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, July 31, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Interlude 5

Hi, all, Daniel-of-2017 here.

Lammas (or Lughnasadh, same thing) has crept up on me! It's tomorrow! I probably should have done an interlude last week, so I could write about the holiday today. No matter. I'll have time for everything I want to say with the holiday post being next week, too.

It's not really that Lammas has surprised me, it's that for some reason I wasn't thinking of it in terms of writing. It's like my author's brain didn't know what the rest of me was doing until sometime late last week, when I'd already written last week's post.

But Lammas is important for those of us who wear the green ring--I won't tell you exactly how, because what exactly the masters did on August First was a mystery to me until I became one, but we're getting together tomorrow, like we always do. I don't simply mean the Six, nor do I mean to social group that has evolved around what remained after the school closed down, I mean all the masters--the people who wear the green ring--who can make it. It'll be fun to see everyone.

Have I ever been clear with you on how this works?

When you join as a student, you're a novice. You wear an all-white uniform with a black cloak, and you study to achieve competence in all six mastery areas and academic areas. Back when we were accredited, you earned a liberal arts degree. You pass through the Ordeal and graduate.

Once you've passed the Ordeal, you wear a brown uniform with a white belt and a brown cloak. Most people stop there. That's enough for them. About one in ten complete Absence and return as candidates. As candidates, you work towards mastery in a single areas. The mastery program has never been accredited, but about half of us earn some kind of advanced degree while in Absence. If your form of mastery is being a doctor, something like that, then you need the appropriate degree to demonstrate mastery.

When you finish the mastery program, there's a job interview--you get hired to the Six pending an opening. That is, most people who complete their candidacy never work for the school, it's not like they promise you a job, but you do have to demonstrate that you're eligible for such a job. Then there's an initiatory experience, though nothing like the Ordeal. You get the Green Ring, and you change your belt from white to brown.

As the timing of the Ordeal might suggest, the big jump for students is between the novitiate and candidacy, not between candidacy and mastery. If our community were a club, which it almost is, but not quite, membership would be conferred when you complete your novitiate. Novices are kind of like trial members. Earning the Green Ring confers new responsibilities and new access to information, but it's not as dramatic a step up.

Anyway, so the Six are charged with educating new and prospective members and serving as a kind of leadership committee for the community. The community also has a greater responsibility to the Six, because we give so much of our lives to the community. But real, the Six don't have a separate status. We all just wear the Green Ring. Everybody who has earned a Ring is a master.

If you've never been a novice, you can't become a master (unless you're Greg). You can join the community as an ally, but that's it.

There are around a hundred masters total, counting those who have passed on, but I expect only thirty or forty to convene tomorrow.

On another subject entirely, next time I write an interlude, the solar eclipse will have been and gone. A group of us are planning a trip to intercept the path of totality. Us being us, we're also arguing amicably about the magical significance of the event and whether one actually has to be able to see the eclipse to make magic with it. One camp says a thing is still true, even if you can't see it, so of course, yes. The other camp says it is the weird experience of seeing an eclipse that works the psychological change necessary for unusual magic. So of course, no.

Me, I don't have an opinion. I've never seen a total solar eclipse before. I've seen some partials, but that's much less dramatic. Most of the disc has to be covered, for there to be a noticeable dimming of daylight.

Maybe next time I write to you as Daniel-of-the-present, I'll have an opinion?

-best, D.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Post 7: Appropriation

"Why don't you teach real yoga?" asked June of Kit at breakfast.

“Well, I don’t teach fake yoga,” Kit answered, somewhat amused.

“You teach stretches you adapted from yoga,” June clarified. “That’s not what real yoga is about. You’re missing the spiritual component.”

“Maybe you just haven’t learned the spiritual part of it yet?” Kit countered. 

June rolled her eyes.

“You know what I mean.”

“I might, but I’m not convinced you do.”

In case you’ve forgotten, Kit teaches something she calls “practical yoga” three mornings a week. It’s basically aimed at teaching correct posture and ergonomic movement habits. I took it for a few years as a novice, and sometimes I still go to remind myself to move properly. I noticed that as a result of the class, not only do I get injured less often, I’m also more attractive to women. June says I am “graceful.”

Anyway, June can’t normally go, because it conflicts with Zazen, which is required for yearlings, but she did the afternoon make-up session of Zazen a few times in order to check it out. Now she’s full of questions.

“You’re not doing traditional yoga,” she said, finally.

“I’m not a traditional yoga teacher,” Kit explained, stirring thin goatmilk yogurt into a bowl full of berries. Some people put fresh fruit on their cereal. Kit tends to put cereal on her fruit.

“Look, if you don’t want to tell me, that’s alright, but just say so. Spouting tautologies is not going to make me give up.

Kit laughed, and passed the pitcher of yogurt on to the next person.

“I mean I’m not Indian,” she said. “I’m not Hindi. I don’t want to be Hindi, and my students aren’t Hindi. I don’t have the cultural context in which traditional yoga makes sense, so it wouldn’t really be traditional yoga if I taught it. I teach something else.”

“Truth in advertising?” asked my wife.

“Sort of. And not taking what’s not mine. Not benefitting from the social cachet of traditional yoga when it’s not really mine.”

Bennie, this year’s other one-hit wonder, and a woman, despite the name, was sitting on June’s other side and spoke up.

“Kit, everything you believe comes from somewhere else. You’re a collage. If you mind borrowing other people’s ideas so much, why aren’t you Christian, like your ancestors?”

“Before my ancestors were Christians, they were pagans.”

“Two thousand years ago.”

“Ben, you’re Wiccan, too,” said June.

“Yes, but I don’t pretend my religion isn’t made up out of stuff I borrowed.”

June shot Bennie a look. The comment was not the sort of thing normally said to one’s professors. But Kit just smiled.

“I don’t, either,” she said. “But I do make sure the people I borrow from get a good deal.”

This kind of conversation is par for the course here, especially if you want to eat with yearlings. They ask a lot of challenging “why” questions. It’s familiar, almost reassuring. And yet, for lunch I could not stomach it, no pun intended. I jumped on my bike and went into town to buy myself a sandwich, a Twinkie, and a coke. I haven’t done that sort of thing in years, and I don’t know why I did it now.

Eating that junk felt delightfully transgressive.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Post 6: Identification

Rather unexpectedly, I have a new teacher--June. I've been doing a lot of workshops and things with the novices, and now I've started doing programs for the campers, too. They do farm work in the morning and then, after lunch, can choose among a variety of activities, from archery and arts and crafts, to natural history and science activities, and even free, unsupervised play. The natural history and science part is me--or, partly me, anyway. Only, I've never had training in programming for children before. So June is training me.

The advantage to this is we get to spend more time together, but I admit it's pretty weird, changing roles like this.

I like how I get a new crop of kids every week. That means I can try the same workshops over and over again, analyzing my performance and fixing my perspective--with the help of June and Sharon. I'm teaching tracking, plant identification, map and compass, fire construction, and Leave No Trace. I also do programs where I dissect owl pellets, talk about bones and skeletal anatomy, and another talk about feathers. I'm thinking of doing Dissect a Groundhog, though that's going to have to be demonstration only, for safety reasons. And I'm not sure how I want to explain Charlie hunting groundhogs to these kids. About half my programs are my idea, but for the others I'm using outlines developed by other people in previous years. Most of these things are short, and each week I'm getting better and better at them.

Meanwhile, I continue teaching Charlie what I learned in grad school. We've finished my first year, now, and are on to my second. He still wants me to at least try to teach everything from grad school in my workshops, too, but of course a lot of it doesn't really work that well. I'm glad for the exercise it's educational, and there are surprises, but a lot of my rad school material just doesn't translate well. The students here aren't interested, and I get very low attendance. But a few people do show up, and they know why I'm doing this so they don't hold it against me. They give me very useful feedback, and then I use the dregs of those workshops to put together things that really do work for this audience. And my attendance for those is pretty good.

And every day I'm writing. Now I'm editing, too. And my poems are getting better. I mean, my poems are getting better through editing, which I hadn't thought was possible for poetry, but here I am, doing it. And I also mean that my first drafts are improving. My thoughts, I guess, are getting clearer and more focused, and I'm getting a better grasp of what I want to do when I sit down to wite. My soul is indeed clarifying, I guess.

So I'm doing well, everything is going along ok, I'm succeeding at everything I try, and I should be thrilled.

And yet I have this feeling. It's tight and hot and dark. It'd distracting, but it also keeps me focused. It's persistent. It's growing, I think. I remember what Allen taught me about naming my feelings based on my bodily sensations and spontaneous thoughts.

This feeling is called anger.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Post 5: I Don't Understand It Myself

I've been so busy mostly talking about June and our wedding and everything related that I forgot to mention an important piece of news--remember Carrie? She was a candidate when I was a novice. We were friends, though never close, and I wrote about her once or twice. Anyway, she's back--in the master's group, now.

She's not one of the Six (they haven't changed), she's in the non-teaching staff, in charge of heavy maintenance and IT. The position did not exist when I was here before--there's been some rearranging. Chuck, the maintenance head has left, as has Joe, the head of the janitor team, and Security Joe is still here, but completely retired. I think I mentioned all that before. So, now they've folded cleaning in with light maintenance (meaning replacing light bulbs and so forth) and security, meaning that there's a team of people whose general responsibility is to look over campus regularly ad make sure nothing is wrong. That's now the responsibility of a woman named Waverlee. Heavy maintenance means anything you need to be a mechanic or a carpenter or a plumber to do, and that's Carrie's responsibility, as is anything to do with the computers, email system, website, etc.

When I was here before, IT just sort of seemed to get taken care of. It was one of the miracles of the place--I assume the work was being done by an ally, and that there wasn't enough of it to require the attention of anyone on campus very often. Now, as the campus belatedly joins the twenty-first century, there are more machines, and hence more going wrong with machines, and the topic has been elevated to part of an actual job.

Anyway, so Carrie is back. We haven't spoken to each other a lot, though she was at my wedding. She's the first person I knew as a student to come back and work as a master. It's kind of odd.

In the meantime, I've been writing a poem a day, as per Charlie's instruction, mostly about my spot in the woods, and always inspired by it. And he keeps marking them up with red pen. His red pen is not kind. Whole stanzas are crossed out. Marginal notes include things like "what does this even mean?" and "why are you calling this poetry?"

At first I thought these were just rhetorical devices for criticizing me, code for "this means nothing" and "this isn't poetry," but I should have known better. Charlie uses language as precisely as Allen, maybe more so, and if he wants to make a statement, he makes a statement. If he asks a question, he means he wants an answer. So, finally I started sending back answers, along with the new poetry. He sent back a note, "I was wondering when you'd start replying. I'm not talking to myself, you know."

And you know, the funny thing is that most of the time when he asks me to explain something, I realize I don't really understand myself?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 4: Post 4: For the Sake of a Good Time

I don't know why June still has classes this semester, given that she's now working full time as the director of a large summer camp. I've asked her, and she points out that she is in school, so taking classes is important, and I can see that, but still, it does look like a whole lot of work.

She's continuing her policy of taking all of Allen's classes. This summer, that means The Psychology of Magic and The Art of Listening and Love, the second of which was one of Greg's classes when I took it, but now that Greg's retired, he's given it to Allen. She's even taking Tricks of the Trade, Allen's technical course on stage magic, which means she now has access to his how and wherefore and has been sworn to secrecy. I can ask "what did you do in school today, dear?" and she can't tell me.

Meanwhile, campus has been taken over by children. I have not counted, but I think there are more of them than us--let's see, three age groupings, roughly twenty campers in each, so, no, probably not more, but there are a lot of them, and while we hardly ever speak with them, their presence changes how we live on a daily basis. They take up physical space, they take up auditory space (the shrieking!), and we can't wear our uniforms anymore, lest the oddness of our appearance trigger questions. Not that we really want to wear uniforms right now, because it's too hot.

Except, of course, when night comes and a few of us gather, cowls raised, to recite poetry in the grape arbor among those few children daring enough to sneak out and spend an evening with the Elven King.

I mean our Dead Poet's Society, of course. I've talked about it here before, though not in a while. It's pretty much like what you see in the movie. Charlie leads it. It's not against the rules, but it is secret unless you get invited. In the summer, we encourage the campers to sneak out and join us. It's not against the rules, but they don't know that.

June has not gotten an invitation--she's not friends with Charlie, and I didn't think it sounded like her kind of thing, anyway--but we let her in on the secret because she's the camp director. She had to know about the imaginary rule and why it's there. One kid already has gotten "caught," and was duly assigned to shadow Charlie for a day as "punishment" (it's no punishment at all, of course), so she had to figure out how to tell the kid's parents about the infraction without blowing the cover of the whole game or getting the kid in real trouble at home. I didn't envy her that task.

In fact, this coming Wednesday--the day when Dead Poet's Society meets--will be July 4th, so the campers will stay up late and walk down to the lake to watch fireworks, and none of them will be available to sneak out for poetry. I'll have to choose whether to watch the explosions myself, or attend to poetry. It's a decision that is no decision. Everyone who knows me knows what I will do.

Just as I know without asking that Charlie will not cancel poetry among vines and fireflies for the sake of mere colored gunpowder.