It is winter in Houston, and the sun rays pierce through the enormous glass windows of our living room, warming up the corner of the sofa where I am curled up under a blanket with a cup of tea and my lap-top. I am working on the Chillibreeze course, Redundancies and Clichés: cut the clutter. The course tells me to use direct, simple, brief, and vigorous language in my writing. It urges me to give up the wordy, cliché loaded English, which is still used in schools and colleges in India, and embrace a more modern and concise form of writing. This advice comes to me as a mild shock. Growing up in India, my parents and teachers always urged me to use complex, bombastic, and flamboyant sentences in my writing.
“People should read your sentences several times before they can understand the meaning. Then and only then, will they admire your English writing skills,” my mother insisted. Every morning, my mother stared at “The Statesman” newspaper which uses every word in the dictionary to come up with weighty and muscular sentences. Even though my mother struggled to understand the news, she insisted that subscribing to a difficult newspaper added to the prestige of our household. The newspaper was less an object of utility and more an object of admiration for all of us.
Trying to adopt to the changing times, I move forward with the Chillibreeze lesson. Some things have not changed; if I stare at the screen long enough, the page changes and I have to start over again.
I had to restart the unit several times and type in my answers very carefully to actually get a passing score in the end. Chillibreeze can make this course more user-friendly by introducing multiple choice formats where the learner can just click on the correct option. It will save the learners the shock of coming face-to-face with the “Incorrect Answer” screen, every time there is a silly typing error.
By the time I finish the lesson, the sunlight has disappeared and the room is filled with long, dark shadows.
My writing seems to heavily reflect my own ethnic identity here in
the United States. Yes, after fifteen years, I feel I have finally
penetrated the society and I am an immigrant success story. I am cozy
here; I have become fond of my surrounding, my friends, and my
activities. In social gathering and in school parties, I can share some
of my own experiences and perspectives without getting the same puzzled
expression I used to invite when I had first landed in this country.
Americans can understand my jokes and my brand of humor and I can
understand theirs. It was a long journey but I feel I have finally
In spite of my heavy assimilation, I still hold on to an accent and
borrow heavily from both worlds. I attend Indian dance classes and enjoy
cooking spicy Indian recipes at home. Yes, I am a cultural hybrid
trying to carve out for myself my own unique space – between cultures
My writing reflects my journey and I use both U.S. and U.K. words
in my writing; picking and choosing between both the versions sometimes
consciously and sometimes ignorantly. I ignore my U.S. spelling checker
which gives me errors when I use U.K. spelling. I do not see anything
wrong with mixing the two versions- in fact rejecting the U.K. words
somehow dishonors my roots and my journey. However, the Chillibreeze Editing Course on “U.K. and U.S. English” advices me to give up this battle and embrace the U.S. spellings.
“With increased global communication, most countries are now
comfortable using what were originally U.S. forms of spelling and
vocabulary.” – the Chillibreeze course informs. I am then walked through
long lists of U.S. and U.K spelling and shown the difference between
the two versions.
The loss came last night when I stayed awake to memorize the long
list of U.S. spellings. Even after fifteen years, I made yet another
change – yet another adaptation and lost yet another part of myself to
the dominant U.S. culture.
As an immigrant I have always known “Tests” are important. I better do well
on a test the very first time or else…..or else I may not get a second chance.
Test and achievements are my only ticket to move up in a society where my
forefathers have not left an arrogant flag on the summit.
Even after fifteen years in this new world, my husband and I maintain a
precarious existence on the fringes of this society. One wrong decision, one job
loss, one accident and even one illness can send us back home. We have to do
everything exactly right in terms of achievement and grades to maintain our
comfortable middle class status in this country. When I look at the big round
trusting eyes of my twin daughters, I know failing is not an option for either
of us. We have to shield our children from the poverty and lack of options we
have always known as children. I see this same desperate energy, this boldness
and fierceness in all my first generation Indian friends. Their social mobility
is not fuelled by their father’s wealth or their uncle’s connection but by their
performance, hard work, and stubborn ambition.
When I first saw the Chillibreeze test in my mailbox on Thursday, my first
instinct was to run. I was utterly and insanely intimidated by the test which
would not only put an end to my own ambition to become an editor but also invite
comments from readers along these line….. “We thought you are a teacher…. you
can’t pass a simple test?” or “Now we can understand why the children in public
school are performing so badly. Even their teachers cannot pass a simple grammar
No. Taking the test was too risky and no matter how much I tried, I could not
go back and click on the “Download” button.
On Saturday, we took the twins to see the “Natural Bridge Caverns.” These are
incredible underground chambers filled with spectacular rock formations from
majestic towers to thin needles carved out of limestone. It is a breathtaking
beautiful underworld which has stood undisturbed for several hundred years.
The moment I entered the narrow dark pages, I felt the walls closing in on
me. Claustrophobia gripped me from all sides and made my knees feel like jelly
while my lungs hungered for a breath of fresh air. I reached out and pulled my
husband towards me. My face was white and I was trembling.
“We have to get out of here. I can’t do this. I can’t breathe.”
But my husband remained calm.
“You have two choices now: You can be intimidated by the dark narrow passages
and run. But if you run now you will be running away from difficult things all
your life. Or you can stay here and confront your fear with the same courage and
spunk I know you possessed when I first met you. The only way to defeat fear is
to face it head on.”
His words stirred something deep inside me. I looked at him and then at my
children and knew what I had to do. I was going to not only confront my fear
but also defeat it.
So on Sunday, I clicked on the “Download” button to take the Chillibreeze
test. The test consisted of ten simple questions. I filled up the circles
quickly and send the test back to Chillibreeze.
I got my results the next morning. “You got a perfect score,” said the
I let out a deep sigh of relief.
I know I have an aptitude for stringing words together. My creative bend
turns out to be useful often and I can make a piece of information sound
interesting. I take great pleasure in breaking as many rules as I can to make a
sentence sound lyrical and poetic. In fact, I am told by poetry teachers that
thinking too systematically kills the poetic instinct.
So when it comes to following the Chillibreeze
grammar lessons, I am always apprehensive, in case I prove to be a pitiful
failure. This week, the simple lesson on “Subject
and Verb agreement” was enough to bring back my confidence. The short lesson
was very logical and fairly straightforward. I passed the quiz the very first
However, finishing the editing section proved to be more challenging. The
un-edited passages stayed on the screen only for a short amount of time and then
disappeared. The first time this happened, I convinced myself that I must have
inadvertently done something to influence this unfortunate event. It seemed
unlikely that the pages would have a timer and expire after a certain amount of
To get to the editing page, the second time, I had to re-do the whole quiz.
But this time I was prepared. Once the editing passages popped up on my screen,
I suppressed my sneeze and kept down my voice. I kept my cursor away from the
“NEXT” button at the bottom of the screen and took care not to move my
The only factor I could not control was the “screen saver.” As soon as a dark
screen appeared on my computer, I knew I had turned the page and there was no
way I could go back. But instead of despairing, I decided to take matters into
my own hands. I quickly took out my “Snipping Tool” software and did a screen
capture of all the passages. Doing the editing exercise was fairly trivial from
that point. Some wise man will someday say, “Necessity is the mother of all new
In graduate school, I had to edit and proof-read my own thesis. I remember
sitting in an annoyingly uncomfortable chair with the “Chicago Manual of Style”
in my hand, reading slowly, laboriously. I concentrated intensely, my eyebrows
knitted together, my teeth biting into my lower lip. Yet, I found my mind
wondering further and further away from the words, the lines blurring before my
eyes, and a thick fog settling on the pages. Eventually, the words would float
away from the pages, rising and falling like musical notes, and sail towards an
unknown space far away from my reach. I would find my eye-lids growing heavy and
the book slipping out of my hands and settling on the floor with a heavy thud.
My mind would then shamelessly drift into a sweet and peaceful slumber.
Fortunately, this week I had a different experience
Chillibreeze course on “Misplaced
Modifiers”. The course was friendly, almost chatty, excited about teaching
me the new concepts. It introduced me to one concept at a time, without
over-loading my tired “mummy” brain. Each learning point was supported by a
number of examples. Some examples were so amusing that I found myself smiling at
the computer screen.
The lesson which took me a little over an hour to finish was well-designed
and held my interest throughout. What I did find attractive about the “Misplaced
Modifier” module is that it has only a few sentences on each page, a large
font-size and simple language. At the end of each learning point, I was
evaluated with a quiz question. The correct answer followed with an even more
detailed explanation and additional examples. The quiz in particular made the
test very interactive and engaging and I could easily keep my thoughts under a
tight leash and actually enjoy the grammar lesson.
However, the course does not have a “Rewind” and “Forward” button. Once I
started taking the test, I realized I have to complete the whole test in one
sitting. I was not prepared for this. I had laundry in the washer, kids
screaming in the next room, and lentils boiling on the stove. My eyes searched
desperately for a “Save” button but I was unable to locate one.
So I decided to finish the quiz before attending to the lentils and my sleepy
That was, as you may have guessed, the wrong decision to make. There was a
second section to the test, an editing section, which I was blissfully unaware
of. It took me an additional fifteen minutes to do this section. By the time I
was finished, my lentils were completely burnt and my kids had fallen asleep on
the floor. I had to “modify” my dinner plans that night and pick up the kids
from their “misplaced” sleeping location and put them in bed. Nevertheless, I
enjoyed my “misplaced modifier” lesson very much and would be glad do it
Mondays are the worst days for me. I teach five straight classes with
no breaks. Yes, there is a half-hour lunch but with all the
photocopying, cleaning, and re-arranging that a chemistry teacher has to
do in her classroom, who has time for lunch? If I am lucky, I can reach
into my bag and grab some carrots and crackers and wash them down with a
quick sip from the water fountain.
Even that can be disgusting
sometimes when my lips make contact with a chewed piece of gum stuck on
top of the faucet by a teenager who thinks that “getting away with
forbidden activities” somehow makes him a rebel and consequently popular
amongst his peers. In times of recession, our school principal stops
water supply to the teacher room coolers. Teachers are encouraged to use
the same facilities as the students. “These are hard economic times for
all of us,” the principal said in the last week’s meeting. “We are
slashing the science budget completely. No new books and equipment this
year. And please cut down on the photocopying.”
These are the days I wish I was somewhere else, doing something else.
I conjure up images where I walk into the principal’s room and hand him
my resignation letter and tell him, “From now on I will only do what I
like to do most.” Then a more rational part of my brain stops me from
committing this apparent act of foolishness. You are not ready yet, my
brain warns me, you are not trained to do what you want to do.
Though no one in my school knows this, and they probably never will,
what I like to do MOST is writing.
I love the written word. I grasp at
new words like a drowning man clutches onto a straw. I look for words
that can give shape and form to my imagination, words that can fill up
my world with language that is crisp and exact. Words are what connect
me to my reality, gives texture to my thoughts, and geometry to my
Yet, the sane part of my brain reminds me, yet again, the futility of
this dream. To become a good writer I have to compete with native
English speakers, possibly with a bachelors and masters in English who
know their grammar like the back of their hand. They know the rules for
capitalization, punctuation, prepositional phrases, verb tense, passive voice, and
antecedents. Their sentence structures are impeccable; even an editor
with a microscope can’t find flaws in the architectural plan.
The only formal training I had received in English grammar was from
my teacher in secondary school; right around the time when dinosaurs
lived on earth. That knowledge is now foggier than my grandfather’s
glasses. In later years, I pursued high school science and then a degree
in chemistry and my grammar skills retreated to the most unused part of
my brain from where recall is nearly impossible.
Then one day in my internet searches, almost accidentally, I come
across the Chillibreeze online courses for writers and editors. Some
courses are offered as self study modules while others are interactive
with an instructor. As my eyes gleaned over the vast treasure of courses
for writers, I found myself jumping up and down with joy. My heart was
filled with enormous gratitude for the kind people at Chillibreeze who
had very thoughtfully put together this package to help writers overcome
their handicap and become excellent editors. Now I want to become
Chillibreeze certified editor, and I want to do it in 100 days.