Ethics Bowl by Midori Chen

On Saturday, Abigail, Frances, Mykel and I piled into the Schott-Rosenfield minivan and drove down to UC Santa Cruz, where the annual National High School Ethics Bowl was being held.

This is only the second year since its inception, but competition was intense. Schools from across the Bay Area sent one or two teams— Bentley, Kirby, Hillsdale. Competing teams were given fifteen cases to prepare for before hand, each with its own ethical dilemma to consider. The day of the competition, two teams went head-to-head, giving a five-minute presentation, a three-minute response to the rival team’s rebuttal, then ending in a ten-minute section for judges’ questions. We were scored on presentation, depth of argument, and cordialness to our opposing teams.

There was talk of starting an Ethics Bowl team in SOTA since the end of last year. Jerry Pannone, SOTA’s previous Orchestra director, led the charge in November; we had two months to prepare. SOTA managed to put out three teams, so three graduate students at SF State coached us in the cases regarding argument and presentation. The team of CW Seniors (we actually didn’t plan it? It just ended up that way? Maybe?) got Matthew (or Professor Howery, in his classes), aaaand…

We got to semifinals! I’m typing with a stupid grin on my face. We won against three out of four teams and went to semifinals!

So philosophy has this reputation of being all, “So what is the meaning of life?” with bitter old men and wine, and there were concerns going into this that Ethics Bowl would be like that. It’s not that at all, thank the powers that be. We take very real, very contemporary situations (Frankenburger, Indian Child Welfare Act, One Child Policy, Trayvon Martin, just to name a few) and determine the essential ethical conflict, then decide on a stance to take. I’ve found that often times, I would discuss a situation and immediately have a gut feeling about it being right or wrong— the case that comes to mind is “Political Sex Scandals,” in which the question is whether or not it’s moral to reinstate a politician who conducted sexual indiscretions back into office. My gut feeling told me No, that’s just bad. However, Matt then told us to redefine the question, specifically where “sexual indiscretions” mean “a breaking of a sexual contract between the politician and his or her partner(s).” Given that the politician does not misuse public funds or violate another person’s autonomy/cause them harm, the question becomes a little bit harder. Ultimately, it was an argument that Mykel gave in favor of “Yes, we should reinstate the politician, if his/her previous track record proves his/her competence” that solidly changed my mind— that it was the duty of the voters to be rational and get over that gut feeling if the politician produces good results. This is just one case in which my ethical intuition (as it were) became more fleshed-out.

Competition day was intense. I’ve never done anything like debate before, so I was shaking, and I had a stomachache, and I was dizzy, and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears… It started out somewhat dreadful. As the day went on, though, my confidence in and love for my team grew more and more— gosh they’re so cool. Bee-Gail had this stately, austere way about her (as she often does), Frances was precise and eloquent, and Mickel was a boss on articulating snap responses. My favorite moment was when Matt was, I guess, so happy with one of our responses (I think it’s when Frances shot down someone’s attempt to draw a Hitler analogy) that he put on his shades in the middle of the relatively dim competition room. In that moment, I could feel my confidence sky-rocket.

Conclusion of this story: ethics is a ton of fun. Our team wants to begin building next year’s team now, as to better prepare them (as we found out, meeting once a week for eight weeks was not enough time). Also we just want to keep debating ethics. An interesting topic to possibly have in Creative Writing— questions such as the ethics of writing fiction (misrepresentation of reality?), or even a character exploration exercise in developing how they respond to the ethical dilemmas proposed in our cases. I’m already writing one for a character in my thesis. Matt is super cool— our team talked for hours during celebratory dinner on Tuesday night, and we’d love to share his brain and person with the rest of CW. (He’s even a cat person. Wow.)

[DR]: 12/13

by Frances (’14)

On Friday, we continued our playwriting unit by workshopping our plays. I’ve always liked workshopping. It’s a staple of the Creative Writing department, and a good complement to the feedback we get from our teachers. Peer perspective is much different from professional perspective. When, for instance, Isaiah gives us criticism, he focuses on what he thinks we should change because he is viewing our plays from the eyes of a more experienced playwright. During workshopping, we tend to see each other’s work the way an audience might see it. We let ourselves get excited about our favorite parts. This is important, I think. We see our art the way an art viewer would see it.

In other news, Midori lost her phone and spent a good deal of class looking for it. At first, she assumed that she’d left it in one of her morning classrooms, but then she used a GPS tracker to locate it, and realized that it wasn’t even in San Francisco. She watched helplessly as it moved from city to city across the peninsula. Molly called several police departments. It was only after a lot of strife that Midori realized her classmate, Cristina Rey, had taken the phone.

[DR]: 10/31, In terms of Halloween costumes

by Frances (’14)

Most people dressed up, sort of. Heather had a spider on her head. Molly wore a dress and a horse mask. Olivia A was the Common Application, which was pretty much the scariest costume I saw all day. She’d even written out her personal statement on her legs. Among the others, there were many animal ears and many wings. Maia dressed up as herself in high school, which meant a funny orange wig that I think was supposed to indicate that she’d had different hair at the time, though not necessarily orange hair. I did not even sort of dress up, but I guess I also did a pretty good job looking like myself in high school. Staying true to her costume, Maia played some of the popular dance music from back when she was in high school, and we had a department-wide dance party.

Later, in Creative Writing II, we continued the Halloween celebrations by watching a video of Salvador Dali—who was a friend Lorca, a poet we are studying—as a guest an old game show where blindfolded contestants asked questions to figure out the guest’s identity. Although Dali answered yes to practically all the questions, the contestants eventually asked whether or not he had a mustache and figured out who he was from there.

Then we played a Halloween-themed word game—which was actually in some ways similar to the game show—involving teams and trying to convey the name of a monster to your team without actually saying it. We took “monster” pretty broadly, as C-Dubs do with most things. Our monsters included: Miley Cyrus, Ronald McDonald, several Frankensteins, and the counting vampire from Sesame Street.

[DR] Monday, Oct. 28th

by Giorgia (’14)

On Monday we returned to the classroom from our annual camping camping trip at Kirby Cove sleepy and smoke-smelling with fresh faces and new stories. Among which Heather learned to play snaps, Giorgia (’14) tried to teach samba, Justus (’15) was a sexy bookcase, the freshmen underwent forceful (and ultimately unsuccessful) segregation, the Schott-Rosenfield (’14, ’17) sibling rivalry went crashing into the sea, and Colin (’16) finally took down Jules (’14), our own departmental kraken, during our traditional beach romp. Mostly, it was just, as the young ones say “cold as balls.”

Obviously, we had a lot to discuss on Monday. We did this eating delicious peanut butter chocolate cookies Noa (’16) made for her writing buddy, Lizzie (’14) (happy 17th birthday lizz!), and leftover croissants, potato chips, and izzes from the trip. We talked about our favorite moments, what went well and what didn’t.

After our Kirby Cove debrief, the freshmen went off to the dark cavern they call “Freshmen Seminar” with Maia, and the rest of CW settled down with Sarah Fontaine (<3) for umläut. It’s early on in the year, so we are currently lying out preliminary framework, along with rebooting umläut‘s online presence and overall mission statement.

That evening, five seniors– Midori Chen, Mykel Mogg, Giorgia Peckman, Frances Saux, and Abigail Schott-Rosenfield —read at the Book Club of California (of which Abigail is a member). We were asked to the Book Club by Abigail’s grandmother, Kathy, earlier this year. Each of us read through a section of the Club’s collection (the club specializes in fine print press), mostly Tangram books, and each selected one or two works from which to write from. Our response poems focused on California history, and the relation of landscape and the individual. It was quite exciting to read our work outside of the school community, especially in such a rich and resonant environment full of so many monumental works.

We also sold a full set of umläut to the Book Club!


Picture 50by Frances Saux (’14)
From the Sarah Fontaine Unit

There’s a night I keep thinking about. It was years ago, so long ago I feel like I shouldn’t remember it as well as I do. That’s what’s strange about this story. Sometimes, during the slow parts of my shift at work, I close my eyes and I relive this night in my head, moment to moment, feeling the wind, not just the memory of the wind but the real, centuries-old wind that touched the back of my neck all that time ago. I mean I can really remember it like that. But maybe I should tell you that it only feels this clear because I haven’t changed much since that night. Proof is at work, when I’m daydreaming about it, my chest starts hurting. It feels a lot like looking in the mirror. Just so you know.

The story is this:

Back in high school, at a party, some kids locked me out while I was standing on the front steps. I’d just gone outside for a second, for some air. They crept up behind me and slammed the door before I could say anything. Then they shifted the bolt into place. For a while I just kept pushing and pulling the doorknob. A part of me hoped that the door had locked on accident. It just feels so terrible inside. After a minute, they spread the curtains and looked at me through the window, laughing into their hands like they couldn’t believe me. I thought of yelling at them. I thought I’d scare them into opening up, loving me.

They were not that kind of kid. I was not that kind of kid. Soon I felt myself starting to cry. I let go of the doorknob and turned around. I didn’t want them to see.

They’d locked someone else out too. He sat on the front steps, staring at his hands. I could see that his eyes were dry, but dry in that painful way where I knew he’d gotten so used to crying that he’d learned to cry a different way. We weren’t friends but I’d always felt okay around him. I knew we were similar in these kinds of way. For example, I knew he wasn’t going to college in the fall, either.

He looked up at me. “Well, we’d better walk to keep warm.”

There was a field behind the house, and we walked through it in silence. Instead of talking I pretended I was somewhere else. I don’t know where exactly. Just someplace different. I thought of how I was wearing a nice, white dress. Normally I didn’t wear dresses, but today I had. This hurt.

When we’d wandered deep into the field, he stopped walking.

“What?” I asked.

“Be quiet.”

“What is it?”

He pointed to something. I looked. It was a skunk. Then I saw another skunk. Then I saw skunks everywhere, like a chain reaction of sight. The whole field had filled with skunks. They’d come out at some point and we hadn’t realized. We both stood there, frozen. They crept around. It was too dark to really see them but we could hear them rustling the grass. We could find the white stripes, circling us like eels. We were scared.

“I can’t get sprayed,” he said.

“Me neither.”

We meant it. There was dignity involved. If you haven’t figured out, we were the kind of kids that didn’t have extra dignity to spare. I bet you that some of those people from the party would have run across the field naked, like into a dense cloud of spray, and it’d have been a funny story later. You’ve got to understand that wasn’t us at all. We didn’t have that luxury. To us it felt like we were in real, honest danger. They were everywhere.

“What do we do?” he said. He spoke softly, like he worried that the animals might overhear.

I didn’t know. I could see one of their snouts, sniffing ground near my leg, which started shaking from the effort it took not to move.

There was a tractor sort of nearby. I mean sort of because it was still distant enough to look small. But at least it was closer than the house. I pointed.

“If we can get there.”


We moved towards it, holding hands and stepping only on the tips of our feet, and only on the places that looked unmistakably like dirt and not fur. But I could feel them moving as we moved. It made my legs shake until I thought I’d collapse. He, too, looked unstable. Halfway there, we developed this informal strategy for moving. Instead of looking at the ground, we looked at the tractor, finding places to put our feet through instinct instead of vision. It sounds like it wouldn’t work, but somehow this got us there. After a long time, we reached the tractor. We both sighed. I climbed up the steps and into the driver’s seat. He sat in the passenger seat next to me. We closed the doors and I held the door handle tight for a second, like I thought they’d try to come barging through.

I let go.

“What are we going to do?” I asked, my breath slowing down. “Do you think they’ll go away soon?”

“No,” he said. “We might be stuck here all night.”

It was cold. In the distance I could see rectangular lights, the windows of the house. They looked so solid. I wished they were the kind of thing I could have picked up and held to my chest. I said, quietly, “I hate this. I hate those bastards.”


“I don’t know. All of them.”

“You mean the skunks?”

That wasn’t what I’d meant, but once he said it, I understood he wasn’t going to acknowledge the thing that had happened with getting locked out. It makes sense. It reminds me of something people say about the guy who pushes the rock up the hill, like how if he decides he wants to keep pushing the rocks up the hill, if he makes that choice, then he is no longer trapped by his circumstances.

So I said yes. I said I hated those bastard skunks.

He looked at the house.

“Me too.”

Suddenly we had the same idea at the same time. We didn’t even look at each other, we just knew. I knew he knew because he sat up a little straighter. There was blood in my mouth from chewing my lip.

I felt around the tractor. Someone had left the key in there. When I turned it, the whole thing shook awake, less like a car than I’d expected, more like an animal. I tried the gas a bit, and we grunted forward. For some reason, with him sitting next to me, it didn’t feel like driving at all. What I mean is it didn’t feel like there was any sort of boundary between us and the world, sort of like we were the tractor, and like the tractor was a living thing. I pressed on the gas fast.

I said, “Tell me where you see them.”

He put his hands and forehead against the windshield, scanning the ground. Then he pointed. “There’s one. There.”

I chased it down. I could barely see it but my senses kicked in, tracking its movements the way a predator might, noticing even the smallest things like the shapes its muscles made, the little temporary bulges in its arms and legs and neck. We got right up close to it, so close that we couldn’t see it anymore. There’s was a moment of silence. Then we heard it crunch.

You’ve got to understand about that crunch. It marked the beginning of something different, something powerful. I tried to say something but my mouth didn’t feel human. I couldn’t talk but I could bare my teeth. He was grinning too, beside me. I swear I could see his heart moving up and down in his chest. Exhilarating.

Together we chased down all the skunks. We slaughtered them. I think of the crunching sound a lot. It’s a sound like something was chewing on the skunks, the most painful sound you could imagine. You know that thing where you hear your name called on the street, but no one’s there when you turn around? Well, instead of that, all the time, I hear this crunch. I hear it all the time. Don’t ask me what it’s like.

We chased anything that moved. It got to the point where we’d gotten all the skunks, or they’d all run away. Now we were just chasing the wind through the grass and we knew it.

But we felt so grand.

We didn’t talk about this later, we couldn’t. It got too hard. After that night, everything we’d both hated still remained unharmed. I could hear people in the hallways at school talking about the massacre they’d found on the field the next morning, rubble of guts thick enough to keep the grass lying flat against the earth. I didn’t see it but from what I heard, it was one of those sights.

But here’s the thing that makes this story difficult to tell. After that one moment of power, in the tractor, everything went back to how it had been before. For a few minutes I thought I’d leave a legacy on this town. I even maybe thought that years from now, people would be talking about what had happened to the skunks. But everyone forgot and I was still hopeless. Not hopeless. What are the words they used? Directionless. Unmotivated. No-good. A few months later we all graduated. I stayed around and watched as the whole town shrunk a size. That was about it. I wondered about that boy sometimes. I kept remembering:

After killing the skunks we’d fallen asleep together in his driveway. We’d parked the tractor and walked all the way back through the field, taking our time because now it felt like our field. When we got to his driveway we got preoccupied with looking at the stars, and somehow we just dozed off there, our arms touching.

Once, I think, I walked past his parent’s house to see if he was still living there. He wasn’t. He had left, escaped the town while he could. Smart kid.

Do you see yet why this story makes me sad? I haven’t really left the town since then. Look at my job. I’ve had it forever because after a while you get too worn out to really move. It’s the heat, I think. It sticks you in one place. Sometimes the only way I move all day is tapping my fingers against the cash register, pretending I can play the drums.

Interesting thing about drums, actually. I had this dream that I played drums for some famous band, except in the dream the band was only me, and he was the only one in all the audience. I started playing, but the tips of my drumsticks looked like hooves, and the wood became part of my arms, so instead of drumming I felt like I was running across the earth, changing from a person into something else, into a god with an animal’s body. I felt horns in my head, sweat as fur, all that.

He, too, was changing. He ripped off his shirt and gave a triumphant roar. Then he bent down and bit the edge of the stage. I grinned. We were reunited, us mighty beasts.


I’m not sure what has happened between us, but if it
I once saw a lizard bite a worm in half,
a live worm, the lizard and the worm
about the size as you and I,
and about the same shape, really—
the lizard took half the worm
in its jaw, thing still alive, still moving.
Carried it away to I don’t know where.
I watched the leftover bit of worm
try to find its way back into the soil,
and then I left before I saw if it did.
And now, I think, is a good time for us to sit
and wonder, who are you in that story I just told,
and can telling that story to you somehow
take me out of it completely?
I want to be god. Give me good news.

–Frances Saux


by Frances (’14)

Sometimes it takes a while to figure things out. I learned this in my internship this year. Because of the self-governed, self-created nature of the Community Internship, I had chances in class to reflect on the direction I think we should take the project. However, I quickly realized that I do not have very much experience in outreach or volunteer-work, which were the two initial ideas from which we constructed the internship. In class, I could easily identify the problems we needed to fix—not enough diversity in Creative Writing being one of them—but I couldn’t think of any good way to stop it.

We spent most of our internship classes discussing the problems, as well as possible solutions, before we all agreed as a group that it was a problem too big for us to really tackle. Instead, through the conversations, we found a new window open to us, which still had to do with work in the community, and by extension, outreach; we decided we wanted to volunteer, write about, and learn about various people and organizations in our community.

I found this to be a positive experience. Although outreach did not succeed this year, Giorgia and I will renew our efforts next year, running a portfolio workshop at 826. Now I know the problems and obstacles in organization and leadership, and I feel prepared to tackle them.



by Frances (’14)

Over spring break, I was visiting colleges. My mom and I flew to Pittsburgh and then drove across the Midwest, stopping at schools along the way. I’d never seen that part of the country before, and in the car, I watched the wide, wintered fields spread away from the road, still icy. On the first few days, it actually snowed. I walked through college campuses with my hood up, looking at the spots gathering on my gloves.

I loved visiting colleges. Each one had its own feeling, and as I followed the tour guides, I could picture myself living in the dorm rooms, eating at the dining hall, attending classes in the elegant buildings, studying at the library.

But I put just as much importance on what I couldn’t picture. I couldn’t quite imagine life as a student in the middle of Ohio, where it snows in the winter, where the nearest city is an hour’s drive through cornfields.

And I kind of liked that. I don’t want to go to college in a place I already know. I want to go somewhere I don’t know. I want to be surprised by things. The Midwest felt like a foreign country. I hope I’ll get to see more of it.

how Midori feels


by Frances (’14)

Every year, the National YoungArts Foundation chooses 150 high school finalists to attend YoungArts Week in Miami, Florida. This year, I was among them; as a writing finalist, I got to fly across the country to spend eight days with amazing, talented artists. Spending time with those kids awakened me immediately. At SOTA, I find that we generally expect to be the best. We tend to put ourselves in a bubble of “we’re the best” and look at others as though we know best, as though we know everything there is to know about our art. The thing is, almost every other finalist at YoungArts Week came from an art school. They’d all had years of training in their disciplines, and nobody was a beginner. I realized this immediately, on the first day, when the twenty-four writing finalists shared their work with each other. Everybody knew what they were doing. Afterwards, we all got lunch, and sat at the table, speechless. It was a humbling experience for all of us, but not because any of us felt we were bad writers; instead, it was because everyone else was so good. Over the course of the week, when we watched the other disciplines perform, I experienced similar feelings. The musicians moved like athletes; the opera singers sang so loud my ears rang; the filmmakers made me cry. Every night, as we got snacks by the pool, we were in awe of each other, and by the end, I felt like I’d learned a lot about the diversity and talent of America. I met people from all over the country. There were kids from states I was beginning to think might only exist on the map. Because of this, I think everyone should apply for YoungArts. Going to YoungArts Week, is a way to get beyond ourselves and our own bubbles, connect with the greater artistic community of our country, and meet people with talent that will stun you. I promise. There’s more out there than you’d expect.

Find the Frances

Panini It!

by Frances (’14)

This is not a panini.

Creative Writing is being the best again, I’ve noticed. I mean, obviously, we’re the best at everything. We have the best shows, we have the best classroom, and we have the best students. Now, we’re even the best at lunch. Back in the day, lunch was just lunch a one-syllable, unsophisticated lump of a word we used to describe our forty minutes of bad sandwiches and ZipLocked carrot sticks. We’d sit in circles. We’d talk about our schoolwork, and then someone would say, “Wow. This is a terrible sandwich.” We’d shrug. Lunch would be over, and classtime would start. Then, one day, Justus began bringing a coffee press to school everyday. As soon as lunch began, he’d make a pot of coffee for the creative writers to enjoy. Immediate improvement. I’d see kids from other departments trying to sneak in for a cup of coffee, and then we’d glare at them until they left. Our most recent addition to the our lunch periods is the panini press, courtesy of Colin. Since we’ve gotten it, we’ve pretty much been grilling everything we could think of. I’ve seen paninied carrot sticks and paninied nutella sandwiches, paninied grilled cheese. We even tried to bake cookies on the panini press once. (Ineffective.) Now, whenever anybody says, “Wow. This is a terrible sandwich,” people from all ends of the room shout, “Panini it!” We win, Creative Writing. We are the best at everything.