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.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Part 1: Post 2: Arrival

I found something today, and I don't know what it is or what it means.

 I was driving around in the mountains, trying to think of how to tell my folks I'd quit school, when I passed a long driveway with a small, blue sign. 

Curiosity tugged at me. Then I passed a second driveway and sign, evidently a second entrance to whatever it was. Curiosity tugged harder. I didn't have anything else to do, so I turned my car around and drove in. I didn't read the sign.

The grounds of the campus I drove onto looked very vaguely collegiate, and I saw several groups of people walking through the snow. Mostly, they looked to be about my age, some older, both men and women. The thing is, a lot of them wore hooded, black capes. They Hogwarts students, something from Harry Potter. They all ignored me, except to step out of the way of the car. One of the buildings had a car port in front and a formal-looking entryway, so that is where I went. I can't begin to explain what I was doing or why I was doing it. I'm kind of in between things right now and, well, why not. The slate steps were icy but well sanded and the door had weight when I opened it. It seemed real.

The office inside was warm and smelled like wet wool and melted snow. There was a large desk, and a woman behind it looking at me, and all sorts of knickknacks around, little statues and hangings and what-not. The woman--she was slim and kind of ageless-looking, like you'd want to call her ma'am but you couldn't be sure she wouldn't take offense. She was wearing an electric blue top, I don't know why I remember that. When she asked can I help you? I simply opened my mouth and said the first thing that came to my head;

"What is this place? Some kind of pagan seminary?"

I'm not usually that abrupt with strangers, but her eyes twinkled and she smiled at me.

"That's exactly what it is," she told me. I was stunned. What does "pagan seminary" even mean? I had some Wiccan friends in high school, so I know a little, but it's not really my thing. On a whim, I asked how to apply. The woman asked if I wanted to attend the school. I said I did, which was suddenly quite true. I want to have something to tell my parents besides that I quit school so I wouldn't fail it. I want some sort of plan B. And I want to belong to this strange place where people wear Harry Potter robes to class.

The woman smiled and said I'd just been accepted and that new student orientation begins in two days.

"Hold on," I told her, "two days? What am I going to tell my parents? How am I going to pay for this? What is this place?" I mean, I normally do things on a whim, but I like to research the whim some before I jump into it. I like to know where I'm going. She smiled and handed me a pamphlet and told me to sit on a couch and read it and come back with any more questions.

And while I was sitting there, the oddest thing happened. Other people started coming in, just like I had. I think four of them at least, all having some version of the same conversation I'd had. Mostly I was reading my pamphlet when the others came it, but one girl caught my attention because she looked so young. Her hair was half purple and badly cut and she was in the middle of some argument with her mother, who called her Nora.  I didn't mean to evesdrop, but I listened anyway. I do that a lot.

"But she's sixteen!"the mother said to the woman in electric blue, "she has to finish high school!"

"Oh, and does Nora like school?" the receptionist asked, brightly. "Does she get good grades?"

And the mother just drooped. Her words fell out like pillows from an overstuffed closet. It was like she was making a confession. She told the receptionist all about Nora's failing grades ("and she's such a bright girl!"), her late nights, her sleazy boyfriends...Nora saw me looking at her and we locked eyes for a moment. I smiled sympathetically and she half-smiled back and rolled her eyes.  In the end they worked out some kind of deal. I think Nora is starting school here, too, but she's going to have to complete some sort of adapted curriculum and go home every weekend.

The next one caught my attention because he was old. Old-er, anyway. His hair is all grey. He came in, looked around carefully, and said "this is a pagan seminary, right? Non-denominational?"

The receptionist seemed a little surprised and asked him how he knew. At that moment, I am not even kidding, two people wearing black robes walked out from a door behind the desk, talking to each other about whether it was better to take magic with Allen or with Kit. The latter, apparently, gives more homework. When they saw us in the office, the two people excused themselves and walked out through the front door.

Yes, the woman at the desk is supposed to be Sharon, but I'm not a good enough portraitist to give away her identity with this picture. And yes, they look nothing like the robes in the Harry Potter movies, but none of the movies had been made yet in 2000, and Harry Potter is what I thought of.
 "You mean aside from that?" asked the grey-haired man.

"Yes, aside from that," said the receptionist, trying very hard not to laugh.

"It takes one to know one," the man said. "I've been a Wiccan priest for forty-five years. My wife and I were in a coven for twenty. You've got signs up all over the place for anyone with eyes to see. I'll get to the point; how do I apply?"

"You just did--as a student,"the receptionist said. "We don't hire outside faculty." When the man assured her that was alright, she asked him why he wanted to be a student.

"Beginner's mind?"he suggested, then grew quieter and explained that his wife had died less than a year ago and he didn't want to be alone. "And I'm not ready for one of those damn nursing homes."

He got a pamphlet, too, and some sympathetic words, and joined me on the couch. I asked him what signs he was talking about and he pointed out the symbolism of some of the knickknacks. His name is Arther.

I gather that all students come this way, they just walk in, and if they guess what the school is and say they want to enroll, they are admitted. From what the woman in blue--her name is Sharon--told me, they trickle in over the year, but most show up in the last couple of weeks before orientation. They start the school year in February, not September here. I guess it's an entrance test--you have to be intuitive enough to find the school--and I passed!

 Look, I'm not as flighty as all of this makes me sound. This is really fast, but I've read the pamphlet and asked questions, and I actually know almost as much about this place as I did about my old school when I started. No matter what else it is, this place is a fully accredited liberal arts college.  I don't have to take on any more debt to go here, and I can pay as I go so if I decide I don't like it I can leave without really losing anything. I'll think about it for a few more days so I can be sure.

But I've got a good feeling about this.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again

Of course, the school had a name, but none of us ever used it.

We didn't talk about the school much to outsiders, and among ourselves we could always just call it "the school," and we'd know what was meant. My degree does say something at the top, where names usually go, but to be honest that was the first place I ever saw that name. How did I not ever ask for a name of my school? You have to understand that there was always something mysterious about the place, and that was by design. There was a lot we never knew, strange secrets and useful secrets as well as a genuine respect for privacy. Direct questions always received honest answers, and we got good at asking the important questions, but we also learned to let the rest be.

The school is gone now, but we keep the secrets still, keep them for practical reasons and also we keep the secrets the way you might bank a fire against the winter chill. I have been asked to share certain things with you, to make public certain aspects of our way. I will keep silent on anything that would allow you to track down the exact location of our campus or the true identity of any of our staff and students. I will not tell you the name, though as I said, we never used it, anyway, and I will change certain identifying details. But all the important things I am about to tell you are true.

I attempted this blog last year, but it never came out quite the way I wanted. I am trying again. This time, with the exception of this first post and certain notes I will set off in brackets, I will write as though I am blogging about my current life. I will try to recapture the viewpoint I had thirteen years ago, when all this was new to me. I'll let you find out about the school and its people as I did, a little at a time. I hope that you will come to feel it is your school as well, at least in some small way.

My name is Daniel.

I joined the school in February of 2000, the New Year and the shame of having flunked out of my freshman year of college both still fresh in my mind. I was nineteen years old, and I was a young nineteen in some ways. I never thought I would fail college; I'd always been bright, gotten good grades, but somehow when I got to college I couldn't apply myself. It didn't feel like what I was supposed to be doing. In retrospect, my refusal to participate sounds bravely intuitive, but at the time it felt like my life was being hijacked by...something I couldn't understand.

I had not quite been expelled, but I knew I would be if things continued, and I knew of no way to keep things from continuing. Looking back on it, I was profoundly, existentially bored. I'd lived my whole life just going through the motions. Most things came easily to me, but I felt like I was waiting for my life to start. My life still had not started, not even at college, and I think I knew that if I kept living as I had been, getting good grades and doing what I was supposed to do, I would die like that. But I didn't know what else to do. I'd made the decision to quit school, though I hadn't yet finalized my withdrawal and I had not told my parents.

And so the end of January found me driving around in the mountains pretending to get ready for the next semester. Classes were supposed to have started already, but I had not registered for any. I had no idea whatever of what I was going to do. The bare trees looked quiet and restful out my car windows and the trees and hills and little clumps of houses soothed me somehow. The slight effort of paying attention to the road and the beautiful countryside kept me from having to think. The snow looked like lemon sugar in the bright sunshine.

And beneath a clump of tall trees I saw a sign and a driveway that piqued my curiosity and changed my life.

Even if you could read the sign, it wouldn't help; the name on it referred to the previous owner of the property, not our school.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Completed Cycle

Hello, all,

This is the last update I will post until the story restarts in about two weeks. I want to talk some about why I'm restarting and what you will find here once I do restart. And then I will tell you about New Years twelve years ago.

When I started this blog, I wanted it to seem like I was blogging about my current life--of course, these events happened over a decade ago, and I intended to be honest about that, but I wanted readers to be able to get into the story as though it were happening right now. Unfortunately, I got caught up in a lot of exposition early on, so I ended up doing a lot of telling and very little showing.

This time, when I restart the story, you are not going to get a simple re-run. Some of the posts will include old material, but I'm going to post much more often (roughly twice a week), so there will be a lot of new materials. I will describe some of my fellow students as well as the faculty, so you'll get to know more characters. I'm hoping to include illustrations with every post (I can paint and draw), and I'll include links to supplemental material, so if you want to you can look up Charlie's entire recommended reading list or Kit's lecture notes or complete menus for our holiday meals.

Yes, it will be the same "story" that you have read before, but there will be a lot more of it. More detail, more characters, and a more immediate sense of being part of the day-to-day flow of the story.

So, for New Years' itself, a few of us on campus toasted the new year in and watched the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." We couldn't watch the ball drop, because we didn't have TV on campus, but we did have a video player. I remember standing out on one of the balconies looking out at the dark and suddenly I could hear distant cheering and fireworks bloom in the night around me as people in the nearby towns and along the roads began to celebrate. I wasn't wearing a watch; the New Year for me was auditory, in the beginning. Behind me in the room I heard voices, so I turned and joined my friends.

I don't know what the masters did. I didn't see any of them.

For the next few weeks my busy, semi-solitary, winter vacation continued. Sometime I saw strangers dressed in street clothes in campus, looking around, curious. I didn't speak to any of them, but I knew what they were doing. Sometimes I walked through the office and saw people talking to Sharon. I saw myself through the eyes of these prospective students and I looked strange and exotic in my black and white robes. I looked like what they wanted to be. At the same time, I felt normal, every day. My life had changed so much in just a year. I had changed.

Again, the masters processed into Chapel Hall and we gave them light so they could light the way for us. Graduates crossed the stage and a few more people received their green rings. The school year quickened into life again, and my time as a yearling was over.

A new cycle was beginning.