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, March 29, 2015

Year 3: Part 2: Post 4: Levity

The warm weather over and just after Ostar didn't last, of course.  Last week it got cold again and sleeted for hours on end so that the ground was covered by two inches of slush and the roads all turned to ice. Which didn't make much difference to us on campus, of course, except that Allen couldn't get home on Saturday and had to spend the day on campus.

The slush and ice has melted, but the ground is still wet and puddled and the air is cold and raw. There's supposed to be another ice storm coming in sometime tomorrow, maybe turning to snow at the end.

Allen must be worried about the roads, because he came to campus this morning instead of waiting until Tuesday like normal. Usually, he goes home late Friday night and does not come back till lunch-time on Tuesday. He doesn't see his family during the week, so having such a short weekend this time must bother him because he brought Alexis in to work with him. She's on Easter break right now. The other two are probably busy with friends and of course Lo has to work.

I'm unexpectedly on campus today, too, because of the weather. Fred isn't sending out crews today, and there isn't enough work at the nursery and yard for all of us. He told me and the other part-timer to stay home, so I've worked all day for Charlie instead. I'm trying to arrange it so I don't lose out on hours at either my on-campus or my off-campus jobs, I only rearrange them.

So, anyway, on the way in to the Dining Hall I bumped into Allen and Alexis sitting together outside. They'd just finished eating and Allen was entertaining his daughter by levitating a penny. She kept trying to grab it but he wouldn't let her. Eventually he promised to teach her how to do it when she got older and sent her inside to drop off their dirty dishes.

I sat down next to him for a moment.

"Does she know it's just a trick?" I asked. I'd been wondering about this--what it's like to grow up with a magician-father.

"It what sense is it just a trick?" he asked me, smiling. Of course, we've had this conversation before. He is, as far as I know, levitating the penny. It's not an illusion in the ordinary sense of the word. I sighed.

"I mean, do you think she knows that pennies don't normally levitate by themselves?"

"Pennies don't normally do anything by themselves. They need us to do things to them."


"It's not my fault that you don't know what you're talking about yet." He was still smiling when he said it, though. I sighed again and tried to focus.

"Do you think that growing up with you confuses her about physics," I said, finally. "No offense, I mean."

"None taken, though my answer is predictable. A better question would by why I think magic doesn't confuse her."

"Well, ok, why?"

"Because she isn't confused. She functions in ordinary space-time as well as any kid her age. She sees all kinds of things on television that don't happen in ordinary life and that doesn't confuse her. Her understanding of reality is pretty sophisticated."

"What do you tell her about the Easter Bunny?" I asked. "Do you tell her about the Easter Bunny?"

"Not really. I don't lie to my kids, but I don't go out of my way to squash fantasies, either. If she wants to pretend about the Easter Bunny, that's fine with me. And Charlie's shown her real baby rabbits, so I think she has a definite sense of mystery and wonder about things."



"How can you do stage magic without lying? In a good cause, I mean?" I felt really uncomfortable asking him that, like I was accusing him of being a liar (after I'd just accused him of being a confusing parent!) but Allen does not mind honest questions. And he knows when you're engaging in polite fiction and he will skewer you for it.

"When have I ever lied? I produce playing cards, silk scarves, Easter eggs," and of course, he made all those things appear in his hands as he named them, "where is the dishonesty in that? When am I ever saying I am doing anything I am not?"

"You make it look like these things appear out of nowhere," I protested. "But they do come from somewhere, they must. I don't  have fish in my ear, but I bet you can make it look like I do."

"That is a bet I will not take," he said, and obligingly produced several toy fish out of my right ear. I laughed. I don't understand how he can prepare himself for such pop-quizzes in stage magic. But he must have thought I was starting to get used to his tricks. "Or, maybe you were thinking something more literal?" he added, and produced a very real fish, a small trout from my left ear. And it was still alive.

Alexis ran up at that moment, so Allen handed the fish to her and told her to quick put it in a jar of water from the kitchen and then to take it and put it in the fountain in the Green Room. She obliged without any apparent surprise at all.

"How do you do that?" I asked him, incredulous. He gave me an exaggerated shrug. I laughed. "Ok, but there was not a fish in my ear!"

"I didn't say there was. I made a fish appear at the entrance to your ear. That's exactly what you saw me do, and I did not pretend to do anything else. I merely hid the way I did it. If the basis of the trick were making you believe there was a fish in your ear, the trick wouldn't work."

He's right. He's usually right.

And you know, I wonder if that's why he doesn't take offense when I ask how magic isn't lying or whether he thinks he's confusing his child, or any other question that would seem tactless at best with anyone else--because I wasn't accusing him of anything any more than I was harboring a live fish in my ear. I never said he WAS confusing his child, I just asked him whether he thought he was. I think he knows perfectly well why someone might take offense at such things--he must, he's a therapist--just as he knows why it's funnier to make a fish appear next to an ear than elsewhere. It's not that he doesn't get it. But when you say something to him, he hears what you say, not you don't say.

Frankly, it's reassuring.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Year 3: Part 2: Post 3: Getting Out There

My new job has started.

I'm working for a landscaper Charlie is friends with. I'm basically a grunt--so far, I've moved plants from one end of the nursery to another, cleaned out a couple of clients' flower beds, and watched training videos on the safe application of herbicide. Not that they use a lot of herbicide, here. Most of the plants we work with are native, and some of the clients even have us doing the kind of naturalistic landscaping Charlie talks about. The owner, Fred, is about Charlie's age, but outwardly friendlier and more energetic. I appreciate his flexibility about my schedule, though of course I'm not the first of Charlie's students to work here.

I like the work. I get to be outside and get my hands in the dirt, and I get to talk to people who aren't part of the school--which is strange. Fred, of course, knows all about the school, but most of the other workers don't and of course they can't because the nature of the school is secret. It has to be for the entrance exam to work. They know I'm a student and they sometimes ask questions, but I know how to talk about the school as if it were an ordinary liberal arts program, so that isn't a problem. The difficulty is that all of my life revolves around the school. I have nothing else to talk about. So I do more listening than talking when I'm at work, and that is fine by me.

It's interesting, I have so little in common with these people culturally--I don't even get half their jokes--but we share this focus on naturalistic landscaping, something I don't have in common with most people on campus. It's neat.

I think I'm going to learn a lot here.

The hours are long--each workday is ten hours, though I do half-days sometimes. Since I have to bike to and from a pick-up point in town, to catch my carpool, I'm off-campus for twelve hours or more, sometimes. I'll get about twenty hours per week, about two hundred dollars, before taxes. Not much, but it will cover my room and board fees.

It's strange how open-ended my schedule is this semester. I only have two classes, which means I basically have two days off (which is when I go to work). Some weeks I have three days off, because Wednesday is a make-up day. It's not that I don't have plenty to do, it's that I have a lot of freedom to decide when to do it.

So, I decided to go to one Callaloo, this week. It's Kit's open-mike party, except that there's no microphone. I usually don't go because I don't perform myself and because I'm usually busy, but I've never regretted going when I actually went.

Kit usually does something and I love watching her, and the other acts are interesting and occasionally really good. Sometimes people perform who have no talent whatever, but that's ok, too. The idea is to have fun.

Anyway, this week one of the performers was Eddie, who I've talked about a little before. I don't know him real well, though he's said he's going to join the Reiki group, so I'll probably get to know him better then. He sings well and has a good stage presence but doesn't play an instrument. So he arranged a back-up band and did this fun little concert of three songs--two Elvis songs and one by Jimmy Buffet.

The Buffet song was "Pencil-thin Mustache," which I'd never heard before, or at least never noticed. I've looked up the lyrics, and it's about wishing one were inside an Errol Flynn movie or something.

Now they're making movies in old black and white
Happy endings where nobody fights.
So if you find yourself in that nostalgic rage
Better jump right up and show your age.

I wish I had a pencil-thin mustache
The Boston Blackie kind.
A two-toned Ricky Ricardo jacket
and an autographed of Andy Devine.

And so on.

But with Eddie singing it, the whole song took on a new and different cast. Eddie is transgendered, so while he can grow a mustache now (he doesn't), there must once have been a time in his life when he couldn't but dearly wished he could. From that perspective, the bridge of the song was especially poignant:

Oh, I could be anyone I wanted to be
maybe suave Errol Flynn or the Sheik of Araby
If I only had a pencil-thin mustache
Then I could do some cruising too.

But the thing is, Eddie isn't really "out" as a transman. We in the Turtle Dorm know, because we shower with him and he looks a little different (I'm not going to go into any more detail than that), but it's not something he wants people to talk about freely. He'd rather people assume that he always was male, because from his perspective he always was.

So some people in the audience knew the subtext and some clearly didn't. Did Eddie himself mean the song as a comment on gender? I'm sure he did. I'm sure he was playing with the audience.

Eddie does that. He plays with expectations, with perceptions. He deliberately trips people up, sometimes for political reasons, sometimes, as far as I can tell, just for fun. He's a little like Allen in that way, but less intellectual, and I don't think they've really connected with each other much.

He reminds me of Ebony in that way, that tension between the desire, on the one hand, to be understood in a straight-forward way (in Ebony's case, as sighted, in Eddie's case, as male, without any asterisks or modifiers) and on the other hand, this need to play with and deconstruct expectations.

And he also reminds me of Security Joe--not because they are alike, but because they are so different.

Yes, they are both transmen, but Security Joe is entirely out. He does not talk about personal issues very often, at least not with students, but his status is common knowledge on campus. He is fine with anybody and everybody knowing. At the same time, he does not play with identity, the way Eddie does. He has no interest in deconstructing cultural concepts or exploring philosophical ideas. He he just wants to do his job well.

I'm kind of fascinated by all of this. You hear a word, like blind or transgendered or gay or, for that matter, witch--and you think you know what it means, what it says about a person, and you really don't.

You can't get to know someone until you get to know them.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Year 3: Part 2: Post 2: Piano Men

The spring semester has started. I like my classes so far, and I start my part-time job next week. I'll talk about all that later. Right now, I want to talk about Philosopher's Stone Soup.

As you might remember, this is an extra-curricular activity of sorts lead by Allen and sometimes Kit. It's a kind of pot-luck dinner and discussion group, except we bring ingredients rather than dishes and we cook together. And Allen's discussions always end with everyone knowing less than they thought they knew before. Some people use philosophy and reason to achieve knowledge and understanding--Allen uses them to plumb the limits and inadequacies of rational knowledge. It's oddly like being sharpened, like a person might sharpen a pencil, but  we all have fun at it anyway.

So, the warm weather has continued. All the snow is gone and the mud is starting to dry. It might not last, but we've all wanted to spend as much time outside as possible, so this week we had Philosopher's Stone Soup outside, like we do in summer.

Most of the usual people, like Ebony and the two Ravens were there, plus two yearlings, maybe about ten people total, though some arrived late and others left early. Surprisingly, Charlie showed up. He doesn't usually, in part because he and Kit don't get along well and she usually does attend. She was there this week, but they ignored each other. With Charlie came Rick, who also doesn't usually attend because he doesn't get along well with most people. He brings interesting ingredients when he does show up, though--in this case, home-made venison jerky.

We had two other unusual guests, too, Alexis and David, Allen's youngest and oldest children.The middle one, Julie, was apparently at a sleep-over. Alexis is almost six now. When I met her she was a toddler, and I rarely see her so I got it stuck in my head that she was a toddler still, but of course she isn't. Her special ingredient for the feast was a bag of marshmallows and Allen sent her off to cut marshmallow sticks from a willow tree on the other side of campus.

"Last year she didn't know one bird from the next and now she can recognize tree species?" I asked.

"Genera, anyway," Allen said. "I don't think she can tell one willow from another. Somebody told her that willow is the best for marshmallow sticks because the inner bark is edible and now she won't use anything else."

"Well, it's true," said Charlie, a little defensively.

"We could just use barbecue forks," said David, a bit testily, as though irritated by his family's silliness.

"Would you want to?" his father asked him.

"No," the boy admitted. He had his knife out to sharpen his stick already. "She knows some of her birds now, too," he added. "I taught her."

Later, once we got the food on (a kind of spring stew, bubbling away on the outdoor grill), Allen brought out his guitar and started strumming it casually while the rest of us talked, playing with the tuning. He's not a great musician, nor is he an especially good singer, but he loves making music anyway. Kit had her violin out (it's more portable than her preferred instrument, her cello), but she didn't play it.

After a while, Allen got his guitar in tune and he started to play and sing quietly.

It's nine o'clock on a Saturday
The regular crowd shuffles in. 
There's an old man sitting next to me
making love to his tonic and gin.

Most of us stopped talking to listen and to watch him play, though not everybody did. He wasn't giving a concert.

I'm not a big Billy Joel fan, but of course I'm familiar with the song. I kind of like it. It's very well crafted, lyrically. The thing is, it's always seemed very dark to me. When Billy Joel sings it, it sounds like this indictment of his own audience, like he is passing judgment on all these hopeless people, glorying in his power over them, his ability to draw in a crowd...maybe he is indicting himself, too. That's what I hear, anyway. I've never known whether he's actually singing about himself or if the piano man is a character, maybe who he thinks he would have been had things not worked out for him.

Allen sang it completely differently. His voice was softer, gentler, like he could see all those hopeless, suffering people and feel compassion for them, like as the piano man he was doing his best to help, and knew his music couldn't do very much, but it was all he could offer and maybe all these people could accept.

I hadn't thought of it before, but of course Allen is a kind of piano man. He got his start as a magician in Key West playing for crowds in Mallory Square and he's talked about how fascinated he was to discover that magic could address some kind of need in people. He still performs for hospice and hospital patients, for nursing home residents, for people in pain, one way or another. He offers what he can.

Not long after he finished singing and put his guitar down, David stood up, and sang "You May Be Be Right." After a couple of bars, Kit started accompanying him on the violin (did you know a violin can play rock and roll? I didn't) and he jumped up on one of the picnic tables and sang into a carrot as though it were a microphone.

He's thirteen now, and sprouting fast. He's already as tall as Allen, and he's clearly going to get taller. His voice hasn't changed yet, but I'm sure it will, soon. He's starting to look like a teenager, not a kid, and he has a natural stage presence--so does Allen, but David's is edgier, sexier. Once his voice changes and he finishes puberty, he'll look like a rock star.

I don't think the progression of his adolescence is irrelevant. The song he chose--the lyrics seem calculated to frighten a parent:

And you told me not to drive
But I made it home alive
So you said that only proves that I'm insane 

And when the son of a psychologist sings

If I'm crazy then it's true
That it's all because of you
And you wouldn't want me any other way

It's not too hard to guess that something is going on.

We gave David the rock and roll audience he seemed to want, clapping and shouting, and when the boy was done he grinned, hopped down from the table, and started eating his carrot. Allen stood and walked over to his son and clasped his hand like a biker, congratulating him on a good performance.

"I don't think you're crazy," Allen told his son, quietly. "You're a teenager, and a fine young man."

For the rest of the evening, Allen seemed subdued, thoughtful. He didn't direct the conversation as much as he normally does. When we'd finished our marshmallows and finally began to disperse,  Allen asked David if he wanted to head home.

"I'd love your company," he clarified, "but you don't need a baby-sitter anymore. I imagine you have things you want to do."

I should point out that the family commutes by bicycle, not by car.

"Yeah, I guess I'll head home," said David, quite casually, though he'd looked quite shocked for a moment. "You want me to take Alexis?"

"If you think you can keep an eye on her on the road, then ask her what she wants to do."

"It's pretty dark. I guess I'd rather leave her with you."

"Good idea. Call me when you get in, ok? Leave a message if no one picks up."

"Got it, Dad. See you Saturday."

"See you."

And David walked off by himself into the night. As soon as the boy turned his back I could see the tension break out on Allen's face. He took a big breath, picked up his daughter, and kissed her.

As Ebony and I walked back to the Mansion, she broached the subject of what had just happened.

"Was that some kind of Unitarian Bar Mitzvah?" she asked. I had to agree that it might have been.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Year 3: Part 2: Post 1: Ostara

Happy Ostara!

The snow is gone now, except for a few small heaps where we piled shoveled snow, plus a couple of compacted ice slicks here and there on the campus roads. It's been dry and warm for a few days and the whole campus smells like spring.

It could, of course, snow again, and probably will, but the weather was lovely for our spring equinox celebration.

As in past years, we had a picnic lunch and we held the egg hunt--it's not a hunt for dyed Easter eggs, it's a hunt for signs of reproductive activity on the part of the living things on campus--eggs and nests in use. We break into teams of two and run around campus documenting what we find with digital cameras and notebooks. The object is to document more nests and take better pictures than anyone else, but you get extra points for taking the first photo of a nest on a given day and you lose points if the nest-builders show undue stress because of your presence.

Last year I and my partner won, in part because Charlie told me to. He organizes and judges the competition, and he didn't go easy on me. I had to win so ambiguously that no one would ever question whether I should have. I succeeded, and I'm proud of that, but I don't need to win again this year. This year I just wanted to have fun with the contest.

Which is probably why Ebony asked to be my partner.

I was surprised. Last year I don't think she even joined the competition. She's not all that much interested in natural history, and anyway, she can't do much birdwatching because her eyes don't work. She can listen to birds, but finds hearing uninformative. Somehow, she thinks in pictures, and hearing does not give her pictures. Hearing gives me pictures, when I hear a crow or something I visualize the bird, but any idea that she might compensate for her vision with her other senses makes her uncomfortable.

But Ebony is only going to be here two years, so this is her last Ostara on campus, unless she comes back for her ring. I suppose she wanted to try the egg hunt while she still could. She also wanted to try photography, which is part of why she asked to be my partner--I'm used to her paradoxical visualness by now, and I'm not going to look at her funny for wanting to take pictures when she can't see.

Yes, she can tell when people look at her funny.

So, instead of running around campus trying to identify and take pictures of as many nests as possible (and at this time of year there aren't very many, so they're hard to find) we moseyed, taking care not to fall over anything, and I showed her the nests I knew and and explained what everything looked like. She composed pictures, based on either my description or her limited vision or both, and I helped her direct and focus the camera. We ended up getting only three nests--the ravens on top of Chapel Hall, the owls in the hollow tree by the little pond, and the vernal pool full of wood-frog eggs in the woods. And yes, frogs' eggs count. We had a good time.

Then we all had the picnic lunch while Charlie and some of his other students looked through all the pictures and notebooks and chose the winning team. As in years past, they also put together a slide show of the better pictures.

Ebony and I didn't win, which didn't surprise me. But none of Ebony's pictures ended up in the slide show, either, which did surprise me. It made me angry. Ebony told me not to worry about it.

"They probably sucked," she guessed, simply.

Honestly, I wouldn't say "sucked," but they weren't really that good. Blindness aside, neither Ebony nor I are photographers and we didn't know how to work together as a team. She's had this idea of pursuing photography for a while, but this is the first time she's tried it. She really doesn't know how to explain what she wants from her assistant, and I certainly don't know how to guess.

But I wanted them to be excellent. I wanted them to win some kind of special mention or prize. I wanted it for Ebony, and I wanted it for me--I really liked the ideas we came up with, what we were trying to do with those pictures. It was like how sometimes when I paint--and this was especially true when I was younger--I see my vision for the painting when I look at the paper and not just the actual paint. And I'm all pleased and proud of myself. When I go back later to look at my work, I don't see the vision anymore, only the actual paint, like anybody else looking at it would, and my masterpiece turns into just a smudge of ill-defined color....

Why couldn't Charlie see what we were going for and acknowledge it?

He couldn't because he wouldn't--seeing intention rather than reality is exactly the sort of thing Charlie discourages. He is, in some ways, deeply and rigorously practical. In response to the philosophical and political dimensions of identity that so fascinate Ebony, he is likely to ask "what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?" or even, in a particularly grumpy mood, "everybody has their own thoughts and feelings and beliefs and assholes. Assholes are very important organs, we'd all die without them. Doesn't mean I want to hear about yours."

Charlie and Ebony don't talk with each other that often. It's kind of awkward for me.

But on this occasion, she agreed with him when I didn't.

"If my pictures were up there, my name would be, too, right?" she explained. "And everybody would see them and think 'oh, the poor little blind girl takes pictures! How inspiring. And they'd think my pictures were about a million times better than they actually are. And, see, that's the worst part about being blind. Nobody ever really sees you."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Year 3: First Interlude

Hi, all, Daniel-of-2015 here.

2015. Does anybody else get this thing where you’re going about your business and suddenly for whatever reason—or none—it hits you; I’m living in THE FUTURE. Like, there are cars that park themselves, cell phones with more intelligence than some countries’ spy agencies, actual robotic prosthetic arms (you know, like Luke Skywalker’s)….

Today, right now, what does it for me is just the date, 2015. I mean, I can remember the eighties.


Happy belated Pi Day. June and I decided to go all out and had pie every single meal of the day. We had quiche for breakfast, home-made pizza for lunch, and then chicken pot pie for dinner (yes, I know where the chicken came from). And for dessert….

Allen, Lo, and Alexis came over for dinner, and while we were eating Carly kept calling the meal “tend pie.” She’s talking a lot, now, you can have a simple conversation with her as long as you keep everything present-tense, but we couldn’t figure out what “tend pie” might mean. “Tend” didn’t seem like any possible mispronunciation of “chicken,” which Carly calls “tzikkin” anyway. Finally, June got it—"tend pie" meant pretend pie.

“What is a real pie?” she asked.


“Only apple pie is real? No, there are other real pies. What are some other real pies?”

“Um, apple?” Carly seemed to realize she’d said that one already. “Tzerry, boo-berry, um, tzocolate? Apple…peace! Um…apple….” Peach meant peach. She can’t quite do that sound yet.

“Somebody likes apple pies,” commented Lo.

“Well, we made one for dessert,” explained June. To Carly, she said “Those are all great pie flavors. Chicken is another flavor. This is chicken pie.”

“NO! Tend!”

Allen was watching all of this with a fond and fascinated smile.

“What defines something as pie?” he asked.

“Dad, she’s two, she can’t answer that,” said Alexis, sounding exasperated.

“But she already did answer,” he protested. “She listed examples. That’s a valid way to explore a category. It sounds like she thinks pie ought to be sweet.” He looked over at me, briefly and I nodded. He got up and went to fetch armfuls of objects from the kitchen.

“Is this a pie?” he asked, showing Carly an apple.


“Is this a pie?” he showed her a jar of honey.

“No!” she giggled. She seemed to like the game. He tried her with chocolate, raisins, sugar, bread, and Graham  crackers. None of them were pie, according to Carly. Allen returned to the kitchen and started poking around. June ran in and joined him. Dinner lay abandoned.

June knows Allen well enough that she understands his style. She got out the extra pie crust we’d been planning to freeze and two dozen mini pie tins. We moved our plates and everything to one end of the table, greased all the tins and lined them with crust, and started trying out different fillings.
A handful of chopped apple in a tin was a pie. A whole apple in a tin was not. Chocolate pudding, peach jam, and raisins all counted as pie, provided they were in a crust, in a tin. Chopped carrots, chopped cabbage, and chopped onions all did not count. Mashed potatoes did, but I’m not certain Carly knew that’s what they were. Pasta sauce left her deeply unsure. Carly’s emotional stamina, her willingness to keep exploring the definition of pie, was remarkable.

Finally, Allen showed Carly the tiny apple pie and the one with the carrot filling and asked her what the difference between the two was. She couldn’t answer. So he tried again and asked if the carrots were pie. As before, she said no. So he asked why not.

“Dinner. Not dessert,” she answered, very cogently.

“So you can’t have pie for dinner?”


“Why not? I have pie for dinner.”


“Mommy said you can’t have pie for dinner?”


“Well, then, June?”

June admitted, rather sheepishly, to saying you can’t have pie for dinner.

“Honey, that’s not what I meant,” she explained. “You can’t have dessert pie for dinner because it is too sweet. But there are dinner pies, too."

"Tzikkin pie?"

"Yes! Chicken pie is real pie, a dinner pie."


We all thought that was a good idea, so June added appropriate seasonings to all the experimental pies and stuck them in the oven and we finished dinner. And we adults (and Alexis) talked further about what is and is not a pie. It felt very much like the "Philosopher's Stone Soup" dinners we used to have on campus.

Then we had apple-flavored dessert-pie and tasted all the little experimental pies. They all tasted pretty good, even the carrot pie and the pasta sauce pie.

I was going to talk more about my narrative, but as so often happens these days, my writing has been hijacked by my daughter. So I guess I'll put off further discussion until the next interlude--except to say that now that Aidan is officially a student of the school--our only student, at present--I really wish we could do an egg-hunt contest for him, just like we used to do on campus. The others agree...but we haven't figured out any way to do it.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Year 3: Part 1: Post 12: Celtic Pride

So, a group of us were talking over breakfast this morning.

"Anyone doing anything for St. Patrick's Day?" asked Nora.

"Why?" asked Kit. "Why would I celebrate a Catholic bishop?"

"You know," said Xavier, turning to a yearling named Tommi, "he didn't really drive the snakes out of Ireland. He drove out the pagans. Snakes symbolize the Druids. That's what the holiday really celebrates, the exile of the Celts."

"Well, sort of," put in one of the Ravens. "St. Patrick didn't exile any Celts. They're still in Ireland. And there were Christian communities in Ireland before St. Patrick got there. Don't you think the snake story is one of those explanation-myths? I mean, there never have been any snakes in Ireland. Don't you think the Irish ever wondered why?"

"The story has an anti-pagan subtext," insisted Xavier.

"I feel...disloyal or something if I don't celebrate it," said the other Raven. "I mean, I'm Irish. For me, it's about solidarity among Irish people. That's why we wear green."

"Everybody wears green on St. Patrick's Day," put in Nora.

"Well, maybe everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day?" said Tommi.

"I feel like I'm Irish," asserted the first Raven. "I guess I'm a cardiac Celt."

"How does Irish feel?" asked Allen. Raven blushed. She knew perfectly well he was about to take apart her reasoning. She didn't answer and Allen went back to eating his eggs.

"Ok, what do you think of Eamon De Valera?" asked the second Raven.

"Who?" said the first Raven.

"Eamon De Valera. Modern Irish history 101. Haven't you seen Michael Collins?" The second Raven rolled her eyes. "You can't be Irish just by drinking green beer. Drunkenness and food dye are not ethnic characteristics."

"I didn't say they were!" complained the first Raven, sounding hurt.

"Raven, do you think Irish heritage is important?" asked Kit, swirling her coffee.

"It's important to me," said the second Raven. "I mean, it's not like I learned anything about paganism from my parents, but being Irish is what got me interested in Irish paganism."

"Which has a debatable relationship to any modern form of Wicca," put in in Nora.

"Granted," said Raven, "but I didn't say I practice historical Irish paganism. I said I got interested in it. And one thing led to another. What about you, Kit? Are you part Irish?"

"Not as far as I know. I'm Greek." And indeed, Kit's version of Wicca contains both Celtic and Greek Classical elements, along with a lot of modern components.

"I'm part Irish," volunteered Allen, "but I'm mostly English and German. It doesn't inform my spirituality at all."

And me? I said nothing. I only listened and ate my eggs on toast.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Year 3: Part 1: Post 11: Magic Signs

We have just "sprung forward."

Allen apparently gets a big kick out of it. Every year, just before Daylight Savings Time begins, he walks around saying things like "tonight, in a special, rare performance, I shall actually change time itself!" and "you have incredible magical power; you can actually change time!" He's joking, of course.

And he isn't joking. Allen has always been fascinated by the magic of illusion, perception, and changes to agreed-upon reality.

Charlie makes a similar point about Daylight Savings Time, but he isn't happy about it.

"If they passed a law saying that everybody had to get up and go to work an hour earlier than normal, everybody would rebel, but pass a law that we have to pretend it is an hour later than it really is and everybody complies! Time is the sun, the moon, the rhythm of growing things, or even the oscillation of a damn cesium atom. The government can't change time by fiat."

Personally, I think Charlie gets a kick out of such grumblings and growlings. He certainly gets a kick out of us listening to him growl.

Meanwhile, campus is leisurely preparing for the beginning of classes. Or, rather, it seems leisurely to me because things that take place within a week or two before the other semesters are stretched out across a month. It's possible that the masters simply have more to do in the spring, that they do some preparation for the entire year now.

It's been a few weeks now since the new yearlings found out how much advanced standing they have. We don't have any "one-hit wonders" this year, although two of the mastery candidates, Arthur and Poem, anticipate earning their rings in just a year. Ironically, the two candidates who have been here the longest, Gusty and Lilac, do not expect to earn their rings this year. Anyway, then we all signed up for classes, and we should find out our schedules in a few days. I'm fairly confident I'll get what I signed up for, but occasionally people don't--if too few people sign up for something they sometimes cancel it or if they end up having to schedule two things you signed up for at the same time they'll bump you from one of them.

They're also restocking the herbarium, sprucing up the library and the front office, ordering school supplies and so forth. We do have to buy our own notebooks and everything, but we can buy recycled paper notebooks from the school at cost and almost everybody does.

And they're putting up new room signs in Chapel Hall, where we have most of our classes. This is curious, because there never were room signs in there before--the rooms have numbers or names, but no signs. The first few weeks in spring there are temporary signs made of masking tape stuck to the doors, but not otherwise. And, of course, the names on the fourth and fourth-and-a-half floors change every year. The whole building is intentionally disorienting--like the description of the school in Harry Potter, where stairways move and doors don't open unless you ask nicely.

But now there are going to be signs.

The reason has to do with the school's disability services policy. According to both ethics and the law, the school has to make reasonable accommodation for disabled students and staff, but the school is too cash-poor to invest in all possible accommodations at once. Instead, we accommodate the disabilities that people in the community actually have.

For example, our fire alarms have visual as well as auditory warnings, and there is a TTY in the office, because some years ago there was a Deaf student. When I arrived, there was nothing for blind people, because none had come here. Ebony got her first year of tuition free in payment for teaching the school how to accommodate her.

They're still making subtle changes, and one of these is the addition of signs--in Braille. Ebony finds the whole thing amusing because she doesn't find such signs helpful. They're hard for her to locate, for one. But when Sharon offered to get Braille signs, Ebony agreed, partly because--I think--they are slightly more helpful than nothing, and partly because it appealed to her sense of humor.

So Ebony herself ordered the signs.

I happened to be one of the people who helped put them up--the maintenance crew did it, but one of them was ill that week so I offered to fill in. And I noticed that the messages on the signs seemed a lot longer than they had to be. I got suspicious, and downloaded a Braille alphabet from the Internet. I printed the thing out and went and decoded the signs--we're not using Chapel Hall yet, and it isn't heated, but it's not locked. Of course, that didn't help, because it turns out blind people actually use a sort of Braille short-hand that you can't just learn off the Internet in a day, but eventually I asked Ebony and she fessed up.

I was right to be suspicious, anyway. Each one has a number, followed by a short message:

1. Sighted people think these signs help.
2. F__k the ADA, I've heard it's good in bed.
3. Just saying hi.
4. Hug the next person you meet: see what happens.
5. If the next person who speaks to you asked for sex, would you say yes?
6. Are birds singing today?
7. I am Ebony! I am immortalized now!
8. Did you remember your homework?

And so on. If we ever have another blind student, the entire building will become a secret in-joke. He or she will walk around giggling all the time and no one else will know why.

I figured as long as I have the downloaded alphabet, I might as well learn how to write Ebony's name. So now my new school notebook is covered in little dots. No one knows what the dots mean, not even Ebony--they're written in ordinary pen, so even if I handed her my book she couldn't read them, and I'm not going to tell her.

She doesn't need to know she makes me feel like a twelve-year-old again.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Year 3: Part 1: Post 10: Spring Weather

Spring is on the way.

Of course, as Kit says, spring is a process of arrival; when the growing season has arrived, that's called "summer." But for a while, now, the weather has been noticeably warmer and the days are longer. The campus was still covered in snow and ice, but it's like it was covered more lightly. For weeks now, we've been having partial melting and rain followed by another freeze or another snowstorm.

This week, I think we've turned a corner. The most recent melt brought us all the way down to bare grass in places. The birds are singing, not just calling and twittering. I haven't noticed any sprouting yet, but the red maple flowers can't be too far away.

This morning, of course, it snowed, but it was a soft, wet snow, pretty, but starting to melt almost immediately. Just before lunch it rained for about half an hour, and now we have four inches of slush on the ground. It's not even that cold out, close to forty degrees--feels pretty balmy, compared to winter. The wet slush out on the side of the road looks like piles of pureed pear.

After lunch I was walking across campus with Andy--he was going to a workshop, but I hadn't decided whether I wanted to attend or not. I was interested, but feeling kind of lazy as well. And then I was hit by a slushball.

It was Joanna.

I never know how to deal with her. I think we're friends, because we hang out sometimes, but really she spends a lot of our interactions laughing at me. I like her, basically, but I don't know. Maybe I should tease her back, laugh at her for a change?

I hit her with a slushball.

She shrieked and giggled.

"Oh, you're going to get it now!" she vowed, as if she hadn't started it, and started pelting me with shush. She ended up jumping on my back and stuffing slush down the back of my shirt and into the hood of my cloak. I couldn't get her off of my back, so I tried looking for something snowy I could run her into.

"Back into the pine trees!" shouted Andy, laughing. He meant the blue spruces by the Mansion. I think they must be former Christmas trees from decades ago.

"I can't, they're all pointy," I said, and Joanna laughed.

"Will you get off my back?" I said, and tripped and fell over. Joanna tumbled off me and we both sat in the slush for a bit, laughing. Her nose was red and running a little. "Now my butt's all wet," I complained.

"So's mine," she replied. "You know you're problem, Daniel? You're too much of a gentleman. It makes you easy to pick on."

"I think it's good to be a gentleman," Andy said, quietly.

"And that's why I don't throw snowballs at you," Joanna told him.

"What am I supposed to do with that?" I protested. "Is this fair? Does this make sense? Do you see what I have to deal with?" I'm not sure who I though I was talking to.

"I wouldn't hit Andy because he's too sweet," Joanna explained. "But you are a different kind of sweet, so that's why I pick on you."

I wonder if that made sense to her? It didn't make sense to me.

I went inside and changed into my summer weight uniform, hung my wet clothes up to dry, and
joined the workshop in the Rose Room only fifteen minutes late.

At least I didn't feel lazy anymore.

On the table in the room there were three of Kit's pots of jonquils. They've long since stopped flowering, but the plants are still green, soaking up sunlight so they can get ready to bloom again next year. For them, spring came a long time ago.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Year 3: Part 1: Post 9: Signing Up for Spring Classes

So, Rick and I did it--the workshop, I mean. We were just waiting for the snow, and a few days ago,
the weather obliged.

The thing about tracking is that you don't just need a surface that accepts tracks--you also need time in which things could have moved across that surface. If you go out fifteen minutes after it stops snowing, you won't find any tracks. So we couldn't schedule the first workshop meeting until after it had stopped snowing. On the other hand, we couldn't risk putting off the start too long, because the temperature is relatively warm--it's been getting above freezing during the day, so they'll be some melting.

The other problem with scheduling was that Charlie still hadn't been able to do his tracking seminar. He likes to do it three days after a fresh snowfall, but there hasn't been three days in a row without either new snow, rain, or a big thaw in almost three weeks. Now we're running out of time--it's March now, and there's no guarantee we'll get another good snowfall, or that if we do get one that it won't melt immediately. So, there were two tracking events that have to go as soon as possible, and we couldn't schedule them in competition with each other.

The snow stopped a little after midnight and Rick, Charlie, and I spoke. We didn't need a lot of tracks for our workshop, but we did have to go out on two separate days. Charlie only had to go out once, but he needed more tracks. In the end, Rick and I decided to go that morning, less than twelve hours after the snow stopped. That let us do our second meeting in the afternoon, clearing the way for Charlie to do his seminar the next day. The day after that, which was today, Rick and I did the second half of our workshop.

It went pretty well. We had seven participants, a respectable showing, considering that Rick and I aren't even in the mastery program and that we only announced the workshop at breakfast. And Charlie spoke up for us with Sharon so that our workshop actually carried academic credit. Student-run classes don't always do that.

It's funny to think about, but seven people just got a credit because of what Rick and I taught them, even though we didn't get credit for learning it in the first place--not directly, anyway. When Charlie gives his vote for Rick and I to graduate, we'll get a certain amount of credit reflecting whatever work led him to vote for us, so I suppose our learning how to track will be part of that.

Speaking of academic credit, I just signed up for Spring Semester classes today.

I don't really need that many more classes, especially because neither Charlie nor Joy are asking me to take specific classes as part of my work with them. I also really need some additional money, since what I got from selling my car is all gone, as is the money I got from my parents last year. So I've gotten a part-time off-campus job with a friend of Charlie's (it will start as soon as the ground is clear) and I'm only taking two classes.

 I'm taking "Intro to Wiccan Ritual and Myth," with Kit, which is worth two credits, one of them in anthropology, the other undedicated. I'm also taking "Literature of the Land" with Charlie, also worth two credits, one of them in ecology, the other undedicated.

It will be interesting to take these two classes together. I've noticed before that my various classes tend to reflect and comment on each other, to form a kind of conversation in my mind. But I've also noticed Kit and Charlie are allergic to each other. As I said the experience should be interesting.