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, July 20, 2014

Year 2:Post 4:Post 5: Second Sight

I can't remember if I've written about Ebony yet. She's new this year. She's not in my dorm and we don't share any classes, but I noticed her because she's blind--the only blind student here and, I think, the first blind student the school has had (rumor has it her tuition has been waived for the first year in payment for her having to teach the school how to accommodate a blind student). Anyway, she's also REALLY pretty. I noticed that, too.

I keep hoping she'll ask me to lead her somewhere. She'll take me by the arm, and I'll be all suave and helpful and heroic. Of course, I'm sure if she knew I was thinking that way she'd feel all insulted and everything, and anyway I'd probably walk her right into a wall by mistake or something. So, obviously I haven't talked with her much, yet. She does hang out with some of my friends, so if I can quit being Awkward McDork I can get to know her a bit.

Anyway, I've been thinking about her recently because of this thing she did the other day.

She was in my dorm hanging out after dinner and a few of us were sitting around talking--Ollie and Willa, Andy, Joanna, and me, and Ebony was curled up in the big armchair shuffling a deck of cards as she talked. She was telling this long and very funny story about the failures of the disabilities services office at her previous school. But I was thinking about those playing cards, I mean, can she really play cards? Are they Braille cards? I couldn't figure it out. I kept watching those cards to see if she got any of them backwards by mistake, but she never did.

But as I watched the deck seemed to get thinner. There were fewer and fewer cards. I couldn't tell if it was really happening. At first I wasn't sure the deck was getting thin, and then I wasn't sure it had ever been thick. And then it seemed to start growing again.

Andy spotted what she was doing before I did and cried out in surprise. Then I saw it and laughed. The thing is, she had started out with blue-backed cards and now over half the cards in her hands were red. She was switching them out.

When Ebony knew we had seen her trick, she smiled, this really sweet, spontaneous-looking smile, even though her face is usually neutral.

"Did you think I wasn't playing with a full deck?" she asked.

People do sleight-of-hand all the time around here, so we're all used to it, which is a problem--stage magic doesn't work if there's no element of surprise. The magicians here, Allen and Ollie and the others, are always trying to outdo each other or set up their tricks so we don't expect them. Ebony doesn't have that problem, because I don't think any of us thought she could even do sleight-of-hand. So, it was actually kind of a double-trick. We all willingly promised not to tell anyone until she'd played it on everyone else.

I should have known she was studying stage magic, though, because of what happened a month or two ago when she started attending Philosopher's Stone Soup.

Allen was doing his tricks, as always, and some of us were laughing, so Ebony asked what was so funny. Someone explained it to her and she laughed, too. But Allen frowned. He went to go stir the pot, bubbling away on the grill, and when he came back he seemed subdued. He sat down and didn't talk much for a while.

"Your magic show stopped," Ebony observed. Allen grimaced a little, like she'd caught him at something.

"You're very hard to perform for," he admitted. "I do magic all the time. It's what I do, I trick people. But I can't trick you. I just hadn't thought it would matter so much to have even one person in the audience just not care what I'm doing."

"What makes you think I don't care?" Ebony asked him.

Allen looked completely thunderstruck. I think it's the first time I've ever seen him be the one rendered speechless by a question. Then he smiled a little, intrigued, like he'd just seen her for the first time.

"My ignorance of you made me think you don't care," he said, finally. "Clearly I don't know you very well, yet."

Ebony is only going to be here two years, so she has to choose all her masters this year. I don't know which ones she needs, spirit and magic, probably, since most people do, plus whatever else. I guess she's working with Allen.





Sunday, July 13, 2014

Year 2: Part 4: Post 4: Faith

I'm starting to make progress in "manifestation," the form of magic I finally settled on taking.

It's a lot like positive thinking in that basically you think about something a lot and then it happens, but there's more to it than that. I mean, clearly, it isn't a rule of the universe that if you think something is going to happen then it will (how boring would that be?). Instead, the basic idea is to make room in your life for something to happen and follow intuition. In one sense, I think manifestation is about getting better at recognizing and taking advantage of good luck, not so much creating good luck that wouldn't happen anyway.

But some good luck that happens seems suspiciously good.

For example, when they were starting this school, they needed money to buy the property that became the campus. The school wasn't founded by the masters alone but also by a group of people who might loosely be called students and alumns--the school evolved out of a group of friends who studied together. So, they asked everybody in their little community to contribute what they could--and that was the same week two community members won the lottery.

I'm not kidding.

Now, it's not like either of them won millions--I think one got a couple of hundred and the other won a few thousand--but it did really help. They weren't calling it manifestation back then, but apparently they were trying an equivalent form of magic. Things like that happen a lot, here. The thing that someone needs just happens to show up at the right time.

But the thing is, it still isn't predictable. You can't just manifest a winning lottery ticket, it won't work. You can manifest a solution to a problem, but not usually the form the solution will take. And even then, the solution doesn't always arrive--it just arrives more often than it seems like it should.

I still can't say whether it really works, whether there's really a cause-and-effect relationship going on, but honestly I'm not sure I'd like it as much if I was sure. I mean, I can get twenty dollars out of an ATM machine and buy my mother a birthday present, and that's very cut-and-dry. Or, I can manifest the means to buy a birthday present for my mother and find twenty dollars in the bottom of my backpack that I could have sworn wasn't there before--it probably actually fell out of my wallet, but it feels magical because there is an intrusion of doubt, of possibility. It's like that white chick in the hospital room Ollie told me about--evidence that the world is bigger than it seems. If manifestation was as sure and as comprehensible as an ATM machine, it would feel no more magical.

Anyway, the thing is I'm starting to succeed in my manifestation projects, and the weird thing is I know when I'm going to succeed and when I'm not. This feeling comes over me and I just know that I can make something happen, whether that's driving all the way home to my parents' house without catching any red lights, getting enough rain this week so the sweet corn plants don't get stressed, or getting my dental appointment rescheduled so it doesn't conflict with one of my classes. And so far, that feeling has always been right. The lights are all green when I get to them, the rain comes, the dentist has a cancellation and offers me the spot.

When I don't have the feeling, the thing doesn't happen.

So, what I want to know is, does that feeling mean I can make something happen, like I suddenly have an ability I normally don't, or is that feeling what happens when I put myself in the path of something that's going to happen anyway? Am I manifesting the event, or only my place in it? Or is it manifesting me?

I was thinking about the concept of faith the other day. Faith is a big part of manifestation, not only because you have to have faith that the manifestation will work, but because part of the idea is making yourself a servant of God. I'm not sure I quite understand this yet, I don't think it's quite as straightforward as it sounds, but Joy says if you are doing God's will then things happen to assist you. Becoming willing to do God's will is part of successful manifestation.

Growing up, I was taught to treat "faith" as a synonym for spiritual dedication and to regard belief as the heart of religion--if you want to know what a religion is about, you ask what adherents believe. So when Jesus said that faith as small as a mustard seed would move mountains, that supposedly meant that is you believe in God you can work miracles, like Jesus did.

But Charlie doesn't really like belief. He's always trying to uncover the truth underneath what we think it is and he's never satisfied to think something is true just because he wants to. Kit says something similar--"in Wicca we do not believe. We know or we do not know, and if we don't know we can find out." And yet, Kit works magic and Charlie...Charlie's life is magic. I think everything he does might be a prayer.

So where does faith come in?

I was thinking about this, how to have faith in a friend doesn't exactly mean believing in something. It's not believing the friend exists, because that's obvious. It's more like trust or support. And being faithful isn't quite about believing anything, either. It's more like loyalty, keeping promises.

So, if faith is a relationship of trust, loyalty, and dependability, can faith the size of a mustard seed move mountains...because the mountain cooperates? Or because the faithful person knows the mountain so well as to plan around its movements?

Because mountains do move, that is unquestionable.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Year 2: Part 4: Post 3: Independence Day

Nora is turning 18 this week.

She was sixteen when she got here, and it hasn't been two years, but such is the magic of birthdays in the summer. She has her GED now, too--she took and past the test in May, and next spring she'll take the various placement tests that yearlings normally take and find out how much longer she has until she graduates. In theory, she's on a six-year plan, since she's been taking half as many credits each semester as we do, but she thinks she'll be able to reduce it to five. Not that she's in a hurry to leave, of course.

To me, it's kind of neat, seeing her grow up. When she first arrived, it seemed like she was a lot younger than me, but she's closing the gap--which I suppose means that she's maturing faster than I am? More likely, what's doing it is spending time away from her mother. She's not rebellious anymore because she doesn't have anything to rebel against.

But now--I guess the rebellion has succeeded. She's 18. I didn't think it was that big a deal when I turned 18, it didn't change my life all that much, but I don't fight with my mother, either. I don't think Nora's mom's a bad person or anything, and she obviously means well, but she does seem a bit controlling and she treats Nora like a little kid. Of course, if I had a teenager who dated college guys and drank vodka and dyed her hair blue, all of which Nora used to do, I suppose I might get a little controlling, too....

The main thing is that Nora's mom was always threatening to take her out of school and send her back to normal high school or maybe to some remedial program for kids who act up and now she can't do that. She can decide to stop paying tuition, but then Nora would qualify for a campus job. She could stay.

"Anyway, my Mom paid ahead to the end of this year," Nora pointed out.

I think it won't be long until Nora has her own income source, anyway. She's making all the candles for the campus now, including a lot of scented and colored candles--they're in jars in the herbarium for anyone to use, in case a spell calls for such a thing. This year, she's also experimenting with making soaps and various cosmetics from different combinations of goats' milk, beeswax, honey, and herbal essential oils. For now, since she's using campus materials, all of her products go for campus use (I found a jar hand-labeled "Goat's Beard Soap: Shampoo for Your Goatee" in the bathroom the other day. Mine's more of a Van Dyke, but the stuff works. It smells nice, too) but I expect she'll start a business one of these days.

She still loves bees.

Of course, Nora's isn't the only Independence Day this week. Nora turns 18 and the nation as a whole turned 225. I didn't go see the fireworks. I remember being, of all things, slightly bored by them last year, as though the rocket's red blare was less important to me than the lake was less important than the lakewater and the night sky the display interrupted.

So, this time I didn't go. After class I went swimming down at the lake (Allen was there when I arrived--I think the man is part otter) then came back, did my homework, and tried to nap (despite the sound of fireworks in the distance) until it was time to meet Charlie and the others in the grape arbor for Dead Poet's Society.

With the campers here, of course, we had to wear our uniforms and keep our hoods up so we'd look mysterious and hard to identify, and we spoke only in poetry. Sequoia, Megan, and May, Charlie's grand-nieces, had sneaked their friends out of camp to come join us, neglecting to mention, of course, that sneaking out for poetry wasn't exactly against the rules. It's more fun if they think they're being subversive. This happened all last summer, and I expect it will happen all this summer.

But this time, after opening the meeting as he always does, Charlie did something I haven't seen him do before; he recited The Star-Spangled Banner like a poem.

He made it come alive. He made it really clear, you could fel the tension, of this man on the deck of the ship, watching and waiting in the dark, and sometimes a bomb would go off and in the light of the explosion he'd see for a moment, that the flag hadn't fallen...yet. But then darkness would fall and there would be no news, just blackness, until the next explosion. And then, in the morning, he can barely stand to look, so he asks someone else--is the flag still there?

And we never actually hear the answer to the question.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Year 2: Part 4: Post 2: Carrie

So, my sister went home, the other guests all left, and on Monday we all went back to class. Litha doesn't start a new semester, so in some ways everything is back to normal.

In other ways--well, of course the summer campers arrived on Saturday, so campus is now full of shrieking children again and we're back to wearing ordinary clothes outdoors so the campers don't see us looking like wizards in our uniforms. Kit says summer begins at Beltane, but I still maintain it has just begun now.

The weather's been pretty hot of late, mostly over 90 degrees, so I'm glad not to have to wear my uniform all the time. Everyone looks more comfortable, except Allen, who still wears a suit, or at least a collared shirt, whenever he isn't in uniform. Lately he's looked damp with sweat. I used to think he was just a really formal person, but he's totally not. So, why does he dress like that?

"I like suits," he told me, when I asked. "And when in doubt, I dress up rather than down."

When in doubt? Is he always in doubt then? If so, of what?

A few weeks ago I attended Calalloo, Kit's open-mike without a mike, and saw a woman named Carrie sing. This is her third year here, but she's a mastery candidate in Snake Dorm, so I hadn't really spent any time with her before. That she's a motorcycle mechanic, that she expects to win her ring this year, and that she's gay were pretty much all I knew about her (she's very pretty, so I was asking around about her a little last year, before someone explained I had no chance). But then she sang at Calalloo and I was really impressed. I said so, and we started talking.

She sang "Unknown Legend," that Neil Yong song about the woman riding a Harley Davidson. She sang it beautifully, with this rich, wonderful voice, rather like Kit's, except that Carrie isn't self-consciously flirtatious on stage, the way Kit is. I couldn't tell whether, as she sang the song, she was imagining herself on that Harley (her hair is blonde, like the woman in the song), imagining some other woman she knows, or both, or neither. Either way, it was beautiful.

The thing is that in talking with her I've learned that she's only twenty-three--and this is her third year as a candidate. Being a candidate, she must once have been a novice, and she must have had a period of Absence between getting her degree and coming back. That means...she got he bachelor's degree when she was seventeen?

"What, did you start college when you were fourteen?" I asked her the other day. She laughed.

"No, when I was sixteen. I tested out of a lot."

"How did you do that?" I was incredulous. She shrugged.

"I'm really smart," she explained nonchalantly. Then she colored and looked away.

"Really smart?" I got curious. "How?"

"How did I get really smart? I suppose I was born like this. It isn't something I make a big deal about."

"No, I mean, what kind of smart? What's it like?"

She shrugged again.

"I don't know, I just get bored easily. I learn fast."

"Is that why you left high school? Because you got bored?" I'd heard of such things. But her face changed and I wondered if I shouldn't have asked.

"I left school because I left home." I waited to see if she wanted to tell me more. Sometimes people want and need to answer difficult questions. Sometimes they don't. I wish I could tell the difference. "I left home because I overheard my Dad telling a friend of his that I needed some man to 'cure' me." She looked at me hard for a moment, to make sure I knew what she meant. "I left that night. When he woke up the next morning, I was already gone."

"He knew you were gay?" I clarified. She nodded.

"I'd told him."

"Wow," I said. I had a hard time figuring out what to say. "The more women I make friends with, the more men I want to kill." She laughed and took my hand for a moment.

"You're sweet, Daniel," she said, "and potentially useful, but you don't have to commit murder for me."

Actually, there are only two guys I feel really murderous about, Aidan's dad and now Carrie's, though there are a lot of other guys I'm not exactly pleased with because of things they've done to various friends of mine. But I haven't met any of these people. What would I do if I did?

I mean, I don't actually think I should commit murder. I'm no vigilante. But would I really be tempted? It's easy to think all kinds of things about people I've never met and never will.

I'm thinking again of how Karen carries a knife with her everywhere she goes. I mean, it's a serious knife, made for hurting people. She does it so that she can't fantasize about violence she doesn't intend to commit. She has to confront whatever violent tendencies she has honestly.

It does sound,though, that people like Nora, and maybe even Kayla, are not that unheard of here. I mean, that they aren't the first high school-age kids to come here. There haven't been many, I don't think, but there was Carrie, and I've heard that before Karen the athletics master used to be a rock climber named Jane Spider, and she originally came here as a teenage runaway. Some of the windows in the Mansion can open from the outside, and I've heard that's because Spider Jane used to literally teach people to climb up the walls.

That must have been something to see.


Next Post: Monday, July 7th: Independence Day


 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Year 2: Litha

This time, I invited my sister, Cecilee, to Litha on campus.

Actually, I invited the rest of my family, too, but my sister's the only one who came. I'm kind of glad, because it meant I could still hang out with other people's families, too. If my parents and brother had been here, too, I would have been entirely occupied playing host.

As I explained last year, the summer solstice (Litha) here is a giant all-day picnic where everybody's families and a lot of graduates come to visit (yes visitors have to pay for food, but it's only $10 for basically two meals). There's a big wicker figure, the Man, out on one of the lawns and we stuff notes into it with wishes and hopes and prayers written on them. At sunset, we light the Man on fire and he takes our wishes and messages with him to the other side.

It's a symbolic sacrificial ritual, obviously, but I think the Man is also supposed to symbolize the sun, something like that.

While the Man burns, and afterwards, there's music and dancing all night long. Literally. At least a few people dance the sun up. There's no classes the next day or anything; the summer semester doesn't start until Monday, so we basically get a four-day weekend this year*.

I had a hard time explaining all of this to Cecilee--the Man and the dancing and everything, the symbolism and all of it. Mostly because I don't clearly understand it myself, because nobody explains things like that around here. Nobody except Kit, I mean. She likes explaining symbols and usually does so readily, and our picnic blanket was right next to hers, so, I asked her. But instead of explaining it she just asked my sister if she was having a good time. "Oh, yes," was the answer.

"Then that's what it means," Kit replied. Then she went back to feeding her husband little shreds of roasted pork.

We were sharing our picnic blanket with Sadie, Kayla, and Aidan, plus Nora and her mother and Andy. Andy doesn't have a family, so Sadie adopted him for the day. My sister and Nora's mother were both still having a hard time understanding what we do here at school--we seem to puzzle them--and I was doing a poor job of explaining, so Nora took over. Kayla tried to help, too, but she's lived here all her life so she doesn't have a very good basis of comparison. My sister also seemed really curious about Aidan. She's the same age as Nora, and doesn't know any other teen mothers, so I suppose Kayla seems exotic to her. After we were finished eating, Kayla, Nora, and my sister all wandered off together and disappeared into the crowd.

I saw them a few times after that--they seemed to have formed a group with Mary, the oldest of Charlie's grand-nieces. Sometimes David seemed to be tagging along with him, but most of the time he was with the younger kids. I guess this is how sprouts grow up--they kind of separate themselves and start hanging out with older teens.

It's not just the older sprouts who are moving on. I remember that last year the littler ones, the toddlers and Aidan, who was a baby, mostly stayed around their parents. Allen carried Alexis around pretty much all day, grinning this besotted pride. It was really sweet.

Now, all of them are running around and playing in their own little group, which is a little strange, because they're only a year older. I mean, last year Julius, one of Charlie's grand-nephews, was four, and he stuck with his mother, June. Now, he's five, and old enough to run around freely. But Alexis and Billie (one of Sarah's kids) are four now, and they're running around with Julius. So is Aidan, who's only 18 months old.

It's perfectly safe; they're all surrounded by adults, and somebody keeps an eye on them.


I didn't mind Cecilee running off, partly because I really do want to get to know the school a bit better and making friends here will help with that. But also, it meant I could go hang out with other people's families some, people I hardly ever get to see. Like Charlie's sister, Maria. I remember her from last year, and I really like her a lot. She's just this wonderfully mantronly person. This year she hugged me, which was wonderful.

This year I also managed to ask her how is it that two kids in the same family have virtually the same name--the other brother is Mario. I knew Maria's name is really Mary (she's trying to return to her Italian heritage), but still.

Turns out, Mario and Mary are both middle names. Maria's first name is Theresa, though she says she was always called Mary as a kid. Mario's first name is Anthony, and he went by Tony growing up. He switched to his middle name when he joined the army, though Maria doesn't know why.

Anyway, so I had a great time at the picnic, but, once again, I wasn't there when they lit the Man. I was up in a tree, watching the sunset. I think I'm going to make that a tradition of mine. Charlie wasn't in the same tree, the way he was last year (an accident--I nearly fell out of the tree when he spoke to me). He was in the next tree over. I spotted him and waved and he waved back, but then we both went back to watching the sunset.

The sky turned tangerine in places and shadow stretched over the campus and moved up the tree towards me and past me. I felt the temperature drop as the sunlight drained away into the sky. Below, on the lawn, they lit the Man and fire bloomed up, orange. Music started up, but it sounded very far away.

When I finally climbed down, it was completely dark, no moonlight. To my surprise, Charlie had waited for me. I suppose he wanted to make sure I made it safely down--last year I needed his coaching to climb in the dark, after all.

"Are you going to the dance?" He asked me, conversationally.

"I suppose so," I told him. "Are you?" I think he shook his head. "I get the feeling I'm supposed to go," I explained. And there are things like that here--not exactly required, but if you don't go you miss something important.

"Sometimes doing what you're not supposed to do is important," he told me. "The first night I ever stayed out in the woods--I was a city boy from Boston, you know. But I went to Boyscout camp. One year, a buddy of mine and I sneaked out, spent all night in the woods, running around. At dawn I saw mist coming off the pond. I saw a great blue heron, first one I ever saw, down by the boat ramp. Thing was as tall as I was."

I tried to imagine Charlie as a city kid and failed. But I could imagine him as a child, seeing that heron for the first time. When he spoke again, his voice sounded almost impish.

"Come on. I won't tell the teachers if you won't."

And so I skipped out on the dance entirely and Charlie taught me how to follow trails in the woods in the dark, with no flashlight, feeling where the trail was by touch through my feet, navigating by memory and the touch of a hand on landmark trees at trail crossings and the shape of the occasional glimpse of sky. We didn't talk much, except when he stopped to explain something, but it wasn't like hanging out with my teacher. It was more like being eight and playing hooky from something. I have no idea why Charlie invited me to go with him--why he didn't just go by himself, or why he didn't choose a different companion. It's possible I just happened to be there at the right time. Barred owls hooted in the distance and frogs sang and, weirdly, the occasional few notes of music floated up from campus on a puff of wind.

We went uphill, mostly, since Charlie pointed out that would make it easier to get back if we did get lost. Dawn found us on the top of the ridge above campus, deep into the land conservancy property where we aren't supposed to go, looking out over the valley, the campus, the lake, and beyond that all the way to the next ridgeline over, all in shadow, though we could see the sun through the trees over another curve of the ridge. The birds sang around us and I heard every one of them. Charlie didn't ask me to prove it, but I could have. It's weird to think--this is the high point of the year--literally, considering I was thinking this on the top of a mountain--and that means it goes down from here. It gets darker. The Man burns brightly, because he is going away.

Then I followed Charlie back to campus, and he turned into a teacher again, closed in on himself somehow. But I don't think he told anyone what we had done. He didn't tell the teachers. And I certainly didn't tell.

[Next Post: Monday, June 30th: Carrie]

*The summer solstice was on a Thursday in 2001

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Year 2: Third Interlude

Hello, from 2014, again,

Dropping down to just one post a week was the right thing to do, though it still feels strange. It's not like I spent a lot of time writing that second post every week, only an hour or two, usually, but those two hours have really made a difference. I feel busy still, but saner.

You know, thinking about being busy, everyone I know from grad school is horribly busy (or unemployed, or both). I think we all got busy in order to get our homework done on time in school or something, and we haven't gotten around to getting un-busy. Like,we're just waiting for there to be less to do. But that's never going to happen. We could be horribly busy for the rest of our lives, if we let ourselves be.

And most of us probably will, I think. It's seductive, busy-ness. There are a lot of things you don't have to think about, when you're busy. And you get to feel so bizarrely virtuous about it. I think, sometimes, of the words of one of the prayers Charlie used to say, I think he got it from AA, asking God to relieve me of the bondage of self that I might better do thy will. And I wonder if that's what some of my friends are doing, giving their wills and their lives over to their careers...I wonder if that's what I'm doing.

Right now, I'm writing this outside in my flower garden with my daughter asleep on my lap and every few minutes I can hear the hummingbirds buzz behind us to get to my columbine patch. Life is good. Life is very good. I don't want to ever be too busy to do this.

And when she wakes up she's going to want to explore the garden. She's going to want to ask me the name of every single plant in the garden and then every blade of grass, every leaf, in the yard. Fortunately, I know all the names. Charlie prepared me oddly well to have a sixteen-month-old. And we'll look for salamanders and worms and I'll try to keep her from touching any of them. And then we will have dinner and I will try to feed her even though she's in this phase now where she'd much rather feed me. I don't want to be too busy for any of this, ever.

When I was on campus, at the school, I mean, not grad school, I almost never felt busy, even though I was actually doing a lot more than I am now. Part of it was simply that my life was very structured, so it was easier to move from one task to another. But part of it was that all the things I was doing added up to a whole life. There was both intellectual and athletic activity, there were always friends around when I wanted to hang out, it was just a full life. I was never too busy to do anything I really wanted to do, because I was already doing all the things I really wanted to do. I'm sure the masters did that on purpose, structuring the school so it would be like that.

I used to ask them, sometimes, what a master was, especially when I was working to become one. I asked more than once because I got more than one answer--from each of them. But one of my favorite answers was when Allen told me that "a master is a whole human being."

Am I a whole human now? I certainly have been; I wear the green ring for a reason. But am I one now? I think at this moment, in the garden with the hummingbirds and my daughter, I am. I am thinking about what I'll be in the next moment, though, and the next moment after that, and all the moments after that as she grows up so I can be a whole human being.

It's Father's Day today. Last year I wished my Dad Happy Father's Day and he wished me the same thing and I about fell over. This year I'm more used to me being the Dad. My wife went off somewhere and left me with Carly all day as a Father's Day present, which is, curiously, the same thing that we did on Mother's Day. Everyone had told me that I should give her a day away from the baby, buy her a trip to a salon or a spa or something, so I did that, except my wife isn't exactly the spa or salon type, so I sent her birding. She enjoyed it.

But for Father's Day this is what I wanted. To fallow this little bundle of energy and questions around all day, without interruption or other responsibility, so when a female hummingbird tried to pick a fight with her (that's what hummingbirds do; they're ridiculously aggressive little creatures) I could be there with my daughter to tell her what it's called.

"Hum!" she repeated. "Humba!"



Sunday, June 8, 2014

Year 2: Part 3: Post 9: Father's Day

My Dad came up for a visit.

My parents have been on campus before, but only for a few hours and only to visit me. This time I got permission for my Dad to stay two nights and really explore the school a bit. It was his idea. I can't say what this means to me--my Dad's always been a little suspicious of the school, so it really does mean a lot that he wanted to come check out the place himself.

It was also a sort of a Father's Day thing, since he's doing something with my brother and sister-in-law for actual Father's Day and I don't think I'll be able to make it.

He came on campus Monday evening--that was my suggestion, since I wanted him to be able to come to some campus activities and there really isn't much going on over the weekend, most of the time. Also I didn't want him here Wednesday or Thursday night because those nights are for Dead Poet's Society and Paleolithic Dinner and both are invitation only and I didn't want to choose between those events and Dad.

In any case, when I got finished my afternoon horticulture shift, there was Dad, waiting for me on the porch, reading a newspaper. He joined me for dinner, then I showed him some of the trails I've been working on, then he poked around in the library while I did homework. Tuesday he joined me for breakfast (he didn't get up with me at five for trail work) and then helped out with horticulture for the morning. He's a pretty good gardener, so he really was helpful. I'd thought about trying to get permission for him to join me for classes, even though visiting family usually don't, but Tuesday afternoon I have Martial Arts and he wasn't interested in that. I think he went for a walk.

That evening, he joined me for Philosopher's Stone Soup.

As you might remember, that's Allen's weekly dinner party. It's sort of like a potluck, except that instead of finished dishes you're supposed to bring ingredients. We cook together, and then, over dinner, Allen practices a rather maddening form of Socratic Method on anyone foolish enough to reply to his question "does anyone have anything they'd like to talk about?" Of course, he's completely charming about it, so we keep coming back again and again.

Dad and I got out to the picnic tables a little early. Only Allen and Kit and Allen's son, David were there yet, and Allen was sitting on one of the tables, strumming his guitar while talking about something. They'd started the grill and were waiting for the coals to develop. As we walked up, the two of them seemed to come to a decision and launched into Unchained Melody, Kit singing and Allen accompanying.

Now, Dad pretty clearly thinks Kit is incredibly hot, which she is, and watching her sing, especially that song, he was just beside himself. It was really quite funny. Kit must have known he was struggling not to oggle her, but she ignored him. When the song was over, Dad and I and David all clapped. Allen and Kit looked at each other and shrugged and clearly decided to go ahead and give a concert. Next, they did "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." I've always thought of that as a woman's song--it was first recorded by a woman--but Allen sang it. Kit played her cello, but did not sing. I think they did it that way to muddle up my Dad (since the song is about sex and he clearly hoped to be flustered by her singing it). But Allen did a fantastic job.

He doesn't have the voice to do the song really well. His singing voice is ok, but not more than that, but the thing is he brought out all the vulnerability of the lyrics, like I could hear the song as if I'd never heard it before. Maybe it was hearing it in a man's voice that did it. I could identify better, or something.

I'd like to know that your love
is love I can be sure of.
So tell me now, and I won't ask again;
will you still love me tomorrow?

He is a therapist, after all.

Then Kit asked David if he could sing.

"I know Uncle John's Band," he volunteered. "And I can drum. I'm pretty good at drumming."

"Well, then," said Kit, and they all launched right in, the three of them, David singing to his father's guitar, Kit's cello, and his own drumming with his hands on the table-top, all three singing in harmony for the chorus. David's voice hasn't changed yet and he sings quite well.

By the time they were done there were a dozen of us in the audience and more on the way, so the concert stopped. David left because he said he was having dinner with his sisters and mom and then going home. I introduced my Dad all around (of course Allen and Kit had known he was coming) and we started taking out our ingredients. Dad brought a box of Quaker oatmeal. I brought a quart of cleaned dandelion petals (I cleaned them over lunch and yes, it took forever to do that many. It's the end of the season, so I  wanted to go all-out). Allen had a bottle of red wine and Kit had a dozen eggs. Nora,of course, brought honey and also four scented taper candled she'd made. And so on.

A lot of people showed up, so we had a lot of ingredients. Jeff, the ally who teaches physics, saved his offering for last; an insulated bag filled with a couple of lumps of dry ice. Allen's eye's widened excitedly and he looked towards the wine. I could see a wine cooler taking shape.

Allen is almost always the one who comes up with a plan for all our disparate ingredients and he did it again that night. Under his direction, some of my dandelion petals, four of the eggs, the flour Oak brought, Nora's honey, and some ginger from Andy all went into these little cookie things that we fried on a griddle over the fire in walnut oil brought by Jim, another of Allen's students.

We hard-boiled the rest of the eggs and put them in a salad with the rest of my petals, the dandelion greens Veery brought (we'd harvested the dandelion parts together right before breakfast), Dillon's spinach, DZ's garlic, Veronica's onion grass, and Echo's goat cheese. Ollie'd brought apple cider vinegar, so that, with the oil, plus ginger and a spoonful of raspberry jam made a dressing.

And the dry ice. Rick had brought woodsorrel, a wild plant that looks a little like clover and tastes like rhubarb. He boiled the ginger in a little hot water, added the woodsorrel, strained the liquid into a big bowl, and added honey and raspberry jam. Then, Allen poured in his bottle of wine. The whole thing was steaming and didn't look like much fun in hot weather. That's when Jeff added his dry ice. Instant cold carbonated beverage!

To get all of this done we were all chopping and peeling and flipping griddle cookies and whatever else, while Kit kept stealing spoonfuls of honey and various hijinks ensued.

My Dad was especially impressed by the juggling. After the eggs were boiled, of course Allen couldn't resist juggling all eight of them at once. But they had to be peeled, so Jeff, who is also a juggler, snagged one of the eggs out of the air. Allen kept juggling as though nothing had changed. Then, whenever Jeff needed a new egg to peel he'd snag it out of the air as casually as if he were grabbing it out of a bowl and Allen would keep going. When Jeff finally took the third-to-the-last egg, Allen switched to juggling the last two eggs one-handed for a moment, then threw first one, then the other, very high and walked away. Jeff caught both eggs as though nothing special were happening and the rest of us did not overtly react at all. The next minute, Allen was teaching Veery how to mix oil and vinegar for the dressing.

"Does he ever stop moving?" my Dad asked me. He isn't much of a cook, except for grilling, so aside from flipping cookies Dad mostly just watched. "This is amazing," he said, a moment later, to no one in particular. "Thank you. You don't normally let outsiders join you, do you?"

"Rules are for people," Andy explained, simple. "People aren't for rules." Dad looked surprised and impressed by the Biblical allusion.

But when we finally sat down to dinner and Allen asked his question "does anyone have anything you want to talk about?" my Dad spoke up.

"Yes, I do," he said, a little tensely. "Honestly now, are you trying to convert my son?"

I think I turned beat red. Some of the others looked uncomfortable. Allen grinned and looked at me for just a moment, as though asking me for permission to do what he was about to do. My Dad couldn't see me, since I was a little behind him, so I nodded.

"Me, personally, or some larger group collectively?" Allen asked.

"Both."

"What do you mean by convert?"

"You know, trying to make him stop being Christian."

"I am not trying to make Daniel stop being Christian. No larger entity on campus has formulated that intention either, so far as I know. If you want to know whether any other individuals have, you will have to ask them. Why? Has something concerned you of late?"

"I mean no disrespect," my Dad said, a little uncertain. I half expected Kit to say something--I'm sure she found my Dad's ideas of respect and disrespect deeply ironic--but she held her tongue in order to give Allen room to work. He smiled and indicated he'd taken no offense. "It's just that lately he's been getting...ideas. His preoccupations, well, frankly they seem pretty pagan to me."

"Alright. Let's approach this reasonably," Allen suggested. "We want to know if Daniel is showing pagan tendencies. So what is pagan? What does pagan mean?"

"Not Christian."

"Alright. What does Christian mean?"

"Knowing and loving Jesus."

"Who is Jesus?"

"Oh, come on!" Dad raised his voice a little. "You have to know who Jesus is!"

"Well, since you have just implied that you think I am pagan, perhaps I don't? Why don't you tell me who Jesus us, so that we can both be clear?"

"Jesus is the Son of God," my Dad explained. "God sent His only son to be born as a human so he could die on the cross and pay for all our sins. Through Jesus, and only Jesus, can we get to Heaven."

"Alright. So, you think your son, Daniel, has preoccupations that indicate he might not know or love Jesus?"

"Correct."

"What does knowing and loving mean? How could you tell?"

"Someone who loves Jesus follows His teachings."

"Which are?"

"To love God, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to do unto others as you would have done unto you."

"You're defining Jesus as part of the Godhead, right?"

"Right."

"So, to love God one must follow a rule that says to love God?"

"Um..." My Dad is smart enough to know when he's been caught in circular logic.

"So, again, how do you love God?"

"You just do."

"That doesn't sound very definite."

"Um..."

"Do you actually know how to love God?"

"Yes! Of course!"

"Then tell me how."

"I already told you."

"No, you didn't. You provided an example of circular reasoning. If you can't tell me how you, individually, love God, I'm not sure I believe that you do."

"I'm searching, ok?" My Dad suddenly let most of his guard down. I'd expected him to get angry and instead he got vulnerable and honest. "I do the best I can. I go to church, I read my Bible, I talk to other people in the faith. I do the best I can and I just hope that's good enough. I don't think anyone can do more." Allen nodded.

"How is that different from what you've seen Daniel do?" He asked. I grinned.

"He's doing moon rituals and studying magic and reading all these books about goddesses and fairies and whatever else. There's nothing Christian in that."

"How do you know?"

"Excuse me?"

"You define 'Christian' as knowing and loving Jesus, who is God. But you just admitted to me that you don't actually know what loving God consists of. So how can you say what it doesn't consist of?"

"I, I can't."

"Mr. Kretzman," Allen addressed my father, "I've heard it said that the beginning of wisdom is ignorance. If so, than congratulations." There was no sarcasm in his voice at all. He meant it.

We moved on to other topics, and other people joined in the conversation. We ate our dinner and drank our wine cooler, which was excellent, and the sun gradually went down. Tiki torches burning citronella oil kept the mosquitoes at bay, and we were surrounded by the season's first fireflies. Allen reduced several other people to ignorance, and some fought a lot harder than my father had. And we had reason to know and trust Allen already. Dad didn't.

But my Dad is, at bottom, a good guy. He gets uncomfortable with some of the things I do because he doesn't understand it and he's concerned for me, but he's not arrogant or narrow-minded about it. It takes a big person to let Allen do his thing, to really engage with him, and my Dad did it.

Why did he do it? I keep thinking about it. I do it because I trust Allen. I think well of him. But my Dad doesn't know Allen, so how could he know the man wasn't just messing with him? The answer poked up into my consciousness just as I was going to sleep the other night and it made me smile, alone there in the dark.

My Dad trusted Allen because he trusts me.


[Next Post: Monday, June 16th: Interlude]