Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dustin F. Geranen, Former Writing Center Tutor, talks ESL and the Post-Graduate Life

My work at the Writing Center was my first step toward a career in ESL teaching and tutoring. I’d read all of the articles Carrie makes new tutors read about ESL tutoring but I still had questions. I sat down with her for nearly an hour during which she talked to me about her own experiences and gave me more reading material. I then spoke with former tutor, Madeline Christensen, who advised me that the tricky part of ESL tutoring was understanding and respecting cultural differences. A student from Asia might be embarrassed to show their grade on an assignment while a student from Russia might feel like your not qualified to tutor them if you aren’t quite blunt.

I wasn’t alone in my trepidation but I decided that the only way to get good at it was to take on as many sessions as possible. I told everyone they could give me their ESL sessions if they were nervous about them and Carrie spread the word to all of the comp teachers that I’d be more than happy to work with ESL students on a regular basis. Soon, teachers began contacting me directly about working with their ESL students.

During my second year at the Writing Center, the ELP department contacted Carrie and asked about setting up a standing appointment for a student from China. She’d worked with an unscrupulous agent who impersonated her on the phone and her English was at quite a low level. She is the main reason I’ve pursued ESL as a career. I worked with her three times a week for a year. I saw her go from a struggling learner relying on nouns and pointing to pictures to a confident student capable of writing meaningful paragraphs and developing a linear essay. The sessions were frustrating and often tiring for both of us but we persevered and her English improved as did my instructional ability.

For a year after graduating from Roosevelt, I worked teaching comp at a couple schools in Chicago—including Roosevelt. My work with my ESL students was always most fulfilling. It’s not just the intricacies of learning how to teach people from radically different cultures, but working with a student who fears she may have made the wrong choice to leave her homeland. With each week of work an ESL student becomes more confident in their ability to be a student and succeed in America.

I answered a craigslist ad for online ESL work thinking I’d pick up some extra cash to supplement my teaching. The ad turned out to be for a position as a language coach at Rosetta Stone. Now I only work for them. I lead 50 minute Totale sessions in which 1-4 learners interact with me via webcam. I show them pictures and play vocabulary-based games with them. I also help teach them about cultural differences relating to language. Additionally, I teach Reflex sessions, which last 5-9 minutes and focus on fast-paced conversations that students will likely encounter such as asking for directions in a city and interacting with a flight attendant when your headset is malfunctioning.

The sessions are quite productive. We don’t focus on written words as much as aural/linguistic association. It’s not enough for them to give me the noun; they must form a sentence that sounds American. This helps shape their thought process when interacting in English because they start to understand how we form our sentences based on our thoughts.
It’s not all business, though. My learners crack me up on a daily basis. I’ve found making jokes about everything helps relax them and gets them to use English more freely. I’ve posted some of my more humorous interactions at a blog:http://charhybdis.blogspot.com 

-Dustin F. Geranen

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Indestructible Man by Jake Wrenn

The Indestructible Man
By Jake Wrenn

                A crowd had gathered around the stage, and painted clowns began setting up tables. There were items on the tables. The items were weapons. The clowns were bringing out weapons and placing them on the tables. The crowd was drawn in by the enigma of it, the strange.
                “Step right up! Come one come all!” A clown had taken the stage, swinging his arms and keeping his knees bent. The clown had a white face with red eyes. “Come see the eighth wonder of the world! The scariest of the scaries! The freakiest of the freaks! The ghoulish, the grotesque, the bloodcurdling! Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the Indestructible Man!”
                The crowd shifted in revolt as the man took the stage. He was impossibly large, hands that could crush a skull, his body a hellish fa├žade. He walked the way mountains walk, slow, uncalculated.
                The clown continued, pressing the morbid. “I challenge each and every one of you to take but one swing at death, and to try and kill the man that cannot be killed!”
                Spectators began a line near the corner of the stage. They stood with wide-eyed fear, staring at the man, the thing, this entity. Each took a device from the tables; some tried stabbing him and some tried shooting him, one man tried to choke him and the thing laughed, having those hands around his neck. The man swallowed potions and acids that would burn the body from the inside out, yet there he stood, unscathed.
                I wished to participate.
                I stood in front of the tables, the array of the ghastly pieces; there were knives and guns, chainsaws and swords, strange things I had never seen. Devices all that would end the life of a normal man. The knives were rusted, suggesting a lifetime of use. I stared at the stage, the Indestructible Man.
                Some may criticize my modest choice of weapons, but the kitchen knife was the only thing I felt familiar with. I took the stage. The crowd groaned, seeing many knives come and go. I stood in front of him, this man, this enigma. He was two heads taller than me to be sure and stared down, his hollow, dead eyes, saying nothing, thinking the decrepit. I could feel the grandfather clock tick tick of my heart.
                “Go ahead, kid,” a clown whispered behind me, “stab him.”
                I felt the knife in my hand, its rigidity, its decisions, and I felt the man staring down at me. I flipped the blade in my hand, revealing the handle to the man and the blade pointed toward myself. He reached out, confused, taking the handle of the knife. Silence swept over the crowd as the Indestructible Man fell to the stage.
Jake Wrenn is the winner of this year's Flash Fiction contest! Congratulations, Jake! And congrats to all the other winners!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Home Sweet Home by William Lucio

Home Sweet Home 
By William Lucio

            It was a revolting site, the house around the corner. Either choked with fear or disturbed by the bloodcurdling screams heard at night, no family had ever stayed put for very long. The two-story, 18th century house, was extremely decrepit. Moss had climbed its way up the walls from the lawn below. The house had an interesting enigma to it and no one understood its morbidness.
            The house’s grotesque and hellish form intrigued my friends and I, so we decided to clown around and enter this known-to-be-haunted home. Within minutes we wished we had never entered the wooden doors, which let off ghastly creaks the wider they opened. Immediately we were overcome with terror. From the potions we found in the basement, to the skeletons hung in the bedrooms, complete with skulls and all, we decided this house was no longer an object of our fascinations. Unfortunately for us, once the doors to the front of the house were closed, they had remained so and we could no longer escape.
            We had only been trapped inside this ghoulish place for an hour, and my friends were already dead. I was the sole survivor, and I was scared out of my mind. Tony had been possessed by a strange and demanding entity that forced him to pull open a kitchen drawer and stab himself with a rusted knife. He bled out on the floor. Janet found herself locked in a closet and after a violent spell of screaming and pounding, we were finally able to pull the door open only to find her head had been twisted all the way around. An invisible force dragged Kyle into the fireplace across the hall and I watched him burn alive as the fire lit itself into a screaming roar of flames and embers. The revolting smell of his roasting flesh still lingered in my nostrils as I realized I was the only one left.
            Then, the tone of the grandfather clock echoed through the hallways and fluttered into my ears. When I turned toward the sound, I saw a darkened figure, black as night. It pointed at me and chills ran up my spine. It was then when the memories of the past hour flashed through my mind. Nothing was killing my friends. There were no evil spirits murdering them one by one. It was me. I was the one possessed by the dark being in front of me. I stabbed Tony with the knife and watched him bleed to death. I pulled Janet into the closet and twisted her neck around. It was me who dragged Kyle to the fireplace and torched his body. I was now one with this evil monster. The dead should never cross over to the living realm, but when they do, they’re here to stay. Now I haunt this house and wait for new arrivals to dare entry, and when they do, I kill them and add their souls to my collection.

William Lucio's story won second place!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In the Dark of the Night by Stephanie Khio

In the Dark of the Night 
By Stephanie Khio 
            As the storm intensifies, grotesque shadows lurk in the corners of the room, creating ghastly images. The trees strike the window, giving a hellish laugh in the fierce wind. Its bushy boughs create morbid clown-like shadows, hovering over my bed. Bloodcurdling chills rattle their way up my legs and disperse to the ends of my hair as a lump in my covers travels like a rat crawling under a carpet. Its icy fingers pierce my skin, gnashing onto me with its teeth. As its poignant tongue trickles up my leg, I jolt out of my bed, the covers snarling between my legs. Dragging my numb feet across the burning cold floor, I fumble to the door. Feeling an enigmatic wind behind me, the door slams, awakening the house. The mirrors and the grandfather's clock fall to the floor in the room next door. My hair flies in the raging gust, my face spitting wet from the ferocious rain. I ignore my entire surroundings, racing directly to the open window, deciphering to escape. The window bangs shut, nearly cracking the decrepit wood. The spirits revolt against me, locking me inside its starving jaw. The fickle shadows waltz around the room, an uncanny lullaby replaying itself in the haunted air. I remain standing, facing the window, terrified of the leaves slapping the fury wind. I feel a burning heat behind my neck, breathing heavily with an eerie excitement. I turn to face the monster skulking behind me, feeling my skin ripping into shreds. It is a man-like figure hovering its shadows over me. His saliva boiled out his mouth, bubbling like a potion. Aware of my terror, he gives a fiendish, laughing shrill, howling at the dark spirits. The walls shake. He notices and gives a morbid grin, grinding his teeth. His ghoulish hair corkscrews out of his skull, and his hands scissor my skin, roughly scratching my cheek. I choke on my spit, gasping and gulping for air, as he yanks my head to his face, almost lifting me off the ground. His oddly charming teeth suck at my supple neck, blood gushing through his teeth as if he bit into a succulent fruit. My eyes water, intensely enduring the pain. He stops and the storm winds down, like a broken record that bruises the song to an end. I look into his demonic eyes, blinking into a new world. The dark sky outside isn't as gloomy, but rich with a cottony ash. And his contour has become hearty. Feeling my blood flutter through my veins, exciting my bones, I put his face to mine. Our noses aggressively fondle each other as I kiss his plump red- almost brown- lips. I savor and swallow his saliva, being intoxicated with my master's passionate ardor.

Stephanie Khio's story tied for third place!

A Father's Legacy by James Weging

A Father's Legacy

By James Weging
            Jude walked off the train. It had been a day full of nerves. At work, he was asked a simple question, “How much money did you lose?” And yet his answer seemed an enigma to his bosses, “Too Little.” Would they catch on to his scheme? Not, a chance Jude was clever and too quick for them. As he turned the corner onto his block, he was taken back by skulls everywhere. His mental state had caused him to forget that today was Halloween and soon the block would be full of revolting looking children and their decrepit parents leading them around the block. If there was one thing John hated more than rich executives, it was children on Halloween.
            As the night sky turned from gold to orange to black, Jude had entered his house. His house had all the finest contemporary fixtures: art deco lamps, leather coaches, black marble. The one fixture that stood out of this setting was the old 19th century grandfather clock left to him by his father. Jude’s father had been the most outstanding citizen of Marble Creek. During the day he loaned the people money out of his Savings and Loans and during the night he was a part time firefighter. Everyone loved Jude’s father, and the grandfather clock stood as a hellish remembrance of how the two differed.
            Jude sat down, took off his coat, and took an apple out of the refrigerator and started eating. There was no way he was going to give out candy tonight. Not only did he despise children, but his recent illegal escapades had made him less prone to answer the door. However, no matter how unwelcoming and even revolting to Halloween parents and kids Jude’s door seemed, he heard the bell ring.
            Jude reluctantly went to the door and swung it open, hoping to give a bloodcurdling scold to some ghoulish or ghastly child. However there was nothing there. Jude sat back down ready to start drinking his nightly potion of rum and coke when the bell rang again. Jude went reluctantly again, this time ready to almost physically harm the parents for coming to his door. However as the door slammed open again there was no one. The closest children were three clown hobos five houses down.
            Jude sat down again. It was finally starting to wear on him. He was convinced that it was a prankster and he swore to himself the next child to ring the bell would be choked. Just as enough time passed to where Jude was feeling at ease again, the shrieking doorbell rang again. He walked to the door with a confident air. He had just stolen a million dollars. He had out tricked one of the richest companies in America. He could handle a prankster. He could handle anything. As he opened the door, a grotesque voice came from behind him.
“You can’t steal death.”
The grandfather clock morbidly rang and the door slammed.


James Weging tied for third place with this story!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to Get Over Writer's Block

We’ve all experienced this at least once in our lives. It’s the moment when you sit down to write something and your mind draws a complete blank. Not a single idea worth writing down comes to mind and you start to panic because you realize the deadline for when it’s due is coming up. Most of the time it happens is because you’re either uninspired, unprepared, or you're just caving into the stress or pressure of getting it done quickly. That’s why I am here to help. Any time you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, refer back to this blog for ideas on how to get over the infamous “writer’s block.”

Top 3 Ideas to Getting over Writer’s Block

1. Move your body. Sitting in front of your computer screen for hours like a zombie is not going to help you whatsoever. You need to step away from the computer altogether and get your blood pumping. Go for a walk or jog around the block. The key is to get your heart pumping, body moving, and then head back to your work space motivated and ready to work.

2. Overcome a fear. If you can get over one of your fears, you can get over writer’s block. Think about what scares you. I mean really scares you. Maybe it’s sky diving, or asking your crush out on a date. Whatever it is, just do it. That mind-boggling rush you get from overcoming that fear is exactly what you need to get your creativity back and ideas flowing into your brain much faster.

3. Change your routine. Whatever your daily routine is, change it! If you’re constantly doing the same thing every day, than your brain is not being very active because it knows what to expect all the time. Start by reading books or magazines that you don’t normally read. Or change the route you normally take to work. Or maybe eat food that you have never tried before. I tried Thai food the other day for the first time, and I never thought I would like it but I do! Surprise yourself, and the ideas will come.

I hope these ideas were helpful! I’d love to hear your feedback on any ideas that have worked for you or didn’t work for you.

-Elizabeth Bassmaji