Category Archives: Live it

Finding an Original

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.

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.

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.

What do I know anyway?

On the Road Again

Image credit to Google Maps

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.