Category Archives: Student Writing

Barista With A PhD by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

I was unsure whether the barista was conducting a science experiment, or making chai tea. The strainer appeared like some kind of double light bulb. Bubbles rose from the bottom teardrop, and heated the water in an identical container. The woman in the apron carefully stuck a thermometer into the spherical vase. It must have been boiling. She poured loose tealeaves into the water, and moderately fast, it turned an autumn brown. Instead of stirring with the two spoons, as she had done before, the barista grabbed an oak wood stick, and spun the liquid ever so gently.

She had unusually blonde hair. Her nose ring went quite well with it, however. It hung over the glass as she sniffed, once, then again for a second time. She didn’t mind the steamers and the coffee machines a couple feet away: mochas and Americanos playing caffeinated tricks. Leaning down, she pressed a button that separated the leaves from the dyed water. Other waiting customers seemed amazed at the innovation: they pointed and smiled as if everything were behind a case, captioned and formally explained. Once all the tea had drained to the bottom, the woman screwed off the empty glass. She clapped her palm against the clear curves, dumping the unused clumps of tea. She placed the glass next to all the others in a dish rack, and then shifted her head and neck. I noticed some black hair beneath the blonde. I guess you can change more than the color of a tea bag in a cup.

I had to leave immediately after, because my order had arrived, and I asked if they’d make it to-go. An employee had drawn waves in the foamy milk. I didn’t ask for anything artistic…but I take it some people don’t have to be asked. It was only a single cup, and there were no holders. So I managed with the sting of hot coffee around my thumb and middle finger. I sipped a bit off the surface, with my history of spilling in front of city folk. I grabbed a traveler’s lid from the corner and took off. The line at the café wasn’t so long after I scooted by a man in a green shirt on my way out. I made an estimate, that if I had come at least ten minutes later, I wouldn’t have been standing aimlessly, single file, in something I could have lived out much more easily (in another time).

This was near Fifth & Mission, San Francisco, where everyone seems to leave their hearts…and lose their keys. Where everyone’s cars break down because the hills are too strenuous for two sets of wheels. Where the fog means it’s summertime, and the sun means it’s December. Where Hitchcock took advantage of the weather, and a bridge-way of suicide attempts. Where I paid for coffee at the Blue Bottle, mistaking it for a chemistry lab sometime or the other.

When I leave myself this way (if I do, that is), I’ll grow accustomed to the occasional pauses in my voice, where I read this sentence over, and I grow accustomed to the occasional pauses in my voice: the sweet spots in my mid-tones, the cracks in my chest, the reminders of my days hitting high Cs, playing melancholic chords. Thanks to music, my lower back sagging on the porch steps, my ears: I can write undisturbed. And I can listen to myself…talking.

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Urban Introspections by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

There is no difference between compassion and rejection. I learn strategically, crossing the street with the rest of them, when the red hand goes up. I was on 17th and Mission, where the bagels smell like shades of memories—warm, uninterrupted—and the people smell, well, like people. We had to wait for a right turn because a one legged man wouldn’t smile and say, “Go ahead”. We had to cover our heads when we walked under a scaffolded building because we were afraid the nails might rain down. Then again, I guess it was just me that was afraid.

We were parked 3 blocks from the studio, and I was confused when the homeless man yelled “pity” at my shoes. My mother passed a drunken man, when she was alone. He was smiling, the euphoric kind, where the lips are too damn high just to say they’re “happy”. I wondered, if I was there: would I feel drunk too?…would 21 greet me at a green light and I’d feel too young to be a child?…would I be drunk if my shopping cart were my suitcase?…if Japanese tourists were my neighbors 25 hours of the day?

My mother said the Mission was never on the city’s restoration list. “Bernal Heights had been checked off,” she told me, “Noe Valley; that was another lucky one.” I nodded, pressing my lips together.

Drained noise, from the insides of the passenger window. The graffiti was ashen, even the murals in the schoolyards. The million dollar apartments, stained with the profanity of strangers (all over garage doors and fire escapes).

We drove down Divisidero. “No traffic,” I said. Despite the construction and the minute hand pointing to rush hour. “The locals keep to the indoors on Wednesdays,” I suggested. Maybe the bachelor didn’t shave his beard. Maybe the hooker didn’t shave her legs. Maybe for once in everyone’s lives, the fog was telling them where to go. I must have been unfamiliar with where it was they were going.

I am astonished at a Golden Gate that would be so much as red if its towers weren’t rusted with the stop and go of foreclosure signs, empty storefronts, and singles protesting social injustice. He stopped us, a white man who brought up starving children and racism all in the same sentence. We were out to lunch, and we said we would come back. “Keep up the good work,” my mom whistled back from an adjoining block. We didn’t come back.

I had a twenty in my pocket—it wouldn’t take much to toss it in a guitar case or a plastic bucket. It wouldn’t take much, I said to myself, to read a cardboard sign that had “God Bless” scribbled in Sharpie. Give a hollow man my takeout. Anything.

But I didn’t. I walked those 3 blocks to the studio. I took class like I was back in Marin County, and I had clothes, and I had an identity that had more or less manifested itself into a journal for 4 or so years. So yes, I am capable of patting an untalented child on the back. I am capable of biting my brother’s arm if he’s watching too much TV. I learned strategically, however, that I cannot ride the MUNI without washing my hands 7 times over after I get off. I cannot stare at a pedestrian without saying that I’ve had a life-changing experience. I cannot observe that green-glass sea without imagining the bodies breathing un-hopefully at the bottom. I cannot live here. I can only look here.

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Ms. Calner’s Lucky Underwear by Kate Luebkman

High school; the place where dreams simultaneously take off, and go to die. The place where teen angst is more common than herpes; where herpes is more common than self confidence; where self confidence is more common than good fashion sense; where good fashion sense is more common than inspiring teachers; but, where none of the above is more common than terrible drivers.

High school is where I met my best and worst versions of myself. Well, the worst version of myself trying desperately hard to be the best version of myself. High school is also where I met Ms Calner. All while trying to pull off a tube top.

Ms Calner was the teacher every girl wanted to be and every boy (and selective girls) wanted to bang. She had a pre-pop-Imma-do-what-I-want-support-all-girls-Taylor-Swift hair, Mila Kunis cat eyes, a figure Rihanna would be like “Oh na na, what’s YOUR name?” and that Beyonce angel glow.

She was also smart as hell.

My favorite story of Ms Calner was in the spring of my junior year. We were all trying to keep our cool while amidst substantial pressure surrounding our futures; and still saving energy to get crunk on Fridays. It was rough.

Ms Calner had decided to take the challenge of teaching us all about the different government parties in the US while also keeping us awake. Talk about some American Ninja Warrior s***. This bad-ass teacher was having none of our excuses, and all of our attention.

“I want you all to be able to turn eighteen and walk into that voting booth with the confidence of a six year old losing their first tooth. You’re going to change the world people, we need you.”

Two things happened in the next fifteen seconds that broke our momentary concentration. A quiet boy in the back named Alex whispered loud enough for everyone to hear, “no I need YOU Ms Calner,” to cheers of “yeah you do’s” and whistles. Following his outburst, an unnamed person ripped a huge, jupiter sized fart.

Then the incident began. The one known to future students at Rosemary High as “Fartgate 2014.” It was magical.

A kid named Hugo responded to Jupiter Farter with a mousy little fart. Then Stephanie, known for the one time she brought a $50 wine bottle to a dirty house party and drank the whole thing like a classy mother, blasted Hugo out with a giant one. Robert, who was rumored to have eaten a burrito for lunch that day then redefined “Smoke on the Water,” and we all called encore. Karlie took one for the girls and was joined by her twin Karina right after. Twin synchrony is a real thing.

Fart after fart, the class was going wild. Then all of a sudden, a fart that Barney Stinson would deem “Legendary” occurred. It was loud, demanding, awesome, and it came from the very front of the room.

We gasped. We admired. We surrendered.

Ms Calner smirked as she gazed at our open mouths,

“Well, I did wear my lucky underwear today.”

Ms Calner turned around in those beautiful jeans that displayed her perfect booty, and we applauded. “Now can you please all quieten your buttholes and pretend to care about democracy.”

That was the day I know I wanted to be a teacher. That was the day we would talk about for years and our highlight of high school. That was the day Ms Calner earned the #BOSS t-shirt Karlie printed her at the end of the year. That was the day we all payed attention to democracy. That, was high school. And that, was the day Ms Calner wore her lucky underwear.

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I Don’t Know If by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

I don’t know if I care that I’m not in their photos, their squad slideshows, their monthly binges at In n’ Out. I’ve never been much for bikinis and car keys at my side. I feel that I’m not a part of something when everyone’s arms are cold by the time they hug me. I’m on another bench, or in another pool, waiting to think of something clever to say. I’m not spontaneous, I don’t laugh at my own face, I’m not someone who walks into a crowd and gets mugged. I might have a light smudge of lipstick on my cheek, or a wrinkle in my shirt, but I won’t be made up. I won’t put on red lipstick or fake lashes. I won’t make fat rolls with my chin. I won’t parade down red carpets as if I had the legs for it. I’m not per say, notorious for my neighborhood.

My name might be mentioned once or twice when I arrive, and I kill the boring streak. Or when I leave, and one more name can be checked off and go stale. I try too hard…I regret it. I’m quiet…I regret that too. I don’t understand why every little piece of information is one-sided, why it’s small…and meaningless. I knew this day would go a certain way. I told myself: there might be a give or take in the end result, but eventually it would take to Maple Street, maybe Sir Francis Drake. It would make me say, “damn” as I took a shower, then again as I went to bed. It would make me satisfied that I predicted the percentage of lonely in my nighttime prayers.

I don’t know if I care that I’m not one of them: the one with the towel and the baseball hat, the one with the funny shirts. Am I too cynical? Are they afraid of me? Is it my hair?

I don’t know, I really don’t know. I’ve tried the lying thing: I guess all them high schoolers are better than me. Everyone is used to lying through their teeth, and puffing smoke, and asking people out like it was just another item on their grocery list.

I’m not used to that: I haven’t done anything. I don’t drive, I listen to drug-ed teachers, I listen to my parents, I don’t drive. I’m not ten anymore, so my art can’t look crappy, and I’m not allowed to wear a damn bow in my hair. I can’t hold my daddy’s hand. I can’t talk about my brother without imagining he was dead and everyone saw me for the first time. You know, the pity kind, where everyone pats your back. Maybe just looks over their shoulder, presses their lips together. Not a pout, but a gentle smile with the lower lip…a pity smile.

It’s because I listen to the right people that I haven’t done anything. I don’t dye my hair, because of the chemicals. I don’t drink Slurpees, because of the chemicals. I don’t talk to kids my age…because of the chemicals.

It’s because I listen to the right people that I’m not in anyone’s pictures, I shove off my mother when she stalks me with her disposable camera, or when my dad comes to school to bring my lunch. The fact is: I’m not interesting anymore.

 

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Spent in a Room by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

I’ve always wondered if my dreams were real enough, I could cast myself into my classmates’ houses, their rooms. Then I’d know what words lay on their bed sheets, which names were crossed off in a yearbook, which ones had little sharpie hearts drawn around them.

The boy who wears wife beaters, plaid, and leather jackets…I wonder if there are cutouts sprawled across his desk. Phrases here and there, quotes from magazines he thought were worthwhile. He’d sit down with his glue gun, and arrange all the letters on his shirt. He’d put it away so no one would know about it. No one would even ask. An illusive poet who feels it best if he takes from others; scrambles a Pulitzer-prize composition into a diary entry. All he wants is to be alone.

I’ve also wondered about the boy with all the beanies and the purple V-necks. He wears sneakers: flat ones. He feels comforted by the way his earphones hug his neck. I’ve thought about his house, his room: the significant lack of textbooks, the miscellaneous strawberry on the bathroom floor. But there are real books, paperback collections of clean stanzas and unexpected commas. There are line breaks in the most fickle places. There are eyes in the back of his head. He’s a philosopher, a walk through a Japanese cherry orchard…quiet. I know this because he’s quiet.

And the rookie, with the gang symbols on his sweatshirts and the dandruff in his hair. If only—I wonder—he was putting on a show for us. Maybe the weekly concussions are a ruse. Every complaint belongs in his medicine cabinet, because he’s a little too high today. I feel like I know his nightstand, how many tissues he unravels before hitting the sack. He has a nightlight in the corner of his room, because he’s never gathered the courage to unplug it. It’s a redwood tree, or an oak tree, one or the other. This guy owns a dog that’s too afraid to sleep by his side. He only wishes it could kick him in the middle of the night. He lives his dreams a bit sadly, recently so.

I seem to hope that every guy I meet has a secret, or a writer’s words in their leather jacket. I seem to hope that these people are better beneath the cellophane. There is subtle beauty on their lashes, a hint of potential in their widow’s peak. But I seem wrong in my brutally honest ignorance. I seem wrong in my careful attempts to read between the lines, my guesses on monopoly boards: every adolescent doesn’t let me pass go. I seem wrong in my predictions.

I waste time on poems that leak lies, upon lies, upon lies. I waste time on all of you. Time was better spent sitting outside, pretending I had never seen you before. And yet I stare, on and on, trying to work the gears in the teenage clockwork. Because you’re interesting.

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Someone by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

I’m looking for someone. Not someone to grow old with, someone to rock with till the lullabies go flat. benches-186309_640Not someone to hold my hand at graduation, because I am uncertain I will remain among my colleges by then, these pupils I’ve seen grow old. Old with snap chat stories writing their futures, old with excuses, concussions of guilt that get every football jock out of their math test.

I’m looking for a young person, one who I can stand to be taller than, have a few freckles on their cheek. I can stand some makeup in the most unnoticeable places. I can stand a smile. Not an optimistic one. No. A somewhat hopeful pout, or a twinkle in the corner of their eye. Anything that proves they don’t wish to contradict me, to slur every one of my phrases when it is most raw. I don’t want someone like that.

They don’t even have to be a high schooler. They could come with a barcode, categorized under the young adult section in the library. A little gloomy, like all the books there want to be, a little moody. I’m looking for someone, not a back-talker, a frantic typer, a socialite, none of those things. I look around, searching with one strap on a shoulder, more than waiting or longing. It’s more than standing outside of doorsteps in the rain. It’s more than sitting at an airport with a label-maker. I’m actually looking.

I’m not saying the fellows I have are unsuitable. They are genuine, they are homey, they are “nice”. I’ve found, however, they are nothing but that. Nothing but a high-five, an un-hungry applause at each one of my attempts—attempts to find puns in the scarcity of textbooks, attempts to be a good listener, and pretend to give a crap about their run-the-mill antics. My fellows: their words of wisdom do not belong in the chinks of English quote books (I cannot be their companion anymore). I cannot stand the buzz of inadequate whining; undesirable voices that gather the worst words out of our dictionaries. I like them, I do, but I’ve outgrown them. I haven’t grown old, but I’ve outgrown them.

This position is quite uncomfortable; this situation could never be a couch cushion or a restaurant dinner booth. No. I only sit in such places when I am alone, when I am still combing through the cracks of the TV remote, or underneath the lamination of the specials menu. A time and place: a perfect moment for time and place. A cozy seat warmer, a hot water bottle, a leopard print blanket. Only in warmth can time and place find whatever it was they were looking for. Yet I am still looking for them. The conventional stretch of that minute hand will someday lead me to that someone.

They don’t have to be like me, they don’t even have to like me. They could be plain and simple if they wanted to. Straightforward, not afraid of criticisms for the love of every mistake I have ever made. Maybe they could get their point across, unlike me, and my day-to-day unnecessary sentences. Maybe they could tell me when enough is enough, and I don’t fit into my anecdotes like puzzle pieces do. Maybe they could hold my hand in the metaphysical dankness of a thought tunnel, but in truth, not really hold my hand. Maybe when I don’t want to go to my graduation, that someone will say it’s okay.

That I will say it’s okay. And I’ll stop looking.

For more writing from the Creative Writing Workshop, click here.

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I Have Almost Always Felt Out of Place by Ben Daly

by Ben Daly

I never actually met you. I would wake up every low-contrast morning next to some kind of blinding sun desperately trying to get in my way. Every single day, as the dreams faded, I knew the sun would rise happily and sleep well. I was envious of light. The pavement and I stared at each other until some rich old tycoon would give me a glare to cross. I don’t think he liked to acknowledge the light, even when it was smiling bright at him. I saw you somewhere. My mind’s eyes and ears could feel you: My limbs could not. I never quite knew what to make of a million women acting like animals, and I never knew what to make of my friends using me as a spare tire, but wearing me down slowly as all my bad sides ground against the same pavement even I would rather hold hands with.

A speaking voice tries to explain it, but a singing voice lives it, and holds it dearly, clutching it, sobbing with relief. Colleagues looked in. They tried to help me make sense of why you cared. Later, we tried to make sense of why they did. You may be gone, but your spirit’s hand is lukewarm. Bowing trees. The violet sky in our eyes. The pavement has told the dark buildings in the distance to celebrate. They light up for us. They take requests.

If you do too, I hope I meet you back on that hill, and I hope the forces are merciful to the sea, which is merciful to the wind, which is merciful to us, and lets our memories fail to be blown out into that dark sky. I, you, we come from the same place. We can see it in each other, some monarchy of common interests, a line formed only out of two points. Without one, there serves no clear way, no law stated by a smart man who lives alone, to measure the size or design of either one.

Your hands need mine. My heart’s structure yearns to be pulled out of its housing and join yours. If there is no current, the power is drained. My lips grow pale and stiff so I cannot laugh with you. Now I can feel my heart, too, in my mind. But my true eyes open. My heart is bleeding, the sun dries, and the pavement weeps for its stains.

 

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Loneliness FAQ by Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

Loneliness FAQ*

By Maxine Flasher-Duzgunes

 

Q: What is loneliness?

A: A state of being, commonly one of the symptoms of mild depression, involving a failure to close the distance between the people around you. This can be expressed as both physical and emotional: your gut often tells you to hold someone’s hand, whereas your mind scolds you for giving it the least of a try.

Q: Who gets lonely?

A: More people than you think: maybe the prep school girl who keeps twisting her hair at church. When everyone’s still in prayer, she glances in your direction, wondering if she should glance a little while longer. It could be the dude in the basketball shorts who comes to English class for lunch. You’re there too, striking up a conversation until he says he has to go to the library. You stay. Even your science teacher: never a word about his family, not a baby picture, not a Christmas card. He’s at his desk from 6:00 to 6:00, closer to his papers than say, an actual breathing set of eyes.

Q: Am I at risk for loneliness?

A: Yes. An abundance of time spent lacking the company of others is true to loneliness: logging in a journal, star-gazing, shuffling through the four contacts on your phone, going down lists of to do’s three months after you said you’d do them, resorting to text marathons with your mother, refusing to answer the phone.

Q: Can loneliness be controlled?

A: Primarily, no. It’s not the people that forget about you, so much as the people you (frequently more than sometimes) force yourself to forget. Environmental factors: the means you were raised, the school you go to, were never meant to beat you into the android that you’ve become. However, as self-esteem directly affects your willingness to become the Charlie Chaplain like bum everyone avoids, it’s up to you to say you want in on the one-man club.

Q: Is there an absolute cure for loneliness?

A: Subjecting yourself to prolonged sessions with strangers. Say, placing yourself into an unnatural conversation: having a go at discovering common interests. And above all, making people like you.

Q: Was that last answer truthful?

A: Of course not. It’s essentially known that adolescents like you have difficulty accepting their disease, disorder, disability…whatever. Everyone you care about (the few people there are left) lie to you. Rejecting their intuition says that they hope you won’t die an old maid. Ninety-five years, you’re still attached to the tennis balls on your walker, in a cabin by the sea. The others you used to love probably would be too dead cold to visit you, while in their will, they give you a minor mention. Some inheritance, some money, some land, but that really doesn’t compare to the last words they let loose on their deathbed. They whisper, your elbow crunching the hospital mattress. They say: You’re not lonely. You’re not depressed. You’re just a writer.

 *Editor’s note: inspired by Aubrey Hirsch’s piece, “Multiple Sclerosis FAQ

 

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Stars by Clem Grace

We turn to the stars
for comfort
We think those bright little pin pricks
those holes in the atmosphere
can somehow steer us
in the right direction

Because stars surely know
up from down
stars must realize they’re
suspended, indefinitely,
light-years away from each
desperate pair
of searching eyes

They must realize how
superior they are
to us inferior beings
us creatures who succumb
to the force of gravity

Stars never touch ground
just float
effortlessly, tauntingly, above us,
above our heads

So at times
when our head space seems
too expansive
for the minuscule reality
which is our existence

We turn to the stars
because at least they know
their place in the universe

But the truth is
even stars know no directional boundaries

Because if Pythagoras was right,
if the world is truly round,
suspended in dark infinity,
suspended in a blanket of sky,
then what lives above our heads
must also live below our feet

The high and mighty stars, therefore, surround us
that glittering blackness
encompasses us
We search for meaning so high
above our realities
when perhaps we could just be
peering over the edge of the earth.

And I don’t know if the
surrounding constellations,
the sometimes supernovas,
are a comfort or a warning

A protective shield
from galaxies unknown
or a reminder
that our lives are ultimately insignificant

But I know that some stars
are 100 times more powerful
than the sun
the most powerful thing we know
in this not quite geocentric universe
So if the stars know their place
We must know our place as well,
a place within them
a place within the stars.

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Blunderance by Ben Daly

I’ve come to think I’m a writer. Too many swirling thoughts burst out form my old days into some kind of bloody, majestic fragment. I’m too pure to call it something like wild creative birth. But today I keep wondering if I’ll fade away before I escape their power, and find mine. It used to be dreams.

Pretending to love the coldest person who wears a mask

Being an outsider and starting an even hollower friendship with the moon

A block in my mind to write back that defied all progress

I lived half in a world worse for me, with no soul to bring me back but myself.

And when I finally did pry my shadow from the other direction, it gave me something, something that I needed to tell the moon.

So I spoke;

“I have taken myself from the earth so far away that I do not think I shall fade away from all parts of my mind again. And this written on the moon in my mind’s expert symbolism,  I must remind myself with it to stay above ground forever.

 

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