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, August 29, 2016

Year 4: Part 5: Post 5: Asking for Votes

I just got Joy's vote to graduate.

She's my master for both healing and magic. The healing part was pretty simple, since I'm doing Reiki. She says you need to get the second attunement, which she offers after you do at least six months of regular practice--that's a lot more than most teachers require, apparently, but it's really not a lot, given that once you've had the second attunement, you're allowed to charge people money to give them Reiki. Two workshops and six months of practice isn't a lot to become a certified healer!

There's a third attunement, too, if you want to be able to teach Reiki, but I don't expect to do that--I don't even expect to do the charging money thing. I got into Reiki because I need to get into some kind of healing to graduate, and I've enjoyed it--I still don't know how it works, but it does work, and that's what I like about it--but I don't see myself going professional with it.

Anyway, I got my second attunement a while back--a couple of months ago. I could have gotten it earlier, of course, since I've been practicing now for over two years, but I didn't feel a need to rush things. And that's all I need to get Joy's vote in healing.

To get her vote in magic? It's less cut and dried.

I've been learning "manifestation," which is where you more or less learn to make things happen because you're thinking about them. It's a little more complicated than that, of course, and no one can manifest just anything, like, you don't become omnipotent, but those wonderful coincidences where someone shows up with exactly what you need at the right time start happening a whole lot more often.

But because manifesting isn't a completely predictable thing (and wouldn't be as much fun if it was), there's no way to test someone's ability. Like you can't say "Ok, manifest X now," and give the person a good grade if X shows up. There can't be any grades or levels.

But you can make progress. I succeed more often than I used to, and I feel more confident with it. Or--no, that's not quite the right word. I feel more trusting. I'm luckier than I used to be and I'm more relaxed about whether the things I want will happen. And I get as excited when I'm part of someone else's manifestations as when mine work. I mean, when I'm able to help someone else out in an unpredictable way I just get a huge kick out of it.

Those of us who are learning manifestation with Joy get together every so often and talk about how, we're doing, and what's been working for us and what hasn't been, and what insights we've had, and she asks us questions. So Joy can keep track of our progress that way.

There's a rule, or at least a tradition, that you have to ask for someone's vote--they don't normally tell you you've got it until you ask. So, the other day, on a whim, I asked Joy. She said yes.

You need the votes of all the masters you're working with, plus you need to complete your credit requirements and your year-and-a-day of campus life participation. Then, when you get all that, the final decision is made by a review committee composed of three or four out of the Six, though I don't know when that committee meets. I've been told that we dn't ask for that one--they ask for you.

I am working with only two masters, so I only need one more vote--but that vote is Charlie's.

God, the thought of asking him for his approval and for his permission to leave here....

But I can't ask him yet. He said I had to do a year of this sleeping outside thing, and it hasn't been a year yet. Almost. It's almost been. And then I will ask him.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Year 4: Part 5: Post 4: Living on Earth

I've never talked about Dan much, except to insist that he isn't me. We have the same first name, where the same age, and we've both been here three years and counting. But there, I like to insist, the resemblance ends, because he's always putting his foot in his mouth.

Except, I suppose, so am I.

Anyway, over the past several years he's matured into a talented musician. A group of us went to the Great Hall the other night to watch him play. It wasn't an official Event, but it didn't need to be. He just checked to see that nothing else was scheduled and put the word out that he planned to play. Maybe fifty of us showed up, which is enough to make a pretty good crowd in that room, which isn't all that large as performance venues go.

He played the cello and he did it wonderfully, with skill and passion and his longish, black hair flopping all over the place, his face starting to shine with sweat from concentration and effort. I did not recognize most of the songs, and many of them were classical pieces, which I don't normally listen to, but he was really good and it was fun just watching someone I know be talented.

He played for about an hour, and afterwards most of the crowd meandered away, draining slowly out of the room with much chatter and congratulations of Dan, off to do homework or something. A couple of us stayed behind to chat while Dan drank a bottle of water and kind of recovered.

By chance, all of us were part of this year's graduating group. Me and Dan, of course, plus Joanna and Raven G. from our group of yearlings, and Space Alien Steve and Eddie, who are in their third year, and Steve Bees in his second. Plus Jutta, who is a yearling and a one-hit-wonder, as we say.

Her name is pronounced "Yoo ta." It's German. She isn't, except by descent.

Anyway, we all sort of collected on the couches. Jutta was asking Steve why people call him Space Alien, which we used to do behind his back, but then we found out that he knew and didn't mind, so we dropped the pretense.

"Because I used to think I was a space alien," he explained.

"Used to?" I asked. He shrugged.

"Mostly used to," he amended. We all laughed, because of the way he said it.

"What changed?" I asked. This was big news. I mean, I haven't hung out with Alien Steve much since my second winter here, but his alien status was so much a part of him. We used to have these long conversations about it, late into the night, about identity and possibility and the definition of truth. And now he was saying "never mind?"

"Well, I still think I could be one," he said,"and I still feel like an alien, but...I guess I'm not sure the answer's so simple anymore."

"Ok, but I'm still a dude, ok?" put in Eddie, and we all laughed again. Eddie's masculinity was another part of those conversations.

"I don't get what's so simple about space aliens, though," said Raven, and held out her hand for the water bottle so she could have a sip. "You know, I wish we had the stove on so we could make chocolate or tea."

"With wintergreen!" said Eddie, because that's what we drank that winter, wintergreen and chocolate.

"You could start the stove, if you want," said Dan.

"No, she can't," said Joanna. It was almost eighty degrees inside. The day had been hot, and while the evening was cooling outdoors, the Great Hall hadn't caught up yet--not with fifty people and their body heat in it until recently.

"I don't get the part about space aliens at all, honestly," said the other Steve, Steve Bees, who wasn't there for those conversations.

"I've always felt like an alien," explained Alien Steve, "so I just assumed that I was one."

"Literally?" asked Jutta.

"Yes, literally."

"But that's impossible."

"No, it isn't."

"Yes, it is."

"How do you know?"

There followed a long and involved discussion about speed-of-light travel and resource limitations and whether science could legitimately say anything was impossible, anyway. Much shouting and giggling occurred.

"Forget chocolate," said Raven, "you guys need some pot."

"Except evidently we don't," Joanna told her.

"Anyway. Aliens and simplicity," said Raven.

"I feel like an alien so I thought I was one. That's simple."

"Overcoming the speed of light barrier, etc., etc., isn't."

"Yes, it is," Steve told her. "It's not unreasonable to suppose that a discovery we haven't made yet makes interstellar travel feasible. I have no idea if such a discovery is out there to be made, but I can't prove it isn't, and lots of things that used to seem impossible are possible now. Expanding possibilities are an established feature of our reality. But to feel alien and not really be? What does it mean if I can't tell if I'm human or not? Do I belong and not know it? How is that possible? Or am I alien in some other way, and if so, what way? What does it mean to be human? All of that. That's complicated."

"Ok, said Raven."Except I still wish I could get you high."

"I'm going to miss all you people," said the other Steve, Steve Bees. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Year 4: Part 5: Post 3: You Talking to Me?

So I've been reading about animal behavior. And I've been watching animals. And I've been listening to them. And I've been thinking about atypical things.

As you may recall, Charlie called my attention to the atypical some weeks ago, asking me why things out-of-the-ordinary happen. He was asking, of course, so that I would ask, so that I would notice the unusual and wonder about it and look for an answer. I'm pretty sure that's what he was doing, anyway, because that's what's happened as a result of his question, and he's usually pretty good at that sort of thing.

In a way, the question reminds me of something they told us in First Responder class (which is like First Aid, but expanded)--to pay attention to the normal, to be familiar with our own bodies. One of our instructors told the story of a colleague who had been very surprised to find a bump on a patient's ankle, having never noticed before that everybody with ankles has ankle bumps. The same instructor reminded us to ask "is that normal for you?" because what's odd for us might be normal for a patient, and if it's normal, it probably isn't a medical emergency.

The corollary of all of that is that the abnormal should trigger questions.

I told Charlie that atypical things happen because other atypical things happen. I meant that as a general principle, that when something unusual happens, it should be taken as a sign of some prior, but equally unusual cause. Like, a whole bunch of birds mobbing a tree when they usually don't means that something unusual is in the tree, like an owl. I don't think the principle always holds, though. My sense of the usual might be faulty, for example, as was that of the man who did know about ankle bumps. But the unusual is still a good sign that something is happening I don't know about and maybe should.

I'm being really vague, I know. I do have some examples.

The birds mobbing an owl was an example. That was on campus, in one of the elm trees at the corner of the Mansion. Usually it's a cat they're mobbing, but that time it was a barred owl.

A hummingbird I'd seen in the bird-food garden every twenty minutes one rainy Sunday stopped coming just before dinner. It was nowhere near dusk--that was back in June. Later I found her, dead, in the pool of the little waterfall-fountain there. I showed the body to Joy, who said the thought the bird had been stung by a wasp hiding from the rain among the flowers.

I was out in my spot one evening, listening to the crickets from my hammock, and all of a sudden they all stop. Fifteen seconds later, they start again. I never did find out why.

What I've been wondering lately is whether I, myself, am an atypical occurrence. When I'm at my spot in the woods, am I seeing that place as it really normally is, or only as I have made it by arriving? When I hear a squirrel chatter aggressively, as they sometimes do, is the squirrel talking to--or about--me, or is it chattering about some new thing, person or animal or event, that is about to arrive?

Monday, August 8, 2016

Year 4: Part 5: Post 2: Fall Semester

The fall semester’s classes have begun. Or, I supposed I should say “fall quarter,” as there are four of them, or even “quintal,” as there are five parts to the academic year, counting the spring before classes start, but we usually say semester.

Anyway, I have two classes, Healer’s Health, and Geology and History. The former is one of Allen’s. It’s about all the things that often go wrong with the mental health of people in the “helping professions,” like burn-out and codependency, and how to avoid them, recognize them, and do something about them. I never really thought of myself as headed for a “helping profession,” but I needed the credit, and, as Allen has explained, my ability to listen to people is very much something that other people could come to rely on. In one way or another, we’re all becoming priests or priestesses, and we all have to confront and prepare for the vulnerability that involves.

The other class actually focuses less on history the way we normally talk about it (though supposedly they’ll be some of that, too) and more on geology as a kind of history. It’s mostly a close look on the geologic history of our immediate area, how our mountains and valleys and soils and everything were formed. I won’t get into the details of what we’re learning as it would give away where we are. It’s taught by an ally.

Each class has met once so far. The rest of the week I’m either working off campus or I’m working for Charlie’s horticultural team.

The thing is, these are my last two classes as an undergrad—maybe my last two classes here, depending on if and when I return as a candidate. And I have to say they’re anticlimactic, especially the one about geology. I mean, geology is interesting and everything, but it’s not like I’m spending my last semester here hunting horcruxes like Harry Potter.

My first semester here was definitely organized as an introduction. I think all of my classes, at least most of them, actually had “Intro” in their titles. Everybody in those classes was new, and everything was calculated to draw us in, to welcome and induct us, into the school. Now? These just happen to be the classes I’m taking this semester. Most of my classmates aren’t graduating with me. There’s no conclusion.

We do have the Graduating Novice Meetings every month. At the beginning of the year they said they’d give us information this way, but they really haven’t told us much. Instead, they usually ask if anybody has any questions or concerns, we talk about whatever comes up for a few minutes, and then we just all chat for the rest of the time. But it’s been interesting to meet as a group every month, all 34 of us, to really get a sense that we’re all in this together, almost like a team. And it’s an acknowledgement. It’s like, yeah, this year is different for us and, yeah, we are different than the other students and, yes, it’s really happening—we’re going to leave this place soon.

That acknowledgment helps it seem a lot less weird.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Year 4: Part 5: Lammas

Happy Lughnasadh!

I was just re-reading some of my earlier posts and I noticed I called it Lammas my first year, "because it's easier to spell," which makes no sense because clearly I did know how to spell it, because I wrote the longer name, too. So why did I do that? Did I just feel weird about Celtic names and their oddly silent consonants? (The holiday's name is pronounced "Loonasuh," more or less). Whatever it was, I'm apparently over it.

Spices and sprinkles from other languages are common here, technical words from magic, religion, meditation, philosophy, or myth in Irish, Scottish, German, Norwegian, Latin, Welsh, Japanese, and Greek, each introduced by one student or another and flowing together in a weird and highly educated slang.

Anyway, as usual, our Lughnasadh festival was a big feast showcasing everything the farm here can do, plus a kind of low-key open mike. And, as usual, there were a few updates and twists.

This year there was a massive tomato tasting. I don't mean the tomatoes were massive (though some were), I mean that the variety was extraordinary. Five different cherry tomatoes. Four different plum tomatoes. Eight of the big ones that are great for sandwiches. Each variety was available four different ways--fresh and plain, as basic marinara sauce, and as both red and green chutneys. All with saltine crackers so you could dip in and get a bite and sumac tea as a palate cleanser between tastes. We were supposed to taste all them and choose a favorite in each size category for each of the four preparation types--nine favorites in total.

It's hard to keep track of nine different competition standards, so I kept having to taste and re-taste and then taste some more, just to be sure I hadn't confused the flavors and textures in my mind. It was glorious.

They'll grow the winning varieties next year.

The other update was that the open mike turned into a talent show for the masters. It wasn't just them, students performed, too, but every second or third performer was a master, they kept coming up, one after the other. And where last year our teachers seemed careful to avoid steeling our thunder, this year they seemed to be drawing attention to themselves, showing off. I suppose they might as well--if we don't know how good they are, how can we trust them to teach us? And there are still yearlings who haven't chosen all of their masters yet.

Kit, of course, went first. She's the one who most likes showing off for us anyway. I don't think it's vanity or egoism on her part, rather, I think she sees her performance as a gift to us. I hope she never stops thinking that. But usually she sings, and this time she did not. Instead, she danced. I'd never seen her really dance before--outside of class and beyond swaying to music, I mean. She had a student band for accompaniment and she was amazing--graceful and sexy, powerful and controlled, with that snap to her movements that the great dancers have, every limb, every finger in its place, moment by moment.

Joy sang. She couldn't well demonstrate her skill as a vet or as a horse trainer, the stage wasn't big enough, so she had to do something else, and so she sang. I don't remember what songs she chose, none of them struck me as especially important at the time, only that there were three of them and that her voice was low and rich, like Kit's, but without quite as much range. And she was beautiful at it.

Karen did a series of martial arts "forms." A form is a routine, an organized sequence of a given subset of moves of one or another of the arts. Done well, these are as precise as a dance and Karen did them well. When she moved she was a blur of motion, when she paused in her movement the entire world became still and silent.

Greg did, of all things, a comedy routine. I hadn't known he could, and he was very funny.

Allen performed his magic, only the second time that I have seen him do a full show, complete with comic banter and an impeccable black suit and top hat, and a juggling interlude where the number and type of objects he was juggling changed as we watched and nobody could quite figure out how.

Even some of the non-teaching masters performed, though not all of them did. Aaron and his parrot, Ahab, did a wonderful routine in which Ahab said things he shouldn't, stole props, and generally caused havoc, while Aaron played the straight man. Security Joe sang in his oddly feminine-sounding voice (the pitch is masculine, a rich tenor, but the timbre and cadence are feminine and in complete contrast to how Joe speaks). And Malachi brought on one of those rolling blackboards and described some kind of complex mathematical something or other, which he made both lucid (don't ask me to remember it, though) and funny, and if that isn't an impressive mastery, I don't know what is.

I kept expecting Charlie to come on stage and do something--play his tin whistle? Use his chainsaw to sculpt some amazingly lifelike animal? There are so many possibilities, so many things he can do.

But he did nothing. He never took the stage.

Afterwards, after the performances were over but while the feasting itself was in full swing, I watched all the masters leave the party, one by one. This, too, I remember from the past three years. Graduates come on campus and the masters leave the party early and, presumably, they all go do something together. I don't know what they do. I have made no attempt to find out. If and when I win my own green ring, I'll find out then.

In the meantime, I haven't told anyone I know as much as I have. As far as I can tell, I'm the only student who has even noticed as much as I have.

But this time I couldn't help it. Allen happened to be one of the last masters to leave and I happened to be nearby when he fetched his suit jacket and hat and some of his props from a chair.

"Have fun vanishing," I told him in a low voice, and smiled.

He seemed startled at first, then recovered himself and grinned.

"I always do," he told me.