What is Personal Space Anymore? by Sequoia Hack

In writing, I often find myself probed to investigate my deepest insecurities, expose any secrets I keep silent, and dive deep into my inner psyche. I’m told that these topics—the ones that make me digress from self-discovery to self-loathing—are the topics most enthralling to readers. In the era of the pandemic too, when I’ve spent more time with myself than I ever have before, I have little inspiration from the outside world to write about anything but aspects of my life.

Frequently I write with the intention of the final piece being read by peers, and not with the idea that I’m writing for just my eyes to see. I find this ironic for one reason, primarily. Writing is one of the purest forms of self-intimacy and vulnerability but nearly all the writing I’m doing is shared with others, my inner life subject to the judgement of those who will never see how I see or think how I think.

Now I know that reading writing about the pandemic gets old quickly. Like, yeah, we’re all living through this era of pandemonium, what more do you need to say about it? But I promise you, this is relevant to my story. 

Many of us used to have a clear separation of personal life and work/school life due to a difference in location, community, and time of day occupying that given space. But as months have progressed over the past year, at least I have found it increasingly difficult to establish a distinct boundary between home life and school life. I do labs investigating the Earth’s core in the same space I used to only relax in. I’m learning about logarithms and statistical significance  with my cats in the backyard. I’m planning our graduation in student government while sitting at my kitchen counter. 

My sanctuary of a room, smelling of lavender and birch, has become a type of anechoic chamber. The voices of my teachers are all I hear, lessons loud in one ear flowing silent straight out of the other, day in and day out. The people whose presence I associate with a space opposite that of my room are suddenly being drummed into my head as I fidget out of restlessness at my desk. It feels so wrong, every day I log onto class, to have the awareness that I woke up not five feet from where I’m attending AP U.S. Government or English class. 

When I combine this invasion from online classes with also having to write every day, I’m left with the feeling that none of my being is any longer reserved for just me. My physical personal space, infiltrated by school, alongside my own headspace, repeatedly exposed to vulnerability through writing, has left me feeling more exposed than I’d ever like to be. 

Will I ever be able to sit in my room without worrying if my laptop has enough charge to get through class? Will I ever be able to write without feeling like all that there is to talk about is how my ice cubes melted too quickly in my coffee or how my laundry hasn’t been done in four days? When will I be able to abandon this invasive daily cycle?

Sequoia Hack, Class of ’21

Creative Writing II Poetry Unit by Tess Horton

The Creative Writing II poetry unit has spanned over the course of the past month. Our artist in residence, Emily Wolahan, structured the six-week unit in a refreshing way: every other week, we read poetry and essays concerning poetry at home, then discuss them in class. Every week in between, we workshop the poems we’ve produced throughout the previous week. This intensive poetry-production-process has tested my ability to constantly keep up the motivation to write. I’ve written poems I like, I’ve written poems I don’t like as much, but the important part of this exercise is that I am writing at all.

Part of the weeks when we aren’t revising is to respond to various in-class prompts that Emily gives us (usually in some relation to a poem/essay we’ve read); one of the prompts I have particularly enjoyed so far was the haibun prompt. A haibun is a three-paragraph prose poem followed by a haiku at the end. Here is the haibun I wrote in response:

The Tambourine Man Haibun

I met the tambourine man behind the carousel when I was a good age. I am not sure whether I was supposed to meet the tambourine man or not. He was sinking in his pinstriped cloak and the hairs shaking on his upper lip seemed to shine, like the black armor beetles sport even on hot Saturdays. The tambourine man was red in many unnatural places. Red on his scalp. Red on his chin and only on the tips of his fingers. Red on the sagging parts of his pants where his skinny knees were supposed to fit. Skinny knees, I thought. The air was hot and I was suddenly glad I wasn’t wearing anything underneath my dress. The tambourine man looked down at me and slapped his hand on his wrist as if he were expecting hard cow skin instead. I was three feet and his bulging sunshine boots were perfect.


Yellow morning was the time I put on sunscreen. The day is early and cold with the promise of heat and pink skin later. White cream becomes a pocket item. I hare that white cream. That white cream is sticky, it sticks to my tongue for many hours after I taste it on my thumb. Soap, like soap. Tied down to a felt seat backwards: is this supposed to be fun? I am sad with the white cream. This morning feels like a white box, sterile from its lack of color, and I feel as if I am suffocating in its whiteness, its medicinal taste.


The circus is wet and dark. The tent is orange, tethered firmly to the dew-grass beneath the tarp, and when my father opens the front curtain and we enter as a family, the white cream against his lapel smears. This tent is large and dark. The tambourine man plays his cowskin arm off to the side, quiet. I smile at him from my mother’s shoulders.


With a gentle hand

The tambourine man leans downwards to greet me

The cream on my hands is sticky, yellow shoes slip against the mud


-Tess Horton, class of 2021

Writing Inside-Out, by Isi Vazquez

Writing a poem is always a sort of backwards thing for me. I tend to do it first as a layout of generally what I want in it, a really rough outline of the poem, like the gesture sketch of a character before you actually start to put any details in. After that, the drawing metaphor stops working, unless you draw an eye and then a finger and then a nose and then decide that the person doesn’t actually need fingers, and that you like the drawing with just one eye, which most artists don’t generally do when they’re drawing people. At any rate, poems are less straightforward than a drawing, at least for me. They always tend to have hidden lines that I have to write seven or eight times before I get them quite right, and there’s always that weird feeling at the beginning and the end, when you’re not sure if that’s really where the piece starts or where it ends. Poetry is less about the artist themselves and more about organizing twenty-six letters in a way that they need to be.

The actual process of writing a nice piece that you can turn in to some publishing companies or, infinitely more frightening, your creative writing teacher, is a convoluted process for me. I sketch it out, and then I detail it in. The original draft for a lot of poems is very loose and raw, and often makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. This actually used to be really discouraging for me, since when reading you only get to see the nice, polished, finished work and sometimes I forget that a lot of editing went into that final product, and the author didn’t just miraculously spit it out and show it to the world. I’ve since had it drilled into me that editing is a) vital, and a part of every piece, and b) one of the things I enjoy most in writing. It’s always so much harder to get out that first bit of what you want to say. Once that’s all out, you can take away words and phrases that don’t make sense, and add words and phrases that are appropriate.

There’s also that phrase in writing – kill your darlings. Take out bits of a poem you love, because it doesn’t have a place or doesn’t fit or is simply unnecessary. That’s the hardest part of editing. I have a couple documents that are just bits and pieces of old writing that I loved and had to take out. They’re recyclable – you can use them in other stories if they fit. It’s always a fun exercise when I write a poem based around the fragment of another poem I really liked.

Writing a poem is an inside-out process for me, because my brain thinks in weird, wiggly, jumpy patterns. Everyone thinks differently, and everyone writes poetry differently. Don’t be afraid of your poems, and don’t berate yourself because you have a different process than so-and-so. Just write your own way, in your own time, and hopefully find something in it you love.

Isi Vasquez, class of 2019

In The Redwood Grove by Mykel Mogg

In the spirit of Doing What We Want (which is the name of our 3 day unit in which we explore a list of Things We Want To Do More Of In Creative Writing), we hopped on a bus and went to the botanical gardens. Magnolia leaf hats were worn, leaves were licked, and birds and airplanes were listened to.

We almost didn’t go because of the weather. It was damp and gray, and we were worried about getting cold. But we decided by popular vote to go anyways and get our butts wet. We went to the redwood grove, where there is a log podium and some benches. We took turns going up to the podium and standing on the wobbly stump to read short pieces we’d written.

I’ve recently been in a bit of a writing rut, but listening to the diversity of voices in our department riff on mysteriously similar themes never fails to inspire me. I filled up a page of my notebook with poetic odds and ends instead of the lists of facts/responsibilities that it’s been filled up with over the past few weeks.

Just as we confronted the cold to go out and have an adventure, a lot of us confronted feelings of inadequacy in order to step up to the podium and say, “Hey guys, this is my art. It’s worth your time and attention.”

I’m thinking about the how incredibly lucky we were to be somewhere damp today when our state is in the middle of a drought. And I wonder how that connects to the feelings we have to confront to share our art with each other. Anyways, I loved our non-judgemental sharing space. I leave you with these thoughts and an assertive moo, which is apparently how I express deep appreciation for writing now.




A Summer Influx of Past Work

Well readers, it’s that time of summer again–the time of summer you don’t quite admit is there because summer exists as a timeless entity anyway: summer is halfway over. Actually, it’s a little more than halfway over. In a month and a week we’ll have to fill our backpacks with pens and notebooks, and finally sit down to finish that summer reading.

As the new school year approaches, we are proud to bring you some pieces of work from last year that we created with our artists-in-residence. Summer is a time to proceeding forward with life, relaxation, and activities that got thrown to the sidelines during the school year. Summer is also a time for reflection about the writing we’ve done and the writing we hope to continue to make. Enjoy!

Help I Have No Writer Juice

by Noa (’16)

If you’re anything like me, you may come across a point in your life when you find yourself staring at a blank document or notebook page or Textedit (your free Word trial ran out), with an assignment due tomorrow and absolutely no idea what to write about.

We should all just move to Canada.

“…you should probably quit and just move to Canada…”

You probably feel a bit drained, as if your supply of writer juice has magically evaporated into thin air and all that is left is a crumpled little shell of a person, banging your head against your desk in frustration and hating your brain and hating everything, especially other writers who probably have loads of writer juice stocked in the shelves of their brain while you don’t and it’s unfair and life is unfair and you should probably quit and just move to Canada because it’s only going to go downhill from here. Unfortunately, science has not yet discovered a cure for such thoughts, although there are a few websites that I have stumbled across on the internet (while procrastinating from said writing assignments), that I’ve found very useful:  

http://oneword.com/ gives you a one-word writing prompt and sixty seconds to type down any ideas that pop into your brain. It’s awesome because it’s much less intimidating than staring at a blank document— you don’t have to worry about if what you’re writing is good or bad (you only have a minute, after all.) Also, once you’re done writing, your work can be published (don’t worry, you can do it anonymously, or you can use your real name) and you get to look at what other people have written too. There are all types of people on the site, some experienced and others not so much, and their writing alone may be enough to spark a little bit of inspiration.

http://thestorystarter.com/ generates a random sentence for you to start your story with, and it’s (probably) not cheating because the sentence is generated randomly, so technically (maybe) it’s not plagiarism. Okay, I wouldn’t recommend copying the sentence word for word, but it’s definitely a great source for inspiration, and a lot of the sentences are weird enough to come up with some awesome plot ideas.

And remember, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life… Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force (these are words we are allowed to use in California).”- Anne Lamott

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up.”- Anne Lamott

Every writer's worst nightmare

You Get ABS, and You Get ABS, Everybody Gets ABS!

It’s a contemplative day in life when you realize you don’t have abs to spare. Or any abs at all. When you’re just a squishy tummy that cats like to sit on.

A squishy tummy with a brain, because while I may not have abs to spare, I certainly do have ABS to spare. A.B.S., or Angsty Backstory.

Angst (n.): an intense feeling of apprehension, anxiety, or inner turmoil
Backstory (n.): a history or background created for a fictional character

Now, before you judge me for regressing into tweenage blues, let me explain. Regardless of your current-day characteristics, you have experienced emotional turmoil in the past; that is simply a fact of humanity, that we always seek the ups and downs to map out the full spectrum of living. Whether this is through direct or indirect experiences is up to the individual. That is what I mean by angsty, those factors for physical, intellectual, or moral change, not OMFG parents wont lemme stay out until 9 parents sux.

In Creative Writing II, we are working the Fiction unit from the literal beginning: Your character is a child, make it happen. How old is this child? Who does this child live with? Does this child’s surroundings affect his or her view of the world? What does this child believe in? And beyond (or beneath– depends on how you look at it) those, does this child like hot or cold weather? How does he or she turn the pages in a book? Does he or she wear socks to sleep?

As a self-identified fiction-writer, this is well within my comfort zone. I name my character (Delilah, or Lilah for short), develop her voice (she’s eight years old, and tries to act more mature like her older sister, whom she admires very much), and decide on her surroundings (parents are divorced, live with Mom, older brother, and older sister). I cocoon myself in bed and think that Lilah likes hot weather because hot days are brighter and she can see more; she separates the pages by the top right hand corner because she doesn’t want to get spit all over the book; she sometimes goes to sleep with socks on because she forgot but always wakes up with them kicked off and lost in the sheets.

Here is where I hit a rut.

from Stop MOTION Mission

There was no way I could keep on going with Lilah’s character if I didn’t know about her family, the people who have influenced her: Why did Lilah idolize her older sister instead of her brother? What are her feelings on her father? Of course, those raised further questions: What are Lilah’s siblings like? Why did her parents get divorced in the first place?

Maia introduced to us the “Why” game, where one continues asking “Why?” to every answer to every question. She intended this to be a source of inspiration, I think, fleshing out the little details so that we can sink our teeth into one and blow it up to a full story. Little did she know this was to be my Downfall.

Now, I know everything about everyone (I can feel my hair growing bigger as I write). I know the older brother’s name is Allen and he likes arts and crafts and really doesn’t care for judgment, I know the older sister’s name is Chris and she hates being called Christina and she’s the student body president of her high school, I know the mother divorced the father for making a decision she couldn’t bear to make, I know the father remained desperately in love with the mother until the day he died. I also know that want to write a short story about what Lilah thinks about her Mom’s smile. But what about everything else? Where do I include the fact that Chris’s favorite animal is the arctic fox? How about that Dad knew how to tap dance? What about when Allen sold his first commissioned painting?

And that’s what hurts the most (Cascada, hello 8th grade-dance flashback), to take this character that you’ve detailed all over, and presenting only a sliver. And it’s never the sliver you want. You move the spotlight over onto one part for an easier perspective, and one character’s arm gets lost in the shuffle. You point out everybody’s eyes, but you miss all of their mouths and ears. You want to talk about the shapes, but you have to do so at expense of the colors, the composition. Sure, you can try your darn best to show everything vital, everything that makes up the whole of your work, but it’s the fine line between fitting everything snugly into a suitcase and stuffing your shirt inside your mug which is inside your jacket pocket. It makes me infinitely sad that you can’t know the entirety of my babies’ stories within one piece of writing.

I guess, though, that’s another fine line to tread, between the raw inspiration and the refined outcome. What do I want my audience to know, the telling of my characters’ emotions, or the showing of my art, portraying a moment in their lives? The answer is, of course, clear, as it is my self-decided path of a Creative Writer. It’s a sacrifice I– and most other fiction writers, I dare to say– have to make.

Of course, I can also write the stories, then write essays about my stories under a pseudonym. What do you mean, pathetic?