To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 4: Post 4: The Zen of Achoo!

Aaaand, now I'm sick.

I didn't expect to be sick, I certainly didn't plan to be sick, but now, here I am. Sneezing seems to be my main occupation at the moment. It's just a cold, no big deal, but I don't really seem able to focus on anything.

So, I'm sitting here doing nothing except watching the world go by from my balcony. And sneezing. Don't forget the sneezing.

Eventually, I will have a lot of work to catch up on, but right now? It's not so bad.

Earlier, it was hot as all get-out. It's been hot, way too hot, for days, weeks. But now...An hour or so ago, the sky grew dark, the air grew soupy, and the clouds just let loose, wind, rain, lightning, the whole bit, the works. It's just easing off now, and there's some clearing in the west.

If I lean way out and crane my head, I can see the sunset from here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 4: post 4: Who Offers Thanks

The heat is on, now, full, fierce summer, the kind of weather that is delicious and lazy if the livin is easy and you have nothing particular to do, but it's miserable otherwise. Fortunately, the days are long, as though the sun, too, wants to get up early while it's still cool and linger in the evening when the air grows soft again.

I've been introducing Steve and his baby to the art of walking around just after dawn, and the equally alluring art of doing nothing at all in the shade in the afternoon. The other day, we were engaged in the nothing at all part under an elm tree near the Mansion. Charlie, Joy, and Apple Blossom and Joy sat nearby, although we hadn't said anything since we all sat down, so I am unable to say whether we were sitting together in the social sense or not. Perhaps we were all simply enjoying the same shade.

A group of young day-campers ran by, ignoring us, playing some kind of imaginative game in the sunshine. The one running in front (being chased?) turned toward the others and sang out "ooooooooooo!" while slapping at his open mouth with one hand. One of the following children said "Pow! Pow!" shooting an invisible gun. The other must have had a Star Wars blaster, because she said "Pew! Pew! Pew!" instead.

"Why don't we have any Indians here?" asked Apple Blossom.

"We have at least three," said Charlie, rattling off the names of three yearlings with ancestry on the Indian Subcontinent.

"No, I mean like them," Apple clarified, pointing to the children.

"Them? Well, there they are."

Apple sighed and rolled her eyes. Charlie smiled, fractionally.

"How do kids learn stereotypes like that?" complained Steve.

"They're six years old," I said. "Maybe they just like making that noise."

"While pretending to be Indians," Steve added.

"Seriously, though," said Apple,"why no Native Americans?"

"I don't know that we don't," I pointed out. "I don't know everybody's ethnic background. I don't know yours."

"Mostly German," said Apple.

"I don't think they need this place," said Joy.

Charlie rolled his eyes.

"And they are an extremely small portion of the population," he put in. "Statistically, you'd expect them to be rare."

"But not non-existent," said Apple. "We're not that small a school."

"We're mostly white, here" acknowledged Steve. "When nothing changes, nothing changes."

"What do you mean, they don't need this place?" asked Apple of Joy. "I would think it would be the perfect place for them."

"Exactly. What we have to give, they already have. Like showing gratitude to the natural world."

"You can't make generalizations like that!" protested Steve, "you're totally romanticizing a culture you don't understand."

Joy looked surprised to be thus taken to task by a student, but then she shrugged her shoulders. She didn't contradict Steve, though.

Charlie reacted more forcefully.

"What, walking around giving coins to plants?" he said. I should explain that a lot of people on campus make a practice of leaving a small gift, usually a coin, sometimes a small crystal or some other offering, as thanks whenever they harvest a wild plant for any reason. Charlie has never thought well of it. "Of what possible use could a coin be to a plant? Is it going to buy itself ten cents' worth of fertilizer. Meanwhile, you get to feel all noble and shit for leaving religiously inspired trash."

"And what do you do, when you harvest a plant or an animal?" Joy asked, knowing the answer.

Charlie did not respond, Just looked at each other, but I knew the answer. And I knew that Charlie offers thanks.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 4: Post 3: 4th of July

This post is for the 4th of July. Odd circumstances prevented my posting it as scheduled.-D.

Today, Greg read the Declaration of Independence aloud. No big surprise there, he usually does a historical talk on the Fourth. Then he asked whether we believed the birthday of the country deserves to be celebrated. Instant intellectual pandemonium.

It’s not that everyone began talking at once, they didn’t, it’s that the answers came quickly, were many, varied, and in most cases assumed to be self-evident by their advocates.

“Of course it does, this is the greatest country on Earth.”

“Of course it doesn’t, the whole thing was a lie from the get-go. Thomas Jefferson owned people.”

“Adams and Franklin didn’t. They wrote the Declaration, too.”

“Whatever. Slavery was legal. Women couldn’t vote.”

“But signing the Declaration created the harmonic potential that manifested in universal adult franchise.”

“That doesn’t begin to pay off the karmic debt of owning people.”

“Or annihilating Native American groups.”

“Native Americans are still here.”

“Not all of them.”

“Or re-enslaving black people through the prison system.”

“Or discriminating against women or LGBT people.”

“Nobody has ever been denied the right to vote for being gay.”

“You can’t vote if you can’t live.”

“That’s a different issue.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Right or wrong, the founding of our country was still a Big Deal. It deserves to be observed.”

“Yeah, but as what, though? The country we pretend to be, or the one we actually are?”

“The country we pretend to be is also the country we are. Both are true.”
“That’s completely illogical.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“When it was founded, this country was the free-est in the world. You have to look at it in historical context.”

“No, it wasn’t. The Iroquois Confederacy was.”

“It’s still the free-est country in the world. We have our faults, but so does everybody else.”

“Some countries have fewer faults than we do.”

“Have you ever lived in any of these supposedly free-er countries? They’re socialist.”

“Have you ever lived in them?”

“Wasn’t the United States founded mostly by Freemasons? How many other countries can say that? George Washington himself was a weather witch.”

“He was not.”

“He had to have been.”

“He owned slaves, too.”

While all of these ideas were flurrying about, Greg stood still and upright, his hands behind his back, his iron-grey hair clumped to his scalp by sweat because he still wore his long-sleeved full uniform while standing in the sun. Steve sat off to the side, equally attentive, looking less like a recalcitrant student and more like the teacher he can be.

When the flurry simmered down, Greg looked at Steve, and Steve spoke up.

“The tradition of patriotic, principled resistance that the Founders enshrined is what we still use to fight against the wrongs they took for granted,” he said.

My nephew, Paul, who had wandered over from one of the camp activities to stand by me, tugged on my shirt.

“Why do we have fireworks in July?” he asked. “The days are so long, it takes forever to get dark.”

“Sometimes they have fireworks in December, too,” I reminded him. “For New Year’s Eve.”

“That is a much better idea,” he said.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 4:Post 2: Dancing in the Dark

Of course, now June is more or less missing.

She's still on campus, but is entirely involved in the children's camp. She's been increasingly wrapped up in it for weeks, but now that the campers are actually here, I think she's working 15-hour days. I had wondered how she got a year's room and board and a stipend paid for out of a couple of months of work. Now I know. She simply takes no time off except to sleep.

The camp has never had a full-time director before. Before last year, when June was part-time, it had never had a real director, but was run entirely by an ever-changing collection of student volunteers. I'm not sure what-all June is doing, but she says a lot of it should have been being done the whole time and wasn't.

I'm teaching some children's workshops for the campers, too--mostly tracking, though I've done some plant ID walks and some sensory awareness exercises--and I like what I'm doing, but last week's thoughts about being a master someday and what that would be like and helping to lead the school have all evaporated. I feel like a peon.

I don't want to be the kind of man who minds being out-ranked by his wife, and I tell myself I'm not, and that I'm grumpy and dejected now for other reasons. And indeed it is ridiculously hot, I'm working hard on many different projects, and very little that I'm doing has much in the way of satisfying pay-off. It's mostly long long-term stuff, and though the workshops for campers or students are short-term, the participants all seem to assume they'll go well, so nobody compliments me when they do. It's all sufficient to explain my mood. And yet.

The other day I did take a bit of a break. Raven and I were walking around together for no special reason, just walking through the gathering dusk, when we came upon Rick in the field near the grape arbor. We watched him for a minute or so, and saw that he was catching fireflies--he'd catch one, examine it closely, let it go and wait until it flew away, then catch another. All of his movements, catching and releasing, looked graceful, precise, and effortless. He was wearing his uniform, probably because he didn't expect to go back and change before Dead Poets' Society, and his cape swirled around him as he moved.

"Looks like fun," whispered Raven.

"I know," I replied.

"I kind of want to join him," she said.

"Me, too," I whispered back, "but he might not like it."

"I can hear you," said Rick, still dancing. "Catch them if you want to, it's a free country."

And so we joined in, the three of us catching fireflies and releasing them, none of us able to see clearly, and none of us, except Rick, having much luck. And then I realized there were four of us.

"Charlie!" I said, "when did you get here?"

"If you're not observant enough to notice when I show up, I'm not going to fill you in."

"Alright, why did you get here?"

"You looked like you were having fun."

And so we were, and so we continued. Charlie, too, had the trick of catching the insects in complete darkness, and at one point he assembled a collection of a dozen or so of them. Then he opened and spread his hands before his face and the insects slowly crawled out along his fingers, lighting his hands and his features intermittently as they went, until they flew away, and he was grinning the whole time.

And then it was almost ten o'clock and the others began to come in, collecting at the grape arbor for Dead Poet's Society, lighting candles and so forth. Raven and I ran back to the Mansion to change as quickly as we could. And then, just before the sprouts showed up with this week's miscreant campers (who think they are breaking the rules by coming) and the no prose-talking rule went into effect, Charlie pulled me aside.

"You think you can be Elven King tonight?" he asked. He meant would I lead the meeting. He'd never asked me before, nor had I ever known him to ask anyone else.

"Me?" I said, unable to help it, and Charlie rolled his eyes. "I don't know how to be mysterious and everything!"

"Neither do I!" he confessed, with a bit of his old growl. "If you think I'm mysterious, that's not me, that's something you bring to me. I try to make things make more sense." But then he dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "If having a mysterious teacher is important, you're going to have to trust that they'll bring that to you, too. Be yourself."

And so I did it, I lead the meeting. It wasn't that different from leading a workshop or performing some of my poetry at Callaloo, or some similar event, but with my hood up and the candle-light casting shadows on my face and me being as tall and skinny as I am, I suspect I did seem suitably mysterious to our young guests. I hope so, anyway.

Afterwards, when I'd said good night to Raven and Charlie and the others and taken a quick shower, I slid into bed, tired, and there was June, waiting for me, her body all long and cool and smooth and asleep. She'd left the balcony door open, and the evening had cooled enough so that we could snuggle under the thin, pilling sheet. And so I wrapped myself around her, big spoon to her little spoon, and she made a comfortable little "nff" sound, and we slept.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Litha

Happy Litha!

Lately it’s been seeming like my favorite holiday is whichever one we’re having at the time you ask. Each has its own things to like. What I like best about Litha is the giant picnic of it, seeing faculty and students in the context of their families—this whole extra part of the school community we hardly ever see otherwise.

Mine came over, of course, and here I mean my brother and his wife and children, not my parents or sister. Their kids, Paul, Ruthie, and Chris (can you tell we’re Christian?) are full-on sprouts, now, six, five, and three years old, respectively, so almost as soon as they arrived they all vanished into some world of the sprouts’ creation, and we didn’t get more than a glimpse of them for the rest of the evening.

“I remember when mine were like that,” commented Allen, nostalgically.

“One of yours still is,” I reminded him, since Alexis is 11 and still a sprout in good standing.

“I pluralized my nostalgia,” he reminded me, a little sternly. Allen is always very precise with his language. Then he smiled a little and I laughed.

We picnicked with Allen and Lo, as usual, since they seem to have adopted me, and Ebony, whose mother I have still never met. Apparently, she and Allen have largely repaired their relationship—I still sense a kind of mutual cautiousness that I never noticed before, but also a kind of deliberateness, as though they are building something together. Today, she actually laid her head on his thigh, an extraordinary gesture of affection which made Allen visibly uncomfortable for a few seconds, since that is not normally any way to treat one’s professor. I think she was trying things, to see what would happen, and what happened was that after a few seconds, Allen seemed to make up is mind to go with it. He relaxed a little and, cautiously at first, then with a more absent-minded air, stroked her hair.

The day was incredibly hot, and the Central Field where we picnicked had filled with bees, attracted both to the clover and dandelions in the grass and to the foods and drinks and desserts scattered among the picnic blankets of well over a hundred families. After we ate, my brother John and I left June and the others and took a walk, largely to be social. We dipped in and out of conversations, exchanged benign gossip, and I introduced John to some of the people he hadn’t known, yet. A lot of them knew him only as “Paul and Ruthie’s father,” which surprised him but not me.

Apple Blossom, a yearling, wanted to know why it’s called “Litha,” not “Solstice,” and Aimee, who is also a yearling and was sharing her picnic blanket, asked “well, then, why Apple Blossom?” in tones suggesting that names are just weird around here and ought not to be questioned.

“Because I’m pretty and sweet,” explained Apple Blossom. “Everything does have a reason.”

But I didn’t know the reason for “Litha,” and neither did John, though he wondered aloud if perhaps it had to do with the river, Leith, in Ireland. We moved on.

John spent a while talking about alchemy with Acorn and then debating—yes, debating—religion with Samara and Edna, and then Aaron, the librarian, whose picnic spot was nearby, snagged our attention by remarking that John and I do look so much alike. Half a dozen people were clustered around Aaron, most of whom I’d never seen before—his family, I suppose, though I’d never thought of him as having a family, apart from us, but there they were. Aaron explained that they lived in Florida and rarely got to visit. One picnicker I did recognize—Ahab, Aaron’s pet scarlet macaw. He wore a long leash, tied to his right ankle (his wings are not clipped) but otherwise seemed able to do what he wanted, and was busy demolishing a big pile of strawberries.

“I know you are, but what am I?” he said, clearly, when he saw me looking at him. Aaron laughed.

Mason and Jay, two more yearlings, neither of whom had invited family (like me my first year, they had not realized family could be invited) had camped out with Aaron and his family, possibly because Jay is Aaron’s student.

“What do you think of this place?” John asked them.

“It’s cool,” asserted Mason. With the non-committal vaguary I’d expect of a teenager.

“Weird as hell, but I like it,” said Jay, with enthusiam.

“How weird is Hell?” asked Aaron, and Jay, laughing, told him to shut up. Which is not how you treat your professor, either, but Aaron, nonplussed at first, shrugged and seemed to go with it.

We moved on.

At Charlie’s complex of blankets, I found the expected complex of relatives and in-laws. Charlie himself was deep in conversation with his sister, Mary, when we walked up and looked at me, briefly but did not speak. Mary’s son, Justice, and her daughter, June were there (Obviously a different June than my wife of the same name), along with their respective spouses—Mary’s other daughter, Maggie, wasn’t, but Maggie’s kids aren’t sprouts anymore. The sprouts themselves weren’t present, but June’s 15-year-old twins were, plus the boyfriend of one of the twins, plus Paul, Charlie’s nephew through his late brother, and Paul’s grown son, Jason. All of them, except Charlie and Mary, welcomed me and John into their picnic and their conversation, which quite typically was intellectual, convoluted, and jolly.

On the Silanos’ blankets, too, sat Steve Bees and his son, Sean. They were both fairly quiet, very obviously on the fringes of things. Steve looked a little uncomfortable, but then, he often does, these days.

“He’s being adopted,” explained June, seeing me look at Steve. Steve himself smiled nervously at me.

While we’d been walking and talking, the sky had started to cloud up, and since John and I had been talking with the Silano clan, the temperature had begun to drop, just a little. Charlie looked over at me and raised his eye-brows. I cleared my throat. The others looked at me.

“It’s going to rain,” I said. “Storm, actually. We have about fifteen minutes.”

“We should tell the others,” said Mary, starting to gather her things. I don’t know whether she trusts me so implicitly, or if she knew Charlie had prompted me and therefore shared my opinion. Either way, that a person could give an accurate weather prediction simply based on the feeling of the air she clearly took for granted.

I looked around and saw a shift in the movement of the picnickers all across the field, the way you can see a shift if you approach one of those puddles of massed ants (which I’ve always been told are ant wars, but I’ve never seen the ants in the mass actually fighting) and blow on it.

“They know,” I reported. “They’re packing up.”

“Where are we going to go?” asked Mary, though she sounded unconcerned.

“Chapel Hall, I imagine,” said Charlie, with a bit of an unexplained growl. “Or the Dinning Hall. They’re the only two places big enough. We’ll see where the self-organizing process takes us.” He was referring to a characteristic of complex systems, the idea being that the whole mass of us would exhibit a kind of herd consciousness and make a collective decision without any individual leadership. And so we did. Being tall, I could watch the process, to some extent. Groups of people initially milled about in multiple directions, appearing indecisive, under a general momentum built in the direction of the Dining Hall. Once that momentum became established, even those picnickers heading towards the Chapel turned around and came to the Dining Hall.

“I would have preferred the Chapel,” grumped Charlie.

“The ants go marching one by one…” I sang, and he glanced at me and smirked.

“You know too much to be entirely polite anymore, Daniel,” he told me.

“Yes,” I agreed, “but fortunately most people don’t know enough to understand what I’m talking about.”

“Be careful,” he warned me, “I have students all over here. So do you.”

And at almost precisely 15 minutes after I’d issued my warning, it began to pour. We could hear it on the Dining Hall roof. More importantly, about five minutes after that, a huge peal of thunder let me know we’d been right to come inside. I, for one, could have a picnic in the rain, though wet food can be a bit of a drag, but I draw the line at being struck by lightning.

The storm was a big one, the first really satisfying electrical storm of the year, and afterwards, well past sunset, we all went outside again and found somebody had managed to cover the Man (an effigy of straw and various invasive exotics Charlie wants to burn) with a tarp. We un-tarped it and set it on fire without much trouble, and as distant peals of thunder moved off towards the east, we danced the sun up, as per tradition.

As I start to really take seriously my ambition of maybe spending my life here, it occurs to me that what makes this school different from other schools is not that we study magic or any of the rest of it, but simply this. That at other schools, the main point is to prepare students for life in the wider world, and any sense of community within the institution is either an educational technique or an incidental byproduct of the collective effort at education. Here, the main point is to create the community.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Interlude 4

Time for another interlude already? I guess it is.

Hi, all, Daniel-of-2018 here.

Gosh, I've been doing this a long time, now. I only have about one more year to go--I was a candidate for three years, and then, not long after I won my mastery, the events occurred which led to my writing this account. If I continue at the current pace, I will describe those events, and thereby catch my narrative up to the point where you came in, sometime in the spring of 2020. This story does, in fact, have an ending....

What shall I do after we reach the ending? I haven't decided yet. As you may have noticed, I regard this blog as far from perfect, and I'd like a chance for some kind of do-over. I might write the story over in book-form--possibly several books?--or I might do it again as a blog, but with all the entries pre-written and nicely edited and organized. I lean one way and then the other, depending on the day. What do you think? If you have a preference or an idea, please let me know.

My plan is to write this year's Litha post this coming Monday, so that when Litha itself occurs I can include the link to the post in online holiday wishes. The alternative is to wait until the following Monday, which seems less satisfying, emotionally. Better early than late?

It's funny, in the secular world, people celebrate either Memorial Day or 4th of July in much the same spirit as Litha, as though they need to celebrate something in that spirit. And neither of those holidays is really for that. Memorial Day properly memorializes dead soldiers, it ought to be more like a species of Samhain in feel, but no. It's like Litha erupts through whatever aperture it can.

And perhaps Litha as we celebrate it is itself an eruption of something. After all, I don't know what the "original" Litha celebrations were like. Maybe we're not doing it right. But something has to go here, it seems, and this holiday we have cobbled together is our something.

And I like it pretty well.

-best, D.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 3: Post 6: Meditation

You ever read the Winnie the Pooh stories? I mean the real ones, by A.A. Milne. I was raised on the Disney version, but Charlie has a thing about Disney, and growled on the subject until I caved and read the original.

Anyway, there is a story that begins with Piglet sitting at home alone while floodwaters rise around him. It’s not really flooding here, but it is raining hard, and has been for hours, and I’m all alone here in the Mansion, and I’m feeling very small and isolated.

Not literally alone—Sharon and the others are working in the Office and Aaron and the others are working in the Library, but everyone else is elsewhere. Everyone else has something to do.

The students and masters are all in class, except for Greg, who has no classes, being retired, but he has a doctor’s appointment. June is in the office making phone calls relative to the children’s camp, which is starting in less than a month, now, so there is a lot to do, and she says she’s not to be bothered. I was supposed to be off-campus, working for the landscaping company today, which is why I’m not scheduled for anything, but my boss there called and canceled work because of the rain, and now I have nothing to do and I’m all by myself.

I could take a walk in the rain. I do, sometimes. I could take a nap. In fact, I might. But for the moment I’m just sitting here in the Great Hall, watching the Mansion be empty and dark and listening to the sound of the rain coming in through a few open windows. Natural history of wet weather. Zen and the art of rainy days. Meditation. Daydreaming.

The air in here smells wet, but it is not the scent of wet weather in winter. That is of wool and snow and sometimes of the wood stove, which has a distinctive scent when it gets too hot. And someone is usually making coffee or hot chocolate in a pan set on the stove surface, and you can smell that. Then there’s the honey scent of beeswax candles, more often than not, and always the mingled scents of various kinds of incense and sage—though nag champa tends to predominate. Now, the snow-scent is gone, and the wool-scent is going as people wear fewer layers and some switch over to summer-weight cotton. Instead, a green, muddy, live scent comes in through the windows. I can smell floor-wax and soap, old wood and old potpourri, and a hint of mildew. It’s starting to smell like summer. The incense and beeswax remain, the constants of this place.

Greg returns from his appointment, coming in through the Meditation Hall and nodding gravely but companionably to me before heading up the stairs. I wonder why he didn’t come in through the Secret Stair? Maybe he wanted to see who was in the Great Hall, so he could nod, just so, to someone. I think Greg is more companionable than he lets on.

It’s almost lunchtime. I think I’ll go into the office and see if June is ready to take a break. If she isn’t, I’ll go bother Aaron for a while. There’ll be vegetable soup and crusty sourdough bread in the Dining Hall in half an hour, and if I get cold on the way over I can wrap my hands around a big mug of sweet coffee. I’ve had enough of meditating, for now.