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.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Year 4: Part 7: Post 6: Reflections after Thanksgiving

In my last post, I described a little of the conversation I had with Kit and Allen in the car on our way back to campus from Thanksgiving. But it's a 20 minute ride and our conversation continued.

Allen had all but admitted that he's being nice to my parents in order to smooth my way into coming back and becoming a master. I've heard similar things from most of them over the past few months--not just that they want me to earn my ring, but that they want me to stay involved long-term, maybe as an ally or a staff member or something. Come to think of it, Charlie's probably the only one who hasn't said something like that, but he has taught me how to lead all of his workshops. And I've noticed that Charlie doesn't say what he wants very often. He clearly had a curriculum developed for me even before I asked him to be my teacher, even though when I did ask, his first reaction was to say no.

Anyway, so I've been thinking about this, and so in the car, I asked Allen and Kit what being a master means. I can't remember if I'd asked them before, but they've both been known to answer the same question multiple ways, anyway. I wanted to know their answers at that moment, what exactly they were seeing for me, wanting from me.

Allen was driving. Kit sat in the front passenger seat, and she turned and answered first.

"Mastery means working as hard as you possibly can to learn one thing as well as you possibly can, so that the process of learning transforms you. Then you can transform everything else. Mastery as in teaching--learning the state of the art of some subject so you can transmit that to someone else--is important, too, but that's secondary. To master a subject, you need skill and ability, and the more natural talent you have, the easier mastery is. But to be a master, anyone can do that, and it's always hard."

She looked at me a moment in that deep, somewhat Yoda-ish way they all have, and then looked away from me a moment and giggled a little nervously. "I don't mean you aren't talented," she said,  little awkwardly.

I love how these people shift back and forth between really deep and entirely human. I assured her I took no offense.

Allen chuckled and turned on the windshield wiper. It was raining a little, and the droplets shone in the streetlight on the windshield for a moment, before they were wiped away.

"I wouldn't say that's wrong," he said, "but I don't think mastery is about excellence. I think it's about wholeness. You develop yourself as a whole human being, physically, emotionally, intellectually, all of it at once, fully and equally. Most people only build up those aspects of themselves that they like, or that they believe others will like, or that they believe they need to develop to meet whatever challenges they're dealing with. They abandon parts of themselves in the process. They're not whole human beings. It is my wholeness, as a man, that gives you permission to be whole when we interact."

"You realize you gave mutually exclusive answers, don't you?" I asked. Allen chuckled again. Kit said "so?"

"So, if you'll defining mastery differently, how does that work, when you're the mastery group?"

"Well," began Kit, "I think Allen is excellent."

"And I think Kit is whole," Allen replied. "In theory, I suppose, you could have members of the masters' group who did not believe each other were masters, but when you earn your ring, you need the votes of all of the Six, so if we have six different definitions of mastery, then you'll have to be a master six different ways."

"That sounds hard," I said.
Allen shrugged.
"It is," affirmed Kit, lightly.

"You know that I know that you two don't actually disagree on this, right?"
And once again, Allen chuckled.
"He's learning!" said Kit, of me.

"Do you enjoy it?" I asked. "Mastery?"

"Sometimes," said Allen.
"Sometimes," agreed Kit. "I wouldn't say it's fun, you don't do it for fun, but it's alive. It's meaningful. And sometimes that's fun."
"It's my life," said Allen. "I wouldn't miss it."

We had turned onto the rural road that goes by the school. There are no street lights there. Sometimes there are porch lights, but not at that time of night. It was past 11. We drove along in a restful dark. I could hear our wheels on the wet pavement, but it wasn't raining hard. The windshield wipers were still intermittent.

When they let me out behind the Mansion (yes, they were acting like they were going to drive elsewhere afterwards. I don't think either of them realizes I know about the secret door), Allen rolled down the window and spoke to me.

"You know there's no firm distinction between masters and non-masters, right?" he asked. "Before, you learn. After, you learn. It doesn't feel all that different. This" and he showed me his ring, "is arbitrary."

"Yes," I assured him. "But I still want one."

And I trotted up the steps and in through the Meditation Hall doors and up the darkened steps through the mostly sleeping Mansion to my room.

On my door, I found a note from Joanna, asking me to join her, even if I got in late. I did so, and found her in bed but not asleep yet, and glad to see me.

But even as I opened the door to her room, which smelled of sleep and line-dried clothes and women's shampoo, as well as of her own delicious body, something occurred to me. It's almost a cliche, but I really do feel more in possession of myself now, as though there were parts of my mind and body that did not feel wholly mine until she gave me permission to use them. And yet, there is something about our agreement to be no-strings-attached lovers that I do not feel quite satisfied by. Maybe it's that I have strings, and I want them to be attached somewhere. Whatever it is, there are parts of my wholeness that are not welcome in her room.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Year 4: Part 7: Post 5: Thanksgiving

Yes, the math doesn't quite work out for this post--more than a week went by between this post and last week's post.-D.

I went home for Thanksgiving again. I kind of wanted to take someone home with me, someone who didn't have a family to spend the holiday with, since that's something we do, but I didn't start asking around, making myself available early enough. Everyone who needed someplace to go already has some place. There are many magics around the school I still don't understand, and one is how to make myself available as a helper--people come tome when they want to talk, but not when they need help of any other kind, and so my generosity remains more of a theoretical thing. That bothers me.

I also wanted to make Thanksgiving...more religious. Like, maybe do a Thankyou Doll, since I've heard Charlie does one for Thanksgiving as well as for Mabon. Or do a gratitude service of some kind. Something more than just chatting over dinner about what each person is grateful for. What whatever could have been, I didn't get that organized, either, and the meal went along just about as it normally does.

The only odd thing is that my uncle, the one I had such a hard time with a few years ago, wasn't there. He travels a lot for work, and the plane he was going to take home on Wednesday night was cancelled due to some weather problem. He decided he didn't want to spend Thanksgiving morning on an airplane. I can't say I blame him, but I was surprised at how much I missed him, considering what a pain he can be.

I actually stretched my visit for over two weeks, by catching a ride home with one group of people and catching a ride back with another. I'm going to spend most of January on campus this year, since I've been told there are things I'll have to be there for as a graduating student, so I'm compensating, both financially and socially, with longer trips home over Thanksgiving and Christmas. My ride back, of course, was Allen and Kit, this time without kids or spouses. And this time they stayed for a while.

They've come in for drinks when they picked me up before, two years ago, but that was different. That was my parents self-consciously inviting in people they weren't sure they'd understand or like. But since then my brother and sister-in-law have spent Litha on a picnic blanket next to both Allen's family and Kit's. They've said hello when they bump into each other when my parents come to campus to visit for the day. They've bought and listened to a CD recorded by one of Keven's bands because Kit sings on a couple of the tracks. And so this time my parents invited my teachers in as friends, of a kind. Or at least prospective friends.

My mother had actually suggested, earlier in the day, that I call Allen and Kit and invite them to stay for coffee and dessert. They said yes.

Specifically Kit said "Oh, lovely!" and Allen said "Dessert. I'm in favor of dessert. Also coffee."

So, they came in. They both praised my mother's baking (there was a rather gooey single-layer chocolate cake, served with a choice of coffee-flavored or caramel-flavored ice cream, the pies from Thanksgiving having been eaten already, plus some left-over cookies, mostly oatmeal butterscotch or gingersnap) and politely answered my parent's questions, some of which were strange, and asked a couple of polite questions of their own--how were the grandchildren, how were Cecilly's college applications going, how was work, that sort of thing.

At one point, my Dad asked whether Allen and Kit were married. Evidently, he'd forgotten meeting Kit's husband two years ago. Mom hadn't forgotten, and she looked at Dad in surprise. Allen and Kit looked at each other, then turned to my Dad and, simultaneously, one said yes and the other said no.

"We are married, but not to each other," Allen clarified.

"We're not a couple," added Kit.

Dad laughed uncomfortably and apologized.

"Don't apologize," said Allen, "I'd be honored. Kit, here, is a catch. I simply caught a better one." He was teasing.

"Not as good as the one I caught," teased Kit right back.

"Hmmm, are you suggesting I try your husband?" Allen asked.

"If you can lure him away," said Kit. "I don't think you can."

Two years ago, my parents might have taken all that literally and terrified themselves with the thought that my professors were sex fiends. Actually, I don't know that it couldn't be literal--lots of people on campus are in open relationships, and I really don't know anything about how Kit and Allen arrange their sex lives. Nor do I care. But they didn't mean it to be taken literally, and my parents took it as a joke and busted up laughing.

Ice broken, my parents and my teachers started swapping stories of what Thanksgiving had been like when they were kids. My parents are older, but not that much older, and they had childhood experiences in common. Eventually, Allen talked some about his brother, who liked helping prepare the meal and had his responsibilities which he guarded jealously, and who was inexplicably frightened of the balloons on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The creation of both the cookies and the cranberry sauce had to be scheduled so that the brother could do them without having to be in the house while the parade was on. He couldn't even bear to hear the balloons described by the news anchors. He'd throw an anxiety-fueled fit.

"Why didn't you just not have the parade on?" my mother asked, sensibly.

"Because I'd throw a fit if we didn't," explained Allen. "We had opposite preoccupations. But really, I didn't know the parade bothered him. David was older than I was. I think I was very young, and not paying very much attention, when the tradition was established."

"Your mother must have had her hands full," my Dad said.

I remember, later, Kit in the living room with my mother, old records playing, teaching my mother to swing dance, while my Dad and Allen sat together at the dining room table sipping bourbon and watching the women through the doorway.

"Of course, you realize now I'll have to learn to dance," said my father.

"There are worse fates, said Allen.

I said very little the whole night.

At around ten o'clock, Kit suddenly realized the time and said "we need to stay or go now," and of course that song popped into our heads, and we all had to sing it and get goofy, but in the end we decided to go and I followed Kit and Allen out to the car. Allen had group therapy the next day, so he was staying on campus, but Kit would go home after dropping us off. It was her car. I have no idea where Keven was.

Once we were in the car and had been driving for a few minutes, I asked whether they really just liked my parents, or if they were trying to make friends with them on purpose in order to pull me further into the community. In other words, was what I had just seen socialization or magic?

"That depends," said Allen. "Is the magic working?"

Monday, November 21, 2016

Year 4: Part 7: Post 4: Problems



And, election-related interruptions over for the time being, our story continues….-D.

Last night, Steve Bees’ girlfiriend, Sarah, stayed over. She’ll stay over again tonight—she’s here to get more of a feel for the place, I suppose, plus, of course, they don’t get to spend a lot of time together. This morning she joined us for breakfast in the Great Hall, where we had oatmeal, fresh corn muffins, butter, cheese, and several different kinds of jam. There is no fresh milk and, today, no eggs. There are no large tables in the Great Hall, and only the one in the Bird Room, so we made a picnic of it around a small table by the door to the library and we ate looking out the window. There was snow last night, the first of the year, and it left a light dusting, white on the sere, winter pastures, that melted as we ate.

When I say “we,” I mean Steve and Sarah, Kayla and Nora--that is, the Nora who started when I did, not the yearling--Eddie, and me. There were a lot of other people eating breakfast in the Great Hall that morning, of course, but we couldn’t all eat together because what I said about the tables.

“So, what do you think?” asked Eddie of Sarah.
“I’ll take it!” she replied, referring to campus, to our community.
“Well, leave some for us!” Eddie said, laughing.
“Don’t worry, we’ll share,” said Sarah, looking at Steve as though she meant to divide the entire school equally between the two of them. She would not stop flirting with him for more than a few minutes at a time. He gazed back at her with a mix of awkwardness and pride. I think her presence made him feel vulnerable among us in a way he normally doesn’t.
“I’m glad you like it,” he said, smiling.
“You’re lucky,” interjected Kayla. “I’ve seen people whose partners didn’t like this place and that didn’t really work. Not long-term, I mean.”
“Kayla!” said Nora, as though Kayla had said something embarrassingly direct, the way children sometimes do. Nora has been going through a phase of treating Kayla like a kid sister lately.
“What?” protested the kid sister, “It’s not like we don’t all know they’re an item!”

“This corn bread is really good,” said Sarah, changing the subject. “If I were you, Steve, I wouldn’t ever leave this place. I wouldn’t graduate, the food’s too good.”
“Maybe I won’t,” he said, still smiling.
“No,” she said, her mouth still full of corn bread, “because I am not you, I’m me, and I will kick your ass if you don’t become the awesome lawyer we both know you were meant to be.”
“You see what I have to deal with?” exclaimed Steve, in mock exasperation.
“Nice problem to have,” I told him.
“I want that problem,” said Eddie.
“So, go out and get yourself a girlfriend,” said Sarah. “You’re a handsome guy.”
“He knows that already,” I said, in a stage whisper.
“Which girl, though?” said Eddie. “They’re all so wonderful, I want all of them. That is my problem, and that’s why I don’t have your problem.”
“That, too, is a nice problem to have,” I said.
“I know, it’s glorious,” sighed Eddie, licking fruit preserve off his fingers and looking over his plate for the next thing to eat. Rumor has it he has slept with at least a quarter of the female population of the school. None of them are complaining, it’s just that none of them want to share him with quite so many others long-term.

“You’re really going to do the lawyer thing?” I asked, of Steve.
“Sure. I actually got in.” He meant into one of the law schools he’d applied to.
“Really? Congratulations! I didn’t know that. I didn’t think anyone was taking applications for next fall, yet, though.”
“They’re not. This one starts in the spring. What are you doing?”
“I don’t know yet,” I told him. “I’m getting a masters’ degree in conservation biology and see where things go from there.”

“Is that a deer?” Sarah asked, looking out the window. We all looked, watching as the deer—there were actually three of them—walked up onto the Flat Field and then behind the yew hedge, headed for the Apple Orchard.

“The two smaller ones are her fawns from this past year,” I commented. “I see her a lot. She likes it here on the main part of campus, maybe because there’s no hunting.”

“It’s going to be so weird next year when you’re not here,” said Kayla, to me.
“Imagine how weird it will be for us?” I countered.

“Actually, I don’t think it will be weird at all,” said Steve.
“Oh?”
“Yeah. Kayla’s used to you being here, so campus will seem weird without you, but we’re not used to seeing Kayla at grad school. We’re not used to grad school at all, so however it ends up being, that’s how it will be. It won’t seem weird at all.”
“That’s true,” I said, but I wasn’t really sure.
“Think about this,” he said, “when you first left home for college, who was that weirder for, you or your parents?”
“I don’t know. My parents, I guess. It didn’t seem weird to me at all. I never thought about that before.”
“I bet your parents did, though.”
“Steve, you continually open my eyes,” I told him, and meant it.
“And you mine,” he said, and clearly meant it.

“What are you all doing for Thanksgiving?” asked Nora. I already knew she was going home to celebrate with her mother, still an awkward thing for both of them.
“Going to my parents,” I said, shrugging a little. I always go home for Thanksgiving.
“I have a sister,” said Eddie. “She’s not a shit, like my parents are, so I’ll have dinner with her.”
Sarah’s eyebrows went up at that, but Eddie didn’t elaborate. The rest of us already knew why Eddie called his parents shits, and that they had called him worse, but we didn’t explain, either.

“Well, I’m going home, too,” said Sarah. “I’d rather stay here with this one, but I have obligations this year.” And she didn’t elaborate.

“I’m going with Charlie to his sister’s place,” said Steve, and I looked at him in surprise.
“How’d you get that invite?” I asked.
Steve shrugged.
“Last year I gave Charlie a ride there and back—Maria lives pretty close to Sarah—and this year when he asked if we could do that again, I told him Sarah would be out of town this year, he invited me to celebrate with him. Sarah—I mean, the farm manager, Sarah—and her family are going, too.”
“He’s never given me an invitation like that,” I said, and I’m afraid I sounded more jealous than I wanted to.
“Maybe you didn’t need it,” Steve told me. “And that is a nice problem to have.”

Monday, November 14, 2016

Year 4: Part 7: Post: 3: Interruption 3

This is the third of my series on our community's response to the recent election. Next week I expect to get back to my regular story.

On Saturday, I did not do anything overtly related to the school. Of course, to an extent I embody it, so it goes where I go, but really we are a community, and a community only exists in groups--wherever two or more gather, there am I, in a way. But the past week has provided much food for thought, and I was thinking.

I did a little bit of paid writing, played with my daughter while my wife went shopping and to the gym, and went for a walk. In the evening we made pizza and a late fall salad and listened to Prairie Home Companion, as we always do. Yes, we are NPR people. Are you surprised?

I was a major fan of Garrison Keillor--still am, of course, not like I get to listen to him much, anymore. There was something about his performance--at times he became something like a national, secular priest. He could call out the ordinary for its loveliness and ground the extraordinary in the every day. I remember one "News From Lake Wobegon" all about the annual town Christmas pageant and the story ended with the words "Go, be an angel." I was only a kid when I heard that, maybe as old as 15 (although remember, I was a young 15), and I don't remember the rest of that story, but somehow with those words he wasn't talking about a small-town Christmas pageant anymore, he was talking about humanity. He was talking about life. That was the moment I realized that words could do more than express my personal thoughts and earn me good grades in English class.

I don't know if Chris Thile, Keillor's successor, is going to evolve into that role. I don't know whether he's thinking consciously of trying. But this Saturday, he made a good stab at getting there.

The show broadcast from Philadelphia, for one thing, which I'm inclined to think wasn't a coincidence. The City of Brotherly Love, the cradle of American democracy, the location of the chair with the sun on it that is always either rising or sinking on our great experiment in liberty.

Then, he starts up with a song he wrote--I jotted down some of the lyrics--

I don't wanna fight fire with fire
and I don't wanna preach to the choir
So if you're doing your best to be kind
This land is as much yours as mine.
As God as my witness!
I made this for you.
I made this for you.

Really, you should listen to it--here's a link. 

Nowhere in that song, or anywhere else in the show, that I recall, did he say the word "election" or use the name of either candidate. He was absolutely non-partizan. And yet he spoke directly and to the point of most of the reasons why I believed one candidate should have won, why I'm sad that she didn't. His was no maudlin plea for unity (when a lot of people have more important things on their minds right now) but rather a real act of confirming the best of our country at a time when many of us are doubting.

At the end of an upbeat, encouraging, and mostly very funny show, he finished up with "This Land Is Your Land," by Woody Guthry, including one of the verses most people don't sing, don't even, I suspect, know.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.


In a year of discussion about walls to keep people out, that verse has special significance, but there are ways to be political without being partizan, and Chris Thile nailed it.


And I sat there listening and thinking, as I often do, about what makes someone a master, a magician, a priest/ess, how a radio personality can give a nation the thing that it needs--as can, at times, a preacher, a writer, a capitalist war profiteer (I'm thinking Oskar Schindler), a seemstress on a bus....All people who did exactly the right thing, not because they were stronger or better or more talented than most (though some were that, too) but because they found themselves in a position and at a moment when the skills and abilities they happened to have were perfectly suited to the challenge at hand.


And I thought about how helpless I feel right now, not just afraid that the planet is going to die, but that it will do so while I stand by and do nothing, not because I want to do nothing, but because I can't figure out anything productive to do.


And I thought about how my daughter drew a bird, trying to influence the election, how I, in this blog, sent out a plea that I called magic, hoping to do very much the same thing, and I know Kit and her coven engaged their skill to much the same effect. And none of that seemed to do any good and, in retrospect, all of it seems equally silly.





But I'm thinking that perhaps magic does work, it's just that we've been going about it wrong. The real magic, the great magic, lies not in avoiding or averting misfortune but in getting oneself into one of those key, unpredictable positions where it might be possible to do something about it.



In which case, So Mote It Be.
 

Year 4: Part 7: Post 3: Interruption 2



I'm doing a three-part post this week on our community's reaction to the recent  election, rather than an ordinary post. These events are important, and it seems important to say something about it using the forum I have. This is the second of the series.
On Friday, the Six got together, as we often do, to have dinner and to discuss community business. As usual, there were more than six of us, in part because some of our “allies” were in attendance. Now that we’re teaching classes again (mostly public workshops, we’re not officially a school these days), we have allies. David, Allen’s son, was there, for example, since he teaches some of the science workshops when he’s in town (I teach most of them). There were eleven of us at the meeting, in total.

We were at Allen and Lo's place, since we rotate meeting places, so of course Lo and Alexis joined us for the meal (Julie lives in another state and does not plan to visit until Thanksgiving), and we all had a good time, but they left us alone for our meeting.

We drew our chairs into a circle on Allen’s patio and almost immediately the conviviality of dinner bled away. It had been a few days since the election, and we can forget about it for minutes or hours at a time, but then the knowledge comes back. We grew glum and sat around, sighing in silence, not looking at each other.

“My heart hurts,” said Joy, finally. She really liked Hillary Clinton, felt an almost personal connection with her. There were grunts and twitches of agreement.

“My heart would be hurting anyway,” said Karen. “Not everyone here wanted Hillary to win.” She had written in Bernie Sanders.

“I know,” said Joy. “And I don’t understand it. You’re as much of a feminist as I am.”

“I didn’t want to be bullied by my gender into voting for the first female major-party candidate who comes along,” Karen explained. “She’s a political insider and a corporate war-monger. We can do better.” She was holding tightly to the seat of her chair, not looking at us. Karen is still painfully shy, even among friends, and she expected us to disagree with her. Kit fulfilled expectations.

“She’s a politician,” Kit announced. “They’re all like that. Anyone who hasn’t made compromises hasn’t been in government yet. They either learn to compromise or they fail to do the job. Who did you want for President, Lady Isis? The Goddess Athena?” Isis, in Egyptian myth, helps her brother/husband, Osiris create civilization. Athena, of course, is the Greek goddess of statecraft, as well as wisdom, war, and craft in general. In other words, literally divinely perfect stateswomen. Karen gripped her chair even harder, looked at Kit, and said nothing for a long moment.

"You didn't like her, either," she said, at last.

"Well, not at first," Kit acknowledged. "I picked her because she was the best candidate available. It just gets me that this country can't elect a woman yet. Like, oh my god, is a vagina so terrible that you have to elect Trump to avoid one? What kind of country elects a rapist, an extortionist, and a liar rather than a perfectly good female policy wonk? I just...this isn't how it was supposed to turn out. I thought we had this one. I thought it was going to happen."

"It sounds like you're upset that the future you imagined did not happen," observed Greg.

"But it's my job to make the future I imagine happen!" she protested, and I thought about my daughter, who drew a bird to help Hillary win and could not understand why that didn't work,

"You said that kind of magic doesn't always work," I said, and Kit smiled at me in an embarrassed, lopsided way. She remembered her comment, too.

"But I wanted it to work!" She admitted. "We deserved for this to work! The amount of suffering he is going to cause...." She choked on her words and Allen rubbed her back.

"I know," I told her. "I'm thinking about climate change. With Clinton, we had a chance. Now, I'm not sure that we do."

"With Jill Stein we would have had a chance," said Chuck, who is not Charlie. He was our chief of maintenance while I was a novice, but left while I was in Absence. Lately, he's been helping Sadie with the plumbing and electrical work for her restaurant. He doesn't think much about Clinton as an environmentalist, a topic he and I have argued about.

"That was never going to work," Rick said, dismissively. "Jill Stein was never going to get elected."

"She might have if everyone who said that voted," replied Chuck, somewhat accusatory. "Almost half of the eligible voters didn't vote."

"It's not like Jill Stein is Lady Isis, either," pointed out Kit, and we all started talking at once, arguing politics, and sounding very mundane about it, except for the occasional reference to Greek myth or to the ethics of attempting magic to influence a supposedly free and fair election.

“We never used to talk about any of this,” commented Greg, quietly, and we all stopped talking to listen to him. “When Reagan was re-elected…I don’t even know how any of the others voted. Campus was a refuge, a bubble, from the political.”

That was 1984, and while I understand the school did not get accredited until the following year, the campus already existed and the faculty and some students were living together on it.

"I remember we didn't talk about the election in 2000, either," I said. "I was in grad school when Bush was re-elected. We talked about it there...."

"But not here," acknowledged Greg. "Until you and David and Steve started pushing, silence on the subject was almost a point of pride for us." By 'Steve,' he meant Steve Bees. Greg seldom uses that nickname.

“We were just beginning to get closer to the real world,” said Allen, sadly, his head resting on his fist. “And now it seems like the real world has gotten further away.”
“The point is, why are we talking about this?” Greg asked. “Is this community business, or is this chit-chat?” His question wasn’t rhetorical. Greg has a habit of asking questions that open up new lines of thought.

We thought.

“Our is the world,” I said, finally, thinking about Cecilly and Joya, and also about climate change. "We can't draw a line around our little bubble and keep the world out, because where would we draw the line? Do we include sprouts? Do we include partners or parents? What about family of partners? Partners of sprouts? What if Joya can't become a citizen this year because she's not white? Is she outside our community or in? What about Julie? She isn't here, she doesn't involve herself with us, but she's one of us. What if--" I was thinking of her vulnerability as a young woman in an age when the President of the United States happily boasts about grabbing pussies. But I didn't say it. I looked at Allen and he looked back at me, his eyes wide with fear. "We can't keep the world out because it won't stay out," I finished. "Neither injustice nor climate change obeys property lines."

It was my turn to hold on to my chair and breathe hard for a bit. I hardly ever talk, and I think that was the longest, most impassioned speech I've made yet at any of our meetings. The others looked at me, shocked, I suppose.

"You're right," said Greg. "The United States attempted isolationism once. Our appeasement of Hitler, our silence, did not prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor." An attack he remembers hearing about the day it happened.

"Alright, so what do we do?" asked Kit. "If we Six serve our community, and our community is the world, how do we serve it now?"

But none of us had an answer. We were all silent, for a bit, looking at each other. And then Allen began to sing.

Hello Darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
left its seeds while I was sleeping....

Allen has always loved to sing. That he is not very good at it has always encouraged, rather than irritated me--it is his implicit insistence that one need not be very good at things to enjoy doing them and to enjoy them publicly. He's not bad, his voice is quite pleasant, it just goes slightly off-key, now and then. And he has a very narrow range.

But usually when he sings, he either sings to himself or he performs small concerts, strumming his guitar and doing a couple of songs at parties and community events, singing for all the normal reasons that people sing. This was the first time I've ever heard him use song instead of speech, as if he lived in a musical play, or something, singing to say something he could not speak.

And indeed I had heard him say very little since he announced "It's over," acknowledging Trump's triumph three days earlier. He's not usually that quiet, but he had seemed preoccupied, disturbed. He'd said only that he had nothing helpful to say.

Now he sang on, through the whole song, as the darkness of night deepened and the temperature around us dropped, sang about a vision of isolation, of people "talking without speaking, hearing without listening," of hands rejected and calls to action left unheard, of loneliness and helplessness in the neon glare of a cold and rainy night. The nature of the problem that needs fixing, the location of the lock that now requires a key.

Allen is many things, but I've never thought of him as a visionary--and yet I believe he has had a vision, one that frightened him deeply but that he feels to be very important, but it was something he either could not say or did not believe he could say in a helpful way on his own.

And listening to him sing, then, it came to me that Allen is a deeply empathetic person, but he does not inspire empathy, not beyond the immediate circle of those who know and love him. That is why so many people think of him as purely intellectual, as distant, as odd and awkward, when he is, in fact, none of those things. As one musical string vibrates when another, laid near it, is struck, he resonates keenly for others but somehow the music inside him cannot reach anyone else, not even, usually, us, except in an intellectual way.

And so, having something  something well beyond the intellect to impart, he had decided to try something new--he borrowed someone else's music. Paul Simon's.

And when he was done, Allen would not look at us but looked down and to the right. Suddenly, he looked very small, barely visible in the faint yellow glow from the kitchen window. He sat curled over, rocking slightly, hugging himself against the chill of the evening. Even the crickets had fallen silent as the temperature fell.

Except Allen does not get cold.

This is how we communicate. We discuss, we explain, we argue, we vote, just like any other group of people, but when the big decisions need to be made, when the great thoughts need to be transmitted, we seldom use ordinary, prosaic words. Instead we evoke story, we evoke song, we locate ourselves in myth. We arrive together in a place where ordinary words do not take us.

And then we act from that joint place.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Year 4: Part 7: Post 3: Interruption 1



Rather than do an ordinary post, I want to take this opportunity to write about these extraordinary past couple of days have looked in our community. We are, in some ways, very much like the rest of the left-leaning part of this country, after all—and in other ways we are probably very different. This is a little long, so I’ve divided it into three posts. They are ALL this week’s post. This is important.

I spent election night with my family, by which I mean not just my wife and daughter, but Allen and Kit and their families. I get together with Allen and Kit, plus a varying assortment of partners and children, at least once a week for one thing or another. Last Tuesday (was it only on Tuesday?), my sister, Cecilly, and her fiancée, Joya (no relation to the master, Joy), joined us, too, for dinner and to watch the election returns.

I think we’d had some notion of the event becoming a celebration. None of us discussed the possibility that Trump might win, but whether because it was an unthinkable likelihood or something we honestly didn’t expect, I can’t quite say. As I've posted before, we did not all agree on whom we wanted to win, but we did all agree on whom we wanted to lose.

The first few states they called were all expected, one for one candidate, the other for the other. Vermont went Democrat, of course. Then there started to be more red on the board than blue. We told ourselves that all these states were the expected ones, that Florida and Pennsylvania were too close to call but would surely go to the Democrats, that there was nothing to worry about…but gradually we got worried.

I’m not honestly sure why. I don’t remember a point when any single state (except Pennsylvania, much later in the night) surprised anyone, so I don’t know how we got from expecting Hillary to win to knowing she wouldn’t, but somehow it happened for us. It happened for the pundits and newscasters on PBS Newshour, too, all of whom are presumably liberal even if they can’t quite say so on TV. I saw fear in their eyes. I have never seen fear in journalists before.

Kit started showing the strain first. She got jittery, hyper. She stood up and sat back down and paced, chewing on her thumbnail. Then the rest of us got quiet. Cecilly and Joya unobtrusively linked hands.

“What happens if Trump wins?” asked my daughter, Carly. She’s almost four.

“People like me and Joya don’t get to have a life,” and Cecilly. She was staring darkly at the TV screen. I think I’d better explain that not only is Joya a woman, she’s also Bangladeshi. Her family came here (legally) when she was very small, and she’s in the process of becoming a US citizen, but she isn’t one yet. She's a brown-skinned citizen of a Muslim-majority country (she's actually a lapsed Hindu). So, yes, a lot of this is very personal to them. To us.

Carly’s eyes widened.

“Don’t tell that to my daughter!” I said. I realized my hands had formed fists. I deliberately released them. I don’t hit people. But you don’t say things like that to my kid.

“We’ll, it’s true,” said Joya, some acid in her voice. “Just because—“

“Bullshit,” I told her, cutting her off. “It’s only half the truth. It’s not even that. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Don’t frighten my daughter with wild speculation she can’t do anything about.”
Joya, looked daggers at me. She doesn’t know me well, yet. To her, I’m her white prospective brother-in-law-- straight, cis, male, and white, privileged every which way. When push comes to shove, I am Other to her. Fine. But don’t you frighten my daughter.

“What is the truth you want to tell her, then?” she asked me.

I had to think for a bit. Carly looked up at me. They all looked up at me. I was the only one standing. I am very tall and it makes me easy to look at. I wished they’d all look somewhere else. I knelt and held Carly by her tiny shoulders.

“Donald Trump is a very mean man,” I told her. “He is a bully. And if he becomes president, he will have a lot of power. He will be in charge of the army and he will be in charge of making sure the government does its job. He will basically be the boss of the entire country. And having a mean bully be the boss will make everything we’ve worked for, everything we care about, harder, much harder. But not impossible. Not impossible. And we are going to keep fighting just as hard as we can. Do you understand?”

She nodded. I let go of her shoulders. She ran off and got out some paper. I returned my attention to the TV. They’d just called another state for Trump.

A few minutes later, Carly ran up to us, waving the drawing she’d made, a scribble in blue crayon.
“I made a bird!” she announced proudly. “To help Hillary win!” I think she must be remembering the Bernie bird. We attached the bird to the TV, for luck. As the hours went by, one after another of us curled up in blankets on the couches or on the floor. None of us wanted to stop watching, as though by watching we could somehow influence the outcome. I remember yawning….

I woke to Allen’s voice.

“It’s over.”

I sat up and looked around. Some of us had fallen asleep and were waking around me. Allen, of course, had not. He keeps odd hours. Kit had not. She was too anxious and angry. She clicked the TV off as though the remote control were a magic wand that could make Trump’s victory go away.
Goddamn it!” she said, an odd curse from a Wiccan, but it’s her favorite and she always comes back to it. “Damn Republicans. Damn Christians. Damn men.” I saw her close her eyes and her lashes were wet with tears already.

“Uh, some of us are men,” Allen pointed out.
“And some of us are Christian,” I added.

She waved her arms in a helpless away and stuttered a bit. Allen and I looked at each other and smiled a little, the way you do when someone you care about is being characteristically strange. The thing is, Kit isn't really as biased as she sounds, she just uses the words "men" and "Christian" narrowly, to mean the negative aspects of those groups. We knew her first reaction had been to say “No you’re not, you’re people,” and that she'd caught herself and was now struggling to come up with something that sounded better.

“You’re not the men and the Christians I’m talking about,” she managed, finally.

We discussed sleeping arrangements. I wanted the others to stay over. I’m thirty-five years old and I have a job and a kid and a master’s degree (and a green ring) but I still feel like a kid sometimes and I wanted the presence of more adulty-adults—in my head, of course, that means my former professors, Allen and Kit. What I actually said was that it was so late and they shouldn’t have to drive anywhere. June said they were welcome, but pointed out we don’t have a guest bedroom. We have no space for eight houseguests, except on the couches and floor.

Kev, Kit’s husband, begged off first, saying he had to get Kit home. She wouldn’t sleep if there were people around her to take care of. She smiled a little lamely and started gathering her stuff. I looked to Allen, a little desperately, maybe.

“I don’t have anything useful to say tonight,” he said, knowing why I wanted him to stay. “None of this makes any sense to me.” It’s true that Allen’s version of anger leans heavily towards an increasingly hysterical and unhelpful confusion. He doesn’t understand why people make decisions that hurt other people and he’ll exhaust himself trying to figure it out, like someone trying to solve a Rubix cube by force.

“Ok,” said, disappointed. “I’ll put Carly to bed.” And I picked her up. She was limp with sleep, but when I settled her against my shoulder, she wriggled, grunted, and rubbed her eyes. She lifted her head, not quite awake, looked at me, and made a questioning noise.

“Carly, baby, it’s time for bed,” I explained “The election’s over.”
“Who won?” She asked, mumbling.
“Trump did.”

She came awake at once, taking charge of her limbs and wriggling out of my embrace. She landed on the floor and looked around at us in aggrieved confusion.
“But…but…but I drew a bird and everything!”
“Oh, baby!” cried Kit, full of sympathy, “that kind of magic doesn’t always work.” And she held out her arms to my child, who climbed into her lap. June went over and wrapped her arms around both of them, burying her face in Kit’s fire-and-silver hair.

An hour or so later, after everyone but my sister and her partner (who had planned to stay the night anyway, as they live further away) had left, I “put the apartment to bed,” as we say, checking locks and lights and the pilot light on the stove. Then I went to the bathroom.

When I came out again, the place was dark, but Joya and Cecilly were still sitting up on the couch in the living room. Joya was crying and Cecilly was kissing away her tears. I left them there, pretending I had not seen.