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.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Year 4: Second Interlude

I don't have a lot to say right now. Everything is fine on my end--this is 2016 me, in case you weren't sure. Sorry I didn't post yesterday--I just got busy.

It's curious watching all the political races this year, and not just because of the curiousness of the races themselves. The school community is becoming functional again, as I've said, though we're not anything like what we were--we're not a college, we're a group of friends who organize various public educational events and also have a small, secret group of unofficial students--mostly teenagers, Aidan and his friends, though there are a few adults, too. And the thing is, as a group, we need to find ways to respond to politics.

This is not something we ever did before. The school was isolated and, as such, apolitical, a world apart. We expected students to get involved in the world, that was part of the point, but only after they left, and we never taught them how to be involved except in an interpersonal way--how to be of service to individuals, as clergy. That we aren't that way any longer is largely Steve Bees' doing, though he has my support--and the support of the others, to varying degrees. He says "it's all right to live in Shangra-La, but if you never get out in the world, what's the point? What good does it do?" And so we're getting involved.

And we're inventing ways to be involved. Like, do we want to endorse specific candidates? What do we do if community members end up on opposite sides of some serious political divide? What can we give to the situation that is uniquely ours, different from what people who aren't part of our community can do?

We don't know yet. We're trying a few things. This school, as far as I understand it, has always been a group of friends trying things out, ever since the beginning in Shrimp and Jim's townhouse.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Year 4: Part 2: Post 11: Spirituality

"What is spirituality?" asked Rena at breakfast. She's one of the yearlings. She and, obviously, I, were sitting with Steve Bees, Alien Steve, Greg, Charlie, Allen, Joy, and Karen--as far as I know, the group had assembled by chance. I'm not sure if she asked her question because most of the masters happened to be sitting there, or if that, too,was coincidence. She seemed to be addressing the group at large.

"Who are you asking?" asked Allen. "Because you'll get a different answer from each of us."

"Really? Why?"

"Because we don't all agree."

"How can you run a school if you don't agree on what one of the degree criteria even means? How do you even know it should be a degree criterion?"

I thought that was a very good question. So did Allen, who chuckled. He was leaning forward to talk to her around Charlie, who sat between them, trying to stay out of the way and looking increasingly irritated.

"We all agree that spirituality is important, even though we don't all agree on what it is," explained Allen.

"That's screwy. No offense," said Rena, scowling. A couple of professorial eyebrows went up. They aren't used to being questioned that way, but they held their peace.

"No, it isn't," said Alien Steve. "They don't agree on a singular athletic pursuit or a single type of craft. What's the difference?"

"The difference," explained Rena, "is that they do agree on what athletics is. Don't you? All the different options are means to the same end--physical health and skill."

"And happiness and spiritual attainment," put in Greg. "Physicality is a way in, for some."

Rena looked at him, confused, but didn't speak.

"I still don't see the difference," said Steve. "Spirituality is the same way. There is a common goal. To improve ourselves and to learn to love better."

"Andy would have said it differently," I said. "He'd have said the point of spirituality was to get in touch with God." Actually, Andy would say that the point of spirituality is Jesus. He tends to take "Jesus is the answer" quite literally by answering an awful lot of questions simply "Jesus."

"Well, he was wrong," asserted Steve. "Andy has a good heart, but he gets bogged down in monotheism a lot."

"Who's Andy?" asked Rena.

"He graduated when you came in," explained the other Steve, Steve Bees. "He's extremely Christian. So am I."

"But you're not that kind of Christian," said Alien Steve. Steve Bees chuckled and agreed.

"What are you?" asked Rena, of the Alien.

"Hebrew pagan."

"Really? So am I!"

"Oh, wow! How did you--? We'll talk later. Anyway, I don't think Andy was as different from the rest of us as he liked to think."

"Curious," said Greg. "I disagree with both of you."

"About Andy?"

"About religion."

"You don't believe in God, right? You're Buddhist." This was Rena again.

"There are Buddhists who do, but I am agnostic. Spirituality as I understand it does not require a God, as such. Also, I don't believe in self-improvement. I don't believe in the self."

"Who shouts when you hit your thumb with a hammer?" asked Charlie.

"Some illusions are very convincing."

"Ok, who here believes what?" asked Rena, pointing her finger briefly at all the masters at the table. "What is spirituality? What is the point of spiritual practice?"

"To see and understand the universe as it is, not as we hope it to be," announced Charlie, without hesitation.

"That's close to what I think," said Allen. "Except I'm more interested in the process of thought and perception than you are. I think you are more focused on what we see and understand than how."  By "you" he meant Charlie, who nodded."

"I'd agree with Charlie," said Greg, who was the next one down from Allen. "Except my process also addresses the process of the mind, rather than its content."

"I disagree with Charlie," asserted Joy. "The truth is critically important, of course, but the truth--of universal love--only appears when we realize it. Otherwise, it's elusive. Charlie, you might say we need a search image." He grunted in acknowledgement. He has talked about how nests and tracks and so forth usually only become visible once you start looking for them. "So I entrain with the archetypes in order to teach my mind to recognize the truth."

Karen was the only one left. She did not initially speak.

"You agree with Greg, right?" guessed Rena. "You're both Buddhists."

"I have learned a great deal from Greg," said Karen, so softly I could barely hear her from my end of the table. "We share the same process, but not the same reason. He believes in reincarnation. I do not."

"Now that that's settled," said Charlie, "we should all change what we think, to keep them guessing." The others all laughed.

"I can't change what I think on purpose," protested Allen. "I can't even pretend to. I can change how I think, but I don't want to right now."

"What about you," asked Reina, of Steve Bees and I.

Neither of us spoke for a bit. We were thinking. Finally I told her the story of the bird in church the other day, and my reaction to it.

"See, I would have watched the bird," said Steve.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Year 4: Part 2: Post 10: Easter

Remember that in 2003, when this narrative is set, Easter fell on April 18th. -D.

I went home for Easter again, and we had the intergenerational egg hunt and the humanely raised ham and so on, just like the last few years. My family asked me more about the school, I did some more dishes and some yard work. We all had a good time, and I stayed over Sunday night and went straight to work from there in the morning (remember, we don't get a break for Easter at school). Just like last year and the year before.

What was different was the presence of my nephew. He's old enough now to participate in the egg hunt in a modest way, so we hid a couple of eggs in obvious places where he could reach them and we all clapped and made a big fuss whenever he found one. It's curious--even though we were all searching for eggs too, the event seemed mostly about him. We were making an event for him and enjoying it vicariously, not having an egg hunt for ourselves. We didn't plan it that way, but he could not participate with us as an equal, so we all had to make a circumstance where he could participate the way he could. Somehow, the presence of a child made us all act like adults.

He wasn't the only child there--I have a niece now, also, but she isn't anywhere near walking yet and was mostly an observer.

The other thing of real note this weekend happened at church.

We were partway through the service when I realized a bird had flown in. The day was nice out and I suppose a window must have been open somewhere. I'm not sure what kind it was, I never got a close look at it--probably and English sparrow. There are a lot of them in town.

It flew here and there, trying to find a way to get out, and gradually everyone in the place noticed it was there. I watched it happen--the glances, the pointing, and then the resolute refocusing on the service. The pastor noticed somewhat later than everybody else because it spent most of its time flying above or behind him, but finally he saw it and then deliberately ignored it. I'm not sure that anyone heard anything else he said, we were all watching the bird.

Afterwards, my dad laughed about the situation. He thought the pastor would have done better to acknowledge the bird and that the man's ignoring the situation had distracted everyone. It reminded him, he said, of a play he'd seen where a fly had buzzed around and around the head of one of the actors during an important soliloquy. The actor had chosen to pretend the fly wasn't there, and had done an admirable job of doing so, but the attempt had backfired; ignoring the fly destroyed the audience's suspension of disbelief because if the action on the stage was really real, the people on the stage would have noticed the fly.

Interesting point, but my Dad took it for granted that the bird was an interruption of the service. Everyone I spoke with during the Fellowship Hour said something about the bird, and for all of them it was simply obvious that the bird was not a proper part of the service. Even the children I spoke to thought its presence had been hilarious fun because there was something naughty about it. 

Out of everyone in the place, maybe one or two hundred people, I was the only one who didn't get the joke, the only one who saw no reason why an Easter service shouldn't involve a wild bird.

I could have wept. I just suddenly realized I can't ever go back. I mean, I can attend services at my childhood church with my family any time I want to. But I'll always be the odd one out, now.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Year 4: Part 2: Post 9: Getting it

I haven't really talked about the new yearlings, yet. I've been making an effort to get to know them and I've got pretty much all the names down now. I've had some good conversations with many of them.

There are the usual weird name double-ups, notably three guys named Michael and one woman, Michelle. Fortunately, only one of the guys actually goes by Michael (the one in my dorm). The other two go by Mike and Mickey, respectively. We have a single new Raven, in addition to the one Raven remaining from my yearling group, and a new Nora, too. I know that sounds weird, to say a Nora and a Raven, like people with a given name are commodities or something, and that's not what I mean. But there are two students here named Nora now, so how else am I supposed to say it?

The new Nora is interesting. She's only twenty, but somehow she tested out of half the program. She'll only be here two years. She was in college before and has a lot of transferable credit, plus she has an active spiritual practice--she's Christian and she's an athlete. That all takes some doing. She's on the food service team, but wants to be a doctor.

"Only twenty." That makes it sound like I'm so much older. I'm not, of course. But when I came here I had almost nothing that would transfer. I can understand how you can build up a lot of advanced standing if you come here and you're thirty or something, but...basically, I'm impressed.

Anyway, we're going through the same acculturation process we do for every group of yearlings, using gentle suggestion and reminders and conversation to make them of us without their noticing we're doing anything deliberately at all. They'll figure it out next year.

Steve Bees is figuring it out now.

This is his second year and his last year--he'll graduate with me, making us part of the same class, in a weird way. He's changed a lot since I first became aware of him. He has this drive, now. The whole campus pays more attention to social justice issues because of him, he really pushes to learn what he needs to, and he does it in such a way that everyone else learns, too. He doesn't just ask questions, he asks Greg to do talks on the subjects he wants to hear, and then he makes sure other people show up. He says things in this way where it doesn't seem at all confrontational, except that you can't get what he said to you out of his mind. None of the rest of us can do that. Not even all the masters can.

Anyway, the other day over lunch, after the people, mostly yearlings, we'd been sitting with got up to leave, he made a kind of "huh" sound and spoke, without looking at me.

"We're not just chatting with them are we?" he said. "We're teaching them. And you taught me."

"Well, not me personally very much," I admitted, "but yes. None of us spend long enough here for this place to be this weird accidentally."

"You can make a culture, make a society." He sounded very impressed.


"Then, I suppose all societies are made. The world is what we make it be."

"Yes, I suppose so."

"We should make a better one, then."

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Year 4: Part 2: Post: 8: Uncertainty

I was thinking the other day about what I was doing last year at this time--and what I'll be doing next year. And the thing is, I don't know. Rick and I tossed around the idea of doing the Appalachian Trail next year, or at least part of it, and I also think I want to go to grad school, but I really don't know how it's going to play out.

Actually, I'm pretty sure I do want to go to grad school. I want to do something science-related. But I'm not sure how to go about choosing a school. Eventually, I'll ask my parents and Charlie about it, but I'm not quite there yet. I think they'll tell me what to do, or try to, and I want to have some thoughts of my own before that happens.

So, I asked Allen what school I should go to.

"That depends on what you want to learn," he said.

"But I don't know yet. How do I figure this out?"

"How did you decide to come here?"

"I just showed up," I told him, shrugging. "I liked what I saw.  But I don't think that will work for choosing a grad school."

"You'd be surprised."

"But this school is weird. By design. I don't think the same thing will work in a normal school."

"Do you want to go to a normal grad school? You don't have to, you know."

"Probably not," I acknowledged. "What about you? How did you choose your various schools?"

"Including this one?"

"Sure," though I'd heard part of that story before.

"I chose my undergrad program because out of the several schools close enough to please my parents and far enough away to please me, it was the one that gave me a scholarship. Once I was there, I took a psychology course, liked it, and ended up being a psych major. I did well, then I chose a grad school because it had a good psych program and offered me a scholarship. I did well. Which is what everybody expected. And I could see myself doing what everybody expected, one step after another, for the rest of my life. And I got really confused and depressed."

"I can relate." The same thing had happened to me, in a way.

"Yeah, I know. We have some things in common. Anyway, so I talked to my friend, Jim, about it, and he asked me what I wanted to do. That's when I went to Key West and learned to be a magician. When I asked Jim how he knew how to give such good advice, it turned out he had this I enrolled. When I graduated, I went back to my grad school, finished my degree, then came here, got my ring and a job."

Allen is the only person in the history of the school so far to earn his ring and be hired to the Six at the same time.

"How did you know Jim?" I asked.

"I used to date his ex."

I thought about this. I've never met Jim, but I have heard of him. He must have been a lot older than Allen, and Jim had been with his boyfriend, Shrimp, since years before the school even started, so this ex must have been both younger than Jim and older than Allen for the whole thing to work out. Except--

Allen saw me realize and laughed.

"Yes," he acknowledged, "that I dated Jim's ex means that either Jim or I must be bisexual. How does it feel not knowing which of us it is?"

"Um, disorienting?"

"Your not knowing my orientation disorients you?" He was still grinning.

"Yeah. I can't think why. It's not like it makes any real difference to me."

"It's called triadic awareness," Allen explained. "It's an instinct to keep track of relationships we're not part of. It's part of how humans can have such complex societies. You know where I stand, that helps tell you where you stand."

"Except you're not going to help tell me where I stand."

"Of course not. I'm a magician. Not knowing things is good for you."

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Year 4: Part 2: Post 7: Seasons of Change

Every year I talk about how spring seems to always be just now arriving, from the first blooming of trees in March to the full greening of campus late in April or early May. I keep thinking "ok, now it's spring." And then the next week something else sprouts or blooms and I think it again.

I've noticed the same thing with how Aidan is growing. It seems like for years now he's been just starting to talk.

He said his first words when he was just over a year old, though I didn't actually hear him talk until months later. Then, when he was around two, he started using a lot more words, a lot more complex sentences, so it seemed like he had really started to talk. I think I posted about it. Now, he's just past three, and he's really talking, using more or less complete grammar and mostly correct pronunciation (except he still says "gweens" and "aminals" and such things).

Not that he talks often. He's kind of a quiet boy.

I don't babysit him much, but I understand that watching him is getting both easier and harder. Easier because he can follow rules and instructions and some sense of judgment, so you can tell him "stay where I can see you" and he will. Harder because he's also able to make innocent  mistakes or to disobey, so when he gets in trouble he can get in trouble seriously. And one minute he seems to know everything and be able to do everything, so you let him do things, and then the next minute he's obviously a toddler again.

All this, too, is a process that has been unfolding since he learned how to crawl.

Kayla hardly ever babysits him these days. She's busy being a student and being a teenager, and since he's been weaned completely for about a year now, there are whole days that go by when she hardly sees him. That's ok--the idea was always for Sadie to raise him.

During the day, Sadie is usually in the kitchens or off-campus at this restaurant she's started. He can't really go with her, so he gets passed around the various masters. Sometimes he'll even turn up in class and sit quietly in the back, coloring.

Actually, this past week we were talking about the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., in class--the anniversary of his death was April 4th--and Aidan jumped into the conversation.

"He didn't get killed because he was black," the child asserted. "He got killed because he was nice to all the people and mean people are scared of nice people so the mean people killed him."

Greg looked a bit startled, but recovered himself.

"Interesting point, Aidan," he said, speaking as he might to any other student. "Do you care to elaborate?"

Aidan put down his crayons and spoke up.

"A lot of people think Martin Lufer King was killed because he was black and because he was nice to black people on buses and stuff. But he was nice to white people and pink people and green people and purple people, too. Like, if they didn't have any money he would help them get money and if people were mean to them and told them to take out the garbage all the time he would say 'no, you have to be nice!' And that is why mean people killed him. Because sometimes mean people just want to be mean, so if you tell them not to be mean they kill you or put you in jail. So that's why it's important to be brave and nice, not just nice all by itself."

And he picked up his crayon again and went back to coloring.

"You are right, for the most part," said Greg. "Where did you learn all that?"

"I don't know. It might have been Steve Bees or somebody like that."

Steve is in American History of Dissent, of course, and he shrugged helplessly and looked completely dumbfounded. Aidan seemed completely unaware he'd said anything extraordinary. His drawing just looked like multicolored scribbles, no hint of a recognizable image at all.

The boy is starting to talk, but the thing is he hears everything and remembers most of it.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Year 4: Part 2: Post 6: Fools in April

We've just had April Fool's Day. I forget whether I've mentioned it before, but the first of April is interesting around here because the community encompasses not one but several ideas about what it means.

I don't want to make this sound like a bigger deal than it is. Most of us just go about our business--it isn't a major school holiday or anything, just a few people playing pranks or doing other things, just like anywhere else. Usually one or two of the pranks are funny enough--or disastrous enough--that the whole campus finds out and everybody talks about it for days. Most pass ignored except by those most immediately involved.

My second year, Space Alien Steve was a yearling, and rebelled against the campus dietary choices by keeping his own stash of Frosted Lucky Charms. The cereal became kind of A Thing with him, he refused to share, and people started teasing him about it. It all came to a head on April 1st that year when someone--we never found out who--stole his box of Lucky Charms and removed all the marshmallows, then replaced the box in its spot on his dresser. Suspecting nothing, Steve came to breakfast, box in hand, poured himself a big bowl, and proceeded to freak out. He stood up in the middle of breakfast and started shouting "where are my marshmallows? Who took my marshmallows? Bring back my marshmallows!" But in his very melodrama it was obvious that on some level he appreciated the joke. He was making a clown of himself. And the marshmallows turned out to be hidden in an otherwise empty milk pitcher on his table, a nice touch, since none of us were ever able to figure out how it happened. He kept talking about his marshmallows, trying to track down the guilty party, for days. It was great.

Last year someone tried to play a prank on Andy--I forget what it was, other than that it was classic April Fools in that it involved someone lying to him and then saying "April Fools!" when he reacted. That did not go so well. Andy was completely taken in by the lie and it really upset him, and then when he found out it was a joke he actually started to cry. The thing is, we all basically like Andy, but Andy himself doesn't know it or can't believe it. He is estranged from his surviving family and he lost all his old friends during his long years of using drugs. I guess, on some level he's convinced he's going to be rejected again, so he takes any hint of disrespect very personally. And I know he always felt very self-conscious as one of the few Christians in the community. The prankster hadn't realized that and felt just awful afterwards.

Anyway, but, as I said, pranks aren't the only thing that happens here on this day. Ideas about what the First of April means include:

  • Pranks are ok all day
  • Pranks before noon confer good luck, but playing pranks after noon is bad luck
  • It's bad luck for the victim to not find the prank funny
  • Pranks are never ok, and the whole tradition is stupid
  • The tradition is a remnant of paleolithic Laughing Festivals and so the day is a good time for jokes of all sorts
  • The tradition goes back to making fun of people who were slow to accept the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century
  • The tradition goes back to a form of Saturnalia in France in the 13th century, which was eventually suppressed by the Catholic Church, and is therefor a good time for drinking and raucous behavior
  • The tradition is Christian in origin
  • The tradition is pagan in origin
  • The tradition is actually part of Ostar
  • The tradition is actually part of Beltane

Greg says that most of these ideas are at least partially based on misunderstandings of history and shakes his head at it, but he makes no serious attempt to intervene.

"Far be it from me to enforce a singular, approved truth," he says.

This year he said something different, speculating at breakfast that the day may be called "April Fools'" because so many people behaved foolishly on it. I've heard he was considering doing a talk on the history of the day to try to set the record straight, but gave it up as a lost cause--in any case, he seemed to be in A Mood over it.

Allen, who was sitting at the same table with us--I think he and Greg were deliberately eating together, whereas the rest of us were at that particular table only incidentally--seemed to be in a different kind of mood.

"That's not what I think of," he told Greg, in an odd, distracted voice. He was swirling around a cup of something, milk or coffee, I think, and looking at it as though he expected something important to rise from its depths.

"Oh?" said Greg.

"You remember the idea that the fools of the Middle Ages were actually autistic, right?"

"Yeah, sure. The Holy Fools of Russia."

"April is also Autism Awareness month," Allen explained, still in an odd voice.