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

Monday, April 24, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 2: Note

Hi, all.

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

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

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

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

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

That sounds about right to me.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 2: Post 5: Easter

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

Happy Easter!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yeah."

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

"I used to, too."

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

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

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

"Do they? Have you asked?"

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

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

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

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

"What does Charlie believe?" June asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I found out this morning I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 2: Post 4: Thinking

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

"I like her, too," I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Jewitch. Sorry."

"It's ok."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kit sagged and hung her head, with deliberate melodrama.

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

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

"And wait it all means," supplied June.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You know what I mean."

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

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

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

But she did get me thinking.



Monday, April 3, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No," I told him.

"What have you been doing?"

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

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

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

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

"Oh."

He gave a tight little smile, quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Your objective is to get ready."

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

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

"No, you're not."

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

"Do you know why you're not?"

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

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

"I thought he moved, or something?"

"You thought in error."

"But you said...."

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

"Because June is going."

"Correct."

"I'm going to miss going."

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

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

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