Jan. 5th, 2017

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1. They let the teachers retain their own classrooms there, rather than offices, which are considered common property, more or less two-person versions of the meeting room. Retain and furnish, even remodel them as they choose, taking seriously the role a shaped environment might play in the learning experience. Hers was quite something.

2. Can you call to mind how, looking out between some triangle of branches or pair of columnar trunks, a sort of window is formed? The house that a grove or meadow might constitute, and what more of the outdoors the next field or tree stand over might somehow retain by being peered out into from in, were the matters she was most interested in, to judge by her setup. Legendarily, she had refused to teach a single class until everything had been planted, painted and arranged just so, and had changed nothing since, except by treading about inside it, climbing around and through and up into its contents, gathering fallen sticks, blown leaves, strayed stones. The walls were stone, made to look like the intact outer walls of some otherwise wrecked country courtyard. Since everything else was plants, earth, insects there we'd long surmised the walls were only present because some sort would have to be to preserve full verisimilitude. The ceiling was painted not as leaves or clouds or starscape or pure blue, but left white as could be on a surface betraying as little reflected light or inflicted shadow as could be made possible. One of those white skies that can happen when a mist or a fog is withdrawing or dipping its toe, was I think the idea. Or perhaps it was just assumed that we were readier to find the sky suddenly white, got used to this faster, questioned it less, than with any other artifice. Maybe something in us assumed the sky should have been white. It did feel oddly comfortable, or soon began to. The air was kept at room temperature but just noticeably circulating at all times: another unreal effect that felt like how reality deserved to have been, as though something important was expected to arrive or change or be noticed at any time. Without our feeling precisely underwater, it was subtly like swimming just standing in there.

3. You never got to sit. This was either a rule or a collective hesitancy about that shaped space so thoroughly contagious that no one could now tell it apart from one. You stood and, room being scarce, mostly turned - sometimes took just over a step, like in basketball. No more than this and everything would change.

4. Getting you to identify with a particular tree, say, was a large part of it. You could just be passing through with the afternoon otherwise, since all the rooms were strange, since a class was a class. Stakes and roots - there, all puns were intended - made it more. Glue your foot to the floor and you'll see what I mean. Your room will at once become a matter of distances and relations, not uses and objects. You feel this at second hand once you've chosen a tree. And it really was a choice: in the pitch darkness in which every class by custom starts you'd hear her voice, or likelier her assistant's (they sounded the same), ask you to think of a tree, then ask further questions about the specific tree thought of - was it dusted by moss, and if so did it prick from the bark or withdraw to the seams, was it green as a green sun might be, or more like a green seen when falling asleep? Did the shine of it seem like a swirl? Like an arm reaching down from somewhere behind? Or similar questions on its bark, the sound it made when struck, what style of letters its twig might best make in wet sand. Similar, never the same, ensuring your tree would not be either. Which you'd approach and touch just once then stand nearby when the lights came on, because whatever you'd imagined would somehow be there. Nothing silly - no orange trunks or silver berries - but you'd hardly have been able to picture that. Your mind would take its task seriously. I think the air, so slightly moving, never not, on its schedule of unguessable but constant small disturbances, was part of that too. Leave a church in a storm and you'll see how far from joking we were then.

(...)

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