Thursday, July 26, 2007

Swimming with dolphins -- Chico biologist finds power in life stories


"When I was a junior in high school," Chicoan Cara Gubbins writes, "and had the opportunity to be a volunteer on a research project studying communication between people and wild dolphins, I jumped at the chance.

"On the day before we were to sail home, a huge group of at least 30 dolphins surrounded the boat. Everyone raced into the water. Dolphins of all ages and sizes surrounded us. Mothers whizzed past me with their calves in tow; juveniles swam in large packs, circling the swimmers while remaining a few tantalizing inches away from outstretched hands; older dolphins cruised the perimeter, eyeing the humans and watching for danger. ... Back on the boat, I knew that I had found my calling."

But the journey to a doctorate in biology was not the straight path Gubbins might have imagined. Personal tragedy intervened, her self-confidence withered and her dream died. But later, when a "summer job as a rafting guide" turned full time, her ability to face dangers restored her sense of self. She accomplished her goal.

Gubbins' account, "On Becoming a Scientist," is one of almost two dozen inspirational life tales collected in "Power Stories: Everyday Women Creating Extraordinary Lives" ($20 in paperback from JADA Press or Gubbins, who teaches biology at Butte College and is a Powerstories workshop leader, edited the volume in conjunction with Laurie Santulli and Fran Taylor Powers.

Santulli, now an executive consultant, realized her own dream of becoming a bodybuilder. Powers founded the Powerstories Theatre in West Tampa, Fla., in 2000, where, as Powers writes, "seven amazing women, most without any stage experience, were selected to perform in our first show, 'Let the Stories Move You.' For eight months we wrote and re-wrote our stories, memorized lines from the script I wrote to link our lives together, and learned to sing and move on stage." It was a resounding success.

Powers and Santulli tell their own stories in the book, a celebration of what might be called realizing the potential within. Rose Bilal, in "Don't Blame the Road," writes about being molested as a girl but triumphing over fear -- and prison; Iranian-born Afsaneh Noori (her first name means "fairy tale") talks of finding "Power Within"; Lisa Shannon tells of the death of her older brother, Scott, and discovering how to keep life "juicy and flowing."

And Ellen Winner, breast cancer survivor, finds the lighter side of turning 50. She quotes a birthday card: "Don't worry; you're not having hot flashes. It's your inner child playing with matches!"

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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