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Sarah Cunningham's blog

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I was feeling confused-- what did Gary Snyder actually say? What did he mean by unnatural writing? It's so curious how different people can read the same text and come away with quite different things. What I loved about the "unnatural writing" essay was the thesis that language is wild just as nature is wild-- that language is in fact a part of nature, and is most satisfying and true when practiced and honed, but not over-tamed or over-civilized, that the highest art of language is letting it be wild and complex and multi-layered, as nature is. "Diverse, ancient, and full of information." To me his exhortation to let the dark decaying side be part of this was only one facet of being wild and free. So I went back and re-read the article. He says, "''wild' is a name for the way that phenomena continually actualize themselves." But nowhere in the piece (I have just read it for a third time) does Snyder say what he means by "unnatural writing". In fact I'm quite baffled by the title. It doesn't fit the piece at all.

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slow, deep

Rain. Much colder, getting colder. I came to campus to swim, but the open swim is closed (that's what I'm told, in those words!) so that volley ball players can use all the locker rooms. (Thanks a bunch, Claire and Zoe!) So, to the labyrinth, with the intention of going deeper. Slower, deeper. Stepping into deep dreaming space, circling towards union. Greet the beech tree first: the "three ladies" are hugely bigger than I remember them: my photographs, which I've been looking at all week, have no reference for scale, and make them look small, graceful, like normal size tree trunks. In fact they are huge and graceful. The trunk of this tree is enormous, much thicker than one would expect from the overall profile of the tree. In my paper I compared these three trunks to my grandmother, my mother, and me. Does their surprising size tell me something about us, our deceptive, unobvious size and power? I sneak a wilderness pee under the shelter of the tree's hanging branches. No one around, no one watching, but I feel illicit, get away with it.

Going deeper already, I sense/imagine down into the earth, the curve of the hill, picturing/feeling grass over earth over rock.

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lost in the maze

Read the photos from top to bottom, or from bottom to top. I meant the one on the bottom to be the first, but I do not know how to control where they are inserted, and the Serendip fairy put each one above the one before. So, ok.

Nor do I know how to write in between or below-- so here is the story. Maybe it is a puzzle for you, to match each caption to the right picture.

Back in the "real" world.

Still ghostly.

The house my mother grew up in: 210 Roberts Road. Ghostly-- the camera decided to make it ghostly. Camera gremlin, or something I touched by "mistake".

View back toward campus from Cambrian Row. With poppies. (They are not poppies, but they look like poppies in the picture.)


Three ladies = one beech tree.

Labyrinth from below.

Labyrinth map, from memory.

No, I must admit, the labyrinth does not have the magical feel I was expecting from it. But maybe I have not found its spirit. Maybe this picturing is part of penetrating. Walking to the center does not equal discovering the mystery.

Go deeper. Where one enters, it's the third circle. That was the key to drawing the map.

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labyrinthine thoughts

Where I am sitting now: in a Starbucks on Broadway near 110th St, on the Upper West Side of New York, nearly 10 o'clock on Saturday night, the only place and time I've managed to get internet access and a modicum of space and time to myself. Better do this posting now; tomorrow will be full with rehearsal, and I need to practice my parts before that. This is actually OK with me as a way to live (so far...) The pleasure in the work to be done, and the stimulation and challenge of what I'm learning, more than outweigh the physical fatigue. So I sit and try to travel mentally back to the Labyrinth, and to my time there on Thursday, only a couple of days ago. My path from there to here is like a labyrinth in itself, twisting and turning through different locations and activities, meeting new people, trying to keep track of the threads of different conversations, different communication processes. I'm grateful for the opportunity to think myself back to the peaceful moments at the (Bryn Mawr) Labyrinth, just as I was grateful to have an assigned hour of contemplation. It makes me think, now, that integral to our ecological disaster in the present-day world, is the sheer pace of our life, the speed of it, the quantity of activity and experience we expect to pack into every day. How on earth can we expect to be aware of what is going on around us, of the existence and concerns of non-human beings, of the effect we are having on them and they on us, when we have assigned ourselves a more than full schedule we can barely keep up with?

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The Owl and the Labyrinth

I chose the Owl, Protector of the College, because I have been so struck by how much energy surrounds the owl as well as her (and our) patron goddess Athena, in the college community. In shamanic terms the owl is not just a mascot, but a totem: an animal spirit which lends its special power to our tribe; and both by the length of Owl's association with Bryn Mawr (back at least to 1904 when Rockefeller Arch was built), and by the passion with which Bryn Mawr students seem to identify with her-- as well as the various rituals and superstitions associated with Athena, Owl's mistress-- she strikes me as quite uniquely powerful, compared to college mascots or totems that I have encountered elsewhere. In fact Athena, with all the attributes she carried as patroness of the ancient city of Athens (and still does carry-- myths do not die!), being such an important deity in ancient times, with her Owl, seems to embody just about all of what Bryn Mawr is about, what makes Bryn Mawr special and different; she seems to permeate all we do, and to give us her supervision and her blessings on a day to day basis.

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Writing in a circle, or, Squeezing till it flows, or, How deadlines do us a favor

I found this one very hard to do. I thought it was because of the situation: I was very tired on Thursday night, had to do both the walk and the paper then, because completely booked up on Friday. Thursday had been full too, things got done, connections got made, but leaving me feeling used up and decidedly un-Thoreauvian. I felt, grumpily, that a walk under the duress of producing a peper from its ruminations could not possibly be an authentically Thoreauvian one. Once I'd written the paper I realized there were underlying emotional reasons too, which I'd been keeping well buried, and which the writing of the paper revealed to me. I think-- and hope-- that maybe this is exactly what Anne's teaching methods are trying to help us do. To discover, by writing, what we think-- AND what we feel.

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Unexpected encounters

My explorations of the five assigned sites on campus were punctuated by a couple of unexpected meetings. I started in the Campus Center parking lot-- very near where I park as a commuting student. It's not an unpleasant spot-- the pavement a bit cracked here and there, though no plants actually grow through it. The plants in the mulched garden beds looked happy indeed. The way our assigned question was phrased-- where do I feel happiest?-- was conducive to my realization that I feel happy today, and in fact I felt noticeably happy in all five different spots; so thank you Anne for making me aware of that! I needed to go the campus Health Center to change an appointment, so I made the glassed-in staircase at Dalton Hall my next stop. Cold air-conditioned air greeted me, bringing the welcome interest of a change, though too cold to increase my happiness. I liked looking through all that glass at the trees outside, and I liked the light that pours in there, on this day of interesting and changing light. (Dalton also awakens distant memories and associations for me: when we first moved here in 1959, when I was 7 years old, the science building was not yet built, and my father's office in the Math department was on the third floor of Dalton. His colleague John Oxtoby was physically disabled, on crutches, and had to struggle up the two flights of stairs-- this glass stairway and elevator are much later additions, after the age of accessibility had arrived...)

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