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

 

A Balancing Act on Slackwire, Part I

Which came first, the summer or the lethargy?

The easy connection to make is, school’s out, it’s vacation time, hence the desperate urge to do absolutely nothing. But it can also stand to reason that the urge to do nothing during the summer is some sort of universal truth of humanity, so instead of trudging through a forced-work ethic, we just give everyone three months off.

This is all rhetorical reasoning. I just wanted to think about the summer.

Or not. The do nothing-urge is quite all-encompassing.

…Ten minutes have passed since I typed the last sentence. I’ve gotten myself a glass of orange juice, and am congratulating myself on making the effort.

The way I see it, we (in general) function on a trial-and-error basis. As in, the way we figure out what we want to do when we grow up is through first figuring out what we absolutelyewgrossgetthatawayfromme not want to do. Maybe that’s what mandatory K-12 education is for (or has morphed into, for bizarre, tragic reasons). Throughout the school year, there’s a constant undercurrent of dissatisfaction, perhaps on account that we’re not strictly there by choice, and because school is all about workworkwork (if you’re lucky, not of the tedious sort), the natural rebellion is to not workworkwork. Of course, it takes some rumination to understand that not all work is the same (some work are just more equal than others) and further contemplation and self-reflection etc.etc. to figure out what work one is okay with doing. Just okay, as in, my tolerance level for this is decent enough. Then we take that as a starting point, move forward to find work that perhaps we actually– god forbid– like doing.

Or, you make like me and find ways to appreciate all of the workworkwork, convince yourself all work are created equal and smile ’em all to death. All in a day’s work in Stockholm.

So maybe summer serves a function. Just throwing it out there: it’s either a rehab, or a re-envisioning.

Rehab in the sense that you finally get to breathe without a bunch of grunt work on your shoulders, you quit every facet of school you can, and you come back in the fall with hastily-done work and regret/irritation that you didn’t space out your workload over all your free time (I speak with too much experience); it rehabilitates you for another year at school, where your teacher builds and schedules your learning for you, and by the end of the school year, you do feel accomplished, but in that awkward way when someone compliments you on store-bought pie-filling, rather than a cake which you made from scratch.

Re-envisioning in the sense that you have ruminated and contemplated and reflected, have combed through your school year’s learning with grains of salt relative to your care for them, how they matter to you. In the summer, you have the barest infrastructure to keep you conscious of school as an entity (summer reading, writing), and at this point you know how you best fit in (or out) of the school’s system. Once you are comfortable with that, you start doing work on your own, and moving forward on your own, and school becomes the extra jacket you keep slung over your arm that you don’t mind carrying around, per se, but would most definitely put down, put on, put into some kind of use at any given chance.

I’d like to be re-envisioning, especially seeing as it seems terribly convenient for the process of writing a senior thesis. I was so excited about writing the thesis for the past year, O woe be naive me. Nah, I’m still excited, just excited in that jump-up-and-down-and-cry-and-puke way. It’s only June, and the panic’s already settling in. Relatively unwarranted panic, but when has that ever stopped anything?

I’d like for my summer to be re-envisioning, but for now, I might be better off working the rehab. Just a month– I think I deserved it (Junior Year was exhausting in the best way, which is the worst way, ’cause you like that feeling of accomplished exhaustion). In July, I’ll get back on my feet, hopefully rejuvenated in a September way, and move forth with awesome work ethic.

For now, I think I’ll settle for another glass of orange juice.