Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Balance of February

AFTER that first overwhelming week, I begin to settle into the schedule of the village... though that schedule continues to be eventful.

In the Media Archive, there's a long-awaited delivery of new laptops; though IT sets them up for me, I'm still left with a lot of audio-specific troubleshooting.  The old laptops, borrowed from other departments, ran Windows XP, Vista, and Ubuntu Oneiric; the new ones, a shiny row of Windows 7 drones, vary just enough in their audio settings that it's tricky to figure out how to get them to record at the proper levels. The best fix I can find is to reset each one individually for each recording. It's inconvenient, but it works.
In the Craft Cave, several looms run out of warp at about the same time, and I get to learn about the process of warping on. It begins with many, many reiterations of the weaver's knot (several hundred on the largest loom), tying the remnants of the old warp to the new warp. I recite the Craftinator's guiding phrase "Over all, under all, up and through" like a mantra. Once the knots are secure, the new warp must be wound on with tension, spiralled with sheets of kraft paper to keep it from entangling itself. This is a two-person job, but two staff members are not typically in the Craft Cave at the same time, so the process moves slowly until we enlist the help of our friendly neighborhood Mavericks.

The Mavericks also assist in my efforts to replace a broken loom brake; one of them points out that the old brake was actually a length of sturdy but ancient electrical cord, with fibers and copper wire at its core. There's no way of knowing if this was the original brake, a clever cost-saving move on the part of the manufacturer, or if this was yet another iteration of Holden's perpetual reuse of cast-off items. "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" doesn't even need to be said here; everything that can be reused or repurposed, is, and everything that is at all likely to get reused, sits around until it does.

Another example of clever repurposing from the Craft Cave: milk crate yarn storage, with color-coded boxes.

Simple, yet effective. (Also a pain to clean, but that's another story.)

The weekend after the ladies' retreat is Presidents' Day: a three-day weekend for many folks, and the beginning of a week-long school break for others.  We have over 80 guests for the weekend alone.  The Craft Cave is suddenly alive again with a steady trickle of people wandering in to weave, looking for craft supplies, or just following the signs to find out what a Craft Cave is.  One guest catches me in the midst of multitasking to brightly inquire, "So, what's on the schedule for this week?" I have to laugh.  "I have no idea," I tell her. "Just takin' it a day at a time."

Among the Presidents' Day weekend guests are a contradance band and caller, and I am ridiculously excited: they're planning, not one, but two dances. Now, there are two kinds of contradances: contras you pay for, which attract people who either know how to contradance or really want to learn, and free contras, which are mostly attended by people who aren't really invested in the whole contra experience. Free contras tend to have really simple dances, lots of children, and lots of merry confusion. Both types of contradances require a completely different mindset to enjoy, and I enjoy them both, though I lean pretty strongly toward the former. But this is very much the latter sort of contradance, the free-and-chaotic kind, and the caller seems ill-equipped for such a slipshod bunch as we are. When the dancers don't understand something she's asking them to do, she keeps repeating the same unclear word or phrase with increasing frustration. The first night, the crowd is small and iffy and disperses after just a few dances, much to the band's disappointment. But on the following night, the group is much stronger: a small but stalwart core stays through the entire set, despite a gripping ping-pong tournament taking place at the other end of the dining hall. The caller finally gets the hang of us, and we of her, and a good time is had by all.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of the band's visit, for me at least, is that I get a one-on-one session with their banjo player. He suggests we sit down and play together, which, given my limited level of ability, mostly means he makes suggestions, teaches me a few tricks, and shows me how to play a simple tune that's new to me. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to learn a little more. I'm still very much an amateur player, but I often have reason to be glad I brought my banjo to Holden.

When Hannah, my neighbor-across-the-hall, tells me she wants to practice playing her ukulele with other musicians, we agree to start a weekly Amateur Music Night together. Our enthusiasm and persistent verbal invitations typically draw 4-10 musicians of widely varying abilities to our clumsy sessions. They are mostly fun, often frustrating, but always good learning experiences for me, as I have had very little practice making non-vocal music with other people. It's so freeing to play with a group of people who don't mind sounding terrible sometimes.

The other jam sessions at Holden are called Hootenannies; they are held in one of the staff chalets, and they draw out the real musicians. Our Hootenanny host always has a new batch of homebrew to share with his guests, as well as lots of songs about dogs, which he plays on his guitar with a down-home charm. I don't bring my banjo to Hootenanny. I'm not ready for that yet. I also pass up the opportunity to play in the Lenten Eucharist ensemble -- even the thought of it stresses me out -- but I lend my banjo to another musician so he can play in it.

Lent is kind of a big deal at Holden, and many and various are the preparations for Mardi Gras. I get to teach a simple maskmaking technique to the elementary class at Holden School, and by "teach" I mean "give them the general idea and watch them take it to outlandish levels of creativity." There are about seven of them, and there are about seven radically different mask concepts that come out of that classroom.

"Outlandish levels of creativity" might well be in the mission statement for Holden School. I am so jealous of these kids' learning experience. Their environment involves very little pressure to conform to their peers, lots of individual attention, and plenty of encouragement to blossom in whatever way seems best for them individually. One kid wears a different costume to school every day; no one taunts him, scorns him, or threatens to beat him up at recess. Holden students get to invent their own independent projects, which include learning to weave, learning to drive a road grader, and designing and building a trebuchet. During Open House, I skim several essays raving about how Holden School is the Best School Ever.

The down side of Holden School, I learn, is that sometimes you just don't have any peers. One of this winter's handful of high schoolers tells me she mostly doesn't hang out with anyone, because there are no girls near her age. Sure, there are a lot of teens coming and going in summertime, but none of them stick around long. Like all Holden minors, she's welcome in most adult circles, but there's a pretty wide difference between being with people who don't mind having you around, and being with peers... especially when you're a teenager.

But, okay, back to Lent. This year, Mardi Gras takes place simultaneously with a more Holden-specific holiday: Sun Over Buckskin. This marks the first day the sun crests the peak of Buckskin mountain; it means there will be significantly more light in this dim little valley, and is thus hailed as the first sign of an end to winter's long reign. I am told that Sun Over Buckskin is traditionally unplanned, but results in parades down Main Street and much shirking of work for the day. This year, however, we are hewing to The Schedule, and The Schedule dictates that Sun Over Buckskin falls on a day that is pouring rain. The celebration is moved to the dining hall, where some inventive soul has set up a batik painting of the sun behind two sheet-draped chairs to symbolize the sun's appearing above the mountain peaks. The parade takes place down the length of the dining hall and over several tables, and is followed by an impromptu dance party to "I Gotta Feeling", which seems to be Holden's go-to celebration song this winter. It's good silly fun, but some Holden veterans are pretty disappointed with the day. When I recall how some friends back in Portland got extremely excited that I'd be at Holden for Sun Over Buckskin, I feel just a little let down myself. At least the Mardi Gras feast does not disappoint: chocolate chip pancakes with an eye-bulging array of toppings, and plenty of bacon to go around. I don't know about you, but I find it really hard to complain about anything when my mouth is full of bacon.

The pancakes are my last hurrah before I go entirely gluten-free for Lent. This is more for practical than for spiritual reasons, and indeed here at Holden, a dietary shift is not nearly the burden it would be elsewhere: the kitchen staff is used to catering to all sorts of eaters, and they take my nearly-last-minute request to join the gluten-free list in stride, adding my name to a whiteboard grid of special dietary needs. I'm impressed.

The most notable Lenten changes in Holden's culture take place in worship services. The room where we meet for worship is now decorated in purple, and the panels of the reredos, the decorative screen behind the altar, are turned backward. The word "alleluia" is retired for the season, to reflect the somber tone of Lent. But to my surprise and delight, the Eucharist music gets better, more joyful. I have been discontent with a lot of the worship music here, in numerous nitpicky ways that add up to "It's just not that much fun to sing." But the musical part of the Eucharist liturgy makes me sit up and take notice: What is this? This is exciting! There is nothing Lent-somber about these melodies; they are full of eager expectation, and lend themselves well to harmonies. Is this the feast of victory for our God, we sing, or a foretaste of the kingdom? The ensemble that plays them shifts to a slightly different group every week, but often includes a cello, violin, viola, guitars, hand drums, piano, and... hey! That's my banjo!

Long before the end of February, I know that the two months I planned to spend here are not going to be enough. I can't bear the thought of already reaching the midpoint of my stay. I'm liking the settled-in feeling that comes with knowing you don't need to pack up and go anywhere for a while. I am thoroughly enjoying the ever-shifting cast of characters around me. I want to see the Lent cycle through to its conclusion. And though I wouldn't yet say I feel at home here, this is a place I have felt very welcome from the first. These days, that's as close to home as I get.

So on February 27, I apply for an extension, pushing my departure date out into early May. And on February 28 I write in my journal about a feeling that has been growing in me all week: "I am conscious of a kind of clenching, clutching, at my life at present. I don't want anything to change. It's all so precious and wonderful...."

* * *

YEAH. It's July, and I'm still writing about February. I feel this warrants an explanation.

I've spent the last two months volunteering on an organic farm in north central Washington. I went there thinking it would be a nice transition between communities, that I could work and rest and still have ample time to write up the Holden experience to my satisfaction. Because, you see, my previous farm internship left me with a lot of free time, and the impression that most of these unpaid farm positions involve 20-30 hours of labor a week. At least, that's the standard encouraged by the US branch of the WWOOF organization.

So I made the fatal error of not asking how many hours of work would be expected of me at this new organic farm. The correct answer, it turns out, is 50+. And this isn't anomalous; I asked a lot of other interns in the region about their work week, and the lowest average I heard was 45 hours. My efforts to push back against the schedule met with mixed results, and thus I have only a handful of Holden posts, and still so much more to say.

But, yes, I stayed at the farm for two months anyway. I stayed because the people were wonderful, and because an old and dear friend showed an interest in coming out to join me there. And she did, and getting to spend time with her was definitely worth it. And I got to learn and see and participate in a lot of cool things during those two months, about which I will probably not blog much, because I'm poised on the brink of the next community adventure and agh, I have such a backlog.

I've had the above post drafted for a while now, so it seemed a waste not to use it. But I'm readjusting my plan of 3 or 4 more Holden posts down to... well, I'm going to have to figure out how to summarize it all in the next one. Because, y'know, blogs are supposed to be about what's happened recently, not about what happened five months ago.


  1. Nooooo! Don't summarize, I want to read all about it. Cut back on some of that sleep time. write, girl, write!

    BTW, I can complain with a mouthful of bacon, easily. Whining is an important part of my skillset.

  2. I love hearing about your adventures-whether present or 5 months ago! You write so well and it is all so fascinating. But I understand that it is stressful to feel such a backlog and like you can never catch up. Sometimes you just have to cut loose and jump back into the present. But as far as I am concerned that's your call as the writer for your own sanity/purposes. I love reading about whatever adventure you choose to write about and wish I could hear about all of them! Love you so much!

    1. Thank you so much for this affirmation, R! I'm so glad you're enjoying the journey with me, mulligans and all. :)

    2. Yes. Living is more important than writing about living. You have my official permission to prioritize the long as your journeys eventually bring you to Wyoming. :)

    3. Yes. Living is more important than writing about living. You have my official permission to prioritize the former. :) (as long as your journeys, eventually, drop you in Wyoming)

    4. Tom: that's the plan, though my route and schedule are still hazy at this point. You know this whole mad scheme is really just an excuse to visit far-flung friends. :)

  3. Aw, thank you! I continue to have trouble balancing on the fine line between living an interesting life and finding the time and energy to write about it. (And I need more sleep than most people.) I do need to get a move on, blogwise; too big a backlog can paralyze my ability to write, and there's more stuff happening all the time that I want to be sharing. But I also hope to someday write in more detail about my time at Holden. Enough to fill, say, a book chapter. Your encouragement reassures me that that's not an entirely self-deluded and egotistical aspiration.

    I'm normally a pretty able complainer, myself. But I have found that bacon often has magical making-things-better properties.

  4. you write
    I'll read.

    That way I'm a good listener
    and I can't interrupt.

    plus any post that contains the line:
    ... hey! That's my banjo!
    is great.
    and when surrounded by
    other words you wrote?
    that much better.

    1. There are good listeners who shut up and let you talk. And there are good listeners who make you feel like the words you have said are valuable. You are greatly gifted in the latter category, my friend. Thank you.

  5. You are a strong and compelling writer, Lindsey! I'm so glad I finally got to read your blog (well, a tiny bit of it!). The internets and I have been seeing a bit more of each other recently. I hope you are well. Big hug.

  6. Thank you, Aurora - I'm also glad you got to read a post! Check in by the end of the week for another one. More internet time is a good thing, considering your previous levels. I am well; more details to follow via e-mail (and, eventually, here too).

    1. Agh. Blogger's tiered comment system interface leaves a lot to be desired.

  7. Also, this: 'by "teach" I mean "give them the general idea and watch them take it to outlandish levels of creativity." ' Yes, yes, yes! If more teachers got this...

    Also, the bit about not being able to complain with a mouthful of bacon. Brilliant and profoundly true. :)