Street Smart Chicago

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 »

Change Your Life: Acupuncture

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By Burt Michaels

The afternoon before my son’s wedding, he said he was stressed out about the reception, and asked if I’d go somewhere with him. I figured he meant a bar or maybe a climbing wall, but instead he pulled up to an acupuncture clinic. I didn’t see what acupuncture had to do with his jitters, but figured it was just another side of Berkeley’s kooky culture, like organic tofu and Tibetan prayer flags.

Sure enough, the clinic was seventies redux, with subdued lighting, New Age music and cushy recliners. The acupuncturist asked what was ailing me. My first impulse was to reply, “Nothing,” but then the foot pain I’d suffered nightly ever since a less-than-stellar surgery a few years earlier popped in my mind. She said she’d work on it.

I anticipated needles plunging deep into my flesh like some sort of piercing Thai massage, but didn’t even feel them go in. I expected her to stick them in my foot, which she did—but also in my ear, wrists, belly, back-of-the-knee and other surprising spots. Laying there, I figured I’d soon get bored, but instead zoned out, and when she returned some half hour later to remove the needles, I felt like I’d had a great vacation. 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 Fable of the Lunchroom Lyceum

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By Kenneth Preski

I had been seduced, and not with the care of a lover. Contemporary concerns, the practical circumstances of life, healthcare, bills, rent, everyday expenditures compelled me forward, salivating toward a paycheck dangled in front of me by a genericorporation. I shelved my education, my ideas for the future, my expectations, my goals, my preferences for my own existence. I stopped living so I could better my quality of life. At least I wasn’t alone.

Gathered at five plastic-coated tables, sitting atop scattered plastic chairs, were my compatriots in the corporate life. From the walls hung authentic art, prints with prices higher than our salaries, bland enough to match the dull decorative theme that encompassed the kitchen. An unspoken agreement was being acknowledged everyday of the week during the lunch hour: we were renting our time out to the highest bidder, though not toward any agreeable end. The business model was determined before our time, was beyond our control, and therefore not our concern. Ours was the inundated life, a wave of unreflective happenings to ride without end or care, so long as the bank account was padded, and we were paid to eat. Read the rest of this entry »

Change Your Life: Privacy Protection

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By Emerson Dameron

According to MRI scans, the areas of the brain affected by social rejection are the same ones that process physical pain.

According to the webcomic Penny Arcade’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, “Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad.” There’s a lot of brutal rejection on the internet. And it doesn’t always stop there. There’s also invasion of privacy, character assassination and, occasionally, a threat of in-real-life physical pain.

In a long and highly confessional 2013 piece for the website Gawker, humor writer Jeb Lund describes returning from vacation to find voice messages from some people who obviously knew him through his posts on a then-popular comedy site. They included personal information, harassment, threats, and an offer to rape Lund’s wife. 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 »

Change Your Life: Yoga

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Wake up and take a deep breath. Open your eyes and be thankful for the first thing you see and the first thought you think. Exhale completely empty, and BE completely empty; be grateful you made it through the night. Stretch your arms up and your legs down and feel your whole body to its entirety. All your muscles, bones, cricks, hairs, scrapes, scars, freckles and skin are perfect today. You haven’t even gotten out of bed yet! Yippie! The day has arrived! Another deep deep deep inhale through your nose, see your nostrils flare as you try to take in as much air through those little holes as you can to fill up your wonderful oxygen-accepting filters. How magical that you can breathe this abundance of energy and oxygen just by being alive.

Alright, get out of bed. Take your first step. Huh, you’ve already got the memory in your muscles to hold yourself up. Funny, you didn’t even think about it, and here you are standing with your feet on the floor, your hips balancing in place, and your shoulders… where are your shoulders? Pull them down and back and open your chest! You have already accomplished so much today, so go ahead and present your proud open chest. Feel how big you are!  Read the rest of this entry »

Change Your Life: Blog

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They say sharing is caring, but I’d say sharing is imperative. It’s not so much about generosity as a deep human need. Whether celebrating or commiserating, we always need a good pair of ears. Or eyes.  Or whatever. Anything. Tom Hanks, for example, had to resort to a face-painted volleyball when he was cast away in that movie.

And this is where blogging came along in my life. All of a sudden I could share away, with no restraints. For free. No strings attached, no need to call anyone, no need to be hired by any media company (though it was really nice when it happened, thanks Newcity). So yeah, from the comfort of my couch I could voice anything I felt compelled to, and I felt heard. Truly heard. If someone is checking your blog, it’s usually because they’re interested in what you have to say.  They might not like it, but they’re hearing you. And I’ll tell you, it feels great. My husband makes fun of me saying that I think blogging is the solution to everyone’s problems. Trying to lose weight? Why don’t you write a blog about it? Your dog died? Start a blog. Going through a divorce or can’t find a boyfriend? How come you haven’t posted about this yet? In my own case, blogging is better— and cheaper—than therapy, no offense to all the psychologists out there. In fact, if you took offense with that and this was a blog, you could comment about it and start a conversation.  And maybe what you had to say would change my view.  That’s the beauty of blogs: they make you think deeper about whatever subject you choose.  And this is available to absolutely anyone. I’ve heard of very successful bloggers who didn’t even own a computer, or had formally studied a certain topic they were actually really knowledgeable about. Blogging is democratic.

A blog is almost like a book you’re writing—many blogs end up making their way into becoming best-sellers. And if you’re Twittering, you’re micro-blogging. I  don’t like to be constrained to 140 characters, so Twitter feels a bit too claustrophobic for me. But you know what, whatever floats your boat. As long as you don’t feel like you’re alone lost at sea. (Isa Giallorenzo)

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 »

Change Your Life: Wait Your Time

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By Jessica Burg

This past year, I came upon an important unforeseen life lesson all because, despite my efforts, my life did not change the way I thought it was supposed to. 

One lazy afternoon just after Christmas, I was sitting at my kitchen table waiting for leftovers to reheat when my phone rang. Jason, my new boss and part owner of the Logan Square restaurant I’d helped open in November, was calling. I greeted him vivaciously, assuming my help was needed in some way. By now I was used to the chaos that followed our trial-and-error system of operations, scheduling and menu changes and last-minute mandatory meetings. I’d made a point to arrive early, help out in any way and remain positive for every shift. It was important because this job meant more than an hourly wage plus tips. It was the first move in my plan to change my life. That was until Jason bashfully said, “You don’t need to come in Monday. Blah blah blah. It isn’t working out. I’m trying really hard to make it sound as though I’m not firing you, but you’re fired.”  Read the rest of this entry »