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Life 101: The Education and Reinvention Issue 2014

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Illustration by Chris Eliopoulos

What is it about the turn of a calendar, the ticking of a single stroke of a festive midnight that sets off such a wave of self-improvement, of life contemplation, of change? Perhaps it is less the passing of another year than a communal sobering up after the extended annual bacchanal that our holidays have become. Or perhaps it is simply a reaction to the bitter cold of a long winter setting in without the distractions of a beach or a beer garden. In any case, we all fall under the self-repair spell each year at this time. Sometimes we make real changes; too often we craft empty resolutions. In hope for the former and fear of the latter, we’ve asked some of Chicago’s finest writers to weigh in, sometimes with lessons from their own experiences, sometimes with the fruits of their better expertise. Some addressed educational imperatives, the foundation of most upward undertakings; others addressed more unusual corrections to life’s misdirections. Read on, and start your journey to a better place a year from now. (Brian Hieggelke) Read the rest of this entry »

Chronicles of Continuing Education: Lessons from German Lessons

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By John Wilmes

“Language,” my friend tells me, “is the only thing we have.”

His claim is hyperbolic, if not downright dubious, but as he spurs me on to join my new girlfriend in a weekly German course at the Goethe Institut, I see his point. I imagine she and I creating yet another diction between us—there was the friendship, the courting, the bridge into physical happenings, all of which demanded that we mutually contort words into subjectively binding agreements of sorts—and yes, I certainly see his point. I sign up for the class.

In the classroom is a multitude of motivations for introducing oneself to this new tongue. A woman learning how to talk to her foreign husband, an heiress of idle hours, an Italian consulate who collects these schemas, and a handful of twenty-somethings looking for immersion of any kind, for an expanse of identity and ability.

Women, all women. Read the rest of this entry »

Chronicles of Continuing Education: Other Music Lessons

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By Keidra Chaney

So you got a new Stratocaster over the holidays and this year, you are determined to actually learn how to play it. Good for you! Or maybe you got the Strat last year and it’s been sitting in your spare room collecting dust for the past year, whatever, no judgments here. Perhaps you’ve longed to learn the piano (or banjo, or drums) and year after year you’ve been putting lessons on the back-burner, but not this year, by golly. Either way, congratulations! Taking music lessons as an adult is both an enjoyable hobby and convenient conversation starter for cocktail parties and awkward office ice-breakers.

But where do you start? If you’re a Chicagoan, the first option that may come to mind is the Old Town School of Folk Music. It’s a great resource and music community for aspiring and experienced musicians. But (not to take anything away from that venerable institution) it’s certainly not the only option in town. If, for whatever reason, Old Town School of Folk Music isn’t an option for you, there are a number of places where you can get started in your personal journey toward musical virtuosity. Or be able to decently play “Happy Birthday To You” which is also quite commendable.  Read the rest of this entry »

Chronicles of Continuing Education: Apprenticeship

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By Ignatius Valentine Aloysius

We are graduate students in a program I view as intense, topnotch and rewarding. And we are The Apprentices, writers all from genres of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction who give back to the community during one weekend in early December, when we teach free one-hour creative writing workshops. These classes run back-to-back and take place in “the mansion,” an old gothic structure by the lakefront in Evanston. In fact, The Apprentices is an outreach of Director Sandi Wisenberg’s Seminar on Teaching Creative Writing course, an essential component of the MA/MFA Creative Writing program at Northwestern University.

My thrill and anticipation for The Apprentices began in the final weeks of Sandi’s course, when I was required to forge a title, subtitle and brief description for a teaching topic of choice. Each student in the class faced this challenge, and we had a few minutes to resolve it. If you were done beforehand, you offered your assistance to other classmates. Soon we’d all written rough drafts outlining our workshop topics that we hoped to teach two weeks later on the weekend of December 7 and 8, 2013. My title and subtitle, “Up Close, Out There: How to Use Distance and Point Of View in Your Stories” came quickly, and I wasted no time fleshing out the details of my workshop as I saw myself running it in a room full of eager participants. Read the rest of this entry »

Chronicles of Continuing Education: The Seeing and Somethingness of Guiding Writers

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By Martin Northway

Having freelanced for almost two decades, as well as being an editor who had taught or mentored dozens of reporters and writers, in the mid-1990s I figured it was time to take my show on the road with what I styled the Chicago Nonfiction Workshop. I wanted to share with improving writers how to explore markets, craft query letters to obtain assignments from editors and begin to master the various forms of nonfiction.

In small classes, on one evening a week for eight weeks, I sought to impart knowledge I wish I had had when I first began freelancing. There were weekly assignments and critiques. At first, I taught in my Evanston apartment, but after moving to Uptown I took my various groups into venues like the 3rd Coast coffeehouse in the Gold Coast, the former Cafe Gourmand in Printers Row and WorkShirts Writing Center in Andersonville.

In so doing, I felt almost as if I was following in the footsteps of the traveling scholars who carried culture into lecture halls across the Midwest during the early years of the University of Chicago. My basic curriculum remained consistent, but each new class quickly assumed its own unique identity. Read the rest of this entry »

Chronicles of Continuing Education: The Poetry of Futility

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By Vincent Francone

At thirty-five, I earned a BA in English. The saga of how I started, stopped, started college is long and, really, not all that interesting, but I can say with complete certainty that I always knew I’d major in English. Reading and talking about books is the only thing I ever enjoyed.  And I did well—all As!—and should have applied to grad-school programs that allowed me to continue on this path, but I opted to do something ridiculous. I decided to study creative writing.

I chose poetry. Why not? I asked myself. I write poems. I read poems. How hard can it be to do this in grad school? Not very; it turns out that the challenge was not in the reading, which compared to an English degree was pretty light, or even in the writing, as writing long analytical essays is infinitely more taxing. The real challenge was working up the nerve to let strangers read my poems. And let them discuss what was wrong with them. Read the rest of this entry »

Chronicles of Continuing Education: Rallying for the Old School

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By Janina Ciezadlo

Some fellow adjuncts recently started arguments with me about managing my grades online. When I said that I had absolutely no interest in doing so, they launched into a strange indoctrination lecture, designed to devalue my own system and bring me on board with the program as if I were a recalcitrant, weak-minded old lady. I found their zeal absolutely astounding because neither were administrators or had any real stake in my conversion whatsoever. And of course, they were shocked at my lack of interest in data entry.

After they’d exhausted as many reasons as they could on the subject, they implored me to embrace data entry on behalf of the students. I’ve always been suspicious of things people do for students or children. One of the most irresponsible consumer behaviors in the last half century—purchasing an earth-killing suburban attack vehicle—has been bolstered by the excuse that the greedy wasteful parents did it for their children, holding, evidently, the comfort of their spawn on the way to soccer practice over the fate of the earth. Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing Temporary Anonymity: Find the Courage to Be a Nobody

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Harper Library/Photo: Tom Rossiter

Harper Library/Photo: Tom Rossiter

By Greg Langen, MA ’13

Welcome to the University of Chicago. If the manicured quadrangles did not tip you off, you have arrived at one of the most intellectually rigorous and prestigious research universities in the world. But I’m sure you already know this. I’m sure you’ve already looked up the rankings of the school and your particular programs, crosschecked them with the schools that rejected you, compared them with the school that that one kid from your high school got into. If you are an incoming First Year, I’m sure you’re a bit anxious about starting classes, a bit uneasy about those things that you saw on your roommate’s Facebook page. And I know some of you are rapidly wondering where you can buy fresh goji berries or coconut water in Chicago. Don’t worry. I’m sure they’re here somewhere.

However, before you allow the pomp to confer upon you either a sense of accomplishment and/or an obligation to be unendingly brilliant, I kindly ask you to find the courage this year to be an absolute nobody.

Last year, before setting foot on campus, I made the mistake of Googling the notable University of Chicago alumni, assuming that in some absurd and distant way me and say, Philip Glass, were now somehow connected. We aren’t. At all. Read the rest of this entry »

Those Quirky Kids: The Re-Education of the U Chicago Grad

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Photo: Monika Lagaard

Photo: Monika Lagaard

By Erin Kelsey, AB ’12

I graduated from the College of the University of Chicago in June 2012, and I started my job at the University of Chicago one week later. I joined the Alumni Relations and Development (ARD) staff at one of the university’s “schools and units”—which is to say, one of the smaller, independent organizations under the umbrella of the university. In plain language, that means I’m a fundraiser, but not the kind of fundraiser who calls up my fellow alumni to ask for donations.

While I haven’t taken a class in more than a year, my time with the university as an employee has still been educational, as I’ve experienced the vast perspective shift between undergraduates and the rest of the community. That shift was evident immediately: not so removed from my O-Week, I went to new-employee orientation for a long, antiseptic treatment of the school’s history, and I sipped their coffee and waited to hear something new. I didn’t. It was only interesting to see them leave out the unsavory bits of history and how they explained the “quirky student body” to employees who didn’t know Hyde Park. Read the rest of this entry »

Life 101: The Education Issue 2013

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Basic RGB

Illustration: Eric Lovric

I unexpectedly went back to school last fall when a good friend offered to take me with him to Brazil for a couple of weeks. As we immersed ourselves in learning everything we could about this massive country in a short amount of time, in meeting everyone we could, it felt like a college education consumed like drinking water from a fire hose. And I mean that as a good thing.

It’s easy to forget how stimulating pure learning can be, how undertaking something new can punch up your life. And you never know where these detours of knowledge will take you. An artist, Eric Lovric was one of our “teachers” in Sao Paulo; he spent parts of three days showing us his city, sharing its history along with its contemporary nuances with us. And now, here he is, making the cover of this week’s Newcity. That’s the best part of taking a class, though it’s never listed in the curriculum: new friends. (Brian Hieggelke)

Hawaiian Punch: Lanialoha Lee Puts Aloha into Chicago’s Ukulele Scene Read the rest of this entry »