After a year off, I am officially showing my masochistic tendencies again as a proud member of the Goddard College IMA program. Two and a half years from now, I will walk away from this experience with my Masters degree in Arts with a concentration in Environmental Studies. More importantly, I will walk away with a much stronger sense of who I am and what I have to say. I already feel like I have taken huge strides towards that end after only one residency. The program is what they call a low residency program, meaning you attend sessions on campus twice a year and the rest of the time you work from home. Some call it distance learning. In some ways, my first residency feels like a dream. Was I really there? Did all that really happen? Did I really make all those great discoveries about myself and meet all those great people? The only hard evidence I have of it now are the photos and the new facebook friends who appear to share the same memories, so I guess it did happen.
They told me it would be frustrating, having such a profound experience and then having no real vocabulary with which to speak about it that might remotely do it justice. I have toyed with posting this blog for days, trying to come up with something, and I have to admit they were right. (They being the other graduate students and faculty at Goddard who have lived through this experience in the past.) The best I can come up with is to say that it was like existing in another energy field entirely, one where my brain ran on some other wavelength. I walked around like an exposed synapse nerve soaking everything in and processing it at an alarming rate. It was wonderful, inspiring, frightening, emotional, confusing business. Most of all it was just amazing. I really didn't want to leave, but I fear if it had lasted any longer, I might not have survived it.
I came home more tired than I have ever felt in my whole life. However, its a good tired because I know I've accomplished something positive, started down a life altering path towards something more. The thought of the hard work doesn't scare me too much. Oh, yes, it does. No, it doesn't. I'm trying to get a grip on it. I don't mind the work, in fact, I think I will enjoy it, but still any kind of new life- altering path is bound to be a little scary, right? I have never been one to let that stop me, and it certainly won't stop me now.
Anyway, the program is really amazing. Tailor made for eclectic people like me who don't believe in the need to "specialize" in one field of study. My world makes no sense by splitting it into categories. Better to integrate, study in the places where subjects and disciplines come together, since this is the way the real world works. I never understood the idea put forth by academia that says you should choose and focus in on one thing. Since when does this truly serve anyone in their daily lives? Better, if you ask me, to be able to synthesize and use the knowledge you have gathered in multiple disciplines, particularly in today's world where multi-tasking is the norm. But, that is an argument better left for another time. I don't have the energy for it right now. Suffice it to say, Goddard's truly interdisciplinary approach to education was what sold me on them.
Lots of colleges, particularly those with low residency programs in the arts, say they are interdisciplinary, yet when I looked into them, they still expected me to specialize in one thing or the other. Goddard believes this is not necessary for everyone. Instead, they let me choose from three disciplines, and even those could be fairly broad, as long as I could fashion a study plan for the program which proved they were all necessary and which will lead me to produce something of value to give back to society when my degree is complete.
I chose to work in Environmental Studies, Creative Writing, and the Arts. My project includes looking at things like Animal Cognitive Studies and Deep Ecology, as well as Contemporary Environmental Art and Resurgence Art so that I can find the place for my own voice, my own talents. Although coming up with the study plan wasn't easy, I came home full of excitement, and after sleeping for nearly two days, I hit the ground running. Suzi Gablik, who I had the great pleasure to meet recently, will be glad to know that several of her books are among the first things on my reading list, as is the book Deep Ecology by Devall and Session. I'll be studying these and many, many more. Plus, I will be forced to view and write about all kinds of Contemporary Art. Such a hardship for me. :)
So, what have I gained? Well, first and foremost, the honor of calling so many wonderful new people friends and colleagues. All of the people I met in the Goddard community have been the most wonderful, accepting, open, intelligent, and loving group of people. Everyone leads with what feels like their genuine selves, all coming to the campus willing to share and give openly and honestly, willing to make this experience a safe place for everyone to explore themselves and learn about the world. This is a rare gift. Coming from someone who suffers from social anxiety, it was truly amazing to step into a place where I never once felt worried about sharing myself, my ideas, my life, my secrets, anything.
Could there be some magical spell over the campus? I am starting to see the possibility. I do know the connections I have made there will last a lifetime. Even if we cross oceans, if we don't stay in touch, we will always be connected by our time at Goddard, by our shared experiences, by the gifts we gave to each other of ourselves. That may sound like ridiculous hippie talk to an outsider, but that does not make it less true. For the gifts offered and shared last week from all of my Goddard community, more than anything else, I am grateful. I start this journey looking forward to all the other connections I will make, all the new knowledge I will gain, all the new paths that will surely open up along my life's journey, paths that will all start on one magical campus in Plainfield Vermont.