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

Poetry With Angie Sijun Lou by Zai Deriu

Our first Creative Writing 2 unit of the year has come to a close. In Creative Writing, we are either taught in one large class with all four grades, or split in two, with freshmen and sophomores in CW1, and juniors and seniors in CW2. This is the first year for my grade, the class of ’22, to be a part of Creative Writing 2. Rather than being taught by Heather, our lovely department head, we are taught by fellows artists. In normal classes, this would typically mean working in the annex of the CW room, but now, it means a separate zoom meeting.

This past unit was poetry, taught by Angie Sijun Lou. Despite all the current difficulties of maintaining a successful class online, Angie has been a wonderful teacher for these past seven weeks. We would typically read a few pieces of poetry, discuss them, and then spend the rest of our time on a writing exercise. Other days, we would workshop each other’s poetry, offering compliments and criticism. By the end of her unit, I feel sad to see Angie go. Being stuck at home and doing school online makes it difficult to feel motivated, and without leaving the house, it is easy to feel as though the days mush into one another. The structure of CW during Angie’s unit helped remedy that for me. 

Being taught in a small group with the class of ’21 again for the first time since my freshman year feels quite nice. With the smaller group, class feels more intimate and community-based. I feel close with my own grade, and I think we and the class of ’21 work well together. Moreover, after two years of being taught by Heather in CW1, it’s nice to feel as though I have graduated to my next stage of writing, so to speak. Still, I am excited to go back into the larger group in the coming week and help CW1 with their poetry workshops.

Zai Deriu (Class of ’22)

Apocalypse: Day 40 by Benny Leuty

I’ve spent many days shadowed by the feeling that we are drawing ever closer to the complete final destruction of the world, an utter apocalypse. The “we” in that last sentence, changes every day. On Friday, for example, “we” was just me and the catalyst for the apocalypse was a missing English assignment. On Saturday, “we” was everyone and the threat was climate change. Today, the “we” was one of my favorite professional cyclists and the impetus for his doomsday was a thigh bone fracture that nearly ended his career. And how could I talk apocalypse without talking COVID? 

I’ve begun to catalog many of my mini apocalypses. The only rule that I have for myself is that I get it on paper. The more interesting apocalypses become poems, short stories, or personal narratives. In one of my earlier apocalypse writings, which would eventually become a short personal narrative, I discovered my retainer no longer fit after not wearing it for a week. In it, I reflected on, and eventually came to terms with, how weird it was that I was fretting about crooked teeth during a global pandemic. But even the less interesting apocalypses usually still get a sentence or two. Shortly after my routine was established, I realized that there are very few apocalypses I can think of that literally spell doom for the entire planet. Even in some of the worst scenarios, there is usually a Noah and his ark and the fish below it. There are almost always survivors of the zombie horde and a case to be made for zombies themselves being “alive.” My day to day “apocalypses” are important to me. Not only because of what they take away from me and stop me from completing but because of what I continue to do in spite of them. I brush my teeth, I eat lunch, I ride my bike, I write. My apocalypses reveal to me what I could let go of. Going to bed later than midnight is one thing I should do away with. My base functions are revealed to me. Because “apocalypse,” in Greek, is a verb. Apocalypse is something that is done. It means to uncover, reveal, and lay bare and I welcome that.

Benny Leuty (Class of ’22)

Transitioning to CW 2 by Parker Burrows

Since the end of my sophomore year, I was eagerly anticipating the day when I would finally become a member of Creative Writing 2, an intimate class featuring the juniors and seniors of CW, as well as an artist in-residence. Following the conclusion of this year’s poetry unit, I got my wish. After being in the class for a few weeks now, I can already observe the big difference between CW 2 and CW 1. Creative Writing 1, a class for the freshman and sophomores, taught by Heather Woodward, is an opportunity to learn the basics of writing and analysis. Heather slowly guided us juniors through the essentials of writing, such as the importance of literary devices, how to find deeper messages in poems, and how to give constructive criticism in writing workshops. 

Creative Writing 2, taught by the wonderful Angie Sijun Lou, is a completely different world. Here, everyone is on their own, and given an opportunity to apply what they have learned after being immersed in the basics. A few days ago, we read through an Emily Dickinson poem as a class, a poem that I had read and struggled to understand in my freshman year. I found that I was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I picked up different techniques that Dickinson used, such as metaphor and rhythm. When Angie opened up a discussion about the poem as a class, I was able to meaningfully contribute to the conversation, and articulate how the literary devices enhance the poem, something I couldn’t have dreamed of doing during my freshman year. 

Workshopping groups are another showcase of growth. When reading a peer’s poem, everybody in the class is able to recall their experience of reading and writing poetry, and can give honest, constructive feedback. On some classes, we spend over thirty minutes identifying the strengths and weaknesses of a classmate’s poem. Every person in the class is extremely familiar with the workshopping process, as a result of many years of workshops in CW 1, which creates a comfortable environment in our CW 2 groups. 

This new feeling of independence has allowed me to think about my growth from a clueless eighth grader to an actively participating 11th grader. I am grateful for Creative Writing 1 for helping me get started in my writing, and just as grateful for Creative Writing 2 for giving me a chance to show what I learned.

Parker Burrows (Class of ’22)

Standing on a Ledge by Rae Dox Kim

Here I am, in a place I have never imagined actually being in. I’m about to be a senior, or more specifically, a senior in the summer after junior year. Here is when all my morals will be tested, and I will be at the mercy of faceless bureaucracies until I get into a college. My parents’ friends are descending on me like vultures, taking advantage of my vulnerable situation to talk at length about their own college experience. “It was so easy,” is a favorite line. As I stare down into the swirling whirlpool of application and rejection, I cannot imagine any easy path. Watching my senior friends, warm and content in acceptance letter light, gives me a watery sense of peace. I am happy they are happy, and I know that if they can succeed, I could too one day when it’s my turn at the chopping block. Until then, I’ll have to get my self in order, organizing my personal internal chambers so when the College Board comes a-knocking, I’ll be ready. 

–Rae Dox Kim, Class of 2020

Year Eleven by Charlotte Pocock

When introducing myself to someone for the first time, I often find myself describing myself first as a high school junior. This, by default, means that I have completed ten whole years of grade level academics and am working on my eleventh. I am now sixteen years old, and, if you count Pre-K, I have been involved in some sort of schooling for exactly three quarters of my life. Recently, I have been thinking about how my high school experience has culminated. As a newly minted upperclassman, I have been able to review the past few years with all the wisdom of a middle aged parent.

I remember freshman year as being in a constant state of confusion. My fourteen year old self was still reeling from the whirlwind that had been my middle school experience that everything was the biggest deal in the world to me. I was anxious about how I came off to my peers and unsure how I would strive in both my academics and art. By sophomore year, I had sunken to such lows that I feared I would never claw my way out. This was when I encountered a phenomenon known to the public as the Sophomore Slump, which is self-explanatory. I was morose at the idea of not even being halfway through high school and was unsure what the point of the content I was learning was.

Now, I am nearing the end of my third month in the eleventh grade, a little less than thirty percent done with my junior year. I can no longer say that I am confused or unmotivated, as I have been here too long to be confused and the threat of colleges lingering over my GPA is enough to get me out of bed to do work past midnight. No, the only way I can describe myself is tired. I am tired of waking up at half past five to get myself to school on time, and I am tired of being awake until the early morning. I am tired of my caffeine dependency. I am tired of biting my nails, waiting to feel important and having stress dreams in which the grade book on Synergy has me marked down for assignments that don’t exist.

I am so hungry to learn, and I am too exhausted to fill my plate.

Charlotte Pocock, class of 2019

Upperclassman by Julieta Roll

As I enter my junior year I have realized the transition from being an underclassman to an
upperclassman. Although the shift was subtle at first, the piling homework and endless SAT prep
soon had me face to face with the responsibility of being an 11th grader. Even if I don’t want it,
I’m getting older, and that means change. I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I’m going to college in a few years. Such a large transition seems almost traumatic, but I am
reassured in the fact that many students have done this before me.

I realize with being an upperclassman I understand things more. I have a map of the school in my head, I’ve learned how to take notes, most importantly I feel my writing has improved. What
Heather says is true, writing is rewriting. In order to create finished pieces I’ve had to workshop.
I’ve had to restructure sentences over and over again until I’ve felt crazy. It’s a painful process
but it’s a necessary process. As a junior I understand that, and I understand how vital it’s been in
my development. If it wasn’t for the Creative Writing Department I’d still be writing how I did
in the 8th grade, and oh! How sad that would be! I think this is true for most students at SOTA.
We spend half our days practicing, analyzing, and we get better. I guarantee you any senior who
looks back on their freshman work is going to cringe, but that’s part of the process. It’s how we
learn. It may be in three years time I look back on this very blog post and think, “Geez! What a
loser!” But that’s okay because I’ll know I’ve improved.

I think I’m trying to take junior year day by day. One thing I know is I’m going to keep writing,
and I’m going to keep rewriting. Hopefully soon I can find balance. Between my art, between
my academics, and within myself.

Julieta Roll, class of 2019

Greetings from a Tired Junior by Emma Bernstein

These days, I have more homework than I know what to do with and, as college applications inch closer by the day, my stress has become something tangible in my throat. This is not unusual or unexpected. I am, after all, a junior in high school and I was told innumerable times before this year began that it was going to be a tough one.

While late-night essays, last-minute hallway study sessions, SAT prep books, and lists of the 380 best colleges in North America are certainly exhausting, the hardest part of this year, for me, has been the decrease in time available to work on my writing. I find myself finishing homework late at night nearly every night, and by the time I’ve finished it usually takes a serious effort to sit down and pump out a short story instead of crawling into bed and falling asleep. Now, obviously, it would be ridiculous for me to try to write a short story every night under any circumstances, but watching both my free time and writing time evaporate as junior year progresses is frustrating to say the least, especially since I am always aware that every story I write now is a building block for the greater, more complete work I will do later. I resent losing building block after building block to the stress and sleeplessness that this year has offered.

I do not know what the right answer is here. I have to do my homework. I have to think about college. I have to write. I suppose the only solution is to keep moving, keep working, and keep writing, even if I lose some sleep in the process.

Emma Bernstein, class of 2017