All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Adventures: Surf’s Up

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Every once in a while you are afforded an opportunity to do something pretty amazing completely by, well, not accident exactly, but unexpectedly. When I started this trip, I knew that California had endless possibilities, but did I really think I would take surf lessons? Let’s be honest, I lived in Wilmington for four years and there were plenty of opportunities for me to learn how to surf (albeit East coast surfing, but still I could have learned easily! Lots of people surf in Wilmington!) and I never did it. So, why on earth did I think I would actually do this when I came to California?

Because it is California.

I find that when you travel to new places, you want to have a wide variety of new experiences that capture the essence of the culture you are living in. Surfing in California, therefore, just makes sense.

So I went.

And it was amazing.

I’m not a surfer. I did okay, much better than one would expect (considering that on this trip alone I have fallen flat on my face 2 times just walking and fallen upstairs once…I’d say I did quite well surfing). However, the experience was thrilling. We went out at 8am. If you didn’t already know this, the Pacific Ocean is FREEZING so I was a little worried about this timing for this lesson; however, wetsuits did their job quite nicely. I was surprised at how warm they were. I wasn’t cold at all in the water, which is really saying something to everyone who knows me. After a 10 minute lesson on the beach, we headed for the water.

In the stillness of the morning, the waves were crashing on the shore. I could feel my anxiety building up inside of me as I followed the instructor, Jodi and Whitney (both of whom have no fear) out into the water. Megan, Jodi’s sister, was close behind me, and we were ready to face this beast. We made it to the crashing point of the wave and climbed aboard the boards. Arching our backs, the boards sliced through the water over top of the waves just as they were peaking and we smoothly paddled into the calmer waters of Beercan Beach (no, I’m not making that name up). And then we saw them. Little tiny brown and speckled heads began popping up only a few feet from where we were floating on our boards.

“Oh my gosh,” Whitney exclaimed, pointing to where a head had popped up and then disappeared again. “Did you see that seal?”

seal

I wasn’t quite as excited as our resident Disney Princess (and I mean that in a good way—I have never seen someone charm animals as much as Whitney—she has fed baby squirrels from her hand, poured water over baby calves heads and they try to escape the afternoon heat, the fawns and does practically flock to her. It’s is incredible). I mean, it was cool that they were swimming near us, but my thoughts were in a slightly different direction.

“That’s really neat and all,” I said scanning the murkey water. “But where the hell did he go? I mean are they going to come and nibble on our toes or something thinking they’re fish. I’m really not down with that.”

Jodi and Whitney laughed but I saw Megan nodding her agreement with me too as another little head popped up even closer to us.

“Look at Kristin!” I pointed over at the other group where Kristin was already up and riding a wave, standing like she had done this her whole life. 

“Hashtag natural,” Whitney smiled as she shook her head in amazement.

“Alright, who is first?” Johan asked as he situated his board close to us, but nearer to the breaking point. Whitney was nearest, so she flopped down on her belly and paddled forward showing no fear.

“You got this Whitney,” I cheered her on, not at all jealous of her. My butterflies were moving their way from my stomach to my throat now.

“Oh my gosh! Look at that!” I turned my head back to where Jodi was now pointing out at the ocean and about twenty feet from us two dolphins leapt in the air and then back in the water again. My jaw dropped.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered, staring in awe as they jumped again and then another seal popped his head up and back down. “It’s surreal.”

“Worth every penny I paid.”

I nodded not able to take my eyes off the ocean.

“Do you guys mind if I go next?” Megan asked. I could tell she was eager to get this show on the road and I didn’t blame her. I knew how she felt. I shrugged. I was content just floating for now as long as no seals nibbled on my toes. We watched Whitney’s attempt and then Megan was up. Johan did an excellent job explaining what we were supposed to do to be the most successful with our surfing, but as he was speaking to Megan I saw him pointing to the distance and then raise his voice. I looked out at sea.

“See that whale?” he asked nonchalantly. My eyes widened and I really had no words. Not only did we see it, we could hear the whale as it expelled air and water from it’s blowhole.

Then it was Jodi’s turn. I heard Johan yell ‘up’ for Jodi, who made her attempt and then it was my turn.

I paddled over to our instructor and tried to listen to his advice, but the perfect wave came before he was able to impart much.

“Okay, paddle now!”

So I did and then I heard, “UP!” and I just didn’t think about it. I mechanically tried getting to my knees and suddenly I was squatting on the surfboard, but I didn’t feel the wave behind me. I wondered where it was, so I looked back… and then I was underwater. But for a few glorious seconds I was nearly standing on a surfboard, on my first try. And it was exhilarating.

Popping up out of the ocean, I was no longer nervous. I knew I would feel the consequences of that fall in the morning (and BOY did I!), but for now I was ready to try that again. And paddling out into the ocean I went out to join the rest of the sea creatures that surrounded us for the most amazing two hours $90 could buy from the Richard Schmidt Surf School (http://richardschmidt.com/).

ash

Finding an Original

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Wrapped up in a Redwood

The Big Basin state park in California was established in 1902. It is the oldest state park in California and holds over 80 miles of hiking and walking trails—not nearly as famous as Yosemite, but the magnificent beauty of the California Redwoods is still evident in this state park. This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit the park and do a little bit of hiking—not strenuous, but still a beautiful trek into the natural world of California. Of course, we were a bit disillusioned by the paved trail running parallel to our hiking trail. Despite this, we still were able to experience a 2 mile walk among the magnificent Redwoods. And I had a thought. As I stared into the Hobbit holes of these trees, I began to think about how God is a lot like one of these nearly incomprehensible Redwoods. As you step inside the cavernous hole of one of the massive trees, you feel the tree wrap around you and until you experience this, you can never truly comprehend the reality of a Redwood tree. God is the same way—until you climb inside of God and let him wrap you in his glory you will never be able to see how small you are in comparison. It is a humbling experiencing, one we could all use from time to time.

And in a lot of ways, it connects to the ideas of adaptation we have been discussing in class the past few days (Really, I have been going to class. I promise!). Today we were honored with the presence of Thomas Leitch, a professor from the University of Delaware and a leading expert on adaptation studies. The first thing he had us do is to draw a picture of Dickens. Well, as many of you know, I am not an artist (as much as I wanted to be, I just couldn’t harness that talent). We all did our best, though and produced our images of Dickens. Then we had to explain how we knew this was Dickens. None of us had ever met Dickens, so where do we get our images—from portraits, pictures, caricatures, books. So what we really think of as Dickens is really just a copy of a copy—Dicken, not Dickens if you will. If you want to see the real Dickens you would have to look at an original photograph of Dickens—but even that’s a copy. So you would have to meet Dickens, but even that presents a problem because in different context we present different versions of ourselves. So do you ever really meet the ‘real’ Dickens? All of this led us to the concept of the inevitability of adaptation. It’s all around us—there is no original. Even people who look down their noses at copies will still conceptualize based on copies. Each and every one of us do this with ourselves and others. We construct truths about who we are and project these in different contexts and to different audiences. So we are often just a copy of ourselves.

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My drawing of Dickens

The only original that exists is God. And even God tried to adapt Himself. Genesis 1:27 reads “so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” In essence we spend our lives searching for meaning, for originality and in many ways it is deeply ingrained in our search for the ‘original’. I’m no philosopher or theologian, but it seems to me that these things interconnect in ways and we keep wanting to deny or explain them away. If we started to accept the interconnectedness of the original to the copies, well we might just live happier lives.

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Peering up through the Redwoods

Each of us has in our own mind a “right” vision of the ‘original’—be it the original Dickens or God or what have you. When someone presents us with a different adaptation of that original we get our panties in a wad. Perhaps it is time to stop getting upset about the differences, and start asking ourselves why these differences exist instead. We can keep our own visions, but have more intellectual discussions about how the differences developed and why the exist. And, who knows, we might just be surprised by what we find.

Which brings me back to the Redwoods. They are beautiful in the pictures that I see (and post), but the experience trumps the copies, and though the copies may try they will never BE the original. Adaptation is inevitable and valuable—it enriches our experiences and helps us to make meaning. But it doesn’t mean that we stop looking for the how, why, or where the original exists. And when we find a whisper of the original it can be a magnificent experience—especially when we start to understand that the original can’t be put in a box. Humility. It’s a beautiful thing.

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What do I know anyway?

The Culture Text

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Writing is a process. There is no doubt about that. You start by barnstorming an idea, then you slowly work on drafting it into a workable concept, and then you edit the fool out of it until you finally have a viable end product. And if you are really good at the process, then the work might be picked up by a publisher and “given” to the public. And that’s good…right?

Well, of course it is good, on one level, but it’s absolutely terrifying on another level. Once your work is out there, in the world, it ceases to be yours. Sure, you can “own” a copyright to that work and maybe collect some royalties, but you have lost control of the intellectual highways and byways and numerous pathways your work can take. And maybe that’s the ultimate goal of a writer—when your work becomes a “culture text” it becomes a hallmark of absolute success for writers.

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This is why we have so many adaptations of certain “culture texts”, why we get spinoffs and sequels and retellings. The text leaves the author womb (so to speak) where it was cultivated and takes on a life of its own within the culture that it was birthed. As an author, writer, English major, teacher I sometimes balk at the concept of an ‘bad’ adaptation or an ‘unfaithful’ adaptation but the more we discuss this concept of a cultural text the more I have come to understand that it’s not about an objective analysis of “good” or “bad”; it’s more about why people make the choices they do for those particular adaptations and how effective they are in achieving a purpose for the culture in which they are created, which is why a story like West Side Story makes me smile.

However, this is not all smiles and sunshine. For authors, it becomes a question of authority within the text as Paul Davis points out in his book The Carol as a Culture-Text. Once your story, novel, poem, etc. becomes a part of the culture in which it is released you no longer have control over what happens to it or with it—intellectually or otherwise. Dickens constantly battled copyright and other lawsuits, often winning (but at a massive cost to his own pocketbook—so did he really win?). Beyond the legal matters, as writers when we put our work out to the public we open it to interpretation. You say one thing, but the reader interprets something completely different—who is to say who is right? You may have written it, but does that make you the ultimate authority? It’s a part of the culture now. Doesn’t the culture have authority over that text? Doesn’t the culture have a right to own an interpretation? All one has to do is to read an adaptation such as The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge to see how words can be seen from different, but very logical perspectives as part of a cultural interpretation and adaptive process. We sometimes react strongly to these interpretative differences, crying “fidelity”—but fidelity to what? A recurring question throughout this study…fidelity to what…

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So perhaps that is what is so frightening about my impending authorship. I’m thrilled to have a book published, I’m nervous about reviews, but more than that—once it’s a part of the culture It’s a part of myself that I can no longer have back. Does that mean that I hold onto it for myself? I hoard it?

Wouldn’t that be Scrooge-esque.

As a result of these reflection, I’ve decided my project for this seminar will center around the culture text A Christmas Carol. The story of Scrooge “began as a text and became a culture-text” (Davis 5). Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol no longer is just a novel, but a communal experience—a way to connect humanity. How’s that for a discussion topic? This is a concept that I can not only discuss with my students, but it will become increasingly more relevant as we talk about the social issues of abundance that Dickens calls into question within the text itself—athematic concept seen in many of the works we cover in English IV (“A Modest Proposal”, Gulliver, Earnest etc.). I’m open to ideas, comments, suggestions on all this!

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A World of Abundance

 SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES   I walked 2 miles…uphill to class today. It was beautiful. And when I got there, what I learned was even more wonderful. 

We live in a world of abundance. Everywhere you turn there is excess to the point of grotesqueness. But this is not a new thing. Lack of resources has rarely been a true problem in our society or world. It is the distribution of resources and the generosity (or lack thereof) found within a society that has caused most of our problems.

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 Now, I know what you’re thinking. This is some kind of call for government reform. Some kind of socialist advocacy. But it’s not. Let me tell you why.

 Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has deep roots, having been influenced heavily by Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present and a previous work by Dickens in the Pickwick Papers entitled “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton”. What we learn from these two works is that A Christmas Carol is not just a fairy tale, it is a text that mimics the abundance of our world showing the best of the best and the worst of the worst. It is this world of superabundance that shows us that you can afford to be charitable. NOT the government, but YOU.

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 If we look at ”Captains of Industry” a rhetorical selection from Past and Present we see the influences of Carlyle’s ideas on Dickens more fantastical story. In the Victorian era there is a constant fear of rebellion, particularly as a response to the French Revolution having occurred at the end of the 1700s. According to Carlyle, the problems in our society results from isolation, idleness and mammonism, the unholy trinity.


 

 Isolation is a type of wretchedness that keeps us from interacting with our society turning us into savages.

 Idleness leaves people soulless. When you rob people of work, you are taking away their humanity.

 Mammonism is a worship of money based on Carlyle’s idea of the Cash Nexus; the concept that the only thing binding us together is money—but as a society we need more than money. Otherwise our soullessness becomes permanent and contagious.


 

 Carlyle explicitly says that the problems in our society particularly with the oppressed and the poor—those in want—cannot be fixed by the government. Instead it is a call to personal responsibility for the captains of industry to break the trance and become more aware of the problem. As he says,

“ Ye shall reduce them to order, begin reducing them. To order, to just subordination; noble in loyalty in return for noble guidance. Their souls are driven neigh mad; let yours be sane and ever saner. Not as a bewildered bewildering mob; but as a firm regimented mass, with real captains over them, will these men march any more. All human interests, combined with human endeavors, and social growths in this world, have, at a certain stage of their development, required organizing: and Work, the grandest of human interests, does now require it” (272).

He tells them to be nice! To treat their employees better and as a result a new kind of wholes can be achieved. It seems like common sense, but if it was so common—then why are there so many adaptations of A Christmas Carol teaching the same basic premise over and over again?

Which brings us back to Dickens. Most people are familiar with A Christmas Carol for a reason; because the text is recognizable and acceptable to most of our societal values. The lessons it teaches us are fast—thus bringing us once again to the abundance concept. Today in our NEH seminar I learned many things about the text from many shifting perspectives, but as a writer the most important lesson is what I leaned about how Scrooge teaches us how to show students the value of reading and what it can do for them. Like Scrooge we see things in novels and literature but we can’t interact with them. Novelists and writers are responsible for pointing us to certain things in our past, present and future and helping us to see how we approach and thus change the world. If we learn to read in the right way, we will be a better people because novelists are like the ghosts showing us how to change our futures before it is too late. This is why words, writing and reading is so powerful in our society.

So A Christmas Carol isn’t just about Scrooge or Christmas, but a lesson I how and why we read because it is a lesson in how and why we see things and what it does for us. If we learn this lesson properly we will learn how to change the world. Because the real lesson from Dickens and Carlyle is that we should be helping each other, not relying on the government (or other people) to fix problems that we should all be personally responsible for.

And that’s why I write. I want to help change the world. 

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Reading, Writing, and Walking

 

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View from UCSC campus (no, that’s not a weird haze…that’s the ocean out there! The Pacific–yes, as an Atlantic girl I had to clarify)

The NEH grant I received is a terrific opportunity not only for professional growth but for personal growth as well. For those of you who are unaware of what NEH opportunities for summer enrichment are, you should check it out at http://www.neh.gov/divisions/education/summer-programs. As a nationally funded program, NEH grants are always in danger of being cut, but there are many reasons why summer enrichment and educational opportunities are so important for teachers, especially at the K-12 level. I won’t get on my soapbox about this; I could talk for hours. What I will do is share some of our discussions and my experiences so that you can see for yourself that I’m not just on vacation in Santa Cruz.

The program I was accepted to be a part of is entitled Great Adaptations: Dickens in Literature and Film (See the program website here https://sites.google.com/site/nehdickens2014/). Before arriving in Santa Cruz it was expected that all participants (16) have the 2 primary texts read: Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, both Dickens novels are what we refer to as the originary texts. Over the course of the next 4 weeks we will be discussing not only the core texts, but their evolutionary process in how they are adapted culturally, historically and contextually all of which will culminate in a final project which we will submit to our seminar director by September. By collaborating with a diverse group of teachers from across the nation I am able to compare ideas, incorporate strategies and brainstorm critical thinking strategies that not only help me reach my students, but also help me dig inside myself to become a better more focused educator, rejuvenated in the fall (which is vital in a profession that is under a constant barrage of internal and external negative energy).

Upon arrival I settled into my house. I am lucky enough to be staying off campus. At first I was nervous about being isolated from other seminar participants, but then I realized how fortunate I was because I have two unique roommates broadening my experience as a whole. Maggie is my landlord and she is a writing professor at a local college in Santa Cruz and Jennifer is a junior as UCSC. Jennifer has unique insight into what it is like to be a college student on this campus and has given me lots of advice on how/where/when to go places around town and the campus. She is working on campus this summer with a group of middle school students, girls, who the engineering program has designed a camp to intrigue and attract a more diverse range of applicants to their program. I look forward to more discussions with her and Maggie as the summer progresses as they are both separate from my program they give me a break from the academia and keep me firmly grounded in the “real world” of the here and now.

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Back porch of where I’m staying. BEAUTIFUL and perfect for reading and writing. Calm and peaceful and sunny (believe me–I need it; it’s not exactly hot here!)

The house I’m living in is surrounded by walking trails that are beautiful. There is a pond behind the house that is very low right now because the area is in the third year of a summer drought. This places a strain on the local ecosystem (which is filled with wildlife! I cannot even count how many deer I have seen on campus and they let you get so close it is a little frightening. And don’t get me started about the Mountain Lion signs all around the place and “what to do if you see a ML”. My favorite part is that it ends with: “And people have successfully fought off mountain lions with their bare hands.” As our tour guide said today (who kind of looked like Zach Morris, I’m not going to lie), it’s only a little comforting to know that I can punch a mountain lion in the face and hopefully win…um…yeah…FORTUNATELY that seems to be unlikely. SO we’re going to go with no mountain lion sightings this trip.

The campus itself has, in addition to the wildlife, given be a broader appreciation for local produce and farming. This campus has a sustainable farm and only about 50% of the land is used so that it can sustain much of its own produce. I wish that more places could be like that. Each week the campus sets up a farmers market at the base of campus to benefit the interns and farm and about 23% of the campus dining is supplied by the on campus farm and agricultural school. I find that to be amazing, not only because they choose to do it, but also in extreme whether challenges, such as draught conditions, they still make it work. Commitment is key.

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No zoom. I was this close to the doe and fawn. Actually we were closer, it just took us this long to react and pull out the cameras. Crazy amount of deer.

Which brings me back to our coursework. Being committed to our study here is vital which is why I am so excited to be here to learn. One of the things we discussed today was the concept of adaptation. There are many ways to adapt a work: From x to y, of x for y, of x through y, of x beyond y. Each of these are done for different purposes and different audiences, different contexts and different cultures. When we begin our discussion of the adaptations, we have to keep all of that contextual information in mind not only when discussing the originary, but also the adaption and how that helps us with shifting perspective. Often when we look at adaptations in a class we ask our students to compare and contrast which leads them to only one conclusion: one is better than the other; they’re alike but they’re different. That is not the type of critical thinking we really want from our students. We don’t just want them to compare and contrast we want them to look at the purpose behind the choices authors, directors, and creators make when adapting a work for those different ideas. That’s where the deep thinking occurs.

This reminds me of what a student said to me earlier this year: “Ms. Carmichael, you’ve completely ruined movies for me.” “Oh?” I responded. “Yes, I can’t just watch anything anymore. I’m always looking for meaning.” I laughed and said, “Then I’m doing my job!” I want students to look at more things this way, not just movies but every text they read they need to look for intention. If we had more people in our world thinking critically on a regular basis, decisions would be a lot wiser.

Which is the point of the seminar. I love that we will be looking at just that. Here are a list of questions the participants posed for the rest of our discussions over the four weeks and I look forward to hearing what will be said and discussed:

1) How does the idea of authorship work as an obstacle to adaptation? (intentionality and ownership)

2) How might we begin with the adaptation before the orginary text?

3) Why are we afraid of “losing the text”?

4) How can the multiple versions coexist?

5) Do we even read the orginary text? (adaptation in lieu of rather than in conjunction with)

6) How does success of an adaptation or desire to produce, adapt and reflect cultural values?

7) What are we wanting to give our students? (cultural skills)

8) What are we teaching alongside these texts—how does curriculum fit together?

9) How can we engage students in a conversation about adaptation?

10) Why do we feel we must choose the “best” adaptation?

As I continue with this program, I am excited to learn not only from my colleagues and roommates but also, hopefully, from others too. This is a broad topic and one that applies not only to literature of Dickens but to the culture at large especially to the writing culture. As a writer I see the value in adaptation, not only studying and reading adaptations but even to a degree incorporating it in your own work sometimes which is why people write books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or Emma, Mr. Knightly and Chili-Slaw Dogs. We truly do live in the ‘culture of the copy’ as Hillel Schwartz says. But is that such a bad thing?

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SO many redwoods. It is SO beautiful almost everywhere I walk.