Secret Santa & The End of the Semester by Jessica Schott-Rosenfield

The fall semester has finally come to a close. Finals week in academic classes was spent reviewing, being gently reminded of gradebook status, taking tests. Creative Writing spent finals week tying up loose ends and bonding as a whole department for the last time before break. The week’s finale of holiday fun? Secret Santa. Secret Santa is a department tradition, and was a challenge this year, for obvious reasons. Though it took place solely on Friday, this last week and the week before were spent organizing a criss-crossing network of gift pick-ups and drop-offs around the city. Many parents volunteered time and their vehicles to the effort, all orchestrating what would culminate in a beautiful secret Santa experience. 

Forming community in the department has been one of the foremost difficulties of this year, especially in terms of bringing the freshmen into the CW experience. A writing community has to be one built on trust, as we are constantly sharing our art with one another, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and open to critique. In a workshopping group, it is far more difficult to share writing which might divulge innermost thoughts when one does not trust one’s peers to read the work without judgement. Without the bonding moments that creative writing usually partakes in, (camping trips, swims in the bay, field day) I was worried about how effective our attempts to bring everyone together this year had been. It’s hard to try and measure the strength of a personal connection through a computer screen. If I relay information, and it’s answered easily, with a smile, does that mean it’s been accepted well, or tolerated?

Secret Santa rid me of all doubt. Not only the hour and fifteen minutes of live gift opening,* stray laughter, layers and layers of wrapping paper, but the week’s worth of planning, and driving to one another’s homes to leave parcels on front steps. I hadn’t been able to see the picture of us all, spread across San Francisco, on Zoom together every afternoon. Driving to dozens of neighborhoods around town and feeling a peer’s tangible presence was a relief of sorts. Perhaps subconsciously, the image of my fellow creative writers in my head was fading into something abstract. I’m so thankful that students and parents alike committed to bringing us all together on the final day of a laborious semester.

*Props to Sequoia for giving me an absolutely stellar gift.

Jessica Schott-Rosenfield, Class of ’22

Revising a Dead Dog by Jessica Schott-Rosenfield

CW 1 is currently in its fiction unit, and we are beginning to workshop our short stories. The first story I wrote in this unit was in response to a prompt, which called for a story about an object endowed with magical powers, and the child’s imagination. At first, I was worried, as I have not always had the best luck with writing fantasy fiction. I find that when I attempt to create a mature story including an aspect of magic, I inevitably fail. However, I chose to embrace the prompt and write the story with vigor. After writing my first draft, I was satisfied with the outcome because it was finished, and at least that was something.

I workshopped that piece with sophomores the next day, which didn’t go well at all. They brought to my attention that the plot was unclear because of my trying to shove both fantasy and pretentiously significant points into the writing. It’s safe to say I was not motivated in the least to begin revisions, since I was now convinced that the idea behind the story would never show itself in the manner I desired, because the idea was so innately awful in the first place. I tried to create something out of the piece which was more to my liking, more realistic, and more composed. This attempt, although helpful to the overall clarity, did not yield much, and the second day of workshopping was much the same as the first. Every comment I received was again about the plot, and I agreed with them wholeheartedly, but I didn’t want to face the fact that extensive revisions would need to be made that night.

As something I hadn’t liked in the beginning, the story did not age well, and at this point, I hated it. Each time I read it, I hated it more.  I was fixed on the idea that no matter what I did with this story outline, it would still be deplorable. I revised what I could, worked on the sequence of events, took the advice given to me, and turned in a final draft to Heather Woodward herself. I was sure it would come back littered with comments about the diction being entirely too simplistic, and the plot being that of a small child’s inspirational bedtime story. Much to my surprise, it did not. Instead, I was given comments about sentence structure, credibility, and easily cut dead wood. After reading through these critiques, I realized that I had been so focused on my own dislike of the core idea that I hadn’t paid attention to the actual writing of the piece in its simplest form. I had done well with the plot, and essentially completed a clear storyline. I still very much loathe this short story, but it is now a finished product. Writing is subjective, and whether you or anyone else likes the concept of the story is less important than how well you pay attention to your technique while conveying your ideas through fiction.

Jessica Schott-Rosenfield, class of 2022