Street Smart Chicago

Senior Class: A Sixtysomething Gets His Start at Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference

Education/Training No Comments »

At fourteen I wanted to be a novelist.

At sixty, I thought I’d better get to it.

“Do what you love doing,” my Buddhist son encouraged. So I cashed out of my commercial writing agency—which had improbably propelled me, a son of unschooled immigrants, to the 1%—invested our nest egg, and enrolled in a fiction-writing program.

After two years I had a compelling concept for a novel but remained clueless as to how to implement it. I quit school, engaged a writing coach and made some progress, but feared I was running out of time and money. On a long shot I applied to the nation’s top writers’ workshops. Read the rest of this entry »

Crossing Swords: A Revival of Traditional European Martial Arts

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By Kristen Micek

Who hasn’t heard the tales of Arthurian knights or watched “Lord of the Rings” and had a fleeting desire to learn how to wield a blade?  The Chicago Swordplay Guild has taken it upon itself to preserve the history and culture of centuries-old Italian sword fighting by teaching it to others.

The guild offers eleven-week courses on either the Medieval Longsword or the Renaissance Rapier that teach students the historical background and how to use the weapon, with dagger combat and grappling thrown in. “From day one, it’s not just a matter of it being a martial art,” says Gregory Mele, co-founder and curriculum director of the CSG ( “We ground it in the history of the tradition.” Read the rest of this entry »

An Abstract Education: The Seductive Call of the Experiential

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By Francesca Thompson

During my freshman and sophomore years of college, I was convinced that after graduation, I was moving to Botswana.

Well, maybe not to Botswana specifically, but I was determined to go abroad with the Peace Corps after earning my bachelor’s degree in creative writing. I wanted to experience the world. Plus, I was fairly certain that a degree in creative writing would get me a really nice cardboard box or a lifelong place in my parents’ basement. There seem to be two paths for continuing education after undergrad: keep treading the theoretical education path and pursue a graduate degree, or make my own education through worldly experience. Read the rest of this entry »

Life 101: The education issue 2011

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We turn the page on a new year, resolved once again to change our lives. Laugh, perhaps at the cyclical folly of this endeavor, but you cannot deny its basic truth: we are driven to be better today than yesterday. And while some seek it through denial (diet, smoking cessation) and others through sacrifice (volunteerism),  education not only serves as a portal to a transformed life, either big (a new graduate degree!) or small (I know how to hand-make pasta!), but the very act of learning is, in fact, irreversible change.

Ted C. Fishman’s seminal new book “Shock of Gray” paints the rapidly aging world in vivid colors and he points out that as we age, our cumulative knowledge is our greatest asset in life’s losing battle against eventual obsolescense. Fishman’s prescription for us all is to keep learning, “pumping yourself full of knowledge as you go along.” Read the rest of this entry »

Losing Our Sages: The past and future imperfect

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Bob Dylan with Joan Baez

By Dina Elenbogen

I have a bust of Honest Abe that my father brought back from a trip he’d taken to Washington D.C. when I was a child. I keep him on my desk because he was honest and forthright as legend had it, and helped abolish slavery. He is also a gift my father gave me. As Abe traveled with me from desk to desk, in college and beyond, I had my father, who also represented “the truth” and endless knowledge, with me as well.

I hadn’t thought for a long time about Abe Lincoln, Bob Dylan, the poet Yehuda Amichai or others who had once been my idols until my Ethics teacher Chava asked us the seemingly simple question, “Who are our sages?” in response to a quote by the twelfth-century philosopher, rabbi and doctor, Moses Maimonides. I drew a blank. The ten students in our adult education class were uncharacteristically silent as well. We returned to the text with Maimonides’ sage advice: “Eat and drink with your sages, live as they do.” As I took in these words, I realized that I have lost sages from living too close to them and discovering discrepancies between what they say and how they live their lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Lost and Found in Improv: Or, how Del Close changed my life

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The muses: Charna and Del

By Jack Helbig

“When the student is ready, the teacher arrives.” That’s what it says in the I Ching, and that’s how it has worked in my life.

I was certainly ready for a teacher—and a new direction—when I began taking classes with Del Close at the ImprovOlympic in the summer before I turned 27. I had dropped out of graduate school and returned to Chicago the previous January, broke and broken, all my belongings (books mostly) packed into six boxes and stored in a friend’s basement in Lincoln Park.

I was utterly lost. So for six months I did as little as possible. I worked when I had to, as a temp downtown, and otherwise I read, wrote in my journal, and road the El endlessly, watching the city slide by.

Then I saw the ad in the paper. A small ad announcing that Del Close was teaching classes in improv. At the time I knew only three things about Del Close—he was famous, he used to direct at Second City, and he was somehow connected to (and important to) a whole bunch of comic actors I idolized, among them John Belushi, Bill Murray and Betty Thomas. Read the rest of this entry »

The Musical Martial Art: Capoeira, where you get serenaded while you kick ass

Education/Training, Ukrainian Village No Comments »

By David Wicik

Anyone who has seen the ultra-sleek heist sequel “Ocean’s Twelve” will no doubt remember the flamboyant scene when Vincent Cassel’s character, the Night Fox, dances his way through a blue-laser security grid—as if the standard red laser just wasn’t hip enough for the Ocean’s palette. What you might not know, however, is that Cassel’s moves weren’t gleaned from watching the “Step Up” series like a Billy Blanks training video, but that the performance was actually an exhibition of the actor’s own training in Capoeira, a centuries-old Brazilian martial arts style. And while Capoeira might not be able to teach you how to dodge lasers (then again, maybe it could), the practice carries the potential to enrich your life in many ways.

But before you start googling “Capoeira gym,” you should understand that Capoeira is not like any other martial art form, in fact, calling it a martial art is kind of like saying that Chinese culture is fried rice and dim sum. Instructor Bambu, whose real name is Steven Kolhouse, of Grupo Axé Capoeira explains that Capoeira includes certain martial elements, but that this aspect is part of a much larger cultural fabric which also comprises acrobatics, music and dance. As Kolhouse points out, “we teach a full art form, a full culture,” which is echoed by the saying of one great mestre (master) of the art, that “Capoeira is everything the mouth eats.” Read the rest of this entry »

Spanish Lessons: Turning language games into tools for home and abroad

Education/Training, Logan Square No Comments »

The fruits of my studies included quality time spent in Puerto Natales, Chile

When it comes to learning foreign languages, I’ve been a Jack of all trades, master of none. I’ve dabbled in French, Hebrew, Russian and Japanese, sometimes achieving the ability to hack my way through a conversation with a tolerant native, but never becoming fully functional in another tongue.

One reason Anglophones like me tend to be lazy about learning another idiom is that much of the world speaks English as a lingua franca. But one language that is very valuable for Americans to learn is Spanish, and it will only become more so as the U.S. Latino population grows. It’s especially handy here in Chicago, where more than one in four residents is Latino, many of them recent immigrants.

I made a half-assed attempt at learning Spanish during a one-semester early morning course at the University of Chicago. Although the teacher was a charismatic, funny woman from Argentina, sleep deprivation often led me to nod off in class. Since then I’ve worked a bit with books and tapes, and I got to practice the language during a college road trip in northwest Mexico, and when I was the lone Chicago delegate at the Cycle Messenger World Championships in Barcelona. Read the rest of this entry »

Think About The Future: If you did, you’d already know there’s a school for psychics

Education/Training, Lakeview No Comments »

Maybe this is the year you finally quit smoking, or drop those fifteen pounds, or get that online degree from Phoenix U. But probably not. So save that money you were going to waste on a gym membership and invest in something useful, like learning to become psychic.

InVision, 3340 North Clark, has been Chicago’s leading school for psychics, energy healers and clairvoyants since 2003 (in a past life it was known as The Midwest Psychic Institute). They offer both introductory six-week classes and more advanced six-month training programs in topics ranging from basic Psychic Meditation (think “Being Psychic 101″) to Astral Body Training. And while you may not think you have it in you to read psychic energy or heal chakras, InVision’s guiding philosophy is that we all have the potential. Read the rest of this entry »

Lesson Plan: What the hell do you know about Afghanistan?

Education/Training, Events, News etc., Politics No Comments »

The crowd inside the Hideout is gently packed by 8pm. Pockets of conversation get swallowed up in hugs and the toasts of pint glasses. Twenty minutes later, a young man named Aaron Hughes takes the stage. He’s tall, but his soft voice and earnest expression seem to shrink him. It’s disarming, then, when he ends his monologue with a confrontational question: “What the hell do you know about Afghanistan?”

The backroom of the Hideout is now full and leaking into the bar area. Someone from the crowd shouts out, “Taliban!” Another yells, “poppy fields!” After a few more keywords, there is a decided stillness among the audience, proving what organizers of the night’s event hoped. The general public really doesn’t know much about Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry »