To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Mastery Year 1: 8th Interlude

Happy New Year, both past and present! Daniel of 2017, here, though it may well be 2018 by the time you read this. Usually I do an interlude before the sabbat, but since very little of note happened on campus in January of 2008, I'm going to take my traditional narrative break, and it seemed silly to put to or three posts in Part 8 before the break when I could just continue Part 7 instead.

I'm going to continue posting in January, but I'll use those posts to wrap up some loose ends. The problem is that I didn't originally plan to write about my years as a candidate, so I didn't think carefully about how I was going to tell the story--and then I launched my way into it, still not thinking. The result was a disjointed narrative that left some important threads out. What I should have done was to use June's yearling experience as the basic framework for the entire year, with our marriage, my work as a candidate, and the tension that developed between me and Charlie as important sub-themes.

I should also have introduced several of the yearlings, and several of the senior students who arrived during my Absence as characters, and followed the development of my fellow candidates more closely. Most especially, I should have talked more about Ebony, not only because she is my friend and her presence very much mattered to me, but also because there was some initial tension between her and June that I should have explored. It was not that either was jealous over me, they both knew better, but neither quite knew what their relationship with each other should be. It took them some months to really work that out.

All this is water under the bridge, of course, as I can't fix the past, but going on into the future, I'd like to cover some things for which the aforementioned missing stories provide needed background. Hence, the posts of January.

What were June and I doing in January of 2008? She attended Zazen daily and group therapy weekly and finished up some things for her masters to ensure she had everybody's votes to graduate. She also worked closely with Sharon to begin the process of accepting enrollments for the children's summer camp, which she would direct as an ally. I visited my special spot in the woods daily and wrote my poetry and caught up on editing and re-editing my earlier poems. I had long discussions with Sharon about what workshops I might offer over the first month and a half of the coming year, and by the end of the January I had a full slate of workshops designed and turned into her for addition to the schedule. I also did a lot of reading and a lot of wandering around contemplatively. I spent several long weekends at home with my parents.

And, of course, I generally avoided telling June about the Ordeal. That was hard, but I managed. With certain repercussions, which we worked through.

What did we do New Years' Eve?

New Years' Eve we had our traditional low-key party, just most people on campus collecting in the Great Hall for drinks after dinner. That year, we also had some great cookies, bourbon balls, fruit cake (I like fruit cake!) and assorted other munches that many of us, me included, ate way too much of. Some of the masters wandered in and out, but none stayed very long. As usual, Greg spend the most time with us, almost an hour. Nobody got drunk, and none of us got entertainingly goofy with exhaustion, either. We did not go outside and have a parade, as we did my first year, which was just as well as the night was very cold.

Maybe twenty minutes before midnight, I went upstairs to look for something, I forget what--it may have been a copy of one of my poems that I wanted to share--and couldn't find it. I went rifling through my books and papers and drawers and boxes and piles to no avail, and I lost track of time.

Finally, June appeared at my door and got my attention by flicking off the light. I looked up to see her almost silhouetted by the dim light of the hallway. She had a glass of hard cider in each hand.

"It's almost midnight," she said.
"How almost?" I asked.
"I don't know. I don't have a watch."

So, we stepped out onto my balcony and waited. The night was still and crystalline and salted with stars. We got colder and colder, and wrapped our cloaks about each other like the wings of a pair of bats. After perhaps five minutes, noise bloomed along the horizon, distant cheers, celebratory gunshots, and a few fire crackers. We could not hear anything from downstairs, the building being very well insulated. Of course we'd closed the door behind us.

We toasted each other and the new year, there on my balcony, in the starlit dark.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 8: Christmas

I'd been planning to go home for Christmas, as I have every year except my first year as a novice--I stayed on campus then mostly because my brother and his wife went on a cruise over the holiday, so my parents decided to delay the family celebration until they got back. But the thing is that June can't really take the time off to go to her family, has no special attachment to mine yet, and wants to stay on campus because she's a yearling and has things to do here, anyway.

And it occurred to me about a week ago that I'm married. That means that when when I'm with my wife in the place where we live, I AM home with my family. We count.

So we stayed here, together.

I've only spent Christmas on campus once before, when I was a yearling. Then, I was self-conscious about being one of the only Christians who stayed on campus and I expected the day to feel lonely and strange. I was pleasantly surprised when some secret someone--probably the masters' group--arranged for the handful of us to receive simple but thoughtful presents.

This year...I'm not sure if I am a Christian anymore. June isn't, either. It's not that I've stopped believing in Christ, it's that there are so many other things I now believe in also. I wasn't sure if I was comfortable identifying myself as a Christian celebrating Christmas on campus if it meant somebody else was going to go out of their way for me.

I brought up the matter with June and she said "Why shouldn't other people go out of their way for you? People like you, Daniel. Why would you deny them the opportunity to act like it?"

God, I love this woman.

And so, we all got up Christmas morning--there were ten of us, the majority of the school's Christians (including Ollie) being off-campus for the holiday--and discovered little gift-bags with our names on them under the tree. Each gift was perfect and well-thought-out, just as they were my first year. The yearlings among us marveled, since we in the know hadn't told them the gifts would appear, and couldn't figure out who had done it. I knew--my guess that the masters were responsible was borne out when Allen asked me, on Yule morning, what June would like for Christmas, as he'd heard she'd be celebrating it on campus. He ended up not going with my suggestion--her gift bag contained a Goddess-centered chaplet, an ironic but perfect gift for her--but his question tipped their hand. No matter. I did not tell the others what I knew.

Afterwards, June and I joined Andy for breakfast, and then Eddie and Ebony, who do not celebrate Christmas, joined us. Ebony asked to see Andy's gift--yes, she said "see," and only June showed any surprise at her choice of verb--so he passed it over.

"Is this a Bible?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered.
"I thought you already had one?"
"I have several. But this one is mine."
"And the others aren't?"
"They are...but my name is on this one. On the front fly leaf, near the top."

She touched the appropriate area, as though she could feel the letters. Maybe she can. I didn't ask. I did look over her shoulder and there was Andy's name in large, wobbly letters-- a clumsy version of his handwriting.

"Ok,..." prompted Ebony.

"Ok, so I didn't write that today."
"When did you write it?"
"Seven years ago. The man who baptized me gave me that Bible when I was Saved. I lost it two weeks later--I think I left it in the bed at a shelter. They don't let you come back during the day, and that night, it was gone. Now, here it is!"

We all gaped.

"Where did it come from?" I asked. I imagined the thing had turned up in a thrift store and that one of the masters--with the uncanny good luck they had--had spotted it and noticed Andy's name. But I didn't know for sure, and obviously Andy didn't know either.
"From God, presumably," he answered, anyway. Of course, he did.

"Do you remember, that year," I asked, "you were so excited to get presents, you said it meant other people cared about the Baby Jesus."


"Do you still think that way?" I asked. "Is that how you think about Christmas presents?"
"Sort of," he said. "I was so mixed up, then. I was right about Jesus, but I thought...I felt so alone, even here. I'm not."

"I always thought Christians were supposed to disdain presents," put in Eddie. "Materialism and Santa Claus. Tis the reason for the season, and all that."
"Oh, presents don't have to be materialistic," Andy replied. "This one, for example--I could get a Bible, it's not about this object, it's about how it feels to get this object--or those objects," he indicated my gift, a new write-in-the-rain notebook and a pair of thin but warm gloves so I can write outdoors when it's cold, "I am reminded of miracles. You are reminded that you are known and loved. How it feels to receive these things--it's how it feels to receive the reality of God."

"You sound so wise when you say that,"said Eddie, "but I don't believe the God you're talking about exists."
"That's ok," said Andy, "He exists whether you believe in Him or not."

"But it does matter whether we believe, doesn't it?" said June, stirring her cocoa. "I mean, different people say all different things about God, and we have to figure out who's right. If we guess wrong...I mean, I personally know people who think everybody at this table is headed for Hell, one way or another."

"I don't guess," said Andy. "I know."
"So do I," said Eddie. "And I know different than you."
"Maybe you can both be right?" suggested Ebony.
"They can both be right in some ways, but not others," I said. "Whether multiculturalism is a valid option is itself a matter of disagreement." I wished Ollie were here. He could sort this out. Or Allen.
"It's not like we can't sort this out without Ollie or Allen," June said, and I stared at her open-mouthed. "We all have brains that work."

"That's just it," said Ebony, "we all have brains, so there must be something we can do to figure it out, or else there's just no justice."
"How do you mean?" That was Andy.
"No offense, but staying out of Hell can't just come down to trusting the word of a passionate and insistent human being."
"Jesus is a human being."
"That's not what I mean. You say you know what the truth is. So, I'm supposed to just take your word for it? I have to be able to figure it out for myself, or else--say you're right, but only the people who happen to agree with you go to Heaven? Then who gets Saved is arbitrary."

"Calvinists would say it is arbitrary," said June. I have know idea whether she's right. I don't know anything about Calvinists.
"Some would say we do have that process, and it's called reason, but that my reason's on the blink because I've been disobedient so long I've forgotten that I'm being deliberately disobedient." This was Eddie. "I've been a very bad girl." His voice was heavy with irony.
"That's preposterous," said June. "If you can't tell the difference between a decision to rebel and your actual identity, then you're back to not having a process to discern the truth."
"But people do say that, though."
"People are wrong."

"But you're not a girl," said Andy, who had apparently missed the note of irony. "I don't know why God made you this way, but He did, and God does not make mistakes."
"That's just what a disobedient person like you would say," asserted Eddie. Andy frowned and bit his lip, confused.

"I still wish Ollie were here," I said. "Or Allen."
"Allen would ask why you wish he were here," June pointed out.
"Not if he was here," I answered. "Because then I wouldn't be wishing he was here. Because he'd be here."

"I think you're all missing the point," said Andy. We all looked at him. It's unlike him to criticize anyone, even mildly, unless something is very important to him. "You're all missing the point. It sounds like you're trying to justify not being Christian, for one thing, which is weird. But you're looking for some rational way to know if you're right about God? The only thing I know about God for sure is that humans can't figure Him out not completely. And the only thing I know for sure about humans is that we screw things up. We fail. At pretty much everything. That's the whole point of Christianity, the whole point of Christmas--we don't have to feel like failures anymore because Jesus came to meet us halfway. We don't have to be perfect. We don't have to be better than we are. He came to lift us up. Trying to figure out who is right about God--nobody's right, because we're human. God loves us anyway. That's the whole point."

"You don't sound like any other preacher I've heard," said June.
"I do the best I can," said Andy.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 7: Yule

Please note that Yule took place the night of Friday, the21st into Saturday, the 22nd,, so I’m writing this post a few days ahead of time. Hanuka had already completed a week earlier, which is why I don’t mention the holiday in the post, despite it being Hanuka now. So, happy Hanuka.

June had never celebrated Yule before, a strange thought, given how she’s embraced the particular brand of paganism popular here. I sometimes forget, now, that there are still things about this place and its culture she doesn’t know. Ironically, that makes it a little easier for me to keep the casual secrecy that renders so much around here a delightful surprise—I just assume she already knows what’s coming.

And so, June not only got to experience Yule for the first time, she got to do it without any warning from me about what it would be like. And I got to watch.

Yule dinner, as usual, was a quiet affair, there being only about thirty-five of us on campus this time of year, and ten of those 35 weren’t at dinner because Kit had scheduled her teaching coven’s ritual at the same time. Perhaps because Kit wasn’t there, Charlie showed up. We all sat together at the long, dark table in the Bird Room and he and Greg presided over the meal like the fathers of some very large family.

It was an odd meal, and not just because of Charlie’s company, but because we actually had Boar’s Head, a famously difficult thing to cook—it’s the Dish of Kings because only kings could afford to have it made. But Sadie can handle it, and had. She’d made us the dish once before, for Yule, but it’s not a common thing. It’s not simply the roasted head of a pig—it’s the skin of the head, with some of the facial bones for shape, stuffed with a mixture of pork, lamb, various organ meats, and, indeed, bays and rosemary, and then the whole thing roasted. It’s delicious.

Sadie didn’t eat with us—I imagine she was at the masters’ party upstairs—but, as I said, Greg and Charlie did, and when the dish was brought out, Charlie, who was in an unusually high-spirited mood, sang the Boar’s Head Carol in a rich, strong voice none of us had ever heard before. I’d heard him sing once, years ago, but then he’d been singing quietly, respectfully, not this boisterous celebration.

Afterwards, we all sat out by the lit tree and around the fire place and drank hot chocolate and mulled cider and talked in small groups. Charlie took his whistle out and played a few tunes, all of them seasonal and ancient sounding.

Then Kit and her people swept in, bearing the lit Yule Candle, and Charlie put his whistle away as though he’d never had it out. More than ten students had come in with Kit, as the coven had members who hadn’t been on campus earlier in the day. The pace of the party picked up. Someone unpacked a fiddle. More people started trickling in, hanging up cloaks on pegs to drip from the wet, sleety snow falling outside.

“I thought we were going to bed early so we could watch the sunrise, or something?” asked June.
“You can go to bed, if you want,” I said.
“Not a chance,” she replied, and went to go pour herself some eggnog that had appeared from somewhere while nobody was looking.

I spotted Charlie sitting off by himself, looking as though he worried it might rain on his head. I joined him.

“Getting a bit noisy for you, isn’t it?” I asked.
“These things were more fun back when I was drinking,” he said, with a trace of his old growl.
“I do not,” I said, in my best Dracula accent. He laughed.
“I suppose there are compulsions worse than mine,” he admitted. “I suppose I would have gotten tired of partying by now, anyway, even if I were still drinking. If I’d lasted this long.”
“Do you miss drinking?” I asked, amazed to find him so willing to talk.
“I miss being young,” he replied. “Being a young drunk has its perks. Being an old drunk….I doubt I’d like it.”
“Charlie, I can’t picture you as a young man, going to parties.”
“I used to do a lot of things you’ve never seen me do, Daniel.” He winced as the volume of the music increased.
“Why are you at this party,” I asked. “I mean, I’m glad to see you, but….”
“Occupational hazard of living in a community, Daniel. I like people, contrary to popular opinion. I like some social contact. But around here, when I find any people, there’s usually a whole pile of them.”

A pile of people was right, for they kept coming. Senior students and candidates and recent graduates, many of them carrying instruments. We pushed the furniture back and the evening evolved into a dance party. I saw Charlie talking to a few other people, enjoying himself, in his own way, even laughing, but after a while I didn’t see him anymore. He’d slipped out while nobody was looking. I remember June, slightly tipsy, laughing hysterically, I’m not sure what about. Was I tipsy, too? I can’t remember. Is that a bad sign? Maybe I was just tired and silly. I wasn’t drinking that much.

Around three AM, the snow stopped. We could hear the wind whistling around the corners on the Mansion and the branches of the elm on the east side. Rick came in from a walk (he doesn’t like piles of people, either) and reported that the temperature was dropping.

“We’re going to dance the sun up, aren’t we?” asked June.
“That depends,” I told her. “Do you want to dance?”
She laughed and threw her arms around my neck and I really liked that. We danced for a while.

Around six in the morning—the world outside the window still looking as dark as ever—some of the senior students took charge of organizing the trip up the mountain in silence to see the sunrise. How were these students chosen? When I was a senior novice, no one ever asked me if I wanted to perform that duty.

“I thought we were dancing the sun up?” said June.
“You can dance your way up the mountain,” I told her.

She didn’t, especially. We actually got separated in the dark, on the way up, the snow crunching under our feet, the stars bright and the air cold. Up on the mountain, we found each other in the dark, and she sat on my lap and I wrapped her in my cloaks and we kept each other warm.

The sun came up and the masters sang and played and the world turned gold and pink and white.

When we got back to the Geat Hall, the Sprouts and some of their other family members (including, to my surprise, my brother and his kids) had arrived and transformed the place, filling the room with bowls of chocolates and candied fruit and nuts and oranges, and setting our gift bags here and there, and readying steaming pots of hot chocolate, coffee, and mulled cider, oatmeal and miso soup.

We spent the day playing and eating and more or less being unusually tall kids and June asked me why we’d never celebrated Yule on our own when we were in grad school—why hadn’t I introduced us to this?

Of course, for most of my Absence, I spent the holiday season, including the solstice, with my parents, not with June. But I didn’t celebrate Yule while I was away. I kept forgetting. I’d mean to, and then realize it was yesterday. There was no community.

I missed it here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 6: Making Magic

Every year, while the yearlings are otherwise occupied, senior students, especially those on the landscaping crew, decorate the Great Hall for Yule. When everyone wakes up the next morning, the decorations are simply there, as if by magic.

Allen would say it IS magic, that the amazing does not cease to be amazing just because work has gone in to accomplishing it.

I've gotten to be one of the "elves" doing the decorating, and I'd hoped to do it again this year, but Charlie had another idea.

"You wouldn't mind occupying your wife tonight, would you?" he asked me. I'd found him inspecting one of the spruce trees growing next to the Mansion's front door--an odd place for spruces, they aren't native here. I'd say they must pre-date the school, but they don't seem old enough. I think he was considering decorating them, too. "She has a talent for noticing things," he added.

Well, anything for Charlie, right?

I occupied June's attention rather effectively and she did not notice anything out of the ordinary until we came down to breakfast the next morning and found the Great Hall completely made over.

The decorations from the Fall were still up (except for the Thankyou Doll, who has long since been given honorable burial, and most of the pumpkins and squashes and apples, which have been eaten), so dry grape vines still crept up columns and across the ceiling, candles--tall tapers--still stood in silver holders. Decorative gourds in odd colors and strange shapes sat in state in bowls in in corners, here and there. Dry corn stalks still guarded the doorways. Bowls of candy still tempted all and sundry. But in among all of that, interwoven and over top of it, were garlands of pine and long strands of English ivy (an exotic Charlie battles to good purpose), vases full of cut winterberry holly branches, wreaths made from trimmings from area Christmas tree lots, strings of large, piles of fleece symbolizing snow....

And the Tree, the Yule Tree, in the far corner hung with strings of large, red beads, white and gold ribbon, golden balls hanging like fruit, and an entire flock of fantastic, blown-glass birds. And lit for the first time this year with brilliant warm white LEDs.

I knew it would all look even better at night, with everything lit and twinkling, and a fire lit, but coming down and finding it in the morning like that was amazing, even though I had known perfectly well it would be there and very roughly how it would look.

I turned to June to take in her reaction. She stood there with her mouth open for a few seconds, then, being a person who does, indeed, notice things, turned to me and said,

"You had an ulterior motive last night."

"I did not!" I told her. "How do you think all this happened? This is the result of the magic we made."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 5: Watching Snow

It snowed for the first time last night. Of course, the snow melted before morning, but I was up a little late, reading in the Great Hall, and I looked outside and saw it and went outside to sit on the Great Hall steps. Once outside, I could hardly see any of it, because we have no outside lights, only some light slipping through the curtains of the windows of the Great Hall behind me, but I could hear the silence of the snow. I could smell it. I hadn't bothered to even put on my cloak. It wasn't even that cold.

June came out and joined me.  I hadn't known she knew I was outside--she wasn't in the Great Hall when I came out. She wasn't wearing her cloak, either, and leaned against me for a bit. Sitting together like that felt illicit. We haven't been able to spend much time together all year.

"Are you glad you came?" I asked, meaning to the school.

"Are you glad I came?" she asked me, instead of answering.

"I wouldn't miss it," I said. "I miss you, though. But I think if you had not come I'd miss you more. This way, we have the same sky." Same sky, same culture, same friends (mostly) same home. I meant more than I was saying.

"Same snow."

"Yeah. You didn't answer my question."

"I'm glad," she acknowledged. "I think I would have lost you, otherwise."

"Is that the only reason?" I can't say she's wrong. I hope she is.

"No, but it's a reason, and it's a good reason. I like it here, but I don't need to be here. I need you, but I don't need this."

"I hope that changes," I told her. "I hope I don't stay the primary reason why you're here. I don't want you to come to resent me for keeping you from someplace you'd rather be."

"Give me some credit. If I had any thought that might happen, I wouldn't have married you. For one thing, if there's some place I decide I really want to be, I'll ask you to come with me. And we'll see how it goes."

"The year is almost over."


"We'll be able to spend as much time together as we like."


"Will you move into my room? Or should I move into yours?"

"Yours, I guess," she said. "You're more attached to your room, I guess. You've been in it longer. Do we have to move in?"

"Don't you want to?"

"Well, I was thinking we could alternate. They're small rooms, for two people to share."

"We could, I think, but you'd have to pay the room and board fee."

"You want me in your room, don't you?" she asked.


I sat, listening to the snow, feeling June's warmth against my arm and side, and thought about the day, years ago, when Ebony and I watched the snow in the light of a flashlight and how magical her sight, and the sight of her, seemed. I don't fall out of love, I don't think. I still find it sad that she and I didn't work out, even though June and I are an infinitely better match. I'm crazy about her. Wholly and truly. But the bittersweetness of the memory sharpened the sweetness of sitting with my beloved in the present tense, cast a beauty over it somehow. Also, my butt was getting cold.

I leaned my head on the top of June's head and we sat together like that until we began to shiver. Then we went inside.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 4: Anniversary

So, I'm back on campus and it's quiet here. I have said the same thing before, on other quiet weeks, and will likely say the same thing again in the future. I like weeks like this. It's one of the reasons I've stayed on campus this year, June being the other reason. I like getting up in the morning and going for a walk in the brown and grey winter woods as the dawn comes up. I like watching birds go about their business in the underbrush, or, later in the day, following the tracks of deer back to the beds they left around the same time I left mine. The campus gets quiet and I get quiet, too.

But there is human company available, when I want it.

Usually, I seek company by going to the Great Hall and seeing who's there. Curiously, someone always is when I want to find somebody, even though plenty of other times I find the place deserted. Almost always. Today was an exception. I found myself alone and sat down on the couch for a bit.

I felt a little cold and a little tired--I'd just come back from a long walk. I sat there, not thinking, for a bit, the way you do when you need a break, but then gradually thoughts began to form. Images, more than words or ideas. I was staring at the floor in front of the couch, remembering the day I watch Rick sleep for a few hours on the very spot, and Greg's Cat, who hardly ever let anyone touch him except for Greg, slept curled up on Rick's body.

For some reason, I reached out and touched the space the cat had occupied, as though I could pet him. As if he would have let me.

"I miss him, too," said a voice behind me, and I jumped and looked over my shoulder to find Greg. He'd walked up without my hearing, or at least without my noticing. I greeted him. "You were thinking of my cat, weren't you?" he asked.

"How did you know?"

"Because you evoked him. I saw you interacting with him. I can't see him, but, in a way, you did. Didn't you?"

"I suppose I did."

"Everything is impermanent," Greg asserted, with some humor, "even impermanence."

I wasn't sure how to respond to that.

"Today is the day, you know," he said.

"The day?"

"Yes. It has been a year, now, since Greg's Cat died. Hit by a car, remember?"

I remember him telling me about it. I wasn't back yet, when the accident happened.

"I'm sorry," I said, because you do.

"What are you sorry about, exactly?" Greg asked, smiling. He was not chiding me for expressing sorrow, just challenging me to identify why. I frowned. I had no answer. "Life goes on," he added. "And then sometimes it doesn't. He was the only being ever named for me, and I don't suppose there will ever be another one. In another ten or twenty years, I will likely not be named for me, either."

I suppose he referred to the prospect of his own death.

"Does being Buddhist make these things easier for you?" I asked.

"I don't know," he answered. "I've never not been Buddhist, so I have no basis of comparison. But nothing can make grief hurt less than it happens to hurt. Nothing makes life cease to be painful. But it is possible to ensure that life remains meaningful. Buddhism does that for me. I don't pretend to know whether it can do so for anybody else."

Monday, November 20, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 3: Thanksgiving

Note; in 2007, Thanksgiving fell on November 22'nd, so I'm making this my Thanksgiving post, even though it's written as though Thanksgiving had already happened.-D.

My first Thanksgiving as a married man.

I hadn't thought much about this particular milestone, it's not like we weren't together last Thanksgiving, and it's not like Thankgiving really changes much, depending on whether you're a bachelor, but it turns out it matters anyway.

For one thing, it matters practically. Now that we're married, everyone seems to assume we'll spend the holidays together--it doesn't feel like I'm bringing a guest to dinner anymore--but at the same time, fewer people expect that I'll necessarily spend Thanksgiving with my parents. June said she wanted her turn. Her parents wanted their turn. But I like spending Thanksgiving with my family. I hadn't really anticipated that this would become an Issue. It's not like we never go see her family.

In the end, we decided the question is moot--her parents live farther away, and since June is a yearling, she can't take much time off away from campus. So, we're doing Thanksgiving with my parents again. But I expect next year she'll have to get her turn. It will be fair.

June donated her car to the school in partial payment, so we're once again a carless couple. On Wednesday, we got a ride with another yearling going our way, and June got to join her little support group of Women Who Love Kretzmans to discuss the baking of pies, while I went out for a drink with a couple of guys I knew back in high school. I know that sounds horribly sexist, me going out and leaving my wife home cooking with the other womenfolk, but it's what she wanted to do. Kit would say that "feminism is the radical proposition that women are people--it doesn't mean we people can't bake pies."

The next morning, I sat zazen with June--I hadn't sat in a long time, but I wanted to keep her company. As usual when I sit, I had the momentary urge to get back to a regular practice, but these urges are never strong enough for me to actually follow through on them. Then my brother and his wife and their kids came back over (they had stayed in a hotel--there's getting to be a lot of them), my uncles and aunts and this time two of my cousins and we all filled the house with cooking smells and small children shrieking, that the largely disregarded sounds of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. And then we had dinner.

Thanksgivings are much more enjoyable now than when I was a novice, especially that first year when everybody looked at me like I had two heads and my one uncle got mixed up and thought I was studying to become an Episcopal priest. It was like suddenly running into culture shock in my own family and it was horrible. That doesn't happen, now. Partly it's that they're all used to my association with the school, partly it's that I've gotten better at talking about it so that the place doesn't sound weird to people who really aren't interested in it, like my uncle, and partly it's that I'm not the only one in the family involved anymore--my brother's kids are sprouts, my wife is a novice, my parents invite Kit and Allen over coffee the day after Thanksgiving....

But it's more than that.

I did dishes after the big meal, as per tradition, and June dried them. Everything seemed familiar and good, and I passed a platter to June to dry and thought 'this woman is my wife. I get to stay with her." And she told me the platter still had soap on it and that I needed to rinse it again, and that was the fourth time she told me such a thing, so I daubed soap-suds in her hair and she put the platter down and chased me all around the kitchen, and I don't know what she was planning on doing when she caught me because I caught her first and we spent minutes at a time there in the kitchen, kissing, playing hooky from dishes entirely.

The next day, in the evening, Kit and Allen came to pick us up--and for coffee. They'd already dropped off the kids and Lo, but Kit's husband, Kevin, was with them. My Dad hadn't met Kevin before, I don't think, and my Dad seemed a little uncomfortable around him. My Dad needs to get over his crush on Kit, every part of how he handles it is ridiculous. At least Mom has quit taking it seriously.

Kevin never goes anywhere without his guitar, so he let my parents talk him into playing and singing a few of his songs, mostly stuff he performs with the Blue Pixies. Allen and I stood off in a corner watching my parents listening to live pagan folk punk, some love song about a man and a rather more literal (male) fairy. And they seemed comfortable with it, somehow.

"This almost looks normal," I said, to Allen. "It's like, school used to seem like Avalon, or something, but the worlds don't seem that different, now."

"I bet you feel like that even with your uncles," he said. "Even with people who have never heard of the school, and wouldn't like it if they did. Am I right?"

"Yeah. It's like the different parts of my life are merging. I don't get culture shock out here, anymore. Why?"

"It's because you carry the school within you, now," he said.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 7: Post 2: Leaves without Leaving

I'm really not sure what I'm supposed to be doing this winter.

On the one hand, there's an argument to be made for staying on campus all the way through. June has to stay, because she's a yearling, and because she's graduating at Brigid, and I don't want to leave without her, and I still have my poetry writing assignment. But, on the other hand, I'm sure I could arrange something for poetry the same way as I arranged to go home for a while when I had the sleeping outside assignment. Most of the other candidates have left campus, and staying costs a hundred dollars a week in room and board that I'd like to not have to pay. June is busy finishing up some final assignments and actually has very little time for me. My family misses me.

I'm trying not to think about what Charlie would want me to do. He isn't in charge of my life, and I've got to learn how to think and act like a grown-up with respect to my studies here. What do I want to do? What would be good to do?

Ollie has left campus to go rejoin Willa, Andy is living above his bicycle shop and only comes in a day or so a week to visit, Eddie and Ebony are both here, but busily working at something, so I hardly ever see them, and both will leave campus right before Thanksgiving and stay gone until Yule. Rick is here, and staying through, but he's spending most of his time living outside--he eats our food, he's not hunting and gathering, but we don't see him. I feel very much left behind.

The Dining Hall and Chapel Hall are both closed down for the season. The Mansion is a bustle of activity at breakfast and certain other times, but mostly it's quiet. It's not yet cold enough yet to have the wood stove on all the time, so people aren't clustering in the Great Hall the way they will later in the winter, and there are great blocks of time when just nobody is about.

In one of these blocks, this afternoon, I found myself with nothing to do and no one to do it with, so I wandered outside and up to the barns and sheds, on the working end of campus where hardly anyone who does not have business there ever goes. Joy's oldest horse, the grey one with spots, looked up from his hay and regarded me as I passed.

I ended up out near the cider house and the slaughter house and the smoke house, buildings enclosed in a tight, tall fence to keep the coyotes and bears from investigating too closely. The have the various compost piles in there, too, to take advantage of the fence, and nearby I found a massive pile of autumn leaves.

We leave the campus leaves where they fall, for the most part, but our neighbors don't want to do the same, so Charlie has a deal with them where we collect their leaves and bring them on campus for mulch. Teams from the farming and landscaping crews go down the road with the horse cart and bring the loads up here, load after takes a long time. I think they're about done, now, most of the leaves are down, the crescendo of autumn color fallen now to a whisper, and in any case no new loads were coming in today. The crews must have been busy doing something else. There was a big mountain of leaves sitting there, by itself, just outside of the fence, left to wait until it could dry out enough to be crushed into compostable mulch.

I looked at that mountain for a bit and then I crawled into the pile, wrapped myself up in my cloaks and hoods and cowls for warmth, and fell asleep amid the fragrant leaves. I woke up, hours later, alerted by the first dimming of daylight and cooling of evening to the fact that it was almost dinner-time. And I was wholly and completely happy.

Which, I think, answers my question. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Hi. I just plain forgot to post yesterday. Nothing's wrong--it was June's birthday, and we had a big, whooptido party that took most of the day to set up, we had a great time, and then long about 11 pm last night I think "oh, crap, today was Monday, wasn't it?"

And unfortunately, my time budget it such that I can't catch up this week. I have a number of deadlines looming. So, with regret, I must simply say "see you next week."


Monday, October 30, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Samhain

Happy Samhain!

These last few months, I've basically gotten used to being back. There have been times--beginning very soon after June and I arrived--when it seemed as though I'd never been away and the world outside was not, and had never been, real. But now, at Samhain*, I'm once again struck by how long I was away and how good it is to be back.

I did not celebrate Samhain the whole time I was away. I could have, but I didn't know how to celebrate it alone, and most of the time I was gone my attention was wrapped up in grad school, and I really wasn't thinking about anything else. But there is something important, something vital, about celebrating the dead, and I have missed it. I did not realize how much I had missed it until just now.

I had a hard time explaining it to June. She's heard of Samhain, of course, but she hadn't celebrated it before, and had trouble understanding how it relates to Hallowe'en on the one hand and Dia del Muertes on the other. And she thought it rather morbid to end the school year on the same day, and had trouble understanding why we take the winter off to begin with--I think she's sad that her classes are over, since she only gets the one year as a novice--until I reminded her how cold the Chapel was back at Brigid and asked if she really wanted to take classes in those temperatures all winter. That building leaks heat like the proverbial sieve.

In any case, once again I sat and hung out with some of my dorm-mates as late afternoon turned into evening, and once again I looked out a window over campus grown dark and saw the central field illuminated by hundreds of flickering candles. The sky was clear and dark and spangled, the temperature falling rapidly into the first truly cold night of the year, and I thought that this moment, which doesn't happen every year, when I look out and first see all those candles, is my favorite part of the holiday. It's like that moment on Christmas morning when you're a kid, when you wake up, before the presents, before the candy, before everything, and you know for sure it's going to happen.

I met June in the landing above the central stairway down into the Great Hall--which is itself decorated with pumpkins and squashes of all kinds and sizes, and shocks of corn all bundled together, and creepy vines all twisted and dried and twining across the ceiling, and the Thank You Doll, now all shriveled and old, still sitting in state and ready for its own internment, and we and the rest of our crowed put on our shoes and our cowls and cloaks, and walked out through the Green Room towards the Chapel, my wife and I holding hands.

When we got to the Chapel, of course the room was full of light, lit candles in the aisles and in the holders along the walls and on the stage, and already the room almost half full of people. We found our seats.

"I'm excited," June confessed. "I don't know what's going to happen."
"That's the idea," I told her. "You're a novice."

The bells began, and the masters processed in, looking strange and mysterious as they always do, with their hoods up and almost covering their faces, like so many enchanters. That some of them actually are witches, or alchemists, or magicians is an entirely prosaic fact around here, as normal as being able to play the guitar or write poetry, but being a witch, or an alchemist, or a magician, or whatever it is Charlie is (a Troll King? An Ent, one of the shepherds of trees?) ought not to be prosaic, and there are certain days when they dress up and remind us that something extraordinary is going on. Samhain is one of those days. They took the stage, and the ceremony began.

We read the names of the Beloved Dead (I recognized one name as belonging to someone I'd met--Charlie's brother. I'd known he had died, but not what Charlie felt about it. I looked over at my teacher and he seemed attentive but impassive. Some questions don't have answers), recited some dozen short eulogies, and sang Hats Off to Dead Folks. The masters came down off the stage and we all milled around, talking, until the bell summoned them and they left, mid-sentence, taking their candles with them, leaving us with that much less light. And the rest of us streamed out onto the already freezing grass, headed towards the bonfire and dinner and s'mores.

And just as I realized June was not beside me in the crowd anymore, I heard a strange sound in a familiar voice. I turned back to investigate.

The sprouts, costumed for the holiday and lying in wait, had captured their grown-up, as they do every year. Usually it's one of the masters, one year it was me. They hold the grown-up ransom for candy and expanded privileges, and everybody pretends they don't know the ruffians are children playing a game. But this time, they'd caught June.

"Ahoy, there, pirate!" I called. "I would parley with ye!"

A rough-clad figure in a dreadlocked wig, who I suspected of being Adelee Grimm, detached herself from the group and came over to talk to me.

"You're supposed to pretend you don't know it's us," she said, sullenly.

"Me? Know who you are?" In the still-distant firelight, identification really was difficult. "All I know is you're a fearsome pirate--and you've kidnapped my wife." I let my voice sound suddenly stern and irate.

"That's how the game works," she said, rolling her eyes like the teenager she'd recently become. She won't be a sprout much longer. "Come on, you're ruining it for the littles."

Behind her, I could see Paul and Ruthie, my niece and nephew, looking at me in frightened confusion. I knew them in the dark by their small size and by something in their postures. Lo had picked them up when she brought Alexis to campus earlier in the day. That Chris wasn't with them proved we'd known exactly what the plan was. Only kids four years old and older can play this trick for treats.

"How the game works is you're supposed to take a master or a senior student, not a novice!" I let myself get even more stern. I was not play-acting. June was lying, half-tied-up, under a restraining pile of children, probably getting cold, and she didn't know what was going on.

"Aw, but she's Mrs. Kretzman," protested Billie. I know his voice. He meant that she was a staff-member. And of course, she had been the director of the summer camp they had all attended. But that wasn't the point.

"She's a novice," I reiterated. "You have to go tell her the rules and ask her if she wants to play. If she doesn't, I'll take her place."

So, Adelee went back to her group and conferred briefly with the prisoner, who thought about things for a few seconds, then nodded. Adelee reported back, still sullen. I had little sympathy.

"She said yes."

"Ok, give me a little time to go tell the masters she said yes. And when you do come out, negotiate hard. Make this worth it." Ok, I had a little sympathy, and I didn't want to ruin their fun, or have June think she had ruined it.


I found the masters and almost everyone else already at the bonfire. I whispered my news in Kit's ear. She nodded and then let the others know, subtly, without calling attention to themselves. When the costumed sprouts showed up and announced they'd taken June, I was suitably distraught, really camping it up, offering them anything, anything, for the safe return of my wife, while Kit and Greg held firm, insisting that we do not give in to criminals. Eventually, the kids got half a pound of candy each, plus a shopping trip to a certain favored toy store, to be funded collectively by the masters and parents. It was somewhat less than they've gotten in other years, but there's always some variation so I'm not sure that their choice of target hurt them. I didn't think it should.

June was released, none the worse for wear, and yes, a little cold from having lain on the ground. I wrapped my cloak around both of us and warmed her as best as I could.

"You know," I told her, "It's really a compliment."


"They thought you counted as one of the masters. It's a good sign that you will be."

*I'm posting this on October 30th, although Samhain begins at sundown on October 31st and extends through November 1st.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Interlude 7

Hi, all, this is Daniel-of-2017, and I am genuinely curious how I only got through four posts between sabbats this time. Wasn't it just Mabon a few weeks ago?

It's not just that time seems to be flying, though that happens, too. It's that there are six weeks between sabbats, so why did I only get four weekly posts in? The problem must be that I posted for Mabon late, whereas I'm posting a little early for Samhain. I don't want to simply pass the organizational buck to the next season, after all. I want to prepare for this holiday early.

Samhain is harder to forget about than Mabon or Lunasadh, or several of the others, because it coincides with a mainstream holiday, Halloween. It's funny, I know a lot of Wiccans who really like Halloween, who see it as very much an extension of Samhain, but as I started noticing my first year on campus, the two holidays are very different. Samhain honors and celebrates the dead as beings who are still part of our lives, people who are welcome to come have dinner with us, if they can. The symbols of fruit (pumpkins, apples, pomegranates) and seeds (corn, acorns) and gorgeous fall leaves (rather delayed, in the case of this year--our area has been well above normal in temperature for weeks, now) all hint at sweetness, fullness, and the promise of regeneration. Samhain is about the thing that does not die at death. In contrast, Halloween, with its symbols of bones and blood, tombstones, and scavenging rats, focuses very much on the things that die.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with celebrating Halloween, but it's not really my thing, especially since there's no rule that says you can't celebrate Samhain and eat Halloween candy at the same time. But I am kind of surprised that so many people like both holidays--something about being "witchy."

I'm not sure what else to say. I'd planned to spend a few more weeks talking about the end of June's school year and the progress my fellow candidates were making, but then again, I also planned to talk about some of the novices I met that year, especially the yearlings who made up most of June's new friends, and here I realize I've introduced NONE of them as characters...most of what I plan doesn't happen, but then things I didn't plan do happen, and that's usually better.

In any case, I do remember being sad about the annual eclipse of the faculty--the masters mostly leave campus after Samhain, and those who remain are not generally available to talk to students. I was, at the time, in a difficult middle position where I was genuinely friends with some of them, even close friends, and yet when they distanced themselves from students in order to take a break from working, they distanced themselves from me, too. Too, I had spent so much of the summer and early fall feeling angry and rebellious at Charlie, and as a result, he'd become angry at me, and it felt like just as we were starting to get along again when he went away.

Of course, that's the one scary thing about Samhain and all it represents--however early you start preparing, in some sense it is always a surprise. There is never enough time

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 6: Post 4: Leaves and Leaving

I went for a walk with Kayla the other day. I hadn’t spent much time with her in a while, and we hadn’t really talked about her studies, her career through the school, in years. 

“You’re graduating this year,” I said, after a bit.


“Is it weird? I mean, you’ve been here forever.”

“Not forever,” she corrected me. “Just my whole life. And yes, it’s weird.”

“I’d be scared, if I were you,” I said. She laughed.

“Is that your big-brotherly advice? To be scared?”

“No, it’s just what I would do. I’m not saying it’s a good idea.”

“I’m not scared. Maybe I should be? I’m going to miss all of you, though.”

She has this deal, to make sure she goes out and experiences the “real world,” where she’ll be barred from campus for a year, not even allowed to call. If she wants to come back for her ring, she’ll have to be Absent, or at least living and working elsewhere, for ten years, not the normal three.

“We can visit you, though,” I pointed out.

“Only one at a time,” she reminded me. “And honestly, you won’t. Not very often. You’ll get all wrapped up in your lives here, and you’ll forget to visit.” I started to protest, but she overrode me. “No, it’s ok, I think that’s part of the point. If they thought you’d all come by my apartment every other minute, they’d probably put tighter restrictions on me.”

“They’re tough.”

“They are.”

“What about Aidan?” He's an exception to the one-at-a-time rule, I knew that.

“He has to come visit me. Every day and twice on Sundays. I told Mom I’ll reveal the location of her secret chocolate stash if she doesn’t take him.”

“Ooo! So, what’s your plan? When you leave?”

“Did I tell you I joined Joe’s company?” Impressive news, though apparently a non-sequitur. Joe, my former boss on the janitor’s team, you may remember, has a dance company off-campus. Hardly any students ever dance with him, though, because he does not teach beginners. You have to audition. She had passed.

“That’s great! So?”

“Well, he does pay his dancers. Not much, but with that on my resume, and the dance classes I’ve been teaching at the summer camp, I should be able to get a job as a dance instructor, somewhere.”

“Kayla, I’ve never asked you—what do you study here?”  Her first few years, of course, she was just taking the occasional course and mostly being a kid. She only really got serious about earning her degree while I was away in by own Absence.

“When I was little,” she said, “and I’d ask my Mom how she knew something, she’d always say ‘it’s something I learned in Mom School.’ Well, I guess I’ve been going to Mom School.”


“Yeah. I mean, I met my healing requirement by learning how to take care of a small child, everything from baby CPR to how to splint a fracture, to reading all this child-development stuff. Magic is stage magic so I can entertain my kid and make things he shouldn’t have in the first place disappear. My spiritual studies revolve around what it means to be a mother and how to integrate my experience of…having Aidan, you know? My Craft is cooking, but I’m going to try to argue it’s building a human being… Mom School.”

“But your Mom is mostly raising Aidan.” As soon as I said it, I knew I should not have, but she appeared not to take offense.

“Let’s just say that if Aidan comes into fatherhood early, I’ll know how to help him.”

While we’d been talking, we’d come down among the sugar maples on the side of the road. Most of the leaves are still up, and some of them are even still green, but a lot have fallen already. I’d been using my foot to idly push leaves into a small pile, as if I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. Now, I knelt to tie my shoe.

“I know one thing you’re not prepared for though,” I said, while still kneeling.


“A Sneak Leaf Attack!” I shouted, and tossed the pile at her. We were both wet and tired and covered with bits of vegetation when we made it back for Friday Dorm Dinner.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 6: Post 3: Andy's Ministry

It’s curious, of the whole candidates’ group, all of us returned either this year or last year. There are no third-year candidates. Of course, a lot of people do finish their candidacies in only a year or two, but three and four-year candidacies aren’t uncommon. I could end up having one—I already know that I’m not earning my green ring this year, and I wouldn’t want to. And the two who earned their rings this past Brigid, Yves and Wren, were both third-years. 

But the Brigid before that, no one came back to start a candidacy. And Yves and Wren were the only two who came back before then. So, no third or fourth years, now.

All this must seem pretty dry and random. Like, who cares, right? And it’s almost that. I mean, I was just thinking about things the other day and it popped into my head—huh, no third-years. But we’re a very small group, we candidates, and small groups are prone to weird fluctuations according to chance. That’s one of the things I learned in grad school. The laws of probability, the type of reasoning that flows from them, it’s a way of thinking as unusual, as magical, as any kind of mysticism. Maybe more so, because the magic, for all its power, hides in plain sight.

Half the magic and mysticism here is, in fact, scientific reason. Charlie has scientific training, as do both Allen and Joy, in slightly different ways. Logic, quite specifically, was the teaching my friend, Jim received here, and reason was a big part of Ollie’s training as a novice. And of course, Charlie sent me off to grad school and a degree in environmental science quite deliberately.

And then there is Andy.

Andy, the one-time bicycle thief, the recovering heroin addict, the born-again devotee of Jesus Christ. He’s not so entertaining as he was when he first arrived here, blithering with chronic hypothermia and religious fire, but he remains the real deal, dedicated to tripartite monotheism in a proudly polytheistic enclave, and happily oblivious to any kind of thought that moves in a straight line.

I dropped in at his bicycle shop the other day. He doesn’t own it yet—his credit is not yet repaired to the point where he can get the loans a business owner is likely to need—but the owner has essentially retired. In most ways that matter, it is Andy’s shop. And you can tell.

When you come in, there is the normal bike shop smell of rubber and grease, but also something else—the scent of coffee and, sometimes, baked goods. Andy’s set up a sort of bar where people can come in and sit and chat and drink coffee as long as they like, while he works and chats back, or rings up customers. The coffee’s free, though there’s a donation jar marked COFFEE FUND on the counter. Sometimes there’s fruit, or chocolate, or doughnuts, or baked goods on the counter, also free.
The rack of cycling magazines doubles as a library—you can read as long as you like, without buying, and stuck in among the cycling mags are copies of National Geographic, the Christian Science Monitor, and The Watchtower. There’s always a couple of people hanging out, and Andy asks them for a hand, or delivers random lessons in bicycle maintenance, when he gets the urge.

There are bulletin boards all along the back wall, some for community notices, some for cycling-specific messages, some for photographs of customers having adventures on their bicycles. The boards are all framed by rows of Christian bumper-stickers, and Christian rock often spouts from an old boom-box in a corner. He’s still only here part-time, since he’s mostly on campus. Two shop assistants make up the difference. But the place comes alive when he enters it.

This shop is Andy’s ministry, as he puts it. He’s set up a place for people to chat for the express purpose of getting to know his customers and providing a space for them to reveal any problems they might have, which he then solves, if he can. He teaches courses in bicycle repair, often to various underprivileged groups and sometimes for free. He rents out the warehouse space to AA and NA meetings. He organizes races, small concerts, and guess-the-number-of-jelly beans raffles to raise money for various, mostly local causes. There is a second donation jar labeled “Buy a Kid a Bike,” and he periodically uses its contents to give free bikes to people in need—often children, but sometimes adults. He never draws attention to the program, though, and never identifies the recipients of the bikes.

All of the service he offers is practical. Despite the literature and the bumper stickers and the music, he never talks about Jesus with his “parishioners,” unless they bring Him up. Even then, his religious talk is minimal. He offers a friendly ear, information, money, and free bicycles to anyone who needs it.

“No preaching?” I asked, teasing him a little.

“Did Jesus preach to the lepers,” he responded, “or did He heal them?”