecting far deeper into my future, writing about the more gruesome and lonelier meanings of what it means to grow up, and eventually, to grow old. But it’s always good to think ahead, I’m told, so I try. 

I’ve been a senior for just about two months now. 

What I’ve learned so far are two things: 

  1. It’s much harder than you’d expect, and
  2. It’s not that bad.

What senior year is, is that insatiable hunger to be the best. I need to be the best for colleges so they’re all crawling to me on their knees, begging me with full scholarships in their fists for me to accept their pleading offers. I need to be the best writer, with a published flash fiction collection under my belt, because after all, what would these past three years in Creative Writing have been for? I need to dedicate every moment of waking time to work, to write, to work on writing, and writing about future work, and only take a pause to breathe when I sleep.

Obviously, this is unrealistic. I am sitting in my pajamas, avoiding eye-contact with my college to-do list and my writing revisions I have yet to make. I am drinking tea that tastes bitter because I left the bag in too long, my library books are long overdue, and I have yet to write back to my pen pal (Sorry, Esperanza). 

Most days I find myself looking in the mirror and seeing a possum staring back at me, wearing my jeans and my sweater, taking too long to tie my boots. This isn’t me, this can’t be me! I want to think, but the possum looks back at me with a sad expression and confirms my fears. When will you come to accept me? It asks, tears whimpering at the corners of its tired eyes.

 I am possum, I have always been possum, and that’s fine. I’ve spent far too long expecting myself to be perfect, and getting frustrated when I am not. Possums are smart, mostly immune to rabies, and sometimes, in the right light, have a sort of glow coming off them from the bottom of the garbage bin. 

I’m trying to get to know the possum in the mirror, and it turns out, she’s not that bad, after all.

Emily Kozhina, Class of 2020

Peak Piece by Emily Kozhina

Every once in a while, in the midst of writing all sorts of prompts and small pieces, you strike gold. It’s a rare thing, when you write a piece you can’t seem to outwrite for a long while. When it does happen, you at first don’t realize it, either. Typical, I find myself turning in these pieces, or reading them for a class, and that’s when I realize how much potential the piece has. So, being told how much people like the piece, you begin to submit it for journals and reading it at performances, with everyone sending their compliments your way– You know it’s a good piece, no matter how humble you like to consider yourself. And it feels good, to have a poem or story or play that everyone, including you, can read and think “That is a good piece and more people need to see it.”

Your doubts about your writing fade into the distance for a small while, as you use the piece with every chance you get. But very quickly, that triumphant glow fades as you try to write another piece. You start to think “How do I write something just as good as…?” and you try to, but it doesn’t seem to work. It feels like you only get worse from there, like you’ve peaked, like you’ve stopped growing as a writer, which is the most frightening thought of them all.

Whenever this happens to me, writing my way up when I feel I’ve already reached the top of my metaphorical mountain of progress, never works. It’s hard to keep writing afterwards. You know you will be unhappy with those next few completed pieces, but you know you have to keep writing. The worst part isn’t even sitting down to write something new afterwards, nor is it reading it aloud and not hearing the same excited swarm of comments afterwards. What’s most difficult, I’ve found, is accepting that you won’t always write things you are happy with, and this is proof.

But I like to think these downfalls of trying to write after a piece you’re proud of are what truly show your skill as a writer. Even after you’ve seemingly peaked again, you find you aren’t finished, and there is a taller mountain for you to climb. The climb up is grueling with drafts and drafts and disappointment and almost giving up and more drafts, and you’ll come to see that you never really stop climbing, and writing never really gets easy. I’ve found you just learn to work with the mountains with each piece you write.

Emily Kozhina, class of 2020

Thank You, Lara by by Emily Kozhina

During my past two years in the Creative Writing department, I considered myself a fiction writer, and if not that, then a novice playwright, but I never once thought of myself as a poet. I went through two poetry units with a passionate disdain for stanzas, similes, and simply anything most would associate with “poetry.” That being said, the thought of moving into Creative Writing 2 (the poetry and non/fiction unit for upperclassmen) terrified me. Not only would I have to read and write poetry, but it would be in an older group setting, with more experienced students that probably have grown to love poetry. I couldn’t imagine why.

Our poetry artist in residence for Creative Writing 2 was Lara Coley, a San Francisco poet with a niche for knives. As nice enough as she seemed the first day, I wasn’t convinced that she, of all people, could change my opinion on poetry. The unit began exactly how I imagined, reading poetry to discuss in class, writing in-class prompts, and talking about writing poetry. Maybe if I just don’t work too hard, these few weeks will fly by, I thought. So I planned to simply wait it out, reading and writing the poetry I was assigned to, and pray I would survive.

But Lara caught me on a baited hook. By the third (maybe even the second) day, I found myself excited to come to class. I wanted to write poetry. This was a shock in itself. How could two years of despising poetry suddenly disappear? I still can’t answer the question, not fully. Part of it must have been Lara herself, her daily positivity and willingness to open up to us, laugh at our jokes, see us as more than teenagers in some artsy high school. We were writers to her, poets, even.

Another part surely had to do with the prompts Lara assigned. From using lines from a self-help book to answering questions that our writing supposedly answered, they were all prompts I wanted to write to. It felt like my poems were suddenly more than just stanzas and stanzas of wondering about the vague and impersonal. Each poem I wrote in that unit meant something to me, held a piece of my truth I wanted to share, which is everything I thought writing should be. I realized poetry didn’t need rhymes, and it didn’t need to be deep. With this seemingly minuscule discovery, my entire perspective on poetry shifted.

I now like to consider myself a poet. I find myself writing more poetry than fiction, without any anxieties over if what I’m writing is “poetic enough.” I like to read poetry, and learning about different poets, both local and dead. I’ve learned the beauty in “ugly poetry” and that’s all I ever want to write. Of course, my love for fiction and playwriting hasn’t disappeared, I know now there’s no need to replace one form of writing for another. I simply learned to love poetry, and it’s all because of Lara.

Thank you, Lara. Thank you for being kind and patient with us, for believing in us and our writing. Thank you for showing me all the possibilities of poetry, and how I can obtain them. You’ve taught me so much during our unit, and I’m sure everyone would say the same. As much as I try, though, I don’t think I could ever thank you enough.

Emily Kozhina, Class of 2020

Kirby Cove Year Three by Emily Kozhina

Being a creative writer at SotA comes with accepting all the traditions that come with being in the department. One of the most favored traditions is the overnight trip to Kirby Cove, a camping spot in Marin County. During our stay, all the students participate in activities like swimming in the bay, soccer, and sitting around the campfire, face glowing with content and sweat and bay water.

When I was a freshman, “Kirby Cove” was a magic word, one mention and all of the other grades began to chatter excitedly, which both intrigued and terrified me. What was so incredible about some overnight camping trip? Now, as a junior, I’ve gone three times, and I completely understand. Of course, I won’t go into detail of the events that occur, because the students who have gone already know, the parents of those students have already heard about it, and the future CW students will soon find out.

Rather than the events of the trip, I wanted to write about something far more touching, which is the pleasant bonding that occurs during the trip. One of my favorite times in Kirby Cove is sitting around the fire late at night. People are roasting marshmallows, telling stories and chatting, and most importantly, making sure Heather wouldn’t wake up (It happened once, but she was too charmed to get angry with us, and went back to sleep). I watched as some nodded off to sleep while they stared into the fire, while others protected the group from thieving raccoons. Occasionally, a handful of people who leave to walk around and stay awake, and always came back cold and lonely, cured by the peaceful bonfire. Staring into the fire and hearing distant laughs further down by the ocean, I am reminded of how grateful I am to be in this department, and have experiences I’ll cherish until I’m old.

Emily Kozhina
Class of 2020

Preparing for a Unit Battle by Emily Kozhina

Last year, I found myself in awe of the previous sophomores and their unit lessons about their culture. I knew that there would be a day that I would be in their socks, but I didn’t think I would find myself there so quickly. When I found myself sitting with the CW I circle, poems from my culture in my hand, and my rehearsed lesson plan lodged in my throat, I felt the pressure surging through every word I tried to speak.

Though I found myself panicked at times, unsure if the poems I picked worked (considering I was the third sophomore to center my lesson with pieces around communism), or if anyone would have something to say about my choices. Thankfully, with assigned prompts and long pauses of thought, I found myself leading a full discussion between the students, who raised their hands and voices with interpretations. The group discussions grew smoother with each poem as they familiarized themselves with these poems that took my long summer days to analyze.

In the end, once I sat patiently, waiting for my unit reflections, I felt proud of the work I had done, and thought to myself, “I can do this again, no problem,” which I will continue to believe until I once again find myself with packets in hand, throat suck, and my mind whirling. Until then, I’ll be preparing.

Emily Kozhina, class of 2020

Revelations, by Emily Kozhina

A few days ago, the Creative Writing department went to the DeYoung Museum to visit
the Revelations: Art from the African American South exhibit. A large majority of the art was done with few resources, since African Americans didn’t have much, but still wanted to express themselves and their thoughts through what they did have. Sculpture materials ranged from metal, to tree roots, to cow skeletons, and delicate canvases were replaced with blocks of wood.

Every piece had kept a part of its creator, whether it be uneven stitches done by tired hands, or a shaky pencil line, smudged by a dragging arm. To be reminded that people made these pieces, to see something that couldn’t be remade, was refreshing.

There was one significant moment described to me that I believe will be hard to erase
from memory. My class group was kneeling on the floor, legs weak, eyes looking up at the quilts pinned onto the walls around us, different fabrics unevenly stitched together. Our docent told us of a woman who once visited this exhibit. The moment the woman had walked into this room, she grew emotional looking at the quilts. When asked why, she explained how when she was a small child, she helped her grandmother and aunts stitch these, and to see them in a museum was a vision she never could have imagined.

I pondered after the telling of this story, and looked at the quilts. I saw jagged lines and
uneven squares, and however humanely beautiful I found its imperfections, I didn’t feel myself well with tears. The differences between the woman and I were certainly clear. We grew up with different lives, families, memories. It wasn’t surprising when two people reacted to something differently. However, the more I thought, the more I understood the woman. I still didn’t feel any nostalgia or anything of the sort, but the very thought of these quilts affecting someone in that personal way touched me. I left knowing that there will be more guests who through seeing some piece in this exhibit, they will feel their past reaching out to them in a place much more familiar than they first believed.

Emily Kozhina, class of 2020

Stage Fright by Emily Kozhina

On October 21st, Creative Writing had its first show of the year, Stage Fright. It was the first show I had ever performed in at SOTA, and the title fit perfectly with the nervous wreck in my mind. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I had never performed my writing in front of a large crowd. The thought was utterly terrifying. I was surprised I didn’t faint at the mention of it.

I was much too proud once I printed my final copy, the one I would be performing. When I practiced with our artist-in-residence Trey Amos, I tried to swallow my fear and read it with all the confidence I could muster. Workshopping my writing and performance only helped me improve, and reminded me of the friendly community I had never had with other writers.

During rehearsal week, I had met the one and only Mr. Kwapy. After hearing his name over and over again, I finally saw him. He and Isaiah Dufort helped us with the skits, which I enjoyed watching improve over the few days we had. My piece engraved in my mind, and my skit face on, I felt almost ready for the show. It was a bit late to be almost ready, because I was backstage on Friday, listening to audience find their seats and chatter.

Then the overflow chairs came out. My first show, and we sold out! Everyone was trying to celebrate with hushed voices, hugging and helping pull out more and more chairs. I stood, frozen. I couldn’t recognize the emotion I felt. The excitement around me and the anticipation of the audience brought butterflies to my stomach. It was either that or the excessive amount of food I ate before hand.

The lights dimmed and my heart raced. The fear on my face was apparently very obvious, because students began to reassure me and smile and told me I was going to do great. I smiled back and went on stage.

I don’t know how I did on the stage personally. My mind focused on the blinding light before me as I let my body take over. And then it was over. A wave of applause. I walked off and got hugs and ‘great job’s and I tried not to cry. I wasn’t sad, or even overwhelmingly happy. I suppose it was just relief leaking through my partially blinded eyes.

My hands and throat were sore by the end. I screamed and clapped and ate candy, and basked in my overcoming of stage fright.

Emily Kozhina, class of 2020