by R. Menard, AP'18

The questions that have knotted us up over the summer (“burnt out” “exhausted” “I have reached my limit” “can we cap this meeting?”) are present, but bittersweet, carrying into the next weeks via committee work, but too soon closed, the summer, an end. Open end. Some sort of hazy film, a pride and proximity and tenderness coupled with the need to move, do something different, the mountains dramatic and dark, a thick patch of sun on the garden. It feels important to gesture at how difficult certain conversations have been, or the kinds of extra work that we took on — centrally around course curriculum — as these are things that have not yet been communicated as part of the fabric of this summer except through a small word of mouth.

Around week 4, amidst frustration and lethargy (a word that’s stuck with me from a Glacier Bay blog post, which in its way is very disconcerting) there was a strong push to overhaul our curriculum and co-create the classroom space. Consistent-persistent efforts to deconstruct the Western canonical texts presented to us—deciding to scrap the syllabus, not exactly a ‘coup’ because relatively encouraged— there was an emptying out, and rushing in, of what some and not all thought worthwhile and urgent to study. The negotiation of power within our social dynamic — a slow-building, now-pressing conversation about the various factors that make that dynamic so — pretty much stitched itself into all discussions of how the course should move forward.

Weekend meetings, in which texts and pieces were arranged and re-arranged on a white board, things gaining momentum and then falling through or apart, in-class discussion and a divvying up of lesson-plan responsibility, only so many un-scheduled hours in the day “are you on dinner prep” “I’m milking” “I’ll meet with both of you separately and do the synthetic work after” — class conversations that stall or lose thread, long bathroom breaks, endless cups of tea, “so-and-so isn’t coming” — a mediated discussion (conflict resolution) and big sheets of questions taped onto the walls. Sensing that the change in the content of the syllabus has not necessarily changed the role that academics plays, but the process has generated a lot of questions and problems and theoretical discussions and pain that we have had to work through.

The difference internal to our cohort — and the difference that drew lines around who was or wasn’t present, the socio-historical relationship between these two — has been critical in and to the thought generated by class, and many tried (bravely and with a lot of stumbling, excavation, and sometimes, low violence and apology) to have discussions/study what that meant to or for us. Arete tends towards a whiter, wealthier, east-coast educated and able-bodied cohort; wondering what about the recruitment and acceptance process might make it so, but attending closely and carefully to the ways that the very tenants of the program are not accessible or sustainable for people who can’t afford to spend a summer not getting paid, are not able to afford tickets to this part of the country, don’t find a homogenous intentional community within rural North Carolina appealing or safe, have physical capacities that are not usually valued (wouldn’t find participation in the ‘labor’ program as it exists now challenging in a way that would create (feel like) growth), or don’t find the premise of a non-male space leaning heavily on the word ‘woman’ one in which they could receive support.

Thinking about some idea of ‘elite service’ — a possible facet of Nunnian education, taking the cream of the crop and giving them an experiential opportunity to explore the idea of service in the abstract — as opposed to something grounded in an existing community, that one is perhaps in, or that has tangible and necessary contribution feeding backwards to participants. We’ve had confused conversations about the role of labor, and whether-how it is linked to service, what ‘service’. The (negotiated) cost and benefit of this.

Wondering, too, whether or not Arete can achieve its goals given its circumstances — what a ‘guest’ status at the Arthur Morgan School might do to the cohort’s ability to successfully and with maturity/responsibility navigate when-where it is and isn’t appropriate to take authority/ownership, or defer to staff; whether 8 weeks is enough time to work out a dynamic, learn from past mistakes, streamline processes, have hard conversations and emotional intimacy; whether the intensity of certain structures/schedules makes academics-personal-wellbeing-cohesion very difficult. Feeling the strong effect of having no personal space, living on top of each other, in a beautiful and lush area, where many rules are just parameters tacked onto permission, but one is social for all but maybe an hour a day, and that wears.

Compressed time, no time, squeezed out and wrung dry, reaching rock bottom and still somehow drawing reserves and doing things that need to get done, not everything ever getting done, “things fall through the crack” “how can we make sure that each thing is attended to” “who is going to tell so-and-so?” “I need this far in advance”. Some combined conundrum: whether aligning the ‘circumstance’ of Arete with its ideals is important at all, or if the disjuncture is an opportunity to re-imagine or more accurately describe the kind of work that is happening here. Not tying up loose ends — or doing so partially, incomplete. A full, frayed circle, one that has been pretty tough, and cherished.


R. Menard is a member of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. They attend the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Studies with a concentration in "Political Bodies."