To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fourth Interlude

Hi, all,

Daniel-of-2013 here.

It's been surprisingly difficult to not write about our daughter. She's really occupying a huge part of my available attention. It reminds me a little of when, in graduate school, Rick used to call me up and ask how I was doing and I'd tell him all about my homework assignments. I had no inner life to talk about. My life was in my books and my laptop and my notes, so that's all I had to talk about.  Now people ask me how I'm doing and I tell them how my daughter's doing. I'm one of those Dads. And then I sit down to write this blog every week and I have to change gears, cast my mind back, and become again, as much as I can, that boy who had no child, who loved no wife, who was hardly more than a child himself.

It feels like a very long time ago, and yet...I can still smell the rain through the open balcony door in my mind. Part of me has never left, and probably never will.

Of course, had I never been at the school there would probably be nothing funny or remotely telling about my inability to answer a question like "how are you." I have friends, mostly other men, who can't ever answer the question, and I probably would have become one of them. I'm just not an introspective person. I don't think I'm any more self-deluded than the next person, and it's not that I have no inner life, it's just that I don't pay much attention to my inner life because, basically, I think I'm pretty boring.

I've been told that not trying to understand myself is a bit like trying to use a map without first locating oneself on it, and that makes some sense. My wife keeps telling me that if I don't tell her what I think and feel then she won't know what makes me happy, and she really gets a kick out of trying to make me happy. That makes sense, too, because I'm the same way about her. But making sense is not enough. I wouldn't be able to say how I'm doing if I didn't know how, and Allen is the one who taught me. Allen and Greg.

Allen taught me to name my feelings. He taught all of us, to one degree or another. I remember someone (I no longer remember who--it may have been Oak) insisting that he was not angry about something and Allen asking him to describe his current physical sensations and mental imagery. When he had, Allen explained that this was anger. The other man had thought anger meant shouting or trying to hurt someone. He hadn't known there was a difference between feeling and expressing.

Greg taught me to find that difference. After months of zazen it was like...sometimes I became aware that I was watching myself. Not analyzing myself or thinking about myself, just watching. It only happened occasionally, and it was very faint...since then my observer-self has gotten much stronger. I'm not wiser or smarter than I used to be, but it's like I am less caught up in my foolishness and stupidity. It's hard to explain.

I remember how I thought when I started at school--and I think I was fairly normal at that point. I was maybe a little young for my age, but basically my reactions to the school were about the same as I think anyone's would have been--wonder and confusion mixed. But by the time I had been there for five or six months I was no longer normal. I had become more self-aware, more curious, and slightly more intellectual. My basic assumptions and reactions were changing. I mentioned, in my last post, the day I biked into town to buy a Coke and ended up regretting it. Part of the reason I regretted it was that I had the bottle to deal with afterwards. Well, I can imagine the reader asking, how difficult is it to recycle a Coke bottle? But this is a case in point of how I had changed. I didn't see that bottle as a piece of trash anymore, I saw it as an object in its own right, a piece of plastic that could and should be used for something--and I couldn't come up with any need for it. It felt like such a waste. How do I describe this?

How do I describe the man I was becoming, when he had so little in common with many of my readers? Of course, some of you probably avoid excess packaging, too. I wasn't the only person in the world concerned about packaging, meditation, or even the child-rearing practices of cultures in southeast Asia, or whatever I was reading about in Anthropology class that week. But now, when I buy a bottle of soda and feel bad about wasting the bottle--and I still do this two or three times a year--I do it in the context of a society where single-use bottles are considered normal. I have it in the back of my head that I'm a little unusual. When I was at school, though, I was entirely inside a society where nothing is ever used just once and where, when people ask "how are you?" they really want an answer. I changed largely without knowing I was changing, or without knowing the depth of the changes. I did not realize I was strange. And it is that innocence I do not know how to describe.

While I'm setting the record straight on things, I should say something about the logistics of course registration and grading at the school. It's not deeply important, and I haven't found any place in the narrative to put it, but you may be wondering how we did it.

Mostly course registration was already computerized when I got there. Hardly anything else was. The school was slow to enter the electronic age--even by the time I graduated, in 2004, there was still no expectation that students own computers. There was no school email system and no way to get online except by the six desktops in the computer lab, which was basically a hallway on the first floor of the Mansion. At least the lab was always open, so you could work at night, if you needed to. But we did have the most amazing program to manage our courses. I've never seen anything like it since. You'd type in your name and get a spreadsheet of sorts that already knew your various prior commitments and course requirements and it would fill in most of your schedule automatically. You'd just have to pick an elective or two or sort out a conflict. The whole system ran smooth as silk and never crashed. The faculty must have had something similar because they didn't seem to have any trouble getting us our evals on time. And I have no idea who managed all of this. At the time I was a novice, there was no IT person on staff. It was just one of the mysteries of the place. I didn't appreciate it at the time, because I had so little to compare it too, but now, in retrospect, it seems as miraculous as Hogwarts' house-elves.

Anyway, I'm about out of things to say, for now. I hope you have a wonderful Lammas.

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