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, January 15, 2018

Mastery Year 1: Part 8: Post 2: Introductions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mastery Year 1: Part 8: Post 1: Andy, Rick, and Love

As I explained last time, I'm going to use the next several weeks to catch up on the storylines I didn't get to this past year. It's a giant info dump, I will admit, but it will allow me to go on with storylines this coming year that refer to the missing material.

Starting with Andy.

Looking back over my records, I've actually included Andy in more posts than most of my other "characters," but I feel as though I have been neglecting him. Maybe it's just that I like him him so much.

2007 was Andy's last year as a candidate. He received his ring at Brigid, 2008. I've written about his bike shop ministry, but he'd already begun developing that as a novice. By the time his candidacy even started, he had most of his programs there in place. I think only sponsoring bike races started afterwards. He didn't need to come back for his ring in order to have his ministry, and plenty of people don't come back for their rings and go on to do really neat things. Joanna didn't come back, for example. She didn't need to.

But Andy did. He came back to learn how to be a counselor.

He considered, but decided against, becoming a licensed therapist. "Jesus didn't have a license," he pointed out. He didn't want to be a professional counselor, he wanted to be someone people talk to--he just wanted to be better at it.

So, he spent the first year of his candidacy studying counseling with Allen and talking with Charlie about sponsorship. A "sponsor" is a kind of mentor or personal supervisor within a 12-step program, and Andy both has a sponsor and sponsors others. He also joined Al-Anon, attempting to head off the codependency that happens when most people set out to help others. This past year he's been teaching classes--all of us learn how to be professors, since the green ring essentially recognizes qualification to work for the school. Most of his classes and worshops covered Christian topics and were very sparsely attended, but he taught some history and psychology, too, and of course, bicycle repair, bicycle safety, and business.

I remember one day in late September, I finally got the question to ask him something that had been bothering me for a long time--he's a member of a denomination that generally regards LGBT people as sinners. Does he?

"Sure, we all are," he told me.
"You know what I mean."

He glanced at me, uncomfortable. As I've mentioned, "homophobe" is one of the worst possible insults around here. There are people with whom he attends church who regard it as a compliment.

"Well, I don't know that I support homosexual behavior," he said, slowly. "But nobody asked me. I support the people. It's not like I'm perfect."
"I'm asking you," I said.
"But you're straight."
"Suppose I wasn't."
"Well," he said, "if a young gay approached me and asked, point-blank, whether he ought to engage in the lifestyle, I suppose I'd have to say no. But those attractions are God-given. There can't be anything wrong with being gay. Anyway, I hope no one ever asks."

A gay? The lifestyle? Who talks like that? My innards kind of shrank. It wasn't what I wanted to hear from my friend.

"Why do you hope no one asks?"
"Because no one will hear me. You can love the sinner and hate the sin, but if you say that you're an idiot. If I told a gay not to have sex, he'd hear that as a rejection of his whole self. Anyway, there is so much more that population needs of love. They don't need sex advice from me."

I thought about that. I've thought about it a lot since. I know Andy was and remains the real deal. Those proud homophobes in his church? They don't like him. The second Thursday of every month, Andy's bicycle shop hosts Gears for Queers, a bicycle repair and social mixer for LGBT people. Youth participants can earn a free bike while connecting with adult mentors and allies in the community. There are trans kids who aren't homeless because when their parents kicked them out, someone they met through Gears for Queers took them in.

So, what is Andy's issue? I think he has a problem with sexual promiscuity and has it stuck in his head that "the lifestyle" is inherently promiscuous. How he got that stuck in his head, I don't know.

I ran his words by Rick some days later. Rick made an amused and disparaging noise.

"So, how do you hear 'don't have gay sex,'" I asked.
"I hear it as 'don't have gay sex,'" he said. "An instruction I will not take, by the way. I happen to like gay sex."

Although I actually had never known Rick to have a boyfriend by that point. If he had transient lovers during his candidacy, he never brought them on campus and never mentioned them.

As you may remember, Rick's main assignment from Charlie that year was to learn to love. Specifically, he was supposed to learn to love Charlie, who had offered himself as somebody Rick could practice on without fear of social awkwardness. Over the months of 2007, Rick said very little about that assignment, either in our group sessions or to me, privately. He spent very little time with Charlie, as far as I can recall.

I did ask Rick how it was going, one day in late November, and he told me a little about the work he'd been doing. Apparently, every day since shortly after he's received the assignment, he'd been giving a gift to Charlie every day. Most of the gifts were not physical objects but acts of service, and Charlie himself didn't know about all of them. Greg had made that suggestion, and Greg was more or less acting at Rick's supervisor in the project, since Charlie really couldn't. Allen helped to, at times.

"So, how's it going?" I asked. "Do you love, yet?"
"I don't know," he answered. "How am I supposed to know? I don't feel any different, but Allen and Greg say I might not."
"How will Charlie tell when you get there?"
"I don't know, but that's what I'm afraid of."
"Afraid?"
"You think he might test you, like he did me?"

As you may remember, Charlie taught me to love a patch of forest, and he tested my progress by telling me that forest was slated to be clear-cut. He was lying, it was only a test, and I almost slugged him for frightening me.

Rick nodded.

"If you're afraid of that," I pointed out, "don't you think it's a good sign?"

He didn't quite answer.

It's curious that I decided to talk about Rick and Andy together, since what one had, the other lacked. Rick didn't know how to love, nor did he even feel the urge to try, whereas Andy loved passionately, for all his initial clumsiness at it. On the other hand, Rick didn't have a major mental health problem to work through. Andy did. And Rick has always had the self-assurance that comes of fundamentally knowing one's own worth. Andy had lost that, somewhere along the way, and needed to find it again.

Andy frequently alluded to the principle that certain things should not be said because they would be heard as something else. Once he mentioned that he'd learned the principle the hard way.

"There was a time," he said, "when if you'd told me I needed to find Jesus, I wouldn't have heard you."

The who idea of me telling anyone to find Jesus struck me as amusing, but I knew what he meant.

"What would you have heard?" I asked.

"That I was a bad person. That I needed to go back to church and start behaving in a Godly way. That I needed to just not be a sinner, which I couldn't do. The suggestion would just have reminded me what a failure I was."

"But someone go through to you," I pointed out. "Who? And how?"

"It was a man I met at a shelter. I'd been clean for a few weeks and I'd just used again that day. I was feeling pretty crummy. and he said 'Andy, God loves you whether you are clean or not.' And I heard him."

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Mastery Year 1: 8th Interlude

Happy New Year, both past and present! Daniel of 2017, here, though it may well be 2018 by the time you read this. Usually I do an interlude before the sabbat, but since very little of note happened on campus in January of 2008, I'm going to take my traditional narrative break, and it seemed silly to put to or three posts in Part 8 before the break when I could just continue Part 7 instead.

I'm going to continue posting in January, but I'll use those posts to wrap up some loose ends. The problem is that I didn't originally plan to write about my years as a candidate, so I didn't think carefully about how I was going to tell the story--and then I launched my way into it, still not thinking. The result was a disjointed narrative that left some important threads out. What I should have done was to use June's yearling experience as the basic framework for the entire year, with our marriage, my work as a candidate, and the tension that developed between me and Charlie as important sub-themes.

I should also have introduced several of the yearlings, and several of the senior students who arrived during my Absence as characters, and followed the development of my fellow candidates more closely. Most especially, I should have talked more about Ebony, not only because she is my friend and her presence very much mattered to me, but also because there was some initial tension between her and June that I should have explored. It was not that either was jealous over me, they both knew better, but neither quite knew what their relationship with each other should be. It took them some months to really work that out.

All this is water under the bridge, of course, as I can't fix the past, but going on into the future, I'd like to cover some things for which the aforementioned missing stories provide needed background. Hence, the posts of January.

What were June and I doing in January of 2008? She attended Zazen daily and group therapy weekly and finished up some things for her masters to ensure she had everybody's votes to graduate. She also worked closely with Sharon to begin the process of accepting enrollments for the children's summer camp, which she would direct as an ally. I visited my special spot in the woods daily and wrote my poetry and caught up on editing and re-editing my earlier poems. I had long discussions with Sharon about what workshops I might offer over the first month and a half of the coming year, and by the end of the January I had a full slate of workshops designed and turned into her for addition to the schedule. I also did a lot of reading and a lot of wandering around contemplatively. I spent several long weekends at home with my parents.

And, of course, I generally avoided telling June about the Ordeal. That was hard, but I managed. With certain repercussions, which we worked through.

What did we do New Years' Eve?

New Years' Eve we had our traditional low-key party, just most people on campus collecting in the Great Hall for drinks after dinner. That year, we also had some great cookies, bourbon balls, fruit cake (I like fruit cake!) and assorted other munches that many of us, me included, ate way too much of. Some of the masters wandered in and out, but none stayed very long. As usual, Greg spend the most time with us, almost an hour. Nobody got drunk, and none of us got entertainingly goofy with exhaustion, either. We did not go outside and have a parade, as we did my first year, which was just as well as the night was very cold.

Maybe twenty minutes before midnight, I went upstairs to look for something, I forget what--it may have been a copy of one of my poems that I wanted to share--and couldn't find it. I went rifling through my books and papers and drawers and boxes and piles to no avail, and I lost track of time.

Finally, June appeared at my door and got my attention by flicking off the light. I looked up to see her almost silhouetted by the dim light of the hallway. She had a glass of hard cider in each hand.

"It's almost midnight," she said.
"How almost?" I asked.
"I don't know. I don't have a watch."

So, we stepped out onto my balcony and waited. The night was still and crystalline and salted with stars. We got colder and colder, and wrapped our cloaks about each other like the wings of a pair of bats. After perhaps five minutes, noise bloomed along the horizon, distant cheers, celebratory gunshots, and a few fire crackers. We could not hear anything from downstairs, the building being very well insulated. Of course we'd closed the door behind us.

We toasted each other and the new year, there on my balcony, in the starlit dark.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 8: Christmas

I'd been planning to go home for Christmas, as I have every year except my first year as a novice--I stayed on campus then mostly because my brother and his wife went on a cruise over the holiday, so my parents decided to delay the family celebration until they got back. But the thing is that June can't really take the time off to go to her family, has no special attachment to mine yet, and wants to stay on campus because she's a yearling and has things to do here, anyway.

And it occurred to me about a week ago that I'm married. That means that when when I'm with my wife in the place where we live, I AM home with my family. We count.

So we stayed here, together.

I've only spent Christmas on campus once before, when I was a yearling. Then, I was self-conscious about being one of the only Christians who stayed on campus and I expected the day to feel lonely and strange. I was pleasantly surprised when some secret someone--probably the masters' group--arranged for the handful of us to receive simple but thoughtful presents.

This year...I'm not sure if I am a Christian anymore. June isn't, either. It's not that I've stopped believing in Christ, it's that there are so many other things I now believe in also. I wasn't sure if I was comfortable identifying myself as a Christian celebrating Christmas on campus if it meant somebody else was going to go out of their way for me.

I brought up the matter with June and she said "Why shouldn't other people go out of their way for you? People like you, Daniel. Why would you deny them the opportunity to act like it?"

God, I love this woman.

And so, we all got up Christmas morning--there were ten of us, the majority of the school's Christians (including Ollie) being off-campus for the holiday--and discovered little gift-bags with our names on them under the tree. Each gift was perfect and well-thought-out, just as they were my first year. The yearlings among us marveled, since we in the know hadn't told them the gifts would appear, and couldn't figure out who had done it. I knew--my guess that the masters were responsible was borne out when Allen asked me, on Yule morning, what June would like for Christmas, as he'd heard she'd be celebrating it on campus. He ended up not going with my suggestion--her gift bag contained a Goddess-centered chaplet, an ironic but perfect gift for her--but his question tipped their hand. No matter. I did not tell the others what I knew.

Afterwards, June and I joined Andy for breakfast, and then Eddie and Ebony, who do not celebrate Christmas, joined us. Ebony asked to see Andy's gift--yes, she said "see," and only June showed any surprise at her choice of verb--so he passed it over.

"Is this a Bible?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered.
"I thought you already had one?"
"I have several. But this one is mine."
"And the others aren't?"
"They are...but my name is on this one. On the front fly leaf, near the top."

She touched the appropriate area, as though she could feel the letters. Maybe she can. I didn't ask. I did look over her shoulder and there was Andy's name in large, wobbly letters-- a clumsy version of his handwriting.

"Ok,..." prompted Ebony.

"Ok, so I didn't write that today."
"When did you write it?"
"Seven years ago. The man who baptized me gave me that Bible when I was Saved. I lost it two weeks later--I think I left it in the bed at a shelter. They don't let you come back during the day, and that night, it was gone. Now, here it is!"

We all gaped.

"Where did it come from?" I asked. I imagined the thing had turned up in a thrift store and that one of the masters--with the uncanny good luck they had--had spotted it and noticed Andy's name. But I didn't know for sure, and obviously Andy didn't know either.
"From God, presumably," he answered, anyway. Of course, he did.

"Do you remember, that year," I asked, "you were so excited to get presents, you said it meant other people cared about the Baby Jesus."

"Yes."

"Do you still think that way?" I asked. "Is that how you think about Christmas presents?"
"Sort of," he said. "I was so mixed up, then. I was right about Jesus, but I thought...I felt so alone, even here. I'm not."

"I always thought Christians were supposed to disdain presents," put in Eddie. "Materialism and Santa Claus. Tis the reason for the season, and all that."
"Oh, presents don't have to be materialistic," Andy replied. "This one, for example--I could get a Bible, it's not about this object, it's about how it feels to get this object--or those objects," he indicated my gift, a new write-in-the-rain notebook and a pair of thin but warm gloves so I can write outdoors when it's cold, "I am reminded of miracles. You are reminded that you are known and loved. How it feels to receive these things--it's how it feels to receive the reality of God."

"You sound so wise when you say that,"said Eddie, "but I don't believe the God you're talking about exists."
"That's ok," said Andy, "He exists whether you believe in Him or not."

"But it does matter whether we believe, doesn't it?" said June, stirring her cocoa. "I mean, different people say all different things about God, and we have to figure out who's right. If we guess wrong...I mean, I personally know people who think everybody at this table is headed for Hell, one way or another."

"I don't guess," said Andy. "I know."
"So do I," said Eddie. "And I know different than you."
"Maybe you can both be right?" suggested Ebony.
"They can both be right in some ways, but not others," I said. "Whether multiculturalism is a valid option is itself a matter of disagreement." I wished Ollie were here. He could sort this out. Or Allen.
"It's not like we can't sort this out without Ollie or Allen," June said, and I stared at her open-mouthed. "We all have brains that work."

"That's just it," said Ebony, "we all have brains, so there must be something we can do to figure it out, or else there's just no justice."
"How do you mean?" That was Andy.
"No offense, but staying out of Hell can't just come down to trusting the word of a passionate and insistent human being."
"Jesus is a human being."
"That's not what I mean. You say you know what the truth is. So, I'm supposed to just take your word for it? I have to be able to figure it out for myself, or else--say you're right, but only the people who happen to agree with you go to Heaven? Then who gets Saved is arbitrary."

"Calvinists would say it is arbitrary," said June. I have know idea whether she's right. I don't know anything about Calvinists.
"Some would say we do have that process, and it's called reason, but that my reason's on the blink because I've been disobedient so long I've forgotten that I'm being deliberately disobedient." This was Eddie. "I've been a very bad girl." His voice was heavy with irony.
"That's preposterous," said June. "If you can't tell the difference between a decision to rebel and your actual identity, then you're back to not having a process to discern the truth."
"But people do say that, though."
"People are wrong."

"But you're not a girl," said Andy, who had apparently missed the note of irony. "I don't know why God made you this way, but He did, and God does not make mistakes."
"That's just what a disobedient person like you would say," asserted Eddie. Andy frowned and bit his lip, confused.

"I still wish Ollie were here," I said. "Or Allen."
"Allen would ask why you wish he were here," June pointed out.
"Not if he was here," I answered. "Because then I wouldn't be wishing he was here. Because he'd be here."

"I think you're all missing the point," said Andy. We all looked at him. It's unlike him to criticize anyone, even mildly, unless something is very important to him. "You're all missing the point. It sounds like you're trying to justify not being Christian, for one thing, which is weird. But you're looking for some rational way to know if you're right about God? The only thing I know about God for sure is that humans can't figure Him out not completely. And the only thing I know for sure about humans is that we screw things up. We fail. At pretty much everything. That's the whole point of Christianity, the whole point of Christmas--we don't have to feel like failures anymore because Jesus came to meet us halfway. We don't have to be perfect. We don't have to be better than we are. He came to lift us up. Trying to figure out who is right about God--nobody's right, because we're human. God loves us anyway. That's the whole point."

"You don't sound like any other preacher I've heard," said June.
"I do the best I can," said Andy.




Monday, December 18, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 7: Yule

Please note that Yule took place the night of Friday, the21st into Saturday, the 22nd,, so I’m writing this post a few days ahead of time. Hanuka had already completed a week earlier, which is why I don’t mention the holiday in the post, despite it being Hanuka now. So, happy Hanuka.

June had never celebrated Yule before, a strange thought, given how she’s embraced the particular brand of paganism popular here. I sometimes forget, now, that there are still things about this place and its culture she doesn’t know. Ironically, that makes it a little easier for me to keep the casual secrecy that renders so much around here a delightful surprise—I just assume she already knows what’s coming.

And so, June not only got to experience Yule for the first time, she got to do it without any warning from me about what it would be like. And I got to watch.

Yule dinner, as usual, was a quiet affair, there being only about thirty-five of us on campus this time of year, and ten of those 35 weren’t at dinner because Kit had scheduled her teaching coven’s ritual at the same time. Perhaps because Kit wasn’t there, Charlie showed up. We all sat together at the long, dark table in the Bird Room and he and Greg presided over the meal like the fathers of some very large family.

It was an odd meal, and not just because of Charlie’s company, but because we actually had Boar’s Head, a famously difficult thing to cook—it’s the Dish of Kings because only kings could afford to have it made. But Sadie can handle it, and had. She’d made us the dish once before, for Yule, but it’s not a common thing. It’s not simply the roasted head of a pig—it’s the skin of the head, with some of the facial bones for shape, stuffed with a mixture of pork, lamb, various organ meats, and, indeed, bays and rosemary, and then the whole thing roasted. It’s delicious.

Sadie didn’t eat with us—I imagine she was at the masters’ party upstairs—but, as I said, Greg and Charlie did, and when the dish was brought out, Charlie, who was in an unusually high-spirited mood, sang the Boar’s Head Carol in a rich, strong voice none of us had ever heard before. I’d heard him sing once, years ago, but then he’d been singing quietly, respectfully, not this boisterous celebration.

Afterwards, we all sat out by the lit tree and around the fire place and drank hot chocolate and mulled cider and talked in small groups. Charlie took his whistle out and played a few tunes, all of them seasonal and ancient sounding.

Then Kit and her people swept in, bearing the lit Yule Candle, and Charlie put his whistle away as though he’d never had it out. More than ten students had come in with Kit, as the coven had members who hadn’t been on campus earlier in the day. The pace of the party picked up. Someone unpacked a fiddle. More people started trickling in, hanging up cloaks on pegs to drip from the wet, sleety snow falling outside.

“I thought we were going to bed early so we could watch the sunrise, or something?” asked June.
“You can go to bed, if you want,” I said.
“Not a chance,” she replied, and went to go pour herself some eggnog that had appeared from somewhere while nobody was looking.

I spotted Charlie sitting off by himself, looking as though he worried it might rain on his head. I joined him.

“Getting a bit noisy for you, isn’t it?” I asked.
“These things were more fun back when I was drinking,” he said, with a trace of his old growl.
“I do not drink...wine,” I said, in my best Dracula accent. He laughed.
“I suppose there are compulsions worse than mine,” he admitted. “I suppose I would have gotten tired of partying by now, anyway, even if I were still drinking. If I’d lasted this long.”
“Do you miss drinking?” I asked, amazed to find him so willing to talk.
“I miss being young,” he replied. “Being a young drunk has its perks. Being an old drunk….I doubt I’d like it.”
“Charlie, I can’t picture you as a young man, going to parties.”
“I used to do a lot of things you’ve never seen me do, Daniel.” He winced as the volume of the music increased.
“Why are you at this party,” I asked. “I mean, I’m glad to see you, but….”
“Occupational hazard of living in a community, Daniel. I like people, contrary to popular opinion. I like some social contact. But around here, when I find any people, there’s usually a whole pile of them.”

A pile of people was right, for they kept coming. Senior students and candidates and recent graduates, many of them carrying instruments. We pushed the furniture back and the evening evolved into a dance party. I saw Charlie talking to a few other people, enjoying himself, in his own way, even laughing, but after a while I didn’t see him anymore. He’d slipped out while nobody was looking. I remember June, slightly tipsy, laughing hysterically, I’m not sure what about. Was I tipsy, too? I can’t remember. Is that a bad sign? Maybe I was just tired and silly. I wasn’t drinking that much.

Around three AM, the snow stopped. We could hear the wind whistling around the corners on the Mansion and the branches of the elm on the east side. Rick came in from a walk (he doesn’t like piles of people, either) and reported that the temperature was dropping.

“We’re going to dance the sun up, aren’t we?” asked June.
“That depends,” I told her. “Do you want to dance?”
She laughed and threw her arms around my neck and I really liked that. We danced for a while.

Around six in the morning—the world outside the window still looking as dark as ever—some of the senior students took charge of organizing the trip up the mountain in silence to see the sunrise. How were these students chosen? When I was a senior novice, no one ever asked me if I wanted to perform that duty.

“I thought we were dancing the sun up?” said June.
“You can dance your way up the mountain,” I told her.

She didn’t, especially. We actually got separated in the dark, on the way up, the snow crunching under our feet, the stars bright and the air cold. Up on the mountain, we found each other in the dark, and she sat on my lap and I wrapped her in my cloaks and we kept each other warm.

The sun came up and the masters sang and played and the world turned gold and pink and white.

When we got back to the Geat Hall, the Sprouts and some of their other family members (including, to my surprise, my brother and his kids) had arrived and transformed the place, filling the room with bowls of chocolates and candied fruit and nuts and oranges, and setting our gift bags here and there, and readying steaming pots of hot chocolate, coffee, and mulled cider, oatmeal and miso soup.

We spent the day playing and eating and more or less being unusually tall kids and June asked me why we’d never celebrated Yule on our own when we were in grad school—why hadn’t I introduced us to this?

Of course, for most of my Absence, I spent the holiday season, including the solstice, with my parents, not with June. But I didn’t celebrate Yule while I was away. I kept forgetting. I’d mean to, and then realize it was yesterday. There was no community.

I missed it here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Well, anything for Charlie, right?

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

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

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

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

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

"You had an ulterior motive last night."

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Same snow."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The year is almost over."

"Yes."

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

"Yes."

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

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

"Don't you want to?"

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

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

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

"Yes."

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

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