The Adventures of Leaf and Lizard

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The Magic Postcard

This fall, I entered the MA/PhD program at Pacifica Graduate Institute, in the Mythological Studies Program. Here’s how it happened…

One fine day, in August 2011, I returned home from my studio, jostling errands and groceries, grabbing the mail on my way up to the house. My youngest daughter had just begun college, and I was excited to be throwing myself full-time into my work as an artist and designer. I sorted distractedly through the mail, juggling the thousand details of a busy life.

And then, I paused… Here was a magical postcard that seemed to glow! Hmmmm…. I held it up for a look – a fine example of what’s known in the graphic design biz as the “trifold self-mailer”: Pacifica Graduate Institute Mythological Studies: Where Myth Meets Depth…. Huh! I said, and laid it to the side.

I did know of Pacifica, but graduate school wasn’t in my plans – not at that point. Back in the 90s, I had been interested in studying personal mythology and expressive arts therapy, and I’d looked into graduate programs at that time, but decided I couldn’t manage it with two young children at home, and I put the idea aside. Life moves on, and by August 2011, I had no intention of going back to school. My schedule was full of interesting projects, my future plans were legion. But…

I must say, the postcard touched something – a hidden door was magically opening….

There it sat. Three days went by. Finally, in a quiet moment, I broke the seal. Opening the card, a world opened before me. With rapt attention, I absorbed every word. Huh! I said, Interesting. There’s something important in here…

I’m aware that many people are unable to connect with their creative, intuitive selves. The “mythic underground” is just below the surface of most people’s consciousness. This vast, rich resource is available to all, yet so few even know it’s there or how to access it. But I do. Like a psychic travel guide, I can help you get from here to there. Graduate school would strengthen my commitment to engage in this work.

But, let’s not rush into things…. Not wanting to change my plans precipitously, I set the beautiful postcard on my altar. “I’ll just sit with it and see how it develops. I’ll explore and think. I won’t make any decisions yet, but just remain open to the idea, and if it still feels good in January, then I’ll see about applying.”

Pacifica’s Mythological Studies program consists of 3 years of coursework, followed by 2 years (more or less) of dissertation research and writing. The program studies myth through literature and the humanities, religious thought, and depth psychology. Monthly on-campus sessions are combined with independent study, so it would be possible to commute to school in California from my home in North Carolina. Hmmm…

I noticed that whenever I discussed the idea with friends or family, they responded positively: “Wow! Yes! Fantastic! That sounds perfect for you!” None of that quizzical-doggie-cock-headed look I get so frequently when I share my ideas (meaning: “What are you saying? Huh? I have no idea…”). I don’t make my decisions based on other people’s opinions, but it’s a good sign when I find agreement there.

January came, and it still felt good – the postcard still glowing – so I began the application process: gathering the transcripts, the recommendations, the writing sample… The final step would be an interview, and a visit to campus – for me, the opportunity to answer the handful of questions and reservations I had about the program. Mainly:
1.) Is the program demanding enough, because I’m not doing this just for a meaningless but expensive piece of paper.
– and –
2.) Can this long-distance low-residency approach work? Will there be enough actual time on campus to develop meaningful relationships with my cohort and professors? Will I be able to bring myself and my motivations into my work here?

I visited on one of Pacifica’s Introduction Days, when you can meet faculty and alumni, hear presentations and tour the campus along with other interested applicants. What I learned was this: Pacifica’s 2 campuses are amazingly beautiful; the faculty is stellar; the program is rigorous; alumni spoke of the deep bonds, professional and personal, formed within their cohorts. I had my interview and toured the magical, mystical Opus Archives, the on-campus home of the archives of Joseph Campbell, Marija Gimbutas, Christine Downing, James Hillman, Marion Woodman and more.

By the end of the day, I felt like I was flying– like I had been transported into the mythic realm! My questions were answered. I felt blessed, truly. Returning to my car, I listened to a phone message from the lovely and wonderful Gwyn Wood (then Senior Admissions Counselor), letting me know of my acceptance to the program. Perfect! I found my bliss!


  1. Teresa Schwenk says:

    Good Morning Mary!
    I read your email this morning with rapt attention! (I always do, when I receive a missive from you) I applaud your decision to further your education. I never knew that such information existed, it sounds so exciting! I have always longed to feel a connection with my “creative” side, but time never really allowed. I will look forward to reading about your progress, and try to absorb some of your good vibes long distance!

    Love always,

  2. Thank you so much, Teresa! I hope to see you in September…and we can have a nice, long chat! For now, sending good vibes your way, and thanks for sending yours to me :)

    Love you,

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