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.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Year 3: Part 8: Post 3: Loose Ends

I'm continuing my series of non-narrative posts through January, since I was at home with my parents that month. Mostly, I'm just tying up some loose ends and filling in gaps. An especially serious gap is that there is no way I can say everything I want to say about all the people I want to talk about--there just hasn't been the space. I can't tell everybody's story in its entirety in just a couple of pages a week.

And I'm about to run out of time to tell a couple of stories, because thirteen years ago this February, Ebony, Rick, and Andy all graduated. As did Veery and Willa and many other people, but those three were (and are) my particular friends and so I've talked about them a lot...and I've just realized I'm out of time for their plot arcs. The thing is, I decide which stories I'm going to tell each week as I go along. If I had plotted out the whole thing ahead of time I wouldn't run into problems like this, but I'd also be ready to publish sometime around 2030. The objective of this whole project is not to win the Pulitzer Prize, it's to give readers an idea of what's possible for a school like this, to plant ideas, and to do it now. And so I write by the seat of my pants, make mistakes, and play catch-up.

This won't be the end of me writing about these people, by the way. If this project goes on as long as I hope it will, I'll be able to write about my time as a mastery candidate, too--and Ebony, Rick, Ollie, Eddie, and Andy (and others) were candidates with me. And I'm friends with all of them, so they'll turn up now and then in the interludes in the meantime. But I won't be able to talk about them as novices anymore, so I'm taking the time now to maybe tie up some lose ends.


I've talked about Ebony lot as my friend (and girlfriend), but I haven't really told the story of her development as a student. Of course, I was never directly involved with her studies. What I knew was what she told me and also the changes I saw in her over time. When she arrived she was...brittle, beyond a certain point. I don't mean that she was more issue-laden or wounded than most people, she wasn't, but she had a need to probe, to understand her wounds and at the same time the pain of her prodding would make her reflexively draw back. She lived in that ambivalence between reaching and aversion. What was her wound? Well, of course I can't go into detail about that--there are people who read this who know her and yet are not her confidants. I can say that vision and blindness are very much wrapped up in her identity. Anything that touches her there can reach very deeply.

In Allen I believe she found a safe space to deal with that depth. Over the two years of her novitiate she not only learned about vision--and became a fair hand at stage magic--she also seemed to ease somehow. Between reach and recoil she grew some space where she could push herself without triggering panic or shame. She could carry inside her the safe space that Allen had made.

And Allen himself, how did their work affect him? Certainly they spent a great deal of time together, and there is no way to visit a person's dark places without also visiting your own. Intimacy has to be reciprocal to some degree.

I don't know. He has not told me. I do know that for each master there were a small minority of students who were special. For Greg, that was Karen. For Charlie, it was Sarah--and possibly me, I could never be sure. For Allen, it was Ebony.

The two of them worked out a magic trick for her graduation. Like many of Allen's tricks, it subverted the whole idea of stage magic by not looking like a trick at all--making the extraordinary look ordinary, not the other way around. They made Ebony appear to be sighted.

Ebony is obviously blind, in part because she is, as she admits, poor at most blind skills--unlike what she calls "super-blind people," she is actually bad at doing all of those things you'd expect a blind person to be bad at doing. Walking across a room without her cane is a challenge and she hates her cane. But on her graduation, she walked across the stage unaided and interacted with the officiant as though she could see.

It wasn't a very difficult trick, from a technical perspective--she and Allen were actually comfortable sharing the method, because they figured it would be obvious to everyone who already knew she couldn't see. They laid a strip of black electrical tape along the floor for her to follow by feel (she was one of several who crossed the stage barefoot) and choreographed the interaction on the stage so that she knew where to look and where to reach when, producing the illusion of sightedness.

The audience for the trick were the new students, who could not see the tape from their seats, could not see Ebony's unfocused eyes in the candle-lit gloom, and did not know the school had a blind student. They saw her as ordinary.

The fact that Ebony could enact the trick without being paralyzed by conflicting emotion made her look extraordinary to me.


Andy appeared frequently in posts the first year, but not so much since then. I don't know why. Maybe it's because he was--unintentionally--funnier for the first year, with his wide-eyed enthusiasm and his almost cartoonishly frequent praise of Jesus. He was then not only newly converted and newly sober, he was also recovering from chronic hypothermia and malnutrition, which had affected his mind. As he recovered he evened out a lot. By the end of his three years at school he seemed almost normal.

Or, almost normal by the standards of the school. He retained a kind of upbeat innocence you don't normally see, but by the end of his third year he had become quietly grounded as well. Almost nothing upsets him, ever.

The one-time bicycle thief had learned bicycle repair and maintenance from Chuck, our maintenance chief, then gone to work off-campus at a bike shop. He made bicycle repair a kind of ministry and when he graduated planned to live in an apartment above the shop and save up to buy the place when his boss retired.


I haven't talked much about Rick, but there isn't much else to say.  He was and remains distant, alien, allowing little of himself out into view to be talked about. He spent his last few months at school taking care of some outstanding credit requirements and arranging the logistics of his post-school life. He lined up a job as a logger--it seemed odd to me he'd get a job cutting down trees, when he liked trees better than people, but he wanted to be a forester and thought he should get some experience in the industry first. And he thought he could make some money for grad school that way. Also, we made plans to hike the Appalachian Trail together, once I graduated.

In the last few weeks of January, it really dawned on me that all three would really be going. I felt kind of lost.


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