Monday, June 24, 2019

On Lemons

On Lemons

At the recent Trimaris Royal University, I presented a class entitled "On Lemons: Origins, hybridization, species, uses, records and dispersion throughout the ancient world."

The entire presentation can be accessed the title above or the image in this post.

This is the first in the series of medieval horticulture "whole history" presentations where I plan to present not just a fruit, plant, herb, etc- but how it was used and effected the ancient world.

Some plants, cultivated and wild, played large parts in mythology, literature, cuisine, trade and art with a wide area of influence, while others were geographically limited in scope or were only utilized for a brief period of time. It's kind of a weird niche, but it's a topic that has long fascinated me. So, I'll be down a rabbit hole of fruits, vegetables, flowers and how they changed in use and flavor and how they changed the places and people where they were introduced.

This appeals to my storyteller approach of history and science and art and culture and belief and cuisine and how those elements were interwoven and tethered to one another as time unfurled. I've always preferred this method of research and teaching, and it seems that I finally have some time for it. teaching, and it seems that I finally have some time for it.

Next on deck will be the apple.

Friday, May 17, 2019

My loves converge: Pangur Bán. Cat, poetry, history and medieval scribal arts

Many know that I study the medieval period, especially the art form known as illumination. This art was used to decorate the books of the middle ages and comes in all sorts of forms from glorious to silly, breathtaking to irreverent.

I also foster cats and kittens and work with a non-profit in Tampa, FL named St Francis Society. This group has been doing great work helping the cats of the Tampa metro area have better lives.

I also have an appreciation for poetry both modern and medieval.

If you combine all of these things that I love into one place, you get Pangur Bán.

The poem Pangur Bán comes to us from the 9th century and was written by an Irish monk in a book known as the Reichenau Primer. The Primer itself is a collection of hymns and grammatical texts that was likely pen practice for a scribe. Preserved in the book is also the poem in which the author compares his work of study to the work of his cat hunting mice.

The cat's name in the poem is Pangur Bán, which is not so much a name as it is a description of the cat. In Irish, the word Bán means fair or white. Pangur, however is not an Irish word. The Welsh word pannwr means fuller, which was a job in the middle ages. A fuller used a combination of washes, scouring and felting to remove oils, dirt and impurities from wool cloth. At the end of the process, the wool would be a bright clean white, as well as soft and strong. In short, Pangur Bán was likely an all white, stunning cat. Today, we'd probably say the cat was dazzling white or sparkling white in color. He also seemed to be especially good at mouse murder, enough that he inspired a monk at study to write a poem about the similarities of their dedication to their respective work.
So, here is the poem, translated from the Irish by Robin Flower.

Pangur Bán

Cat and mouse, Hours of Charlotte of Savoy, 
Paris, France, ca. 1420-1425, f° 165r (detail)

I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.

'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!

So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

Created by @LauraEAydelotte with images of materials from Ms. Codex 724 
at the Kislak Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Should you wish to make a donation to St Francis Society Animal Rescue, you can donate at our website. We are a 100% volunteer organization and every dollar raised goes back into food, litter, medicine, medical expenses. All of our adoptable felines can be found showcased on the website as well. If you donate, let them know that Pangur Ban sent you.

My Facebook page hosts a lot of cat videos, memes and pictures. If that's your gig, you are welcome to follow me there as cat posts are all public. Some people like to send cat items directly to my house as I don't usually take from the St. Francis food pantry, leaving it for others who need more help to afford supporting our cats, but it does get expensive and the boxes for the cats are always appreciated. You can find my Amazon wish list here and those boxes are often opened during live unboxing videos where the cats come and go during the live shot. It can get pretty funny.

Monday, February 25, 2019

An apology: Comment Moderation

Apparently comment moderation has been on for this blog and comments were going into some sort of oubliette. I have turned off comment moderation and will leave it that way unless a problem arises and I need to change the settings.

In apology, I offer this tranquil beach photo as you may be reading this from somewhere cold.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Story time with Auntie Maol

Once upon a time... that is how these things start, yes?

1997, a few months before
jumping ship from PA to FL
Once upon a time there was a gothy girl with long hair and some bad ideas. She liked to make people laugh, help make stuff happen, liked to clean, dance, organize, make art, do theater and meet new people. She made good decisions and she also made bad decisions because she was just a young woman from a pretty un-supportive background who was trying to figure things out.

  1. What the hell is this new life in another city, another state going to be like?
  2. Who could she be, now un-tethered and a far postmark from home?
  3. What exemplars did she have in her life that let her know who she wanted or did not want to be.
  4. What is life in a new place with absolutely no circle of friends?
Things didn't turn out as she thought they would, but really, isn't that how these stories go? The route you plan is rarely the route you take. She worked random jobs, tried to wedge in to some groups of friends, gamed, larped and tried every opportunity to meet new people. She tried on some lives, but found that they fit poorly, so she left them for someone who would love them better.

Then a couple friends took her to an SCA event. She had been to a few a long time before and very far away, but didn't have the resources to get as deep into the group as she wished and she hung out on the fringe when she could get there.

Such grace. Such poise. So leg falling asleep.
But now, she met people who made her laugh too. They were talented, serious, brilliant, joyous, proud, silly, fiercely loving, quite odd and more diverse a group of people she could never have imagined. She tried on this life and found that it fitted quite well, so she laced up her boots, prepped her weirdo flag and strode out of the house with no jacket to cover up her strangeness. With so much variety, she was just one more star in the sky. She didn't stick out anymore, no matter her color or shape or height or age, she was part of a melange that was strange and beautiful. She found that she liked this constellation very much, so she decided to stay and shined when she could.

Over the years she fell in like and in love with so many people, and much like the lives she had tried on, some of these friends fit and others, not so much. With years, and choices and refining she thought she had landed quite squarely in a star incubator, a place where people were supported and loved and found help and commonality. A community. A family. For many years, things seemed quite good, and she learned and she grew and she reached out farther than her cluster of stars and met neighboring galaxies.
No lick brush. Hold in teeth, fine- until someone calls you on it.

They were wonderful, nothing like she was told they would be. She discovered that many of the ideas she held may have been influenced by the people around her, so she decided, quite on purpose, to try to have no expectation of a person when she met them and find out, in time, who they really were. It was hard to swallow preconceived notions, but she did her best and it turned out to be one of her better decisions ever. As her original constellation of friends cracked, blinked out, went nova or fell into black holes, she noticed that she was not so lonely without them. She had found so many other stars. Her galaxy had expanded and her tiny window into the great expanse of the possible because a wide open door.

Once she learned that you could do crazy things, like meet a person for the first time (again) there was no stopping the possibilities. Sometimes, those people that you never talked to and never spoke to can have some rather bad opinions of each other without ever having truly met. Sometimes, it behooves us to walk up, put out a hand to shake, introduce yourself and start again. She did that.

I did that.

That was about the point where I felt that I had stepped entirely out of the story that was written for me, chucked the script, fired the writers and started fresh. It was ouchy to admit that I had been so negative, let others influence me, and I'd allowed myself to become a tool for others. And then I began a resolution to become the best version of myself I could manage, knowing it would take time and effort and it would never be a finished project and would be a constantly evolving process.

What are we if we do not learn to listen, see from new perspectives, make up our own minds and then figure out that our opinions can change with new information. Without that self examination and learning how to really listen to people and admit that everyone changes with time- we become statues: still plaster, dull and pale, made for a plinth and an unchanging existence. Only anger and bitterness and rage lie that way.

So, there I was: a fairly recent peer with a few associates and students and we were suddenly this tiny mote as we drifted away from the previous household. We grew closer. I think we grew better. We figured things out together. We made mistakes, but then we didn't make them so often. It was only new mistakes, not the same old standards so at least we were moving forward.

It started slowly, but our friends became our Peers. Associates graduated. But I know how hard it is to be just a tiny group feeling like you are not enough to get anything done. So, my little household became a place where our friends could land and start their own households. Every peer setting their own tone and contracts with their own associates.
Itty bitty butterfly garden, probably about 14 years ago?

So little Feileacan Ghairdin became "the butterflies"- a loose association of peers, associates, friends, small households, significant others, kids and besties. We like to camp, and eat, and picnic, and drink and just hang out together and we discovered that with a bunch of us, there were always some people interested in helping with a project. It was like watching a little campfire kindle, and then other campfires spark to life all around until we had all this light if we put ourselves together.

There's nothing traditional SCA household about "the butterflies" except that all of us are friends with someone else in one of the series of associated households? It's not a giant household- just a bunch of small households that get stuff done together. We make events, and arts, and stabbings (mostly rapier) and offices and we try to leave everything a little better than we found it.

But here's a terribly kept secret: I'm not in charge. I'm only in charge of me and getting out of bed and putting on my clothes and the things I have personally committed to.

I have several associates and students (none of whom are in fealty to me except one that requested it personally) but they all have their own minds, and ideas and they are all grown ass adults (including the 18 year old who's possibly going on 42) who make their own decisions.

It's like a girl gang, but with way less bruises
and criminal activities
They all also scare me at least a little, because they are tough and resourceful and brilliant and funny and driven and beautiful and if I tried to tell them what to do: I know that I would never be heard from again.

The same goes for all of these butterflies. We just hang out in the same garden and like the same flowers and air and sunshine (and anything Todd bakes, seriously). This is apparently a completely foreign concept to a lot of knights, who run their households in a medieval knightly fashion where they are "The Knight" and they have their vassals.

Me? I just have this big yard and a bunch of crazy winged things flying around and doing their own
thing entirely. If any of us need help or have a project, we throw it out to the great big garden and anyone interested comes to play. Some of these winged friends are more dragonfly, or snail, or bee, or wasp, or bird shaped but we all seem to get along in this big garden where we all have out own little plots of land and favorite spots.

I am absolutely eating a dessert, sans plate, at the end of serving this
feast and unabashedly licking raspberry sauce off my hand. 
Even my best friend, a peer in her own right (who sometimes people think we are each the other, but we don't understand how) gets open mouthed stares if she voices an opinion different then mine or even votes differently (gasp!). Neither she nor any of the other butterflies are beholden to me in any way and they all have their own mind and I would not dare to step in their way.

I found out recently that a misconception exists: some people seem to think some VERY different things about this gaggle of humans and me. I'm pretty sad to learn that some view me as an evil spider, plotting in my web to get more power, or something. (Especially because my bestie hates spiders) It's funny, because I don't see SCA titles and peerages and offices as 'power' but as job descriptions. I just like seeing jobs well done when I commit to them and I will try my hardest to meet my own goals. Maybe that looks different from the outside. I so very much wish I could show those who are concerned photos of our 'household retreat' where we rented a giant party house and ate, swam, drank, watch YouTube videos, laughed and did art. I also played more billiards in one weekend than I have in years before and after. (Watch it, Brenna is a bit of a shark). It was a grand time.

I like being granny in the corner that says some kooky, funny stuff, makes art, and is surrounded by great people. I like not being in charge of any of it. I like this spot where I can sit back and watch it all happening, knowing I could jump in to play at any time and feel welcome, but I don't have to and no one is counting on me to make some unilateral decision. Again, if I tried- I would probably never be found and no one would ever be convicted in my eternal absence. My friends check me, they keep me humble and if I try to climb up on some pedestal, they will laugh me down every time.

I don't want to be in charge of much of anything, except the occasional art project or hall decoration scheme.

But we can rock a picnic.

So in the end- I'm just one woman. I like cats, horror novels and films, some gin, art, learning new stuff, laughing, science fiction, bugs, travelling, plants, books, seeing new places and hearing the chatting voices and laughter of my friends as my eyes drift shut in the cabin and I sink into sleep.

If you'd like to meet me for the first time (again), I'll be waiting and ready to stretch out my hand to you and introduce myself and then discover who you are too. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Effort Card

In the world of academia and grant funding we are tracked very carefully. You have 100% effort to give, no matter what some boss or coach told you in the past.

The minimum effort on any grant project of which you are an instrumental part is 1%. Depending upon your role in a project and your responsibilities, your "effort card" will show what percentage of your work time is allocated to each grant. In theory those grants are paying for that portion of your time or your time is being leveraged as paid by your institution as matching funds. This is over simplified, but if covers some basics. Your amount of effort in to a funded project should equate to a dollar figure that pays your wage, per hour for the hours worked on a project.

For each program, we verify the hours of work which were promised for the percentage of effort that was claimed in the name of all persons on the proposal. Over time, you end up in a lot of projects, to some greater or lesser extent and you have to start tracking your effort on various endeavors so that you can be certain you are meeting your stated goals and requirements, covering whatever part of your salary that grants are supposed to cover and that you are not over committed.

This is tracked in a report sometimes called an "effort card" which is a rundown of all projects where your time is promised and what percentage of your possible 100% of effort is consumed by each project. So, maybe 25% on this big project where you are a manager, director or lead. 5% effort allocated to a project where you are a mentor or specialist here and there or helping in some nominal way. Down to 1% for a project where you are named, but are likely to just be occasionally consulted or needed.

When this all shakes out:
1% = 1% or your annual time / salary
Each project is added up and your card can show no more than 100% effort.
In effect, effort % = $$. You get paid for the effort in each project so that your time is covered to commit to the work in that project. Effort eventually equates to currency.

Why are we talking about effort on this usually SCA/arty blog?

The SCA runs on the effort of its members. Those members are volunteers. Their effort percentage does not equal a wage, but it does consume a portion of their free / hobby allocated time. In the SCA we do not have a currency for physical payment in response to effort on any given project, office, event role, etc. Our social currency is limited to thanks, small gifts, awards and renown as your good work is made public and lauded by those to whom you report. All of those forms of currency are applicable in the SCA.

Some commitments are long term- like 2-3 year office terms or landed nobility. Some are short term and not very time consuming- like serving a few hours working at registration at an event.

Now, have a think about the people you know in the SCA. What is their effort percent among all of their various roles. Do they work outside of events on their office? When it comes to total time available for SCA play, what percentage of that whole is being consumed by volunteer time, or, their effort?

For newer members, their interaction with the SCA is likely filled with more relaxing pursuits as they
discover the SCA. With each year, they find new friends, arts, combat and projects that will bring them to a higher level of involvement within the organization. There is nothing wrong with this. We need our members to fall in like, then in love with The Dream before we ask them for deeper commitments.

With more time and volunteering and responsibilities and promises, your effort card tends to skew more toward higher levels of arts, service, combat, etc. Members begin to move from total novice to interested attendee to fairly knowledgeable members who realize they now know more skills and tricks than the new folks and they can pass that knowledge on to others.

Moving on up!

Continuing on the natural path of progression, these members with knowledge continue to learn, gain skill and probably also confidence. They can now start teaching those skills to others, leading practices and classes, answering questions. This is about the point where the effort card begins to skew from interested participant / member to volunteer. The percentages of allocated times change. Some activities are put aside. There's less down time, less hang out time and roles are picked up, usually supporting roles, at first.

With experience, the roles of volunteerism increase in a need for knowledge, people skills, problem solving and thinking on a larger scale. Responsibility increases the effort percentage on the effort card as a skilled and knowledgeable volunteer is required to take on a job. The baker cooks a whole feast. The fighter becomes a baronial marshal. The dancing girl organizes the whole ball, music, teachers, etc. The archer teaches a day long workshop on building crossbows. 

Then the next step- coordinating projects. Run a whole event. Take over a guild. Accept an office at the local level. Become an associate. Dig in to the things you love and become the master of them. Volunteerism at this level is not done for the self, but for the other. This effort card has very little free time for the duration of the volunteer commitment. 

The effort card at this point changes from something done for a brief time or done for a portion of the event to becoming a higher percentage of volunteer time, starting to approach 80, 90 or even 100% of possible SCA time. These commitments may last for years. Peers explode into the kingdom like new stars and take on associates, each needs effort from their mentor. This is where the level of play becomes very tricky as the member tries to balance all commitments, but still have fun. Having your effort card at 100% for one event is rough. Having your effort card never below 80% is a true slog of a chore. Kingdom officers, roles that require planning and prep outside of events, artists who create masterworks and then prepare to teach those skills, those who sew for the crown, are baronial nobles or sitting royalty.

The View from the Top of a Tiny Hill

It gets to be a bit of a beast, but we have a way to help mitigate the stress of a full effort card- we have our own social currency and everyone in the organization has access to some level of it. The newest person can thank someone for teaching them. The officer can take on a deputy and train them in a role, creating a new confidence- telling them they can do it and cheering them on. Peers help their associates find their final steps on the path to peerage. Royals spend a whirlwind 9 months being kingdom property and a public utility (that sometimes have people still asking them questions while they are trying to scratch their way through a door to get to the bathroom) but they do get to be the font of awards and see that their populace is recognized for their own efforts.

What does this mean? At least 75% or a person's possible SCA involvement time is spent volunteering. They work at home, at events, take conference calls in the car. Sometimes, at events, the effort card nears 100% as even free time becomes consumed by people that need to talk to the dedicated officer. This is the level of play where members have often collected bunches of accolades and awards, they are probably peers, they are responsible but they are still volunteers dedicating a very full effort card to the SCA, and that's just their free time.
The last group of volunteers inhabit the roles of the organization that can be crushing. Two years as a
kingdom officer. Four years as a territorial noble. Multiple years in corporate level roles. At this level, the effort card generally tips over the 75% mark and stays there for the duration of their roll.

This last rung of the organization is where I feel that the Social currency of the SCA becomes paramount for the survival of the volunteer. Continuing a multi year slog through paperwork, becoming grist for the rumor mill, always knowing someone disagrees with you, giving it your absolute best but still being a real human.

Praise and Recognition

All along this path for each interested new person to dedicated member, we have chances to support each other and use our social currency to show people with rapidly filling effort cards. It does not have to be a royal award, but it can be. A handwritten card. A small piece of largess. A sincerely given compliment. A toast in feast. Public recognition of time hard spent.

Without that support and social currency being equal enough to the percent of effort given, you can actually watch the slow disintegration of a contributing and long time member. Feeling unappreciated when working during free time is not an incentive to work more. It's an incentive to go find some joy, even if it is in staying home or attending an event not of the SCA.

Every day, each of us has a choice. At every event any member can stop and get an idea of how much percentage of effort is being given by another. We all have the power to praise, gift, be kind, pass someone a cold drink or just tell someone they have done well. We have the power to write letters to sitting royalty to see people formally recognized. If we do not exercise that power- we become part of the effort card weight dragging someone down. When this happens too often, the effort card flips again.

Choose to volunteer your time helping to celebrate the people that make the SCA experiences possible for all of us. Praise in public and be lavish. It's in all of our hands.

Friday, November 30, 2018


“I'm breathing . . . are you breathing too? It's nice, isn't it? It isn't difficult to keep alive, friends just don't -make trouble-or if you must make trouble, make the sort of trouble that's expected. Well, I don't need to tell you that. Good night. If we should bump into one another, recognize me”

― Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons

Well, here we are. Hullabaloo seems to be over. The riot gone quiet (Yes, that is a hair band joke) and just the streets left to sweep up, the chairs to stand straight and with a little paint this will all be perfect again, no?

No. It is damned hard at the end of time of drama and controversy to look around at the mess of it all and find within yourself the will to start repairing the damage. You are just so very tired and just want to not be responsible for a little while. Shouldering the burden of public disputes, remaining civil and then trying to also man the brooms in the cleanup is a lot. We all have real lives and real problems and work and family and pets and whatnot- and then we have our weekend clubs. This is not the most important part of our lives, but it does take up a very important part of our lives: our free time.

The SCA (or insert any club, gaming group, sport, hobby, association, church) is where we devote our down time. Sandwiched between work and life, our time for play is supposed to refresh us. But what do we do when emotional fatigue and stress has made our fun hobby into that which we start to dread. Skipping that meeting sounds good. Staying home from the event because you don't feel 100%, brilliant! We can find our excuses anywhere.
Collar of estate and coronet of Master Taliesynne,
a 40 year SCA member. Photo taken at his memorial. 
The time after commotion is where clubs can experience their biggest attrition as the officers and those who fought through the controversy question the use of their free time. Those folks are also generally your influencers, prominent members who are connected with large subsets of your group. When we lose these influencers, we also tend to lose their friends. In the SCA that can be whole households, mundane family, associates, local groups, guilds and more. It turns out there is a big wide world of extra-curricular hobbies where people can spend their weekends.

It truly is not the intent of these noted and respected people to lessen the group by the lack of their presence. Indeed, they are likely trying not to bring the club down with their poor mood and lack of motivation. Yet, it does shake the group terribly. The retention of leaders and repositories of club memory is just as important as the retention of new people who keep the club fresh. We need both continuity and wonder to make The Dream come alive. We need the old stories told around the fire and the spark that lights within someone who finds their place and chosen family. We must kindle, but we must also re-kindle.

So, I went out looking for what recommendations are made for long term membership retention. I learned some things. Let me lay some new knowledge on you and as you read these: consider how they could connect to the SCA or your group- not just how they seem meant to be for business. First- most articles and resources believe that long term retention starts at the point of new membership.

Original helm of Master Taliesynne
from his memorial
When Does Retention Start?

Membership Services Inc offers an article titled: The Secret to Long-term Member Retention is in the Welcome
  • Resell them on the dream that encouraged them to buy. Repeat the transformations you promised within your sales letter and never take their excitement and motivation for granted.
  • Communicate the lingo and language they must have to become insiders. Your welcome kit’s written materials and audio should include backstories and an explanation of vocabulary your new members will need to know to feel part of the club.
  • Inspire your members to believe in your program and in their own abilities. Tell success stories of your past clients who have succeeded in your program so your new members knows it can also happen for them.
  • Establish community values. What do you stand for beyond just taking your members’ money and in exchange, giving them your stuff? Include your values to establish an emotional connection with your new members beyond the return on investment they receive from your membership.
  • Motivate to action with your biggest breakthrough. Save your advanced concepts and planning for later in your program. Start your members with what will give them the fastest-possible return on investment to inspire belief, engagement, and excitement.
ClubRunner suggests the following steps

  • Respond and receive promptly. New members need to feel included and welcomed as soon as they join the club. There’s no such thing as too much communication! New members want to know what the club is all about and quickly learn about its culture and practices before spreading the word. Make this a club effort by ensuring each member is involved with the new member's induction. 
  • Demonstrate personal interest. If club executives don't show that they care about each member and the value he/she brings, it will cause the member re-evaluate the reason for joining and second guess participation. Pay attention to member attendance records and follow up with new members with a personal phone call when they miss a meeting. Use ClubRunner's Customized Attendance report to generate a view of meeting attendance to immediately see trends and act upon them.
  • Deliver uninterrupted service. Constant and consistent meetings, communication and activities validate the club's purpose and goals. Make sure that new members are added to your ClubRunner member list to begin receiving the club eBulletin and other messages, and follow up with them to ensure that they are receiving these emails.
  • Provide up-to-date resources. If there's supplementary information that will help to educate members and assist them to be an evangelist for your club, which will ultimately increase your membership roster. Maintain a members section on your website where they can find documents like bylaws, past events, and other useful info to gain a better picture of your club. 
  • Members' needs change, so does the need for ongoing research to evaluate their response. With non-traditional communication and marketing methods on the rise, don’t be afraid to step out of the familiar routine. Try different ways to create awareness about your club and activities so members will know that the club is informed about and taking advantage of current trends.
  • Illuminated manuscript at the Cloisters. This is the stuff that
    hooked me on the SCA before I found it.
  • Membership Audit. Provide avenues where you can receive feedback about your club (i.e. Conduct surveys, firesides, and assemblies) to determine success. You should audit members (new and long term), officers and the membership committee to get a well rounded response of your club success.
Do these totally answer the question of how to deal with emotional fatigue or leadership fatigue? No. But it gives some places for us to start trying. 

Biz Locker Room says the following about leader fatigue: 
  • "Leadership is draining under the best of circumstances, but long-term tenure at any organization coupled with mounting adversity can lead directly to leadership fatigue. Quite often, the overwhelming stress created by setbacks leads rapidly to a further decline in performance."
Where to Start?

So where do we start when our officers and long term influencers are the ones who have grown tired and disillusioned? Here are my personal thoughts formed from over two decades working and volunteering with not-for-profits:
Medieval carving of St Fiacre
from The Cloisters
  • We need to treat them kindly. We need to offer them the same care, attention, compassion, kindness and welcome that we offer to our newest members. We need to put on the kid gloves for a while when we have exhausted long term members and officers. They are people too.
  • We need to assume positive intent.  After a period of turmoil, it is too easy to keep looking for more worms in the apple. Instead, we need to look at the rest of the tree. These are the same people who have dedicated years and even decades to the club. That deserves some respect and also means they should be considered the same wonderful leaders they have always been- but they might need a Snickers or someone who remembers that they are a good person who has worked hard for a long time and that means something. They are tired, grumpy, likely need a hug and probably would appreciate some coffee.
  • We need to celebrate the little wins. This is so important. It costs nothing. Telling someone that they look nice today, that their new dress is lovely, that you appreciate something they did or just appreciate them being around. 
  • Your words and deeds are important. It does not matter if you are the Crown or at your second event- your honest words are important and can make the difference to someone. This can be everything to someone who has had a crap day and is considering just staying home for the next event.
  • We need to apologize and admit we need space. Sometimes our exhausted long term members and leadership get grumpy. The say something that hurts someone else because they are in a crappy mood. It happens. We're all just people. When that happens and you realize you are upset, explain that you have had a rough day and ask for space. Apologize for your comment and admit that it was unkind and unfair. Checking yourself goes a long way toward avoiding later guilt.
  • We need to do what we love and kick it old school. What did you do before you were this
    tired? What did you plan to do before you even arrived at an event? What excited you? Go do it.Take an event and go to the kitchen as a prep cook. Just sit and sew. Cook over an open fire. Throw knives. This is ::your:: weekend or vacation time. You should get to enjoy it. 
  • Meet someone new. Seeing the wonder of the SCA through the eyes of a newcomer is a special kind of magic. Go introduce yourself to a new person. Don't use titles, just your name. Hi, I haven't seen you before. What's your name? Are you having a good time? Anything you want to try? Here, meet my friend so-and-so- they like to (insert activity here).
  • Just be kind. Take a moment before you speak or write and ask- is this kind? When you give this thought and treat people with kindness, they will often return the favor. Even if they don't- you weren't part of the problem. 
  • Share a meal. There's nothing quite like a potluck picnic or feast with friends to help us catch our breath.
  • Why so serious? Don't be afraid to be silly sometimes. Be a human. Crack a joke. Laugh. Have fun. Let yourself unwind. No matter how important you are in the SCA, it's still a Saturday and we are hanging out in the woods in funny clothes. Maintain perspective and a sense of humor.

Friday, August 10, 2018

On Public Enemies and the Wars Between Us

This picture of a kitten is just here to be soothing.

Well, it has been a couple of weeks. A lot of things have happened, words said and actions taken. As we can never go back to the time before this, this is now our reality. A big damn line was drawn in the sand (or dirt, Pennsylvania actually has that) and sides have been taken. Here we are. And yes, it sucks.

The issues of bigotry, racism, intolerance, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia (and dozens more distasteful isms and phobias) have now been addressed in public, as they relate to persons in the SCA. It's been rough, it's been ugly at times. It's been eruidite. It's been inspiring. It's been a galvanizing time. It has also sorted most of the SCA out into a few distinctly defined groups.

  • Group One: It's 2018 and this is not ok. We don't want this in our club and won't tolerate it. We will fight, and we will take a stand. Yes, we are generally quiet nerds but right now we are mongooses (mongeese?) and want to eat some cobra faces. Cobra faces are delicious.
    • My message: Go, Fight, win- but do it with honor and keep a civil tongue in your head. Stay on the high road or you become that which you protest. Go, you crazy mongeese and #IStandWithDavius beautiful people.
  • Group Two: This makes us reasonably uncomfortable but we dislike conflict and wish you
    The day Trimaris got MoDs.
    It was really nice.
    would all stop shouting. Sure, it would be nice if those things went away- but that's hard and we'd like to get back to medievaling please. Perhaps we'll write a letter later. We can deal with this quietly.
    • My message: Look around at what is happening. Do you want more people to medieval with? Then make this a better place for them to be, a place where they are comfortable and welcome. It's time to do the thing. Start writing that letter and actually finish it. Mail it. Then go paint some awesome silk or something.
  • Group Three: Oh dear, not in front of the children and new people! We don't want them to see all this strife. This should happen quietly and behind closed doors. Just take this back behind the tents and don't let anyone see!
    • My message:  They already see it is happening. They are very smart. How about we wrap this up and show them a resolution so they can know what kind of club we'd like them to join. Show them what you are willing to do to make this club a place they can be proud of. Sometimes airing the dirty laundry means people get to see you ditching it into the dumpster. That's not exactly a bad thing, because now your laundry is clean or it is gone. 
  • Group Four: This does not effect us and we don't care. Shut up. We have a tourney to fight and you are in the way on our field. Scram.
    • My message:  Ah, thanks for being most of the problem and not caring about the society around you. Society. Once again, Society. If you want to come and fight and drink and feast you need to pitch in now and again and support the society that makes those events happen. Now would be a grand time.
  • Group Five: F^%$ you, snowflakes. Suck my ::content redacted::
  • My message:  Allow me to show you the door to 1938. It's right this way. I think you will be very happy there and no, of course I'll not be coming along. You don't like me, after all.
Davius receives words from
Queen Cecilia during his
elevation ceremony.

I think that covers the major reactions I have seen, and the words I have desperately wanted to say to them.

Unfortunately, these issues have blown up in the most public venue of the SCA: Pennsic War. Or, perhaps, PennsiCon because so little of it is really like an actual SCA event. Over 10,000 people are there while these events unfold. Unfortunately, this particular issue that surrounds a King and his adherents, a reportedly racist Candidate being elevated to a peerage, and a Dissident: a guy who thinks he's a normal fellow, but is actually a cult of personality.

So here we are, the SCA is buzzing with actual discussion that was sparked by these events. Everyone in a single place. Events unfolding and then passing by word of mouth and by social media. People reacting, sometimes very far away and those reactions being heard back at the point of origin of this particular ground zero.

We have a King, a Candidate, and Dissident and with just these three people, and those close to them, this entire issue has been encapsulated, but in an incredibly public way. Everyone has an opinion, is galvanized, and we are all waiting on the edge of a precipice as letters are penned and screen shots are taken. We are caught between increasingly public enemies at an enormous war and we are all waiting for the shoe to drop. And now they are coming home from the wars, back to the fields of their own Kingdoms and they are carrying this story with them. Then, there will be no way to rake the leaves back into a neat pile.

Can we go ahead and deal with this, now? Please? It's time, SCA. Action. Honor. Society. Let's be the things we claim we are. Be the dream, not the nightmare.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Tolerating Intolerance: The Trap of SCA Courtesy

The Tree of Virtues
Give them another chance. Let's not rock the boat. Oh, he didn't mean it that way. Well, he didn't say it at an event. But she is so helpful in the SCA.

Stop right there. Rewind and consider: did you just make an excuse for someone's bad behavior simply because they are in the SCA? Are you trying to grant them courtesy and chivalry by allowing an individual a second, third or seventeenth chance? Are you apologizing for someone just because they are a peer, an officer, a longtime SCAdian, popular or well known?

Let's throw a red flag on that.

Courtesy can not be a forever one sided effort. If it is always being granted in one direction it ceases to be courtesy and just becomes an excuse that allows bad behavior. That "courtesy" has now become "permission". When you blow off the concerns of people again and again, you are granting your permission to the behavior of the offender. You have, in effect, become their agent, protector and cheerleader. Yay?

So, at that point you should really consider if you are ok with what you are now supporting. Is it racism, sexism, drunken bad behavior? Have you allowed someone to get away with a behavior that would make you wildly angry if it had been pointed in your direction? Does it make you uncomfortable? Is it starting to feel a bit icky as we break it down? Then, just maybe, you have extended too much courtesy to someone who has abused your kindnesses.

Do people make mistakes? YES! Should we forgive them? Maybe if they actually seek forgiveness and present a sincere apology or work to change their bad behavior! If they don't? Stop making excuses for them in the name of courtesy. It's a trap! It's enabling.

Is it courtesy when we allow an SCA royal peer to be embarrassingly drunk at events and make passes at women, because he had a bad day and drank too much? No, it isn't. It is discourteous to allow that behavior to be directed at other SCAdians. Some friend or peer should take their buddy aside and redirect him to his own tent, or somewhere to sober up. If he continues to act in this manner at multiple events then your buddy has a problem, not the women that think he's a drunken lecher and warn each other about him. Without correction and with this permission you have given, there is also the chance that the behavior will get worse and that one night, no will not mean no. That the argumentative drunk will get in a physical altercation. Will they put their hands on someone without permission?

Is it courtly to allow a member of the SCA to spew hateful rhetoric online and dismiss it simply because "it was online" not "at an event"? Nah. When this happens with a known member of the SCA and they continue to get away with it, they have become a representative of our group online who is being defended by other members of our society. They now have the permission of their friends to say terrible things without consequence. Potential members of the SCA see this and choose to do something different with their weekend, because we look like the wrong sort of people. People who are on the edge of the SCA drift away because of their discomfort. This "courtesy" to one person has then lost us potential membership, sometimes current members and has ripples that will affect us long into the future.

If anyone is always on the receiving end of forgiveness: it's time for them to stop doing the thing for which they need to be forgiven. If you are always helping to prop up someone who needs that constant forgiveness because of who they are in the SCA: are you being a good friend and are you being a good SCAdian? Maybe not?

This trap of courtesy extends even down to people we allow to be routinely rude to others. We just wave off those who are offended because that is just "who they are". NOPE. No matter who that person is in the SCA, they are also a grown-ass-adult and have to take responsibility for their own behavior and face the consequences of it when it sucks. Do you get away with that at work? It that permissible in the real world? NOPE. It's even more dreadful when the person being rude or unkind is a peer, a noble or a royal. Their behavior is smeared all over every symbol that they are wearing and the memory of these incidents will stick with the people who were treated poorly or even just saw someone else being treated poorly.

Yes, we will all have bad days. We'll all be, at one time or another, the person who is "the problem" to someone else. But when your bad days and behavior turn into just "you", it's time for a reality check from your friends and hopefully from your own brain. If your behavior is permitted only by the meekness, good will, pleasant memories of yore or resistance to making a fuss of others- it is not your detractors who are the problem.

I have decided that I will not sit meekly by when I see things that disturb me. I will use my voice because it carries far. I will set a blazing neon arrow above bad behavior to make sure that everyone can see it for what it is. That is my courtesy- to make sure terrible people don't get away with terrible things. I will make sure individuals are not picked on and threatened. I will say something when I see racism or homophobia or extremism. Suggestions of violence and humor about hurting others will not be put by the side as I blithely continue on my way. I will not be that peer.

The virtues of the middle ages demand us to be champions of those less fortunate, not those who bring the sky down upon them by being cruel or drunk or using their power for their gain. It's a rough road, but when I reach the end of it, I would like to have been on the right side of history- even if it is just in our medieval make-pretend club. Even in this game, the virtues matter to me.


I think, most of all, I may need courage. 

Friday, July 06, 2018

Social Media, the SCA and You: an editorial.

Ahoy, stormy seas ahead.
Social media exists. It is pervasive and has seeped into every cranny of our society. This can be seen as both good and bad, but it does give us unprecedented new ways to connect with people and stay in touch. In the SCA, that is fantastic for letting people know about events, classes, cancellations and helping people find the other folks out there that share their geekery for "Citrus in the medieval era" and "10th century cheeses from the Anglo Saxons". Or whatever floats your coracle...

These connections allow us a deeper level of play, association and collaboration than has ever been known in the SCA. We can coordinate remarkable things because we have so many ways to stay in touch. We can find new students and teachers for any topic. We can access information for research or watch a Youtube video of someone breaking down how a particular type of sword shot is achieved. We live in remarkable times and we will only continue to find new ways to connect as technology continues to advance and enfold us.

There is a catch to this though- it becomes very difficult to just be your best self at an event, especially if your best self is very different from you in the mundane world. You may play a Knight or a Laurel on the weekend, but if you come home and spout racist garbage or hate speech on your Facebook wall, everyone is going to know that Sir X or Mistress Y might not be the type of person they actually want to hang out with, in or out of the SCA.

You can present the most chivalrous face at an event, drip with courtly love, be kind to widows and orphans and hand roses to ladies. You will likely be adored for this behavior because it is our medieval ideal. However, if you come home and post up some more-than-slightly-racist meme or make a "joke" about the Holocaust... that is the thing you will be remembered for. You will be the Racist Knight or the Nazi Laurel. Ouch.

My cat problem is well known. I share pictures all the time.
I cannot later deny that I foster cats because I am
covered in them all of the time.
We don't get to turn off our SCA personas when we leave the event and have our mundane works and words entirely discounted in our game. That wall between persona and the mundane falls the moment you post something online where anyone can see it. It is there to be seen. That's why we post things online. This sounds obvious and redundant, but it is a key point of social media that a lot of people miss.

You post things online because you want someone else to see it, read it. and connect with you on some level. This goes for anything, positive and negative. You have to make a choice after writing or copying a meme to click on 'send' or 'post'. You have to take responsibility for that choice too.

In the wanderings through social media, the Law of Unintended consequences should be considered. Will your post make someone angry? Will your post hurt someone? Will someone share your post beyond the audience you intended? Will your words go farther than you meant them to? The answer to all of these questions, quite simply, is: YES.

A wise friend once told me to dance like no one is watching but write every email as if it will be later read in a deposition in court.

That seems extreme, but it is also entirely sensible. If you mix your real life, work life, political leanings, religious beliefs and SCA life online: People will get to know all of who you are in those arenas. They will see a bigger picture than what you generally present at an SCA event. Once that happens, there is no returning to your two-dimensional SCA persona that only exists one weekend a month and two weeks a year (much like the Reserves, in a way).

You are now a whole person to everyone who can potentially see your online postings. You are, quite simply, what you post because that is the way most people will interact with you and view you. Through this lens, try to look with the eyes of someone who does not know you and review what you have put online. Look carefully at what picture it paints and how it could be taken or misconstrued.

I'm not suggesting that anyone be politically correct; heaven forfend. Rock on with your bad self and post whatever your wee heart desires. If you want to push buttons and poke bears: go for it. It's your world, your oyster. However, remember that what you say, do, post and re-post will be seen. It will be shared. People will know you by your words and deeds before they ever meet you.

My reality is: don't post anything online publicly or on someone else's social media unless you are cool with your dad, coworkers, fellow SCAdians, colleagues, and former parish priest seeing it. That is literally a part of my public audience. If I want to share something with a smaller group, I use filters to reduce down the number of people who will see a post- sometimes to friends, or friends without acquaintances and sometimes to only close friends. Filters are your friends. No, seriously, filter your 'friends'. It makes a world of difference because not every conversation needs to be a public affair.
Look, it's me in garb. Anyone on
Facebook can figure out I am in the SCA

Nevertheless, if you put it online- be certain that you are comfortable having others view your post and respond to it. Because they will. Don't feign surprise and claim that who you are in the 'real world' and who you are in the 'knowne world' should not be mixed- because you allowed them to mix online.

If you have a single photo of yourself in SCA clothing or regalia, a work polo shirt, a club gathering, a religious event or any other aspect of your life on your social media, understand this: You are now a representative of that group. Your words, posts, and memes will be applied to that group and to you.

Unless you keep your worlds entirely separate- you will be known as a whole person with beliefs and jokes and troubles like everyone else. But that whole person can never be ironed flat again and slid back into the small, comfortable box that is one facet of your life. You have provided access to more of yourself and it will not be forgotten.

Choose your words with care. They define you and will linger in some internet archive forever. And if you do not use care, they will haunt you and be passed ahead of you to color the outlook of those you have not even met.

Free speech has consequences. Lots of them. No one will stop you from saying anything. However, maybe there are times you should stop yourself. If not, prepare to be judged.

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

― Omar Khayyám, The Rubáiyát 

Thursday, July 05, 2018

A Shield for Sir Segdae hua Morda

I have this buddy in the SCA, Sir Segdae. We go to events together and sometimes I am his consort when he fights in tournaments so it makes me happy when he looks good on the field.

My buddy had been carrying a boring plain green shield for way too long and I threatened to make sure he would get a new moniker if he didn't fix it.

Sir Segdae, the plain green knight.

So, turns out he a.) believed I could pull that off b.) wanted a swanky shield and c.) didn't want a crappy new nickname. So, he handed his shield over for blinging.

Thanks to Countess Ennelynne von Hessen who did the rough design work and Mistress Milesenda de Bourges who did the main cartooning and helped me with the fill painting. I like group projects. I finished the painting and detailing. (Free-handing triskeles is super fun)

Now, Segdae has a boss (center boss, actually) new shield that makes people say "Woah!" and look down at his shield when they meet him on the field. Seems that works out nicely in more than one way.

Decorative and deadly. My favorite.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Here, at summer's end
I pace.
Peering out
through the crack of a door,
opening the window
a bare inch to test the air,
still searing
with a sun bright
as a flashlight in the eye
when waking from sleep.

I am waiting
for the slow browning
of the grass,
the subtle shift 
to a darker hue
of tropics
and an ache of green
without end.

The first taste
has landed on my tongue,
fragile as a snowflake.
A breath of air
cooler when inhaled
than when exhaled.

Soon, there will be blooms.
Yellow and purple flowers
that explode on roadsides
and creep into
the corners of lawns.
This is the subtle Autumn
of the deep south.
It must be searched for
to be found.

And then will come
that first morning
when, upon stepping out the door
you remember
how to breathe
as humans do
and the gills of summer
will be packed away
for another year.

Then the natives
will tumble out of houses
to live their outside lives
of patio tables
and windows yawning wide
in a flutter of curtains
while something delicious
wafts from a far grill.

This is our season

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Beautiful Today: A Chrysalis of Another Color

Queen butterfly chrysalis in pale green, purple and green variations

Purple and green, lovely together.
A group of color variations showing green, pinkish white and pink. This group was from a few years ago.