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, December 11, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 6: Making Magic

Every year, while the yearlings are otherwise occupied, senior students, especially those on the landscaping crew, decorate the Great Hall for Yule. When everyone wakes up the next morning, the decorations are simply there, as if by magic.

Allen would say it IS magic, that the amazing does not cease to be amazing just because work has gone in to accomplishing it.

I've gotten to be one of the "elves" doing the decorating, and I'd hoped to do it again this year, but Charlie had another idea.

"You wouldn't mind occupying your wife tonight, would you?" he asked me. I'd found him inspecting one of the spruce trees growing next to the Mansion's front door--an odd place for spruces, they aren't native here. I'd say they must pre-date the school, but they don't seem old enough. I think he was considering decorating them, too. "She has a talent for noticing things," he added.

Well, anything for Charlie, right?

I occupied June's attention rather effectively and she did not notice anything out of the ordinary until we came down to breakfast the next morning and found the Great Hall completely made over.

The decorations from the Fall were still up (except for the Thankyou Doll, who has long since been given honorable burial, and most of the pumpkins and squashes and apples, which have been eaten), so dry grape vines still crept up columns and across the ceiling, candles--tall tapers--still stood in silver holders. Decorative gourds in odd colors and strange shapes sat in state in bowls in in corners, here and there. Dry corn stalks still guarded the doorways. Bowls of candy still tempted all and sundry. But in among all of that, interwoven and over top of it, were garlands of pine and long strands of English ivy (an exotic Charlie battles to good purpose), vases full of cut winterberry holly branches, wreaths made from trimmings from area Christmas tree lots, strings of large, piles of fleece symbolizing snow....

And the Tree, the Yule Tree, in the far corner hung with strings of large, red beads, white and gold ribbon, golden balls hanging like fruit, and an entire flock of fantastic, blown-glass birds. And lit for the first time this year with brilliant warm white LEDs.

I knew it would all look even better at night, with everything lit and twinkling, and a fire lit, but coming down and finding it in the morning like that was amazing, even though I had known perfectly well it would be there and very roughly how it would look.

I turned to June to take in her reaction. She stood there with her mouth open for a few seconds, then, being a person who does, indeed, notice things, turned to me and said,

"You had an ulterior motive last night."

"I did not!" I told her. "How do you think all this happened? This is the result of the magic we made."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 5: Watching Snow

It snowed for the first time last night. Of course, the snow melted before morning, but I was up a little late, reading in the Great Hall, and I looked outside and saw it and went outside to sit on the Great Hall steps. Once outside, I could hardly see any of it, because we have no outside lights, only some light slipping through the curtains of the windows of the Great Hall behind me, but I could hear the silence of the snow. I could smell it. I hadn't bothered to even put on my cloak. It wasn't even that cold.

June came out and joined me.  I hadn't known she knew I was outside--she wasn't in the Great Hall when I came out. She wasn't wearing her cloak, either, and leaned against me for a bit. Sitting together like that felt illicit. We haven't been able to spend much time together all year.

"Are you glad you came?" I asked, meaning to the school.

"Are you glad I came?" she asked me, instead of answering.

"I wouldn't miss it," I said. "I miss you, though. But I think if you had not come I'd miss you more. This way, we have the same sky." Same sky, same culture, same friends (mostly) same home. I meant more than I was saying.

"Same snow."

"Yeah. You didn't answer my question."

"I'm glad," she acknowledged. "I think I would have lost you, otherwise."

"Is that the only reason?" I can't say she's wrong. I hope she is.

"No, but it's a reason, and it's a good reason. I like it here, but I don't need to be here. I need you, but I don't need this."

"I hope that changes," I told her. "I hope I don't stay the primary reason why you're here. I don't want you to come to resent me for keeping you from someplace you'd rather be."

"Give me some credit. If I had any thought that might happen, I wouldn't have married you. For one thing, if there's some place I decide I really want to be, I'll ask you to come with me. And we'll see how it goes."

"The year is almost over."

"Yes."

"We'll be able to spend as much time together as we like."

"Yes."

"Will you move into my room? Or should I move into yours?"

"Yours, I guess," she said. "You're more attached to your room, I guess. You've been in it longer. Do we have to move in?"

"Don't you want to?"

"Well, I was thinking we could alternate. They're small rooms, for two people to share."

"We could, I think, but you'd have to pay the room and board fee."

"You want me in your room, don't you?" she asked.

"Yes."

I sat, listening to the snow, feeling June's warmth against my arm and side, and thought about the day, years ago, when Ebony and I watched the snow in the light of a flashlight and how magical her sight, and the sight of her, seemed. I don't fall out of love, I don't think. I still find it sad that she and I didn't work out, even though June and I are an infinitely better match. I'm crazy about her. Wholly and truly. But the bittersweetness of the memory sharpened the sweetness of sitting with my beloved in the present tense, cast a beauty over it somehow. Also, my butt was getting cold.

I leaned my head on the top of June's head and we sat together like that until we began to shiver. Then we went inside.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 4: Anniversary

So, I'm back on campus and it's quiet here. I have said the same thing before, on other quiet weeks, and will likely say the same thing again in the future. I like weeks like this. It's one of the reasons I've stayed on campus this year, June being the other reason. I like getting up in the morning and going for a walk in the brown and grey winter woods as the dawn comes up. I like watching birds go about their business in the underbrush, or, later in the day, following the tracks of deer back to the beds they left around the same time I left mine. The campus gets quiet and I get quiet, too.

But there is human company available, when I want it.

Usually, I seek company by going to the Great Hall and seeing who's there. Curiously, someone always is when I want to find somebody, even though plenty of other times I find the place deserted. Almost always. Today was an exception. I found myself alone and sat down on the couch for a bit.

I felt a little cold and a little tired--I'd just come back from a long walk. I sat there, not thinking, for a bit, the way you do when you need a break, but then gradually thoughts began to form. Images, more than words or ideas. I was staring at the floor in front of the couch, remembering the day I watch Rick sleep for a few hours on the very spot, and Greg's Cat, who hardly ever let anyone touch him except for Greg, slept curled up on Rick's body.

For some reason, I reached out and touched the space the cat had occupied, as though I could pet him. As if he would have let me.

"I miss him, too," said a voice behind me, and I jumped and looked over my shoulder to find Greg. He'd walked up without my hearing, or at least without my noticing. I greeted him. "You were thinking of my cat, weren't you?" he asked.

"How did you know?"

"Because you evoked him. I saw you interacting with him. I can't see him, but, in a way, you did. Didn't you?"

"I suppose I did."

"Everything is impermanent," Greg asserted, with some humor, "even impermanence."

I wasn't sure how to respond to that.

"Today is the day, you know," he said.

"The day?"

"Yes. It has been a year, now, since Greg's Cat died. Hit by a car, remember?"

I remember him telling me about it. I wasn't back yet, when the accident happened.

"I'm sorry," I said, because you do.

"What are you sorry about, exactly?" Greg asked, smiling. He was not chiding me for expressing sorrow, just challenging me to identify why. I frowned. I had no answer. "Life goes on," he added. "And then sometimes it doesn't. He was the only being ever named for me, and I don't suppose there will ever be another one. In another ten or twenty years, I will likely not be named for me, either."

I suppose he referred to the prospect of his own death.

"Does being Buddhist make these things easier for you?" I asked.

"I don't know," he answered. "I've never not been Buddhist, so I have no basis of comparison. But nothing can make grief hurt less than it happens to hurt. Nothing makes life cease to be painful. But it is possible to ensure that life remains meaningful. Buddhism does that for me. I don't pretend to know whether it can do so for anybody else."

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 3: Thanksgiving

Note; in 2007, Thanksgiving fell on November 22'nd, so I'm making this my Thanksgiving post, even though it's written as though Thanksgiving had already happened.-D.

My first Thanksgiving as a married man.

I hadn't thought much about this particular milestone, it's not like we weren't together last Thanksgiving, and it's not like Thankgiving really changes much, depending on whether you're a bachelor, but it turns out it matters anyway.

For one thing, it matters practically. Now that we're married, everyone seems to assume we'll spend the holidays together--it doesn't feel like I'm bringing a guest to dinner anymore--but at the same time, fewer people expect that I'll necessarily spend Thanksgiving with my parents. June said she wanted her turn. Her parents wanted their turn. But I like spending Thanksgiving with my family. I hadn't really anticipated that this would become an Issue. It's not like we never go see her family.

In the end, we decided the question is moot--her parents live farther away, and since June is a yearling, she can't take much time off away from campus. So, we're doing Thanksgiving with my parents again. But I expect next year she'll have to get her turn. It will be fair.

June donated her car to the school in partial payment, so we're once again a carless couple. On Wednesday, we got a ride with another yearling going our way, and June got to join her little support group of Women Who Love Kretzmans to discuss the baking of pies, while I went out for a drink with a couple of guys I knew back in high school. I know that sounds horribly sexist, me going out and leaving my wife home cooking with the other womenfolk, but it's what she wanted to do. Kit would say that "feminism is the radical proposition that women are people--it doesn't mean we people can't bake pies."

The next morning, I sat zazen with June--I hadn't sat in a long time, but I wanted to keep her company. As usual when I sit, I had the momentary urge to get back to a regular practice, but these urges are never strong enough for me to actually follow through on them. Then my brother and his wife and their kids came back over (they had stayed in a hotel--there's getting to be a lot of them), my uncles and aunts and this time two of my cousins and we all filled the house with cooking smells and small children shrieking, that the largely disregarded sounds of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. And then we had dinner.

Thanksgivings are much more enjoyable now than when I was a novice, especially that first year when everybody looked at me like I had two heads and my one uncle got mixed up and thought I was studying to become an Episcopal priest. It was like suddenly running into culture shock in my own family and it was horrible. That doesn't happen, now. Partly it's that they're all used to my association with the school, partly it's that I've gotten better at talking about it so that the place doesn't sound weird to people who really aren't interested in it, like my uncle, and partly it's that I'm not the only one in the family involved anymore--my brother's kids are sprouts, my wife is a novice, my parents invite Kit and Allen over coffee the day after Thanksgiving....

But it's more than that.

I did dishes after the big meal, as per tradition, and June dried them. Everything seemed familiar and good, and I passed a platter to June to dry and thought 'this woman is my wife. I get to stay with her." And she told me the platter still had soap on it and that I needed to rinse it again, and that was the fourth time she told me such a thing, so I daubed soap-suds in her hair and she put the platter down and chased me all around the kitchen, and I don't know what she was planning on doing when she caught me because I caught her first and we spent minutes at a time there in the kitchen, kissing, playing hooky from dishes entirely.

The next day, in the evening, Kit and Allen came to pick us up--and for coffee. They'd already dropped off the kids and Lo, but Kit's husband, Kevin, was with them. My Dad hadn't met Kevin before, I don't think, and my Dad seemed a little uncomfortable around him. My Dad needs to get over his crush on Kit, every part of how he handles it is ridiculous. At least Mom has quit taking it seriously.

Kevin never goes anywhere without his guitar, so he let my parents talk him into playing and singing a few of his songs, mostly stuff he performs with the Blue Pixies. Allen and I stood off in a corner watching my parents listening to live pagan folk punk, some love song about a man and a rather more literal (male) fairy. And they seemed comfortable with it, somehow.

"This almost looks normal," I said, to Allen. "It's like, school used to seem like Avalon, or something, but the worlds don't seem that different, now."

"I bet you feel like that even with your uncles," he said. "Even with people who have never heard of the school, and wouldn't like it if they did. Am I right?"

"Yeah. It's like the different parts of my life are merging. I don't get culture shock out here, anymore. Why?"

"It's because you carry the school within you, now," he said.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 2: Leaves without Leaving

I'm really not sure what I'm supposed to be doing this winter.

On the one hand, there's an argument to be made for staying on campus all the way through. June has to stay, because she's a yearling, and because she's graduating at Brigid, and I don't want to leave without her, and I still have my poetry writing assignment. But, on the other hand, I'm sure I could arrange something for poetry the same way as I arranged to go home for a while when I had the sleeping outside assignment. Most of the other candidates have left campus, and staying costs a hundred dollars a week in room and board that I'd like to not have to pay. June is busy finishing up some final assignments and actually has very little time for me. My family misses me.

I'm trying not to think about what Charlie would want me to do. He isn't in charge of my life, and I've got to learn how to think and act like a grown-up with respect to my studies here. What do I want to do? What would be good to do?

Ollie has left campus to go rejoin Willa, Andy is living above his bicycle shop and only comes in a day or so a week to visit, Eddie and Ebony are both here, but busily working at something, so I hardly ever see them, and both will leave campus right before Thanksgiving and stay gone until Yule. Rick is here, and staying through, but he's spending most of his time living outside--he eats our food, he's not hunting and gathering, but we don't see him. I feel very much left behind.

The Dining Hall and Chapel Hall are both closed down for the season. The Mansion is a bustle of activity at breakfast and certain other times, but mostly it's quiet. It's not yet cold enough yet to have the wood stove on all the time, so people aren't clustering in the Great Hall the way they will later in the winter, and there are great blocks of time when just nobody is about.

In one of these blocks, this afternoon, I found myself with nothing to do and no one to do it with, so I wandered outside and up to the barns and sheds, on the working end of campus where hardly anyone who does not have business there ever goes. Joy's oldest horse, the grey one with spots, looked up from his hay and regarded me as I passed.

I ended up out near the cider house and the slaughter house and the smoke house, buildings enclosed in a tight, tall fence to keep the coyotes and bears from investigating too closely. The have the various compost piles in there, too, to take advantage of the fence, and nearby I found a massive pile of autumn leaves.

We leave the campus leaves where they fall, for the most part, but our neighbors don't want to do the same, so Charlie has a deal with them where we collect their leaves and bring them on campus for mulch. Teams from the farming and landscaping crews go down the road with the horse cart and bring the loads up here, load after load...it takes a long time. I think they're about done, now, most of the leaves are down, the crescendo of autumn color fallen now to a whisper, and in any case no new loads were coming in today. The crews must have been busy doing something else. There was a big mountain of leaves sitting there, by itself, just outside of the fence, left to wait until it could dry out enough to be crushed into compostable mulch.

I looked at that mountain for a bit and then I crawled into the pile, wrapped myself up in my cloaks and hoods and cowls for warmth, and fell asleep amid the fragrant leaves. I woke up, hours later, alerted by the first dimming of daylight and cooling of evening to the fact that it was almost dinner-time. And I was wholly and completely happy.

Which, I think, answers my question. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Oops

Hi. I just plain forgot to post yesterday. Nothing's wrong--it was June's birthday, and we had a big, whooptido party that took most of the day to set up, we had a great time, and then long about 11 pm last night I think "oh, crap, today was Monday, wasn't it?"

And unfortunately, my time budget it such that I can't catch up this week. I have a number of deadlines looming. So, with regret, I must simply say "see you next week."

-D.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Samhain

Happy Samhain!

These last few months, I've basically gotten used to being back. There have been times--beginning very soon after June and I arrived--when it seemed as though I'd never been away and the world outside was not, and had never been, real. But now, at Samhain*, I'm once again struck by how long I was away and how good it is to be back.

I did not celebrate Samhain the whole time I was away. I could have, but I didn't know how to celebrate it alone, and most of the time I was gone my attention was wrapped up in grad school, and I really wasn't thinking about anything else. But there is something important, something vital, about celebrating the dead, and I have missed it. I did not realize how much I had missed it until just now.

I had a hard time explaining it to June. She's heard of Samhain, of course, but she hadn't celebrated it before, and had trouble understanding how it relates to Hallowe'en on the one hand and Dia del Muertes on the other. And she thought it rather morbid to end the school year on the same day, and had trouble understanding why we take the winter off to begin with--I think she's sad that her classes are over, since she only gets the one year as a novice--until I reminded her how cold the Chapel was back at Brigid and asked if she really wanted to take classes in those temperatures all winter. That building leaks heat like the proverbial sieve.

In any case, once again I sat and hung out with some of my dorm-mates as late afternoon turned into evening, and once again I looked out a window over campus grown dark and saw the central field illuminated by hundreds of flickering candles. The sky was clear and dark and spangled, the temperature falling rapidly into the first truly cold night of the year, and I thought that this moment, which doesn't happen every year, when I look out and first see all those candles, is my favorite part of the holiday. It's like that moment on Christmas morning when you're a kid, when you wake up, before the presents, before the candy, before everything, and you know for sure it's going to happen.

I met June in the landing above the central stairway down into the Great Hall--which is itself decorated with pumpkins and squashes of all kinds and sizes, and shocks of corn all bundled together, and creepy vines all twisted and dried and twining across the ceiling, and the Thank You Doll, now all shriveled and old, still sitting in state and ready for its own internment, and we and the rest of our crowed put on our shoes and our cowls and cloaks, and walked out through the Green Room towards the Chapel, my wife and I holding hands.

When we got to the Chapel, of course the room was full of light, lit candles in the aisles and in the holders along the walls and on the stage, and already the room almost half full of people. We found our seats.

"I'm excited," June confessed. "I don't know what's going to happen."
"That's the idea," I told her. "You're a novice."

The bells began, and the masters processed in, looking strange and mysterious as they always do, with their hoods up and almost covering their faces, like so many enchanters. That some of them actually are witches, or alchemists, or magicians is an entirely prosaic fact around here, as normal as being able to play the guitar or write poetry, but being a witch, or an alchemist, or a magician, or whatever it is Charlie is (a Troll King? An Ent, one of the shepherds of trees?) ought not to be prosaic, and there are certain days when they dress up and remind us that something extraordinary is going on. Samhain is one of those days. They took the stage, and the ceremony began.

We read the names of the Beloved Dead (I recognized one name as belonging to someone I'd met--Charlie's brother. I'd known he had died, but not what Charlie felt about it. I looked over at my teacher and he seemed attentive but impassive. Some questions don't have answers), recited some dozen short eulogies, and sang Hats Off to Dead Folks. The masters came down off the stage and we all milled around, talking, until the bell summoned them and they left, mid-sentence, taking their candles with them, leaving us with that much less light. And the rest of us streamed out onto the already freezing grass, headed towards the bonfire and dinner and s'mores.

And just as I realized June was not beside me in the crowd anymore, I heard a strange sound in a familiar voice. I turned back to investigate.

The sprouts, costumed for the holiday and lying in wait, had captured their grown-up, as they do every year. Usually it's one of the masters, one year it was me. They hold the grown-up ransom for candy and expanded privileges, and everybody pretends they don't know the ruffians are children playing a game. But this time, they'd caught June.

"Ahoy, there, pirate!" I called. "I would parley with ye!"

A rough-clad figure in a dreadlocked wig, who I suspected of being Adelee Grimm, detached herself from the group and came over to talk to me.

"You're supposed to pretend you don't know it's us," she said, sullenly.

"Me? Know who you are?" In the still-distant firelight, identification really was difficult. "All I know is you're a fearsome pirate--and you've kidnapped my wife." I let my voice sound suddenly stern and irate.

"That's how the game works," she said, rolling her eyes like the teenager she'd recently become. She won't be a sprout much longer. "Come on, you're ruining it for the littles."

Behind her, I could see Paul and Ruthie, my niece and nephew, looking at me in frightened confusion. I knew them in the dark by their small size and by something in their postures. Lo had picked them up when she brought Alexis to campus earlier in the day. That Chris wasn't with them proved we'd known exactly what the plan was. Only kids four years old and older can play this trick for treats.

"How the game works is you're supposed to take a master or a senior student, not a novice!" I let myself get even more stern. I was not play-acting. June was lying, half-tied-up, under a restraining pile of children, probably getting cold, and she didn't know what was going on.

"Aw, but she's Mrs. Kretzman," protested Billie. I know his voice. He meant that she was a staff-member. And of course, she had been the director of the summer camp they had all attended. But that wasn't the point.

"She's a novice," I reiterated. "You have to go tell her the rules and ask her if she wants to play. If she doesn't, I'll take her place."

So, Adelee went back to her group and conferred briefly with the prisoner, who thought about things for a few seconds, then nodded. Adelee reported back, still sullen. I had little sympathy.

"She said yes."

"Ok, give me a little time to go tell the masters she said yes. And when you do come out, negotiate hard. Make this worth it." Ok, I had a little sympathy, and I didn't want to ruin their fun, or have June think she had ruined it.

"Ok."

I found the masters and almost everyone else already at the bonfire. I whispered my news in Kit's ear. She nodded and then let the others know, subtly, without calling attention to themselves. When the costumed sprouts showed up and announced they'd taken June, I was suitably distraught, really camping it up, offering them anything, anything, for the safe return of my wife, while Kit and Greg held firm, insisting that we do not give in to criminals. Eventually, the kids got half a pound of candy each, plus a shopping trip to a certain favored toy store, to be funded collectively by the masters and parents. It was somewhat less than they've gotten in other years, but there's always some variation so I'm not sure that their choice of target hurt them. I didn't think it should.

June was released, none the worse for wear, and yes, a little cold from having lain on the ground. I wrapped my cloak around both of us and warmed her as best as I could.

"You know," I told her, "It's really a compliment."

"Oh?"

"They thought you counted as one of the masters. It's a good sign that you will be."




*I'm posting this on October 30th, although Samhain begins at sundown on October 31st and extends through November 1st.