Category Archives: Creative Writing

Slam Poetry with Billy Butler, Wednesdays 7/9-7/30

billybutler2For the month of July, slam poet extraordinaire Billy Butler will be teaching four Slam Poetry Workshops. Billy has performed his spoken word poetry everywhere from the Mill Valley Library to Carnegie Hall in New York! Register for one or all of these special classes.

Wednesday, July 9, 7:00-8:30. Creekside Room. Register here.

Wednesday, July 16, 7:00-8:30. Creekside Room. Register here.

Wednesday, July 23, 7:00-8:30. Creekside Room. Register here.

Wednesday, July 30, 7:00-8:30. Creekside Room. Register here.

Check out Billy doing his thing on his YouTube channel here.

Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

This is the short story that made me fall in love with short stories. I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t include it in the “Stories to Keep Us Going” collection. You can also download a PDF of the story here.

Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

 The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.

            ‘What should we drink?’ the girl asked. She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.

            ‘It’s pretty hot,’ the man said.

            ‘Let’s drink beer.’

            ‘Dos cervezas,’ the man said into the curtain.

            ‘Big ones?’ a woman asked from the doorway.

            ‘Yes. Two big ones.’

            The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.

            ‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.

            ‘I’ve never seen one,’ the man drank his beer.

            ‘No, you wouldn’t have.’

            ‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.’

            The girl looked at the bead curtain. ‘They’ve painted something on it,’ she said. ‘What does it say?’

            ‘Anis del Toro. It’s a drink.’

            ‘Could we try it?’

            The man called ‘Listen’ through the curtain. The woman came out from the bar.

            ‘Four reales.’ ‘We want two Anis del Toro.’

            ‘With water?’

            ‘Do you want it with water?’

            ‘I don’t know,’ the girl said. ‘Is it good with water?’

            ‘It’s all right.’

            ‘You want them with water?’ asked the woman.

            ‘Yes, with water.’

            ‘It tastes like liquorice,’ the girl said and put the glass down.

            ‘That’s the way with everything.’

            ‘Yes,’ said the girl. ‘Everything tastes of liquorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.’

            ‘Oh, cut it out.’

            ‘You started it,’ the girl said. ‘I was being amused. I was having a fine time.’

            ‘Well, let’s try and have a fine time.’

            ‘All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?’

            ‘That was bright.’

            ‘I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?’

            ‘I guess so.’

            The girl looked across at the hills.

            ‘They’re lovely hills,’ she said. ‘They don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.’

            ‘Should we have another drink?’

            ‘All right.’

            The warm wind blew the bead curtain against the table.

            ‘The beer’s nice and cool,’ the man said.

            ‘It’s lovely,’ the girl said.

            ‘It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,’ the man said. ‘It’s not really an operation at all.’

            The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

            ‘I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.’

            The girl did not say anything.

            ‘I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural.’

            ‘Then what will we do afterwards?’

            ‘We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.’

            ‘What makes you think so?’

            ‘That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.’

            The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of two of the strings of beads.

            ‘And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.’

            ‘I know we will. Yon don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have done it.’

            ‘So have I,’ said the girl. ‘And afterwards they were all so happy.’

            ‘Well,’ the man said, ‘if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.’

            ‘And you really want to?’

            ‘I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.’

            ‘And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?’

            ‘I love you now. You know I love you.’

            ‘I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?’

            ‘I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry.’

            ‘If I do it you won’t ever worry?’

            ‘I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.’

            ‘Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.’

            ‘What do you mean?’

            ‘I don’t care about me.’

            ‘Well, I care about you.’

            ‘Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.’

            ‘I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.’

            The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.

            ‘And we could have all this,’ she said. ‘And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.’

            ‘What did you say?’

            ‘I said we could have everything.’

            ‘No, we can’t.’

            ‘We can have the whole world.’

            ‘No, we can’t.’

            ‘We can go everywhere.’

            ‘No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.’

            ‘It’s ours.’

            ‘No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.’

            ‘But they haven’t taken it away.’

            ‘We’ll wait and see.’

            ‘Come on back in the shade,’ he said. ‘You mustn’t feel that way.’

            ‘I don’t feel any way,’ the girl said. ‘I just know things.’

            ‘I don’t want you to do anything that you don’t want to do -’

            ‘Nor that isn’t good for me,’ she said. ‘I know. Could we have another beer?’

            ‘All right. But you’ve got to realize – ‘

            ‘I realize,’ the girl said. ‘Can’t we maybe stop talking?’

            They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table.

            ‘You’ve got to realize,’ he said, ‘ that I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to. I’m perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you.’

            ‘Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We could get along.’

            ‘Of course it does. But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else. And I know it’s perfectly simple.’

            ‘Yes, you know it’s perfectly simple.’

            ‘It’s all right for you to say that, but I do know it.’

            ‘Would you do something for me now?’

            ‘I’d do anything for you.’

            ‘Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?’

            He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.

            ‘But I don’t want you to,’ he said, ‘I don’t care anything about it.’

            ‘I’ll scream,’ the girl siad.

            The woman came out through the curtains with two glasses of beer and put them down on the damp felt pads. ‘The train comes in five minutes,’ she said.

            ‘What did she say?’ asked the girl.

            ‘That the train is coming in five minutes.’

            The girl smiled brightly at the woman, to thank her.

            ‘I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station,’ the man said. She smiled at him.

            ‘All right. Then come back and we’ll finish the beer.’

            He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the bar-room, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.

‘Do you feel better?’ he asked.

‘I feel fine,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.’

 

Stories to Keep Us Going

Update 7/14/14: Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway. The short story that made me fall in love with short stories. 

Update 6/26/14: Story #2 (Flash Fiction),PUNK” by Claire Rudy Foster. I particularly liked this piece but SmokeLong is a great site and you should check out their online quarterly. Hope that gives you some good short fiction reading! I will be back after the 4th (unless I break down and post more stories in the meantime) with more delightful prose to share. 

***

OK, so it has been approximately two days since Creative Writing and I already miss it. See, there’s going to be a two week break from class (6/25 and 7/2) and then the estimable Billy Butler is going to take over for four weeks of Slam Poetry Workshops that are going to blow your frikking mind. I strongly suggest signing up for all four.

And yet, old habits die hard and I find myself looking for short stories to for us to read in Workshop. I simply don’t want to wait until August to share them with you. So, over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting links to good short stories here. When I post a new story, I will also post to my Facebook, letting people know.

Feel free to comment on the stories you like/don’t like, etc. I have to approve each comment, though, because this site is a spam magnet (don’t as me why–INTERNET, WHAT DID I EVER DO TO YOU?!) so it might not show up right away.

The story I am posting today was originally published in The Paris Review and came to me courtesy of Short Story Thursdays, this super neato deal that emails you a different short story every week, totally for free! Check out the Facebook page here.

Without further ado–here is The Vac-Haul by Peter Orner!

 

~Katie (6/20/14)

Punk by Claire Rudy Foster

Story via Smokelong Quarterly.

PUNK
by Claire Rudy Foster

Our parents all think we’re losers. We’re not good enough for them but we’re good enough for each other. The music is too loud and we are packed tighter than canned tuna, shoulder against shoulder. Heads moving more or less in rhythm like we’re agreeing. Yes, we are the fuck-ups. Yes, we’ll disappoint you. We did it wrong. We win at making better mistakes. 

art by Taro Taylor

art by Taro Taylor

Some of us look like punks and some don’t but we’re all wearing the costume of belonging. We don’t go to church, you know. This is our church and it’s loud, loud, loud. There is the voice of God in the bass reverb and the lyrics’ rising incantation. We are already dead, they say. The world has forgotten us in its shame. We forget ourselves. We don’t distinguish between wrong and right, we do what is real.

The singer has a voice like fighting tigers. He raises his beer can over the crowd of leering faces and our arms reach up to engulf him. Dismember him. Eat and take him for our own. We eat our young, and we are all young. We’re hopeless. What happens? Go to school, get some debt and a silly job. We might get married. What is it for, we wonder? We wear work boots to the office and leave the safety pins in our ears. We grow old gracelessly and we will teach our children to argue with anyone, even us, even God. Kill your idols, we will say, even as our hearts ball up in our throats.

If Darwin was right, we are better than you. We are going to spawn and die and we’ll do it in a jugular splash of blood and love, soaking life’s sheets. The solo comes and we are a mass of fury. The fists we raise? That’s for you. We are knocking on your door.

Read the interview.

Claire Rudy Foster lives in Portland, Oregon. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her critically recognized short fiction has appeared in various respected journals; she has been recognized by several small presses, including a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. She is afraid of sharks, zombies, and other imaginary monsters.

Taro Taylor is a 32-year-old who has been living in Sydney, Australia, for 4 years. Taro has been photographing on and off for three years. This photo was used via the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

Creative Writing Workshops; Wednesday nights from 7-8:30 PM

creativewritinginstagramForget essays and homework; discover what it means to let creativity run wild and write for pleasure at these weekly creative writing workshops. We will read and discuss poetry, fiction, non-fiction, slam poetry, and any other type of writing that strikes our fancy. These workshops offer the opportunity to explore your writing skills in a relaxed, informal environment. Creative Writing Workshops aren’t about getting a good grade or writing a critical analysis, they are about trying new things and creating something exciting to put on a blank page.

If you don’t feel like writing, that’s fine too, you are always welcome to just hang out, eat candy, and listen to what others have to say. You can read past students’ writing here. Like our Facebook page here.

All events are open to high school students only.

What Happened During the Fire? by Ariana Agnew

What happened during the fire?

The sky painted orange and speckled with sunset,

Those flames lapping at the sloped ceilings,

The walls ready to burst with yet more heat,

More ash and debris to smother the air,

What happened inside the smoke?

As it curled like a snake around the room,

The world stifling and scalding, the ember-arrows flying fast,

What happened inside the haze?

As everything went rainbow with red,

And the burning blurred all that was?

What was lost in the blaze?

As windows shattered and screams were let loose?

What was said in the shrieks?

As souls cried for mercy and lovers, each other,

What happened when it was silent?

The crackling of warmth and the groaning of wood the only sounds,

The shouts choked by the acid air, the world brilliant and dark,

And so terribly bright.

 

What happened during the cold?

In the rains and snows that chilled the glow,

Too late to stop this treacherous, beautiful thing, too late to save the victims,

But arriving just in time to slip ice over gray skeletons and melted hearts,

Just in time to freeze the chaos forever,

So that people would stop, and look upon this place, and wonder,

What happened during the fire

but never know.

Reasons by Kate Luebkeman

On the night of August 29th 2013, I found out one of my best friends had died. This scenario had often played out in my nightmares, but I never imagined it happening in real life. The Marin County sheriff declared that my friend, who I had seen laughing and smiling a mere four days earlier, had been found dead; washed up from the water underneath the Golden Gate Bridge like a seashell washed up onto shore. She was beautiful, but cracked and chipped from life’s thunderous waves.

She had the biggest smile in the room, the most creative costume at Halloween, and the loudest laugh. She will live on forever in beautiful memories and pictures; and, she will look down on me and other loved ones as the brightest star in the sky.

The road ahead will be full of sleeplessness nights and broken hearts; especially rough for myself and others affected. However, this piece of writing I constructed a few days after her passing is a fundamental step in my personal healing process. I share it with you today in the hopes of touching or helping even one person realize that there is nothing more valuable or worth saving than your own life.

There must be many reasons for a person to take their own life; I can’t imagine it being just one. But maybe there was one thing that threw you over the edge. One event that formulated the feeling that you just couldn’t take it any more. Like if you received a ticket from accidentally running a red light, or the server gave you the wrong order at Jamba Juice. Maybe you had a bad dream that put you in an especially depressed mood, or you earned a low grade on a test. Your brother yelled at you for taking too long to get ready in the morning. You couldn’t pay for lunch because you forgot your money. The parking space you always snag was taken. Your pen ran out of ink in class and no one had an extra pen. Your biking wound contracted an infection. You ate a spoonful of yogurt in the morning, only to realize that it had been molding for months. Your asshole boss told you that your method of bagging groceries was stupid. Your mom told you that if you didn’t study for the SATs you were stupid. Your counselor told you if you didn’t take five AP classes you were stupid. You convinced yourself that you were stupid. You opened up a starburst packet only to find the absence of your favorite flavor: orange. You pressed “seek stations” on the radio and the Backstreet Boys came on- what the heck was this world coming to? You looked in the mirror and thought that you looked fat. You came home from school and saw that your fly had been down all day and no one had cared enough to tell you. You thought that meant no one cared about you. You thought back to last time you saw me; I was drunk, and didn’t even say goodbye. You thought that meant I didn’t care. Maybe that’s why you jumped.

You were wrong, I did care. See, while you were stuck remembering all the shitty times, you must have forgotten to think of all the reasons NOT to jump. You forgot all the good. Maybe if you’d remember that time you found a four leaved clover. Or when you successfully slack-lined three feet. Or when you beat all of us at arm wrestles, despite being less than one hundred pounds. Your last kiss. When you walked down the street and some guy wolf whistled and you blushed. You looked in the mirror at prom and finally saw yourself the way we saw you: beautiful. You hung out with all of us in an Elf Costume because you thought it was comfortable, and we called you a goon. You played dress up one random afternoon at my house, and we acted like four year olds in ABBA costumes. You laughed for more than half an hour when I cooked the worst pasta imaginable while backpacking in the Sierras. You tried the pasta and spit it out and almost threw up. You were in hysterics when we had to eat it all. You took me on my first mountain bike ride, and convinced me that five miles an hour was not even that slow. We went on a ride after school and our friend flew across the trail and sprained her wrist: but, we still rode down Tenderfoot. You kicked ass at nationals. You earned three A+s in a row on essays you wrote. You were given your own horse, and absolutely adored it. You drove your car for the first time. You had us all over for a pool party and we ate ridiculous amounts of chocolate cake. Your family’s reminders that they loved you. Our continuous never-ending love for you.

Maybe you had chemical imbalances in your brain that prevented you from seeing the good. Maybe you had deep emotional wounds that none of us knew about, or you suffered through a secret traumatic event. Maybe it was all of this and more. I only wish that I had known. If best friends are meant to tell each other everything, then why did you stay quiet? Why did you suffer alone?

If only I had told you my story. I have been there. I know what it feels like. Just a few months earlier, only a mile away from you. The wind whipped around me; so strong that I started to lose my sense of balance. I half-hoped that I would just fall and not have to make the decision. My tears flew around my head, raining on the rocks below. I stood at the edge, and decided that if no one came and looked for me, if no one noticed I was gone, then no one cared if I died. I braced myself to jump. Demons surrounded my mind and refused to move. A dark abyss flooded my vision. A creeping sense of shadowy impulse clasped my body in ways I cannot put into words. I squeezed my eyes shut in the hopes of fighting the darkness. Reasons flooded my mind; reasons of betrayal. Reasons of loneliness. Reasons of pain. Reasons of isolation. Reasons flooded into my brain like a flushing river from a broken dam.

I opened my eyes, and for the first time in over half an hour I realized where I was. Looking out on the desert landscape, my eyes followed the silhouetted figure of a giant, far away rock structure and noticed the prickles on a nearby cactus. The more I noticed in the land around me, the less dark my world seemed. And then, something changed. By some miracle, a fleeting thought brushed through my mind. But there’s so much I want to see. I then thought of my upcoming gap year, my dreams of changing the lives of sick children with music therapy, my passion for reading and learning. I forced myself to start naming countries that I wanted to see, foods I wanted to try, and people I wanted to meet. I pictured my future wedding and the looks on my parent’s faces upon seeing their first grandchild. I forced myself to think of everything I would miss out on. My demon’s surrendered.

I was able to do what you were not. I was able to see what beauty there is in this world and force the darkness away. If only I could go back in time and show you how. You were so strong, but not strong enough to do it alone. I will always regret that I didn’t tell my story sooner so you could have fought the darkness. I wish you understood that suicide is a permanent fix to temporary feelings. There is so much more our world has to offer; beauty, wonder, elegance, excitement, first impressions, last impressions, relationships, hard work, opinions, wind chimes, ferry rides, fish tanks, s’mores, rideshares, rainy days, bike rides, vibrant cultures, stunning views, train rides, sunrises, sunsets, discovery, music, happiness, heartbreak, growth, learning, dreams, imagination, and love.

See, there may be many reasons to commit suicide. But there are infinite reasons to stay alive.

 [Editor's note: If you, or someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and/or seek professional help immediately.]

Untitled by Alex Price

His name was Edward Collins. I absolutely adored him. I mean like staying-up-until-three-thinking-of-baby-names adore. It takes a lot of energy to think about someone this constantly. Your fingers get cramped after writing too many Letters-Not-Sent. You get headaches a lot when you spend hours politely browsing through their Facebook history from the past three years.

I was sitting in the locker room trying to guess what he would be wearing when I saw him during our 1st period together which was  PE until the girl who’s locker was right next to mine poked me in the shoulder and asked me if I was okay. This was an appropriate question considering that I had been staring at my black-screened iPhone for about seven minutes and was starting to drool.

I cleared out of the locker room along with all the other girls who had PE, leaving behind the stragglers who hadn’t gotten dressed yet. As soon as I stepped out I saw him. Standing there, with the morning sun shining down on him, enhancing his already built shoulders and prominent jaw and shining a new light on a face that I could lose myself in for hours at an end. He was wearing his freshly-washed Shilo Creek High PE clothes, I should’ve guessed that’s what he’d wear. Once I realized that I had been standing still staring at him for quite a bit now, I rushed into the gym and sat on the floor waiting for the teacher to take attendance then excuse us to play dodgeball or ultimate team handball or whatever silly sport he had for us.

The teacher chose ultimate team handball as the game of the day and we where all put onto teams, I was heartbroken when I wasn’t put on Edward’s team. But once the games stated I saw him standing in the corner with his friends and went over to see him. I slowly walked over to them, and with a combination of shyness and sexiness that I had perfected after three long years of public high school I asked if I could talk to Edward in private. His friends scattered, shooting looks at me then grinning at Edward.

He started talking about how his dog got mad cow disease and foamed from the lips for about 5 hours then died over the weekend, but I could barely hear what he was saying. All I could do was piece together the vibrations and tone in his voice and shiver under the influence of his beautiful voice.

He paused to sneeze.

I took the opportunity to pull a kitchen knife out of my bra and jam it in his throat in one fluid motion, then catch his body as the life quickly faded from him and drag him behind a mat before anyone saw what I had done. I snapped a selfie with his body then ran to the teacher asking if I could be excused to go to the bathroom. They probably wouldn’t find his body until the blood started to pool and stream out from under the mat. Flowing, trying to escape from the host it had lost. I was about forty yards away from the school when I heard screams and alarms beginning to go off. I sighed, knowing his voice wasn’t a part of the horrific screams coming from the gym. I would totally kill so I could hear drone on about his dead dog again.