Coming in for a landing…
The city is awake…
I’m ready to face my first New Orleans day!
Hanging out with good friends.
Is it a Gatsby room?
See you later #NOLA!
This week was kind of a disaster.
I dried a pen. Yes, you heard that right. I put a pen in the dryer (not on purpose, I’m not that dumb, people), but as you can imagine, the results were pretty horrendous).
Then I walked into a painted doorway. Yes, you heard that right too. A painted doorway. Paint all down my arm. The doorway had no damage. My sweater on the other hand, DOA.
The printer at work decided to stop working, I was late to a meeting, I fell—twice (that’s not really uncommon, but it still sucked), and to be frank, I was tired all week long for no real reason.
And yet, I’m still alive. I have a great place to live. I’m healthy. I’m having brunch after church with my best friends. I had breakfast yesterday with my parents and grandparents (yes, my grandfather who had surgery just a couple of weeks ago on his stomach had breakfast with me yesterday morning!) and I still managed to write 13,000+ words in Clara’s Chance (and I’ll be a toothless monkey if I don’t hit 20,000 today by gum! I had an AWESOME dream last night!). Jimmy, my aloe plant, is even still alive and kicking and growing another little sprig!
My point is this: Yes, some weeks seem to be mired in the dregs of disaster with your head stuck in a dryer scrubbing for hours (thanks Mom for helping out with that yesterday—she’s really the only reason I didn’t throw the whole thing out–yes I did consider this. I went through a whole lot of scrubbing before she fixed it. And that’s kind of what Moms do.), but your heads only in the dryer for so long. Once you pull it out, you realize how bright the world is outside and there is so much more to life than ink stains and scrubbing.
And that’s what we really have to live for.
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?”
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/).
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.
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.
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.
One of the best parts about my job: the unique opportunities to do something new and exciting each summer. And God bless the summer for it too, because the good Lord knows I need new stimulation or I might just go crazy doing the same thing year after year. A common misconception held by many people is that teachers get paid vacation during the summer. That is untrue. I am a 10 month employee and as such, I spend two months of my year unemployed. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds either. I spend a lot of energy each year trying to make sure that my summer is not wasted, and as a result I do end up better off for that energy well spent.
A couple of days ago, my time and preparation finally paid off. I moved out of the alternate position for an NEH summer institute and became a recipient. In the course of two days, I was congratulated and presented with a number of documents to sign to accept the award. I did so immediately, because it meant I would spend 4 weeks in Santa Cruz, California studying Charles Dickens and adaptations of his works with 15 other educators from across the country at USC. I booked a flight and started to dream.
And with those dreams came infinite possibilities. That’s what I love about traveling. While it is unpredictable in a lot of stressful ways, it’s unpredictable in a lot of beautiful ways too. And ultimately this new experience will give me, you guessed it, something else to write about.
I have never been to California, but when I participated in an NEH summer program a few years ago in Colorado I fell in love with the West, so pushing further into the western part of the US is not at all distasteful. In fact, it makes my heart race with anticipation. Not only will I see things I have never seen, I will learn so many new and wonderful things and meet fascinating people who, hopefully, will be friends for life (Marjie and Jan—we still need a reunion tour; Alisha and Noelle—let’s do it, okay?).
The last two summers I spent working at a pool. I managed it, worked with teenagers and learned things about myself I didn’t know; this summer I’ll expect just as much, but in a uniquely different way. And that unique opportunity to discover more about myself and others is what is so great about being unemployed for two months
And I will write about it all.