So I’ve been thinking about how the school year is ending and what I’m going to do over the winter break and all of that—but Arthur is graduating. No matter how strange the end of the year is for me, it must be so much more so for him, since it’s the only year he has here.
I don’t know Arthur very well. Maybe it’s because he’s so much older than I am that we haven’t hung out that much—we don’t have a whole lot in common. Then, too, he has a habit of holding court, collecting a group of people around him and going on and on about one of the many topics he’s supposedly an expert on. I don’t really have much patience for that, and I’m not personally convinced he is an expert. True, he co-led a coven for twenty years, but what does it mean to be an expert in a club you founded and a symbol system you made up? I suppose I might be being unkind. I don’t mean to be. He seems like basically a good guy, and I suppose it's difficult to adjust to not being in charge anymore after twenty years.
Anyway, one thing we do have in common is a master; Arthur tested out as basically qualified to graduate the day he enrolled, but he had to spend a year here and work with at least one master, so he chose to work with Charlie on nature writing. He’s spent the last seven months working on a series of creative non-fiction essays. When he’s not holding court, he’s usually sitting under a tree somewhere, observing and taking notes.
“I’m getting a bachelor’s degree in writing down exactly what I’m looking at,” he sometimes grumbles, as though that is ridiculous thing to do, but I have a feeling Charlie would accept that description as the literal truth. He tends not to have much patience for anything not rooted in exactly what a person is looking at. Greg calls it "favoring the via negativa." Charlie doesn’t usually talk about his other students in detail, but he did once say, of Arthur, “he needs to focus his brilliant mind on something other than his brilliant mind.”
But they seem to get along. They’re both stubborn old men, after all, so I’m sure they understand each other.
They are actually about the same age. Arthur is sixty-eight and Charlie is…well, I’m not sure. He once said he’s over three times my age, and he knows how old I am, so he must be over sixty. But, all joking aside, I wouldn’t call Charlie old. He sometimes calls himself old, but I don’t really believe it. He seems middle-aged to me. That’s all. I don’t think of old guys as shooting deer with bows I can’t even draw, for one thing. But Arthur, on the other hand, he’s old. He’s in great shape—he goes running three days a week, he does yoga, I have it on good authority that the straight women and gay guys on campus all think he’s cute, and yet, he’s old. I’m not sure what the distinction is.
“Charlie has only known young man’s losses,” Kit explained, once. I didn’t ask her what she knows of Charlie’s losses, but I know Arthur has lost his wife and his coven. I’m not sure what happened to his coven. I think it drifted apart while his wife was ill, or something like that. I’ve never had a wife (or a coven), but I think it must change a man inside, to lose one. He doesn't seem depressed or sad, but sometimes I see him, when he's alone and doesn't know I'm watching, turning and turning his wedding ring on his finger, like they prayer wheels the Buddhists sometimes use.
I remember that when Arthur arrived here he told Sharon that he didn’t want to be alone. I asked him the other day what he plans to do after he graduates. I mean, he only gets to be a student here for a year, so that's not a very long reprieve from alone-ness. Has something changed? Does he feel better now? Will he go somewhere else? Where? Where do old men with a new bachelor degree and no immediate family go? I don't mean how will he support himself--I understand he has a pretty good pension from somewhere or other, plus a good bit of savings. I'm just having a hard time imagining being him.
“I haven’t decided yet,” he told me. “I could stay here, be an ally or something, but eventually I’m probably going to want to start my candidacy, and I have to leave, to make that happen. To stay I have to go, it seems like.” He laughed a little, at the irony. He means that if he wants to keep studying here by becoming a candidate for mastery, he'll have to leave school first. To stay, he has to go. They require a three year period of complete separation from the school community between getting your degree and beginning your candidacy, I guess to keep this community from getting too insular and cult-like. Or, at least, most people need three years. They’ve cut it down to one year for Arthur, because he’s had so much experience outside the school before coming here. And, as he points out, as an old guy he might not have as long in which to wait. He laughs when he says that, too.
“They’ve got it backwards, anyway,” he told me once. “At your age, a year takes an eternity. At my age three years goes by faster than it used to take me to put on my socks in the morning. They should have you take a year and give me three years off.”
“You can take three years off if you want to,” I reminded him, but he waved the idea away with one hand.
“I’ll probably be back the week after they send me away, if I can,” he said.
But all of this makes it sound as though Arthur is already done. He doesn’t graduate until he’s completed his year and a day, on Brigit this coming spring. He doesn’t even have Charlie’s ok yet. He has until Brigit to get it, but as I understand it most of the masters make themselves scarce after Samhain, so he’s trying to finish up everything in the next couple of weeks. All the people trying to graduate this coming Brigit are. Campus is filled with people running around madly finishing projects and trying to talk their various masters into giving them their vote.
Someday that’s going to be me, running around. One year almost down, three to go.
[Next Post: Monday, October 14th: Nora]