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.

The Expectations by Ari Nystrom Rice

As a creative writing freshpeep I had certain expectations when coming into the program. I expected us to be doing simple pieces, writing what we wanted to write and getting feedback on our work. Once creative writing began, my expectations were blown away, and replaced with community weeks and our wonderful fairy tale unit. Instead of writing whatever we wanted we wrote specific reflections on readings, and learned serious narrative grammar. The roof had been raised, and I was rushing to fill the new space created by the greater expectations. Then, the fiction unit came. In the fiction unit we started with a small project of using a one sentence short story in a one page story of our own creation. We had no restrictions in how we wanted to write our story, just that it needed to be written. Suddenly the expectations of my eighth grade self came rushing back. The unlimited creativity we were given made me appreciate the guidance we had in our other units, while also enjoying the newfound freedom. I found that when I wrote my assignment I focused more on the concept of what I was writing rather than the writing itself, it allowed me to indulge in my creativity more than other assignments did. On the other hand, when I was writing my fairy tale I focused more on how to give it the distinct fairy tale style, making me create a more professional creative piece.

When we brought our pieces into class and presented them, I saw how different our takes on the assignment were, from writing a monologue like me to playing with the perspective of the story, there were a variety of takes on the project. Although our informational pieces are held to a different standard and set of expectations there were still “No right answers.” I learned that we all had different takes on whatever readings we did, demonstrating that our individual personalities and quirks define our writing no matter the expectations.