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, February 9, 2014

Year 2: Part 1: Post 3: Discussion Topics

Rick was ok. He spent the night in a sort of snow cave he made by packing snow over a frame made of fallen branches. He says he wasn't even that cold.

I actually forgot to worry about him, so I must have known he'd be ok. I was walking through the Great Hall that morning on the way back from yoga when Rick walked in. I suppose he wanted to change his clothes before breakfast or something. Charlie was sitting on the couch, reading his book, in exactly the same place he'd been the previous afternoon, as though he'd never left.

"I told you you'd be fine," he said, without looking up from his book. Rick looked at him for a moment in dazed confusion and went upstairs. As soon as he was gone Charlie dropped his book and his pose and grinned at me. He had to share his joke with someone, I guess.

The new students have been here a week and they're starting to learn their way around, but they are still so obviously outsiders.I remember that when I was new the school seemed so strange at first and then gradually became less so as I got used to it. I knew that I'd changed. I hadn't thought about how it felt for the senior students to have this influx of people who don't really belong yet. It's disconcerting.

I'm helping them become insiders. I talked to Ollie about it, and I talked with Allen, and I'm starting to learn the trick of talking to these people so that they get a sense of a new way to think without feeling like they're being told what to do or how to think and feel. I know that sounds sinister, like brain-washing, but it really isn't.

It's not like we're making everyone think alike. We don't think alike. The masters don't think all alike. Allen says that part of the reason we have new students, and the reason why mastery candidates have to spend time away from the school, is so that we don't end up all thinking alike. We need new material. And yet part of the point is the opportunity to occupy a different culture than what exists in the outside world. That's kind of what I meant when I decided I wanted to belong inside those Harry Potter robes.

Obviously, anyone who enrolls in any school voluntarily does so in order to change. You want to change into a more educated person, a more professional person, a more grown-up person, whatever. I guess the only thing that's different here is how much energy goes in to shaping what goes on outside of class. It goes back to something I noticed a year ago--a lot of places are very proud of being environmentally sensitive, culturally sensitive, supportive, whatever, but then when they're not paying attention to themselves they kind of revert. Like at my old school, the one I went to for one semester? There was a big sign on the wall in the student center that said Reduce Reuse Recycle! but they sold water in flimsy four ounce plastic bottles. So how serious could they have been about the reduce and reuse part? I guess, in most places, what happens outside of classes and special initiatives and so forth just happens. Here, we make it happen.

There's no sharp line between classes and life here. There's no sharp line between staff and students.
Rick on the Stairs
There are workshops and even classes taught by candidates and I've seen masters show up as participants at workshops and things. And of course, all of them, except Greg, are alumns of this place. And we do a lot of things staff would do at another school--we clean and cook and farm and so forth. I guess we kind of teach, too. We all make this place.

I'd forgotten how many ideas come up in these conversations. Some of the new students are absolutely brilliant, they know all this stuff. Zarah is this raven-haired mystic witch who could probably teach Kit a thing or two. I bet she'll be a one-hit wonder (a student who graduates in only one year, like Arthur was). Easy is a licensed therapist and a professional singer. Vic is a college dropout who spent a couple of years living in the woods in the Pacific Northwest and seems to know everything about the outdoors there.

This morning Vickie, who knows everything about healthy eating and organic food, asked me why I eat meat.

"Because it's here and I like it," I told her, which is true.

"Don't you think about the animals?" she asked. I started to say yes, I do, which is also true, when Vic interrupted.

"Oh, come off it," he said "You don't really expect us to to put up with that kind of lecture at breakfast, do you?"

Vickie blinked at him. I think she felt hurt.

"Why not a lecture at breakfast?" I asked. "We're paying to be at school during breakfast, aren't we?"

"Yes,  but I didn't pay for that lecture!"

"How do you know? I don't remember getting a complete syllabus when I signed up. Did you?" I took a bite of my sausage as I spoke. Both of them looked at me in confusion. They couldn't tell what side I was on.

"Why don't you ask the animal if it's ok to eat it, instead of arguing?" suggested Zarah. She had not taken sausage, though she did have eggs.

"How?" I asked her.

"You really want to know?"


"Ok, I can teach you. Maybe as soon as I get settled in here a little more?"

"That would be great."

"I don't believe that any animal would be ok with being eaten," complained Vickie. "No offense, but how can you tell it's not just your stomach talking, when you get permission?" I thought that was a very good question.

"I am," I told her.

"Are what?"

"An animal who is ok with being eaten."

"I bet Vickie is, too," put in Vic, chuckling. She slapped him, a backhand across his shoulder, not hard, but not exactly friendly, either. He rubbed his shoulder and frowned. I laughed.

"You had that coming," I told him. He apologized. "No, but seriously, I wouldn't mind some other animal using my body after I'm done with it." I was thinking of my promise, the words Charlie had taught me to say; give me of your flesh and leather and bone, and I will give you mine when I am a deer. But I wasn't going to tell them that. There are things, I had learned, that you don't talk about. "Though, it's true I don't want to be done with my body for a good long while, yet."

"Well, there you go," said Vickie. I glanced at Ollie, passing the conversational baton off to him.

"Have you ever wondered how many animals are hit and killed by vegetable delivery trucks?" he asked.

We weren't trying to talk Vickie into eating meat, though most of the people who started when I did and were vegetarians aren't now. Most of us who started out eating meat eat a lot less of it. When I'm off-campus, I don't eat meat at all now, if I don't know where it came from. We were just trying to get her to think about it.

The masters are busy giving talks and seminars and workshops to introduce themselves to the new students. At least, that's part of the reason--you can get tastes of working with everybody, without having to commit to taking whole classes with them. You can also get tastes of subjects you aren't really going to take classes in. Like today, I went to a talk Kit gave on movement, on using dance and music for expression or something like that. I don't know if she gave the same talk last year. If she did, then I didn't go.

Kit has a degree in dance movement therapy, and I don't really know what that means. I'm not interested enough to take a class in it, but given a chance to spend the afternoon with Kit, I'll take it.

She didn't do much talking, actually. She just jumped right in. She'd assembled a kind of orchestra entirely of percussion instruments--drums of various sizes, a xylophone, a washboard, tambourines--and just launched right in to a concert. They did "Riannon," and they were fantastic.

I know that song mostly from hearing it on the radio. It always sounded like light pop to me and I never paid much attention to it,* but Kit's performance was fantastic--the music had this throbbing, infectious quality and the lyrics were wild and mystical.

After they'd gone through the song once the band began again, and Kit formed us into a circle. We took turns in the center of the circle, dancing, as the band went through the music over and over. Sometimes Kit commented or encouraged, but mostly we just danced and she held the space for us. It was a lot like the exercises we did on the Island last year. I suppose the yearlings will do it again on the Island this year. I was a lot more comfortable this time and we had a lot of fun.

Talks are usually an hour and a half long, but I don't think this one lasted that long. After most of us had gotten a chance in the circle and people seemed to be flagging a bit Kit ended it. Most of the group dispersed, but I had nowhere else I was supposed to be so I hung around. One of the Ravens said she had fixings for milkshakes in the fridge and did we want any. Kit said sure. In a few minutes, a group of us were sitting by the woodstove drinking maple snow milkshakes through reusable straws.

"The sap isn't running yet, is it?" I asked. Raven shook her head. She works in the Dining Hall.

"No. This is from the last of last year's syrup."

"It's very good," commented Kit. "You made this with snow, not ice cream, right? And sheep's milk?"

"Yes. The new syrup will be coming in soon, though, I think."

"Yes, it will," Kit confirmed. "We've blessed the trees already."

"Blessed the trees?" I asked. "Who is 'we'?"I could imagine Charlie having something to do with it. Anyway, those trees are my friends.

"The Master's Group. The Six, mostly." She must have seen something on my face because her expression softened. "You're not exactly barred from participating, but we do it at a time when students are otherwise occupied. You'll get there."

I poked at my milkshake with my straw.

Joanna spoke up, changing the topic.

"That dance-thing," she began. "It reminded me of 'Going to Kentucky.' You know, how everyone got their own turn in the middle to dance?"

Kit nodded.

"Huh?" I said.

"You don't know 'Going to Kentucky'?" Joanna asked me. "Kit, let's show him!"

"Sure thing," agreed Kit, putting down her milkshake.

"Going to Kentucky" turned out to be a musical dancing game. We formed a circle, with one person in the middle who danced as everyone else sang.

We're going to Kentucky, 
We're going to the fair
To see the senorita 
With flowers in her hair.
Oh, shake it, baby, shake it
Shake it if you can
Shake it like a milkshake
And drink it if you can.
Oh, rumba to the bottom
Rumba to the top
Then turn around and turn around 
Until you make it Stop! 

On the word "stop" the dancer stopped turning and pointed to someone in the circle, who then becomes the next person in the center of the circle. We played a couple of rounds and had a lot of fun, laughing at each other and goofing around.

"Wow," said Easy, when we returned to our milkshakes, "Kit, you are like one half camp counselor and one part Stevie Nicks."

"Yup," Kit agreed. "Although I do have other parts," and she sucked up the last of her milkshake.

"Are you a Welsh witch?" asked Zarah.

"No, Greek, mostly," Kit answered. I must have looked confused.

"Stevie Nicks' record label is Welsh Witch Records," Joanna explained, taking pity on me.

"Is Nicks a witch?" I asked.

"She says she isn't," Kit replied. "And if she's in the broom closet she might as well stay there, if that's what she needs to do."

"Broom closet?" asked Easy.

"What witches hide in when they're pretending not to be witches," I explained, happy to know something.

"People do that? Still?" asked Easy.

"Sure do," said Kit. "Never 'out' a witch without her permission. It's not always safe." Kit uses the word "witch" to refer to both men and women, but she also says "she" when she isn't sure, the same way a lot of people say "he."

"If everyone were out, it would be safer for everyone to be out," said Zarah.

"That might be true," Kit said, "but remember, everyone was out, once upon a time. That didn't stop the cowen folk from coming after us."

"Cowen?" asked Easy.

"Non-witches," I explained, though I'm not actually sure that the implied distinction ever actually existed.

"But," protested Joanna, and another conversation was off and running, another debate, in along series of endless discussions in a magical little community ringed round with snow.

[Next Post: Friday, February 14th: Working Cats]

* Note: When I was twenty, I had never actually seen a video of Fleetwood Mac performing. I have since, and was very impressed. I would not call them "light pop" now. Kit's performance that night was actually very close to the original in style, though the instrumentation was very different and Kit's vocal register is a bit lower.

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