My Personal Muse by Leela Sriram

As I am nearing the end of senior year and finalizing my senior thesis, I have started thinking about how I find inspiration in creating a large body of creative work. While this is an awkward time to think about the muse of my thesis, I have discovered that my little interests such as birds, and knitting have allowed me to step into the minds of my characters. I think of everything I write as a reflection of me. In many ways, through my writing, I take on many different personas. I am an old woman by the seaside, and a runaway cowgirl in other moments. 

The idea of a muse is taboo, and I believe that as a writer I should not wait around for the inspiration to come to me. Rather, I think about the little moments in my life, such as rain on a sunny day or seeing the pelicans on the pier. This is what I see as the muse. Inspiration is what I think of as impressionable in my life. The little moments, while fleeting, are pivotal to creating worlds. They are what make my thesis feel like more than a collection of pages, to me. While writing a deeply personal collection of work has been difficult, I am grateful for the opportunity to share my innermost thoughts and feelings with my fellow seniors and eventually, the entire Creative Writing Department. I am eager to see my thesis come alive in the form of a physical book instead of a google doc. 

Working on my senior thesis, while also completing college applications, and now waiting anxiously for college decisions has been a difficult task. However, I have learned so much about how I can generate more fiction using my perspective on life, and how I can create a cohesive collection of fiction and poetry by myself. I am eternally grateful for this experience, and I know that I am going to cherish my thesis after I graduate from Creative Writing.

City Boy Thesis by Jude Wong

Every year each senior creates their own thesis, which might be a play, long-form fiction, or a collection of poems based around a single theme. I began writing last September, working to create content within or at least somewhat related to my theme— the city of San Francisco. I chose to write poetry because I have only published poetry before, and I love how I can break and blend existing writing structures. Last week we had to turn in our first drafts of our complete thesis, which felt like a relief but, at the same time, a reality check. I realize people will actually be seeing this and reading it, and I will eventually have to narrate these poems for audiences. It’s scary to think about, but at the same time, if I want to be a writer, I’ll need to do this plenty more. Writing so many poems and then reading them aloud and editing them several times takes focus, and it is easy to get stuck, but that’s the writing process. Working on the thesis has taught me many things besides what it’ll be like to live as a professional writer. Like discipline when attempting to finish work before deadlines and eradicating procrastination. Also, I’ve honed my  style and voice, my writing style has become more distinct. In my freshman year, I was writing about things I had never experienced. I thought poetry was a race to explain profound ideals and abstract concepts with verbose and articulate descriptions. Now I’ve learned to describe the world I move through and make my poems accessible through the simple language I use, and through humor. My thesis is me trying to express to people that poetry doesn’t necessarily have to be about love and nature; it can be gritty, dirty, and honest. It can be about an unhoused man insisting on buying your mask or a death in the subway station you pass on your way to school. Many descriptions are concrete and accessible. Sometimes I read poetry and think, “if I wasn’t a writer, I’d have no idea what this means.” I find it sad because, in a perfect world, all people can enjoy poetry. Here are some of the rough-ish drafts included in my thesis:

Can I Buy Your Mask? 

The collarless puppy nervously circles its own turd like a dreidel

It’s eyes quiver with each rotation, searching for its owner, 

you follow it to two men. 

One rocks back and forth on the curb sucking his thumb, 

a small pool of red blood 

colludes within the creases of his forehead 

and slithers down his nose.

The other shuffles in a puffy parka, 

hands in pockets 

he whistles some canary song.

Seeing you pass

compliments your x-ray skull mask,

before asking Can I buy it?

A swift refusal, given your need for it on the bus

Rosie! The dog  springs forward as if only

having one merged leg in the front and back,

She gobbles up his hand with her tongue

he lets his soot darkened fingers be ingested by her sable fur

He remains solitary like a  bronze monument, before his face crinkles 

and he begins screaming prices as if it were an auction:

HOW boutta FIVA! NO, a TENNA!

Various colored crumbs hop from branch to branch 

Within his forested beard

You firmly decline, your hands pats your own

imaginary dog. The man’s petaled eyes close

as if regressing in the blooming process.

He fires again, 

Fifteen! Or final oFFer, TWENNY!

And at this point even if it would just be easier to 

give in and get the cash.

you continue to say no, 

Still, he persists like an alarm clock on the first day of school.

He steps one booted foot forward, as if two people in a 

coordinated tango, you step one back

His somber curb friend then rises to join in the uneasy dance,

As if suddenly possessed, you run

They lurch forward like a stealthily stalking wave

Their hands seems to ever reach towards you like 

heatseeking missiles, lurching through the feathered breeze

In the nick of time, a silver Prius swerves behind you 

Kissing the curb, it fires a barrage of honks, 

The men fly backwards as if flung by a hunky leaf blower,

Before fading into their darkened tents.

You nod your head to give a brief bow of gratitude to Prius,

Before sprinting to the possessive but safe embrace of the bus stop.

Bart Night Casket

It wasn’t urgently in-your-face like emergency teams on tv shows

The ambulance wasn’t wailing like a newborn in the early morning

The stretcher didn’t speed down the escalator like businessmen at rush hour. The men gathered together, whispering ‘someone died, someone died’

There weren’t any rushed panicked yells like in a house on fire

The trains weren’t on time as if in a high class secretary’s position

The stretcher wasn’t full like a swimming pool in the Summer

The tracks weren’t clear like a freshly washed car

The tracks wasn’t crammed like trains in rush hour

The stretcher didn’t rush back up as if a bomb threat had been called in

The ambulance wasn’t blurry out of focus in the water like a picture in movement

The EMT’s didn’t smile and laugh like it was their birthdays

They remained solemn, faces indifferently clear as if they were at their own funeral, 

In the casket.

From May to May: the Senior Thesis Writing Project (with Video Showcase) by Gemma Collins

Since I stepped into room 227 on my first day in Creative Writing, I’ve known about the senior thesis project. I read long spreadsheets of deadlines and watched the upper-level students disappear into mysterious workshops. For the past three years, it’s been looming over me—and last summer, I finally sat down and began. Beginning a long-term project is daunting. Before my senior year started, my cohort and I sat down with the older grade and discussed the project. “How do you pick what to write about?” “How do you balance writing with everything else in school?” “What’s it like to work with a mentor?” Questions bounced around the small seminar room like balls of yarn. The seniors met our worries with reassurance and promises of how accomplished we would be after. I sat and listened, unable to visualize an end but eager to get started. 

  I’ve always struggled with committing to long-term projects, and I worried that my excitement and inspiration for my thesis would dwindle quickly. Heather, our department head, assured my class that the project would represent our learning in Creative Writing. I felt daunted by the idea that my four years of high school came down to a stack of 50 pages in my hands at the end of the year. I was motivated, however, to push myself out of my comfort zone and enjoy the process. 

As I’ve almost finished my draft, I’m content not to stress too much over the process and use it to rekindle my passion for writing outside of assignments in class. While one of my favorite parts of the project has been the freedom to write whatever I want with minimal instructions, I’ve realized the significant initiative it takes to delve into this project. As a freshman in high school, I couldn’t grasp what Heather meant when she said the senior thesis was our most important graduation requirement. Now, I understand the depth of personal growth it has provided me through growing closer with my peers and enforcing deadlines on myself.

Boba, the Cure to Writer’s Block? by Emilie Mayer

Last Sunday, I ordered a tropical green tea with boba and sat myself down in the middle of the crowded Metreon. I promised myself that I would not move until five pages had been written. Although, I did use the restroom twice. 

I am writing a novella—novel seems too vast a word—for my thesis. In order to graduate, Creative Writing seniors must produce a collection of poetry, plays, or fiction. I decided to write a novella, because I am perhaps a masochistic. College application season is upon me, and if I am being honest, the sheer amount of writing for applications and my thesis is sickening. Last year, I decided that my thesis should be a novella after realizing that twenty pages would not capture a story that I needed to tell. 

Now, four months later, I have set myself the structure of writing five pages a week. The problem is that as of late the words have not been coming to me. I will sit in front of my laptop screen for ten minutes, type nothing, then turn on the T.V. and watch Netflix. I did not write anything thesis-related during the month of September, and I loathed myself for the procrastination. Writing became a source of anxiety for me. From writing essays to writing fiction, I felt overwhelmed.

An adjustment was needed and so I forced an ultimatum upon myself: write or be forced to stay in the Metreon forever. And it worked. In an hour and a half, I not only wrote the pages but also edited several underclassmen’s essays as well. From now until my thesis is finished I will be camping out in the Metreon, Starbucks, Squat and Gobble, and any cafe that will let me. The words need to be written, and I must get over myself and do so. 

Three Years in Review by Isabella Hansen

I began my first year in Creative Writing as a timid and tiny freshman. I am writing this now as a remarkably taller senior. As I look back on the years I have spent in this department, I can only feel gratitude for the space I was given to grow, both as a human and a writer. The Creative Writing department at SOTA is one of the most close-knit departments in the school. We are a tight-knit community. This intimacy and closeness to other students are often difficult for me to find but after spending three years here, even through the pandemic, I am grateful that I have been able to explore my creative work while also furthering friendships. 

I am currently in the process of writing my senior thesis. My thesis is a compilation of my work in Creative Writing which also doubles as a graduation requirement. One day, while on a particular procrastination spiral, I looked through some of my old work from freshman year and cackled. My fish stick poem, out of all my ninth-grade creative work, was a particular piece that brought amused tears to my eyes. I felt both sentimental and amused at my growth from my first year here. There are many memories from my time in Creative Writing that make me shudder in embarrassment while also simultaneously make me laugh. 

Now, as I continue to write my thesis which revolves around the theme of family, I feel a desire to include my fish stick poem for nostalgia’s sake. In all honesty, the tools I use to write now were gifted to me throughout my years here and some of which I would never trade, even for the world.  I have learned how to analyze creative work and engage in free-flowing discussions that once intimidated me. I learned how to write authentically and to ensure I always have a genuine voice in my writing. The skills that I have gained from Creative Writing not only help me with writing my thesis now but will follow me throughout college and years after.

Jude’s Guide to Writing the Bus by Jude Wong

If a nearly naked man begins bathing himself in milk by the folding bus doors, try to stay dry. Or if a guy playing air guitar in a cascading cream ball gown offers you a lint-laden lollipop, gently say no. But if a dude enveloped in a Power Puff Girls bathrobe and bunny slippers starts describing his tumultuous love life, listen. My family never owned a car, so I grew up taking buses and have penned stories, poems, and even a play using scenes like these from San Francisco city buses. 

In earlier years my poetry tended to be dark, abstract, and related to experiences I had never had. I wrote about ferocious fires, glorious battles, and dying soldiers. I began a dystopian novel set in 3868 about the daring breakout of a slave named Zed. Stories enabled me to build and inhabit other worlds, no matter how removed they were from my life. I used writing to escape into a fantasy bubble, isolated from the people around me.

For my thesis I am writing about lives not often seen in poetry, especially those of the marginalized and disadvantaged people I ride with on the bus. People notice, think about, and help those around them in a healthy, caring society. I want to encourage this through my writing, suggesting that people “shout ‘Thank You!’ to the driver. This is non-negotiable.” Or that riders give up their seats as the “triple-sweatered old lady heaves herself onto the bus … freighted with torn pink plastic bags bearing broken bok choy and broccoli.’’ Or smile and make space for the “life-sapped mother … clinging to a stroller, a boiling tea kettle of sorts … inside a ceaseless screeching”. 

Many riders don’t observe the range of lives around them, often just looking at their phones. I also used to be oblivious to those shaping the city around me. Still, the bus brings other people’s lives so close that we all become “like a can of stewed tomatoes with riders mushed together practically becoming red sauce.”; and these days, I pay close attention. I save fleeting glimpses from our rides that would otherwise be lost, suspending them in time through meter and metaphor. While these moments are random, they are essential because they embody our shared experience of moving through the city together, our community. 

I recently published “How to Ride the Mission 14 Bus” in Parallax Literary Magazine and performed it to a large audience of 300 people in our school theater. I paced my words, leaving time for the listeners to respond, and used arm gestures to engage and draw laughter from them. One person even chased me down in the parking lot to share how much he liked my piece.

I used to write only for myself, but now I use my work to connect to audiences and encourage their participation in our community. I write to inspire people to put down their phones, pay attention, be kind and connect with the people around them. To be present and to observe the little things in life.

Starting My Thesis by Julieta Roll

As a senior I’ve begun the ultimate task, I’m writing my thesis. All Creative Writing seniors are required to write a larger body of work as a final project, a last hurrah in the department. The thesis I’d like to think represents everything you’ve worked for as an art student. You completed four years in Creative Writing, so what? A thesis answers that question, encompassing the talent you’ve gained in the form of stories you want to tell.

   I won’t say the journey to a thesis is easy though. I am only starting my writing process, and there have already been some bumps in the road. I think the difficulty originates in pinpointing what exactly you want to focus on. Topics and themes can be broad of course, but the thesis has to be cohesive; the writing has to connect and talk to each other. I, for example, plan to write a series of short stories all within the genre of magical realism. I chose this idea not only because I love magical realism but because I felt my best work could come out of a surreal world. I knew to explore what could be off about a universe would fuel my motivation more than writing realistic fiction.

   I cannot express my gratitude more to the Creative Writing Department. My high school experience has been indescribably special, and my thesis can only begin to articulate that uniqueness. Senior year is a year of finalizing everything which is both terrifying and exciting. I can’t wait to see what these next eight months bring.

Julieta Roll
Class of 2019

The Burning Barn by Anna Geiger

As May 1 draws closer, the imminent final thesis deadline for Creative Writing seniors is rapidly approaching. This final manuscript should be the culmination of everything we have created as part of this department and during our time at SOTA, a reflection of how we have matured as writers and as people. Though I have spent hours, weeks, months to ensure I am presenting my proudest work to the audience who will read it and to my future self when I look back on it, this is a lofty goal. In a perfect world, I would have had time to produce stories of all of my most blissful experiences, my most beautiful days, my most memorable memorable moments, and I would have had months to spend on each to do them justice. This is not my reality. In my reality, I am spread thin across the pages of my thesis. I exist in each of my stories, I am imbued with life within them, but the passion I have for the subjects I write upon is not bursting from the pages as it should be. I am subdued in some verses where my voice should startle. However, there are still some pieces where I come through strongly, where my words ripple through the pages. Below is one such piece, one that I am proud inhabits my final thesis, passionate, pulsing with energy.


The Burning Barn

She’s licking the oak body like I used to lick crimson lollipops on sugar-saturated summer afternoons, tongue writhing over its burnt candied paint that peels and falls like dead skin. I can’t remember how the earth looked when it wasn’t smoking like the end of a hand-rolled cigarette, caught between those flushed cherry lips. The wind smells of tree sap and charcoal. Ash settles with my tongue deep in my throat, but she’s kissing my skin with such a delicate warmth… All the glass windows seem to have shattered. They rest on the charred grass where she concludes her devourment, reflecting the cool blue sky in a way that is almost comically naive.

How did we get here? We can wonder. I thought I killed her when I left her on dirt, rubbed raw and cold with the sole of my shoe. She caught that sweltering spark of life again, probably somewhere in the wind, and it carried her back to me. I was always told about the revenge of women, how their wrath could blaze you blistering even in the dead of winter, how they would raze a whole village in their rage. I can feel that now as she holds the old oak structure between her yellowed teeth, when she bites down, and with a scream, it falls.


Anna Geiger, class of 2018

On the Senior Thesis by Anna Geiger

As I near the end of my four years in the Creative Writing department at School of the Arts, I have begun writing my senior thesis that will embody everything I have accomplished here, from the development of my writing skill to the development of my understanding of myself and the world around me. neatly bound together in print for my friends and family to enjoy, file away, and forget about, as I will most of my memories of high school. What I will take with me are recollections of my years in the Creative Writing department, the tightest-knit and most fruitful community I have ever been a part of. As small a community as the department is, I have learned the writing style and voice of every other student, and realized how much I can discover about others through understanding their perspectives. Having spent hundreds of pages pouring over the junctures of other students, I have empathy for the unique experiences of every individual, and each of their time-worthy moments that has amounted to their present experience. Never before in my life has a community made me feel so safe, confident, or excited to discover the stories of a myriad of new people upon leaving high school.

In addition to taking the time to understand the thoughts and experiences of other people, Creative Writing has led me to do the same with myself. Learning to translate into writing years of watching the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge and dreaming of fog signals, dancing down neon Bourbon Street and swaying to the jazz of Congo Square, getting lost in the reels of the Internet Archive, has allowed me to appreciate and reflect upon my time as a teenage to an extent that I couldn’t otherwise. Taking every night to relive a new experience through writing has molded me into someone who takes no experience for granted. If I had not spent hours in a tent under lantern light scribing the sound of Aspen tree leaves in breeze or the quiet peace of my childhood home, I would never remember to appreciate them in times less tranquil.

Reading my thesis in its pristine, printed final form, there is a symbiosis between the richness of my language and the richness of my experience; each year they grow together. In studying metonymy and synecdoche, in memorizing the meter of a sestina, in reading Sappho and Hemingway, I learned the significance of every moment, and the detail that it deserves. Because of this education, I have felt the elation of hearing my words performed on a stage and reading my poems in the pages of a literary magazine. It has never ceased to awe me that the thoughtfulness which undercurrents my writing could inspire someone else to view life through the same open and optimistic lens. It is my hope that my thesis will be that catalyst. So when I am next asked “What do you even do in Creative Writing?” I will laugh and say “I have examined and interpreted a thousand moments, found the joy and lessons in each of them,” and hand them a copy of my senior thesis.

Anna Geiger, class of 2018

Revision by Colin Yap


I’ve been writing, in the serious sense of the word, for the past four years of my life, and to this day I don’t think I’ve fully embraced the editing process. Writing is instinctual and the end product is always raw, but as long as a piece of work feels substantial to me, even in its infancy, I am satisfied. Editing is not nearly as easy. Editing is supposed to be a radical reshaping of structure, a thorough examination of the content of a story or poem, with a number of inputs, from advisors, peers, and from myself, about what shifts in the words must take place for the writing to hit as hard as possible. The theme of editing for my work is usually, “trim the fat, embrace the substance.” Basically, understand where the story is, and don’t mess around with anything else.

My fellow seniors and I are in the first trimester of the writing of our theses. The summer was a gestating period: we gained a sense of what we wanted to write, and how we wanted to write it, and we had the vacation months to try to formulate the first 20 pages. It was a necessary first step, with a tangible deadline, and I don’t think it was especially challenging for any of us to get to 20. The fact that I am slowly getting used to, however, is that very few of those pages are really going to make it into my thesis.

In the thesis writing process, I have been transitioning from an identification as a fiction writer to that of a nonfiction writer. In any story, though, editing is tricky. It has always been a bit of an awkward process for me. After a serious assessment of my work, and with lots of feedback from others, I sit down and try to slim down the piece. But there is always some difficulty, and it comes from a fundamental discomfort with what I fear is a destruction of what is original and unique.

The original writing, the rough first draft, is destroyed in the process of revising. This idea, even if its not true, is present in the way the editing feels; it does not feel necessarily right to destroy the order of words and sentences as they originally came. I know that this is a selfish instinct, but it exists in my mind in some form every time I contemplate the red ink. I still have to edit; it’s a writer’s business to edit towards some idea of completion. So I fix spelling errors and shoddy sentences. I haphazardly delete sections I know are lacking. And then after about a half-an-hour, I usually call it quits.

I only write this because I am going through the process of revising a few pieces I want to go in my thesis and it’s hard. I know I have to keep writing. I have to keep thinking about what each piece is going to say, and what the thesis will say as a whole, is going to say. But I know that, as the process of producing a book-length body of work that is presentable and interesting, I am going to have to embrace the editing process.

Editing feels like destruction, and as much as I am sold on the ideal of enhancement, it’s just how it feels. It also feels necessary: first drafts are messy and incomplete. What I think I must do, as hard as it may be, is see the destruction in a positive light. To write draft after draft, to experiment—overlay different versions over one another. The visual metaphor I’ve though of is this: it’s like looking at maps of San Francisco throughout history, seeing where buildings were before tumbling, where the land was filled in, where dry surface that became neighborhoods. Hopefully, in the final draft, the piece will be able to pick and choose which surfaces and textures it wants from all the maps before it.

Or at least that is what I tell myself. Even in writing this, I avoid the procedure of returning to the work. I have a sense, though, that I have ideas I can work with and ideals I want to reach in the interplay of destruction and preservation. Hopefully, I will have an update in a few weeks.

Colin Yap, Class of 2016