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, July 24, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Post 7: Appropriation

"Why don't you teach real yoga?" asked June of Kit at breakfast.

“Well, I don’t teach fake yoga,” Kit answered, somewhat amused.

“You teach stretches you adapted from yoga,” June clarified. “That’s not what real yoga is about. You’re missing the spiritual component.”

“Maybe you just haven’t learned the spiritual part of it yet?” Kit countered. 

June rolled her eyes.

“You know what I mean.”

“I might, but I’m not convinced you do.”

In case you’ve forgotten, Kit teaches something she calls “practical yoga” three mornings a week. It’s basically aimed at teaching correct posture and ergonomic movement habits. I took it for a few years as a novice, and sometimes I still go to remind myself to move properly. I noticed that as a result of the class, not only do I get injured less often, I’m also more attractive to women. June says I am “graceful.”

Anyway, June can’t normally go, because it conflicts with Zazen, which is required for yearlings, but she did the afternoon make-up session of Zazen a few times in order to check it out. Now she’s full of questions.

“You’re not doing traditional yoga,” she said, finally.

“I’m not a traditional yoga teacher,” Kit explained, stirring thin goatmilk yogurt into a bowl full of berries. Some people put fresh fruit on their cereal. Kit tends to put cereal on her fruit.

“Look, if you don’t want to tell me, that’s alright, but just say so. Spouting tautologies is not going to make me give up.

Kit laughed, and passed the pitcher of yogurt on to the next person.

“I mean I’m not Indian,” she said. “I’m not Hindi. I don’t want to be Hindi, and my students aren’t Hindi. I don’t have the cultural context in which traditional yoga makes sense, so it wouldn’t really be traditional yoga if I taught it. I teach something else.”

“Truth in advertising?” asked my wife.

“Sort of. And not taking what’s not mine. Not benefitting from the social cachet of traditional yoga when it’s not really mine.”

Bennie, this year’s other one-hit wonder, and a woman, despite the name, was sitting on June’s other side and spoke up.

“Kit, everything you believe comes from somewhere else. You’re a collage. If you mind borrowing other people’s ideas so much, why aren’t you Christian, like your ancestors?”

“Before my ancestors were Christians, they were pagans.”

“Two thousand years ago.”

“Ben, you’re Wiccan, too,” said June.

“Yes, but I don’t pretend my religion isn’t made up out of stuff I borrowed.”

June shot Bennie a look. The comment was not the sort of thing normally said to one’s professors. But Kit just smiled.

“I don’t, either,” she said. “But I do make sure the people I borrow from get a good deal.”

This kind of conversation is par for the course here, especially if you want to eat with yearlings. They ask a lot of challenging “why” questions. It’s familiar, almost reassuring. And yet, for lunch I could not stomach it, no pun intended. I jumped on my bike and went into town to buy myself a sandwich, a Twinkie, and a coke. I haven’t done that sort of thing in years, and I don’t know why I did it now.

Eating that junk felt delightfully transgressive.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Post 6: Identification

Rather unexpectedly, I have a new teacher--June. I've been doing a lot of workshops and things with the novices, and now I've started doing programs for the campers, too. They do farm work in the morning and then, after lunch, can choose among a variety of activities, from archery and arts and crafts, to natural history and science activities, and even free, unsupervised play. The natural history and science part is me--or, partly me, anyway. Only, I've never had training in programming for children before. So June is training me.

The advantage to this is we get to spend more time together, but I admit it's pretty weird, changing roles like this.

I like how I get a new crop of kids every week. That means I can try the same workshops over and over again, analyzing my performance and fixing my perspective--with the help of June and Sharon. I'm teaching tracking, plant identification, map and compass, fire construction, and Leave No Trace. I also do programs where I dissect owl pellets, talk about bones and skeletal anatomy, and another talk about feathers. I'm thinking of doing Dissect a Groundhog, though that's going to have to be demonstration only, for safety reasons. And I'm not sure how I want to explain Charlie hunting groundhogs to these kids. About half my programs are my idea, but for the others I'm using outlines developed by other people in previous years. Most of these things are short, and each week I'm getting better and better at them.

Meanwhile, I continue teaching Charlie what I learned in grad school. We've finished my first year, now, and are on to my second. He still wants me to at least try to teach everything from grad school in my workshops, too, but of course a lot of it doesn't really work that well. I'm glad for the exercise it's educational, and there are surprises, but a lot of my rad school material just doesn't translate well. The students here aren't interested, and I get very low attendance. But a few people do show up, and they know why I'm doing this so they don't hold it against me. They give me very useful feedback, and then I use the dregs of those workshops to put together things that really do work for this audience. And my attendance for those is pretty good.

And every day I'm writing. Now I'm editing, too. And my poems are getting better. I mean, my poems are getting better through editing, which I hadn't thought was possible for poetry, but here I am, doing it. And I also mean that my first drafts are improving. My thoughts, I guess, are getting clearer and more focused, and I'm getting a better grasp of what I want to do when I sit down to wite. My soul is indeed clarifying, I guess.

So I'm doing well, everything is going along ok, I'm succeeding at everything I try, and I should be thrilled.

And yet I have this feeling. It's tight and hot and dark. It'd distracting, but it also keeps me focused. It's persistent. It's growing, I think. I remember what Allen taught me about naming my feelings based on my bodily sensations and spontaneous thoughts.

This feeling is called anger.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Post 5: I Don't Understand It Myself

I've been so busy mostly talking about June and our wedding and everything related that I forgot to mention an important piece of news--remember Carrie? She was a candidate when I was a novice. We were friends, though never close, and I wrote about her once or twice. Anyway, she's back--in the master's group, now.

She's not one of the Six (they haven't changed), she's in the non-teaching staff, in charge of heavy maintenance and IT. The position did not exist when I was here before--there's been some rearranging. Chuck, the maintenance head has left, as has Joe, the head of the janitor team, and Security Joe is still here, but completely retired. I think I mentioned all that before. So, now they've folded cleaning in with light maintenance (meaning replacing light bulbs and so forth) and security, meaning that there's a team of people whose general responsibility is to look over campus regularly ad make sure nothing is wrong. That's now the responsibility of a woman named Waverlee. Heavy maintenance means anything you need to be a mechanic or a carpenter or a plumber to do, and that's Carrie's responsibility, as is anything to do with the computers, email system, website, etc.

When I was here before, IT just sort of seemed to get taken care of. It was one of the miracles of the place--I assume the work was being done by an ally, and that there wasn't enough of it to require the attention of anyone on campus very often. Now, as the campus belatedly joins the twenty-first century, there are more machines, and hence more going wrong with machines, and the topic has been elevated to part of an actual job.

Anyway, so Carrie is back. We haven't spoken to each other a lot, though she was at my wedding. She's the first person I knew as a student to come back and work as a master. It's kind of odd.

In the meantime, I've been writing a poem a day, as per Charlie's instruction, mostly about my spot in the woods, and always inspired by it. And he keeps marking them up with red pen. His red pen is not kind. Whole stanzas are crossed out. Marginal notes include things like "what does this even mean?" and "why are you calling this poetry?"

At first I thought these were just rhetorical devices for criticizing me, code for "this means nothing" and "this isn't poetry," but I should have known better. Charlie uses language as precisely as Allen, maybe more so, and if he wants to make a statement, he makes a statement. If he asks a question, he means he wants an answer. So, finally I started sending back answers, along with the new poetry. He sent back a note, "I was wondering when you'd start replying. I'm not talking to myself, you know."

And you know, the funny thing is that most of the time when he asks me to explain something, I realize I don't really understand myself?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Post 4: For the Sake of a Good Time

I don't know why June still has classes this semester, given that she's now working full time as the director of a large summer camp. I've asked her, and she points out that she is in school, so taking classes is important, and I can see that, but still, it does look like a whole lot of work.

She's continuing her policy of taking all of Allen's classes. This summer, that means The Psychology of Magic and The Art of Listening and Love, the second of which was one of Greg's classes when I took it, but now that Greg's retired, he's given it to Allen. She's even taking Tricks of the Trade, Allen's technical course on stage magic, which means she now has access to his how and wherefore and has been sworn to secrecy. I can ask "what did you do in school today, dear?" and she can't tell me.

Meanwhile, campus has been taken over by children. I have not counted, but I think there are more of them than us--let's see, three age groupings, roughly twenty campers in each, so, no, probably not more, but there are a lot of them, and while we hardly ever speak with them, their presence changes how we live on a daily basis. They take up physical space, they take up auditory space (the shrieking!), and we can't wear our uniforms anymore, lest the oddness of our appearance trigger questions. Not that we really want to wear uniforms right now, because it's too hot.

Except, of course, when night comes and a few of us gather, cowls raised, to recite poetry in the grape arbor among those few children daring enough to sneak out and spend an evening with the Elven King.

I mean our Dead Poet's Society, of course. I've talked about it here before, though not in a while. It's pretty much like what you see in the movie. Charlie leads it. It's not against the rules, but it is secret unless you get invited. In the summer, we encourage the campers to sneak out and join us. It's not against the rules, but they don't know that.

June has not gotten an invitation--she's not friends with Charlie, and I didn't think it sounded like her kind of thing, anyway--but we let her in on the secret because she's the camp director. She had to know about the imaginary rule and why it's there. One kid already has gotten "caught," and was duly assigned to shadow Charlie for a day as "punishment" (it's no punishment at all, of course), so she had to figure out how to tell the kid's parents about the infraction without blowing the cover of the whole game or getting the kid in real trouble at home. I didn't envy her that task.

In fact, this coming Wednesday--the day when Dead Poet's Society meets--will be July 4th, so the campers will stay up late and walk down to the lake to watch fireworks, and none of them will be available to sneak out for poetry. I'll have to choose whether to watch the explosions myself, or attend to poetry. It's a decision that is no decision. Everyone who knows me knows what I will do.

Just as I know without asking that Charlie will not cancel poetry among vines and fireflies for the sake of mere colored gunpowder.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Post 3: Welcome to the Club

June and I didn't really have a honeymoon, nor did we expect to get one. That's what getting married in the middle of the school year means. Not only did we each have classes to attend, but June is the director of the children's summer camp, so she's insanely busy right now. The summer solstice was on Thursday, we married on Friday, and the campers arrived on Saturday.

The only advantage to all of this is that June got lots of practice introducing herself as "June Kretzman" to parents (she decided to take my name because she says she's marrying into my family more than I'm marrying into hers, but the decision surprised me. I'd expected her to keep her name).

We did have a week in which we were encouraged to see each other freely, instead of our usual distance designed to give her space to move through the school's program on her own. So there's that. But our week is over now.  Back to the grind, as they say.

Before our week was over, we did have one more event. It wasn't our idea--I think it was Allen's, possibly Kit's, a sort of post-wedding reception for married people only. So, last night,* June and I and a group of our fellow married people took our dinner and few extra chairs out into the formal garden to talk with one another about marriage, drink wine, and swat mosquitoes.

It is a fact of this place that mosquitoes are never considered a reason to not be outside. We cultivate liking to be outside, and that cultivation bears fruit in long, lovely purple June evenings and less than lovely little red welts.

I don't think it being the end of our first week married was exactly planned out deliberately, though we all decided we liked it that way. It's just that every day this week at least one person on the guest list had some other commitment. Monday was the only evening really open on the schedule, and neither Kit nor Allen are on campus on Mondays. They're both with their respective spouses. Tuesday is Philosopher's Stone Soup and it's the Joes' date night. Wednesday is group therapy, so not only is Allen otherwise committed, but so is June, and Friday is Dorm Dinner and Faculty Dinner. Thursday is still Thursday Night Jam, but Kit decided to leave someone else in charge of that and join us instead, which I really appreciated.

The group was me and June, Allen and Lo, Kit and Kevin (her husband), Security Joe and Cuppa Joe, Ollie and Willa, and my brother John and his wife. We'd invited Sarah and her husband, but they politely declined, citing the press of childcare and farm work, though I suspect they also weren't sure their opinions on marriage would really be wanted. And I hate to say it, but they might be right. I've heard they're not really sure whether marriages that aren't Catholic count.

"So, how do you like being married?" asked Allen. I've been getting that question a lot, and there's no real answer. It's like asking someone on their birthday what it's like to be a year older. It's just something they say. But Allen doesn't just say things.

"I'm not sure I know yet," I told him. "Nothing's really different. We don't live together, everything's busy, we don't...." I ran out of words.

"So, basically, you're saying you haven't had sex yet," interjected Willa.

"Willa!" scolded Kit, pretending to be scandalized, "Don't voice such...probably quite accurate assumptions!"

"It's not that we never have," said June, trying to cut through the laughter to defend our honor. Remember, this is a crowd that, except for Ollie, regards premarital abstinence as strange at best.

"Just not recently," I confessed. "You try getting amorous in a hammock full of mosquitoes."

"And ants. Don't forget the ants," added June.

"And it was hot," I added to her adding. "Choose between being in a sleeping bag and too hot to breathe, or being outside of a sleeping bag and chewed by mosquitoes and walked on by ants, and then try to have sex."

"I'd rather not," said Allen.

"I imagine it's different though," said Ollie.

"What's different?" I asked.

"Sex after getting married as opposed to before. I mean, I'm not the only one here who was raised to believe premarital sex is wrong, or at least...naughty. I'm not saying it is wrong, but can you ever really get rid of that voice of doubt, once it's implanted? Now, there's no doubt."

"I never had any doubt," asserted Willa. "But married sex is different because it's with you." She wrapped her arms around her husband's bicep, cooed in his general direction, and turned him pink with embarrassment.

"I had to get rid of a lot of voices of doubt, just to stay alive," said Security Joe.

"Is this what you really want to be talking about?" asked Kit, of June and I. "Sex?"

"No," I admitted. June shook her head slightly.

"Do you really think nothing's different?" asked Allen.

"No," I admitted. "I feel..more solid." I couldn't explain what that meant, though I knew Allen would likely ask, as "solid" isn't itself a feeling. "It's like this. June has always seemed like the most important person in the world to me, since that day in grad school." She took my hand. "But I never expected anyone else to take that seriously. Like, yeah, Daniel's going on about his new girlfriend again, or whatever. But now, she's my wife. No one can question that." I squeezed her hand back.

"Well, they can," interjected Cuppa Joe. "But that's what clocking people is for."

"I'm not your wife, I'm your husband," corrected Security Joe.

"Same diff, lover mine."

"Do any of you have any advice for us?" asked June. "I mean, this is new territory for us. Tell us about the view. What can we expect?"

"Expect it to be hard," said Kit, without hesitation.

"At least in the mornings," added Kevin, and Kit swatted him one.

"I'm trying to tell them things they don't already know," she said. "Anyway, there will be days when you want to get divorced--don't panic, that's normal. Wait a few days, you'll like each other again."

"I'd say don't forget you're married," said Allen, with slow thoughtfulness. "The way you are feeling right now--it's because you're thinking about being married. A year from now, you'll be thinking bout other things--"

"Oh, man, poopy diapers," put in Security Joe. "There is nothing so un-romantic as poopy diapers."

"I was thinking about ferret puke, personally," said Allen.

"I don't think they'll have pet ferrets," said Lo.

"Why not?" said Allen. "Ferrets are fine animals. Except one of ours has a puking problem lately. We'll probably have to take him to the vet...My point is that when you're thinking about ferret puke, your emotions are about ferret puke. It's not that love fades, it's that people think about it less and less, so they feel it less and less. You have to remember to think about love."

"I love you for cleaning up the ferret puke," said Lo. And Allen leaned his head on her shoulder for a moment.

"Does your both being psychologists make it easier?" June asked.

"It means we know bigger words to blame each other with," volunteered Allen.

"Complexes and syndromes and isms," explained Lo. "At least our fights are entertaining."

I asked Ollie what he thought.

"Oh, we haven't been married long enough, yet," he said. "I don't have any real insight. Except that thing about divorce is spot on."

"I didn't know you were thinking about divorce," said Willa, sounding surprised but not concerned.

"Aren't you?"

"Not today. Two days ago, I was."

"Well, that's because two days ago you were crazy."

"Two days ago you were crazy."

"Are either of you thinking about divorce today?" I asked, expecting the answer I got.

"No, today she's the best thing that ever happened to me."

"Yes, I am. Ad you deserve every ounce of me because you're cute."

And on and on. It felt very much like being given the secrets of some club, some initiatory event, though there was no particular ritual to it, just a group of people sitting around, drinking wine, eating, and swatting mosquitoes--we did have a couple of citronella candles burning, and they helped a little. It was nice.

I kept thinking, though, that there was someone missing. Charlie. He woudn't likely attend a party with Kit, nor she with him, and most people would point out that he's not married. He's not in the club. Except he is married. And he's the one who taught me how to love in the first place.

*The "now" of this post is 29th of June, 2007, a Friday, one week after our wedding. So,"last night" is Thursday the 28th. -D.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Mastery Year: Part 4: Post 2: Neither Bound nor Free

There are days that belong to the future and then suddenly and surprisingly become the present. My wedding was one of these. I am now a married man. It feels different that I thought it would. I feel different. Something has changed, something I did not expect and cannot describe, since all the practical elements of my life are exactly the same as before.

It's not like we're even living together. We're still in different dorms, and she's still a yearling who's not really supposed to talk to me much, outside of a short honeymoon period we've been allowed.

We'd tossed around the idea of waiting, marrying after she graduates in February, when we can live together again, but June had an answer for that, saying "If we wait until February, and I get hit by a bus in October, I don't want my last thought to be 'I wish I'd married Daniel.'"

Well, then.

Sadie handled all of the details of food. Karen handled flowers. Joy took care of a lot of the other logistics, getting the event tent, ordering Jordan almonds and table cloths, sending out invitations...of course, we paid for their labor, as I've said, but not enough that it wasn't a gift.

We invited our families, our closer friends from home, the master's group, the candidate's group, the sprouts, some friends June has made among the yearlings, and associated partners of all of the above. It added up to almost two hundred people, more than I'd imagined, but June assures me that two hundred is still a small, intimate wedding.

We dispensed with most of the traditional fluff. No rehearsal, no rehearsal dinner, no arranged seating for the ceremony or the reception, no getaway car to be playfully vandalized by the best man (good thing, too--Charlie hates cars, and would probably have slashed its tires)...we decided that as long as we all had a good time and June and I ended up married by the end of it, the day would be a success.

The day was a success.

We met, all of us, out on the pasture in front of the Flat Field, so the embankment of  Edge of the World gave us privacy from campus and the Enchanted Forest gave us privacy from the road. We had a few chairs, for those who needed them, but most of us stood. The day was hot, muggy, and partly cloudy, but a breeze gave relief from the heat and blew away most of the mosquitoes. Sarah had changed the grazing rotation and had the horses cut the grass in that pasture just for us. She'd even had all their droppings picked up and moved, which I appreciated. We met in a big circle defined by Tiki torches, and Kit cast a magic circle on our wedding ground ahead of time so as not to overly frighten my uncle.

Each of us introduced ourselves by first name and by relationship to me and June, going around the circle, except June and I went last. Kit went first, describing what we were supposed to do. The introductions were her way of raising energy for the ritual, as she had told us earlier, but the outside guests just thought it was a way to break the ice, which it was, too, of course. A lot of our guests had never met each other before.

"I'm Kit, I'm Daniel's friend and your Mistress of Ceremonies today."
"I'm John, Daniel's brother."
"I'm Ace, I've known Daniel since middle school."
"I'm Aaron, June's cousin and friend."

And so on.

I didn't know what Charlie would say. He has referred to me as his friend in the past, though I've never been sure if he really is. At other times he's referred to himself formally as my professor, adviser, or primary master, depending on whom he is addressing. I looked at him, standing near me, straight and solid in his full uniform, cloak included despite the heat.

"My name is Charlie and I am Daniel's Teacher," he said. I could hear the capital letter of Teacher in his voice, and I thought it sounded just right. And I could hear a ripple of shifting and murmuring among my guests around the circle. I've been talking about him more than I thought I had.

"I'm Allen, June's teacher and Daniel's friend," said Allen, completing the circle, except for me and June.

"I'm June, and I'm Me. And I'm Daniel's beloved."
"I'm Daniel, myself, and June's beloved."

These were not ritually composed or rehearsed words, but when we said them, the circle erupted in cheering.

In the center was a smaller circle defined by river stones and by potted, flowering plants. Kit stood on its edge and made a short and very funny speech, describing who she is, what being a Wiccan priestess means and what it doesn't (my uncle was not the only one of the guests who might have been confused on that subject), the fact that the wedding ceremony itself wasn't specifically Wiccan just because its officiant is, and what love and marriage are. Then she beckoned us forward.

June and I had been standing roughly on opposite sides of the circle. We came together, towards each other, and stood just outside the inner circle, Charlie by my side, June's mother by hers. She and I had both been wearing cloaks, mine the brown of anyone who has completed the novitiate, hers left white. I took mine off and handed it to Charlie, who folded it over his arm with all the formality of a Marine at a funeral, but he straightened my uniform and dusted off my shoulders with a hint of hidden fondness. Then I turned to face my bride.

I wore my uniform. I had been thinking that men in the armed services wear their uniforms to wed, so I ought to do the same. But June was wearing a white wedding dress I'd never seen before, white with a just-visible blue under-dress or slip beneath, her hair done up and a gorgeous, antique gold necklace across her throat and chest, but no make-up to mar her lovely face, and she was just beautiful.

We stepped into the little circle together and Kit, standing just outside it, led us through saying our vows. These were simple, direct, and I'm not going to tell you what they are. That's private. Then we exchanged rings, rings from the same company and in the same style as the green rings of the masters, except, of course, not green, and we were married. Neither bound nor free, as the occult saying has it. We kissed, because that's what you do, but then we hugged, spontaneously, because we were happy. We were very happy, so we hugged for a very long time.

Later, we all moved to the flower-bedecked event tent on the Central Field (Kit stayed behind to farewell the magic circle) and the rest of the school community joined us there for a fantastic feast. Later, we had dancing. As June and I danced, she leaned close and whispered in my ear, "Are you sure you wouldn't have married Kit?"

"Kit, who?" I answered.

It was the correct response, probably the one she had hoped to elicit, and it made her laugh, but it was also, honestly, the genuine response. Of course, I hadn't actually forgotten my friend and longtime crush, but in that moment my head was so focused on June that it really did take me a few seconds to remember who she was talking about. Everybody but us seemed a million miles away.

That night, June and I retreated to my campsite in my spot in the woods. We had thought that was the only way to find genuine and entire privacy, other than the somewhat undignified option of hiding in crawl spaces in Chapel Hall. Plus, that spot is special to me, and it seemed an appropriate place to spend a special night. In actual fact, our wedding night was muggy and buggy and we hardly got any sleep for reasons that had nothing to do with anything fun, but we're hoping that part of the story gets to be funny someday.

Actually, it's getting to be sort of funny, now.