|East of the Sun, West of the Moon|
They've shut down the Dining Hall, though I think they still use the kitchens to process meat and so forth, but we eat in the Mansion now. That means that we take turns cooking and cleaning, more like a family than like eating in a cafeteria. We have no classes and no talks, seminars, or workshops, nothing scheduled at all, except for zazen, group therapy, and meals. Yesterday we shut down Chapel Hall--and I mean we really shut it down, cleaned the whole thing from top to bottom, drained and winterized the plumbing system, and stabilized the composted in the basement. "We," in this case, is the janitorial crew. Not having classes means we have more time to work. It's like the whole campus is folding in on itself, compacting, for the winter.
And we do take up less space. Half the students are gone already, and more are going, at least for a few weeks. Pretty much the only people left are the yearlings and some of the graduating students, and they have a series of events and trips and retreats planned, so we won't see them much. This means the campus jobs--what some of us do to earn our keep, in lieu of tuition--all have to be reorganized. Everybody on the cleaning crew but me and Jahred have left, but since everybody on the food service crew stayed and mostly aren't needed, most of them have switched over to cleaning, which itself has been merged with maintenance. We're going to keep busy this winter repairing, replacing, and painting, all the things you can't really do with people in the way. The farming crew has laid off some people and groundskeeping will lay off everybody when the first big snowfall comes. The whole campus seems quieter, emptier. Most of the leaves are down and the bare trees look dreary and skeletal. I'll be glad when the snow comes and relieves the constant grey and brown.
Most of the masters are gone. Greg is still here, both to lead zazen and because I don't think he has any other place he needs or wants to be. Very little in this world is constant, but Greg seems to be. He even eats breakfast with us still--the rule is that if you spend the night on campus or are hear during breakfast for some other reason, you have to go, but the rule doesn't seem to apply to faculty and staff in the winter. Joy and Karen have both come on campus this week, because they teach classes open to outsiders and the classes are still going on, but neither came to breakfast. They seem distant. Sarah and her family have moved out, leaving students in charge of the farm. I know they like to take their kids to live with their grandparents for a couple of months, so they can get out of the strangeness and isolation of campus for a while. Sadie still lives here, but she spends most of her time in town as a guest chef for a restaurant there. She's saving money to start her own restaurant, I've heard. Allen still leads each therapy group once a month, but he's rescheduled the meetings so he can do all four groups in the same week and not come in to campus otherwise. Charlie has vanished. He must be here, because I don't think he could be anywhere else, but no one has seen him in days.
Kit, too, makes herself scarce, but not as scarce as the others. I've heard that she and her husband like
|A Feather of Finnist|
The way these things go is she'll announce a theme at breakfast and then that night all the stories have to be on that theme. They also can't be completely original--they have to be retellings of traditional stories from somewhere. And you're not allowed to read the stories, though you can consult notes. You have to recite them, or, as Kit says, tell them. She says there is a way to remember the main points of a story and re-invent it as you go, so that you don't have to memorize the whole thing and you can respond to the needs of your audience. Anyway, she tells the first story, and then other people tell their stories, and it goes on for maybe an hour. Then, most people leave and after they are gone Kit and whoever is left talk about the stories, analyzing their imagery and critiquing each others' storytelling technique. I've never told a story at one of those things, and I don't go every time, but went I have gone I stay through to the end, mostly because I like to be around Kit when she talks.
These things have an interesting effect on campus. For one thing, because of her storytelling gatherings, a lot of people tell a lot of stories at other times, too. They're practicing, or trying to decide on which story to tell, or passing on a story to someone who missed a meeting. For another, we've all gotten familiar with the myths of several different cultures, because we're constantly hearing stories. And because everybody knows that everybody else has heard a lot of these stories, people refer to them in conversation, write about them in their homework, and so on. It's like how some people talk about the Bible, and in fact some of the stories are Biblical, but we're also getting the Greco-Roman myths, the Norse myths, the Mabinogion, the Arthurian cycle, the Brothers Grimm, and a smattering of things from Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia. I don't know half as much as some people here do, but I know twice as much as I used to. For example, did you know that there are West African stories about a trickster rabbit? They're very funny, at least when they're told right, and they reminded me of Brer Rabbit, which of course makes sense. But Kit pointed out that Bugs Bunny is a lot like Brer Rabbit, so it seems that Bugs Bunny is actually African-American.
Anyway, this week the theme was Beauty and the Beast. I attended, because there wasn't a lot else to do, and Kit started out by telling the story of Cupid and Psyche, which I remember from high school English class, but hadn't connected with anything else.
In brief, Psyche was a young woman who was so beautiful that men began to worship her instead of Aphrodite, so Aphrodite sent her son, Eros (or Cupid) to make sure that Psyche got safely married off as soon as possible. But then Eros accidentally pricked himself with one of his own arrows and fell in love with Psyche and so he arranged to marry her secretly. I'm not sure why, but Psyche ends up living by herself in an enchanted castle where she has everything she could ever want except that her new husband is still a complete mystery to her. He only comes to visit her in the dark. Eventually, she goes home to visit her family and then her sisters convince her to find out who this guy is, because he might be a monster. So when he's asleep she lights a lamp and he turns out to be beautiful. But a few drops of hot oil fall from the lamp and burn him and so he flies away, home to his mother. Then, to get him back Psyche has to do all of these things for Aphrodite, including going to the Land of the Dead to bring back some of Persephone's beauty. She falls into an enchanted sleep and Eros rescues her and they get married and live happily ever after.
I still wasn't sure I saw the connection, though I rather liked the idea of mind (psyche) and sex (eros) being married, which I hadn't picked up on before. But then someone said that story was a lot like East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and proceeded to tell that story.
In brief, a huge white bear comes to a poor family and asks to marry the youngest daughter in exchange for rescuing the family from poverty. With some reluctance, the girl agrees, and rides off on the white bear's back. He takes her to live in an enchanted palace and at night, in the dark, he takes of his bear skin and becomes a man and lays with her. Eventually she goes home to visit and her mother convinces her to find out what her husband really looks like, since he might be a monster. So, when he's asleep she lights a candle and he's beautiful--but she drops some wax on him by mistake and he wakes up and explains that if she had trusted him for a year she would have broken the spell that made him look like a beast by day, but as it is now he will have to go home to his mother who will make him marry an ugly troll. Then he and the castle vanish and the woman has to go through all sorts of adventures in order to find his mother's castle, which is "east of the sun and west of the moon." Eventually she does, but he is asleep and so she has to go through more adventures to wake him up. Eventually she does it, washes away the wax stains, and they marry and live happily ever after.
I still wasn't sure I saw the connection to Beauty and the Beast, though I could see the connection to Cupid and Psyche. But then someone else said that story was a lot like Finnist the Bright-Eyed Falcon, and proceeded to tell the story.
|Finnist the Bright-Eyed Falcon|
And yes, I could see the connection to East of the Sun, West of the Moon--a lot of the details were actually identical. And I could see the connection to Cupid and Psyche, with the queen being another version of Aphrodite (though weirdly recast as a competing fiancee). And this time I could see the connection to Beauty and the Beast. And for the first time, I told a story.
I told about the merchant and his daughters, the youngest of whom wanted a strange gift--only a rose. And I told about the girl who found herself unexpectedly married to a beast in a magic castle. And I told about how she went home to visit her family and her sisters convinced her to break her promise to the Beast and stay longer than she should have and so that when she returned to him he was dying. And she wept because she loved him and her tears fell upon his beastly body and broke the spell and turned him into a man again and they lived happily ever after.
I told all of these things. And Kit smiled.
[Next Post: Homework for the Winter]