Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Gymnast with Writer's Block

Eunice is tiny...unimaginably tiny....yet she's anything but fragile, mentally or physically. I tutor 9 year old Eunice weekly in writing. Eunice is a top-ranked, gold-medal winning, Olympic hopeful gymnast. As such, she aspires to perfection, and she expects and is expected to obtain it.

Eunice received a B in writing from her 4th-grade school district teacher (She's home-schooled to accommodate practice and tournament schedules.)...her first academic her parents turned to our local library's literacy tutoring program (me) for help. They were shocked by Eunice's imperfection. Mandarin Chinese is the main language spoken at home, but English proficiency is not the problem.

To succeed at gymnastics, Eunice practices 30 hours a week. She's learned to apply her formidable will and stamina to accomplish gymnastic and academic tasks. With laser focus, she masters spelling, grammar, math, science and history as well as parallel bars, floor execises and the horse vault.

Writing requires creativity and relaxation, not focus and control. Writing requires observation, interest in people and surroundings and a sense of humor. Writing takes soul, not muscle or memory.

Eunice's school essays are lacking imagination and detail, but they have perfect punctuation and spelling, perfect sentence construction, perfect spacing. Eunice has classic writer's block. No ideas...nothing to say. Each week I strive to find the other Eunice....the little girl, the child, the person....and to harness her personal passions into writing. I need to teach her a different way to accomplish goals.

She loves to eat pizza, ice cream and mushroom soup. She used to have parakeets, but they flew away one day. She likes the color pink. She attends church and knows the Bible well. Her fave cable channels are Disney, Nickelodeon and FoodTV. She especially watches Jacques Torres, the French chocolatier who constructs intricate gourmet edibles.

So to one tutoring sesson, I brought an illustrated cookbook about elaborate chocolate desserts. We studied the luscious photos, and fantasized about tasting the creations. We had great fun giggling over black forest cakes, chocolate apricot sorbet and raspberry ganache truffles. Eunice wrote a creative, interesting essay about making and eating white chocolate mousse towers.

This week, tiny Eunice looked tired. She explained that on Sunday, she won 3 gold medals, but slipped in one event. She failed to secure her normal overall first place. She came in third, behind two rivals. At our session, she forced herself to obediently focus, but she was distant and distracted. She wrote a few pieces for me, but they were brief and barren. I praised her anyway, of course, and asked her to write essays about pizza and roses for next week.

Her mother approached me later in the library, and anxiously asked, "How is she doing? Is she improving? Maybe if she practices spelling and sentences more. Will she get an A?"

I hope I can help Eunice. I'm not sure.

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