Saturday, May 5, 2012

From Cuttlefish to Research: A Tribute to Dr. Carol Bryant

This was originally published on a tribute blog for one of my professors who recently retired, Dr. Carol Bryant. Not only has she opened up the world of qualitative research for me but she has become a treasured friend so I wanted share my tribute here also.

"Thought flows in terms of stories -- stories about events, stories about people, and stories about intentions and achievements. The best teachers are the best storytellers. We learn in the form of stories." -- Frank Smith

The Curious Cuttlefish
by Melanie Reaves

Bobbing gently with the rhythm of the swaying water, the embryonic cuttlefish viewed her surroundings. It was filled with colorful coral and swishing seaweed that would soon be her home. She wondered what it would be like to be out there--out there where she could weave amongst the architecture of the sea. The colors are what intrigued her most. She couldn't choose one as her favorite if she were asked. In fact, the middle of the day was her favorite time as the beaming sunlight from above created quick flashes of color on everything around her. She waited rather impatiently each night for the dawning of color as she peered through her egg.

Finally she just couldn't stay in her egg any longer. She gently pushed on the inner wall of her translucent egg. To her surprise, a hole formed and with one quick swoosh she was home--home in her colorful world. She found the sea world around her more vibrant than she imagined while cocooned in her egg. With the ease of undulating chiffon, she propelled through the colors. Yet she found she was defenseless against a predator. She would dart quickly under a rock or within coral and they would swim right by. Although her new home was filled with many frightening things she felt welcomed and warm. Little did she know that part of that warm feeling came directly from her own skin and would serve as her defense!

One day, while swimming past a bright red coral the small cuttlefish noticed a flood of warmth rush through her body. As she peered down at her tentacles she realized that she was no longer the pale white color of her birth. Instead she was flashing with a myriad of colors ranging from scarlet with black spots to a fiery orange. It was then that she realized how she mirrored her world--flashing all kinds of colors, patterns, and even textures. Not only did she live in a colorful world, she was part of bringing color to that world!

For the remainder of her days she relished in the joys of swimming amongst the flowing colors of the sea. She flashed her colors to signal her presence and reflect her world. Her colors were unlike any other creature in the sea and although she knew her difference, she felt at home amongst the architecture of the sea.

From Story to Tribute

It is difficult to find the words to describe Carol's influence on my life as a fledgling, curious researcher. Yet I knew Carol's love for story and that's why I chose to write The Curious Cuttlefish. Like the small cuttlefish in my story, I entered the world of research with little understanding of how I would fit in. I marveled at others' words as they described what they found in the world of early literacy and wondered how I could ever contribute. Fortunately, when I emerged into this world I found Carol who opened the architecture of the research sea before me. She showed me the amazing colors of qualitative research and I knew I had found my home. I knew that in this sea I could find my voice and offer some colors and patterns that could be unique but contributive. Thank you, Carol for your guidance and friendship. Your literal presence will be greatly missed but you will continue to present in my heart and mind as I propel my way forward in this new world!

To close, I share some excerpts* from an amazing poem, Cuttlefish Bones by Eugenio Montale.
It’s time to leave the stunted cane
that seems to be falling asleep
and observe the forms of life
as it is breaking up.

We move in a quivering haze
of mother-of-pearl,
in a glare that dazzles our eyes
and weakens us a little.

Still, you feel, in the play of dry waves
that numbs us in this moment of unease,
let’s not yet toss our vagrant lives
into a depthless abyss...

Dark things tend to what is bright,
bodies break up in a flood of colors,
colors in music. So to vanish is
the destiny of destinies.

Bring me the plant that shows the way
to where bright transparencies
arise, and life as essence turns to haze;
bring me the sunflower crazed with light...

What you knew of me
was only a  coat of paint,
the tunic that covers over
our human fate.

And maybe beyond the canvas
the blue was still.
Only a seal kept out
the limpid sky.

Or else there was the fiery
changing of my life,
the unveiling of a burning
sod I will never see.
So this skin remained
my actual substance:
the fire that wasn’t quenched
for me was called ignorance.

If you see a shadow
it’s no shadow—it’s me.
If only I could strip it off
and offer it to you.

*The entire poem can be found at:
Montale, E. (1985). Cuttlefish bones. Ploughshares, (11)4, 43-47.

By the way, if you've never learned about the cuttlefish, watch Nova's Kings of Camouflage!

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