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.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 1: Post 3: Yes

"So, are you a master, or a candidate?" asked Caryn at breakfast, of June. Caryn is one of the new yearlings. She knows novices don't wear brown, but not much else.
"Neither," said June, and took a bite of a bagel.

We don't normally have bagels here, but one of the second-years has an off-campus job at a bagel place in town brought in a large quantity of day-olds. Caryn, the yearling, looked at my wife in confusion.

"What are you?"
"What do I look like?"
"If this is a trick question, I don't get it."
"I win."
"June, be nice," I said. She smiled at me, briefly.

"I'm an ally. I've graduated, and now I've come back to help, just not as a candidate."

Come back to help and to live with your husband, I thought, while I piled pieces of a spinach omelette on a bagel. She doesn't have to help, Coffee Joe doesn't, particularly, she could just live with me, but that's her. She's as involved as any candidate is.

"Why do you do that?" asked Cristin, another yearling. "Masters, too, you get such a kick out of not giving us straight answers."
"We do give straight answers," I said. "The problem is your questions are crooked."
"We're brain-washing you, is what we're doing," said June with a straight face.
"I can't tell if you're joking," Caryn said.
"If she's not smiling, she's joking," I said.
"Also, when I am smiling," added June.
"Here's a hint," offered Ollie, "I think you need to know is not whether she's joking, but whether she's lying."

Afterwards, on our way out of the Dining Hall, June took my arm and leaned against my shoulder for a moment as we walked. I looked down at her and saw that she was smiling.

"You like messing with yearlings, don't you?" I said.
"I like messing with everybody," she answered. "But yearlings, they all seem so muddled and so clueless."
"As I recall, I didn't just seem muddled and clueless, I was muddled and clueless."
"I wasn't entirely joking about the brain-washing," she admitted.
"I know."
"It's not brain-washing, but it is...brain adjustment?"
"It's transformation. They agree to it and they ask for it, for the crooked questions they ask to be straightened by straight answers."
"From other students."
"Sometimes, yes."
"You did it for me."
"Yes," I acknowledged.
"And you let others do it for me."
"Yes."
"And I gave you such a hard time for it."
"Yes."
"I love you, Daniel. Did you know that?"
"Yes."


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part I: Post 2: Reacquaintance

The beginning of a new year is always an interesting time, here. There are new people to meet, and the various versions of astonishment and confusion to watch—and the days after Brigid always remind me of my own first days, and also every subsequent year of being thus reminded, an ever-complexifying echo chamber of self-reflection.

Have I really been part of this community for eight years, now?

June has moved into my room. We discussed the possibility of my moving into hers, but the reality is I don’t just live in a room. I also live in, and belong to, a dorm, and I don’t belong to her dorm. Dorm membership isn’t a huge part of the program here, but it is part of it, and since I’m still a student and she’s not, it makes sense for me to stay in my dorm. It does feel strange to have a room-mate all of a sudden.

She has also just returned from a few days at her parents’ house. Usually, parents come pick up graduating students at the reception the morning after graduation, and while June isn’t leaving, her home is with me, we all thought it was better for her to leave campus as a student before returning as an ally, plus she hadn’t spent a lot of time with her parents in a while.

There are forty-one new yearlings, now, a big class. I haven’t really spoken to any of them yet, at least not in a more than incidental way. I did have dinner with Steve Bees last week, while June was away, to welcome him back. We’re in the same dorm, but we took our plates downstairs to eat at the little table by the window next to the library. From there we could look out on a world white with snow.

So, how was the real world?” I asked, joking.
You know,” he told me, “this world feels like the real one. The outside...it’s like I don’t quite believe in it anymore.”

I told him I knew exactly what he meant.

So, what did you do this past year?” he asked. We had talked a few times by phone or email during our Absence, but we hadn’t ever really caught up, and of course after I came back we could have no contact at all.
Same-old, same-old,” I replied, casually. “I taught some classes, went hiking a lot, got married….”

As intended, my deadpan delivery made him come very near to spitting his drink across the table.

Oh, wow!” he exclaimed, when he had swallowed. “Who’s the lucky lady?”

So, I told him all about June and about our year together and our plans going forward.

What about you?” I asked.
I passed the bar exam, got a job, and, um….” he showed me the wedding ring on his finger.
Congratulations!” I told him. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”
Likewise.”
Ollie’s married, too. When I got engaged, I thought I’d be the first, but everybody’s getting hitched.”
Sorry to steal your thunder, man,” Steve offered, “but that’s not the half of it. We’re expecting.”
No kidding! When?”
Any day, now.”
Then what are you doing here?”
Steve laughed.
We don’t live that far away. When I get the call, I’ll meet her at the hospital.” He showed me his cell phone. “Anyway, I was there at the beginning of the pregnancy, so it’s probably ok if I’m not there at the end, too, right?”

My turn to laugh. The joke bordered on the ribald in a way I didn’t remember Steve doing much, but I suppose four years (and law school and marriage and impending fatherhood) might change a person. Come to think of it, though, something else about Steve seems different, too. I don’t remember him joking very much, but he seemed always to be smiling. Now...it took me a while to put my finger on it, but the difference is that he doesn’t smile if he doesn’t have a clear, obvious reason.

He seems tired, too.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Note

Hi,
I'll post tomorrow. Today I'm having computer problems.
-D.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Mastery Year 2: Part 1: Brigid

Happy Brigid! A new year, a new group of yearlings, several newly-awarded Green Rings, and, best of all, I think my wife is going to talk to me again!

I exaggerate; June never stopped talking to me, but I think she considered it. She's still angry.

She's angry with me, of course, for not telling her about the Ordeal which, in case you have forgotten, involves an about-to-graduate student being more or less kidnapped and stuck in a dark room alone for three days. Of course I didn't tell her; for the Ordeal to work, it has to be a surprise.

It's not hazing, it's the thing that hazing is a debased echo of--an initiatory experience. The word "experience" here is key. It's not an initiatory ritual or an initiatory event, it's an experience, and the experience does not occur if you're not in the right head-space for it. Not all forms of initiation require surprise, but many do. You can't be braced against the change you're about to experience.

Then, too, you have to decide real fast whether you trust your teachers when one of them pops a black-out bag over your head.

The thing that separates what we do from what many college fraternities and such do is that our initiation is not meant to be unpleasant or degrading. The person undergoing initiation is always reminded that they are free to quit, and they are encouraged to do so if they run into any sort of physical or mental trouble. They are closely monitored, offered plenty of food and water and opportunity to sleep. They are asked to trust, never to submit.

And yet being taken out of your day-to-day life and hidden away for an undetermined about of time is no joke. And to have it done by the masters--who have always obviously been up to something, that's part of the point--while to realize that your spouse is complicit is something else again.

She must be wondering whose side I'm on. She'll realize eventually that I am on the side of the masters and that now, so is she--that's what the initiation experience is for.

It's not as if I wasn't worried. It's one thing to go through the Ordeal yourself and afterwards to know that it doesn't hurt, it isn't scary (except for that first startling moment under the black-out bag, in the seconds before you hear their reassurances). It's not actually all that much different than a long trip on a Greyhound bus, except there's no view and the toilet doesn't stink. But it's quite another thing to watch your wife leave your dorm-room to go to a meeting and to know she thinks she's coming back in an hour--and she's wrong. And you don't say anything. To spend those three days, however you spend them and whatever you're doing, periodically casting your attention to your wife, knowing that at that very moment she is in the dark, sworn not to speak, and she doesn't know where she is or when she's getting out. To spend all the hours of that final day constantly looking at your watch thinking ok, now they're going to get her. Now she's seeing daylight again for the first time in the wing of the stage in the Chapel. Now the sun has set and she's still in the wing with all the other new initiates, in the dark again, waiting for the ceremony to start.

It's warm down in the basement, where the Ordeal rooms are, but it's cold in the wing of the Chapel.

Then I was back in the audience, sitting in a cold, metal folding chair in a dim room that smelled of wool and honey, and the little bell was ringing, ding! ding! ding! as the masters processed in carrying their as yet unlit candles. I was sitting with Ebony and Eddie and Aidan (it was his seventh birthday), as I often have before, but for only the second time in my experience of Brigid in that hall, Kayla wasn't sitting with me. She was waiting in the wing with June to graduate.

Was the Ordeal a surprise for Kayla? She certainly knew the rooms were down there, because that's where she went to be out of the way when she thought she was dying but was actually giving birth to Aidan when she was twelve. Did she know what those rooms were used for? She learned a lot of the school's secrets, just being a kid on campus, and of course secrecy is mostly maintained using the principles of stage magic--and when you're not part of the target audience, frequently the illusion does not work. I never once saw anyone being escorted to their Ordeal the whole time I was a novice, but this year, not being the target of the illusion anymore, I saw three of them without even trying to look. So, I imagine Kayla had seen some of them, too, over the years, and probably asked questions about them. Direct questions always receive honest (though sometimes legalistically narrow) answers around here. So maybe she knew.

On the other hand, would she really have asked all the right questions? Might the masters have evaded her, at least partly, in case she grew up to want to join the school? I don't know.

In any case, watching that twenty-year-old woman walk across the stage, a young but not prodigious college graduate, and thinking about where she was and why eight years earlier, was quite something. Almost as big a deal to me as walking June walk across the stage and knowing that the period of our being on different sides of a divide, of it being part of my job to keep secrets from her and hold distance from her, was over. We're both initiates, now, both entitled to wear the brown uniform, and I knew that starting that night, and from here on in, we'd share the same room.

The thing about uniforms--of course, novices wear white uniforms with black cloaks, candidates and allies without the Green Ring wear brown except for white belts, and people with the Ring wear all brown. So the symbolism of dress is important, here. When you graduate, one of the masters takes off your cloak and underneath is the outfit you choose to symbolize your life after the school. At least one person almost every year is naked and everybody laughs, and otherwise you get everything from suits to graduation gowns to jeans. When it was my turn I wore cargo pants, a turtleneck, and a flannel, which was my guess as to what I might be wearing in grad school (a good guess, as it happened). June hadn't told me her plans. She ended up wearing the same brown uniform she'll be entitled to wear every other day she spends on campus, unless and until she gets her ring.

"Because I don't think I'm leaving," she explained, later.

Afterwards, we watched Andy and Veronica receive their rings--I found Andy's graduation very moving, too, considering where he started and how far he has come--and then the masters processed away again, to do whatever it is they do on Brigid Night.

But I hadn't gotten a good look when the newly arrived candidates stood to introduce themselves at the beginning of the ceremony. I was sitting fr back and couldn't see or hear them well, I could only gather that there were two of them, a man and a woman. Afterwards, I sought them out to see who it was and found that the returnees are Raven G. and Steve.

Steve Bees is back.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Mastery Year 1: Interlude 8

Hi, all, Daniel-of-2018, here.

So, later this week is Brigid, the day we traditionally started a new school year. I'll write the Brigid post next week, after the fact. In the here and now, I'm busily helping to prepare for our community's Brigid celebration the first full one we've held since the school closed.

What I mean by "full" is that all the students will assemble for the induction of new students. Yes, we have students again--twenty of them, five new this year. It's not like it used to be. Aside from not having a residential campus, we're not an accredited school, so rather than teaching a lot of courses ourselves, we direct students in meeting their requirements for us through other schools. That's part of why we have fewer students--we simply have less to offer.

As I may have mentioned, most of what we do now is give public workshops and talks. Only a small minority of our regular attendees realize we have something more and pass the entrance test, but some do. And so, we, as a community, are growing again.

Since the election, we have gotten very serious about maintaining a community where certain things are important, so that none of us get burnt out or complacent.

So, to wrap up the catching -up process I've spent this January on, I want to talk about the candidates' group.

Candidates, you may recall, were (and someday, will be again) those students who have graduated, completed Absence, and returned to become masters. Not all masters ever have a leadership role in the school, but only masters can. The mastery program isn't accredited, and indeed a lot of us spent our Absence getting masters' degrees elsewhere--I did, Rick did, Ollie did, Ebony did--you don't need a masters' degree to be a master, but you need to take mastery seriously. If the area of your mastery in healing, you need to go to med school, or its equivalent. You can't just be a master because you say so.

The candidates form a distinct group because there are only ever a few at a time, because they have so much in common, and because they all take two main classes together, Candidate's Seminar and Chaplain's Seminar, every semester. So we get pretty close.

Except that I never got especially close with Oak (though I liked and respected him) or Veronica, and Veery and I continued to have nothing to say to each other, despite having dated for several weeks, years earlier, and in fact I did not talk to any of the three, except in an incidental way ("please pass the salt") the entire year, outside of our shared classes.

Jasmine and I started to become friends, years ago, when we partnered to win to Ostar egg hunt, and I started teaching her about birds and she started teaching me about photography. But somehow our incipient friendship fizzled, and we drifted apart. When I returned for my candidacy (she had returned the year before), we picked up where we had left off, as I started attending her photography classes (as did Ebony) and, once I started teaching, she attended my classes in natural history and so forth. It was (and, to a lesser extent, remains) an exchange of skills, not a deep friendship, but we get along with.

And then there's Eddie, who returned in order to deepen his work with therapy dogs into some kind of spiritual practice and ministry.

It wasn't immediately clear to anyone--even his master, Joy--how he was supposed to accomplish that deepening. Usually, you develop competency in several areas as a novice, then as a candidate, pick one area to get really, really good. Developing that aspect of mastery--skill and the ability to teach--then serves as a focus for developing those other aspect of mastery that are harder to define. But Eddie was already very, very good at training and placing therapy dogs. He wanted more. But what?

He spent the first four or five months of his candidacy teaching workshops on campus and volunteering at area animal shelters. Then Joy started helping him design and market a series of classes for outside participants and their dogs, such as basic obedience, behavior correction, and agility training. During his Absence, Eddie had worked as a dog groomer and a vet tech (he's always done most of his work with therapy dogs for free), and Joy wanted him to have more professional options. She also helped him start the process of getting professional certification as a trainer, which isn't required but does help. But all of that was secondary to what he'd come back to do.

I think it was in early November--after Samhain--when Joy finally gave Eddie two directly relevant long-term assignments.

The first was to do a series of six-week studies on people who have diagnoses consistent with having therapy dogs or some other kind of service animal, like a seeing eye dog. The idea was a kind of sociological study of the need for service animals, though I think it was obvious from the beginning that the scholarly nature of the assignment was a cover--yes, he had to do the study, but Eddie was actually being assigned to get to know potential clients on a deeper, more personal level, and the idea of doing research simply gave him a socially appropriate context through which to get to know people.

At the beginning of the study the person had to be considering getting a service animal of some kind, but not have one yet. Eddie had to spend at least five days with each research target over the course of the study, had to conduct at least two formal interviews, and write a report. In payment for the person's willingness to be a research subject, Eddie also had to devote at least six days to doing some sort of service for the person that didn't directly involve dogs.

He found his first several participants by talking to local vets, animal shelters, and doctors and therapists for humans. His first "subject" was a middle-aged man who had gone blind as a complication of mismanaged diabetes. Eddie simply became the man's driver. By Brigid, Eddie had begun his second study, working with an artist who had debilitating anxiety. For her, he ran errands and did yard work, service that had nothing to do with her disability, she just appreciated the help.

Joy's other assignment for Eddie sounded harder--it was designed to sound impossible, actually.

He had to fully train at least one therapy dog who, in Eddie's expert opinion, initially seemed completely ill-suited to therapy work or actually wholly untrainable. That is, he had to go look for hopeless dogs, try to train them anyway, and succeed at least once, before earning his ring.

The tallness of the order, its sheer craziness, made him grin.

By Brigid, he had begun looking for hopeless dogs, but had not yet begun to train any.

There. I think we are all caught up now.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Mastery Year 1: Part 8: Post 3: Sight

Hi, all,

I’m continuing my series of catch-up posts about storylines I didn’t adequately cover during the past year, but want to continue over the next. Most of these have, inevitably, been info dumps, but today’s post will be mostly narrative, because there is a single scene that nicely encapsulates most of the difficulty that my friend, Ebony, tackled her first year back—and largely triumphed over. I would have liked to tell the story of how she triumphed, of how she got to a place where she was able, by the beginning of the second year of her candidacy, to begin moving forward again. But, failing that, since I did fail that, this scene alone will do.

It was within the first week of our return, perhaps the day after Brigit, and I was walking across the Great Hall, for some reason (when I write these accounts, I often make up this type of lost detail, to provide the illusion that I’m writing about fresh memories). The Mansion was mostly deserted, most people being in some sort of workshop or orientation activity being held in the Dining Hall—but there were two people over by the couches, talking: Allen and Ebony.

I hadn’t had much chance to talk to either of them yet, since getting back, so I angled on over towards them, and got pretty close before I heard enough of their conversation to understand it was private. And by that time Allen, at least, knew I had heard, and it seemed wrong to just walk away and pretend I hadn’t.

They were arguing, or, rather, Ebony was arguing with Allen. Her voice was raised, and I came in on the middle of her reciting a long list of problems that had apparently occurred because Allen had neglected something. He, characteristically, was not arguing back, he just half-sat on the back of the couch, his hands clasped loosely on his thigh, listening attentively. A stranger would have thought him working, quite professionally, with a therapy client, but to me, who knew him well, something in the way he held his head—pulled back, ever-so-slightly—and some hint of a wince around his eyes, suggested he was deeply uncomfortable.

“I did try,” he said calmly, when she let him get a word in.

“You tried badly,” she asserted. “And I needed better from you.”

Allen and I made eye-contact over Ebony’s shoulder. Of course she didn’t know I was there, yet (Ebony doesn’t really do the compensating-with-heightened-awareness-of-her-remaining-senses thing) and I must have looked kind of frantic trying to figure out how to deal with the situation I’d walked myself into, an unintentional eavesdropper.

“Oh, hello, Daniel,” said Allen, resolving at least part of my problem. Ebony spun to face me, shocked.

“You heard,” she stated.

“Yes,” I admitted. “Some of it. I didn’t mean to.”

She stared at me for a few seconds—or, at least she faced me for a few seconds—and then turned towards Allen and then back towards me.

“This is going to become one of your stories, isn’t it?” she accused. “Fine. You tell him.” She meant that Allen should tell me what we’d been talking about, as she didn’t want to just then. She spun on her heel and stomped off towards the Front Office, though her melodramatic exit was somewhat spoiled when she nearly collided with the door-frame. She had misplaced her cane again.

I had a reputation for absorbing and remembering news and gossip about other people, though I never passed it on lightly and hardly ever passed it on at all. I liked, and still like, obviously, to know what’s going on with people. Over the years, most people, most of the time, have drawn comfort from knowing that I bear witness to things. Occasionally, there are sudden, resentful exceptions.

“Now I don’t know whether to ask you to tell me or not,” I said, turning to Allen. “Normally, she’d want me to know, so she could talk to me about it. Unless something has changed in the last four years?”

Remember, Ebony graduated the year before I did. I was frankly surprised to find her returning with me—I would have thought that if she was going to return, she would have done it the year before.

“I don’t know,” admitted Allen, looking after her. Then he turned towards me. “I’ll tell you, but not for her. For me.”

It was the first time Allen had so obviously sought support from me, as from an equal, and it surprised me, but I didn’t overtly react. He climbed over the back of the couch and slid into its seat, rather like a little boy might, and I walked around and took a seat beside him. He looked suddenly very tired.

“You remember when I warned you and why?” he began.

“You mean just before I graduated?”

“Yes.”

“Yeah, you told me to be careful, because I’d been living in a very supportive atmosphere and things were going to change.”

He nodded.

“Did you believe me?”

“No, I had no idea what you were talking about.”

“Was I right?” A hint of of a smile played on his face.

“Of course,” I told him. “I got about a year in to graduate school and realized I’d forgotten to have a life, since no one was there to remind me. I think I noticed a few years earlier than I would have, because of your warning, though. I was able to start correcting the problem.”

He laughed a little, almost shyly.

“Well, Ebony needed a similar warning, only more so. She’d never really talked about transability* before she came here, and when she did talk about it with us, we all pretty much believed her. I knew she needed to prepare coping mechanisms for dealing with a world where most people wouldn’t….”

“But you knew she wouldn’t believe you,” I finished for him.

“Exactly. It’s very difficult to anticipate a genuine change of context like that. But I couldn’t depend on her just ignoring me if she wasn’t ready to hear it, the way you did, the way most students I decide to warn do. I mean, she wanted to go to graduate school so she could teach visual art. She was walking into a lion’s den, and you know how she would have reacted had I told her so.”

“She would have thought you didn’t have faith in her.”

“Or worse, that I’d never believed her in first place, that I wanted her to capitulate and just be blind. That is one of the things being a magician has taught me, Daniel—the mechanics of perception are the same for both illusion and truth, that’s why we need reason. And perception, even perception of the truth, is easily shattered.” As he spoke, he made a large, foil-wrapped chocolate coin appear out of nowhere in his fingers, then he made it vanish again—and then, with a movement of his wrist, he showed me where he’d put his “vanished” coin, deliberately destroying the trick for me. He smiled, sadly.

“So, you said nothing?” It didn’t seem like him.

“I encouraged her not to go into absence initially, to stay in active contact with me for a while. I couldn’t warn her, but I hoped to be able to catch her when she fell.”

“What happened?”

“She fell, and I couldn’t catch her. She was trying to explain to her college what she wanted to do, so she could get the classes she needed, the accommodations she needed...I’d been trying to validate her, but I can’t replace an entire supportive community, particularly not over the phone once or twice a week. She was getting discouraged and...losing ground, somehow. So I decided to be honest with her and hope she understood it later. I told her she should just go ahead and learn to teach art to blind students, like her school wanted her to. I mean, a teaching credential is a teaching credential. She could come back here to learn how to make the professional transition.”

“And she didn’t take it well?”

He gave me an eloquent look.

“She hung up on me, and hadn’t talked to me since, until today. Now, it seems she blames me for not preparing her better. Which, of course, I didn’t. She’s right as far as it goes. But how could I have done any differently? What else could I have said?”

“Well, she’s here now,” I pointed out. “She’s following the plan you outlined, in a way. So, maybe she did hear you, eventually, as I did?”

“Maybe. But, you know, of course I sponsored** her return, but I don’t know if she’s going want to work with me. I don’t know if we’re going to ever be friends again.”

Some students, clearly, are just students to the masters—people they care about out of professional duty and strictly in a professional way. But, to varying degrees, they all also make friends with some of the people they teach. Sometimes that friendship means the two cease to be master and student, as in Allen’s decision to tell me his troubles as he might to any good friend, but sometimes, instead, the teaching relationship itself deepens. Think of Charlie and Sarah, or Greg and Karen. That’s what Ebony had become to Allen.

“I’m sorry,” I said, thinking of the real vulnerability the masters take on and almost never acknowledge. Particularly I was thinking of Charlie, who had just spoken to me recently, for the first time in years, and who had seemed unsure whether I'd forgiven him for his more difficult teachings--and was willing to risk alienating me all over again, for the sake of giving me the help I'd asked him for.

Again Allen gave me that sad, ironic, eloquent look.

“It came down to a choice,” he said. “Which is more important to me, that I love her—and act like it—or that she continue to love me?”

“That sounds very difficult,” I said.

He almost shrugged, a kind of dismissive twitch.

“I probably could have handled it better,” he acknowledged. “Said something better, done something different. Strictly speaking, she’s right, I did let her down. But I don’t know what else I could have said or done.” He looked at me again. “Daniel, there are some things I just can’t see.”






* “Transability” is Ebony’s term for her paradoxical identification as sighted, despite not being able to see. She likens her situation to that of transgender people.
** To return as a candidate, a student must have a master vouch for the student’s ability to benefit from the program. Usually that master is the one who was most involved during the student’s novitiate, and who then goes on to guide the student’s candidacy, as Charlie did for me. But the returning candidate is free to work with someone else instead.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Mastery Year 1: Part 8: Post 2: Introductions

Hello, I'm continuing playing catch-up, delivering an info dump on he people and stories I neglected over the past year. This week, I want to talk about the people I didn't introduce as "new characters," but should have, especially as I'll have reason to mention them next year.

When I returned, there were no students I recognized except Kayla, though some of the fourth-years remembered having seen me graduate at their first Brigid. Of course, the other fourth years saw me, too, but evidently I made no impression on them. Over the course of the year, I got to know the entire campus, at least well enough to say hi to, mostly because I had them in one or another of my workshops and classes. Some I got to know very well.

Two, besides June, were one-hit wonders, meaning they spent one the minimum year-and-a-day on campus. Of course June spent a lot of time with them, since they shared not only all the activities required for yearlings, but also all the activities required for graduating students. She became friends with them, so I did, too. But I appear to have missed the boat on telling their tales, as they disappeared into Absence at Brigid. Neither came back as candidates, by the way. One got back in touch a few years later, admitting she'd given up on becoming a candidate and wanted to visit. The other we never heard from again at all. It sometimes happened that way.

There were twenty other yearlings, half of whom were either in June's dorm or her therapy group, and another four were in my dorm, so we spent a fair amount of time with them, had breakfast with them often, and so forth. Some of the others I sought out deliberately, for one reason or another, or they sought me out.

Three, out of the yearling group, stick out especially strongly in memory.

There was Diana, an extraordinarily little woman of interesting contradictions. For starters, she was a Christian creationist and had a bachelor's degree in botany. She had started drifting away fro the strict pathways prescribed by her church, and had taken up the Tarot, and even some ceremonial magic. She seemed to be groping her way towards a vision of the cosmos similar to Joy's, in which the Trinity is gender-balanced, Jesus and Mary Magdalen are married, and angels assist humans in learning magic. But she wasn't quite there, yet. She felt a powerful spiritual connection to the natural world and sought out Charlie to help make sense of it. I've always felt a certain kinship with Charlie's other students.

There was True, another of Charlie's students, and an animist, but Charlie wasn't his spirit-master (no one was, he arrived, unusually, with his spiritual practice entirely intact). Instead, he chose to focus his studies on learning the art of chainsaw sculpture.

And there was Nutmeg--her real name was Megan--a Jewish pagan who accepted Greg as her spirit master, despite his being neither Jewish nor pagan. I got to know her because she became a friend of Ebony's (a self-identified "Jewitch") and thus, eventually, mine.

I made friends with a number of the senior students who were graduating, especially those fourth-years who remembered me, but again my widow for telling those stories has closed, since I won't have occasion to talk about them again in this narrative, and most drifted out of my acquaintance in subsequent years.

Some twenty were senior students who did not graduate but returned for 2008, and I more or less became friends with most of them, though for a few those friendships still lay in the future when the second year of my candidacy began, and there were a number of them with whom I seemed relatively close that first year, but when they returned from wherever they'd spent the winter, they had drifted away from me for reasons I never did understand. Finally, there were a very few I befriended over the year but then cut off personal contact with, for reasons I do understand but am not going to write about. I don't want to give the impression that our little community was entirely free of human foibles.

That leaves some five I am likely to refer to in this coming year:

Acorn, a committed Wiccan nonetheless studying Buddhist meditation with Greg,

Hawk, who was studying falconry with Joy and martial arts with Karen. Hawk has since come out as female, but my story will make little sense if I pretend I knew that was going to happen, so male pronouns it is, for now. "He" always seemed small and elfin, for a man, in a way other men "his" physical size did not. When I learned she'd come out, my only real surprise was that I'd never realized what was, in retrospect, obvious.

Samara, who we called (and still call) Sam, a young and outspoken Wiccan woman who was making ritual implements and religious art with Kit. She also studied the same subjects with Charlie and was the occasion of some flare-ups of the tension between them.

Edna, whom we all called Eddie, though to avoid confusion I'll probably call her Edna here, an intense little woman studying a range of topics all related to her black heritage--Voudou, with an outside master and with Joy's help, self-defense, with Karen, and political philosophy with Greg. Curiously, she chose philosophy as her healing modality, something I'm not sure anyone at the school had done before. No one has done it since.

Freydis, a Heathan woman dedicated to Odin, who worked mostly with Kit. She caused a bit of a fuss that year (her second) when she announced her intention to offer animals in sacrifice, something that is accepted (but not required) in modern Asatru but very much not in Wicca or New Age, which together dominate much of campus culture. People who are fully accepting of Charlie or Joy killing animals were all up in arms over Fredys wanting to do so, simply because of the word "sacrifice." There were some really interesting disccussions of the issue--and some amusing ones--before Freydis won, and Joy trained her in humane slaughter.

In our candidates' group there were, of course, no new students, but I haven't talked about Veronica, Veery, or Oak all year, and they were certainly there. I didn't have much to say about them, though. We seldom interacted outside of our two shared classes.

Ok, info dump over for the time being, but it occurs to me there is one more student whose presence on campus I hardly discussed; me.

To myself I am always just Daniel. To my friends, also, I believe I remain ordinary, in the way that people one likes, cares, about, even admires can be ordinary. Yes, I suppose some of my friends admire me--they have said so, and I don't think they're lying, and I admire them, so why not? But to the new students, those who never knew me before and did not know me well, who and what was I?

It's hard to know for sure, of course, since I can only see me from the inside, but there were glimpses.

There was the day I was sitting at the base of a tree on the edge of the Formal Garden, and I heard the voices of a group of people going by behind me, heading towards the stairs into the Meditation Hall entrance. I turned to watch them and saw half a dozen yearlings (none of the ones I've named above), all walking together in a tight group ad talking about...me.

I debated alerting them to my presence, since obviously they would not have spoke so if they knew I was there, and I opened my mouth to warn them so I would not passively violate their privacy. Then I closed my mouth again. After all, I was in full view of all of them. Had they looked anywhere but at each other or their own feet they would have seen me, and that they didn't could hardly be seen as my fault.

Second, they had intruded on me far more than I'd intruded on them, walking along as they were, talking loudly enough that I could could clearly hear their words some fifty feet away. This was in early June, and their racket made the birds around us stop singing, except for one enterprising robin who sang rather angrily at them from the gutter of the Meditation Hall porch roof. A squirrel, who had been ignoring me, lashed its tail--it was obviously used to humans, and not overly concerned, but resented the intrusion. All of us were utterly ignored. A sudden rebellious anger in me insisted that if you ignore me and my solitude, you deserve to be eavesdropped upon.

What were they saying? Some confused, multivoiced chorus of the following:

"Daniel? He's kind of creepy, isn't he? I mean, he's so quiet, you can't tell what he's thinking. No, I've talked to him, he's a really nice guy. It's not that he's mean, or anything like that, it's just that it seems like he's always watching everything. He notices everything. That's the creepy part. I think it's cool. He's like some magic forest creature. Exactly, that's why you should sign up for some of his classes. I mean, if you find a magic forest creature, don't you want to ask it questions?"

And I smiled. My resolve to not reveal myself intensified. After all, I didn't want to disappoint them.