My students used to tell me I was a nerd. I’d laugh and thank them, taking it as a compliment. I wasn’t ashamed of the fact that I loved books, and words, and writing and research, and well, learning in general.
Since I was a young girl. I got excited at the thought of finding a new author to follow, eager to read their words and to become a part of the fabric of their story. I got downright giddy when I’d come across a new word. I’d excitedly add it to my “Word Journal” – yes, I kept a journal of new words I came across. I’d write them down and then look them up and use them in conversation and in my writing. I’d been doing it since I was very young. When I shared this with my students, hoping to encourage them to do the same, they’d look at me as if I’d just spontaneously sprouted wings and a tail right in front of them! “What?” I’d ask them.
“Ms. Fenwick,” they’d explain, exasperatedly, “You can Google anything;” like I was from a different planet, rather than a different era. “In my day, Google wasn’t even a word in the English language,” I’d mutter under my breath, further proving the vastness of the cavern between us.
What was the fun of “Googling” everything? It wasn’t
the same as writing a word down and then looking it up in an actual dictionary.
The act of writing it down made it personal. And seeking out the meaning,
turning the pages of the dictionary, running your fingers across the pages
until they located the word you were searching for – it was like a treasure
hunt; and writing down the definition, well that just meant you’d taken
ownership of the knowledge. It was tangible and therefore something that would
then become part of your vernacular, part of your story.
“You can’t get that from GOOGLE!” I’d say, throwing my hands out, pleading for my students to understand the beauty of the process as I did. Nothing. Blank faces.
“Um, Ms. Fenwick,” one brave student would finally raise their hand slowly, speaking for the whole group, “Google has dictionaries too.” Of course, it did! Apparently, GOOGLE had everything. How had I managed to get through my life, let alone three college degrees, without Google!
My love of language, history, reading, of learning in general, I could attribute to my father’s influence. He grew up in a poor, rural community in Georgia. After graduating from high school, he entered the Coast Guard, where he served for four years. College wasn’t something his family could afford, so the service was the next best thing.
For my Dad though, life was his university, living, his degree. He surrounded himself with the classics. He made sure we had a beautiful set of encyclopedias and a Webster’s hardbound dictionary in our home. A library card was a well-earned privilege. I spent many hours talking with him about history, current events, even philosophy and spirituality. He was well-read, and wise, and engaging, encouraging us to think for ourselves, to never stop asking questions.
“When you cease to learn, to continually seek knowledge, no matter what your position or pedigree,” he’d explain, “You cease living.” I loved that about my Dad, his humility and his understanding of the importance of being an active seeker of knowledge, rather than a passive receiver.
I couldn’t help but wonder at times, if the advancements being made in technology and the ease in which today’s students could access information, wasn’t somehow diminishing that active pursuit of knowledge my father was talking about.
Was “Googling” for information the same as opening a book and searching for answers? Was it the same as actually going to the library and looking up book titles and then searching the shelves and finding them, checking them out?
Though a great tool that allows access to a wider world of information, should Google be the only way students seek information? Is the resulting knowledge somehow less appreciated because it is so easily gained? Or am I simply as antiquated as my students think me to be; resisting the new because I had grown up in an era when Google wasn’t an option?
I taught Language Arts and American History, so
reading, research and writing were a big and natural part of my lessons. I
found incorporating modern technological advances into my curriculum, along
with a good dose of the old-fashioned tools – like the library and actual books
– was a happy medium. I wanted my students to experience both worlds. I wanted
them to uncover the answers to their questions and to seek out knowledge on a
personal level; to understand the intrinsic value of life-long learning and to
experience the feeling of pride and accomplishment for a job well done.
I understood that Google was part of their generation, as were electronic books, video games, social media, and easy and instant access to everything on their cell phones.
In order to grow with my students, to engage meaningfully with them, and to remain relevant as an educator, I would have to embrace these things, BUT – and it was a pretty important “but” to me – I also felt a responsibility to keep the past alive as well. To give them opportunities to do things the old-fashioned way; to open actual books; to understand how to use and to experience a library, to write a research paper, to increase their vocabulary through reading, and yes, to keep a word journal – even if it was using the notes app on their phone.
Acquiring, retaining, and applying knowledge was the most important part of their education. And though they might not appreciate that in the moment, I knew there would come a time when some of them would actually be grateful. And for this life-long logophile and lover of learning, that’s the reason I became a teacher in the first place.
Physical perfection is something our society places great value in. There are multi-billion dollar industries devoted to health, fitness, anti-aging, cosmetic surgery, skin, make-up, hair; the list goes on and on. It’s often this focus on perfection, to the exclusion of all else, that prevents us from seeing and appreciating the beauty and form that can be found in the world and in the people around us.
This is the case for the main characters, in The Cathedral, by Raymond Carver and The Birthmark, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Written almost 140 years apart, these short stories tell, in compelling and tragic ways, the age-old story of man’s illusive search for and focus on perfection, and the often uncomfortable, almost dismissive way we perceive imperfection, disability, and physical defects in others.
In laying the groundwork for both stories, Carver and Hawthorne focus first on the actual physical defects and imperfections of Roger and the scientists wife, Georgiana, before moving on to the transformation that takes place in both husbands as the stories progress.
In the beginning of The Cathedral, Carver provides the foundation for the central premise of the story by describing the relationship, the main character’s wife has with Roger, a blind gentleman she’d met some years before their marriage. Roger has recently lost his wife to cancer and is coming for a visit. “A blind man in my house was not something I looked forward to,” Carver wrote, admitting that his ideas on blindness mostly came from the movies.
Likewise, in The Birthmark, the scientist, Aylmer, although in his mind he loves his wife and thinks her beautiful, is focused so single-mindedly on the small hand-shaped birthmark upon her cheek, that soon this all he sees. After asking his wife if she’s ever considered that “the mark upon your cheek might be removed,” Aylmer is dismayed when Georgianna replies that she had not, seeing the mark as a “charm” instead, as it had often been called. Aylmer’s response that “upon another face” the mark might be considered thus, but not on hers deeply hurts Georgianna. ”No dear,” he says, “Nature made you so perfectly that this small defect shocks me as being a sign of earthly imperfection.”
Hawthorne’s use of the word “shock” here is especially poignant, since that is the emotion, we most commonly feel when faced with deformities and physical imperfections. We try not to stare, but in the end, like both men in the stories, the defect is often all we see.
As The Cathedral, progresses, Roger and his host find themselves sharing drinks and smokes before the television on which a documentary about cathedrals is playing. Having the benefit of sight, the host feels compelled to provide Roger with a synopsis of what’s being shown on the screen. While Roger can hear perfectly, the man is acutely aware that he can’t see and so “waits as long as he can before feeling he has to say something.”
Roger begins asking questions about some of the details the man is describing. For example, at one point the man mentions the cathedral’s paintings and Roger asks, “Are those fresco paintings, bub?” To which the man replies, “That’s a good question,” but that he doesn’t know. It then occurs to him, that Roger in fact, may not even know what a cathedral is, having never actually seen one. This is the point in the story when the host’s preconceived notions about Roger will be challenged most.
The evolution of Aylmer and Georgiana in The Birthmark, occurs in a similar fashion. Georgianna becomes increasingly aware that her husband’s focus is not on her, but rather on the birthmark on her cheek.
“With the morning light, Aylmer opened his eyes upon his wife’s face and recognized the sign of imperfection. When they sat together in the evening near the fire, he would look at the mark,” Hawthorne describes. Soon, Georgiana “began to fear his look,” and agrees to having him remove the mark through scientific means.
All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed, that the law of human life may be Effort, and the law of human judgment, Mercy.
Hawthorne describes Georgianna’s trust in Aylmer’s scientific prowess, but also her apprehension going in. Following the description of Aylmer’s dream about his failed attempt at removing the mark, there’s an undercurrent that the outcome of this actual attempt will not be a good one.
The transformation that occurs in Roger’s host and Aylmer by the end of each story is markedly different, yet the underlying message is the same. In The Cathedral, Roger answers his hosts inquiry about whether he knows what a cathedral is with the detailed facts he has gleaned from listening to the television. Facts, it is apparent, the host himself has not picked up on since he focuses on what he sees rather than on what’s being said.
Roger asks his host to describe the cathedral and in doing so, his host soon realizes that providing this description is quite a bit harder than he’d imagined it would be. “You’ll have to forgive me,” he finally says, “But I can’t tell you what a cathedral looks like. It just isn’t in me.”
Roger than suggests getting “a pen and some heavy paper” so they can draw one. It’s the experience of drawing the cathedral with Roger that ultimately changes the host’s perception of blindness and Roger himself. With Roger’s hand covering his, they begin to draw, in great detail, the cathedral that just moments before he’d been trying desperately to describe. By the end of the story, though he can see the world perfectly, he realizes that maybe he has suffered from “blindness” as well, and that Roger, even with his defect, has viewed the world with much more clarity.
In The Birthmark, the transformation of Aylmer is much more tragic and heartbreaking. Trusting implicitly in Aylmer’s scientific skill, Georgianna, though fully aware of the risks, agrees to try whatever Aylmer proscribes. By the final attempt Aylmer is certain “the chemical process went perfectly.” After testing the clear liquid on a plant, he gives it to Georgiana who drinks it trustingly.
Sitting by his wife and taking notes on the changes occurring, Aylmer is once again so focused on the now fading birthmark that he doesn’t see his wife’s imminent death. “My poor Aylmer,” Georgina says, before taking her last breath, “You have aimed so high. With so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the Earth could offer. I am dying, dearest.”
As Hawthorn states at the end of the story, Aylmer’s focus on his wife’s meaningless imperfection cost him her life and along with it his own chance for happiness, “In trying to improve his lovely wife, he failed to realize she had been perfect all along.”
While the endings of The Cathedral and The Birthmark are very different, the message is the same. Roger’s host and Aylmer both discover that what they perceive as defective and imperfect are actually the things that make Roger and Georgianna who they are, and in reality, perfect just as they exist. True beauty, after all, goes much deeper than the just the surface and the skin. By focusing only on the imperfections confronting them, both men are incapable of appreciating these imperfectly perfect human beings.
For one the transformation comes too late. For the other, the opportunity to learn a beneficial lesson and experience a change of heart is provided by the blind man himself. By the end of The Cathedral, Roger’s host realizes that his “sight” had in fact, improved markedly when his eyes were closed.
Nothing could’ve prepared us. Not for this. Though we did prepare. We boarded up our windows. Stocked up on supplies. Safeguarded our valuables. But this time would be so much different than those that had come before. Pretty soon, all we had left were our prayers. And our fervent hope that we’d still be alive when it was over.
We’d done this before, many of us, more than once; prepared for the possibility of a hurricane visiting us during the Season. We were used to Summer ushering in, not just the tourists, but the Atlantic Hurricane Season as well. Hurricane Season begins the first of June and lasts through the end of November every year.
Living in the Panhandle of Florida, we knew that during any given Season we could be at risk, so preparedness was something we took seriously. Many of us had remained through Opal (1995) and Ivan (2004) and felt confident we could safely weather Michael as well.
But there are some things you can’t prepare for. Some things that happen so quickly and change so dramatically that no amount of preparation matters. Hurricane Michael was one of those.
Within hours the potential Category 3 impact had grown into a nightmare of monster proportions. We awoke on Wednesday, October 10, to a very different situation than the one we had gone to bed with the night before. There would be nowhere to hide from Michael. It was too late to try to evacuate so we rushed to get to safety or hunkered down where we were, hoping, praying for a miracle.
“I think that if people are comparing storms, what was really fascinating was that Michael was still intensifying when it was making landfall, which is similar to Hurricane Camille also intensifying as it moved inland,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski, in an article that appeared in Time Magazine. “Other storms, like Hurricane Opal in 1995, actually went from a category 4 to 3, just like most storms that make landfall on the Gulf Coast tend to weaken.”
On October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall at approximately 12:15 p.m. along the Florida Panhandle. A deadly Category 4 storm (just two miles shy of Category 5 strength) with sustained winds of 155-mph, gusts reaching a staggering 185-mph, and a minimum central pressure of 919 millibars, Michael made his presence known as the third strongest hurricane on record to hit the U.S.
In the Eye of the Storm: Stories of Survival and Hope from the Florida Panhandle | Jennifer N. Fenwick
an October 10, teleconference organized by FEMA, Brad Kieserman, vice-president
for disaster operations and logistics for the American Red Cross said, “This storm went from a tropical storm to a projected CAT
3 at landfall in six hours yesterday. It’s not behaving normally. It
intensified extremely quickly. It didn’t give anyone time to do much. And the
one thing you can’t get back in a disaster is time.”
As the sun was beginning to set on the evening of October 10, residents in the path of Hurricane Michael emerged to a nightmare. “Nothing, and I stress NOTHING, could have prepared us for what we saw,” said Jane Smith, who rode out the storm with her husband and son in their Bay County home. “I think at this point we went into shock. It looked as if a bomb had gone off and the silence was eerie. All we could see everywhere we looked was downed trees, all the trees. Those that did still stand looked like barren twigs. Most every house in view had fallen trees on their roofs, in their yards, on their fences. They were everywhere. We walked around like zombies. We saw the destruction, but just couldn’t comprehend it.”
Search and recovery began immediately with teams from around Florida deployed to the Panhandle. In Mexico Beach, where the eye of the storm crossed, rescue teams used dogs to comb through piles of rubble and mangled structures of the once pristine seaside town. Authorities say it could be months, even years, before anything approaching “normal” returns to the region.
“This morning, Florida’s Gulf Coast and Panhandle and the Big Bend are waking up to unimaginable destruction,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday morning. “So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything. … This hurricane was an absolute monster.”
Doyle Rice | USA Today
In the first few weeks following the storm, residents in the Florida Panhandle struggled to come to grips with the destruction of their homes and cities. Many who returned, once allowed, are still living in campers, tents or bunking with neighbors, and relying on portable toilets and boxed ready-to-eat meals provided by FEMA, the Red Cross or other volunteers,” reported The Guardian.
Like the felled trees, power poles were snapped by the 155-mph wind, lines were down everywhere, and substations were damaged leaving over 800,000 residents without power across the region. Linemen from all over the country worked 16-hour days trying to restore power. In all, about 6,000 tree service and line workers were deployed to the area within a matter of hours, The Pensacola News Journal reported.
As the days, weeks and months have passed, the initial shock and focus on survival have given way to grief and frustration as we learn to navigate our way through this strange new world. There are reminders of that day everywhere we look. There’s just no escaping the carnage. There are deep scars on our landscape and deeper ones carried within.
For weeks after Michael, we were cut off from the world outside. Internet and cell phone service, like the power, was completely wiped out. When the power poles fell, they took the internet and cable lines with them. In addition, the major cell phone carrier in the area suffered extensive damage to their towers and network cables, all of which were above ground. It was months before services like cable, internet, cell phones, and wifi were restored.
We sort of got used to being cut off. Unfortunately, once we were able to connect with the outside world, we quickly realized that it had moved on without us.
The Tampa Bay Times posted an article that brings into stark and upsetting reality how little is being done outside our storm-ravaged area to assist with recovery and rebuilding. The road ahead is a long and rough one for the afflicted region. We cannot do this alone.
“Hurricane Michael was a major disaster, but big donors haven’t treated it as one,” the article states.
According to Emily L. Mahoney in a Times/Herald Tallahassee article, “The Panhandle’s low profile meant the media attention came and went, so the disaster never drew the major corporate donations that other storms did. That’s a harsh reality — just like the conditions in which thousands of Floridians still find themselves living more than four months after the storm struck. Tarps on roofs. Families living in tents. People taking refuge in their cars.”
According to the Times/Herald analysis of contributions to three prominent national charities, donations to Hurricane Michael recovery fall far below donations for recent landmark hurricanes to hit the South such as Florence, Irma, and Harvey.
The level of damage left behind by Hurricane Michael is catastrophic. According to Mahoney, “Those who felt the full force of Michael were in Florida’s Panhandle, where state officials estimate property damage at more than $5 billion. That’s more than Irma. Yet somehow, at least nationally, Hurricane Michael is not even a topic of conversation.”
“Georgia has long led in the production of several renowned commodities and now we have the dubious distinction of also leading in the devastation and incredible loss of these prominent crops,” Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said in a statement. “These are generational losses that are unprecedented and it will take unprecedented ideas and actions to help our farm families and rural communities recover.”
The impact from Michael is not just limited to the coastal region of the Florida Panhandle. The widespread catastrophic damage spread well inland as Michael remained at hurricane strength into the rural and farming communities of Florida and southwest Georgia, before passing through Virginia and North Carolina, and then finally making his way back out to the Atlantic.
The powerful storm flattened trees, demolished crops and destroyed chicken coops throughout southwest and middle Georgia. Agriculture industry losses could reach nearly $3 billion, according to the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service and Georgia Forestry Commission.
While post-storm analysis is still being performed and the argument surrounding upgrading Michael to CAT 5 is ongoing, the facts remain, this storm was a monster bringing widespread, apocalyptic destruction to the Florida Panhandle and further inland, that will take years to heal.
Nearly five months after Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida Panhandle, economic setbacks and delays have made recovery increasingly difficult for Florida Panhandle residents trying to rebuild their homes, and their lives.
As we navigate this strange new world, there are days when the frustration and grief become overwhelming. Days when the determination grows stronger. Days when the fatigue and stress settle deeper into our bones.
Through it all, we try to remain hopeful. The world may have moved on, the impacts of Michael may still be revealing themselves, recovery and rebuilding may be ongoing with no definitive end in sight, but there’s one thing we’re all certain of, it will be a long time, and a lot of hard work, before we are ok again.
LANDFALL: Michael made landfall at 12:15 p.m. local time on October 10, near Mexico Beach, FL STRENGTH: High-end CAT 4 with sustained wind speeds at 250 KM/H or 155-MPH; Minimum central pressure, 919 MB. The Florida Panhandle took the brunt of Michael’s fury, suffering apocalyptic damage as the storm peeled off rooftops, uprooted and snapped trees in half, destroyed homes and businesses, and caused extensive flooding. HISTORICAL: Michael was the strongest storm to ever come ashore in the Florida Panhandle, as well as the first CAT 4 to make landfall in the area. Michael was the strongest storm to hit the U.S. since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Camille, who in 1969, made landfall along the Mississippi Gulf Coast with 174-MPH peak winds and a storm surge of 24.6 FEET recorded in Pass Christian, MS. STRONGEST WINDS OBSERVED: Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida recorded winds gusts reaching 224 KM/H or 139-MPH. STORM SURGE: Apalachicola, FL recorded storm surge reaching 8.5 FEET. Near Mexico Beach, where the eye passed, National Weather Service buoy measured waves greater than 30-FEET before it stopped working. OTHER FACTS: The death toll in Florida has risen to 35 in Florida and 45 overall, with at least 10 deaths reported in other states. Property damage following Michael is estimated at more than $5 billion. Damage to Florida’s forestland is currently estimated at $3 billion.
There will never be another Hurricane Michael. The name was retired following the 2018 Hurricane Season due to the storm’s catastrophic intensity.
Nearly five months after Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida Panhandle, economic setbacks and delays have made recovery increasingly difficult for Florida Panhandle residents trying to rebuild their homes, and their lives.
When I set out to capture the stories of Hurricane Michael across the Panhandle, I never anticipated the impact, In the eye of the Storm, would have on the region devastated by the October 10, 2018 monster storm. It started out as a way for survivors to share their stories, their grief, and heartbreak, and their hopes for the future.
In the weeks since In the Eye of the Storm: Stories of Survival and Hope from the Florida Panhandle was published, the outpouring of support and engagement has been humbling.
“We need more people like you,” said Tina Rudisill in a message she sent me via social media after purchasing two copies of the book, one for her and one for a friend. “You can show the world our journey.”
Rudisill and her husband, both disabled, rode out the Category 4 storm in their home in Panama City. “We lost everything but our lives,” she explained. “We had just bought our home two years ago and it is devasting seeing everything destroyed.”
Rudisill is not alone in her grief. There are so many stories like hers across the region. So many I wish I could have included in the book. So many that deserve to be shared. As I continue to meet people, to listen to their voices, to provide comfort where I can, I’m inspired to continue this journey.
“Perhaps a follow-up book will come out of this,” I told Rudisill in my reply to her message, “An anniversary edition marking one-year following the storm. Stories of progress and hope in the aftermath.”
“Oh my goodness,” she immediately responded, “What an awesome idea. A follow-up of healing and starting over is so needed for the communities impacted.”
“It pulls at the heart strings to hear from other people that survived the storm and to hear their stories of strength and moving forward after such major devastation to this area. Anyone that doesn’t know or isn’t struggling to come back from this storm really needs to read this.”
Amazon Reviewer, February 24, 2018
Our book is not the only one telling the stories of the heartbreak of the people living in the aftermath of this historic storm. Survivors: Work Created in the Wake of Hurricane Michael, released on Amazon November 20, 2018, is a collection of poems, essays, short stories, artwork, and images compiled by Tony Simmons of the Panama City News Herald and local artist, Jayson Kretzer.
Mike Caz Cazalas, also from the News Herald, produced a beautiful book of compelling photographs and newspaper front pages documenting Michael’s impact across the Panhandle. Michaelis a collector’s item that will forever commemorate October 10th and the immediate weeks following the storm. A portion of the proceeds from both of these publications, as well as our own, are being donated to the Hurricane Michael Relief Fund to assist with rebuilding across the region.
Memoirs of Michael – The Hurricane is a Facebook page dedicated to sharing survivor stories. The Blog, created by Ashley Conner and Photographer, Cierra Camper, and recently featured on WJHG-TV’s Morning Show, tells the stories of the men and women who survived Michael and are committed to rebuilding their communities.
October 10, 2018, is a day the Florida Panhandle will never forget. The day, our lives and our cities were dramatically altered, irrevocably and forever. Compiling the stories, poetry, and images submitted for this project was raw and real. I realized going in, what a huge undertaking and responsibility this task was. I also realized that we could not tell every story; and there were thousands and thousands. What we hoped instead, was that the stories we were able to tell would resonate, and that in doing so, In the Eye of the Storm, would become a voice for the region.
Jennifer N. Fenwick, editor/contributor, In the Eye of the Storm
Promotion and outreach for In the Eye of the Storm are ongoing. Our goal is to reach a wider audience and to raise as much money as we can for local recovery efforts.
We recently made our first donation to the Hurricane Michael Relief Fundfrom book sales and will continue to do so for the long-run. Some of the contributors and I have joined efforts to reach out to area individuals and businesses for sponsorships so we can get the book into the local market.
Media coverage here and in surrounding areas has been wonderful. WJHG-TV presented our story on their Morning Show with Paris Janos and in a piece by Neysa Wilkins, which aired during their news broadcasts. The Panama City News Herald’s Tony Simmons was gracious to write a story about the book in his feature Book Notes.
We are participating in a book signing event at My Favorite Books in Tallahassee, FL, on March 23 and are planning to host one locally as well.
We’ve also sent out press releases to national media outlets to garner exposure and coverage. Our momentum continues to grow. All of us who contributed to this project feel a deep responsibility for getting the word out and for correcting misperceptions that all is well here.
“The contributors and I are humbled by the outpouring of support and the responses we’ve received thus far. For those who feel left out or forgotten, that was never our intention. We’re part of the communities that survived that day and are living in the aftermath. Know that your stories, your pain is interwoven in every word. How could it not be. We are in this together.”
My new book, Four Weeks: A Journey from Darkness, is now available for pre-order on Amazon! It hits on October 16, 2018!
The poetry and reflections included in Four Weeks, come from the journals I kept during my time in treatment for the eating disorder and alcoholism that darkened my life for decades. Four Weeks, is my journey from darkness. More than that, it is my journey from despair to hope. A hope I long to share with others walking the same path I did for so long. Hope exists in each of us, I have learned, it is when we surrender to that hope and to the source from which it flows that we begin to heal.