Letter To My Younger Self by Baro Shalizi

Letter to my Younger Self

At sixteen, you think you are quite worldly. You have lived in four countries, two of those in boarding schools far from your home and family. You are responsible. Looking back, kiddo, I must say, you were too responsible.

Remember the time you left home to come to America for school. You stopped in London overnight and stayed with family friends. They begged you to stay a few days see the country, but you adamantly refused because school had already started. It turned out you were bored in school and often fell asleep in class. The standard of education was so much lower in the US than what you were accustomed to. You could have spent a few days in England and been none the worse off. But you did the right thing. In college, while many of your friends experimented with drugs, you abstained and focused on your studies. Decades later, those friends are doing just as well in life as you are. At the time you didn’t realize that there were two ways to learning – academic and experiential.

But your instincts stood you in good stead. You have traveled to numerous countries, worked for the UN, started numerous businesses of your own, but most importantly you have a plethora of friends. Friends who are always there for you – the biggest treasure in the world. To have good friends, you have to be a good friend. You have done well, young man.

Creative Writing at SFCC: Come Join Our Fiction Classes!

There are spaces in Intermediate Fiction (English 225) at SFCC this fall. It’s aimed at focused development of craft and stories. Russ Whiting is the instructor—and I’ve asked him to talk about the class below.
There are still a very few spots left in my on-line fiction class (English 221)—take it from anywhere in the world! Focus is on flash fiction. Terry Wilson’s writing class (English 120), always a jump start, is also open to a few more folks.

Check out http://www.sfcc.edu

And feel free to ask me directly about our AA, certificate, and individual classes at: miriam.sagan@sfcc.edu

Interview with Russ Whiting

What are the major one or two things students will learn in the class?

I hope that students take away many things from the class, but I suppose the main thing we learn is  that writing is a craft and a practice, and we get better at it each time we go to the well.  The course is built around practice and I see my job as a facilitator or coach to prompt each student’s best writing.  The second thing I try to impress upon students is that the story, whether short or long, is the most important element.  We can work out the details as we share and critique as a group.  We work on ideas, plot, description, dialogue, point of view, and all the necessary elements of the story, but the most important thing is just going for it.

Will you address longer forms of story like the novella or novel, or mostly short stories?

I like all the forms that stories take and it is up to the students to decide which forms suit them.  Often, a short story can be a chapter or an outline of a novel or novella, so everything is fair game.  I will definitely discuss the difference between them, what is selling in the market, what editors and agents are looking for, and how to build each form and what each includes.  I’ve lined up a New York agent to do a phone interview with the class and answer questions about how the literary world has changed and what really works for readers.

What is your opinion about the central challenge that writers face?

I grew up on a farm and worked on ranches, doing the toughest labor you can imagine, but writing is still the hardest job I’ve ever done.  As a newspaper editor and reporter, freelance journalist, and now fiction writer, I think that shaping words to tell a story, entertain, educate, and elicit a visceral response in the reader is the ultimate challenge.  We want it to “sound” beautiful, have characters that jump out of the pages and become real in our minds, and tell a story that somehow matters.  In order to do all these things, we have to sit and write, usually alone.  Overcoming the obstacle of our own inertia is probably the toughest wall we have to climb, but that’s what the class is for.  We learn that we are not alone, that there are specific things we can do to break the resistance, and ways to trick the muse into action.

Anything else?

Only to say that I really love teaching this class.  We become a community of artists.  I have students who have published novels that began in this class, script writers who are producing short films and entering them into national contests, and even one student who is now teaching creative writing at a college in Missouri and continuing to write her own novels. It always gives my writing a boost and I want to be able to do that for other writers.

Letter To My Younger Self by Judy Katz-Levine

Letter To My Younger Self

I did not expect this much of a deepening. Remembered myself, you, me,
as a girl with athletic agility, feet double-stepping as dad tossed
balls across the lawn, grounders he called “pepper”. Later on he told me
everyone is unique – not only the famous. I had a health problem – and
my mother saved my life – taking me to the children’s hospital in
Philadelphia – remember that. And swimming at the Jersey shore, waves
cresting and my mother’s face glistening and tan. The long talks with
her echoed in my dialogues now with my son. Playing tennis with mom –
she always won! What energy. Hard to keep up with her. The two brothers
teasing each other – tossing the tennis balls to the younger brother,
teaching him. Then he’d become a pro. Driving the older into NYC to
music school – so he could learn to write Broadway musicals. And my
God did he. And the lessons with the flute teacher – how she told me to
sing. I did not expect to marry. I married a man with an inventor’s
mind, a mind with my grandfather’s gift for invention. Did not expect
to give birth. Have a son. And each loss, the loss of my dad, my
mother, the loss of my grandfather when I was 4, after seeing the
merging oneness of forsythia, left me as a deepening well. The laps of
breast stroke, Australian crawl, I swim at the lake, mirror of the
water, show you, my young self, lost at a pool, found by my aunt; people
have been good to me. You. Found myself in written texts/poems,
improvisational jazz, meditation. Strong enough now, to integrate an
accumulation of waves of losses, or peaks created by writing the poems,
blowing flute at the jam sessions, the little gigs, the big ones,
binding with the loved faces, deep enough to be there for my friends in
this life who are still riding waves. For myself. I’m still doing the
footwork in the dunes. Want you to know.

Judy Katz-Levine

A Great Day for Plagiarism

In 2000, when the presidential election was contested and suddenly “what is the electoral college?” was the question of the day, my dad quipped: “It’s a great time for history teachers.” Disaster tended to make my dad perky—it lined up with his assessment of the human condition and society—and it had a bracing effect on him. He was often pessimistic or downright fatalistic—but he could also be funny.
My dad did not live to see this year’s presidential race, but I’m sure he would have been rude and amusing on the subject. I can hear him say, “Hey, it’s a great day for ENGLISH teachers.” And it is.
What is plagiarism? Well class, I’m so glad you asked that question. Plagiarism is basically shoplifting—it is theft. It is when you steal someone’s words. And here is the great thing—if you admit you did it and ATTRIBUTE it in correct MLA-style you will get full credit. If not, you will fail, or be expelled. Is this clear? The choice is yours.
I’ve seen some pretty extreme case of plagiarism (I’m changing details to protect the guilty.) We don’t think of creative writing as prone to it—after all, don’t writers want to express THEMSELVES? Then why pass off a sonnet by Keats as your own (and how dumb do I look?). Or, when I note that the story was written by Ray Bradbury and not you, burst out “My girlfriend SWORE she wrote it when she gave it to me…” without quite realizing that this isn’t a good defense either.
Cheating is cheating is cheating, as Gertrude Stein would say. Note that I attributed that! And how, you want to know, is homage or influence or a bit of “borrowing” (like Mr. Shakespeare from Herodotus) different than plagiarism? Good questions, class. Please look up common domain. Now write a poem that uses a line (attributed) from Pablo Neruda. After that, re-tell a classic fairy tale for modern times. Keep thinking about this. Stop trying to distract me by getting me off topic—which is easy because you know I like to talk.
If you get it right, maybe you can make a living as a speech writer.

Making of Two Monoprints by Isabel Winson-Sagan


The title is “I Am Body.” It was done as a palimpsest, over two poems by the artist:

“I Am Body”

I dream of having sex with the dead
Skeletal, flesh departing slowly, laughing face of bone and mirth.
He is a kind lover.
And I am a body.
I am not separate from myself.
I am not at war.
This disease is not my enemy, insidious, inside my very skin, tears me apart.
My brain screams, every second, every day, “Pain! Pain!”
I wake up screaming.
But this is MINE.
This is me.
I am not at war.
I am a body.
I will not overcome, defeat my own bones.
The dead man is kind.
He does not notice.
“It’s not normal,” they say.
“If you only work at it, you can be free”
/Protestant bullshit, Calvinist work ethic built America but it cannot make me believe in a war against myself./
I am body.
I am alive.
And my dead lover waits for me to realize
how the veil between our worlds
is so very thin.


“Race War”

There is a race war
In my mind.
I am in a peaceful place
Lama mountain behind
Birds cooing in the early light.
But the mountain
Is on fire.
Smoke fills
The inside of my mouth, tickling, searching.
Farmers thresh the fields
In this pastoral paradise.
The mountains burned 20 years ago
And now,
Black men are being shot
Black women are dragged from their cars and beaten
There is a race war in my mind.
The mountain is burning
Why is my body a battlefield.
No one can apologize for existing.
I never thought that this would happen again,
In my lifetime.
How do I get out?
How do I stay?
If everything is only you,
Why am I burning.

This print was also done during the residency at Herekeke.


Title from a poem by Miriam Sagan: “sober as the Devil and drunk as God.”


Isabel and I made a list of the themes we were working with at Herekeke Art Center.

qualities of darkness
magic mountain
goat’s eye
food chain
ghost image
deja vu
awash in memory
universal vs. specific
is the mountain hard or soft (ghost images are softer)

Stay tuned to see her monoprints and text posted in a few days.