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, 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."