Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Year of Sweet Corn

Dedication: To Cordelia on the anniversary of her entry into this world. Thank you for being one of my dearest and most morbid friends. Because of you, I have kept writing, always hoping just one I would write any piece as good as your work. This one is just from the heart, well, my black heart. Birthdays are for personalized gothic horror, yes?

The Year of Sweet Corn

Once, there was a Seneca girl who was not much like the other girls on the reservation. She was not an Indian princess. Her tribe, like most, had no such thing and she learned as a child to roll her eyes at such tales. To most, she was not even of the tribe because her mother was a white woman whom her father adored and married.

The odd little girl learned her histories and loved to sit by her father,, an elder and listen to the language of their people pour from him like a waterfall on rough stone- jagged, powerful, and beautiful. He told stories of the tribe and in the low light of dusk, he made the tales come alive. His daughter's heart was so full on those nights were she could nearly touch their gods and goddesses, feel the sweep of twirling woven cloth as he spoke of ancient dancers. She could taste corn that had been blessed and blessed again, a sweetness like no other and she could hear a heartbeat rhythm that could have been her own and could have been the sky or the earth or the fire or all of those at once.

Although her parents loved her very much, she found that she did not easily fit into the shapes of life that most people occupied. Especially, she did not enjoy the molds into which little girls were supposed to jam themselves and emerge with long eyelashes and a coquettish grins. That, simply, was not her style. She found those girls false and empty headed. Yet, she tried and went to gatherings of 'kids'. Milling about the edges of the soda and chips, she would find the first moment when no one was watching her and she would slip away.

Instead, she would walk. She loved the night and dark things. She found beauty where others felt their hearts begin to beat faster. Where most people walked with extreme caution and the highest alert singing in their sinew, she ran heedless into the shadows and the shadows loved her for it. She could just sit in the forest and read, listen to music on her second hand disc-man or just listen to the trees and the wind and sometimes it was almost like she could hear it talk to her. She loved every piece of the land, exactly as it was.

Unfortunately, this is not a universally loved approach to life because those who cleave together against the dark abhor those who travel freely in that world. They become suspicious, then jealous, then angry and then they find a reason. It never needs to be much of a reason. Anything will do. A smirk. An eye roll. It does not matter.

On a half moon night, she walked home through the woods, having escaped another awful gossip fest. She decided to buy some time walking a rambling path home so she could plausibly tell her parents she had tried to spend some time with the other kids and that she was not completely miserable as she knew they would just feel bad.

As she was about to step into a patch of moonlight, she heard a twig break and some leaves crunch on the other side of the clearing. As she had learned, she went entirely still and her ink decorated Chuck Taylor sneaker settled back to the ground without making any sound. She silently cursed herself for wearing a black t-shirt with a massive white band logo on the front. Shit.

A clamor of girls from the party tumbled into the clearing, loudly and perhaps a little drunkenly, shushing each other.

"Shut up. I know she came this way. I SAW her!'
"Bitch. I so want to kick..."
"Holy shit. She's right there"

Like a pack of wolves, the hair-sprayed and mascaraed platoon finally noticed her and all slowly turned to face her.

The lone girl with the goth t-shirt and the punk rock style set down her purse by a tree, hoping it would still be there when she was done getting her ass kicked. This wasn't the first time she found herself outnumbered or cornered, just the first time it had happened in her woods. Wondering how they had found her, she pulled her hair back and secured it with an elastic. Her hands fell to her sides as she took one last deep breath.

Stepping out of the trees, she moved into the moonlight and paused in the clearing. This was going to suck. A one to five tramp ratio was not good odds, even if they were a bit drunk. The girls began to move forward with their sharpening grins, but behind them, in the shadows, something else was moving.

The shapes were large, too large for people. In the fitful moonlight through the leaves, it looked for all the world as if boulders had stacked themselves into cairns and were shuffling forward. she was looking at walking legends: Stonecoats.

The girl began to open her mouth to tell the awful girls to run, because she realized that she was seeing a story come to life and was pretty sure about what would come next. A hand settled onto her shoulder. A massive hand of shifting pebbles, stones, and rocks of all sizes held together in some kind of beautiful and terrifying dance set with such care upon her shoulder. A bass rumble behind her said "No. You are to watch. You are to understand and remember."

The girl swallowed hard and then tried to be as still as possible, to be a threat to no one. Still, the wolfish girls snarled their curses and staggered closer, not noticing a creature like a mountain in front of them, not hearing the nearly silent mountains closing in behind them.

The rock giants stepped up, one behind each girl. The Stonecoats of myth and legend casually thumped each girl on the head and caught their bodies as they fell. She felt the weight of the rock giant lift from her shoulder as he rumbled "Get your things and come with us." She did as she was told. Very, very precisely. She searched her brain for anything her father had told her about these beings, but decided to keep her thoughts to herself.

It seemed like they had walked a long way, but that was probably just what happened when you walked with a group of living (wait, were they living?) myths. They came out of the forest and into cleared farm land. In the distance, lights of homes could be seen here and there and the girl realized that she knew right where she was- less than a mile from her own home and in one of the largest corn fields on the reservation.

The spring and summer had been terrible for crops- too much sun and no rain and then too much rain and no sun to be had. The corn was stunted, the ears small and everything seemed to be wilted. As the Stonecoats and their prizes approached, a woman emerged from the corn. Her skin was pale, her hair paler still, and her teeth were brilliant white and straight like perfect white corn. Her dress was the green of stalks and husks and as she moved she sounded like the sigh of the wind through the cornfield. With a gesture, she pointed the Stonecoats to rows of the field where they dropped their female burdens.

The goddess of the corn sang quietly, plaiting her corn silk hair into small, neat braids and cutting one off for each girl that lay by the field. She tied their hands together with the silken braids and then made a small cut in the neck of each girl. As the corn goddess finished, a rock giant gently collected each girl by her feet and trundled away down the long rows of corn, the girls and their trails of blood glinting in the moonlit furrow behind them.

The giants were gone. The dying girls were gone. The half Seneca girl stood beside the field with Onatah, the corn goddess, and could not find a single word to say. The rustling gowned goddess noted the girl's discomfort and turned toward her, slicing one last braid from her hair and tucking it into the pair of slightly unsteady human hands. Leaning down, the cornsilk goddess kissed the forehead of the girl and whispered "You are more Seneca than all of them together and are always safe here. Take this braid to your father. Tell him the Corn Maidens have been chosen and sacrificed. It will be a sweet corn year."

With no further words, the pale goddess turned and melted away into the field and the Seneca girl ran for home. When she arrived she attempted to compose herself, but her father saw the look on her face as she tried to creep by to her bedroom. "Child, what is it?" he asked with a gentle voice. Still trembling, the Seneca girl held out the gleaming cornsilk braid to her father. He plucked it from her hand with a smile. "A sweet corn year, I see. Wonderful! Go to bed dear. We'll talk... eventually." Smiling, he walked off toward his library, muttering something in Seneca, as he navigated through some piles of books and stepped over a napping cat.

The Seneca girl went to bed and yes, the corn was especially sweet that year. The fat cobs were swathed in gowns of pale and soft green leaves, flowing long corn-silk tops and when shucked, the corn was white as pearls, straight as arrows, perfect like baby teeth.

It was a memorable harvest.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

South. East. South.

Image result for volcanic glass wikipedia
It was never a case of the mountain not being there anymore, but rather that the mountain was still a little bit there and you just needed to know how to look for it.

In memory it remained indomitable and black, only ever glimpsed with the right kind of eyes. Small eyes that saw in pixels. Unrefined animal eyes that saw in only shades of grey and motion. It was especially revealed in strange edges of visions when an eye did not look directly at the mountain, but to the side of it. In the periphery, sharp planes and time-worn but geometric shapes played in the margins between vista and simple brain.

The Monarch butterflies remembered the mountain, mostly because it was hard to forget something you could still see. In the foreign light of their insect eyes, the mountain still stood. Indomitable, and a bit blurred about the edges as if swathed in a mist. However, the sun shown upon its frozen, jagged planes and lines, and it sometimes winked a knowing brilliant gleam from an inky black and glinting jet facet.

It was not a kind place, nor had it ever been such. The butterflies that stopped there to rest were sometimes just gone the next morning. The massive clumps that hung in trees like overburdened grape vines depleted in numbers overnight. There was no sign of fallen butterflies upon the ground. They were simply vanished. The remainder of the flight would then take off as a rather truncated flock, no longer a glorious spectacle in a cloud of color with the gentle susurration of millions of wings. Instead, the sound was that of a rustle of some dozen satin ball gowns as small orange clouds curled away like smoke into the mists.

Once those survivors were gone, no eyes were left to notice the butterflies remaining behind the wine-dark glass, each flying frantically in an attempt to reach the sunlight and their fellows. Following the instinct to fly, they battered their own wings and wore down their stored nutrients. They slowed and then stopped like a child's toy as the battery runs low. Nothing outside the glass was left to witness the battered insects give in to the cold inside the mountain. Each by each, they tipped over and fell dead. The mountain fed and was sated.

With enough years and generations, the island had culled out the butterflies that would rest upon that mountain. Over the ages, the tiny minds of butterflies became hard wired against stopping on the island overnight. Their minuscule memories or, perhaps seeing the mountain in the far distance somehow dissuaded them, so they flew on. The Monarchs changed their route of travel and did not stop. The lighter than paper insects began taking their pass over the lake as one long flight. It was grueling but that was somehow better. The new route created some loss, but ameliorated the yearly decimation of their species.

The stream of southward flying amber and black wings would suddenly turn at 90 degrees east and fly for about five miles. After that, their course with abruptly correct to south and the creatures that hardly possessed a brain and had never flown this migration path somehow knew precisely where to go and where to avoid.

Between the coming of people and the departing of the butterflies, other species, mostly small mammals, birds and fish would try to make a go at a colony on this island seemingly without predators.With smaller populations, the mountain needed to wait for there to be enough living creatures, breeding creatures and extra creatures that some could just become lost as they slunk, or crawled, or fluttered, or hopped, or swam around their home island of black glass and basalt. The diet of the mountain dwindled and year by year it became a bit harder to see. Misty, sliding further into the periphery of the eye and also curling in upon itself in some atrophy of starvation.

Humans have always had a difficult time arguing with any disparity between eye and mind. The changed course of millions of butterflies was quite noticeable, but it took humans rather a long time to notice since the navigation of the Monarchs took place far out in a deep lake. Humans had few vantage points from which one might glimpse this spectacle and most of those were boats.

And thus, via boats, early people came to this strange island. The first people were of the oldest tribes who searched for good hunting, fishing or resources. None of those were found save shards of black glass that could be chipped and flaked into wickedly keen edged weapons. Unlike with the small animals, the tribal people noticed when fewer people returned and boarded their boats at the end of the day than had disembarked in the morning.

They searched until the sun was setting, the light burning gold over the black planes and angles of the rock, blinding the searchers. When no trace of the missing was found, they retired to their boats and moved further out into the water. Lashing their crafts together for the night, they passed a solemn and near silent night on the water. In the morning, they searched again and saw only strange reflections of their own faces, reflected back with rippled details that sometimes did not look like their own visage, but rather that of the missing.

There is something that reads as deeply wrong to the human mind when you look into a reflecting surface and note that your reflection does not precisely mirror the actions of your own body. The head in the mirror turns slower, the smile lasts too long, the expression in the face is not your own or someone is standing behind you but that image exists only in the faces of the obsidian and there is no one behind you when you turn to check.

Thus, the first peoples left and told stories of terrible loss and a mountain of death to any who would journey to this black island of nothing but sharp edges, pain and loss. The mountain sat for many ages and again became hungry again. From Black Island, one might notice the occasional rumble like thunder from far beneath the mountain. The very earth there growled, considering releasing a bit of magma from the center volcano but usually only managed a few wispy belches of smoke. From time to time, a group of brave men in small boats would come and try to prove themselves against the island. They were not victorious in anything but feeding a nameless monster that contentedly returned to slumber when the few surviving voyagers ran screaming toward their boats in hasty departure.

Many years passed and the mountain noticed boats. Large boats. Large boats that must hold many people. As the mountain was invisible to most eyes, the larger ships just did not come its way. Somewhere in the black heart of a black volcano, amid the chorus of weeping voices in many languages, an idea emerged. The mountain consolidated to one last tall peak. Pulling back the energy of the many lives that bound the island together, the outlying volcanoes, the young ridges of obsidian began to crack and with just a single year of ice and heat, they crumbled into the water forming an inconspicuous shoal in an otherwise very deep channel of the giant lake.

The last volcano slipped almost entirely behind a veil of mist and shadow and light and illusion and discomfort to any eye that might land upon it. Black Island, above and below the water line, waited and it was quite ready. Those ships did come. Oh, yes. Full of people and treasures, they ran at speed through the deep channel night and day. Most were lucky. Others were not.

With a keel torn asunder, rudders detached and holes sliced through the hull by sharp volcanic glass, there was very little time for the people on board to make decisions. Some ships began their sinking right there where the damage occurred. Sometimes survivors of these accidents would see the Black Island and swim furiously for its shores. Washing up on the sharp, black shore, they called themselves lucky for a little while. Soon, concerned with the lack of fresh water, game, vegetation or cover they grew anxious about how they might survive until rescue. They needn't have worried. Soon they were just reflections in the midnight glass.

Others went down with their ships and were probably the lucky ones, unless that ship sank at the roots of the black shoal. In that case, they just became rippling faces in the midnight glass facets that were underwater.

Wrecks small and large would be shifted away to deeper places in the lake. The shoal would sometimes rearrange itself to be much lower like a channel but in an entirely new spot. The peaks of the shoal would then be found closer to the formerly safe passages, sometimes just 20 feet beneath the waterline. The perfect depth for snagging a moderately drafting boat that had considered itself safe to run at speed. Oh, how the wood would cracks and shatters, and upon hearing those sounds, the hungry black glass would let itself be glimpsed by the ship wrecked humans.

The island did not know how much or what it had eaten. It was just a monster of rock and intent. A darkling maw waiting for the next bit of prey to arrive. The prey always came. It still does sometimes. The mountain remains hidden and sated. The ships remain sunken and full of fish and death. The black windows of obsidian below and above the water line can still be viewed with so many pairs of eyes of so many species trying to look out.

But, the butterflies can see the mountain. They have not forgotten to cross the immense lake and make no stops. They fly south, then east, then south again and are precise in their directions.

Copy write 2019, Kristen Gilpin
All Rights Reserved

Sources and Inspiration:

NOTE: The pop articles state something very different than the scientific articles. Lincoln Brower does not ever suggest a giant mountain, rather how flyways develop around obstacles. But a mountain that could 'go away' with little trace. to me, means volcano. Sure enough, Lake Superior's Superior Shoal is a massive conglomeration of basaltic lava flows which are mostly well below the center of the lake- except that pesky part that is only 6 meters below the surface of the lake near a busy shipping channel. So here we have butterflies, a missing mountain, 20 square miles of underwater shoal and debris, a area previously volcanic active and a rift which can sweep away rather a lot of rocky mess. To me, this equals a story

1. Gizmodo Article (2013)
2. MONARCH BUTTERFLY ORIENTATION: MISSING PIECES OF A MAGNIFICENT PUZZLELINCOLN P. BROWERDepartment of Zoology, University of Florida,Gainesville, FL 32611, USAThe Journal of Experimental Biology 199, 93–103 (1996) 93Printed in Great Britain © The Company of Biologists Limited 1996JEB0122
3. Lincoln Brower (1931-2018) Memorial
4. From Wikipedia: The Superior Shoal  is a geologic shoal of approximately 20 square miles (52 km2) located 50 miles (80 km) north of Copper Harbor, Michigan in the middle of Lake Superior, the highest point of which lies only 21 feet (6.4 m) below the lake's surface.[1] The shoal is a hump of Keweenawan basaltic lava flows with ophitic interiors and amygdaloidal tops in an otherwise deep part of the lake, and though fishermen had known of its existence for generations it was only officially charted in 1929 by the United States Lake Survey.[2]:193 It has been theorized that the World War I French minesweepers Inkerman and Cerisoles, which disappeared during their maiden voyage on Lake Superior in mid-November 1918, may have run aground on this shoal[2]:192 and some have theorized that it may have been to blame for both the disappearance of the "Flying Dutchman of the Great Lakes" on November 21, 1902 and the sinking of the "Titanic of the Great Lakes" on November 10, 1975 (the SS Bannockburn and SS Edmund Fitzgerald, respectively).[3][4] It is one of the known off-shore spawning and foraging habitats for the juvenile lean lake trout.
5. Monarch Butterfly Migration: A Mystery Of The Natural World - HD Documentary

Thursday, July 25, 2019

This Olde (Cat)House current cast and alumni

I cannot save them all, but I have helped to save these:
  1. SubZero: Angel
  2. Annabel Lee: Jennifer F.
  3. Montressor: Kelli S.
  4. Edgar Allan: Kelli S.
  5. Lenore: Jennifer F.
  6. Catherine Earnshaw: Lisa S
  7. Linton: Lisa S
  8. Heathcliff: Leigh H.
  9. Dorian Grey: Angela W.
  10. Mina Harker: Angela W.
  11. Mycroft Holmes: Christopher C
  12. Sherlock Holmes: Christopher C
  13. Irene Addler: Christopher H
  14. Josiana: Leanna M
  15. Quincey Morris: Arlene L
  16. Jonah Hex: Arlene L
  17. Isolde: Cathy T.
  18. Dana Scully: Kristen G.
  19. Cheeto: Mira and Zayn
  20. Dorito: Mira and Zayn
  21. Caramel: Sue B
  22. Sable: Sue B
  23. Cordelia Naismith: Ashley A
  24. Lily Durona: Ashley A
  25. Rowan Durona: Jayne G
  26. Elli Quinn: Susan G
  27. Miles Vorkosigan: Rick F
  28. Ivan Vorpatril: Rick F
  29. Lucy Pevensie: Lisa D
  30. Edmund Pevensie: Lisa D
  31. Peter Pevensie: Jamaal T.
  32. Susan Pevensie; Kristen G
  33. Gypsy: Dawn H
  34. Silva: Dawn H
  35. Auggie Pullman: Kimberly
  36. Charles Bingley: Joyce B
  37. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Joyce B
  38. Allan Quartermain: Daryl and Lisa P
  39. Atticus Finch: Angel and Denise M
  40. Scout Finch: Angel and Denise M
  41. Emily Cratchit: TNVR
  42. Armand de Romanus: Working
  43. Augustin de Lioncourt: Working
  44. Lestat de Lioncourt: Patricia M
  45. Deirdre Mayfaire: Working
  46. Mona Mayfaire
  47. Merrick Mayfaire
  48. Emily Bronte: Working
  49. Charlotte Bronte: Working
  50. Nymphadora Tonks: Kerry G
  51. Luna Lovegood: Working
  52. Sirius Black: Bethany C.
  53. Albus Dumbledore: Ulthar
  54. Andromeda Black: Lisa B
  55. Bellatrix Lestrange: Lisa B
  56. Cuthbert Binns: Crystal G
  57. Filius Flitwick: Crystal G
  58. Helena Ravenclaw: Annarely M.
  59. Poppy Pomfrey: Nate L
  60. Minerva McGonagall: Talina D
  61. Sybill Trelawney: Victoria
  62. Wilhelmina Plank: Victoria
  63. Percy Weasley: Ulthar
  64. Fleur Delacour: Kerry G.
  65. Ginny Weasley: Ulthar
  66. Charlie: Beth C
  67. Mr. T: Ulthar
  68. Maria: Earl and Janet S
  69. Hawthorne: Bethany B
  70. Rayne: Hexy
  71. Lala: Rachel B
  72. Nigel: Susan G
  73. Salem: Laura S
  74. Lavender: Susan H
  75. Magic Mike: Shayna R
  76. Thunder: Maya H 
  77. Lightning: Maya H
  78. Idgie Threadgoode: Amanda V
  79. Ruth Jamison: Amanda V 
  80. Merry: Working 
  81. Giles Corey: Working
  82. Livvy: Working
  83. Providence: Libby and Steve
  84. J Alfred Prufrock: Kristen G, Whitney
  85. Flapjack: Melissa M
  86. Waffle: Karen O
  87. Maple: AJ L
  88. Elizabeth "Beth" March: Daryl and Lisa P.

Available for Adoption!

  1. Bright: Bright white young gentleman with tabby grey patch eyebrows. Loves head scritchings like no other.
  2. Jolly Mostly grey tabby with white feet and belly and a few random white spots on his coat. He loves to run and play.
  3. Frolic: Interesting grey tabby with cool markings on face. Also fast and likes to play. Right now, little buddy has a cold and is being treated. Poor guy.
  4. Blithe: White with harlequin grey tabby patches. He's soft like a stuffed animal.
  5. Josephine Jo March: stunning color patched tabby in grey and ginger girl with a white belly
  6. Amy Curtis March (Available): beautiful brown marbled tabby girl
  7. Margaret Meg March (Available): beautiful brown marbled tabby girl
  8. John Brooke (Available): handsome brown tiger tabby lad

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.