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, February 13, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 1: Post 3: Introductions

So, I told Charlie that, of course, I was ready to work with him again. I was surprised he asked--I'd have thought that my presence here is proof enough of that, and I'd have thought that my prior history with him is enough to prove I can take whatever he can dish out. But he's always done this--occasionally double-checking to see if I'm still on board or something. It's like he's self-conscious or something. I wouldn't have pegged him for the nervous sort, but perhaps he's more human than he lets on.

Anyway, with my reassurance given, he gave me a new assignment. We're supposed to meet for an hour or two every week so I can teach him everything I learned in graduate school. I must have looked pretty dumb-founded.

"You've spent all this time and money learning all of this stuff and I don't want you to forget it," he explained. "Teaching is the best form of learning, so you can start by teaching me."

"Charlie, it took me two and a half years to learn all that stuff. At an hour or two per week, we'll be doing this forever."

He laughed.

"Daniel, it may once have been true that I taught you everything you knew--though I doubt it--but I certainly never taught you everything I knew. Anyway, you'll find I'm a quick study."

I believe I turned red. Anyway, my face grew hot and I turned away. Of course, Charlie completed all the coursework of a master's in ecology years ago, and he's obviously kept up with a lot of it, and he's brilliant. Most of this will be review for him. I am so dumb.

We've met once now, for two hours. Mostly, we just got organized. We'll take my courses one at a time, and he anticipates that each will take two or three meetings. I should prepare to summarize each major concept of each class and I should prepare to explain each in detail, because he's going to ask questions and I'm not going to know when he'll ask questions because some of the questions will be deliberate tests. I've kept all my course notes, homework assignments, hand-outs, and books, so I'll go home this week and pick those up so I can use them as study materials--when I told him that, Charlie asked me to give him all my old homework assignments. He says he's not going to do most of them, but he will do some of them, and he won't tell me which he'll do until we get there. In the meantime, he's borrowed my laptop. It has the statistical software I used in class, and Charlie says it's new to him ("When I was in school, computers ran on punch cards...") and he wants to play.

This is going to be one massive assignment.

Otherwise, I don't really know what I'm doing, yet. I see the value in Charlie's request, both as a way for me to strengthen my understanding and as a way for him to find out what I'm up to, but it doesn't really get me into new material, so far as I can see. I don't see what it has to do with my becoming a master. And I haven't been told to do anything else. There is no set curriculum, no required credits, for mastery candidates. I've been kind of wandering around.

I have been exploring campus and I've noticed a few changes (besides the departures and arrivals I talked about last week). Most obviously, campus has finally joined the digital age. When I came here before, there was no policy on personal electronics, other than the bland suggestion that new students not bring computers and such when they first arrive, but very few of us had computers or cell phones. Few of us even had email accounts. There were a few computers available for student use, but we seldom used them, not even for school work. Most of our homework assignments could be hand-written.

In my last year or two, that had started to change. More incoming students had email and cell phones and expected to use both regularly. There were ongoing discussions about when and where it was polite to use these things--many of us felt that cell phone conversations were intrusive, somehow, but we couldn't figure out how or why--and there was some concern that yearlings might not acculturate properly if too many of them spent too much time digitally conversing with outsiders in the beginning. At the same time, the idea of interfering with yearlings' connections to family and friends seemed sinister.

In any case, the question seems to have been resolved. Yearlings are not allowed to have their own electronics on campus until the beginning of the summer semester, but they are allowed to do whatever they want online on the campus machines (of which there are still only six) or by borrowing those of senior students. Otherwise, cell phone conversations may only be held inside a student's own room, except for emergencies, and WIFI only works well in the Office, the tiny computer lab, and the eastern half of the Great Hall. And it's not entirely reliable--I suspect by design.

So, there are still no rules limiting what you can do, only how you can do it and where you can do it. They're depending on inconvenience to keep people focused here, in the real world, but you can still keep in touch easily enough.

For me, the weirdest thing is seeing half a dozen people sitting with their laptops almost every time I go through the Great Hall. It does look wrong, somehow. I'm still not sure why. And sometimes I'm one of them. I'm on Facebook, these days.

We do have two classes, we being all the mastery candidates. We're allowed to take whatever else we want, but these two are required and we all take both of them every semester of our candidacy. The two classes meet on alternating weeks, so we've only had one of them yet--it's the orientation meeting they told us about.

The one we haven't had is called Chaplains' Seminar. Honestly, it sounds like the more interesting of the two. It's about being a priest/priestess and what that means, both in the abstract and for us individually. The other, the one we have had, is called Candidates' Seminar, and it seems to be mostly a group meeting where we can all check in and talk about how our studies are going. Curiously, I didn't know either existed when I was here before, though I don't think either is secret. I just wasn't paying much attention--and if I did hear someone talking about it, I probably ignored it. A "seminar," around here, is usually a mini-class with only two meetings. They come and they go. I don't know why the word is being used differently for these.

Usually, Allen will teach Candidates' Seminar, though they say that the others sometimes substitute. But this week, all Six of them showed up together, I guess because they all wanted to hear for themselves what we've been up to.

We went around, each of us introducing ourselves (that's tradition--I think we all knew each other as novices, but that's not always true, and anyway we hadn't all known each other well) and saying a few words about where we are in our process and, for us new arrivals, why we're here and what we've been up to:

Ollie went first, looking a little nervous and stiff.

"I'm Ollie, I'm--new--I guess. I'm working with Allen. While I was away, I was ordained as a Baptist preacher and I married Willa--some of you know her--and I received a master's degree and professional certification in Christian counseling. I've come back because I want to deepen my spiritual practice and because I want to learn to be a better counselor--I want to bring my whole self to my work, as Allen does."

Allen nodded in acknowledgement.

Rick, seated next to Ollie, went next.

"I'm Rick, also new. I've worked as a logger, completed the Appalachian Trail, and gotten a degree in forestry. I want to learn how to do some good in the world without letting you people bug me too badly. I'm working with Charlie."

Everyone laughed in response, but Rick didn't laugh. He wasn't joking.

"Jasimin, second-year mastery candidate, working with Karen. I'm looking at photography as a Zen art. Lately I'm been focusing--no pun intended--on visual observation, but we're talking about exploring a more journalistic approach. I don't expect to finish this year."

"Ebony, first-year mastery candidate, working with, well, I was working with Allen, but I think I want to work with Kit, too. I've gotten my teaching certification and I want to become a visual art teacher. I don't know how that works, yet."

There were appreciative nods all around. Ebony, remember, does not have working eyeballs, and it looked like some in the group hadn't known how visual she is anyway, how of course, she'd want to teach visual art.

"That's doable," commented, Kit, and Ebony smiled in her general direction. Her introduction was much smoother than Ollie's or Rick's--she was imitating Jasimin. I'm not sure why an experienced candidate didn't start the introductions. Maybe one would have, if Ollie hadn't jumped in.

"Eddie, first-year mastery candidate, working with Joy. I train and place therapy dogs. And I'm a pretty happy guy. I live a good life, now. But I want to integrate the two, so my work isn't just a job I like. And I want to get better at the placing part."

I had forgotten how little Eddie is. He fills a room with his personality, but he's not much bigger than Ebony or Jasimin. Sitting next to Oak, Eddie looked rather like a man who had been shrunk in the wash.

"Oak, second-year mastery candidate, working with Kit. I just wanna learn to be a better priest. I have no new news." He shrugged. "I don't think I'll finish this year."

"Veery, second-year, working with Allen. I've been a counselor for years. Allen got me into cognitive behavioral therapy, and we've been working on tying that into my spirituality as an animist. Now, I'm thinking I'd like to work in my singing, too. I'm nowhere near graduating."

Again, a friendly laugh. It's a little weird having her here--she's an ex-girlfriend of mine and I didn't know she'd come back. But I feel no special connection to her, now. She looks older than I remember. She's a lot older than me, something I never thought about before. No wonder she got frustrated with me, I must have seemed like a kid to her.

"Veronica, second-year candidate, working with Kit. I do botanical research, and I'm working on merging that with my pantheistic Christian spiritual practice. And I do expect to graduate this year."

"Sounds like you're like John Chapman," said Charlie, but I didn't understand his comment. Veronica did. She nodded.

"Andy, second-year mastery candidate, expecting to graduate this year. I'm working with Greg, mostly. I want my bicycle-repair business to be my Christian ministry. I don't mean, like, to convert people, necessarily. I mean to love people. With bicycles. I want to be a good person."

And then it was my turn.

"Daniel, first-year mastery student, working with Charlie, do you all know what you're doing? I don't. I just wanted to come back, so I did. I want to be a master, but I don't know what that means."

There was a titter of laughter, not unfriendly.

"None of us really know," said Greg. "That's what they call Beginner's Mind."


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