Bryn Mawr Reading Series: Yiyun Li

I recently attended the final event of this year’s Reading Series, a visit from author Yiyun Li. Li is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, and the author of a memoir, three novels, and two short fiction collections.

I first came to know of Li through her short stories such as “All Will Be Well” and “A Flawless Silence,” which tend to focus on women who vacillate between participants and outsiders to normal society. They guard complex secrets. On the surface they perform their expected roles, while internally they harbor forbidden dreams and angers. When I picked up Li’s novel “Kinder than Solitude,” I found a more sprawling and philosophical style, but similar concerns. The three protagonists of “Kinder than Solitude” grew up together in Beijing, but became estranged after a mutual friend was mysteriously poisoned. Nobody can agree who was at fault for the terrible event, but it seems clear that it was not an accident. This might seem like the set-up for a thriller or mystery, but Li approaches the subject with the same measured grace as her short stories. Decades after the rupture, the two female protagonists are expatriates in the United States. Much like the women in Li’s short stories, they live on the margins of the normal. Moran, once a loving child, is now unable to form deep attachments or put down roots. The odd, calculating Ruyu prefers to linger in the background of any social circle. Boyang, the male protagonist, has remained in Beijing and become wealthy, but he is no less lonely than his former friends. The trio seeks and rejects companionship, each of them painfully strategic in the revelation of their true selves.

During Li’s talk in the Ely Room, she began by reading a section from her new novel, “Where Reasons End,” a conversation between a mother and her deceased son. She then read a haunting excerpt from her novella “Kindness.” Finally, Li read us her story “A Sheltered Woman.” At various moments humorous, wry, and then heart-wrenching, this story is about a nanny who, against her will and better judgement, is drawn into the dysfunctional life of her newest employer.

As always, there was a Q and A session after the reading. Li veered away from trite answers. In response to a question about her inspiration, Li said that while she doesn’t “use” her acquaintances as characters, she does draw from certain life experiences in order to process them and understand them better. She stated, “Fiction is a way of understanding things that don’t make sense…The story has to injure you in a way, or else it’s just a story.” Another audience member asked Li to speak about her experiences as a Chinese-American writer, to which she demurred, wondering if she could be better classified as an Irish writer or a Russian writer based on the literary lineage of her work.

I surprised myself by raising my hand at the end to ask a question of my own. After Li had mentioned that she found it difficult to share personal details about her life in nonfiction, I found myself wondering if that was related to her cast of fictional characters as well. I asked Li to speak about it, and was thrilled by her answer. After a moment’s thought, she said, “Characters lie to us. They don’t want us to know their real stories. It is a writer’s job to push them.” She described silence and secrets as being the source of great pressure which can be alleviated through narrative, as if the writer takes the lid off of a character’s life.

In regards to the negotiation between her reticent characters and the surveillance of their societies: “My characters all have secret lives because they cannot have live privately, whether in China or America. It is the writer’s job to reveal that secret life.”


Planting history: trees for earth week

Bryn Mawr has hosted a variety of events for Earth Week, including a Lights Out bonfire and s’mores night, a recycled fashion show, and a sustainable BBQ at the end of the week. I was very excited to participate in the Class Year Tree Planting, in which six saplings were planted around campus. The classes of 2022, 2021, 2020, and 2019, the McBride Class, and the student Sustainability Coordinators all were represented at the event to plant and dedicate their own tree. It could not have been a more beautiful and sunny afternoon. We wrote well-wishes on slips of biodegradable paper, and then dropped them in with the tree roots before the soil was filled in. Besides myself, there were three other seniors in attendance to help plant our brand new cherry tree. It was harder work than I expected!

After all the trees were planted we talked about coming back to Bryn Mawr some day and seeing how tall they had grown. One day they will be as tall and strong as the trees along senior row, but for now they are just barely twigs. I’m glad to have the chance to leave this tree as a legacy and contribute to the campus in such a fun way.

Seniors Bria Montaque, Cassidy Gruber Baruth, Lauren Phillips, and myself, planting our class tree! Photo courtesy of Emily Barry, Sustainability Coordinator and Environmental Studies major extraordinaire.

Making is a Way of Thinking: Beginning Embroidery Workshop with Gareth Brookes

As participants settled into the sunny London Room for an embroidery workshop with artist-in-residence Gareth Brookes last week, the soft-spoken Londoner set us at ease with stories of how his mother taught him to embroider at the age of 4. He began by embroidering “boy things” like war scenes, but since then his work has developed into gorgeous and often haunting meditations on solitude, connection, and manifestations of home.

Gareth is not just a visual artist, but also a teacher and the author of two graphic novels. Flipping through a copy of his book The Black Project, I was struck by a sense of surreal wonderment; the monochromatic embroidery suggests a world rich with bizarre intricacies, captivating but also a bit menacing. In person, however, Gareth is delightfully self-deprecating and personable. He joked about not knowing how to use all the fancy tools that Bryn Mawr provided for the workshop and fumbled with threading his needle.

Pages from “The Black Project”

Courtesy of Shiamin Kwa

As I selected my thread and tried my hand at some basic stitches, I enjoyed the air of camaraderie and relaxation with those around me. Like many fiber arts, embroidery can be quite social. Embroidering, knitting, crocheting or quilting are all great things to do while sitting and talking with friends. Or, as Gareth, said, while watching a movie without subtitles.

Embroidery’s emphasis on strong lines and contrast make it fascinating to me. I love its aesthetic quality, as well as the evocation of tradition and doing-it-from-scratch self-reliance. Gareth talked about how sometimes he likes to display the “wrong side” of the fabric, instead of the more polished side. I like how this aspect of embroidery allows the viewer to see the work and materials that went into constructing it.

Thank you to Gareth for spending time with us, and to everyone at Bryn Mawr who made his residency possible!

What I made using the stitches we learned: french knots, running stitch, long-short, and a woven wheel!

Hallie attended another of Gareth’s workshops and took this photo of what she made!

Discussing embroidery in the London Room. Courtesy of Shiamin Kwa.

Thesising with Harriet and Meg

“Good-by, Harriet the Spy,” whispered Ole Golly into Harriet’s neck. Harriet felt tears start in her eyes. Ole Golly put her down sternly. “None of that. Tears won’t bring me back. Remember that. Tears never bring anything back. Life is a struggle and a good spy gets in there and fights. Remember that. No nonsense.” And with that she picked up her bags and was down the steps.

Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh, 1964.

Mrs Whatsit came to her and put an arm around her comfortingly. “I can’t stay with you here, you know, love,” she said. “You three children will be on your own. We will be near you; we will be watching you. But you will not be able to see us or to ask us for help, and we will not be able to come to you…Only a fool is not afraid…Now go.” And where she had been there was only sky and grasses and a small rock.

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, 1962.

With less than three weeks until my English thesis due date, writing and editing this project has become the main use of my time. In this blog post I’d like to talk about the timeline for my thesis and some unexpected bumps along the road.

The English thesis is expected to be between 30 and 40 pages, making it the longest academic paper I will have ever written. The entire process is meant to mimic the process of writing any other paper for a peer-reviewed journal; although I do not plan to pursue academia as a career, this has been a really intellectually stimulating project and a chance to devote myself to a topic that I am truly passionate about.

My thesis examines two American novels from the 1960s, Harriet the Spy and A Wrinkle in Time, two of the most iconic children’s books of the era. Both were written by women, both feature female protagonists, and both are concerned with questions of conformity, the changing power dynamics between adults and children, and the place of a nonconforming young girl in society. I am focusing on the role of the maternal relationship in both texts. In these novels, the protagonists have ambivalent relationships to their biological mothers as well as what I’m calling “supplemental mothers,” other women who act as mentors. I am writing about what the various mothers offer, both emotionally and practically, and investigating what the authors might have been implying by splitting up the maternal role among these various characters.

Although the English thesis is a yearlong project, what I’m working on now is very different from what I started out with in September. My thinking has undergone many different shifts as I encounter new perspectives and receive feedback from my advisor. In the English department we are assigned faculty advisors based on our interest area. My advisor, Professor Flower, specializes in children’s literature so she is the perfect resource for my thesis. I underwent a major setback earlier last month, when I realized that the thesis I’d been trying to write was much too broad and lacked a coherent argument. With the help of Professor Flower, I was able to narrow down my topic, and I finally feel like I’m on the right track. That being said, I know that the paper will continue to change and improve.

My biggest tool in working on such a big project is breaking down my work into the smallest possible mini-tasks. I actually will divide the number of pages that need to be written by the number of days I have, and then do the bare minimum each day. This can be problematic, because once I set these small goals, it’s almost impossible to force myself to do any more than necessary. However, as long as I can stick to the schedule, it’s a great method for staying motivated.

One problem I’ve faced with such a long project is that even when I reach a checkpoint such as turning in a certain number of pages, I’m still not done and I can’t really take a break. The past couple of weeks have been especially frantic, but luckily the changing of the seasons makes a beautiful backdrop to thesis-writing. The early-blooming trees started to blossom last week, in front of Canaday, Denbigh, and English House. When the sun is out, the pink petals are translucent from underneath. They look otherworldly, as if such a sight should not be found in nature. I’m desperately hoping for a sight of the beautiful and shy English House deer family, whom I have been glimpsing less and less over the years. I hope I can see at least one of them again before I graduate.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is eating enough food and sleeping enough hours. I try to read every night before bed. I recently started Yiyun Li’s Kinder than Solitude. I love Li’s short stories and am hoping to finish her novel before she comes to Bryn Mawr later this month. My most important aspect of self-care/procrastination is doing the crossword puzzle every day. Students can get The New York Times for free in the dining halls, and this year I have started doing the crossword religiously. Not everyone knows that it’s something you can actually improve at, and I have actually gotten to the point where I can complete the puzzle almost every day of the week!

The Complicit Eye with artist Kukuli Velarde

Field trips were one of the most exciting parts of my early school years. Getting to leave school during the middle of the day and bringing bagged lunches onto the bus were just the beginning of the adventure. Going to museums, theaters, and nature centers broke up our normal routine and got us learning in completely new ways. Field trips in college accomplish much the same function—and their infrequency makes them all the more novel.

A few weeks ago my class “Latin American and Latino Art and the Question of the Masses,” traveled together to Taller Puertoriqueño, a Latino arts and cultural center in the Fairhill neighborhood of northeast Philadelphia. Along with Professor Martín Gaspar, six of my classmates and I left the campus on a snowy morning to see the exhibit “The Complicit Eye,” presented to us personally by the artist Kukuli Velarde. In an artist’s statement, Velarde writes: “I am a Peruvian-American artist. My work, which revolves around the consequences of colonization in Latin American contemporary culture, is a visual investigation about aesthetics, cultural survival, and inheritance. I focus on Latin American history, particularly that of Perú, because it is the reality with which I am familiar. I do so, convinced that its complexity has universal characteristics and any conclusion can be understood beyond the frame of its uniqueness.”Once we arrived at Taller, Velarde led us around the stunning exhibition, stopping to discuss the inspiration and thought-process behind each of the pieces. Her paintings are large-scale and impressive, incorporating a vast artistic language with influences ranging from 1940s pin-up style to the colonial Catholic tradition of the Cuzco School. Velarde told us, however, that she never starts a painting with the intention to communicate a political message. Rather, she focuses on the personal and aesthetic meaning of the piece. Nonetheless, political meaning seeps into her art, and despite the deeply individual subject matter, Velarde’s body often seems to act as a placeholder for larger communities.In “Hispanic Ready Made,” for example, Velarde depicts stereotypes of Latin American women superimposed onto her own body. The caricatured images, from a headpiece made of tropical fruits to sexualized outfits, mock the grotesque nature of stereotypes. Velarde said that she detests the word “Hispanic,” believing it to reflect a homogenization of diverse experiences. She would rather delve into the specifics of heritage and ethnicity, avoiding generalizations by referring to herself simply as Peruvian.Many of the paintings are depictions of a specifically female agony. “Love Me Diosito, Love Me” responds to what Velarde described as a cultural glorification of women’s suffering. “Yo Misma Soy” is an earlier self-portrait that shows Velarde exposed for the viewer’s inspection (Both of these can be found on Velarde’s website here). Velarde spoke about her art as a way to take possession of the humiliation and objectification that she has experienced as a woman. Her paintings allow her to take control of her own image, reversing and confronting society’s voyeuristic gaze. Even when decapitated, crucified, and stabbed, the steady and challenging eyes of Velarde’s subjects tell the viewer, I know what you’ve done and I know what you think of me. “The Complicit Eye” is a gorgeous and haunting exhibit, and can be seen through April. Velarde is also constructing a mural, which we saw partially completed, and should be interesting to see again later on in the exhibition period. I was also disappointed by the difference between seeing the paintings in person and looking at the photos I took. I definitely was not able to capture their technical detail or precision, so I recommend taking a trip to Taller Puertorriqueño and seeing them yourself!

Tips and tricks for getting around Philadelphia

No matter how deeply you love Bryn Mawr’s campus, we all need to get away sometimes. During spring break I had some conversations with younger students that got me thinking about the barriers that prevent people from taking full advantage of our surroundings. The fact is, Bryn Mawr is a suburban school, and if you want to explore Philadelphia you either need to: own your own car, have a friend who has a car, be willing to spend a lot of money on Uber, or learn to use public transportation. Many people come from areas that do not have public transportation, and other people come from areas where the public transportation is different—read: easier to use—than it is here in Philadelphia. But I would encourage Bryn Mawr students to step out of their comfort zones and venture off campus.

I did not become fully comfortable using SEPTA (that’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, the general name for all modes of public transportation) until last summer, when I lived in Philadelphia for several months. Before then, I would hear people talking about the trolleys or subways, but I didn’t have the first idea of how to access these services. As I reach the end of my time at Bryn Mawr, I wanted to write a blog post that could be helpful for people who find themselves in the same boat.

PLANNING YOUR VISITVisualizing Philadelphia:

It’s easiest to start your Philadelphia adventures in Center City, which, as the name suggests, is the center of Philadelphia between the Schuylkill River to the west and the Delaware River to the east. The most important thing to remember is that Center City follows a grid system. Streets running north and south are numbered, and the numbers get higher as you go west. Streets running east and west have names. South of City Hall, many of these streets are named after trees such as Walnut and Chestnut. The only major exception is 14th Street, which is called Broad Street. City Hall is located at the intersection of Broad Street and Market Street. When I was first learning my way around, a friend advised me to stop every so often and get my bearings by asking myself where City Hall is, and then asking myself if I was facing north, south, east, or west. By doing this exercise frequently, I started to orient myself to the city and visualize myself on the grid.

Other neighborhoods:

You will probably hear people talking about neighborhoods like South Philly, University City, Fishtown, and many others. We don’t have enough space here to discuss every area of the city, and I am by no means an expert, but you can find fun things to do around the city  by speaking with locals and researching online. This blog post will give you some tips later on to help you get from one place to another using public transportation.

In general, Google Maps is your best friend. As a very visual learner, I like to see a map before I visit a new place, and trace my route beforehand. Google Maps can also suggest other attractions nearby to where you are going that you might not have known about otherwise.


Bryn Mawr’s Regional Rail Station

Regional Rail:

The most common way for Bryn Mawr students to get into Philadelphia is through Regional Rail, which is a commuter train that takes about 25 to 30 minutes. Regional Rail stops at three stations in Center City. The closest one to Bryn Mawr is 30th Street Station, and many students don’t even realize there are two others. 30th Street is the most practical if you’re connecting to Amtrak, NJ Transit, Megabus or Bolt Bus; or if you are trying to get to West Philadelphia, the University of Philadelphia, or Drexel University. Otherwise, you’ll want to continue on to Suburban Station, which is next to City Hall. The third station is Jefferson Station, which is a couple blocks further east than Suburban.

The cost of a one-way Regional Rail ticket ranges from about five to seven dollars, depending on whether you get it in the Bryn Mawr station or on the train. If you go to the Bryn Mawr station (the little building next to the train tracks), you can pay with card or cash and receive a small discount, but it’s only open during very specific weekday hours. If you get a ticket on the train, you have to pay in cash and it will cost about a couple dollars more. It makes the most economic sense to buy an Independence Pass, which is a paper ticket that gives you unlimited access to any SEPTA services all day long. Even if you just plan on taking regional rail into Center City and then back to campus, an Independence Pass is a better deal than paying for a normal round-trip train ticket, so you should make sure to tell the conductor that’s what you want.

City Hall

Jefferson Station

The Norristown High Speed Line:

The NHSL is another way to get to Center City. It is cheaper but takes much longer. You have to walk about 20 minutes to Bryn Mawr Hospital and then board the NHSL, which is an above-ground train that costs $2.50. You ride the NHSL for about 10 minutes and get off at the last stop, which is the 69th Street Station. You then pay a $1 transfer fee and board the Market-Frankfort Line and ride that for about 15 minutes to Center City.  I took this route twice a month this summer when I was visiting campus for beekeeping classes, because I could use my pre-paid monthly pass and thus save a significant amount of money. The trip can take upwards of an hour when you take into account transfer time, and I would personally say it is for advanced SEPTA passengers only.



The SEPTA Key is a newer payment method modeled after services like New York’s MetroCard. I got a SEPTA Key Card this summer and would highly recommend it if you plan to take SEPTA frequently within Philadelphia. You pay $4.95 to get a plastic card, and then can refill it using a machine at pretty much any SEPTA station. You can get a Travel Wallet meaning you pay per ride (with a slight discount, paying $2 instead of the $2.50 you’d have to pay using cash), or you can get a weekly or monthly pass which offers an even greater discount but only is worth it if you’re going to be using SEPTA significantly during that period like if you have a job, internship, or are living in the city. The biggest downside of SEPTA Key is that it does not yet work on Regional Rail. The service is still in development, so hopefully future Bryn Mawr students will be able to take better advantage of it.

Edit: Thank you to SEPTA for reaching out with some additional information! They wrote, “The $4.95 cost is refunded in Travel Wallet funds if the card is registered within 30 days. Also, the $1 transfer is ONLY available with the Key card. Lastly they can also reload online at

Buses, trains, and trolleys:

The most annoying aspect of traveling from Bryn Mawr to the city is connecting between Regional Rail and other forms of transportation. Once you figure out this step, you can travel basically anywhere you want. Here’s a simplified run-down of the different types of transportation, and how to access them. All of these will cost around $2.00 per ride. You can still pay for the buses with cash, but the other forms of transportation require tickets bought in advance, such as an Independence Pass, or a SEPTA Key Card.

The Broad Street Line: This is a below-ground subway train that runs north/south along Broad Street. You can board the BSL at the City Hall Station, which you can enter underground after you get off Regional Rail.

Entrance to the Broad Street Line at Lombard Street

The Market–Frankford  Line: This train, also called the El, goes east/west, partially underground and partially above-ground. It intersects with the BSL at City Hall, which on schedules of the MFL is often called 13th Street. I have found both the BSL and the MFL to be punctual. I can point to a few bad experiences when trains were extremely late or just never came, but these are the exceptions and not the rule.

Buses: The bus system is quite comprehensive, in my opinion, covering most of the city. I would recommend consulting Google Maps to choose the bus route that works for you. Like any city, you cannot always predict when exactly the buses will come, especially during non-rush hours, but they run more or less on time and consistently.

Hopping on the bus this summer

Trolley Lines: I have the least amount of experience with Philadelphia’s trolleys, but I have found them to be reliable and efficient. They tend to be most useful if you’re heading east/west, especially if you are going into West Philadelphia. They run underground like the trains but they have their own stations and entrances. Like the buses, I recommend using Google Maps to learn about trolley routes.

Waiting for the trolley

The SEPTA app:

SEPTA has an app! You can download it for free to check updated schedules for all services, see when the next train or bus will arrive, and get notifications on service delays. This app has been invaluable to me. It is intuitive and easy to use. As I wrote above, good old fashioned Google Maps is also excellent for navigating Philadelphia, and I have found that if you look up the directions to get somewhere using the “public transportation” feature,Google has accurate information that, if you’re taking a trip that requires connecting to multiple types of transportation, is easier to understand than the SEPTA app.


SEPTA’s underground concourse system deserves its own section just because of the amount of trouble it’s caused me. This interconnected warren of tunnels and caverns will confront you as you navigate the transportation in and around Center City. I probably got lost exiting the City Hall subway station my first twenty time going through it. And similarly, I spent an absurd amount of time this summer wandering around underground, after having descended at slightly the wrong corner, trying to find my platform. I’ll be the first to admit I have trouble visualizing spaces, but based on conversations I’ve had, this area tends to be confusing and overwhelming for many people.

I have two recommendations for confronting the concourse system: First, swallow your pride and ask SEPTA employees for help. Second, if you can’t locate an employee, don’t panic! I can’t even estimate how many times I unknowingly walked in circles underground, when I should have just taken a breath and come back up to street levels to get my bearings. I’m not trying to scare or discourage anyone—as long as you’re not on your way to an appointment, it’s fine to get a little lost. This is the time to explore and make mistakes. Everyone deserves that feeling of accomplishment that you get after learning your way around a new city, and in order to get there you’ll need to take some risks (safe and healthy risks, of course!).  As a student, you have plenty of time to explore and get a little lost. I know it can be frustrating, but just try to think of this as an adventure.


If you just really don’t want to take public transportation you can also walk! If it’s a nice day I would recommend strolling east along Walnut or Pine Street, admiring the beautiful architecture and stopping anywhere that looks interesting. There are also many museums, theaters, restaurants, and other places to visit within walking distance of 30th Street Station or Suburban Station. Depending on how many steps you want to get in, you can go on foot to the historic sites around Independence Hall or down to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens and South Street. Walking through the streets will help you feel more connected to the city and notice the small details.

Good luck! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions on this topic. I know firsthand how challenging it can be to move to a new city, and I would love to share my experience.

Sock it to me! Textile conservation and children’s culture in the early Byzantine

On a recent Friday I attended the latest event in Special Collection’s Friday Finds series. Alex Stern, a Haverford junior who is majoring in art history and archaeology at Bryn Mawr, facilitated a fun and fascinating workshop on nålbinding, an ancient weaving technique found in Byzantine Egypt.

Alex became interested in early Byzantine textiles while taking the yearlong 360°course cluster “Textiles in Context.” During the fall semester of 2018, students in the program studied the significance of textiles in the Byzantine world as well as the technical analysis and conservation of ancient artifacts. This spring the 360° is curating an exhibit of early Byzantine textiles on loan from Thomas Jefferson University. These textiles have never been formally studied, which makes the students’ original research all the more exciting. Sadly, surviving textiles from this period are scarce, due to mishandling by early European archaeologists. Even in arid Egypt, which is a climate better suited to preserving fragile textiles, many such artifacts have been lost.

Alex (in yellow) and classmates during a lecture on polarized light microscopy, a technique that can assist in the identification of fibers. Image courtesy of Alex Stern.

In the course of her studies, Alex was intrigued by a very specific form of textiles: Byzantine socks made from nålbinding. Nålbinding is actually found in many cultures around the globe, such as in Scandinavia and South America. The final result looks identical to knitting but is produced quite differently. Whereas knitting uses a long ball of yarn and two needles, nålbinding uses only one needle and shorter pieces of yarn that are tied onto one another as needed. Although nålbinding has received a lot of attention from amateur crafters and experimental archaeologists—who have often produced valuable information about how these textiles looked and felt on the human body—it has received much less critical attention in academia.

Example of Byzantine socks for adults. Powerpoint slide courtesy of Alex Stern.

These images show a woman wearing socks with a split between the big toe and the rest of the foot, in order to accommodate her sandals. Zoom in on your browser to see the details better! Shroud of a Woman Wearing a Fringed Tunic, ca. 170-200 CE. Linen, paint (tempera). 230.2 x 110.8 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

This is a shame, because nålbound socks are a window into early Byzantine life in Egypt. Alex’s presentation focused on child-sized socks, rare archaeological finds that can only be seen in a handful of museums. They are similar to their adult counterparts, but smaller in size and made in cheerful striped patterns; a PowerPoint slide showing examples of children’s socks elicited a round of “Aww!”’s from the audience. The children’s socks represent a compelling, and frankly adorable, bridge between our modern lives and a far-off civilization.

Examples of children’s’ socks from the Byzantine world. Powerpoint slide courtesy of Alex Stern.

Alex’s replica sock, using modern materials and ancient nålbinding technique.

Alex’s argument explored the possibilities that children’s socks suggest for studying the affective side of history. When she tried her hand at recreating a child’s sock, she was struck by how time-consuming and exacting the process was. She realized that the adults who made these socks were doing so as a labor of love for their children. Heartbreakingly, many of the children’s socks were found at funerary sites; Alex reminded us that although child mortality was much higher back then, the death of a child was no less profound or tragic than it would be today. The presence of the children’s socks shows how deeply the children who wore them were cared for.

After the formal presentation, all the workshop participants got to try their hand at nålbinding, with supplies to make small bracelets. Here’s a video of my struggling to make my bracelet. I will definitely need more practice before I can make socks!

My personal interest in this workshop stems from a few factors. First, my senior thesis deals with children’s literature. This past year I have started to realize how complex children’s culture can be, and how much we can learn about a culture based on its view of children. Second, in the non-academic realm, I recently returned to my old hobby of knitting, which I had abandoned for quite a few years, and learned how to make socks! With the help of a patient friend, a soft ball of blue yarn, and some good YouTube tutorials, I am immensely proud to say I have completed my first pair! This Friday Finds event was a great way to pair my intellectual and artistic interests. I definitely want to attend more in the future, and I can’t wait to see the 360’s Textile exhibit, opening April 18, 2019.

Thoughts on tradition

On a daily basis, my perception of Bryn Mawr’s campus reflects how I’m feeling about my school. Is our suburban location an oasis from the world, or uneasily isolated from it? Are the antique dorms charming or outdated? Are the broad lawns bucolic, or a nuisance to navigate without getting your shoes muddy?

Transcending my personal experiences, the one universal feeling about Bryn Mawr’s campus is the awestruck reverence that grips almost every first-time visitor when they see our oldest buildings. Rock, the Pems, Goodhart, Old Library, and many others were built with the intention of commanding respect. They invoke tradition. They promise an initiation to a ritualized way of life and an elevated language. Inspired by the Gothic styles of Oxford and Cambridge, then-Dean M. Carey Thomas oversaw the creation of many new buildings, hoping to echo their grandeur, and thus imbue Bryn Mawr with a sense of legitimacy and heritage that many did not want to recognize in an institution for women. In my sophomore-year medieval art and architecture class, we learned how our campus is reminiscent of an abbey from the Middle Ages; Rock’s curving exterior walls ward off prying eyes and intruders, while the innermost cloisters represent a place of utmost safety and sacredness, for those who are welcomed inside.

 After attending an event co-hosted by Bryn Mawr College Hillel and Bryn Mawr Special Collections, I was thinking about the continuity of history, or lack thereof. Bryn Mawr’s historic architecture could be assumed to represent an unbroken lineage, lanterns passed down generation to generation without disruption. To the contrary, every new class recreates and reimagines our traditions. Not only do small aspects of the school’s culture shift over the decades—we no longer have class plays, for instance, as the student body has grown much too large—but our institutional values and mission develop as well. In Special Collections, I got to look at one of Thomas’s letters, in which she acquiesced to parents demanding their daughter be assigned a new roommate after finding out that her original roommate was Jewish, eventually leading to the policy of segregating Jewish students to particular housing.

This blog post was originally intended to be a then-and-now, comparing some vintage Bryn Mawr photos with snapshots I took this semester, but now I feel unsure about the implications of such a project. Yes, the collegiate-Gothic Pembroke Arch still stands, adorned with Athena’s shield. And yes, Goodhart still looms over the pond, its iron lanterns and peaked arches as anachronistic and wonderful as they were when the building was finished in 1928. But they are the unchanging exterior of a community that has radically transformed, and will continue to do so.

It is a privilege to live and learn in such beautiful castles that have stood for so long. It is also a privilege to be given daily opportunities to reshape tradition and expand the bounds of academia. If I come back to visit in twenty years, I will be looking to revisit happy memories that are enshrined, in a way, in the physical landscape of the college. Although these memories will always be preserved as my individual understanding of Bryn Mawr, I fully expect that I will one day return to find a place that does not recognize me, nor I it. A healthy institution adapts according to the needs of the people who are here presently, while still retaining its place in the memories and hearts of those who have passed through and left their mark.

The archival images come from Special Collections, and were taken around the 1930s.

For more information about Bryn Mawr’s architectural history, I would recommend looking at the 1985 report available here.

Exploring the Humanities with LILAC

As a senior, thinking about the future is unavoidable. As a English and Spanish major looking for employment after graduation, it is also quite uncertain. Trying to think through my options and learn more about what to do with my degree, I enrolled in LILAC’s intensive course, Humanities at Work: Using the Humanities to Open Doors to a Satisfying Life. LILAC is Bryn Mawr’s Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center. I’ve utilized LILAC in the past for help with job-searching, but this is the first time I’ve taken one of their intensives, courses focusing in a specific area relating to the professional world. This course meets once a week, and is funded through a Mellon grant. LILAC brings in guest speakers, many of them Bryn Mawr alums, to talk to us about life after college. After just a few weeks of the semester I have come to really enjoy these sessions.

Four very recent graduates visited a few weeks ago, to talk about their journeys just three years after leaving Bryn Mawr: Syona Arora ’15, Lauren Buckheit, ’15, Iliana Dominguez-Franco ’16, and Maryam Elarbi ’15.  All of them now have interesting careers in nonprofit and advocacy, but they also all spoke about feeling fear, confusion, anxiety, and imposter syndrome as they spent time in unfulfilling jobs, dead ends, and periods of unemployment. Although these young grads are only a few years older than me, looking and speaking like my peers, they have clearly gained so much valuable experience and insight since venturing out into the world. I found it inspiring to hear their stories, because they have all weathered really difficult times that helped them discover wonderful career paths that suit their strengths and talents.

This week, we heard from two women who are further along in their careers. Sarah Schenck, an independent filmmaker, showed us a clip from a documentary in progress. I appreciated hearing some of her honest thoughts on how she has managed to support herself as an artist, as well as practical tips about project management and fundraising. Our other speaker was Sarah Bidgood (actually a Wellesley alum, but with strong Bryn Mawr connections), a Senior Research Associate at the James Martin Center for Proliferation Studies. She had trouble finding a practical application for her Russian major, but then learned about Non-Proliferation Studies and has found the work very meaningful. Both of our speakers gave eloquent and personable talks about their work, and the paths that led them there, including the role that the liberal arts played in developing their skills and perspectives.

Winter Break: What I ate

This Winter Day

By Maya Angelou

From: Oh Pray My Wings Are Gonna Fit Me Well: Poems. New York, Random House, 1975


The kitchen is its readiness

white green and orange things

leak their blood selves in the soup.


Ritual sacrifice that snaps

an odor at my nose and starts

my tongue to march

slipping in the liquid of it drip.


The day, silver striped

in rain, is balked against

my window and the soup.


Working with my hands has always been soothing to me. As a kid I spent hours playing in the mud, and I was fascinated by the smoothness of a wooden spoon or the softness of a skein of yarn. Shepherding an idea from creative spark to physical manifestation still excites me, no matter how simple the project. It’s so important to take a break from our intellectual and digital lives to interact with the physical world. Dumping flour into a bowl and breathing in a little of the dust cloud. Cracking eggs, the sticky slime on your fingers, and the crumbling shards of shell. These are full body sensory experiences that connect us to the real, immediate, solid world.

I had a few great food moments this winter break: frozen grapes, a bag of which I consumed in two days; at least one nearly-perfect fried egg; a honey-and-molasses cake to celebrate New Year’s Day. The best thing I ate during the past months was not something I made, though, but the curried red lentil and coconut soup my dad makes. The original recipe came from a friend who brought this soup to my mom in the hospital after my sister was born. My dad adjusts the exact ingredients with every iteration. This version had mushrooms, red bell pepper, and sweet potato cubes. It’s not the most elegant meal, but it’s my favorite vegetarian lunch or dinner, with a rich and complicated flavor and a thick texture.