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Centering Across Time

Nan's picture




Late Spring, 1970 /Late Summer, 2012


What makes a place feel like a center of the campus?  Is it a physical center or an emotional or psychological center?  Is it a place where something happened?  Something good? Or a place that holds a disturbing memory of some kind? How, or where, can we approach our mind’s psychic centers and edges through the confines of physical space?


I was a sophomore at Bryn Mawr in 1970, 42 years ago. Yet now as I wander around, I discover I am drawn toward several places in particular – two are near the campus’s physical center.   Taylor’s high tower marks a center of campus.  All the “English” literature and most language classes were once held here.


It is an extraordinary feeling to be guided by my unconscious mind in these wanderings that draw me back almost half a century to some of the core experiences of my young life.  I can tell you it is a feeling of being able to transport one’s psyche fairly effortlessly from the present  back in time, by way of the mechanism of place.  Standing in a particular place that is resonant with a specific memory can afford a kind of instant telepathic transport within the wilderness of one’s own mind.  It is so interesting how a particular place where  strong emotions were felt can be flash-frozen in time.   All one needs to do to re-experience our history is to stand in the same spot decades later and re-experience a frame of film from a previous century.


For me there is a place in the ground floor hallway of Taylor just outside the rooms where the English classes were held.  I was a serious student, passionate about poetry and literature, but I couldn’t write a well-structured essay even if my life depended on it (which I believed it did).  At that time, I did care very much about grades, and in spite of the illuminating observations and well-crafted arguments I believed I was making in my essays, one prof continued to give me C+’s!  I was devastated.  And yet I persisted, never rising to the level of A’s to which I had grown accustomed in high school or even in my other classes at Bryn Mawr.


This prof held me to a standard of essay writing that I could not approach.  Nevertheless I continued to take classes with this same prof for 4 semesters. And I knew my GPA would suffer.  I was discovering how deep was my love of literature and poetry, and I said to myself, “Grades be damned!”  After the last class of the fourth semester, this prof stood in a particular place in the hallway in Taylor. 


I had just received another fairly dismal grade – yet I became prouder of my C’s than my B’s, because I started to believe that C’s from this prof were a badge of courage of some kind.  Anyway, we stood in the hallway and the prof expressed some astonished admiration at least for my endurance over the years.  Then I was dumbfounded  to hear this intimidating personage say:  “You’ve taught me something about love.”  I have never forgotten those words that meant more to me than any “A”.  This is the place where I can stand, on the worn floorboards of Taylor, that for me resonates with the heart of the Bryn Mawr campus across time.



Late Spring, 1970/ Late Summer, 2012


There was a grassy hill, more of a knoll, outside of Taylor on the Green before the arch.  Not really a knoll but a rise in the ground.  A young woman from my dance class was sitting on the grass with a much older man, disheveled with a pony tail, a beard and a wild look.  I liked Holly.  I didn’t really know her.  But I did know she was a beautiful dancer.  I took dance for PE credit – in those days the arts were relegated to back corners at Bryn Mawr where they were barely seen, barely heard, and barely acknowledged.  I was not a dancer, but I loved to watch “real” dancers.  I managed to squeak through physical education taking “Dance” and  “Relaxation”.  “Relaxation” was actually a phys ed credit. Long before mindfulness meditation practice was part of any curriculum, Bryn Mawr taught its young women to lie down on the grass or gym floor, close our eyes, and relax on cue. Sleep-deprived and exhausted, many of us would promptly fall asleep.  The gym teacher awakened me by applying a sudden animal prod to the foot. “Wake up!” she sternly admonished.

“But this is relaxation class,” I pleaded. 

“Relax awake!” she insisted. 

For me, dance class wasn’t a lot better, except I was absolutely awake.  It is very hard to fall asleep while twirling across a room.


But Holly was more than awake. She was radiant, glowing. Her long blond

hair swayed with her body enraptured by the dance.  I could have watched her for hours. Every once in a while we would share a few words, but otherwise I didn’t really know her – except in the way one has the privilege of knowing someone who allows themselves to be observed in a moment of concentrated grace.  She would dance as if entranced.


Holly beckoned me from the grassy knoll.  “Nan, come meet Ira!” 

I hesitated.  I didn’t want to meet Ira.  My friends and I had seen Ira around

campus.  He was clearly violating parietal rules. (In this prehistoric age, puritanically strict rules governed the presence of men on campus.) We had debated reporting Ira.  We heard he had been a professor at Harvard and that he was one of  the brilliant ecologically conscious minds behind “Earth Day”.

And Holly was with him.  After all it was her business whom she wanted

to hang out with, wasn’t it?  We didn’t want to interfere in her life.


“Come meet Ira!” she waved me towards them, insistent in a way that seemed odd to me since I barely knew Holly.  Reluctantly, I approached.  She patted the ground next to her. 

Ira pointed to another spot on the ground. “Sit here!” he commanded. 

I sat down somewhere and  took an instant dislike to him.  He was bossy and pushy and controlling.  I imagined he was full of himself.  He confirmed that by beaming as Holly said proudly, “Ira invented Earth Day.” 

“I was Master of Ceremonies,” said Ira.  I was begrudgingly impressed.


Holly was clearly enraptured by him.  I could not see what she liked about him.  “Ira can hypnotize people,” said Holly.  I thought that sounded mildly interesting. 

“I can hypnotize you so that you cannot look away,” said Ira.  I thought that sounded obnoxious.  But my curiosity was piqued. Was this a magic trick?

 “Look into my eyes,” said Ira.

             How hokey can you get, I thought. I stared into his icy blue eyes that protruded like frozen hypnotic rings.  I could feel their power.  I looked down, breaking their hold on me.  “Is this some kind of joke?  Some kind of trick?” I asked.

            Ira was not amused.  Clearly there was nothing humorous about this.  Ira shrugged and let out an exasperated grunt.  “You’re not my type anyway,” he said.

 I was disgusted by the whole charade.  I had no idea what gross chauvinistic idiocy was inhabiting his brain.  “Look, I can hypnotize her,” he said, turning his back on me and facing Holly.  “Look into my eyes,” he said to Holly. Holly stared into his eyes for the longest time.  I started to panic on both our behalves, but soon Ira dropped his gaze, and only then did Holly look away. 

“Why didn’t you look away?!” I asked with a mixture of startled relief and annoyance. 

“I can’t look away,” said Holly.  I didn’t understand.  At that time in my life, I did not know enough to understand what she meant, or what really was going on.




If you look up Ira Einhorn, Wikipedia will begin with this:


Ira Samuel Einhorn (born May 15, 1940), known as "the Unicorn Killer", is a convicted murderer and former environmental advocate. Einhorn beat his ex-girlfriend, Holly Maddux, to death and then stored her body in a locker in his apartment for more than a year before she was discovered by the police. He fled to Europe and was convicted in 2002, 25 years after her murder, and is serving a life sentence.


His moniker, "the Unicorn," came from his name Einhorn (unicorn in German).




Holly Maddux was a Bryn Mawr student.  She was brutally murdered by a con artist who claimed to love plants and animals.




          As I walk across the Green where there was a knoll, almost invisible, just a little rise in the ground, one old center of the campus, my heart chills.  I cross the lawn and enter Taylor.  There I can find a specific and central place, a physical place to stand in the ground floor hallway where my heart warms.


 A physical center can also be an emotional center, a psychological center, and also a kind of an edge.  Time can render things invisible, moving them around to the periphery of our mind.  Might we consider this a physical edge as it is located in our elaborately choreographed brain, an emotional or psychological edge where we store or harbor our wild depths and extremities like guilt, loss, sorrow, regret,  joy, or love?






Anne Dalke's picture

Using place to travel through time

I join your classmates in celebrating the power of this story, especially the deft, deep way in which you demonstrate the mechanism whereby "place" can enable us to travel back in "time," whereby the physical can activate the psychological.

Your first story, though, leaves me a little puzzled. Am I to understand that it was your "endurance" which taught your intimidating prof "something about love"? Or that you don't know how/why you taught him that?

The second story, well, leaves me speechless. I will not forget Ira's icy blue eyes...

Nan's picture

Using place to travel through time


Yes, I think it may have been my endurance.  A kind of devotion to learning that was surprising even me, I guess.  This person -- not necessarily a "him" at all -- may have thought many semesters of dismal grades would discourage me.  And yet this person may have seen that my desire to study the poetry being taught in this class was more important to me than the disincentive of the poor grades.  This was also a truly fine teacher.  When someone opens a doorway for us we may feel love, especially when something in that doorway is shining with a very bright light.  In this case, it was poetry.  Poetry on the page can engender a transformation in the reader.  A teacher is sometimes a kind of a host facilitating that experience. My experience, and perhaps this prof's as well, was that this is an experience of love.

It is mysterious.  I never really knew for sure what or why the prof said those words.

et502's picture


I want to respond to this, but honestly, I'm having trouble finding my own words. Such emotional intensity. I'm reminded of an idea from Maya Angelou: "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." I think, perhaps, this must be true of places, too. The land/place remembers, and, like you said, this centers emotion over time.  

ekthorp's picture

The entirety of your story

The entirety of your story really moved me. Particularly the line, "All one needs to do to re-experience our history is to stand in the same spot decades later and re-experience a frame of film from a previous century." It instantly made me think of Sabrina Gschwandtner, and her Film Quilt series. She creates quilts out of 1950’s film strips that tell entire tales from decades ago. I’m not quite sure where the association lies, but I love it personally as a visualization of your quote.  

Srucara's picture

Thank you for sharing your story!

I really liked your story of your professor who gave you trouble with grades but left you feeling fulfilled in a more precious way. I thought that was so beautiful and realize that while being a sophomore student currently in Bryn Mawr, I would rather choose the precious moments over anything else - including grades.