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, December 28, 2014

Year 2, Part 8: Post 2: Explanation

So, this entry is odd. I'm writing as Daniel-of-2014 again.

As I've said, I spent Christmas of 2001 at my parents' house and did not return to campus again until the week before Brigid. So if I kept on posting weekly as if I were myself from thirteen years ago, you'd get a series of five or six posts about my parents and that isn't really the point.

Instead of doing that, I plan to do several entries speaking in my own voice, cleaning up some odds and ends and adding in some extra information that you may find interesting. A lot of this won't be narrative, but I can also add in some stories that I didn't have room for before.

For example, when I first arrived--early in February, 2000, one of the first people I started to make friends with was Nora. I remembered her from seeing her in the office before either of us enrolled, I was curious about her, and while she was still high school age and I wasn't, we were both teenagers. So, maybe two or three days after we'd enrolled, Nora and I were walking through the Office trying to find the Computer Lab for a workshop we wanted to attend there. The Great Hall has a lot of doors opening off of it, and we'd gone through the wrong one again. And we came face to face with Allen.

I didn't know who he was, yet--of course I'd seen him at the ceremony at Brigit, but the light in the Chapel had been dim and I didn't have a clear memory of anyone's face, except Kit's. I could see he was a professor--Ollie had told me they were called masters--because he wore a brown uniform with a brown belt. We students wore white. What I couldn't see was why he seemed shocked to encounter us, or, more particularly, Nora. He was staring at her.

"Hi, Dr. ____," she said, addressing him by last name, with a giggle and a cutesy little wave.

"Hello, Nora," he answered, seeming uncomfortable.

"You know each other?" I asked, surprised.

"Sure--Dr.____'s my therapist," Nora said.

"You said it. It wasn't mine to disclose," he said. "Will you introduce me to your friend?"

That meant me. Nora introduced us.

"So, you're both new students?" he asked conversationally.

We nodded. He didn't remark on Nora's age. He did ask whether she'd known he worked here.

"Sure," she told him. "I followed you here."

"You what?"

"Yeah. I saw you on your bike when I was out with my Mom. We saw you turn in here--so I checked it out."

He smiled and shook his head.

"Welcome," he told us. "I go by Allen, here." Then he turned, a little nervously, towards Nora. "You know I can't be your therapist and your college professor at the same time?"

"You can't?" I saw the color drain from her face, her smile fade.

"You can still talk to me, Nora," he reassured her. "Your mother can't pay me enough to hang out with someone if I don't really want to."

"So, what's the difference?"

"You don't have to make an appointment and I don't have to tell your mother how you're doing."

"Well, that's fine, then!" exclaimed Nora, smiling again.

So, when I was writing about that part of the story, I didn't have space for that sequence--there was a lot of other material I had to cover in order to explain how the school worked to the reader. But that one sentence--"your mother can't pay me enough to hang out with someone if I don't really want to"--shows something important about Allen--that he is always exactly himself.

If you go to Allen for therapy or have him as an instructor, or go to one of his magic shows, you're not interacting with a therapist, a college professor, a professional magician; you're interacting with Allen. It's not that he never changes his behavior as he switches roles, but when he ceased being Nora's therapist, their prior history together didn't evaporate. He was still the adult she had trusted with her secrets.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Year 2: Part 8: Yule

Another year, another Yule. It's amazing how time just keeps moving.

The various campus activities were the same this year as last, which I expected, but I had a bit of a different perspective on everything, which I didn't expect but should have. For one thing, I knew what was happening this time. There wasn't the element of surprise for me, and yet I was surrounded by people, yearlings, who did not know, and part of my responsibility was implicitly to protect and to guide their surprise.

But I also got to be more behind the scenes this time, I got to be one of the elves, so to speak--I don't know if there is such a thing as Yule elves, but Santa and his elves certainly seem Yuleish. Yule feels like Christmas, only it's like Christmas when you're a little kid, all trees and toys and candy. So there must be elves.

I'm on the groundskeeping team, of course, so anything that involved plants--like the Yule tree--became part of my responsibility. I actually got more than my normal share of the work, because I'm going off campus for almost a month and a half between now and Brigid, so I've been rearranging my hours, some, working more now because I won't have a chance later. I'm something like the chief elf, I guess.

There is the tree, decorated in gold and white--white lights, gold and tangerine-colored balls like magical fruits or suns, a whole flock of blown-glass birds, and lianas of ivory-colored, gold-edged ribbon. There are the evergreen garlands winding up the columns in the Great Hall and across the ceiling, the green sprigs and dried flowers and sprays of berries on the mantlepieces, all of that had to come from somewhere and we're the ones who set it all up. It's not like we just ordered a case of greens from some floral supplier or something--we had to source everything locally, mostly from things we trimmed or thinned on campus. We started planning the whole thing--to have enough fresh material at exactly the right time--months earlier. The actual building of the garlands and so forth we did under Karen's direction. I hadn't seen Charlie for weeks before this morning.

This morning.

We walked up the mountain in the dark to watch the dawn again, all in silence. It rained a bit last night, a cold, irregular spitting rain, very different from last year's crisp, clear cold, and instead of a dramatic, obvious sunrise, the clouds just got slowly brighter and more orangish. We'd anticipated the problem, so a group of us brought watches and we started singing Here Comes the Sun at the time when the sun would have cleared the horizon if we could have seen it. On our way back down the mountain it started raining again, rain with an edge of sleet in it, but when we got back to the Great Hall the warmth and the food--oatmeal, hot cocoa, and lots of cookies--made everything festive.

I felt bad for the yearlings, not being able to see a clear sunrise like we did last year. I'm not sure they could really tell why we started singing when we did, though last year it was obvious--we were welcoming the sun, of course. I almost felt guilty for is, as if, as a senior student and somebody who helped make our celebration happen, I should have arranged for better weather or something. Which is ridiculous, of course.

I still tried to make amends by explaining to Ebony how it should have gone while we walked back to the Mansion together. I'd guided her up the mountain, too, which is ironic because we were walking in the dark, then, and she has a lot more experience with being unable to see than we do--and yet, even without a flashlight (and there were several in the group) I'm better at walking in the dark now than she is, at least along these paths. She finds blindness uninteresting, like a shirt that doesn't fit, something she'd rather everybody, including her, could just forget about. I, on the other hand, think it's really cool to be able to find my way by feet and hands and by the not-quite-sound made by objects as they loom or open up in the dark. She likes me to explain what things look like, even though she has never had much vision and has never seen most of the things I try to describe.

We were silent on the way up, before dawn, but on the way back I told her, both about the orange glowing clouds this year and the clear, splitting sunrise last year.

"Oh, that sounds lovely to see," Ebony  said. "I wish I'd been here last year!..."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Year 2: Interlude 7

Hi, again, Daniel of 2014 here.

(A tangent: I watched Sesame Street as a kid, of course, and one of the recurring sketches back then involved Kermit the Frog as a reporter. He'd introduce himself by saying "Hi-ho, Kermit the Frog, here!" And every time I start one of these things and write "Daniel of 2014 here," that's what I think of.)

I've been thinking about magic lately and how many readers initially attracted to this blog as a story set in a "magic college" might be disappointed. All I talk about, most of the time, is human interaction and school work--mostly natural science. No wand-waving. If and when I convert this tale to a real book, I'll have to work out some way of managing that discrepancy. For now, I guess I just have to explain it a little bit.

I came to the school looking for something, which, at the time, I vaguely articulated by referring to Harry Potter. Some mystery or romance associated with those stories clung to the school as well, and I wanted to belong to it. I wanted that magic. And yet, I never studied the sort of magic Harry Potter does.

Yes, I could have--not exactly the same thing, but there were people on campus who practiced forms of magic much closer to fantasy magic than anything most of us are taught to believe exist. For example, there were witches (both male and female) who claimed to be able to control the weather, make themselves invisible, and even change into animals temporarily.

The weather magic was unreliable and the other changes involved the "aura" or "astral body" only, but an "invisible" person was genuinely hard to notice--your eyes slid off of them. And I've heard that people who changed their "energy" into that of an animal can walk right up to real animals without frightening them.

I loved living in a community where all this was accepted as possible, even normal, but I never felt called on to learn it. Even the "impossible" skills I did learn, how to perceive color with my fingertips, how to heal with a touch, how to create circumstances where "lucky coincidences" were almost inevitable, never seemed all that magical to me, once I got the hang of it. They are just things I know how to do.

And yet, the school always seemed magical to me. No matter how familiar it became, no matter how many of its odd little secrets I learned or how much of its day-to-day operations I ended up being responsible for, the community retained its glamour for me, its wondrousness.

The truth is that no matter how many "impossible" things I heard about or learned to do, mere technique never seemed like magic to me once the novelty wore off. Because "magic" meant to me, and still means, a delightful surprise and once I really came to believe, say, that I can tell what color a sheet of paper is by touching its surface, that fact was no longer surprising. But people, what they do and say and think and feel, are a constant surprise and a delight. In getting to know, really know my fellow human beings, I pursue and embody a magic deep enough to hold my attention forever.

So it is people I write about.

Speaking of what I write about, I've decided to go on hiatus, starting around the first of the year. I wasn't on campus from just before Christmas of 2014 until nearly Brigid, so I don't have much about the school to say for that time period, anyway. So, instead of continuing to post as normal I'm going to spend the time posting odds and ends I haven't managed to fit into the narrative so far, talking  a bit about my life in the hear and now, and writing drafts of posts for the spring.

My hope is that if by Brigid I have a backlog of posts ready to publish, I'll have time to get back into illustrating, posting twice a week, or both.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 6: Ollie

It’s been unseasonably warm lately. Even the other week, when we got the snow and ice, it wasn’t that cold. There have been days that kind of felt like late September. It can’t last, of course, so Ollie and I have been taking advantage of the weather to go running together a lot, before the snow comes—and before Ollie graduates, of course.

Graduation isn’t until the beginning of February, but neither of us is going to spend all winter on campus. He’ll be doing a lot of things with the other graduating students and I’ve decided I’m going to go home for the winter, starting with Christmas. So every time I go running with Ollie now it feels like it could be the last time. And I suppose it could be. We don’t know when the snow will settle in.
I asked him what he plans to do about Willa, I mean because she’s not graduating for another year.

“I’ve decided to stay in touch with her. She’s important to me,” he said.

“So you’re not going to come back and go for your ring?” You have to drop contact with everyone at school for three years in order to be eligible to come back and study further. Giving that up would be a major sacrifice for him.

“Oh, no. I’ll just start my Absence a year later. We’re going to get married, you know.” He added that last part casually, while stretching.

“No, I didn’t know! Congratulations!” I clapped him on the arm and he grinned and blushed a little, muttering thanks. “Except, what about the religion thing?”

“What religion thing?”

“She’s still pagan, isn’t she? And you’re not.” Ollie isn’t just not pagan, he wants to be a Baptist minister. Given our topic of conversation, neither of us were ready to start running yet. You can run and talk at the same time, but it’s distracting. You can’t talk about anything important. I can’t, anyway. We started walking instead.

“I’m not sure she is pagan,” he answered, “except by default. She doesn’t really have a cosmology. She’s more interested in orthopraxy than orthodoxy. She doesn’t deny Jesus.” Orthopraxy means the thing you are supposed to do, as opposed to orthodoxy, which is the thing you are supposed to think. More or less.

"Yeah, but her orthopraxy involves sex and masturbation as a means of meditation and prayer. That honestly doesn't sound too Baptist to me."

"So, freaking, what?" he answered. Even when he's trying to be crudely emphatic, Ollie can't quite bring himself to use bad language. "When I first realized I cared for Willa, I was afraid. I don't mean I was afraid of sex. I don't think I'm afraid of sex, anyway. But I was afraid of doing something wrong. I was afraid that if I deviated from the straight-and-narrow, if I felt and did things that my parents and my pastor wouldn't expressly give me permission to do, I'd offend God and I'd go straight to Hell. I wanted some kind of reassurance. But, honestly, if I really believed that adherence to a specific Earthly Church was a guarantee of salvation, I'd be a Catholic. They're the ones who have an unbroken line of transmission from Jesus Christ, through St. Peter, down to every priest in their Church in the world. Every Protestant denomination, including mine, rests upon the principle that a human being can discover a valid way to God that is different than the teachings of the Church they belong to. Not that all ideas about truth are equally valid, but being on the straight-and-narrow as per the Baptist Church is no guarantee that I'm doing this right. I have to search for God for myself. And I'm convinced that Willa should be with me for that search. I believe that she will find her way to Christ, and that she will show me things about God I would not have found on my own."

"Why did you come here, Ollie?" I asked. "Why did you join a pagan non-denominational seminary in the first place? I've never known."

"Why did you?"

"Because I felt like it. But I'm not planning on becoming a preacher."

"Same reason Andy did--I want to be like Jesus. But people forget that Jesus wasn't Christian. He was Jewish, and he spent his childhood in Egypt, so he may have had some pagan contact there. Some people think he traveled in his twenties and studied in India. The way to truth sometimes lies through unexpected places. And Jesus said that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains. What is faith, that it can do that? No one who had studied faith could explain it to me. So I decided to consult people who study miracles--magic--instead. And" here he took a deep breath, like he was admitting something, "Allen is the most intelligent, reasonable, and compassionate person I've ever met. I want to be like him, too."

"You came here for him?"

"Yes. I saw one of his magic shows and I started talking with him afterwards. I passed the entrance exam with him."

"So, did it work? Did you become who and what you wanted to be?"

"I don't know, Daniel. I am a poor judge of myself for such things. You tell me. Am I a good man?"

"Yes, mostly," I told him. "You are one of the most intelligent, reasonable, and compassionate people I've ever known, anyway." And I meant it.

"Thanks," he told me. And we went running together.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Year 2: Part 7: Post 5: Oh, Baby

Note: Thanksgiving Day, 2001, was on the 22nd, not the 27th, but I'm posting as though today were the Monday after the holiday..

I just got back from spending the weekend--plus Thanksgiving, of course--at my parents'. Last year I went home for Thanksgiving and it was pretty awful--my one uncle, especially, wouldn't stop asking me questions that I couldn't answer because they were based on a complete misunderstanding of my life--he'd heard I was studying to be a priest (our school is a "non-denominational pagan seminary," remember) and somehow he decided that meant I'd become an Episcopalian. Then, when Kit came to pick me up, my Dad got some kind of ridiculous crush on her and my Mom responded by getting all catty and weird. I felt like a complete alien in my own family home and getting back on campus was a major relief.

For a while I honestly wasn't sure I wanted to go back there, but of course I changed my mind, and I've had a lot of good times back home since then.

I think this year would have gone better no matter what, in part because I was expecting to be something of an outsider. I was steeled for it. I also took the precaution of talking with both Allen and Sharon more about how to talk about the school in terms that let other people imagine it to be whatever version of normal they prefer.

"You never lie," Allen explained. "The trick is to let others hear what they want to, see what they want to. If they want the truth, they'll see and hear that. If they don't, then you can hide behind their expectations in plain sight."

But I also had an advantage in that there was a baby there to distract everyone from me.

My brother and his wife had a baby back in August, a little boy. For various reasons, I couldn't get out to visit them at the time, and while I had seen my brother since then, I hadn't seen the baby. So Thanksgiving was the first time I got to see my nephew. It was also the first time my uncles and aunts got to see him, so they spent most of their time talking about him, not about me.

I think I'm going to like being an uncle. I was sitting right across the table from him and I spent most of dinner making faces at him to try and get him to laugh. I'm not sure my brother really appreciated that, but I figure he can deal. I'm considering becoming the "cool uncle," the one you get in trouble with. Everybody needs one.

The boy can hold his head up now and look around, but he stays where you put him. He can giggle and make various noises, but I wouldn't call any of it babbling yet. He sat at a high chair and played with a spoon during dinner (he kept throwing it for adults to fetch. "He's conducting experiments in physics and psychology," my brother explained, fetching the spoon again. "He'll be publishing a couple of papers, one of these days") but he didn't eat any of our food.

"You've met him at the best age," my mother commented. "He's cute and alert and interactive, but we don't have to child-proof the house yet and it's still ok to curse around him."

"No, it isn't," said my sister-in-law. "Bad habits are hard to break. Anyway, I hope this isn't the best age, we have a lot of ages left to go!" But she said all this in a friendly tone.

After dinner, she nursed the baby, covering her breasts with an expensive-looking silk (or maybe rayon?) shawl.

"Can he breathe under that?" I asked, and immediately regretted it. I mean, of course he can breathe, why would I go and accuse my sister-in-law of smothering her child? But she didn't seem to take offense.

"Oh, yeah," she reassured me. "He can see out, too. Just you can't see in."

I nodded and asked if she expected him to sleep after he was done eating. I wanted to hold him, and hadn't yet, but obviously I didn't want to spoil his rest.

"You're really good with the baby," my mother commented. "It's nice to see."

I smiled and shrugged a bit.

"And really good with nursing," added my sister-in-law. "You haven't smirked, not once. I don't feel self-conscious around you."

I suddenly realized I was the only man in the room, not counting the baby. I think I blushed.

"You know, that's right," my mother said. "When I had you guys I nursed in public, no cover or anything...I was such a little radical! Most people were polite about it, but I could always feel them trying not to look at my breasts. Men especially. Even your father--it was like he thought they were his and you babies were borrowing them."

This was not anything I'd wanted to know about my parents. I don't want to even think about my mother's breasts.

"She's my sister-in-law!" I protested, louder than I needed to. "I'm not a total cretin!" But that wasn't what I wanted to say. It hadn't come out right. I mean, it's not like I'd be ogling her if she wasn't my sister-in-law.

"Look," I tried again, blushing hard and not looking at either of them, "I like breasts, but they're not for me, ok? I'm not going to go staring at other people's bodies like I was a a kid in a damn candy store. It's not about me. In this case it's about lunch. For a baby."

"You know, Daniel," my sister-in-law said, in a tone of amazement. "I don't think you're a cretin at all." 

Which, I suppose, is a compliment, and I was glad to get it, but somehow I'd rather be held to a higher standard than non-cretinhood.

Last night, Kit came to pick me up, just as she did last year, but this time my mother invited her in for a drink. She accepted, on the condition her husband and Allen could come in, too. And of course they could (this year they were the only ones in the car--Lo and the kids were at home, I guess). And so the six of us sat and talked for a while. Mostly I remember Kit trying to explain to my Dad what being a witch really means. I'm not sure he really understood her, but she was completely charming and I think my parents finally got that she's an ordinary person.

It was so strange, having Allen and Kit sitting in my parents' living room, like an irruption of one world into another, the different parts of my life interacting. They are ordinary people, but they are extraordinary, also. Their presence gave a certain glamour to the room, almost like they were fairies, or perhaps wild animals. It occurred to me to wonder whether I do that to the rooms I enter and, if I don't do it now, whether I will someday.

This year I was grateful to have a family to visit, but once again I was even more grateful to have a school to return home to.