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

Monday, July 22, 2013

Part 4: Post 11: The Failure of Reason

 Well, I missed it. Just the day after I posted the last entry, I was sitting there, watching the phoebe nest, doing my homework...and I looked down at the book I was reading and when I looked up again the nest was empty.


I didn't entirely miss the show, though. Otter, one of the senior students in my dorm, happened to be walking by while I was sitting there dumbfounded, and he saw my face and asked what was wrong. I laughed, because I felt kind of silly, being upset about having missed the birds flying away, and then I told him. He just looked around for a minute.

"No, you didn't," he said.

"Didn't what?"

"Didn't miss all the birds flying away. There's one--see?" And I looked. There was a little bird perching on the edge of the large lantern that hangs over the steps that go up to the front door. The best way to explain it is to say that if you look at a picture of the front of the White House there is a similar lantern, but bigger, hanging there. Only, I've never seen ours on. I don't even know if it works. Anyway, there was a little bird clinging there.

"But it doesn't look anything like a phoebe," I protested. "The tail's shorter and it's all...weird-looking." Otter laughed. As the name implies, he's interested in and knowledgeable about animals.

"Of course not," he told me. "You're used to looking at the adults. This thing was a chick an hour ago. Songbird fledgelings all have really short tails. And it's all weird-looking because it has no idea what's going on. If you were only sixteen days old and had just discovered you can fly, you'd be weird-looking, too."

As we watched, the little phoebe fledgeling whistled for its parents, who didn't come. It flew around the inside of the carport for a bit, seemingly lost, and I could see it breathing heavily at one point, when it landed near me. It did, indeed, seem confused. But just when I was starting to worry that it might need some kind of help it suddenly got up and flew unerringly away. So now they really are all gone. I don't suppose I'll ever see any of them again, and I don't think I'd know them if I did. I'll have to keep an eye out for short-tailed songbirds.

I'm going to miss watching those birds, though I suppose it's just as well--I was starting to fall behind on my homework. I'd like to know more about birds, the way Otter and some of the others do. I'm starting to want to know about everything. At least I am learning about trees. I thought I knew all the trees on campus weeks ago, but I would have forgotten them. Now, I don't think I'm going to forget. I've filled out those stupid labels so many times, over and over, the same species sometimes many times a day (Charlie tends to unlable whole species at once,so I'll wake up one morning and find hemlocks, red maples, and white oaks unlabeled. A few days later it will be black cherry, white pine, and alternate-leafed dogwoods). It's like a chant for each species, a discipline.

Hemlock Twig
 Eastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis; Eastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, Eastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis. Greetings, Eastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, thou conifer with short, uneven needles and reddish, wrinkled bark! Hail thee! Of course, I don't actually say that. I greet them without words. But that's what it's like. I expect I'll be dreaming about them, soon. Maybe when I do, Charlie will know somehow, and he'll let me stop.

I'm not worried about it, though.

I was worried about Ollie,earlier this week. Something had been going on with him. He seemed distracted, grumpy, just...stressed. It wasn't like him. I usually let people do their own thing, unless I'm feeling nosy, but Ollie's a good guy and he's helped me out a lot. So I asked him about it the other evening. At first he wouldn't tell me, but he didn't actually say he didn't want to talk about it. Instead he was trying to brush me off without admitting that he was doing it, and it kind of pissed me off. I mean, if you want me to go away, be a man about it and say so. So I kept following him around the dorm, pestering him, until finally he threw himself down in one of the chairs in our lobby.

"Ok, then, sit," he told me. He sounded tired. With a gesture I indicated the other people in the room, all reading or writing busily--maybe two or three of them. He waved off my concern. "They're reading.They're dead to the world. And I don't feel like getting up." He's probably right not to care--people mostly mind their own business here. There's hardly any rumor mill at all.

So I sat down to listen.

"Daniel," he began in a low, stressed-out voice, "there's a girl who wants to have sex with me."

"What?" I was confused--first, I was distracted by his wording--no one here says "girl" for grown women anymore, and Ollie's really careful about that sort of thing. So the way he said it just sounded weird. But it was obvious what he meant. But still....huh? The people reading in their chairs had not moved. The word "sex" doesn't attract much attention here, because most people talk about it openly, not like people talk about it in other places--it's like it's no big deal for a lot of people. But Ollie's an exception. He doesn't talk about it, usually.

"There's a girl who wants to have sex with me," he repeated. "Quite a lot, actually." He blushed and looked away.

"And this is a problem why?"I asked him. He took a few seconds to answer.

"You've got to understand how I was raised," he told me. "My church takes no sex before marriage very seriously. You're not even supposed to think about sex. I got so used to never even looking at a girl from the neck down I think they actually could have been naked--I wouldn't have noticed. Jesus said that to look at a woman with lust is to commit adultery in your heart. So, obviously you can't have lust...except, how can you not?" he blushed again. "It's just a particular cross to bear for adolescent boys."

"So, what did you do? As an adolescent?" If he had some kind of cure for inconvenient lust I'd like to know, after all.

"I took a lot of cold showers," he answered. He smiled a little and then continued. "I'm not the only person here who was raised Baptist, but I think I'm the only one here who still is Baptist. I see things differently than I did when I was a kid--I'm not as reactionary, I'm not as literalist. I don't think a passing thought or feeling will condemn me to Hell, anymore. God gave me this body and these feelings for a reason. But I have to be a man about it and not a beast. I can't just do things because I feel like doing them. I...believe in celibacy before marriage. I believe in doing what I know, in my heart, is right."

As he talked, I saw Ollie's body language change. When he talked about how he was raised, he looked like a boy. He looked shame-filled, like somebody was doing something to him. A victim. But as he talked on he grew older. By the time he got to that last line he was an adult again, confident, with this quiet, unshakeable integrity. It was strange and touching to see. Then he sighed.

"But loving Willa is also right. And I don't know what to do."

"Willa? You're in love with Willa?" I asked. I hadn't thought of them as together, though I knew they were good friends. I could see what he meant--Willa is studying sex magic. She's one of the people on campus who goes to bed like she's asking somebody to pass the toast. I wouldn't call her 'easy,' first because I don't want to get slapped ('sexist' is right next to 'homophobic' on the list of things you do not want to be here), and second because it's not like she's indiscriminate. I doubt she's easy to talk into anything, let alone sex. But it is hard to imagine her really being compatible with a card-carrying Baptist. I was trying to figure out some sympathetic way to respond when I heard a voice beyond me.


I turned, and saw Willa poking her head up over the top of one of the other chairs. Neither of us had realized she was there. I could almost hear Ollie's mortification behind me. I did him the favor of not turning back to see him turning red. "Ollie, we don't have to have sex," Willa continued in a loud, cheerful voice.

"We don't?" said Ollie.

"No! I'm a tantrika, not a sex-friend!" Willa giggled. By now, everyone in the room was clearly listening in. Sex may not be a big deal, but celibacy is apparently quite titillating. Willa seemed to have no awareness of their reaction. She was absolutely unselfconscious, and unconscious, too, apparently, of how Ollie must be feeling. She climbed out of her chair and went over to Ollie. "Did you mean that, about loving me?"

"Of course! You're...yes."

"Ollie, I explore physical love in order to grow in spiritual love. I can explore celibacy the same way, for the same reason."

"You'd do that for me?"

"Yeah. Of course. You're more than my friend. You know that, right?"

"I am?"

 I have no idea how long a relationship can last between two people who are so different. Willa, standing there, completely oblivious to the fact that we could all hear her, and private, proper Ollie. Although, they do both like to explore the inside of things, the not-obvious things--the way Ollie is learning to be a Baptist preacher by studying reason and psychotherapy with an agnostic magician being case in point. So maybe it can work.

But the thing that really has me shaking my head is how completely unreasonable Ollie let himself get over this. He wouldn't even let me let go of who was unlabeling my trees, and here it somehow slipped his mind that he could just ask Willa what she wanted, what she was willing to do. It seems like a no-brainer to me, especially with Willa, who likes to talk about everything.

But I guess even philosophers sometimes take leave of their senses, when something they want desperately enough is at issue.

[Next Post: Friday, July 26th: Thunderstorm]

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