Workshops, Change, and Community By Nadja Goldberg

On Monday, November 18, I taught a portfolio workshop at 826 Valencia with three fellow juniors in Creative Writing. As I looked at the applicants hovering over sheets of loose-leaf paper, I remembered sitting in the same room when I was an eighth grader.

At a journalism workshop I took at 826 when I was eight, I wrote an article titled “Too Many Walgreen’s!” prompted by a record store near my house turning into a Walgreen’s. I took another workshop in which each student brought in a special object to draw and write about. Unlike these previous two workshops, the one in eighth grade amounted to something more. I was not in the warmly-lit back room seeking only a writing activity. I was seeking acceptance into SOTA’s Creative Writing Department in which workshops would become part of my everyday life. Students around me read their work to each other and made playful comments. I became doubtful of myself and my writing when the boy next to me told me my poetry was “bad.”

A student in Creative Writing read my short story about a magician in a crisis after losing his suitcase full of equipment on his way to perform a show in Moscow. I scanned the book titles on the walls over and over as she surrounded my writing with notes. “This is so cute!” she said aloud as she read. I gave a slight smile, relieved. When the student finished my piece, she expressed her feedback, telling me to make the magician’s mother a more relevant character. I revised my story based on the comments I received that evening, and now, three years later, I am immersed in the Creative Writing Department.

As part of the workshop we led, my peers and I discussed teachers, homework, commitment, and details about the department. Afterwards, I reflected on the way I could easily ramble about Creative Writing, and how I did not hesitate to spend my Monday evening helping younger writers join this community that I have grown so fond of.

The two prompts we gave as we taught the workshop were, “Write about an experience that changed you,” and “write about a meaningful friendship.” I considered how I’ve changed since eighth grade and how Creative Writing has played a big role. I thought about the perceptive lens I have learned to use when looking at writing and the world around me. I thought about the friends who bring so much joy and companionship to my life.

-Nadja Goldberg, Class of 2021

A Whole World Out There by Nadja Goldberg

My family adopted Qora from the SPCA three and a half years ago. Qora sleeps at least fifteen hours a day, loves peanut butter and most any foods except vegetables, and can’t fetch a ball to save her life. A few months after Qora came into our home, she became more fearful of the world around her, barking at small noises and snapping her teeth at intimidating dogs. Getting Qora to walk down the street became a major endeavor, as she tugged back home at the slightest irregular sound or sight: a garage door opening, a stranger standing on a street corner or walking toward her, a car beeping. My dad often had to carry her, a trembling fifty-pound mass, until she relaxed enough to go on her walk. With time, we developed a routine, with walks to the garden and twice-weekly trips to Marshall Beach, that has made caring for Qora less challenging.

Recently, Leslie Beach came to CW to teach a two-week course on animal writing. We analyzed poems, essays, songs, and videos, discussing the devices the artists used to depict animals. Each of us chose an animal to observe and write about for the two-week period, from housecats to wild geese to a panda live streamed from a zoo camera. I decided to write about Qora. For a persona poem assignment, I found myself diving into my dog’s insecurities in a monologue from her perspective:


Smells and Skateboards

by Qora

I don’t like it when Nadja watches me eat. Aw man, there’s no more kibble in this kong! Hm, what to do next, what to do… how ‘bout a nap? Why is Nadja following me? Hey! I need some alone time! What? I don’t care if it’s for a homework assignment.

The carpet smells like soggy crackers… oh, a treat, yum!

You ever think there’s a whole world out there? So many tennis balls, and ocean waves, and cheesesteaks! And I’m just stuck in this house with the same old smells.

The heating vent in the hallway carries the smell of the purple-haired lady from upstairs: coconut shampoo, juicy roast chicken, and hardwood, tinged with beer when her niece throws Friday night parties. The sour stench of mouse droppings seeps in through the cracks in the back door. I find that same smell in the parched grasses above the beach where little flitting furry creatures escape my paws. The kitchen is like the sun of smells, sending aromatic rays down the hallway and into each room of the house, infused with the humans’ wonderful concoctions: toasted sourdough with butter, lamb stew, peanuts, fried eggs, spaghetti… none of which I’m allowed to eat.

Aw man, I have the hiccups.

What’s that sound? A skateboarder? How dare he come near this block! Who does he think he is… I’ll show him who’s boss! Yeah, that’s right, run away, you scaredy cat. Don’t even think of touching my territory again. You hear me? Huh, you hear me?

Oh. It was just a stroller. No skateboard, false alarm. Sorry!

It’s OK… it’s OK, Qora… it’s OK, relax.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, there’s a whole world out there, with squirrels I can never seem to catch, and pizza rinds hiding under rosemary bushes. I want to go farther, unclipped from my blue captivity rope; I want to run and gallop! But um… not now, maybe later? Someday, I’ll explore the corners of the world. I’ll swim to a remote island where bacon hangs from trees, and I’ll climb to the top of a mountain and lick the cotton candy clouds.

But… here’s a secret that no one knows: I’m afraid. It’s a delicious world, but also a scary one, with big dogs who amble down the middle of the sidewalk like beasts, and tiny yappy dogs with spiky teeth, and monstrous cars, and strange people who yell strange things, and skateboarders. I have nightmares about skateboarders sometimes, their wheels rumbling against concrete, roaring, as they come closer and closer, so close I can smell their sweat, hear them screech into my ear, and my fur stands up, my arms quiver, I open my mouth to bark and nothing comes out. Before they can attack me, I wake with my paws twitching and my tail between my legs.

So, I suppose the beach, the park, and the house are enough for now. The beach with sea foam to chase, with Nadja to throw me a stick. The park with hidden food and an explosion of smells. And the house, with the occasional spilled almond, with kibble-filled kongs, with my family who pets me, Nadja who tries to write from my perspective, and this couch where I can take a nap, this soft, soft couch, this warm couch…

Nadja Goldberg, Class of 2021

We Will Not Stop by Nadja Goldberg

When I left the house on the morning of Friday, February 22, I had no idea that was the day I’d go viral. Instead of going to Chemistry class, I walked downtown and joined a small rally outside Dianne Feinstein’s office. Three young students had written a letter to Senator Feinstein urging her to support the Green New Deal. They invited me and other students to join them to present the letter to her in person.

I expected Senator Feinstein to smile, nod, take notes, and thank us for coming. A part of me fantasized that we could actually convince her to vote yes on the Green New Deal. But what I didn’t anticipate was that she wouldn’t even pretend to listen to us. Senator Feinstein said she knows what she’s doing, that she’s been doing this for thirty years. However, those were exactly the years when our environmental crisis should have been addressed.

When I slipped into World History later that day, my teacher called me up to his desk and asked where I was. Still energized and somewhat stunned, I told him, “I was meeting with Senator Feinstein to urge her to support the Green New Deal.”

He was unfazed. “You’ll have to make up your work.”

The encounter with Senator Feinstein swiftly went from being my own exciting secret to being seen by over ten million people. The next few days were a flurry of film crews, news interviews, and magazine articles as we rode the rapid current of media attention. We then used this momentum to organize the Bay Area climate strike. I had video meetings with other student planners late into the night, and only afterward did I begin my homework. Climate activism became by wholehearted focus. I was busy and sleep-deprived while organizing the climate strike, but I was focusing on something that truly matters. The effort I put into this endeavor counteracted the tedium of sophomore year. I learned an immense amount about climate change, communication, collaboration, and working toward a goal. I became close friends with the other amazing young people on the planning team. The thought of growing up to hear more and more devastating reports of flooding, forest fires, and drought terrifies me, but my environmental work gives me hope.

On the morning of the March 15th climate strike, I got off Bart shortly after ten. I turned onto 7th street and saw the huge crowd forming outside the Federal Building. I ran down the block smiling wide, reveling in the product of my team’s hard work. As I helped lead the march, I felt the sense of power that surged through Market Street. I stepped in rhythm with the chants rising from the crowd, united with the two thousand students on strike in San Francisco and a million more around the world. The group pooled into Union Square where a sequence of speakers shared their perspective on the climate crisis and offered words of inspiration. When I began delivering my speech, the microphone malfunctioned, and I waited on stage as someone replaced it. Two friends of mine began chanting my name. Soon, the entire crowd joined in. It was a surreal moment: the sun on my face, my name echoing off tall, windowed buildings.

My speech included a call-and-response. I will never forget the sound of two thousand people saying, “We will not stop.”

I will not stop speaking to politicians who should represent me. I will not stop organizing large scale actions. And young people will not stop fighting for a bright future.


Nadja Goldberg, class of 2021

A Poem to Remember by Nadja Goldberg

Over the summer, I hiked for three and a half weeks through the Sierra mountains with an enormous backpack and a group of friends. Our boots trekked over beds of crisp pine needles, on trails of sheer, jagged rock, and along muddy meadow paths. As I breathed the open air and felt a flood of sunlight on my cheeks, I longed to capture the feeling of being so deeply immersed in nature.

One evening, after we set up camp on a floor of rock beside a river and ate rehydrated rice for dinner, I slipped a notebook and pen into my jacket pocket and started to climb a nearby hill. I clambered over heaps of boulders, continuing up and up. When I turned around, the rest of my group, huddled around a chess board, appeared as a small, brightly colored patch in the valley. Behind them, a row of immense granite mountains towered toward the sky. For miles in every direction was the untouched beauty of Earth. I have never felt so simply like an animal connected to the wild. I tried to write about this expansive feeling but each word that I scrawled on the page seemed to carry meaning too limited for what I craved to express. I descended the mountain with pages full of pen strokes covering phrases that I deemed inadequate.

As I climbed Bear Mountain one afternoon some days later, I began to form a poem in my head. When it became too detailed to retain in my mind, I sat on a rock next to the trail and fished my notebook and pen out of my backpack. The poem was addressed to my future self. I planned to read it once I returned to the city in order not to forget the pure, blissful world that had absorbed me:


Remember the Sky

Remember the river?
Your toes curl over slippery rocks,
soft gush
twists through the valley
bound by sprouted grass,
thin strokes shivering in the breeze.

Remember the mountains?
Enormous bodies
of stagnant power,
draped in a pine robe.

You sit on a rock at the top,
take full breaths
and recall when this spot
was a distant rift
in the serrated ridge.

Remember the bird?
Chirping faint and sweet
on a springy aspen branch,
Canvas tree trunk etched with eyes,
a flurry of leaves.

Remember the lake?
Sun-glazed surface drifts slowly,
reflects blurred cliffs and trees.

You leap from a rock
into soothing depths.

Remember the sky?
An unhampered sheet,
wisps of clouds unfurl
in peachy morning hues
behind hilltops.

At night,
you are focused on stars and planets
radiant dust across darkness,
and you are a part of it.

Nadja Goldberg, class of 2021

Poetry Inspired by Music By Nadja Goldberg

Carmina Burana is a cantata written by Carl Orff in the 1930s, using the Latin text from a collection of medieval poems. A cantata is a narrative piece of music with singing and musical instruments. On April 26, at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, several art departments from SOTA are participating in a show inspired by the works of Carl Orff. The show will involve vocal and instrumental music, a dance performance, and visual artwork; and I and five other creative writers will read pieces we have written in response to the cantata.

To prepare for the show, we met up twice and played sections of the music while writing. As the music resonated throughout the classroom, I was enthralled by the elaborate texture and emotion the music conveyed, with deep, sorrowful solos, delightful, high-pitched melodies, and shrill chords on the violin. We also read the English translation of the 24 Carmina Burana poems, and identified a few common topics from our writing and the poems, such as rivers, mountains, birds, beetles, spring, and cycles. We each then wrote a piece incorporating those topics. I wrote a poem about a lakeside scene at dawn:


Five Silhouettes

The lilies sit, glossy and ruffled
Atop the navy water; silver wisps of fog
Drift slowly; from the murky shore, a frog
Croaks a persistent, heavy heartbeat.

The moon hovering, bright and full
Coats the water’s surface with
A white, gleaming sheet.
Frozen, windless air—
Unmoving like a buried breath,
Fearful under the moon
And its unceasing glare.

A single loon drifts along.
Beneath it, water ripples, trembles.

Five silhouettes ascend
The distant hillside; footsteps brisk,
Rhythmic, as pale sunbeams peek
Eagerly over mountain tops, extend
Long fingers that lightly tap a creek
Trickling through grass; night becomes day.

A tiny swift darts overhead;
Sharp wings and tail poke
Up at sky as it lands
On a twisting branch;
Chirps a sugary melody.

Two of the five silhouettes
Tilt softly outlined faces
Toward the swaying tree top.

Sandstorm by Nadja Goldberg

We are one week into our playwriting unit. The unit is taught by Nicole Jost and, unlike the fiction and poetry units, it includes both Creative Writing I (freshmen and sophomores) and Creative Writing II (juniors and seniors). So far, we have had in-class activities and discussions, read various plays, and written scenes for our own plays based on prompts Nicole has assigned. Each class is usually focused on a particular aspect of playwriting such as monologues and status between characters. Our assigned homework and reading is based on what we explored in class. For example, before discussing the idea of “character status,” we read “Left to Right” by Steven Dietz, a short play with complexly interconnected characters who have distinct status among each other. For the homework assignment, we were told to write a scene involving two characters in which one character has a higher status, but by the end of the scene, the other character manages to achieve the higher status.

This prompt caused me to reflect on how status plays into various relationships and how I might portray that in my writing. I struggled for a while in front of an empty screen, trying to come up with a status-based relationship that would have natural dialogue between the characters, but wouldn’t be too typical and boring. Over dinner, I discussed the assignment with my mom. She offered a few ideas, but I wasn’t drawn to any of them, and our discussion escalated into an argument. Finally, my dad suggested that I write about the conversation my mom and I were having right then about the prompt. I realized that was perfect. Our disagreement had a definite element of status with my mom having the higher status. And as I rejected each of my mom’s ideas, it could have been in an attempt to gain a higher status for myself. After dinner, I returned to my computer and recaptured the banter between my mom and me:

By Nadja Goldberg

ELLA, freshman in highschool.
BETH, Ella’s mother.



ELLA and BETH sit at a small, round dinner table with emptied plates of lasagna.

ELLA (frustrated)
I still don’t have an idea.

BETH (also frustrated)
Just write whatever comes to mind. You just need to get this done.

Write whatever comes to mind?! Nothing’s coming to mind!

Didn’t we just come up with an idea? You can write the play about a student asking a teacher questions about the class material, and after the teacher explains, the student says something about the topic that reveals they actually know more about it than we think.

ELLA (in a sarcastic imitation)
 That would just be like: I don’t get it.” “Well here’s what it is.” “Oh, actually I get it more than you do. Boo-yah!”

Well I’m sure you can make it more interesting than that.


Ella, the focus is not on writing a masterpiece. It’s just on completing the assignment so you can get to bed.

But I can’t write something I’m not invested in.

Sometimes you have to. That’s just how it is with school work.

I have to write three to five pages! And there’s no possible way if I go with that topic.

Just write two and a half and get it over with.

Two and a half pages is not acceptable for an assignment that requires at least three! And I’m not going to dive into writing a play with a plot I’m not engaged in, because it will be boring and tedious and that’s no way to write!

Fine, fine… How about the one with the car salesman who is trying to sell a fancy car to a man, and the man, in order to get a good deal, tries to hide how much he loves the car.

Eh. I know just about nothing when it comes to cars. And I don’t think I have time to do enough research to convince my teacher otherwise.

Look. I know both options don’t seem so fantastic, but you just have to pick the one that speaks to you more and get on with it.

Pick one of those?! That’s like choosing between eating a rotten tomato or a rotten avocado. Both will be equally mushy and disgusting, but “just go with one that might be a little less so.”

Ella, I’m just trying to help, okay? You have an assignment that you have to submit tonight at midnight and you just need to get it done. The more you worry about it, the less time you have to work on it, and the more frantic you’ll be later on.

ELLA groans.

I’m sick of homework.

I know, but you still have to do it.

I know that. I just wish it would come less frequently and in more manageable quantities. It’s crazy: I’m expected to spend more than seven hours at school and on top of that, do bucket loads of homework. And I have a segment of a play due in three hours and the only two ideas I have are duds!

I hear you Ella. And I know it’s hard. But I think what you need right now is a positive outlook.

Well I think what I need right now is an idea for my play.

And that’s not going to come if you continue to grumble about it. That’s just the truth.

ELLA (upset)
I’m sick of homework.

Ella, that’s beside the point. You have homework to do, and you need to do it. We can talk about your feelings later.

Well I can’t write a play without an idea for a play. It’s simple.

Well obviously, I’m not helping. So you need to just come up with an idea. It doesn’t have to be brilliant. Just an idea to get started on a rough draft.

My mind is blank! It’s like an endless desert full of blazing frustrations, and the only ideas are sparse, patchy clouds that drift by.

What the hell do you mean, “you don’t have any ideas?” Likening your mind to a desert— that’s incredible!

I mean… I guess.

Lights fade.

End scene.

The Poetry Unit by Nadja Goldberg

We are now entering the fourth week of our six week poetry unit. In this unit we have discussed and practiced many aspects of poetry: the traditional forms (sonnets, quatrains, etc.), rhyme schemes, the shape of poems, concrete and abstract imagery, metaphors and similes, and more. Our studies are based on reading The Discovery of Poetry by Frances Mayes, a book that explores many poetic devices and provides a range of examples for each one. Every night, we have a poem prompt due the following class. The prompts are usually related to the area of poetry we were focusing on that day or inspired by a poem we read. For example, after reading “A Blessing” by James Wright, our assignment was to write a poem with the same title. Another time, when we were learning about traditional forms, we were asked to write a poem with a traditional form about a certain mode of vehicular transportation (train, car, boat etc.).

After numerous nights with poem prompts, we did a day of workshopping where each of us brought in three of our favorite poems and received written and verbal feedback from the three members of our workshopping group. I think this practice is what truly strengthens our writing, as it allows us to get helpful criticism from classmates who also have experience with poetry, and it gives us a chance to listen to and appreciate others’ poetry.

I first took interest in poetry when I had to write five to ten poems for my portfolio. At first, that was the part of my portfolio I dreaded, and when I started writing it, I considered it my weakest style of writing. But as I began to study famous poems and write more poems to submit, working intensively to revise them, I realized I was actually enjoying it. Now that we are diving into the art of poetry in Creative Writing and I have several assignments to inspire my own poetry, I cherish the time I have to work on my poem when I get home from school.

After the process of revising a poem, I often like to compare the revised copy to the initial version and notice how much it has evolved. Here is an example:



At night the park transforms.

The jungle gym
that once invited me
to clamber
to the top
now stands
in its cold, metal
in which I fear
I will be trapped
A trail pressed in grass
from wandering feet
that trek countless circles
waiting for the right moment
to stop
Stars point through drifting holes
in fraying fog
As the wind
brings a chill
to my skin.



At Night the Park Transforms

The jungle gym
invited us to clamber up
vibrant blue, criss-crossed ladder
hook spindly legs around a bar
and dangle
shirts plummeting
pale bellies revealed
faces turned crimson from gathering blood

Despite the heaving effort
put upon upside-down lungs and heads
we laughed

When vigorous rounds of tag
left bodies taken over
by automatic rapid breaths
that inflated and deflated our tiny torsos
we lay in shady splotches
on mounds of damp soil
beneath sun-soaked leaves
coolness extinguishing the flames
on our cheeks

as I press a trail in grass
with wandering feet
the jungle gym stands
in its cold, metal complexity
in which I fear
I will be trapped

Once refreshing shade
has become eerie moon shadows
trickling toward me

friends frolicked on cloudless afternoons
that rolled into exuberant evenings
munching candied fruit and salted nuts
crumbly crackers and crinkled chips

years later
I tread countless circles
at nightfall

My dog follows
with weary paws
longing to return home

Though numbness stiffens
each limb of my sleep deprived body
I cannot stop trudging
I’m waiting
for the pound of thoughts to deccelerate
hoping, pleading
I won’t have to lie
when I look into my parents’ faces
their eyebrows sloped with concern
and say
“I’m alright.”

Stars point through drifting holes
in fraying fog
as the wind
brings a chill
to my skin.

Nadja Goldberg, class of 2021