A long time ago, when this blog had a different name and I hadn’t even graduated high school yet, I detailed in one of my first posts the wonder I felt as I looked back to consider how my maturation online had been shaped by the numerous faceless role models with whom I had crossed paths across the eternal sea of Internet communities. It was truly a transcendence of human interaction; although I would go on to never meet them, these avatars — people — had helped shape my online presence, and by extension, my very person beyond the computer screen. To this day, if I look closely, sometimes I can yet see their curious ripples of activity across the net to remind me of their existence… though my connections with them have been lost to time. Nevertheless, one such individual commented in passing:
We all have our early masters . . . We all take different paths in life. But no matter where we go, we take a little of each other everywhere . . . I enjoy the tales you have on your site. They enabled me to reflect on my past . . . May we meet again… I can not say but can only hope for.
Over the years, I have gone on to exit my adolescence, pass through the halls of higher education, and step back upon realizing that life can be unpredictable. Online, I went on to cross paths with so many colorful presences (some of whom I met in person) and continue to fondly participate in niche online communities tucked away between domain names. The tales of these adventures — both online and offline — have lined the pages of this blog and continue to do so year after year. Yet even now, certain comments posted in the distant past manage to persist in my mind as serendipitous fragments of insight. The above excerpt features one such example, of which my thoughts still occasionally pause to fixate on its takeaway: we all have our masters.
Time has come to tell me that it is true. I have had the fortune — and I do consider it a fortune — to have been taught by both phenomenal instructors and ones who are woefully out of touch with their students. But then, I’ve also found that there exists a third category of pedagogy in which one’s teacher exudes such a presence of wisdom, and such a protected bastion of support, that their guidance is esteemed a privilege. This is a master; to see them practice their craft is such a marvel that one cannot help but feel impassioned to model themselves after the paragon before them.
This is a constant both online and offline, yet one’s relation to them is also significant. The auras surrounding masters do not merely enrapture their students — their coworkers, friends, and even their acquaintances sometimes catch themselves watching with wonder. Where apprenticeship is not considered, inspirited onlookers may instead choose to serve — to support these individuals in any way, even through the smallest of gestures. Across the Internet, I too felt this call in the presence of my old masters, but with time as I amassed more knowledge, this grew fewer and further between. Yet time has also cautioned me to never fall under the hubris of mistaking that I understand all and in recent memory, I unexpectedly found myself revisiting the familiar, humbling sensation of talking to someone far more wizened than myself in, of all places, an online video game.
Her name was Fureya, or “Fufu” to those more familiar with her, and she was the leader of the guild “Einheart” in an MMORPG called Eden Eternal. I have been a part of guilds in other games and even led one of my own once upon a time in Ragnarok Online. However, something about Fufu radiated a sort of… tranquil knowledgeability; she would stop to listen so patiently, and knew the game so well, that one could not help but believe in her words. She hardly raided with the rest of the guild, but when she did, she would almost single-handedly take on the entire dungeon. Instead, Fufu would spend most of her time sitting around our guild town, or at the capital city of Aven, simply making herself accessible and talking with people.
It is difficult to adequately describe what it is like to converse with someone like her, but it is a familiar sensation in talking to all masters. In conversation, it always felt like she was one step ahead somehow — she always knew what I was getting at, or if something wasn’t sitting well with me, and would start addressing it before I could even bring it up. Somehow, she just always quietly knew what was going on. I remember when I began talking to someone who I wanted to make a good impression on, Fufu would, of her own accord, bring me expensive presents to give to her. When a fellow guild member had been hunting for a rare drop, Fufu discreetly obtained it, traded it to me, and sent me a whisper urging me to take credit, “Give this to Wytte :)”. Fufu deeply cared for Einheart, and in turn earned my loyalty.
Online masters like Fufu are curious in the way that their presence is especially transient. Einheart has been disbanded now for some time and one day, when Aeria Games’ Eden Eternal servers shut down, all traces of the guild and its inhabitants will disappear. In a didactic setting however, masters are at an arm’s length; there is a conscious desire to learn from their example. Though I would not venture to posit that such individuals possess auras greater than their faceless online counterparts, there is a certain charm in the masters standing besides their pupils to teach their craft practically. Indeed, I have had my share of good teachers through my vast experiences with college, but one nursing school professor in particular radiated sheer dedication to her students.
Dr. Hanneman stood as part of the school faculty as a globally recognized fellow of the famously selective American Academy of Nursing and bore a resemblance to a sort of wizened bat. She didn’t ever walk — she slowly glid across the room with her long black shawl billowing out from behind her. Each movement was so unhurried, yet so deliberate, that the casual observer could just sense how much knowledge was contained in her years of experience. Yet her door was always open. When timidly approached for a question, her expression would soften and she would offer an invitation to her cozy little (albeit paper-laden) office on the fifth floor. When students would struggle and request to drop her class, she would sit down and discuss their study habits with them before approving their request. She had the reputation of teaching the hardest class in the first semester, yet no one resented her; by the time the class would graduate three semesters later, she would find herself nominated for the student-picked Outstanding Teacher Award in almost a yearly occurrence.
Even so, her teaching skills were only one side of the story. Similar to Fufu, what truly let Dr. Hanneman shine as a master was her perceptibility. She could tell at a glance which of her students were struggling, and which were stronger. When she realized I performed well in her pathophysiology course and had a reputation of leading one of the brightest, most exclusive study groups within the class, it was she who approached me to become a paid pathophysiology tutor for the sake of my classmates. Once I applied for the school’s honors program, she eventually became my formal mentor after hand-picking me to join her research laboratory. At a time when I was afraid of losing my raw science background as I matured into a nurse, Dr. Hanneman taught me how I could pull from both of my knowledge sets; under her guidance, I generated research queries that even she had not considered given her more focused knowledge exclusively towards nursing. She gave me the confidence to find a means to utilize my entire diverse skill set as a scientist.
I was extremely proud to have been her apprentice and frequently returned to visit. After I graduated and began my new career as a critical care nurse (just as she had done decades earlier), I was in her office one day reminiscing — she had welcomed me even though I had dropped in unannounced — and she spoke with me as a colleague, rather than an apprentice. “People change… things change… it’s our responsibility to keep evolving with them,” she reflected as we pondered where my career would take me. Since then, I have gone on to write letters of reference for her and to this day continue to take pride in her as my master.
As I began my career as a new nurse, I was pleased to encounter some fantastic mentors as well and, as I alternated between multiple role models during my orientation, I picked up bits and pieces of wisdom along the way. Soon after the conclusion of my training period, one of my preceptors departed from the unit to pursue higher education. However, shortly before she did so, during a chance conversation at the train station one day, she left me with words that I have found myself returning to share with others.
One day you’ll just wake up and realize that you’ve become a leader of the unit.
As time passed and I have gone on to receive my expert-level certification in critical care, I have found myself being approached for questions more frequently than others. However, the tipping point that in turn inspired me to write this post actually stems from my recent charge to orient a new hire to the unit. I was no stranger to this — although not “official,” I often played the role of a “backup” instructor when schedule conflicts would arise between teachers and their students. This time however, there had been a problem between a particular pairing — the teacher, in truth, hadn’t really wanted a student and as a result the student’s life was miserable. Since I had always received positive feedback from my students even as a backup instructor, they decided to assign this individual to me; in an experience-based profession such as nursing, the master-apprentice relationship is particularly important in transmitting skills and tricks that can only be gleaned over time.
But before I detail this experience, I would first like to discuss what has become one of my favorite stories that I have encountered in a video game.
Veteran readers of this blog would know that I enjoy the whimsical nature of the Atelier series. Though I wouldn’t term them my favorite games or anything — their gameplay is rather formulaic after all — they provide cute little diversions with equally lighthearted stories. In one of the games from the Arland trilogy however, one story in particular stands out to me for I was completely beside myself in wonder as I watched it conclude; I appreciated it in a way that I never did as it was progressing.
The story in the game details a young apprentice named Rorona working at her master Astrid’s alchemy workshop. One day however, a knight approaches the apprentice to inform her that the workshop is slated to be closed, by order of the king, unless it is able to fulfill a series of tasks to prove its benefit to the kingdom. As she frantically relays this to her master, Astrid promptly tasks Rorona with preventing the workshop’s closure and goes to nap in the next room.
Throughout the game, Astrid provides Rorona with only the most meager of guidance. Constant cryptic suggestions and vague instructions showed that Astrid hardly cared at all, instead considering Rorona’s efforts as free labor. There are numerous scenes in which Rorona is nearly in tears as she panics over her work, and she is oftentimes forced to approach others for help instead. Yet to her credit, Astrid would (sometimes harshly) step in occasionally to provide advisement when absolutely necessary, and her knowledge of alchemeic matters was difficult to dispute. She never let Rorona’s fragile demeanor deteriorate to the point of despair, but was also never shy about lazing around while her apprentice struggled.
At the end of the game, Rorona manages to save her master’s workshop through her tireless efforts and the help of the friends she made. She proudly announces this to Astrid, and in response, Astrid then announces her plan to depart the town.
As a confused Rorona begins to cry, Astrid, for the first time in the game, apologizes and asks her to listen to her as a teacher; it is at that moment that the player realizes the perspective of Rorona’s master throughout the game. Astrid tells a story about how she first came to the town as apprentice to her master — the original owner of the workshop. Her master helped the townspeople with her mastery of alchemy, but with time, people forgot her contributions and began to resent her instead. Once she passed away, and embittered Astrid became the new master of the workshop and spent her years never helping the town citizens that had shown such ingratitude to her master. In truth, when Rorona brought to her news that the workshop may close, she did not care.
However, as she watched Rorona struggle through the various tasks presented to her, Astrid very slowly remembered what she had forgotten over the years. Watching Rorona work so hard to benefit the town reminded Astrid of why she felt the calling to become an alchemist in the first place; a life of finding beauty in one’s surroundings, collaborating with friends from different trades, and pursuing new and exciting ways to help the people around her — it was a sentiment that had faded with time. As she watched Rorona grow and realize all of this to the point of saving her workshop, Astrid gracefully opted to bow out of her once-apprentice’s new life. She had earned the right to practice alchemy on her own, and Astrid had found her love for alchemy rekindled.
This story recently came to mind because I realized — unintentionally — that my “teaching” style often amounts to Astrid’s in the way that I tend to leave my students in the fray while watching how they function from afar.
My apprentice’s name was Lauren — she was a nurse with more experience than I, but was new to the world of critical care. The teacher to which she was in her care before me grew frustrated with Lauren’s lack of speed and constant questions, deeming her unteachable. In response, she was re-assigned exclusively under my guidance, and my judgment would determine her continued employment. It was not a decision to be made lightly, and all of this was handed with no extension of her training time.
An apprentice of my own… goodness, did I made her work hard. I would tell her when and how I would want her tasks carried out, and then walk away to leave her to it. Of course, I would always answer whatever questions she had before walking away, and only reappeared when it would come time for another one of my “audits”. Admittedly, especially because of the limited time I had to perfect her practice, I was hard on her at times, instilled urgency that I could tell was starting to stress her out, and rarely praised her to her face. Yet people have described me as perceptive in the past, and despite my laissez-faire manner of guidance, I would make it a personal goal to give her well-thought, insightful feedback at the end of every shift. And she regarded my feedback with respect and listened intently each time.
As mentioned, one of the primary issues her previous master had with her performance was her lack of speed. Over time, I realized why this was. As I would watch Lauren work, I noticed that she spent a lot of time talking to sedated, delirious, and sometimes fearful patients. In the ICU setting, the majority of the patient population is unable to converse meaningfully and over time, critical care nurses sort of learn to push through half-coherent utterances to focus on treating the bodily ailments warranting critical care. Lauren, on the other hand, was spending a sizable amount of time trying to listen and assuage the imagined concerns of these confused patients rather than merely placating them with minimalistic statements. She had never worked critical care before, and was instead focusing on the psychosocial interactions that are so key in treating one another as humans.
I quickly pointed this out and her performance increased dramatically, but I inwardly felt somewhat humbled. When I had first noticed this behavior, I chose not to address it immediately and instead quietly watched my apprentice from afar. Lauren was epitomizing the reason why people become nurses — to comfort and take care of others. With time, especially since the matter of maintaining vital signs is typically far more important than emotional comforts, I had begun to focus primarily on the body’s physical processes, as is in fact recommended by Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory in psychology. Lauren, on the other hand, did not yet know how unstable critically ill patients can become; she naively, yet kind-heartedly was doing her best to care for her patients as humans, just as she had done so while nursing in other disciplines. In a way, it broke my heart to tell my apprentice that she was spending too much time caring for the emotional needs of her patients — I felt as if I was telling her that she was caring too much for them. However, my experience told me that I was right in my advisement.
“It’s like night and day,” my manager told me at the conclusion of her performance evaluation. We had watched as my apprentice grew ever-confident in her own abilities with my own minimal interventions diminishing to a point of total passivity throughout the day. She had gone from someone who used to hold back tears at the end of her shift to a meticulous critical care nurse who radiated confidence when night shift approached her for report. Not only had her time-management skills improved, but she had also earned the confidence of her coworkers through her work — all by herself, since my general lack of presence (unless absolutely necessary) necessitated as much. In my final day with her, I was very gentle; I had shown her how bad it could become, but I also wanted her to derive happiness from her job and enjoy her days on the unit.
Lauren was my apprentice, but I still feel like I’ve walked away a better nurse from having trained her. I still consider the way Lauren initially cared for her patients a powerful reminder of why we chose this profession and count myself fortunate to have been so acutely reminded of such. I eventually came to teach Lauren that in the critical care setting there are alternative ways to provide care that sometimes must be utilized for the sake of urgency. In my case, I often care for my patients and families by explaining in detail everything that is happening, along with their possible outcomes — I have earned the trust of many patients and families this way. Even so, as I have once again resumed working on my own, sometimes, when I can, I find myself being a little more sensitive to my patients’ psychosocial needs. There’s always more to learn.
“It’s so weird to see you do work!” one of my short-term students named Judy laughed as she saw me take patients for the first time since her employment.
It was true — working solo again was a far cry from the days where I would walk in late, yawn in acknowledgment of Lauren’s morning greeting, and sit down at a computer to not move for hours. Admittedly, I had wondered at times if I would “remember” how to be a nurse after having not taken any patients for over a month. Yet in only my first week without an apprentice, I was taking care of a particularly unstable, medically paralyzed patient when her heart stopped beating.
Old instincts kicked in. I called out for a medical emergency to be paged overhead. I tossed my stethoscope over my shoulder — it had the tendency to get in the way during codes — and was immediately on top of my patient, administering chest compressions to manually beat her heart. The unit’s team, as ever, performed impeccably and the patient was brought back to life in 75 seconds. An immensely smooth code.
The entire floor breathed a sigh of relief and for the rest of the day, the staff of the Surgical ICU rode the triumphant, blissful exhilaration that comes with saving a life. As my body slumped in relief and I stepped back down from the bed, I looked around the floor for my stethoscope. Confused, I eventually found it sitting on a surgical table next to the bed. When I went over to the nurse practitioner who had run the code to debrief for the ensuing paperwork, she mentioned that while I was busy giving chest compressions, she had seen Lauren (who too had been working solo on the unit today) scramble amidst the chaos to pick my stethoscope off the ground, clean it off with alcohol, and gently place it on the surgical table.
It was a sign of respect for her master.
I feel grateful for having had this experience. I am not a great master, but perhaps someday I can be. Perhaps to someone online, I am their Fureya. Perhaps to someone I met in passing, I am their Dr. Hanneman. In training an apprentice of my own, I gleaned just a taste — for now, all I can do is continue to hone my craft and move ever forwards, perhaps to one day teach another.
And it is as such how Astrid’s story came to a close, only to begin anew. As the game’s final cutscene begins to play, she pauses to look back at her previous workshop, now named after her former apprentice.
She walks off into the distance, and the credits roll.
The Mysterious Recipe, the ending theme to Atelier Rorona.