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, April 24, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 2: Note

Hi, all.

I just wanted to tell you that, no, I'm not doing a real post today, and yes, everything's fine on my end. A group of us went to the Science March in DC on Saturday, which meant a three day trip--it's a long drive from where we live--so my work week got seriously disrupted. I'll post on Friday, after I've caught up.

"We," incidentally, was June and I and Carly, Allen, Lo, and David, and Breathwalker, whom I haven't told you about. He was a student at the school several years before I arrived and has recently gotten involved with the community again. He was another student of Charlie's. It's a different group than the contingent that came to the climate march a few years ago (and will attend the climate march next week), but it was a different kind of march. It felt different. I've been trying to put my finger on exactly how--here's part of it. The people asked questions. That is, when people at the march chatted with each other, they usually started by asking questions, not by making statements. About what you could expect from scientists, I suppose. What does your sign mean? What does your costume signify? What kind of scientist are you?

We had an answer for that one; David is an ecologist, Allen and Lo are psychologists, June and I are science educators, and Breathwalker and Carly aren't scientists at all, but science is important to them. By the end of the march, Carly was giving that answer herself. It's funny, I never thought of Allen and Lo as scientists, but I guess they are.

We could have gone to one of the satellite marches, several were much more convenient for us, but we figured the bigger the DC march was, the more impact it would have, and anyway we figured it was time for us to show Carly our nation's capital. Any kid her age should get to have astronaut ice cream at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

My favorite part of the whole march experience was probably the sign--and I saw it several times--that said "science is like magic, but real."

That sounds about right to me.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 2: Post 5: Easter

Note: this year, Passover includes Easter, but ten years ago, when this post is set, Passover was significantly earlier, which is why it's not mentioned in this post. There was a Seder on campus, but I didn't attend it that year.

Happy Easter!


June and I went to my parents' house for the weekend--we went to hers last year, but they're farther away and a short visit there is less practical. It was nice to be home for Easter again, and June got to hang out with my sister-in-law, which she really hasn't done before. It's not that they hadn't met, though they really hadn't spent a lot of time together, but they hadn't seemed to feel much motivation. Now, it's like they have something in common, a little support group of women who love Kretzmans, I suppose, that I never noticed before. I think that it's because we're engaged--there's a shift with how my whole family is around June, like they're starting to believe she's going to stay awhile.

Our intergenerational egg-hunt tradition is over, by the way. My oldest nephew is almost six, and even my brother's littlest kid is old enough to hunt eggs, so the kids have totally taken over the day again. It's all for them. My Mom does still give my generation Easter baskets, though--this year she made one for June, too, which June totally was not expecting. That was cool. I did take the kids on a walk around the neighborhood and into the park and showed them birds building nests and piles of frog jelly in ponds and ditches. That was my brother's idea, and I prepped for the walk on Saturday, the same way I would have for a workshop at school. Next year, or maybe the year after, I'll have them do their own searching.

Or, we will. June is a bit miffed nobody thought to ask her to be involved. She is an environmental educator, but I don't think my brother knew that. And I just got caught up preparing for the walk. I'm not used to having a partner.

This was the first time June and I have been to church together. I think it may have been the first time June's attended this kind of service at all--she was raised Quaker, and their services are very different. And not all of them even celebrate Easter. I'm afraid we didn't hear much of the sermon, though. June tapped my foot with hers, so I tapped back, and pretty soon we were tapping and kicking and kind of playing surreptitious tag until my Dad, who was sitting behind us, leaned forward and whispered "children, behave!"

The actual children, sitting a row in from of us with my brother, heard and kind of jumped, but they were behaving. Unimpeachable conduct, really. It's obviously not genetic.

June and I walked back to the house afterwards while the others drove.

"Do you believe that stuff?" she asked me.

"What, you mean like the Resurrection?" I asked.

"Yeah."

"I suppose not, not like a literal fact. I used to. I kind of want to, but I don't."

"I used to, too."

"What happened?" I asked. "To us?"

"We grew up," June told me, sighing.

"So did my parents. So did my brother. They believe."

"Do they? Have you asked?"

"No," I acknowledged. "But there must be some genuine believers. It's not like religious people are stupid, or childish, or something." I thought of Ollie and of Andy, two of the best, most mature and responsible people I know, and they believe. They'd say they are mature and responsible because they believe.

"Growing up must mean different things," June suggested. "Up means different things, you know. Down always points to the same place, the center of the Earth, but up always points to different places. Our heads aren't pointed in the same direction. As long as we stand on a curved Planet Earth, our bodies aren't parallel."

Somehow I found this idea lonely. She took my hand as we walked.

"Sometimes I almost believe," I said. "I believe in God, I believe in Spirit, and I hear all these ideas, Kit's ideas, and Joy's, and Greg's, and they all make sense. I read my Bible, and it makes sense. I learn things from all of these places, all these different ideas. I think they could all be true, at least a little bit, you know, like the blind people touching the elephant...and then I got to church and the preacher says something, or I talk to my Uncle and he says something, and I can't help it, I think 'you can't actually believe that nonsense, can you?'"

"What does Charlie believe?" June asked.

"Charlie doesn't believe. Charlie acts. And he teaches me to do the same."

"And to feel. You've said he taught you how to love."

"He did. Love is an action," I said, although love is also a feeling. Or, at least, there is a way I feel when I love, or when I know myself to be loved. I don't understand, not really. I squeezed her hand. "Hey," I added, "how come you don't need a spirit master? You don't attend services."

"I'm spiritual but I'm not religious. I told them so, and I guess they believed me."

We went home--to my parents' home, I mean--and had our egg hunt for the kids and our walk in the park looking for real nests (that I'd found the day before), and then we had dinner, our traditional local and humanely raised ham and organic, local fixings (this year they were all local, so nothing was fresh except for the steamed dandelion greens and the flower salad I made, and of course, my Mom's egg salad, but everybody liked the meal), and had a good time.

But the whole day, off and on, I was thinking about my friends back at school and what they might be doing. Ollie was leading the campus Easter service, I was sure. I almost stayed so I could attend, I'd love to hear him preach and I never have. Kit may have been steadfastly ignoring the day as too Christian (though I know people who consider it too pagan), or she may have attended to on-campus service. She does sometimes, and did my first year. I remember seeing her there, her red hair shining in the sun. Allen was there that day, too, but he usually doesn't attend, because he's usually not on campus on Sundays. He and his family attend a Unitarian Universalist church, and I expect he was attending Easter services there.

I found out this morning I was wrong.

Ollie, remember, has been spending his weekends with Allen's family so he can see therapy clients. They normally bike, so I'd thought Ollie would just bike back early for the service, but for some reason this time Allen drove him. The plan was for Allen to attend the service on campus, and then go meet his family for the church service afterwards, but that's not what happened, either.

Ollie told me that he and Allen arrived early at Chapel Hall, so Ollie could get ready, but several people were already there. Charlie was one of them. While Ollie was setting up chairs with a few other people, he overheard Charlie ask Allen, "Do you want to play hooky?" And he didn't see Allen after that.

But a yearling had already given me the other half of the story, without knowing that he was doing so--he'd seen both Charlie and Allen up in a tree together, looking at something through binoculars--Allen still wearing the suit he'd planned to wear for the service, except he'd left his jacket at ground level. It was his red tie that snagged the yearling's attention. I'd asked what they were looking at, but the yearling didn't know. He did point in the right direction.

The cider house is in that direction. And I happen to know there is a fox den underneath it. I saw the mother vixen about two and a half weeks ago (I can't recognize her individually, I just noticed her swollen teats), which means the kits must have been about ten days old, or she wouldn't have left them. That makes them about four weeks old, the age at which fox kits start coming out of their den.

Allen and Charlie watched the kits come out into the light of day for the first time on Easter morning.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 2: Post 4: Thinking

"I can't decide if this place is religious or not," said June at breakfast.

"Paganism is a religion," asserted Kit. "Or, several religions, actually."


"I know that," said June. "Will someone please tell her that I know that? I'm not an idiot."

"She's not an idiot," I told Kit, straight-faced.

"Well, it's not like we haven't had people who questioned it," said Kit, somewhat defensively. And she's right. A surprising number of people seem to think that "religion" is synonymous with "Judaeo-Christian."

"Yes, I'm sure, but they're idiots," asserted June. "Come on, Kit, Daniel has better taste in women than that. He likes you, after all."

"Hah!" exclaimed Kit. "I like her, she's bold."

"I like her, too," I said.

I've never told June that I had a crush on Kit, by the way, but I've never tried to hide it, either. I'm not sure whether, technically speaking, I still do have that crush. I mean, the attraction is still there, but I don't put much energy into it anymore. The whole point of fantasizing about Kit was always that she was utterly unattainable, meaning I didn't have to make any decisions about her or in any way get over my crippling fear of women--and I guess I don't need that anymore.

"So, what do you mean, you can't decide if we're religious?" asked Kit.

"Well, you celebrate the sabbats," June explained, "and you have a spirit master, and Daniel calls this school a seminary, but you all believe different things. How can you, as a group, be religious, if you don't have a group religion?"

Someone asks a question like this every year--something about how we don't all believe the same things, so how can that work. The specifics of the questions vary, and the answers vary even more. June and I had been deliberately having breakfast with Kit, just to be social, and we'd chosen a sparsely populated table, but then Allen and Ebony had asked if they could join us, and we said yes. They both perked up when they heard the topic of conversation get all intellectual, and Allen opened his mouth to respond, but Ebony beat him to it.

"How do you know we don't have a group religion?" she asked. "What's a religion?"

Allen would have asked just one question at a time, but I'm fairly sure he would have asked one of those two.

"Well, you say you don't," replied June. "You and Kit are Wiccan, right? So, you believe in a Goddess and a God, and Elementals, and reincarnation, but Allen, you're, what, a Scientific Pantheist? So you don't believe in a spirit world at all. You think the world that can be scientifically investigated is all there is. That's pretty different."

"Actually, I'm a Jewitch," corrected Ebony.

"Jewitch. Sorry."

"It's ok."

"What makes you think you can look up my personal spiritual beliefs on Wikipedia?" asked Allen, and for a moment he seemed very much the dignified, if faintly amused, professor. June blushed, and looked down at her plate for a moment.

"I didn't use Wikipedia," she said. "I looked up the Scientific Pantheism website."

She sounded like a contritely defensive child and Allen smiled at her, even more amused.

"I am a Scientific Pantheist, at the moment," he confirmed, "but that's more descriptive than prescriptive. There might be things on that website I don't believe. Anyway, let me ask you a question. You and Daniel, here, don't name yourselves as the same religion. How do you expect to make a marriage together?"

She looked rather shocked at that--June isn't familiar yet with his style--but managed to get a hold of herself.

"Because we share values and ideals and priorities," she said. "Those are more important than beliefs. You do the same thing here--I wasn't questioning how you could form a community together."

"Do you remember when I said beliefs aren't an important part of religion?" tried Kit.

"Yes," admitted June. "But I didn't know what you were talking about."

Kit sagged and hung her head, with deliberate melodrama.

"At least she's honest," she said, addressing me. In fact, she makes this point every year in one of her introductory workshops for yearlings, and most of them don't get it. Not at first. It's something like you can go through the mental motions of believing in anything in order to make a given magical technique work.

"Ok, so try imagining how religion was invented," Kit said, trying again. "There's a small group of very early people, trying to figure out how the world works, how we got here...."

"And wait it all means," supplied June.

"Exactly," said Kit. "Values, ideals, and priorities. Religion."

"Are you trying to say you do share a religion? And so do Daniel and I?"

"And she's smart!" Declared Kit. "I like her more and more."

"So do I," I said. June blushed and shook her head.

"Kit and I have more in common, philosophically, than you might think," added Allen. "We all do.We basically agree on how the universe works and how it came to be, as well as those values and ideals you mentioned.We don't agree by fiat, but as a result of...a lot of conversations over breakfast. Just like that hypothetical community Kit was talking about."

After breakfast, on our way out of the Dining Hall, June asked me if I thought it was fair.

"If what's fair?" I asked. The morning was warm and lovely, and there were flowers starting to bloom in the grass and in some of the beds.

"Well, they can't sit and explain things like that to everybody," she explained. "But you and I get extra instruction because you're friends with half of them." By "them," I guess she meant the masters.

"There are about five to ten students at each table," I told her, "and six breakfasts per week. That means each master has breakfast with about forty students per week, and there are six of them and about a hundred and twenty of us. In point of fact, we can all have breakfast with them."

"You know what I mean."

"I know you can't do math," I said, but I was teasing. She can do math better than I can, and my simple little calculation had some problems with it. For example, more than one master usually sit together, and they're not all always at breakfast. She actually growled at me. Literally. She was joking, too I think.

"Do you think it's a coincidence that most of the current crop of mastery candidates are personal friends with at least one master?"

"No," I told her. "I think the masters make friends with people they have something in common with, and sometimes what they have in common is an interest in being masters. The causality runs the other way."

But she did get me thinking.



Monday, April 3, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 2: Post 3: Seven PhDs

Ok, just to be clear? When I said last week that I "don't know how to feel" about June having friends here other than me, I didn't mean that I object to her having friends. I'm not a total oaf. I'm not like that. I meant that when I was her only friend here I got lots of her attention and I liked that. I like her attention. I get less of it now. But I do want her to have her own life.

Anyway, today, Charlie and I finished up my first grad school semester. I mean that we've been going over everything I learned in grad school, and now we've gone over the whole first semester. That semester was 12 weeks long, and I had four classes and a lot of homework, and Charlie and I covered all of it in just seven weekly working lunches. As he said, he's a quick study and knew almost all of it already.

We'll start on my next semester next week, but in the meantime I've gotten tired of waiting for something to do. Time isn't hanging as heavy on my hands as it was, since I'm back working for my off-campus landscaping job again, but really, I came here to learn. I didn't come here to wander aimlessly around campus.

"Charlie, should I be asking you for an assignment?" I asked, when we were done talking about my old school work. We were in the Dining Hall, since it was raining and we couldn't eat outside. I'd finished eating and was standing up, more or less at attention (I don't do that on purpose with him, it just seems to happen), while he sat, finishing his meal.

"I don't know that 'should' has anything to do with it," he replied, judiciously.

"I mean, is this some sort of test and am I failing it? Should I be asking for work? Is that why you're not giving me anything to do? All the other new candidates have assignments now."

"Trick questions are for novices, by and large," he told me, addressing his cheese sandwich. "Ask for an assignment if you want to ask. Otherwise, I'll give you something when I'm ready."

"Well, then, I'm asking. I'm tired of doing nothing."

"Have you been doing nothing?" He looked up at me suddenly.

"No," I told him.

"What have you been doing?"

"Reacquainting myself with the campus and its people, tracking, watching insects and plants, and reading," I said, and sat back down across from him. "And trying to find times and places to be alone with June."

"Good. That's what you should have been doing, if you want to get into 'should.""

"But I want to do something additional now. I could watch insects on my own."

"Then I'll give you a new assignment--though I was going to, anyway, today."

"Oh."

He gave a tight little smile, quickly.

"There's nothing wrong with asking. Stop shoulding all over yourself, Daniel." That made me smile. I'd heard the saying before. "I want you to teach the material from your first grad school semester to the rest of campus--as much as you think they'll be interested in. Talk to Sharon about setting up a series of workshops."

"You're going to have me tech all of it, aren't you? Everything I learned in grad school to the entire campus? But that will take two and a half years."

"So? You in a hurry? Anyway, it won't take that long."

"Why not? How not? It's not like they already know the material."

"They aren't a unitary entity," he reminded me. "You're not trying to take the entire student body up to the level of a master of science degree. You'll be offering stand-alone workshops to whichever few students happen to be interested in each one. That means that you don't have to make them successive. Cover all twelve meetings of a single class in a week, if you want to, because you don't need to leave time for your students to assimilate everything. Also, you'll be leaving out a lot of specialized material, a lot of things you judge these students aren't ready for or interested in, and you don't have to take them through your internships and thesis process, either. It won't take two and a half years."

"I don't know that I'm ready to be a college professor, though."

"Your objective is to get ready."

And he's right, but I never thought of it that way before.

"Charlie? I'm not going to the Island this year, am I? You haven't said anything about my going."

"No, you're not."

I must have looked stricken. His expression changed slightly, softened.

"Do you know why you're not?"

"Because you have another student you're training?"

"Actually, no. I'll be working with the same ally I had before you came here."

"I thought he moved, or something?"

"You thought in error."

"But you said...."

"I lied. Come on, think. Why can't you go to the Island this year with us?"

"Because June is going."

"Correct."

"I'm going to miss going."

"You'll be missed," he told me, but rather gruffly. I don't know if he meant he would miss me. "We'll see about subsequent years."

"How am I going to do all this? You're asking me to do the work of seven PhDs!" That being the number of professors I had in grad school.

"How the hell should I know? You figure it out and tell me."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 2: Post 2: Learning Opportunities

The spring semester has begun...and nothing has changed for me. I still attend my two classes (on alternate Thursday evenings), where I listen to other mastery candidates talk about their trials and challenges, of which I currently have none, apart from having to explain what I learned in grad school to Charlie every week. That is interesting. We're almost done with my entire first year, and it's been an interesting process. I think Charlie's favorite part, so far, has been learning to use the statistical software still on my computer, though there were a few naturalist skills I brought home that were actually new to him, too. Most of his questions are about things he already knows, though. He's just trying to make me figure out how to explain it. Anyway, other than those two duties, I wander around campus, I talk to people, I explore the woods, and I drop in on the occasional workshop. That's it.

June's academic life is a bit more exciting. She has all her graduation requirements met except psychology and magic, though she's decided to work on athletics as well--she met her requirement by playing basketball as an undergrad, and that was a long time ago. So, now she has classes--five of them.

She's taking all of Allen's classes this semester, because she has only one year to meet her psychology requirement--that, plus group therapy, plus Philosopher's Stone Soup, and she's seeing him pretty much every day. She's thinking of asking him to teach her magic, too.

Anyway, so that's Intro to Psychology AND Dark Waters, which sounds like a challenge, because the former is supposed to be a prerequisite to the latter, and also Gender Studies, though of course she's in Kit's section. Remember that Kit and Allen teach that class as single-sex classes that meet together several times.

She's also taking both Personal Safety and Fitness, and Sword with Karen, who is already her athletics master. Neither class has any homework except physical exercise, so it's not an excessive burden. In a week or two she'll start preparing for the summer camp, but for now she has no job to compete with her time.

She's starting to look a bit less lost, a bit more engaged, too. She has friends here, other than me. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm glad she's doing well, of course...but.

Spring has spring. The weather is warm, the birds are singing loudly and often, as are various amphibians, and the main crop of lambs and kids are being born. Campus is full of flowers, mostly the subtle kinds that give people allergies, but also some of the cherries and the blueberries are breaking bud. It's getting to be pretty.

Except that yesterday it snowed. It didn't stick, but for about an hour and a half yesterday, these big, fat flakes falling....

Everyone else was in class, or at work, or something, and I had nothing in particular to do. I'd planned on reading or something, but then when I saw it was snowing, not raining, I ended up spending my time watching the snow fall instead.

I was in the Great Hall, and I was alone, though there were people in the Library and the Office, and sometimes one of them would walk through.The room was dark and silent, but cheery with Ostar decorations--brightly-colored ribbons, wooden candle-holders carved like tulips held unlit beeswax tapers here and there, and bowls of intricately-dyed eggs and blown eggshell trees. New this year are "paintings," framed images made with multi-colored lentils and peas and beans glued to boards. I think they are probably Ebony's work. She's interested in visual art, and the different lentils and things are different sizes, so she could do it. And at least some of them look like her style. Lentils and beans are, of course, seeds, which makes them the plant equivalent of eggs, so they're seasonal that way, and they all have a spring theme. And there are little bowls of jelly beans and chocolate eggs and other little treats.

I sat down next to one of those bowls and ate jelly beans while I watched the snow fall. And I thought about that day years ago, watching the snow fall with Rick and Eddy and Greg and Charlie, talking about devotion, and the phrase "your cell will teach you everything," and how many different kinds of things could work in that role, of teaching everything simply through attention. Greg spoke of his cat, then, thinking the cat might be learning from paying attention to him.

And I thought about that cat, Greg's Cat. The Great Hall seemed emptier without his small self.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 2: Ostar

Happy Ostar.

This morning at breakfast, June asked me--and the table in general--what "you people" were going to do for the holiday. She didn't sound confrontational, more like amused, but a strange tension fell across many of the senior students within earshot.

"What?" she said. "Did I say something wrong?"

"Not exactly wrong," said Ollie, who was sitting next to me. "More like not done. You asked what's going to happen. Novices usually don't."

"We don't?" asked a novice whose name I didn't know at the end of the table.
"Do you?" asked Ollie, amused.
"No, I guess I don't," the man said, wonderingly. The pressure to not ask does descent slowly, gradually, and you don't really notice how deep it was until you leave.

"Why not?" asked June, of Ollie.
"Well, frankly, it makes you easier to fool," he explained.
"Oh?"
"A lot of what we do around here is based on the principles of stage magic," Ollie, who is a stage magician, said. "And those kinds of tricks are easier if the audience isn't asking how it's done. It's not malicious, or anything like that. It's a way to get you to realize things--it's easier if what they're doing is a surprise. Like a gift to you, in a way."

And he "produced" a yellow rose from somewhere near June's head and then gave it to her, trying to be gallant. He has been trying to work magic into conversation, the way Allen does, but doesn't quite have the knack of combining the two smoothly yet. June blushed prettily and Allen, who was sitting next to her, gave Ollie an inscrutable, appraising look.

"So, we're not supposed to ask questions?" asked June, sounding concerned.

"No, that's not it," said Allen. "To be clear, we can still surprise you even if you do try to figure out what we're doing."

And at that moment, I am not kidding--though Allen didn't move a muscle, wasn't sitting next to Ollie, or even across from him, and hadn't been near him the whole time we'd been sitting together--Ollie suddenly had an animal inside his shirt. He did what anybody would--shrieked, and made an abortive grabs at the thing, and then froze.

"I don't want to hurt it," he said, tensely.

Allen nodded, calmly, and whistled. A ferret poked its small head up through Ollie's collar, looked towards Allen, found him, climbed out, leaped to the table, from there to Allen's shoulder, and then climbed down his shirt front to his lap. Then it stood up, its paws on Allen's chest, and man and animal greeted each other. Then Allen looked up and across at Ollie.

"What?" he said, a little defensively. "I had to make sure you were obviously surprised, or they'd think we planned it."

Just then, the head waiter called for silence.

"Any announcements?" A couple of hands shot up, waiting to be called on.

"Merry Ostar!"
(Much laughter and applause)
"Has anyone seen The Encyclopedia of Herbal Magic? It's been missing since at least Saturday."
"Talk to Waverly--she's out this week, though."
"Ok."
"In that case--anyone who wants to do something for Waverly's birthday next month, get with me after."
"Anything else? Anyone? Ok, Charlie?"

And Charlie stood up, looking stiff, awkward, and authoritative anyway.

"Anyone up for an egg-hunt today?" A round of cheers went up from the more senior students. "All right. This year we'll do the hunt starting right after breakfast. You have till lunch. I want teams of two, all of you. You each get a camera and a note-pad--come see me for them when you're ready. Your assignment is to take pictures of as many active nests as you can before lunch, when you'll turn your cameras and notes in to me. Write down why you think the nest is active and where on campus it is. It doesn't have to have eggs in it at the moment and it doesn't have to be a bird's nest, but it does have to be in use and you can't disturb the occupant. If you disturb your subjects I will know, and I will deduct points. If you take a picture of a nest that isn't active, I will know and I will deduct points. You get one point for each nest you get, one more point for each nest you get before anybody else--there's a time-stamp on the picture--and extra credit for artistic merit. And there's a prize at the end. May the best naturalist win. Oh, and, uh, there's a feast or something for lunch. Meet back here at 12 noon, sharp."

And he sat down. The head waiter dismissed us, and instantly the noise volume in the room swelled. June turned to me.

"Do you want to be partners for the egg-hunt?" she asked.
"Sure," I told her. "But wouldn't you rather have a chance to win?"
"Why can't I win with you? You're the naturalist."
"I'm a naturalist. I've already won, is the thing. And I know where most of the nests are already. I want to give other people a shot at the prize."
"Ok, so, you take the pictures, I'll find the eggs."
"Ok."

And so it was.

It's been chilly lately, and there was some slushy snow on the ground in patches. It actually looked like it was going to rain, for a while, around ten o'clock, but it didn't. I did find a few--June talked me into showing her where the barred owl nest is, and the ravens' nest, and I warned her off of a drey (a squirrel's nest) she found, because I happen to know it's not occupied. But she found three over-wintering spider egg-cases and suggested we get a picture of the bee hives, which had slipped my mind. We got pictures of the chicken house and its eggs, of course, but so did everybody else and we weren't first. But nobody got any of our spider nests.

It added up to seven nests total, counting the hive and the henhouse each as one, as Charlie does, plus three points for firsts, and artistic merit for one of my spider pictures, which I'm very proud of. We won, by two points.

I think Rick and his partner would have won--they were certainly serious about trying--but after getting several firsts, their camera malfunctioned and the only totaled four shots the whole morning.

"I only judge results, not effort," Charlie said, for the benefit of Rick's yearling partner, who was indignant and aggrieved. "Get used to it."

There were several others who came close to our score, too, and one team who found more active nests than we did, but got two points deducted for disturbing wildlife, and one more for photographing an inactive nest.

Anyway, we won. And we would not have won without June's spider nests, which together gave us seven points, so I felt good about that. I would have felt like cheating if we'd won on my account. It's not that I'm all that much better than everybody, it's that I've been watching the animals here since we got back.I've had a head start.

The prize, which Charlie gave out at dinner (also a feast), after the afternoon of publicly reviewing the pictures and notes, plus a kind of celebratory slide show of the best pictures, was a necklace for June and a chaplet for me.

A chaplet is a set of prayer beads. The Rosary is one kind, but there are others. Lots of religions have them.

The necklace is strung with green and blue beads and what looks like fragments of egg shell, though they're actually curved pieces of sea glass (or possibly custom-blasted pieces of fresh glass, shaped for the project, because they really do look like they add up to an egg) and then at the bottom is a pendent of a small upward-flying, dark blue glass bird. The chaplet is a single string of seven differently-colored spheres, separated by smaller beats, with a flying bird figure (that matches the one on the necklace) at one end, except the string has a clasp at each end. The small beads vary in length, which changes the flexibility of the string, so that when you clasp the ends together, you get, not a circle, but an ellipse, an egg-shape.

June was astounded.

"I thought he was going to give us trinkets, or a five-dollar gift-certificate to something," she exclaimed. "These are exquisite."

"They probably did cost him five dollars," I ventured. "He stalks yard sales and flea markets all year to find the perfect thing. I've heard that some of them have later been valued at thousands of dollars. Others...have not been. But, either way, no one has ever sold one."

"No, I wouldn't think. These are marvelous."

"See? It's not just Allen and his sleight-of-hand that can surprise us."

Monday, March 13, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Interlude 1



Hi, all, it’s Daniel-of-2017 here.

I’m kind of surprised that it’s time to do another interlude already. I shouldn’t be—time marches on at a familiar rate, after all, but I’ve been busy of late and distracted. I’ve explained how we’ve started taking on new students again and that our intention is to re-form as a school at some point. We have half a dozen committed students now, and about as many more hangers on who passed the entrance test but don’t seem to be serious about studying, but we aren’t accredited and don’t have a campus. Actually being a college again is a long-range goal—but we’ve taken another step in that direction.
I should emphasize that done of what I say about our current activities will be exactly as it seems. I still have a responsibility to protect the secrecy of the community, not to mention the privacy of the people whose stories I tell. I don’t want anybody to actually be able to identify us through this blog. 

So what I say is true in some ways and not in others.

So, we have, as I said, taken a step. Years ago, back before we closed the campus, Sadie opened a restaurant in town. When the school closed, she kept going, and it’s become fairly successful. Last year, right around the time of the election, the owner of her building decided to sell. We were pretty confident the new owner would want her as a tenant, so we weren’t concerned. But after Trump’s election, when we realized we needed a community home base again as soon as possible, we pooled our money and bought the building.

The building contains, beside the restaurant, a small retail space on either side, a large basement, and two small apartments on the second floor—Greg has had one of them for a few years now, though we don’t let him pay the rent himself. It’s only a fraction of the retirement benefit he’s earned. Anyway, over the past few months, we’ve reassembled the school library in the basement, renovated both retail spaces and built connecting doors between them and the restaurant. When the current tenant of the apartment moves out, we’ll convert it into classroom space.

Those two retail spaces—one is becoming a metaphysical supply shop, the other a naturalist’s supply shop. Kit is running the former, I am running the latter.

I don’t know anything about business. Neither does Kit. So Nora is taking care of advertising, budgeting, and that end of things for both of us (she’s had a successful business for the past couple of years making and selling scented candles, incense, and scented massage oils). Kit and I mostly decide what to sell and we each pull our shifts as store clerks. We’re hoping to open next month, and to start leading public classes based out of each store.

So, the long and the short of it is I’m very busy.

What we’re trying to do is create community space. None of this is called “a school,” and these classes are mostly aimed at people who haven’t passed the entrance test. We’re doing it in the spirit of public education—but we also expect that at least some of the people who come for classes will pass the entrance test at some point. And we’re creating an umbrella organization for all our various projects so that we can share resources and staff—the two shops, library, the restaurant, the farm back on the old campus (which Sarah owns and which supplies the restaurant), the summer camp (which June runs, among her other projects), Allen’s afterschool program, and several other things—it will all be under the same ownership. Malachi is helping us get non-profit status for it. So, we’re creating a legal and financial entity that will, roughly speaking, encompass the activities of the entire community. We’ll be real, in a certain practical sense, again.

As to my story. I confess I’m feeling a little disorganized. Until relatively recently, I expected to end my story before I got into my candidacy, so I didn’t develop much of a plan for how I was going to cover this period. I’ve been kind of winging it.

And yet, I don’t think I’ve been getting it wrong in any particular way. Early on, I had a lot of corrections to make in these interludes because I was concerned I was giving the wrong impression about certain things. That’s not an issue very often anymore.

Although there are little pieces that I don’t know how to get into the narrative because they were little—but cumulative. Every so often, I’d have a moment of looking down and being startled by my uniform, brown rather than white, as though I were somehow wearing someone else’s body. Sometimes I felt very much at home, as though I had never left. Other times, I was so keenly aware that I was no longer a novice that I felt like I didn’t belong at all. No one treated me badly, but to the senior novices I was an outsider they didn’t really know how to talk to. The yearlings kept mistaking me for a master for weeks. And there were moments of absolute joy to be back among so many of my friends, moments of intense gratitude that June was with me, that she cared so much about me as to make my world hers.

All those moments were little and uneventful, yet collectively they formed the dominant emotional tone of that, my first winter and spring back at school.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Year Master 1: Part 1: Post 6: What Mastery Looks Like

"What kind of a therapist is Allen?" I asked Ollie. We've taken up our tradition of running again, though some days it's more walking, because of ice and such. We were walking on the shoulder of the min road, when I asked, picking our way around little moraines of melting slush.

"Huh? You mean, what school of psychology does he follow?" Ollie had been daydreaming, or something. We hadn't spoken for some minutes and my words seemed to startle him.

"No, I mean...I've had him for group therapy, but not for individual. I know he must be good, he's good at everything else, but what's he like?"

"I've never had him as an individual therapist, either."

"But you've seen him."

"I can't tell you about somebody else's therapy session!"

"No, but you can tell me about Allen. Speak in generalities. No names."

"You should have asked Nora when she was here."

Nora, my friend, had once been one of Allen's clients, before she followed him here. She graduated two years ago and is now in Absence, though I don't know whether she's really planning on coming back as a candidate. Most people don't.

"I did ask her. She said he was like a friend to her. She'd go in and they'd just talk. He never tried any specific treatment. But she's just one person. She didn't know his professional philosophy, either."

But then the shoulder of the road was clear again and we ran for a couple of miles. It's hard to talk and run at the same time--not because you're out of breath, unless you're running hard, but because it takes mental energy to move your body and to talk, and it's hard to do both at once. I tend to go slower, when I'm talking, and it's harder to concentrate on my words.

The shoulder clotted up again, this time with a fallen tree limb and a broken power line and assorted utility trucks. We walked again, to get around all of it, and Ollie answered me.

"I'm not sure he has a philosophy, exactly, but he's like that with a lot of his clients, especially the kids. He offers himself as a friend, not an expert. Sometimes, that's all a person needs."

"I was there once when he told Nora her mother couldn't pay him enough to hang out with someone he didn't want to talk to--that they were still friends, even though he wasn't her therapist anymore."

"That's about it," Ollie agreed. "It's real friendship, not a synthetic approximation. The only difference is that normally you have to make friends with someone, kind of feel your way into it a little at a time. Not everyone knows how to do that, not everyone is lucky enough to find someone who wants to be that kind of friend, and not everyone has the time. I mean, sometimes, you need a friend now, and you just don't have one. Allen makes himself available for that sort of thing right away."

"What do you mean, not knowing how? Does he teach friendship?"

"Sometimes. Or, sometimes people need closeness so badly they can't make it happen. They're too lonely to talk to anyone. Sometimes you have to have a friend before you can be one."

We ran for a while, and I thought about what Ollie had said. By the time we had to walk again, I'd had an idea that made me laugh.

"It sounds like the same sort of thing Joanna did for me."

Ollie gave me something of a disapproving look--he's no longer scandalized by the idea of sex outside of marriage, but I think he considers my deliberate virginectomy an intemperate indulgence. But then he laughed, too.

"Now I'm not going to be able to get that out of my head," he complained. "I bet there are people on campus who wish Allen would offer that service."

"He wouldn't to them, though. He won't even do individual talk therapy with us. Damn, now I'm not going to be able to get rid of that image. I've never understood how people see him that way. He's not ugly, but...."

"I've never understood it, either," Ollie agreed.

"Is it that he's a guy?" I asked. As far as I know, Ollie is completely straight.

"No," he said, slowly. "I mean, it's not like I want to go do any guy, but with some I can understand how others might. Greg, for instance. Or Rick. I mean, Rick stands out. Allen is just ordinary."

"Rick's gay, you know. Think that makes a difference?" I meant that maybe a gay man would seem more attractive because of a subliminal sense of flattery, or something. Being seen as sexy is itself sexy. Not that I've noticed any difference between my gay friends and my straight friends that way myself."

"Is he?" Ollie asked. Of course, he knows Rick, but they're not close. "No, I didn't know. Maybe it makes a difference...but then if--never mind."

That Ollie would even have this conversation stunned me. Back when we met, he never would have risked admitting to a sexual opinion about men. It's not that he was about to come out as bisexual, or something. He's not, I'm pretty sure. He's just opened a door of possibility inside himself. There's almost nothing on the other side, but the door is open.

I didn't pursue his "never mind." I don't know if Ollie just guessed about Allen (in which case, I could be wrong) or if Allen told him, but Allen did not tell me and I'll respect that.

We ran again for a while.

We got to the traffic light, one of only two the town nearest ours has, where we normally turn around, but we decided to sit down for a bit instead. There's a bench in a little park there, in the middle of town.

"He does social coaching and cognitive therapy, too," Ollie said, as we crossed the street.

"Huh?"

"Allen."

"Oh, yeah. Cognitive therapy's the one where you work on your thought processes, not your feelings, right?"

"Well, thoughts cause feelings, but yes. It makes a lot of sense to me, but really the kind of therapy you do doesn't matter. What changes the outcome is how well therapist and client get along."

"So, what's your style," I asked. "Do you practice the same kind of therapy as Allen?"

"I hope to," he told me. "I don't think I'm there yet. But I want to put my own twist on it."

"Oh?"

"I want to...do you remember what you told me Andy said when he first got here? When he returned the bicycle?"

"That Sharon embodied Jesus."

"Yes. That's what I believe we are all called on to do, to love each other like that. And that's what I want to do for my clients. I want them to come in and just have an earthly example of what it's like to be loved totally, unconditionally, without judgment."

"Then you really will be a master," I said.

"Yes, I will be."

We stood on the street corner together, near the bench, and looked around. There were people walking here and there and cars passing. Nobody looked at us. We were just a couple of ordinary-looking young men, wearing ordinary athletic clothes.

"It's weird to think," I said, "that none of these people have any idea what we're talking about...that you're apprenticed to a magician, trying to learn how to offer Jesus therapy, and I'm...learning how to be, I don't know, an Elven King."

"Yeah," agreed Ollie, "but we don't know who those people are, either."




Sunday, February 26, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 1: Post 5: Finding Love

Almost the first month down. The yearlings are getting the hang of the place now, June's starting to make friends with some of the other students, my two classes have each met at least once, now...and I still have no clear idea what I'm doing. I still spend my days mostly wandering around, hanging out, taking in a workshop or two, my most serious intellectual or spiritual challenge my efforts to get my fiance alone someplace private. And we still haven't managed that.

The others who started with me seem well on their way, now. Ollie, for example, who wants to deepen his practice as a Christian therapist and pastor, is now more or less Allen's full-time apprentice. Not that Allen is Christian (or a pastor, though he does have one of those mail-order ordinations, so he can perform weddings and so forth), but he is a phenomenal therapist. Besides his work here as a psychology professor and group therapist, he sees individual clients in his home office one or two days a week. There's always more people who want to see him than he can take on, so he recommended some of the others to Ollie, and now, as of last week, Ollie has something like ten clients--whom he sees at Allen's house. He's basically living there three days a week, now.

It sounds pretty intense, living with your teacher. I know that they talk about Ollie's cases and sometimes observe each other's work (with the client's permission, of course), though of course Ollie can't tell me any details. I wonder what that's like for Allen? He must suddenly have almost no time off.

Rick has just gotten his assignment, now, too, though, being from Charlie, it's not nearly so straight-forward. Or, rather, it is straight-forward, but Rick doesn't know how to get started. He talked to me about it this morning as we were getting ready to go out.

"I am supposed to care for a human being," he said, as though the duty sounded strange and onerous to him.
"Care for?" I asked. "Does he mean like babysitting or nursing care, or does he mean, basically, give a shit about somebody?"
"Give a shit," he confirmed. "I think it's a little more than that. I think I'm supposed to devote, you know, like Eddie does with Kit...or like Greg's Cat with Greg. Something transformative. But, basically, yeah, I've got to give a shit about somebody."
"And don't you?" I asked.

We were standing in the Green Room, putting on our layers of clothing, but I stopped and he stopped, too, and looked at me with an odd expression. I think he had just realized he might hurt my feelings if he wasn't careful. That sort of thing rarely occurs to him, though he never actually means to hurt anybody.

"I like you," he said, slowly. "I like some people. I enjoy you. I wish you well. If you needed something, I would give it. But I don't love you. I don't love anyone, I don't think. I never have." He seemed puzzled, puzzled by love.

"Do you love anything?" I asked. I'm not shocked, or even surprised, by Rick's distance. I know him, and that's just the way he is. I just thought I knew what Charlie was up to. Rick had asked for his help learning to work with humans better, without being so irritated by us. I remember that once, when I was out in public with Charlie on a field trip, some stranger's baby was crying loudly nearby, and someone said something about how annoying the sound was, asking Charlie, rhetorically, whether he was irritated. He rather famously can't stand loud, discordant noises. But he shook his head.

"No, I'm not irritated, I'm sad. That baby is a human being. He's having a bad day. Or a bad five minutes--long enough, when you're a baby."

Charlie sees children as people. He's sympathetic to them, so they don't bother him, the way they bother some. I think he wanted to teach Rick that humans are people, so that he would develop an equivalent patience. And he wanted to teach patience for all people by asking him to love one person. Only Rick doesn't know how. I thought that if he loves something, that might offer him a starting point. I was trying to help.

As we spoke, I faced the large picture windows. He faced me, and must have seen the coat rack over my shoulder, but over his I could see the snowy garden and the hedge and part of the sky. It was growing very grew out there.

"Do you love anything?"
"Sure," he told me, and held up the inside of his forearm for me to see--where he had a small smudge of a tattoo, just like mine.
"I thought I was the only one Charlie took through that ritual," I said, though I really had no reason to think so. He wouldn't mention the ritual to anyone. It's not the sort of thing one chats about. I had told Rick and I'd told June. No one else. For all I knew, Charlie took all his students through it. I know he gave some of the others deer knives--Rick has one, as does Raven G. And yet I thought no one else had tattoos. I hoped no one else did. I wanted to be the only one.
"You are," Rick, though I have no idea how he came by such authority. "You told me about it, so I performed the ritual myself, alone."
"Where?" I asked, meaning what place had he consecrated himself to. What place did he love?
"I won't tell you," he said. Of course, he wouldn't.
"How did you find it?"
Silence.
"When Charlie told me to find a favorite place on the Island," I told him, "I looked all over, I explored lots of places, but none stood out to me as the best one. Until I just chose a place. I decided it was my favorite. And it was. I've been there since. It feels like mine. I care about it. It's my favorite. Maybe you can do that with a person?"
"You think loving a person works the same way as loving a place?"
"Love is love, isn't it?" I said. "Anyway, the process Charlie took me through to earn to love the land is the same thing I did learning to be in relationship with June."
"Oh?"
"Yeah. I showed up regularly, I paid attention, I learned everything I could about what she needs and likes, I abandoned my own pre-conceived ideas and wishful thinking...I did that several times, I have to keep doing it...."
"And that worked?"
"I'm engaged, aren't I?"

"Crap." That was me, again. It had started snowing. Rick followed my gaze and turned and looked out the window. The flakes were coming down hard already. There would be no tracking for another couple of days.

"Well, that's that," said Rick, after a few seconds. "I have some reading to do." He nodded at me politely, and walked back inside. It was an abrupt end to an intense conversation, and I felt strange, emotionally hyped up with nowhere to go, psychologically. I decided to go for a walk in the snow.

I love walking in the snow. I like tracking, and you can't track in falling snow, but I like the snow more. I live the smell of it, the silence of it, the otherworldly sense of it, and yet somehow the falling, swirling flakes are calming. Even when I was living outside, first for Charlie's assignment, and then on the Trail, I could never mind the snow, though I could appreciate the inconvenience and the danger of it.

This day, the temperature wasn't even that low, maybe just below freezing. I walked around campus with my hood down, letting the flakes build up in my hair. They were just starting to melt and run down behind my ears--and I was just starting to get cold, when Allen crossed my path. He, too, had snow in his hair, even on his eyelashes. He kept blinking his eyes, because of the snow falling on his face, but I know he does not feel the cold.

"Oh, I'm glad I found you, Daniel," he said. "I wanted to tell you, when you're trying to solve a problem--any problem--sometimes there's no key, because there aren't any locks."

"Huh?"

"The key to your problem is that there is no key because there are no locks. Think about it."

"Allen, why do you so often speak in riddles?"

"Because I like watching you solve them. And I know you're capable of it." And he clapped me on the shoulder and went on his way.

Aren't any locks, huh?

A few minutes later, I stood in front of the door to Chapel Hall. I tried the door. It opened. There was no lock. Come to think of it, I don't think there are any locks on any doors on campus--I've never noticed any, I've never had to use a key, I've never heard of anyone else having to use a key or find a key or get a key. No keys, no locks. The building is closed right now, and I'd just assumed that meant I couldn't go in it, but that's not the sort of thing we really have rules about around here. A closed building just means it's not heated or cleaned and nothing is scheduled there. No one has to go there, just like no one has to go in certain parts of the Mansion basement, or lots of other places around campus. That doesn't mean you can't. There are no locks.

How did Allen know I was looking for this sort of information? I certainly didn't tell him. June wouldn't have. Maybe it's just that Allen was once a mastery candidate with a fiance, too.

Anyway, I'm thinking of the storage place on the fourth floor, the one Charlie popped out of that one day to play a prank on Allen. It can't have much stuff in it, or he couldn't have moved around in there so easily. Yes, Chapel Hall is probably about twenty degrees right now, but I have a sleeping bag. So does June. And they zip together.
  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 1: Post 4: Frustrations



It’s been three weeks since June and I arrived, and frankly I’m getting tired of not being able to live with her. I understand—and agree with—the reasons, but that doesn’t mean I like the result. She likes it even less, and I have to make it stick for her sake as a student when she doesn’t understand the why of what we’re doing. I can’t explain what letting yourself really absorb this place does, or why that’s important. I could try, it’s not a secret, it’s just that she doesn’t understand.

It’s not that we don’t get any time together. I secretly avoid her when we don’t have plans to meet, I ration myself for her, which hurts more than I could have expected, but she’s doing this for me, so I must do it for her. But we have plans to meet often. Breakfast together twice a week, dinner once a week, and a sleepover once or twice a week (at her place, not mine, so I don’t become an excuse for her not to connect with her dorm). I mean, that’s a lot more time that Ollie and Willa are getting—she’s not living on campus, so they just spend weekends together occasionally. It’s not even the physical aspect of not getting any real privacy together. It’s feeling like I’m being treated like a child.

This woman is it for me, and to have that not recognized in my daily life, as though this were some stupid fling, some puppy-love that nobody else thinks is important…it’s an illusion, I know. The people here take this relationship very seriously. They are working hard to help us make this whole situation work for us because they agree with June; that I cannot wear the Green Ring and a wedding ring if those two commitments aren’t congruent somehow. June needs to be part of this community. 

The Six have…committed themselves to supporting my marriage. It’s like…remember the cup? When I first got here, one of the first things that happened after the Brigid ceremony was they gave me my own little tin cup. All the new students got one, so we could wear our cups on our belts or carry them in our book-bags and get drinks of water or whatever else whenever we liked. There are no water-fountains here, and of course no bottled water. But they gave us cups, each with our own name on it, on the bottom. I was really blown away by that—that strangers, who, two days earlier hadn’t known I exist, would give me something of my own like that. I suppose it was a little thing, and of course lots of places give away mugs for one reason or another, but I guess it just struck me as symbolic of something. And it was symbolic of this.

And I feel incredibly grateful for their support and consideration right up until the moment when I show up for breakfast in the morning and remember I’m not allowed to eat with my own fiancĂ©.
But it’s the physical aspect we actually complain about together. Maybe that part’s easier to talk about. Maybe it’s easier for June not to blame that part on me.

So what if people hear us,” I keep saying. “Nobody around here cares!”
“I care.”
“But nobody else does. People have sex here all the time!
“I know. I can hear them. And if I can hear them, they can hear me. Do you know how not sexy it is to be worrying about that?”
“Yes. You think I don’t notice when you’re not feeling sexy?”
“We should go outside or something. When the snow melts. Or bring your hammock!”
“Bad idea,” I told her. “The woods have eyes.”
“So? I don’t care if animals and trees see us having sex.”
“What about Charlie?”
“I don’t care if they watch him have sex, either.”
“But Charlie doesn’t”—and I stopped myself. Charlie’s celibacy was both hard to explain and irrelevant. “But Charlie is the eyes and ears of the forest. He watches people. From trees. That’s how he knows everything.”
“He—what is he, sick?”
“No, he’s a naturalist. Naturalists watch living things. He just doesn’t think students are different than any other wildlife. And I agree with him. It’s not like he wants to see anything private.”
“Then you’re sick, too,” she said, but she was joking this time. “Maybe we can….”

But no matter how many ideas we came up with, true privacy seems beyond us.

June has now gone through the testing and defense process that students who want advance standing can go through. I when I did it, back as a yearling, I got none at all. I got out of some of the mastery areas, but I remained a “full-course yearling” anyway, meaning someone expected to spend all four years here. June, in contrast, thinks she aced the process and will be a one-hit-wonder. Of course, I was a 19-year-old who’d just flunked out of my first semester of college, she’d a master’s-educated professional with a couple of years of experience.

On a similar note, today they held interviews for campus jobs, but June didn’t need to interview. She’s already arranged to run the summer camp. Usually it’s done by a couple of ally volunteers and by the masters working together, but that system is unwieldy and June is more qualified at this than any of them. I mean, her degree is in environmental education, and she’s spent the last few summers running environmental ed programs for summer camps. This time she’ll be responsible for the administrative stuff, too, which is new, but she can handle it. The volunteers will work with her for program continuity, but for the first time, the camp will have a single, full-time person in charge, not a part-time committee.

All in all, frustrations aside, I am really proud of her and I’m really proud to be with her. I still can’t really believe she’s picking me.