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, February 25, 2013

Part 1: Post 10: Getting Results

As expected, it got cold again over the weekend. It feels like winter again, although the days are starting to get much longer. When I walk to Zazen in the morning, it's not quite dark anymore--it's not very light, I don't think you could read by it, but dawn had definitely begun. After the week of slushy melting, the snow now has a thick, hard crust. When you walk on it, you stay on top for a moment and then crunch through. Step, crunch, step, crunch. I keep hoping the crust will thicken up so I can walk on top of it--I've always loved that. Going back to my conversation with Allen, I find it magical.

As expected, also, we got the results from all our various placement tests and interviews this morning. Lists of who will be required to take what were posted in the entrance foyer after breakfast--which was a bit strange, since usually everyone's so big on privacy here, but I suppose it's useful for us all to know where we stand. After all, it comes down to how many years we're really going to spend together.

So, yes, Arther is going to be a "one hit wonder." He just has to take a few classes and work with a master in one area--not that he's missing any mastery area, but he has to learn something while he's here. You can meet the mastery requirements any way you want--like, you can fulfill the art requirement with any form of art, and so on, so I think he has to learn a different art than the one he already has, something like that.

Both Kayla and Nora will have to spend more than four years here, and both must pass the GED at some point as well. Nora is irritated by the GED requirement but then she's irritated by most things, and I don't think Kayla has an opinion. The GED is still very far away for her. Nora is on a six year program, and apparently will take only half as many credits per semester as normal. Kayla will take one course per year for four years and then be re-evaluated.

And me. I was right, I did get out of both art and athletics, but I'm down for the full four years anyway. I couldn't believe it. Greg was walking by behind me on the way out of breakfast so I caught up with him and asked if he remembered why that decision had been made.

"Yes," he said, and just looked at me. I was not in the mood for his literalism, none of the masters will answer a question straight, even when they know what you mean, but I'm not going to give someone like Greg a hard time. He's not exactly friendly. So I went ahead and asked him why the decision was made.

"You aren't required to spend four years here, if you finish your requirements earlier than that, but because you are still missing spiritual development and have no prior experience in magic, we suggest that you expect to take four years. Spiritual development takes time." He turned to go, but then turned back to me and searched my face for a moment. "You seem upset, angry. You might want to sit with that feeling, and the feeling under the feeling, for a while."

He was right, I felt angry, and I didn't understand why. I hadn't really lost anything. I knew what he meant by sitting with a feeling--it means just paying attention, without thinking about it or trying to change or avoid it, but I went and sat by myself and thought instead. I was humiliated, I guess, but it made no sense. I'm nineteen, and I'm going to spend four years getting my bachelor's degree; big whoop. Anyway, I had no time to sit: I had to go report for my job as a janitor.

When I went for lunch I bumped into Ollie and asked him to eat with me. It's been a week or two since I've really needed my buddy as such, but all morning I'd been thinking, ok, I've got my curriculum now, I'm a "full-course yearling," except for those two areas, now what? Now I need to pick masters. Of course, I don't actually need to start picking anybody for months; only the masters for spirit and athletics even need to be chosen by the beginning of fall semester. But I want to start thinking about it, and I really don't know how. So I asked Ollie.

"How do you pick a master?" I asked him.

"That depends," he told me. "If you want a specific skill, you choose a master who has that skill. It doesn't even have to be anyone here. Or, if you feel a connection with someone, that's who you pick. You can pick the same person in multiple areas, too, you know. It's usually easier to work with as few masters as possible because then your work ends up thematically related. For example, I'm studying both counseling and stage magic with Allen. And I run with an outside coach."

"You run? We should go running together in the spring."


"But how do you know who teaches what?" I asked.

"You remember the new students' pamphlet? That lists their main specialties."

"But that's not all, is it? I mean, someone was telling me there's a mastery candidate learning magic from Greg. The pamphlet doesn't say anything about Greg teaching magic."

Ollie smiled at me.

"Well, that's it," he told me. "Rumor, listen to rumor. And it's ok to ask. If you think someone might be able to teach something, ask them about it."

"They all had to learn all the areas, though, right?"

"They all had to gain competence, back when they were novices, everyone except Greg, who never was a novice, or even a candidate. But to gain mastery you only need to master one subject. Most of them pick up other areas of mastery as they go, and the areas overlap a lot, anyway, so they can teach multiple subjects. But you can't assume that they all know multiple areas--I don't even think they all keep up with the competences they learned as novices. Like Charlie; I don't think he even practices magic anymore at all. I'm not sure he believes in it."

I thought about it, and I asked more questions, about what it was like to work with a master, exactly what that meant. Just before we left the Dining Hall, I asked one more question. I'm not even sure why I asked it.

"What's Charlie's religion?"

"Huh? Oh, I don't know," Ollie answered. "He's not Christian, I don't think. Why?"

"I dunno. No reason."

This is another of the images from the curtains over our dorm room windows. As I mentioned, every room had a different designon the curtain. I forget who had this one.

[Next post:February 29: Tin Whistle Evening ]

Friday, February 22, 2013

Part 1: Post 9: Getting Ready for Spring

It's been warm the past few days, so the snow's getting a little slushy and soft. When it freezes again, everything will go to ice. In the meantime, it's been nice being able to walk around outside without cloaks on. We've been spending more time outside, too, horsing around in the snow, since the weather's been nice. It's bad for tracking, though; I tried going out in the woods after lunch today, and found a lot of the prints are sort of muddled-looking and vague, since they've been melting a bit. After the snow refreezes there'll be a crust on top, so I don't think there will be any new tracks at all until the next snow.

In the background you can see part of the Mansion. There's a little, steep rise to the ground, maybe three or four feet, between the people and the line of arbor vitae, but I couldn't figure out how to draw that.

It feels a bit like spring, though I know it will probably freeze up again next week. It's not just the weather, though; the whole campus is getting ready for the new year.

Of course, we've been getting ready for spring academically the whole time I've been here, though I never really thought about it that way before. That's the point of not starting classes immediately, to give us (and the school) time to get ready for spring semester. So many of us start out with at least something of a head start on the graduation requirements, in part because a lot of the students are older--I'm one of the few people here under twenty, and I'd say most people are over twenty-five. So between that and the way new students keep coming in until the last day before Brigid, they don't know who is going to take what classes until several weeks in to the year. I like this system better than the way my old college did things--there, I had to make a lot of major decisions, like registering for classes, before I really knew anything about college.

We have a new student, by the way. She's in my dorm--she's new to the school, but not new to campus. It's kind of a weird situation.

Her name is Kayla, and she's the daughter of Sadie, the head cook. She's lived here for years, I think maybe her whole life. I'd seen her around campus a few times, and she's a charming, pretty little kid, a bit pudgy, with long, straight blonde hair. She'd twelve.

And the thing is, she just had a baby, around Brigid. Yes, I know how the child was conceived,and yes, it's a horrible story, and no, I'm not going to tell the story. It's not my story to tell. But nobody knew she was pregnant, not even Kayla. She's a little pudgy as I said, and she's one of those people who hardly shows at all--I have cousins like that. And the baby was born premature. And of course nobody had any idea that she even could be pregnant.

She's in my dorm now because the masters, who I guess are like family to her, decided that the best way to respond to this really horrible loss of her childhood is to start treating her like an adult. When I first heard this I got really angry, I thought it was just about the worse thing I've ever heard, but I'd heard it wrong. It's not like all of a sudden she's expected to act like an adult. It's that now that she's had an experience that other kids can't relate to, they thought it would help her to spend more time with older women who can help her kind of process through what has happened--and what's continuing to happen. I mean, in one sense, she's a mother now. Sadie has custody of the boy and is going to raise him, but Kayla is going to help--and even if he was given up for adoption she'd still know she had a son out there. I can't imagine having a kid now, let alone at twelve. It must be really confusing. So that's why she's here. And of course, being twelve, she'd want some space from her mother soon, anyway. I think the masters are just doing the best they can for her by giving her what they have. She's homeschooled anyway, so I don't think much is going to change for her academically.

Kayla is going to take some classes, and eventually she'll graduate college here, if she doesn't decide to leave first, so the masters are going to put together a curriculum for her. It's just a more extreme version of what they're doing with the rest of us. There's Kayla and Nora on the one end, who haven't even finished high school, and Arther, who knows enough he could probably teach here on the other. And me in the middle. I'm probably one of the few likely to spend an ordinary collegiate four years here, but I'm still going through the motions of trying to document advanced standing. It's not like I'm in a hurry to get out of here, but it would be nice to know I've got at least a couple of credits under my belt.

I don't have any transfer credit, because I failed all my classes last fall, but I took a battery of tests yesterday and today I did an interview with the masters.

The tests cover the six academic areas where we have to show competence, they're mostly sciences, which was a surprise, plus history. I don't think I did very well, but then I wasn't expecting to get much of any credit that way anyway. We'll get the results next week.

The interview was about the other group of graduation requirements, the "mastery areas," as they are called, because we have to pick a master in each area. Technically you need a certain number of credits in each one, but you're not done until the master says you are, so there's no getting a couple of credits to start out with. But you can skip an entire area, just not choose a master at all, if you can demonstrate competence in that area. Two of the areas are art and athletics, and as you have hopefully noticed, I can paint and draw. I also ran track and cross country in high school. We'll get the results for this week, too, but I think I may get out of both areas.

The interview is kind of free-form. You go in there, and you have up to an hour to convince the masters that you're competent in whatever area it is. You can make your argument any way you like, and they can ask you questions afterwards. They've been doing a couple of these things a day for two weeks now, I was one of the last ones to go in.

 It's kind of scary, talking to all six of them at once, but I don't intimidate easily. I went in there with my art portfolio and a drawing pad, in case they wanted a demonstration, and my medals and the records I'd kept of all the races I'd run and my times and I placed. They seemed pleased, even impressed--Kit liked my pictures, and Charlie commented that he liked my detail in the botanical sketches. So I'm guardedly optimistic.

But when the meeting ended, I was still kind of confused. It was the last interview they did today, so when we were done they all got up to leave. I just kind of sat there, thinking. The interview was in the Rose Room, off the Great Hall, and I'm allowed to be there when it's not otherwise in use.

Allen hung behind the others, and when we were alone he asked if something was bothering me.

"I think I did pretty well just now," I told him, "but I don't know why. Why does it matter if I'm competent in athletics or healing or some kind of handcraft, or whatever else? It's just...sometimes I don't know why I'm here."

"Well," Allen began, "why are you here?"

"That's what I just said I don't know!" I wasn't sure I was in the mood for Allen's questions just then, questions popping out of questions like those nested Russian dolls. I think I let some anger slip into my voice, which I usually don't do with professors, but he didn't seem to mind.

"Yes you do," he told me. "Or, you did when you came here. Why did you come here?"

"It's silly," I said. Allen shrugged and smiled a little.


"I came here because...I want to learn magic, like Harry Potter," I confessed. I think my ears turned red. Allen just nodded a little.

"What's magic?" he asked.

"I don't know," I told him.

"Ok, what's magical?"

I thought about this. It was a question I could answer at least.

"It''s like when you see something beautiful outdoors, or when someone does something you didn't think anyone could do...anything kind of surprising and wondrous."

"Have you ever done anything magical?" Allen asked me.

"Yes," I told him. "A year ago I was in this race...I'd been hurt for a while and I'd just recovered, so I wasn't really in great shape and the race was longer than what I normally do. I was pushing myself too far, and I hit the wall way too early. It was awful, I thought I was going to have to stop and walk for a bit, but I didn't. I kept going...and all of a sudden it was like something else was running in me, it was, like, beyond second wind, I wasn't tired anymore, I didn't hurt anywhere, I was just going. I just went. I won that race. I still don't know how. I can't even take credit for it, it was like something else ran through magical."

Allen smiled.

"Now you know why we require athletics. It's a way in. All these areas are ways in. We require all of them because we don't know which ones will work for you."

"Is that all?" I asked.

"Do you think that's all?"

"Allen! You're...why won't you give me straight answers?"

"Why do you think I'm not giving you straight answers?" He asked this with a straight face, but his eyes twinkled. He was playing with me. He was making fun of himself and he was playing with me! I didn't know what to say. Allen smiled finally, and got up, grabbing his cloak. I got up, too, but before leaving, Allen turn back to me and held up his wand--it's a standard stage magician's wand, black with a white tip, and I don't know where he pulled it from.

"Disarm me," he said, and I didn't know what he was talking about. He waggled his wand a bit and grinned. "Disarm me!" He held his wand out, like a fencer's foil. Did he really in Harry Potter? I'd brought both my wand and my athame to the interview just in case, so I drew out my wand and pointed it at him with a flourish.

"Expelliarmus!" I shouted, and Allen's wand vanished completely.

"See?" he told me, "you're learning."

[Next Post: February 25, test results]

Monday, February 18, 2013

Part 1: Post 8: The Magician

Last week I described Allen, the psychologist. Obviously, he's an interesting and reliable person. I feel pretty comfortable with him as a therapist, but until today, I couldn't figure out why he is here. I mean, I know we have to take psychology, but I don't understand that, yet, either.. But today I went to a talk he gave about magic. It turns out, he's the school magic teacher.

The thing is, he's a stage magician. My Wiccan friends from high school were all very definite about stage magic being different from real magic. One of them liked to spell it "magick" to make the difference clear. Allen doesn't seem to recognize the difference.

The talk was basically about what magic is and how stage magic actually counts as real. I won't repeat the entire talk here, but it was thought-provoking, so I want to include some of it.

 He started out by making a playing card disappear and asking whether that was magic. We talked about what magic is and why some of the students claimed that real magic and illusion are different. He asked what illusion meant and what the illusion in the particular trick was. Every time someone answered one of his questions he asked a question about the answer. He was totally getting a kick out of exploring how we were thinking. He wouldn't tell us how he did any of his tricks (he has a couple of classes on stage magic, but he won't reveal professional secrets otherwise), but he did sometimes invite us to ask questions about what he was doing. That was how we found out that however he made a penny levitate, he wasn't using invisible strings, or anything like that.

All of that was interesting, but it didn't really explain why a stage magician was teaching people who believe magic is real.

Then he asked for a volunteer from the audience. When Ollie stood up, I guessed that the "volunteer" was actually an assistant,because I knew Ollie had been Allen's student for a year already, but the skit was still fun to watch.

Alan asked Ollie to pick a card from a deck and show it to the audience. It was the seven of hearts. Ollie put the card back in the deck, shuffled it, and gave the deck back to Allen, who took the top card off the deck and, without looking at the card, showed the audience, obviously proud that he had magically selected the right card.

Except that Allen had selected the ace of spades.

We all laughed, and Allen made a big show of acting puzzled. Instead of looking at the card, he handed it back to Ollie, asking him to please check it. Ollie checked and shrugged, saying it looked ok to him. Instead of showing it to Allen, he showed it to us.

It was the seven of hearts.

They kept passing the card back and fourth, as Allen pretended to get angrier and angrier about the trick not working. Obviously, the whole thing was a prepared skit, but they did it perfectly, both of them kept perfectly straight faces and the rest of us couldn't quit laughing. I guessed that the card wasn't actually being passed back and forth; somehow, each man had his own card and was only making it look like he was handing it off. I couldn't figure out how they were doing it, though.

Finally, they finished and both bowed. We all clapped. It was just great. When we'd all settled down, Allen gave a sort of mini lecture or speech;

“Magic tricks involve making it look like something happens that doesn’t. We made it look like we were passing a card back and forth, when we were really each holding our own card. Now, if we do that without the skit," and here he pretended to hand Ollie the card again, "it doesn’t look like a magic trick, because I’m fooling you into thinking that something  happened that’s basically what you’d expect to happen. Most magic tricks make it look like something happened that’s impossible—and that’s fun, because it’s fun to be surprised, and because there’s a sense of wonder—it makes it seem like the world is bigger than you thought it was—which it is, by the way. Stage magic—fooling people into thinking that the impossible has happened, is real magic, because it makes people’s perceived world bigger. Fooling people into thinking the possible, the expected, has happened when it really hasn’t, is also real magic, and it is used for advertising, political propaganda, and crime."

Wow. I know that "wow" isn't exactly the most articulate thing I could say, but what else is there?

Ollie told me that Allen has a small private practice as a therapist, and he also does magic shows for children's birthdays and so on. But the two aren't entirely separate for him and he sometimes uses magic as a kind of therapy. He does magic shows for hospitalized children and adults in nursing homes, to cheer them up. He also volunteers as a chaplain in area hospitals, and sometimes he uses magic there.

"A chaplain?" I asked, surprised. "The hospitals have Wiccan chaplains?" But Ollie shook his head.

"Yeah, they have Wiccan chaplains--Kit volunteers--but Allen's not Wiccan. I'm not sure what he is. He mostly ministers to agnostics and atheists." 


"Yeah," Ollie explained. "Atheists have spiritual needs, too, but if you come at them with religion they turn off. Allen can reach them."

Ollie told me a story of one of the times he'd gone with Allen to the hospital as a sort of apprentice chaplain.

They visited the beside of an elderly atheist who was dying cancer. The man's daughter had been there earlier, and she was religious. She'd told him she was praying for a miracle. He said he'd thanked her, but secretly he had found what she said painful. He seemed troubled, angry, but not at his daughter. His anger was deeper, Ollie said, a hidden, dull thing the young woman's words had simply reminded him of.

The man said he wanted to be able to hope for a miraculous cure, and he wanted to be able to hope he was going to Heaven, but he just couldn't make himself believe in either miracles or Heaven. He believed only in reason, and reason told him he was about to die, painfully, and that would be the end. Done.

Alan smiled, and said, quite casually, that hope has an odd way of showing up unexpectedly--and he opened his hand to reveal, of all things, a live white chick. An albino baby chicken only a couple of days old.

The dying man almost leaped out of his bed in shock--he hadn't known that Alan could do magic--and then recovered himself and said "it's just a trick," in a voice that Ollie said sounded very sad. Alan readily acknowledged that he'd used slight-of-hand, though he wouldn't explain how he'd managed to do it.

"But," Alan said, "for a second you thought it really had just appeared miraculously, right?"

"Yes," the man told him, "I thought the world had just gotten bigger, or something. But it hadn't. And thank you for the entertainment, but I'm still dying of cancer."

Alan became serious.

"Yes, you are still dying of cancer. But remember how that felt--believing for a moment that the world was bigger than you thought. There's a gap between what you know and the limits of what is real--and in that gap was a white bird you didn't know existed. Can you swear there aren't two birds in this room? Or three? Can you swear you know so much about the world that there can be no miracles, no Heaven?"

And the man began to cry. When Alan finally got ready to go, the man stopped him and asked how he'd known to bring the bird, since he couldn't have known where the conversation would go, and also how he'd gotten the bird in past hospital security. Alan just smiled.

"I'm a magician," he told the man, and left.

(Next post: Friday, February 22: School structure, placement testing)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Part 1: Post: 7: Tools and Symbols

This morning it was my turn to get up extra early and build up the fire and make coffee. We heat with wood, there's a combination heating and cooking stove in each of the four dorms, plus one on the ground floor and one on the top floor, so parts of the Mansion are warm and other parts are cold, and while we are asleep the fires die down and some mornings it's in the fifties before we get the stoves going again. It is really hard to get out of bed when it's cold and dark, so in my dorm we've decided that one yearling will get up every morning to build up the fire and make coffee for the others. I like this little tradition of ours, but I do not like being the one whose turn it is to get up.

I've been to a few more talks and seminars (a "talk" has a single meeting and is worth a quarter credit, and a "seminar" has two meetings and is worth half a credit). There's usually two or three to choose from at any time, and they seem to cover everything from candy-making to dream interpretation to the physics of snowflake formation. Sometimes I honestly can't figure out what the topic has to do with becoming an Earth-centered priest, but I'm told that there's actually lot of thought that goes into this--and of course, if I don't see the point of a talk, I'm free not to go.

I've just been to one that I have no doubt about--that does not mean it's been my favorite so far, because I'm still not sure what an Earth-centered priest is or why I want to be one. I think the tracking workshop was my favorite, so far, though I really liked dream interpretation, too. But this one was the most obviously, exotically, pagan. The subject was Wiccan ritual tools and basic symbols and we, all the yearlings, were "strongly encouraged" to attend.

Each of the three major moon phases has a symbolic value, mostly connected to the cycle of human life.

The instructor was Kit, the woman whose candle I lit at the assembly. She's a little, but very vibrant woman with a mane of almost afro-like red hair. She freely describes herself as a witch, which I understand a lot of Wiccans do, but it's still a bit shocking.

She said that symbols and symbolic objects are a kind of language, and while she doesn't care whether we are Wiccan, she recommends we learn the language so that classes and other school activities that use the language will make sense to us. I guess that since a lot of students are Wiccan, it makes sense that they use its "language."

She described what she called tools, objects used in Wiccan ritual and magic, and drew a mandala illustrating the four- and eight-part symbolic associations that underly Wiccan ritual design and the Wiccan sacred year. She had a white board and drew pictures to illustrate her talk, usually with her left hand, but sometimes with her right. I don't think she ever stopped moving.

Here is a copy of one of her pictures; it's a sort of mandala for Wiccan symbolism:

That lump in the north is meant to be a rock. It actually looks like a rock....or, like a potato, which, come to think of it, would work nearly as well, symbollically

When she was done, Kit invited us to select ritual tools to borrow. She had dozens and dozens of pieces laid out on tables. The idea was we could take whatever we wanted and return it, buy it, or replace it later. We didn't have to take anything at all, but Kit just suggested we at least get an athame and maybe a wand, if we didn't have our own already, since some activity leaders and instructors will assume we have these. An "athame" is a knife.

I looked around the tables. Everything was laid out on black or white cloths. There were cups, pentacles, and cauldrons of almost every description. There were small brooms, tiny devotional statues, and jewelry. There were dozens and dozens of wands, all of them straight and fairly smooth, anywhere from six inches to two feet long, most of them made of wood, but some were silver or pewter. Most had a crystal or a sort of acorn-shape at the tip, and some had semi-precious gems, colored glass, or symbols along their length. I wanted one, but I didn't know how to pick.

Next to the wands were the knives, the athames. A lot of them were simple but elegant little costume daggers with blades three to seven inches long and black handles of wood or leather. There were also some with handles of bone, deer antler, or rainbow-died wood. Some were single-edged, like kitchen knives. There were a number of fairly nice folding knives. But about a quarter of the selection was much more exotic. There were dirks almost as long as short swords and miniature knives set in silver rings. There were knives made entirely of wood or bone, blade included. There were letter-openers shaped like knives and swords from fantasy, some of them bejeweled or carved. Two had apparently solid amber handles bound with silver or gold wire. Three had blades of worked obsidian, two more had flint blades, and one had a blade of quartz. Two were made entirely of glass, blade and handle both, one of them entirely clear, the other shot with ribbons of color like a cat's eye marble.

"Be careful; they are very sharp," said a voice beside me. It was Kit. She didn't even come up as high as my arm-pit, let alone my shoulder, but she was strong and bright as a flame.

"How did you get all these?" I asked. "They must have cost--"

"Thousands and thousands of dollars. Yes, they would have if I'd bought them all myself. I only bought the more basic knives. The others are gifts. I have former students who make or collect knives, and witches tend to be lucky at garage sales."

"You give away gifts?"

"Sure, that's why they were given to me. And I frequently get nicer knives in return, later."

"I don't know how to pick one," I confessed. She smiled.

"How do you think you might? With a lot of these things, pick a technique and see if it works," she told me. Her voice was rich, deep, feminine. I turned away from that distracting voice and tried to focus. I moved my left hand over the table about two inches above each of the knives. I wanted to close my eyes, but I didn't want to touch any of them accidentally and get cut. Finally, one seemed warm under my hand. I picked it up, and faced Kit. She smiled at me, pleased.

"I'm not Wiccan," I told her, "and I don't think I'm going to be." I was afraid she'd be disappointed, but she still smiled.

"I told you, I don't care if you're Wiccan. Ideas are tools, and thoughts are skills that you can learn and use, just like the skills of your hands. Maybe these tools and skills will be useful to you. Maybe not. But you won't know until you acquire the skills and try them out. Having a skill does not obligate you to use it, and doesn't define who you are."

"You're asking me to accept Wiccan beliefs, though," I protested, "How is that not asking me to be Wiccan, even temporarily?"

"These," she gestured towards the mandala she had drawn in the other room, "these are not beliefs. They are just symbolic associations. A language. It's basically arbitrary, like all symbols and conventions are."

"Then what are your beliefs?" I asked, confused.

"In Wicca we don't have beliefs. We either know or we do not know, and if we don't know, we can find out."

An example of each of the major tools. The second knife is a bolline.

Next post; February 18th: why stage magic, with Allen

Monday, February 11, 2013

Part 1: Post 6: Tracking

Today I took my first seminar for credit--like a mini-class, instead of the various introductory presentations they've been doing for us newbies. The subject was tracking, something I was never all that much interested in before, but I signed up for it on a whim and my whim these days seem to be good.

I hadn't known until that morning exactly when it was going to be (something that made trading work shifts with someone more challenging), because the weather had to be right. Today it was--it snowed a few days ago, and the weather has been dry and cold since then. It's the first time in days I've been out of uniform, and my waterproof suit felt weird. The sky was that amazing, rich blue that happens only in winter, and the world was silent and soft with the smell of snow.

Charlie, the groundskeeper and ecology teacher, was the instructor. It was funny, when we met together in a group outside I didn't see him at first because he looked like one of us, dressed as he was in blue Goretex; I guess I've gotten used to identifying masters by uniform color. Charlie wasn't a complete stranger to me, of course, but I'd never spoken to him. He's a short, stocky man with thinning grey hair and a strong Boston accent. You don't hear that as much in people my age, I guess.

He'd marked off a large square in the woods, maybe an acre, using orange-colored stakes driven into the snow. There were ten stakes on a side, not counting the corners, and twenty of us, so he had us pair off and line up along one side, one pair per stake, and then we all walked forward in a straight line to the opposite side, recording any tracks we saw. Then we did it again going the other way, so that when we were done we had made a big grid. This was all after he had taught us how to use a compass to walk a straight line and how to measure distance by counting our paces, by the way. Then, after lunch, he showed us a map he had made of all our compiled recordings.

One odd thing is...w.hen you go on a field trip as part of a class, the teacher is using the field trip to illustrate some larger point, right? Or there's some skill you are expected to retain. But Charlie didn't seem to have a larger point and he didn't care whether we retained the skills. It was like a field trip without a class, just for its own sake. I had a lot of fun, though.

I was partnered with this girl named Joanna, another yearling from my dorm. Charlie gave us a clip board with several copies of a form on it, a simple gridded map of the square we were working on, and a basic digital camera. The first line we walked, I held the compass and kept track of paces while Joanna recorded tracks, then when we went the other way we switched.

Almost immediately, we found deer tracks. Joanna thought two of the deer were smaller than the third, but I wasn't sure. Then there was nothing for a while, though we could hear the team to our left talking about deer tracks and wondering if two of the deer were fawns. That was cool. Then there was a confused area where there was something I thought was a dog on one side and something else with very small feet on the other--I thought it was a cat, but Joanna disagreed. Neither of them crossed our line, but they came very close. Then we found something that looked like a hairball. I guessed it was an owl pellet, and Joanna decided to bring it back for Charlie to look at. Then we saw the dog again and what looked like another dog, and then nothing at all. till the end.

Then we realized Joanna had lost one of her mittens when we picked up the owl pellet, but we didn't want to go back and risk stepping on any tracks. I offered her one of my mittens, but she accused me of being sexist, which I honestly don't think I am, but there's no arguing because that's just what a sexist person would do. She liked my second suggestion better; that we pick a second line to walk that would intersect with our first near where she lost the glove and look for it then. We did that. Our second line found all the same types of tracks as the first, plus some squirrels and little hopping bird-tracks, and of course a lot of boot-prints, including ours. I told Joanna her tracks looked very small. I thought, for a moment, that she was going to call me sexist again, but she just laughed and said "my feet are even smaller," and pulled off her boot so she could make a bare foot-print in the snow. She wasn't wearing socks, and her short little toes looked all red.

"Aren't your feet cold?" I asked.
"This one is," she said merrily, dusting the snow off her bare foot.

Here is a rough map of our grid and the tracks we found:
I reproduced this from memory--it's not an exact copy of the original, but you get the idea. I added the sketches of tracks because these four are common and easily congused by beginners.. I drew them free-hand, so they're not exact, but  you'll get the idea.

Looks pretty confusing, right? But over lunch, Charlie took all our pictures and our forms and made sense of it, and when we met again in the Rose Room in the Mansion, he told  us a story. I don't think he'd had time to eat while doing all that, because he was eating a sandwich while he talked. He had made a PowerPoint presentation of some of our pictures and explained what animals had made the prints and what they were doing and how he could tell. Then he turned on one of those old projectors, the ones where you put a plastic sheet down and draw on it and the drawing is projected on the wall. He had connected the dots, as it were, and drew the paths that different animals had taken through our square. And as he drew he talked, pausing now and then for a bit of his sandwich.

I won't repeat all this stories, but the main one started with a large dog "walking here and there and over here again, because he's a dog, and doesn't have anything else to do." Eventually, the dog spotted a whitetail doe and her two half-grown fawns--the deer had crossed the dog's path earlier and ignored it, but when he actually confronted them they turned and ran and he chased them for a while, then lost interest. Then he wandered around some more, marked a tree (the height of the stain shows that he's male), and came face to face with a skunk (the one I thought was a cat--Joanna was right),  who released its scent. The dog ran until he crossed the track of the running deer, which he followed backwards until he came to his own scent from the earlier chase. Then he wandered off, eventually leaving our square, probably headed home to a tomato-juice bath. "Dogs are very intelligent animals," Charlie said. "Never underestimate what a dog can learn--except I've never once met a dog who could learn to leave a skunk or a porcupine alone. I did once hear of a dog who learned to walk to the vet to get de-quilled after he messed with a porcupine. The vet-people knew him and would send his family the bill. But he never learned not to mess with the animal in the first place. True story."

I like this whole--drama--in the snow. I'd always seen tracks as sort-of anonymous marks. Except when I spotted one I happened to know, like a rabbit, I basically ignored it. I knew there were people who knew a lot about tracks, but it sounded like an almost magical ability you had to study years and years to acquire. And Charlie seemed to have that ability--he'd dissected the owl pellet and figured out what type of owl had made it (Barred Owl, in case you're curious), but mostly what he'd done was just to put together some fairly simple pieces. The story with the dog--I already knew the tracks of all the principle players except the skunk. I could have done this myself. I could go out and look for tracks and see these stories, these animals interacting in all these complex ways, days after the fact. I could learn to do this.

(Next Post:Wiccan Tools)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Part 1: Post 5: Getting a Job

So, I asked Ollie why there is no black tea on campus.

"Because nobody wants any," he said.

"But nobody's asked me whether I want any," I complained.

"DO you want any?"

"Well, no."

"There you go."

He went on to explain that they make it a rule to source 90% of our food, by weight, from within a hundred miles. 80% of our food is actually grown on campus. Obviously, a large part of that remaining 10% must be coffee, chocolate, and other things that just don't grow around here. Black tea (and green tea, since that is from the same plant) doesn't grow around here, either, so buying tea would mean buying less coffee or chocolate, which apparently no one has wants to do. If I really want tea, I could go to the store and buy some, there's no rule against that: I could buy Fruit Loops, if I wanted. They don't try to control our lives, here.

Speaking of money, I need some. I've decided to donate my car to the school so they can sell it and cover my room and board fees--maybe for the whole time I'll be here. My parents are not going to be happy about this, since they worry that this place is a cult, but I'm going to graduate college debt-free, and I may be able to keep most of my college fund intact, in case I want to go to graduate school. That's huge. A campus job will cover tuition completely; an hour of labor cancels thirty dollars, because that is how much they'd have to spend to hire someone otherwise. Payroll usually costs a company at least double what the employees actually get in wages, and I gather the average going wave for the type of work they have here is about fifteen dollars an hour. So now I need a job.

I mentioned last week that we've been going to presentations, rather than classes. Most of them have been presentations by individual faculty members introducing themselves, or talks on how different aspects of the school work, but there was also a kind of job fair. Each staff member who hires students made a short presentation and then you could fill out applications for the ones you wanted. I think pretty much everybody got interviews who wanted them, and some people got more than one job offer. The whole process went very quickly.

There were jobs in the Dining Hall, in the Office, in the Library. There were jobs cleaning, doing security, farming, and gardening...almost everything here is done by students. I really wanted a position with the groundskeeper (who is also a faculty member, oddly enough), because I worked at a landscaping company when I was in high school and liked it. But Ollie said these jobs don't normally go to yearlings--apparently, you can get academic credit for landscaping, so the groundskeeper likes to reserve the jobs for people who know that they need the credit. Or something.

So I've gotten a job with the janitor. His name is Joe, which is a bit confusing, because the security head is also named Joe, as are a number of students. Anyway, this Joe is a dancer. He works here part-time supervising his cleaning crew because he gets free room and board out of it and that frees him from worrying about his own upkeep while he leads his dancing company. I don't think anybody knows much about him. Physically, he is very graceful and rather effeminate, though apparently he does not self-identify as gay--and I'd think anybody who is gay would admit it, here, as this place seems very safe for that sort of thing. Whatever. I think he just likes being mysterious.

My job will be to help clean all areas on campus that do not have somebody else to clean them. That's a smaller area than it sounds, because students clean their own dorms (or not--there's no rule about it, but we do clean ours), classrooms are cleaned by the groups that use them, and so on. We also clean the common rooms of the faculty and staff--they have apartments on the fourth floor, and mostly take care of those themselves, but they also have a couple of common rooms up there that students are not normally allowed in. It bothered me, at first, that they have students cleaning their spaces, like we were servants, or something, even though we pay their salary. I said something about it to Ollie, but he asked me if I'd actually seen their rooms yet. I said I had not.

"They're very small," he told me. "Smaller than ours, I think. And do you know how much they get paid? $12,000 a year, that's all. Even with free room and board, plus medical and dental benefits, that's hardly anything. You know Allen? He could teach at any psychology program in the country. He doesn't need this place, but we need him. And it's a dead-end job for him, for all of them; they can't put this school on their resumes, because the school is secret, so after a couple of years, it gets hard for them to leave. And the retirement benefits are basically crap, because the school is run on a shoe-string. They do this for us. If I had a chance to do some dishes and sweep some floors for them, I'd do it."

Um, point taken!

So six days a week, I do zazen, breakfast, my three-hour shift as a janitor, then lunch, then whatever talks or presentations in the afternoons--eventually, I'll have classes in the afternoons, though they don't actually start until March. A lot of the talks and things are for credit, though--they count as mini-classes. Sunday is completely open, and that day we're on our own for meals because the Dining Hall is closed. Wednesday evenings I'll eat dinner with my therapy group, and the other evenings I guess I can do my homework, party, or whatever else I want to do. Friday is Dorm Dinner, and it's mandatory. I've had one already, and I don't object to it being required.

There are fifteen of us, counting me, in the turtle dorm (the other dorms are snake, elk, and hawk). Six of us are new this year, and five are starting their final year--though only one of  them has been here three years already. The others all started out with some credit; Joe (remember, I said there are a lot of people named Joe) was new last year and will graduate this year, and he's only a year older than I am. Everyone seems more or less normal, except a lot friendlier, but it's like everybody who isn't named Joe (or Daniel--there's another one besides me, but he goes by Dan) has some sort of strange name. There's Oak and several Ravens and Otter and Arion. I imagine most of these are nick-names, but I'm not really sure. Almost everyone is older than I am, some much older; Arion is 40. It's strange, I've been an adult, legally speaking, for the better part of two years now, but I've never had a forty year old peer before. They treat me like we're all the same age.

So we got food from the Dining Hall and cooked it ourselves. Sally, another newbie, is a really good cook, and she showed us what to do--some of the senior students showed us how to keep the wood stove at the right temperature for cooking. We've had hot chocolate every evening (and, after that first day, coffee every morning), but on Friday we broke out the hard cider again. I suppose eventually dorm dinners will get shorter, because we'll have homework to do afterwards, but this first Friday we talked until, one by one, we all went off to bed, or fell asleep in our chairs wrapped in the school's huge, handmade wool blankets.

This is the design from the window curtains in my dorm room. I drew it from memory. My room was small and spare, without much furnature, but the whole front was glass and opened on a fire escape/balcony. Two layers of heavy, hand-woven tapestry kept the heat in at night. The outer layer had a yellowish background and let the daylight in. The inner layer had a brown background and could be drawn to keep light out. The design was on both curtains. Other rooms had other designs--they were all different. I saw this design almost every day for four years.
  (Next Post: Monday, February 11th: Charlie's animal tracking exercise)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Part 1: Post 4: A Day in the Life

My first morning on campus I woke up far too early. It wasn't my idea. The senior students (that is, those who aren't yearlings, like me) knew we might forget we were supposed to go to meditation at six, or might not be able to get up to get up, since most of us got to bed around two and weren't sober then. So, as a courtesy to us, at five-thirty in the morning they all started to sing and shout and turned all the lights on.

For all my sarcasm, it actually was generous of them, since they didn't have to go to meditation, and could have slept another hour or two. And they stayed up just as late as us. It's been a few days and I can recognize that now. I can also see the helpfulness in the fact that the door to the meditation room is locked in the morning. The dorms are all in the Mansion, and usually you can walk down the grand stairway to the main room or Great Hall, turn right, and you're in the meditation room. In the morning that door is locked so you have to go outside and walk around in the snow to the other door. There is no hint of dawn that early in the morning and it is really, really cold. Ridiculously cold, and the dark makes it worse, a sort of alien, isolated feeling, lonely, though I was with a group of people. Your nose-hairs freeze, but you wake up and fast, and I believe that is the point.

That first morning, we all trouped in, all thirty of us, knocking snow off our boots and the bottoms of our pants and capes. We were all talking at once about it being too cold and too early and there wasn't any coffee, and there were maybe ten people who had gotten there ahead of us, senior students, there because they wanted to be, all sitting cross-legged or kneeling on the floor facing away from us and none of them turned to look at us was like suddenly we all heard their silence and we all shut up. We must have sounded like a pile of children. The one person facing our way, the tall, severe-looking man who had been Master of Ceremonies at the Brigid assembly the night before, looked at us and calmly said "if you want coffee before you meditate, you can make it yourself, starting tomorrow."

He put the emphasis on "can." He was simply informing is of our options. I, for one,was feeling so overwhelmed I hadn't thought of taking any initiative about anything. I think we all felt like that. Then he taught us zazen meditation. It's pretty simple, but a lot harder than it sounded. My mind felt clean and clear for a few minutes afterwards, like how I used to feel after a hard workout, but then I went back to normal. I'm going to have to do this six days a week for a year.

At eight we went into the Dining Hall, which smelled of food and also, just a little, of apple cider vinegar. I think they clean with it. We all went in together, at the same time, and there was a moment of silence for prayer. Then, waiters brought around these big cauldrons of food. You passed your bowls over and they served you. I couldn't see what they were serving at first and had to ask; it turned out to be a choice between vegetarian miso soup and oatmeal. I picked oatmeal, and there were bowls of dried fruit and nuts and jars of honey and jam to put in it. There was a jug of sheep's milk, too, but Ollie warned me not to take more than a cup's worth until everyone else at the table had had a chance. There was a buffet bar, too, but there were rules about that--everything is rationed the same way the milk is. I've never been rationed before, and it's very strange, but except for the miso and the sheep's milk, all the food itself seems like normal American breakfast food. What's really unusual is the quality--everything is excellent--and the things that are missing. There is no grapefruit. There is no orange juice. There is no black tea, though there are herbal teas (all served loose; you need your own tea ball) and there is coffee.  Nothing is instant or prepackaged, not even the ketchup. I think everything except the coffee is grown here on campus--it's the exact opposite of the way Harry Potter eats. At Hogwarts, the food just appears, magically. Nobody makes it and it comes from nowhere. Here, the work and the natural resources that make up the food is obvious.

Breakfast is the only meal everybody on campus eats together, and it is mandatory (unless you're sick or something). Ollie says if you are looking for someone, the best way to find them is to go to breakfast. They also have announcements after breakfast, so if you want to know what's going on, you have to be there.

Lunch is serve yourself, and it's available from noon to four. Dinner is served in the dorms, though the food comes from the Dining Hall kitchen, and it's optional. You can go into town to eat, if you want to, order a pizza delivered, whatever you want to do. Though, already pizza seems a bit...out of step? Classes haven't started yet, so we've been going to presentations between meals. It's a bit like an orientation after all.

I've been here a few days now, and I don't want to make it sound like we're hemmed in by weird rules. Except for the rationing (water and electricity are also rationed), there really aren't any rules. I mean, you can't smoke indoors, that sort of thing, but I don't smoke anyway. Life is strange here, but not because of rules. The differences are more structural. For example, there is no rule against throwing things out, there just aren't any trash cans. I'm serious! There are compost buckets, and you can put scrap paper in the tinder buckets by the wood stoves if you don't want to recycle it, but for anything else you have to take it down to the "re-use room" in the basement. I guess they sort it out from there every so often, but it makes wasting anything a giant pain in the neck. I guess that's part of the point.

Last night I had to go to group therapy. That's required for all "yearlings," too. Eventually, group therapy will be on Wednesdays for everybody, but the first few weeks the groups meet on different days so that the therapist can join us. Later, each group will only get him every fourth week. We've been divided into four groups, with as few people from the same dorm in each group as possible. Some of the senior students are in the groups, too, I guess it's optional for them.

The therapist is Allen, another of the professors here. I remember him from the assembly, too; he did a magic trick with one of the graduating students. He is a stage magician and a psychologist, and he has a habit of answering questions with more questions. It would be really annoying, except that I get the feeling that there are no wrong answers with him. He seems formal and reserved, even stiff, and his voice is dry and somewhat nasal. The school uniform doesn't look quite right on him; he looks like he should be wearing a collared shirt and tie. You'd think somebody like that would be uptight, afraid of their dignity getting ruffled, but I don't think Allen is like that. I think if anybody tried to ruffle him he'd be in on the joke.

So, yesterday was my therapy group's first meeting. Allen taught us group-bonding exercises, ice-breaking games, and the strict format we're supposed to use when he isn't there--and he cautioned us against trying to play therapist with each other. Someone asked, why not?

"Because you're crazy," he deadpanned.

"Am I crazy, too?" asked a girl called Raven. I think she just wanted attention. Alan gratified her by pronouncing her crazy, too.

"I'm crazy, you're crazy..." he added, and a hint of a smile played about one corner of his mouth, like he was waiting to see if someone would deliver the next line. I can recognize a Lewis Carrol paraphrase when I hear it, so did the honors and set him up.

"How do you know we're crazy?" I asked him.

"You must be, or you wouldn't have come here!" Alan replied, grinning like the Cheshire Cat himself. But then he sobered, and gave a real answer to the question about why we shouldn't practice therapy on each other.

"I'm your psychologist, an expert on the human mind--which is bull, of course, because I'm nuts. I have issues, hangups...but it works because my craziness isn't connected to yours. We're not really in each others' lives yet, so I can see things in you I could never have seen in myself, things I couldn't see in a friend. But implicit in our therapeutic relationship is the assumption that I know more about your minds than you do--which I don't. You know that, and I know it. But you'll make that assumption anyway if you come to trust me as your therapist. And for anyone who is actually in your lives, as you are in each others', with all the investments and conflicts of interest that implies, for anyone in your lives to encourage you to believe that they know more about your life and mind than you do is abusive. And I won't have you do that to each other."

See? I appear to be in good hands.

The yellow things are eggs. We only had "egg day" every third day. If it wasn't your egg day, you had to wait until the people who had egg day took what they wanted. I remember egg day seemed very strange to be in the beginning, so I drew this picture of every third person eating eggs.Of course, we never really sat in egg-day order. The man wearing brown is a mastery candidate.

[Next post: Friday, February 8th: weekly schedule, getting to know dorm-mates, getting a job on campus]

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Part 1: Post 3: Brigid

So, obviously I've decided to enroll.

 I talked to my parents, and the conversation went better than I'd expected. They think I'm making a huge mistake, but that I'm an adult now and should be allowed to make mistakes while I'm young...which is not the sort of thing you want to hear from your parents, but at least they're not angry. I don't think I'm making a mistake, but I suppose if I am there are worse mistakes I could make.

 I arrived yesterday, with only a single bag, as suggested. Sharon told me to stash my bag in a side office (there were something like ten other bags in there already) and gave  me a uniform and a "buddy" to look after me until the assembly that night.

 When I say "uniform," don't picture blue blazers and ties. They look more like martial arts uniforms than anything else, and then there's the black cape to go over it. Faculty and staff, except for Sharon, wear the same outfits except all in brown, brown uniform and brown cape.

I don't remember most of the tour or where anything is, but the campus isn't very large, just three main buildings, plus some barns and sheds and so on. There's a working farm here, with fields and greenhouses and fruit trees, though there's not much to see now, because of the snow. There are farm animals, too, goats and chicken and horses nosing hay in the snow. Ollie, my "buddy," says one of the masters boards horses here, in addition to the school's horses.

I asked him why they call the faculty "masters," not professors, like in a normal school.  I've noticed he uses a lot of odd names for things.

"If you wanted a normal school you wouldn't be here," he began. He has a point. "We call things what they are, but a lot of things just don't fit the normal words. So we need new words. They are professors, but they're something else, too. You'll see. And we could call you an incoming freshman, but a lot of people start out here with at least some college credit already, so people move through the school at different rates. So it doesn't really make sense to have distinct classes, freshman, sophomore, and so on. But everybody has to meet certain requirements in their first year, and you're all new together, so we call you 'yearlings.' Make sense?"

Ollie asked me if I'm Christian, and I was really taken aback. That question, asked like that, usually makes me feel a bit defensive because I don't go to church very often. Sometimes people object to my being Methodist, too, and attempt to convert me to some other denomination. But here I assume it's different and I wondered if Ollie was going to give me a hard time for being Christian at all. But he didn't give me a hard time about anything. He just wanted to make sure I knew there are a couple of Christians, Jews, and Buddhists on campus, though most people are pagan in one way or another. There are bicycles I can borrow if I want to go into town to church or for anything else. Ollie himself is Baptist.

I remember my Wiccan friends in high school talking about their holidays, and I vaguely remembered there was one in February. I was right, and today (or, by now, yesterday) is the day; they call it Brigid here, though my friends used to call it Imbolc or Candlemas. Ollie says the campus does not celebrate the pagan holidays (sabbats) in a precisely Wiccan way, but they do celebrate them. The assembly is evidently a Brigid celebration, among other things. I asked if the assembly was part of Orientation, but Ollie said nobody except Sharon calls anything Orientation. There is no formal Orientation, Sharon just tells new people to show up for Orientation because that's easier than explaining the assembly. I don't think I like that, but Ollie says the assembly is how they--we--welcome new students, so the analogy is sound.

When it started getting dark, we went to the Chapel Hall, where the assembly was. It was cold in there, not much warmer than the outside air. I was comfortable enough in my uniform (the cape is made of heavy black wool and I had on long johns), but I'm not used to being able to see my breath indoors by candlelight.

The candles--the whole room was lit only by candles, large tapers set in holders on the walls, torch style, every few feet, plus tapers set in a four-foot tall holder at the end of each of the eight rows of chairs. There were only two candles on the stage, one on either side, but I could dimly see stands for a lot more candles, plus a two rows of folding chairs and a lectern. There was enough light for us to see each other and to move around by gleam and shadow, but the high ceiling of the room was entirely lost in the gloom; it could have been a million miles up.

 A bell struck, once, high and clear.

Then a line of people processed in, cloaked in brown, and carrying unlit candles. The bell struck again and again as they walked, until I began to feel slightly odd, between the dim light and the repeating bell, like my mind was stretching somehow. The procession divided into two groups of eight each that moved up on either side of the audience until one person stood at the ends of each of the eight rows of seats. The bell silenced, abruptly. I had an end seat, and I looked up to see a woman, her expression neutral and shadowed weirdly, but beautiful. She was a small woman, with fine bones, maybe forty years old. She didn't look at me, not any more than a statue would have. I saw the students on the other row ends use their tapers to light the candles held by the brown-cloaked people, so I copied them and lit the woman's candle. She nodded to me, gravely, and she and the others processed up to the stage and took their seats; ten in the back row, six in front--three seats remained empty. They lowered their hoods, but in the candlelight I could barely see their faces.

The ceremony that followed not only introduced us to the school (we had to stand and say our names, plus the name of one of four animals: hawk, elk, snake, and turtle. I picked "turtle"), it was also the school's commencement exercise. There were some fifteen people from the undergraduate program I'd just joined, plus three master's level students who all finished together.

The graduating bachelor students emerged one by one from the wings of the stage, and knelt before the tall man who seemed to be acting as officiant. Then each stood and the man removed the student's black cape--there were some words repeated, a kind of small rite, and the graduate said something to us, like "thanks," or "I love you all", or made some small speech. What was under the black cloak varied--a white suit, an academic robe, a work uniform of some kind, doctor's scrubs. My favorite was the naked guy--he got a laugh, but nobody seemed to mind. After degree conferral, they all processed down the center aisle and out the door. There were only three master's students. They were dressed in brown, like the faculty, and they did not get diplomas. Instead, they received rings, each from a different faculty member--the student's adviser, I assume. After getting the ring, each graduate sat down in one of the empty seats on stage, with the faculty.

I tried to picture myself crossing the stage, but I could only imagine it in the third person. I couldn't imagine being the person graduating.

Afterward there was food and hot drinks, both at the back of the chapel room, like a mini reception, and again in my new dorm. Moving in took about five seconds, since I have so few things. There were no disposable plates or cups at the little reception. Instead, everyone drank from tin cups they kept clipped to their belts. They ate from handkerchiefs held in their hands. I didn't know what to do, at first, but there was a big box of cups under the table and Ollie helped me find the one with my name on it. There's a handkerchief for me, too. I couldn't believe it. Two days ago, none of these people knew I existed, and now they've given me my own cup! It's a little thing, and really prosaic, but it's perfect, the perfect little welcome. I didn't know what to say. I still don't.

We stayed up half the night, talking and drinking (all home-made; making alcohol seems to be every other person's hobby around here). Two days ago, I was quitting college so I wouldn't fail. I didn't know what to do with my life. Now...I don't really know what this place is yet, but I've got my own room (and my own cup), my uniform that feels like a costume from some magical fantasy turned real, and I've got fourteen new friends (even though, except for Ollie, who is is my dorm, too, I can't remember any of their names). I think this is going to work.

[Next post; February 4th: First full day on campus, Zen meditation, a therapist paraphrasing Lewis Carroll]