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, August 28, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 5: Post 3: Chrysalis

Summer and the summer camp are over, fall semester has begun, and my wife is, once again, a full-time student (though she still has some duties completing paperwork, supervising clean-up, and squaring away finances). She's once again taking all of Allen's classes--Lies, Statistics, and Illusions, Healer's Health, and Tricks of the Trade--plus Intermediate Martial Arts and Sword, both with Karen.

Of those five, all but Healer's Health are extensions of classes she's taken before. Not that she's repeating anything. Tricks of the Trade and Sword are both cumulative, and she hasn't taken Intermediate Martial Arts before, only its prerequisites. She took a statistics course as an undergrad, but of course that didn't have Allen's focus on perception. But Healer's Health is the one really new thing. I took it, as a novice. It's all about how to avoid burning out, how to not get codependent with the people you're trying to help, how to not become a workaholic, how to recognize signs of mental health problems and exhaustion in oneself, that sort of thing. I wish I'd paid more attention to what I learned in it when I was in grad school. She's impressed that we teach it here at all, because, as she points out, almost nobody teaches self-care as a part of professional training, even though all professionals need it.

"Its like they teach you every part of flying except the staying in the air part," she says.

She wanted to take more classes, she's very funny how excited she is to focus on academics again, but fortunately someone talked her out of it.

I was not allowed to talk her out of it. My access to my wife is still being rationed. It's as though we lived on opposite sides of the country, not in the same building. In a way it's easier, now that she fully understands why this is happening and I don't have to keep her away from me, but in a way it's harder--what if we get stuck like this?

"We will tell her to talk to you and to be with you, at the end of the year," Allen assures me. What they break, they plan to fix, I guess.

But it's frustrating. Again, it's like I'm being treated like a child. I'm looking at thirty, now. And it's not just with June, it's in my academics, too. In grad school, I didn't always know everything that was going on (there's an initiatory component to becoming a scientist that I didn't appreciate until afterwards), but I knew what credits I needed, what classes were available to take, and I had an advisor (actually two--one academic advisor, one thesis advisor) who would give me actual advice, if I asked for it.

As opposed to Charlie, who gives me orders and then walks away, leaving me to figure out exactly what he's talking about.

Case in point: today he walked up to me, asked me to give advice to at least three yearlings by the end of the month, and to write up a report on whether I should have given the advice or not. So, part of my homework is to figure out whether I should have done my homework?

This Mysterious Master thing was cute--ok, it was enjoyable, intriguing, glamorous--in the past, but it's not anymore. It's like, ok, I get it, Charlie, you're smarter and wiser than me. But why can't I be given the information I need to make decisions about my life?

Of course, I am making decisions. It's not like I'm locked in. I have an outside job, I have an education, I could leave any time I want to, and I want to stay here, doing this, despite everything. Maybe I'm afraid that if I said anything, that's what he'd come back with--well, leave, if you don't like it here. And he'd have a point. I mean, I knew what kind of teacher Charlie is before I came back from my Absence. It's just that it feels like I got my first real taste of adulthood while I was away, and now I have to crawl back into that proverbial chrysalis again.

But it's for a greater purpose, a deeper sort of adulthood, I suppose, so I do what he tells me, what they all tell me, and I try to do it well.

I'm even taking a class of my own, in addition to the ones requires for candidates and the things I'm teaching--Climate, Weather, and History. It's pretty much what it sounds like, and it's fascinating.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


I'll be away from the Internet on Monday, so I'll post next week's installment late next week.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 5: Post 2: Deep Dive

Allen organizes his day around swimming, as far as I can tell.

I don't know what he does when he's at home (I could ask Ollie, but haven't), but when he's least in the summer, his hair is often wet.

He comes in by bike on Tuesday morning. He doesn't have to attend breakfast on Tuesday, because the rule is you have to go to breakfast if you spent the night before, and in the winter he often comes in only at the end, just in time to hear announcements. If he's running late, he'll still be wearing his cycling clothes, carrying his helmet. But in the summer, if Ollie and I go for a run in the morning, we'll often see him coming in when we come back to the Mansion to shower before breakfast--that's around seven. I don't know if he's trying to beat the heat of the day, or if he just likes getting up before dawn, as he must do summer and winter, to maintain that schedule.

Usually, he'll have Alexis with him, if she's not in camp. A lot of the Sprouts spend most of the summer on campus, whether they're in camp or not (Charlie used to have a pile. This year he has only Julius, because Janus and James are still toddlers and the others aged out of Sproutdom). When I was a novice, Allen would come in with Julie and David behind him on their own bikes and Alexis in a carrier. Now Alexis has her own bike and follows her father alone. David is in college. Julie is working a summer job. The carrier isn't even on Allen's bike, anymore. Instead, he has pannier bags.

Anyway, at lunch, Allen disappears from campus again. I see him coming in to eat just before classes are due to start, his black hair wet, his shirt--always a professional-looking short-sleeved button-down, never a t-shirt--damp from being put on just after he got out of the lake. This year I've gone with him a few times. It's just a short bike-ride away. The cool water feels good. I splash around a bit, swim a few laps along the shore. Allen disappears. From the minute he steps in the lake, he spends as much time under water as he can, hyperventilating before he submerges so he can stay down even longer. He surfaces like a seal, to breathe, when he has to.

He stays the week on campus, but I still see him bike in before breakfast, because he goes for a swim first thing, while the air is still chilly. But he doesn't feel the cold.

Every day, it's his ritual. He even goes when it's raining. "Why wouldn't I swim when it's raining?" he asks. "I'm going to get wet, anyway." And he has a point.

I once asked him why he likes swimming so much.

"Why does anybody like anything?" he answered, and I waited for him to give me a real answer. We were eating lunch, just after he'd gotten back. He does look happier, more energized and more relaxed, after he has come from the water. "I feel calmer under there," he said. "I feel at home."

"Water is the emotional element," said Kit, who was eating with us. "You are a psychologist."

"I'm not sure I feel at home in emotions, though," he said. "That's why I'm a psychologist."

"Nobody is totally at home in water," she replied. "We can't breathe in it. To stay fully immersed, we have to bring some air down with us." Metaphysically, as you may know, water is associated with emotions, air with the intellect.

"Intellectually, I agree with you," said Allen. "I am a psychologist--I study emotions intellectually. I have snorkled and SCUBA-dived, and I like both. But what I like best is going down, just me, and exhaling to make myself less buoyant, and just exist down there, wholly of the water, not breathing. I like to get away from air, when I can."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mastery Year 1: Part 5: Lammas

Happy (belated) Lammas. Or Lughnasadh. "Lammas" is short for loaf-mas, suggesting a Christian version of the holiday that I've never otherwise heard of, and "Lughnasadh" means "mourning for Lugh," Lugh being a Celtic deity associated with agriculture. There is a story in which he and another figure compete for the same woman, killing each other and then reviving in turn. The story is an allegory for the alternation of summer and winter, or something like that. I forget if I've ever explained that before.

It's curious that we have a holiday called "Mourning for Lugh," even though nobody on campus mentioned Lugh at any other time, except occasionally at storytelling events, and nobody mentions him much even on Lughnasadh. I mean, it's not like anybody on campus that I know of is actually a devotee of that particular god, so why do we have a holiday mourning him? And why don't we spend it in mourning?

There was one year when all the songs they played were about loss, and I've heard last year, when I wasn't here, also had loss as a major theme. I think loss gets into it both because we can start to see the end of summer approaching, which is kind of sad, especially if you really like summer, and out of the recognition that it's a harvest festival, and in order to harvest something, even a plant, you need to kill it (or, in some cases, wait for it to die). But it's not, overall, a day of mourning for us, no.

And this year the weather was horribly, almost frighteningly hot, and has been for a week, so nobody in their right mind would feel sad at all about the prospect of summer ending.

I have heard that one of Lugh's names is Lugh of the Skillful Hand, and that he won acceptance from the other gods and goddesses because while each of his skills was something one or another of the other deities could already do, he didn't offer anything wholly new, none of them could do everything that he could. So that may explain the theme for the day--people showing off what they do well.

The feast, of course, shows off Sarah's skill as a farmer and Sadie's skill as a chef and baker. That happens every year, and it's fantastic. Some years there are tasting contests for various fruits and vegetables, usually so we can have a voice in what will be planted next year. This year instead there was a tasting for varieties of honey, all bought from different regional farmers, plus honeys from our own hives gathered at different times of the year. Wholly impractical--we would stick with our honey even if some farmer in the next county had something we all liked better--but delicious. There were also tastings for different zucchini breast recipes and different kinds of jelly, and those will have an impact on what we get in the dining hall over the nest year.

And there were not one but two performances. The first, in the big tent on the Central Field as we ate, was a combination magic and juggling show. Ten different acts, mostly students, each had five or ten minutes to wow and entertain the crowd. One of the acts, a pair of talented yearlings, enlisted Greg, apparently as a volunteer, but he ended up quite clearly being involved in a planned slight-of-hand sequence that none of us had known he could do. That was awesome. June is a magic student as well, but she didn't perform. Ebony did. I had seen Ebony do magic before, of course, but this was the first time I saw her do a full performance. She had one of the longest acts, full of professional prattle and schtick, based largely on a series of "mistakes," by which she set up the audience (those few who didn't know any better) to feel bad for the poor little blind girl, before objects reappeared in improbable places, apparently out-of-control accidents resulted in the impossible occurring, and people who appeared eager to help her in a condescending way suddenly found trained ferrets or homing pigeons inside their clothing or under their hats.

"One of these days," I whispered to June, "she'll run out of people who underestimate her and she'll need a new shtick."

"What makes you think you're not still underestimating her?" June whispered back. And interesting comment, as I don't think they know each other well, but they do magic together in class, so I suppose knows Ebony has something else up her sleeve.

Anyway, the final magician on stage was Allen, blooming out of another act's magic to thunderous applause.

Specifically, six students had taken turns pulling progressively more improbable things out of a black top hat resting on a wooden stool in the middle of the stage. Then the seventh reached in and could not find anything. The group acted as though the magic hat were "broken," clustering around it and trying various things to "fix" it and eliciting weird noises, bad odors, or unpleasant objects (a realistic-looking plastic scorpion, an apparently literal hot potato) instead, until one of them pulled out what appeared to be a lit cherry bomb!

All of them ran around the stage with this thing for a few seconds, before they dropped it in the middle of the stage near the stool and cowered. The thing burst, producing a large billow of smoke instead of the dangerous explosion of a real cherry bomb, and when the smoke cleared, there was Allen, sitting on the stool and wearing the top-hat.

I've thought about how he could have done that--there was no tap door, no possibility of a wire to be lowered on, nothing nearby to hide behind...I think he simply walked on stage while we were all distracted by watching the cherry bomb. It's like the gorilla experiment, in which you don't even see someone in a gorilla suit because you're busy counting the number of times people throw a ball.

Anyway, the others left the stage to him, and he performed for about ten minutes and he was wonderful. Of course.

Then, because it was so hot, we all left the tent and had a water-gun fight until we were all soaked. Then we went back into the tent, where the buffet had been re-set with a feast of dessert, and for once, Charlie performed. He read a series of poems, mostly his and all excellent, before yielding the stage to a poetry slam, where several students performed spoken word pieces and we indicated by the loudness of our clapping which we thought best.

But by the time the slam was over, the masters were all gone, as were Chuck and Joe and Malachi, all of whom were visiting for the day. All vanished just like every year. As usual, nobody seemed to notice. The rest of us milled around and ate desert and chatted, and after a while a few people went to the Mansion and brought back their instruments and we danced until we drifted off to bed (the dining hall staff did put away the food, and the janitor team put away the tent and everything else the next day).

I almost asked one of the musicians if he'd seen the masters, but of course they would be upstairs on the fourth floor where we can't go, with their unannounced guests, doing whatever it is we can't know about.

I'm getting really tired of designed ignorance. I don't find it fun anymore.