Monday, August 18, 2008

The Brigadoon of Goddard

As many of you know, my day job is teaching in Goddard College's low-residency Individualized MA Program. Because the college in Vermont, the students are all over the world, the faculty is in the U.S. and Canada, and I'm in Kansas, I often find myself having to convey the geographically-challenged workings of such a job. By the time I get through how students and faculty come together for a week-long residency twice a year, followed by a four-month semester we then do through students emailing packets and faculty emailing back letters, then detailing how students design their own studies, I've usually thoroughly confused my listener too much to bring up the time travel dimension of our residency, which is a little like the story of Brigadoon.

For those of you who haven't seen the play/movie, Brigadoon is secret Scottish village that wakes up to once every hundred years, then disappears into the highland mist. Witness one lovely June 1 in Brigadoon in 2008, and then come back for June 2 in 2018. In the case of our residencies, we go from summer to winter seemingly overnight (never mind the three of snow replaced by nine varieties of green) when we leave in August and return in January.

What happens in that mist that swallows us back into our home communities is as mysterious at times as Brigadoon itself. People change. Through packet work, and the spaces in between, we start to articulate more of our life's work, and what it means to craft lives that are more engaged with the local and the global, not to the mention the body and the mind.

To get a tad more specific, I've had the joy of witnessing student projects that include:
* Developing a new expressive writing model to help children use poetry to counter the trauma and stress in their lives. See Heather Mandall.

* Creating a community trance dance ritual that fosters joy and connectedness (Gary Meitrott's Soul Bath Trance Dance).

* Traveling the world to take part in pilgrimages in Spain, France, Tibet and Peru, and from this walking, come to understand the psychological and spiritual stages of pilgrimage. See Angela Mullins.

* Building "a room of one's own" for women in Trinidad/Tobago in which these women can read and write their way toward a greater sense of self (Sue-Ann Commissiong)

* Exploring and challenging beauty conventions, and unfolding a new way of claiming beauty through the arts and the natural world (Patricia Fontaine).

* Making a film about how to transform moments of competition into cooperation and community-building. See Ben Stumpf.

* Explore and reclaim what it means to be a body, particularly a body living with chronic illness, through writing, embodiment and photography practices. See Rhonda Patzia.

The mist that envelops the residencies sometimes makes it hard for us to see what we're doing, but within that space of letting go of what we thought we knew to uncover new knowledge and new ways of knowing (and living), magic prevails. It's the kind of magic that continually addresses that core question of how to live. Yet there's also immense joy in the process of being together, going to too many workshops or staying up too late, hanging out with others following the work and studies that thrill them. To quote Gene Kelly in the movie version of Brigadoon, it's almost like being in love.

Thanks to Cynthia Curley -- who's created a young adult novel that blends fantasy with overcoming racism for her Goddard work -- for the great Goddard photos of some of us faculty (top photo: Francis Charet, Ruth Farmer -- program director, Ralph Lutts, Ellie Epp, Katt Lissard, and me; bottom photo Janet Tallman and me).

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