Rhonda Patzia is a gifted photographer who has been left partially blinded by multiple sclerosis. When her photography business collapsed, Goddard represented new vocational hope. Once she had enrolled in the low-residency MA in Individualized Studies program, what had begun as a well-thought-out plan to study Transformative Language Arts became an exploration of territory she had never imagined.
Rhonda: What Goddard gave me was an extended, longterm passion – an on-fireness – that I never felt before. It began when I started to read female and feminist writers, and it directed what I wanted to study. Because I wanted to see and value women I reincorporated photography into my life, I photographed women at Goddard’s fall and winter residencies, most of them naked, some in the snow. The aim was to encourage us all to root ourselves in the reality of our bodies.
After having agonized for several years about being unable to rise above my disintegrating body to live somehow as ‘pure spirit,’ I began in the low-residency MA in Individualized Studies program the transformative work of body awareness. Since MS affected every corner of my being, I was compelled to honestly and sometimes painfully confront my identity as a body. I learned that if I denied any aspect of my physical self, I would live weakly. With body awareness I am more vibrantly and powerfully present. My body is my identity: I am female, a sexual being, a mother, a thinker, an artist, a feeler, a product of experience and memory, and I am ill. In my thesis, Mindfully unraveling, with disease as a backdrop, I explored these identities and more by creating a mosaic of written pieces that together demonstrate the arduous and mindful work of rooting myself in my fullest, most earthly identity.
I really can’t imagine a better sort of education for me. The low-residency MA in Individualized Studies program not only gives you the freedom to explore; it brings out your passion and then channels it. And my life after Goddard has been a continuation of this work. My thesis has meant a lot to many people. An ICU nurse who found me on the internet started sharing my writing and photography project with her friends and colleagues. She said it affected what she and other nurses were doing on the floor. The nurses read the essays, looked at the photos and came away with insight into their own lack of body self-acceptance. This insight made them more present to their patients. A friend passed the thesis on to a 60-year-old woman with MS who used to be afraid to go shopping or walk around outside for fear of falling. She said my thesis gave her courage every day of her life. At the insistence of all of these women, I’ve decided to try and get the thesis published.
I faced my mortality in my thesis, and it scared me but it was also a good thing because when I had faced my body disintegrating I also realized how much it was still intact. This gave me a new courage for life; in fact it gave me the confidence to try to get pregnant. I graduated in June 2004 and Marco was born in October of 2005.