Wednesday, September 11, 2013

About this Game I Play

I have made amazing friends.
I am going to take a few moments to step away from my art and talk about the club in which I participate: the Society for Creative Anachronism. On many weekends a year, I join hundreds of friends at campsites around Florida. I put on medieval clothing and step into another persona. I pick up a quill and a brush and become a respected artisan among people who do hundreds of crafts of the middle ages. I walk past Knights who smile and nod their head to me. I exchange gentle banter with bards and gorgeous royal ladies. I use my hands to help others shape a modern place and time into a shadow of the middle ages and then I step inside for a weekend at a time.

Who gets to do that? Me! Isn't that freaking cool? I think so!

The club has its ups and downs for everyone. I've been an active participant for around 15 years. I've been a Laurel for nearly 10 of those. I have had good and bad times, but I have learned some amazing things and some valuable lessons. I have met incredible people. I have loved. I have lost. I am still here. Why do I do it? Well, I believe in the life lessons this hobby can provide and feel it is a worthwhile way to spend my time. I surround myself with remarkable people and we do remarkable things. So here are a few of my ruminations about this club to which I belong.

I get to wear fun dresses.

What I love about the SCA

There are lots of reasons I love this hobby, but the foremost is the people who play along side me. Their constant and surprising passions for long dead crafts, serving others and the joy of physical combat undertaken for sport.

Some people think this club is odd or quirky. Sure, maybe. But sitting on a couch watching sports has never appealed to me. I've always prefer to participate rather than spectate. I suck at sitting by and watching others do anything while I am still. I like too many things, learning and reading too much to just pick one hobby. So I found a hobby that keeps me busy, helps me meet interesting people and where I can practice two dozen arts in a day and think of it as a normal happenstance.

Snapshots


  • The look in the eye of a fighter right after they reach a resurrection point and turn around to head back into a large battle. Determined. Gritty. Ready. Ecstatic. Giddy.
  • Artgasm: the rapturous look that comes over artists as they make a leap of understanding in their craft or while they are explaining it to someone who seems to be interested.
  • The crinkle at the corner of the eye of someone who smiles as they are being thanked for their service: the bashful grin, the slight glow, the spring in their step as they move away and continue working. 
  • The straight and upright stance of a newcomer as they don their first beautiful garment. Either made by their own hands or loaned from a friend, there is something special about that first time that you realize that you look medieval and that you look good!

What I don't love about the SCA

We put ourselves and our hobby down by belittling it. We fall into politics. We allow ourselves to speak out negatively about people rather than trying to reach out a hand and help. Every social club has this same problem that is bred by its own membership. But we can be so much more.

Snapshots:

  • Telling someone that you wear funny clothes on weekends: They aren't funny, they are awesome. Pieces of cloth that have been worked into art and that are imbued with the story of a time, a place and the people who wore them in history.
  • Talking down your skill as an archer because you do it in a medieval club. You are a goddamned archer. Do you know how cool that is? You wield a weapon that helped to decide battles and changed the face of history and you do it competently. Hell yeah, that is awesome.
  • Worked with two friends and made a runestone.
    Who gets to do that? Us!
  • Making light of the SCA as a club for drinking or free love. Sure, some people have a beer (or several). Some people at an event might be totally sauced and stupid with drink, but they are at an event that happened entirely because of volunteers. People who are not being paid anything have put together a medieval event at a church or a campsite or park. At that event there are classes, battles, courts, feasts, royalty, chivalry. That is rad. Some people drinking or hooking up does not take away from the insane amount of effort and creativity that goes into making an event go off without an obvious hitch. Be proud of what we accomplish on a regular basis. We make the middle ages come alive and breath life back into the crafts, arts and combat of the middle ages. What isn't amazing about that?

What I'd like to change about the SCA

I guess the things that I would like to change about the SCA fall into three major categories: how we treat and empower young people, recording our history and training our volunteers and, lastly, dispelling the aura of chivalry that keeps us from calling people out when they make trouble.

Youth

Young people are the future of our organization. Every time we invest in them and empower them we help them to learn a bit more about who they want to or can be. We need to show them, by example and through mentorship, how we want this club to carry forward, evolve and improve for future generations. In the middle ages, many of our teens would have been considered to have reached an age of majority yet we treat them like children and lump them in with much younger groups. I strongly feel that we work too hard to keep teens as children well beyond when we should.

Ask a teen what they want to learn in the SCA and their answers will shock you. Blacksmithing, feast preparation, medieval cooking, how to run an event, combat, arts. The same answers a college student new to the SCA would give. Let's start working to provide opportunities for our young people who are asking for more. Can a 13 year old be the head server at a feast? Yep. Can a 16 year old become a competent scribe? Oh yeah. Can an 18 year old win crown tourney? Yes, they can. They are people, just shorter (however, not shorter than me in most cases) and without as much world experience. These are the officers who will take over for us when we are exhausted. These are the people who will run events when we run out of energy or care. Treat them like people. Find out what they want to achieve and help them find a way to make it happen.

I make art in public.

Memory and Training

We do a shockingly bad job of recording our own history in the SCA. Who won a tourney at this event 4 years ago? Uhhhhh. Who got the art/sci awards a decade ago? Ummmm. Where is the information that I need to do this job I volunteered for? Yeah....

We need to record our own history and then publish and share that history in ways that are both relevant and accessible. We need to train our volunteers how to hold offices and have central locations to retain handbooks, forms, waivers and documents that can help those officers. No one should have to reinvent the wheel every two years. We should pass information on also to our royalty so they know, without surprise, what will be expected of them and what their expectations should be for those volunteering in offices that will work with and for them.

Take an office. Learn it inside and out. Find the problems. Try to fix them. Record your process and reports. Train your successor. Pass on your knowledge and information. Leave the office better than you found it.

Troublemakers

Every group and club has them: people that just cause trouble. In the SCA, so often we step behind chivalry and politeness that we don't actually tell troublemakers that they are making trouble. They may not even know how they are perceived by others. This isn't nice on our part and we aren't being gallant. We are letting problems get bigger and not taking care of issues when a few words might fix a wrong. These troublesome people and situations spiral out of control and people quit the SCA in a snit or find another hobby with less perceived drama.

How do we fix this? Well, it sucks, but we have to talk to people and tell them the truth. We can be honest and yet still be polite but it is a scary thing. Will someone think you are a horrible and unkind person when you talk to someone about perceived bad behavior? Yeah, probably. Might it still be helpful? Maybe, yes. Might sometimes you be the one with the hangup or a misunderstanding and find yourself needing to make an apology? Yep, that might happen. But we can at least try to make the group better and be honest with people about how their words and deeds are perceived by others.

  • The person who gossips with you at every opportunity and tells you juicy tidbits about others very likely has juicy tidbits about you that they share with the next person who walks or phones up. 
  • The horrible mean person at registration might just be way out of their depth and feel thrown to the wolves with no idea how their actions are being perceived. Why not offer help and then quietly pull them aside when things calm down?
  • That awful peer that said something nasty is still a person and is likely having a crappy day. Have a quiet chat and remind them that their words are powerful and can hurt people in terrible ways.
  • Sometimes we gain a reputation of which we have no idea. People think we are grasping, unkind, ladder climbing, hob nobbing, brown nosing, rude to newcomers, or something else. Let a friend know how they are perceived by others. Tell them as gently as you can and somewhere without an audience. They may have no idea of their reputation and with knowledge and some good choices they can turn that perception around. 

I learned that I can write in knotwork. 

What in the SCA inspires me to keep playing

Quite a few things:

  • My associates, students, friends and their love of their arts and their service. The gleam in their eyes as they dream up a new project and that sly smile that they wear when they know they have something really, really cool. I draw my inspiration from them. I remember what it was like to be un-jaded and have a limitless view of the world we are trying to build.
  • When someone says thank you for something I have done or made.
  • When I watch people enjoy something I have made.
  • New people and their wonder.
  • Those few undefinable 'perfect reenactor moments' where we get a chill as we step into a moment, a scene that seems so right for the time period we are playing that it shocks even us. Sweet God, I think this is what the 14th century actually looked and tasted and sounded and felt like! Those moments seep into your bones and help propel you forward later when you are tired. They live in your dreams and curl like a mist at the edges of your vision, coaxing you to try a little harder and believe a little more. 
  • Artgasms. Cannot even make words that explain this feeling. Holy crap, I just painted a 15th century illumination and it looks pretty! I made someone cry by handing them something inspired by what they love most from the middle ages. Priceless.

How to make the SCA better, from my point of view


  • Show up. 
  • Try to see the good in what people are doing rather than searching for the possible bad.
  • Volunteer often.
  • Meet new people.
  • Be willing to let your opinions of people change as they evolve.
  • Don't perpetuate gossip.
  • Make something beautiful.
  • Keep old friends.
  • Aim to inspire others in your dress, your words, your manners and your deeds.
  • Lead by example and from the front. 
  • Stay willing to get in the trenches. Ladders need climbing, toilets need plunging, stoves need fixing, events need to be run, water needs to be toted. Be willing to be a good participant. We need every one of us.
  • Tell someone they are an inspiration.
  • Thank everyone who helps. Often. Loudly.
  • Speak your problems quietly, with logic and be at least business polite at all times.
  • Invite friends back to the SCA when they are dispirited by helping them rediscover the things they love.
  • Tell people your hobby is freaking amazing. You are an archer, a scribe, a knight, a lady, a herald, a tailor, a weaver, a cobbler, an officer, a leader. You have amazing skills and a set of knowledge that is so very rare. Cherish it. Be proud of it.

You can even start your own girl gang.
Addendum

Was this always my opinion? Simply and sadly, no. Who the hell am I and what did I do with the person you remember? I got better. I got Perspective. It helps. I try very hard to have positive people all around me. I remembered why I like this club and made better friend choices. This has helped.

Being around so many negative people wasn't bringing out the best in me. People like my associates, my students and my friends... that is who I want to be with and how I want to be. Dauntless and capable. Equal to any challenge. Filled with love and good food and better wine... and not a little gin.

We must never forget the gin.

10 comments:

Bobbie Marcus said...

Thank you, well thought and well said.

Bobbie Marcus said...

Thank you, well thought and well said.

Kristen said...

Thanks Bobbie :)

RoseisRose said...

Nicely said...very encouraging. Thank you.

Signy Ottarsdottir said...

I am touched by the honesty and depth of your insight. It is very Buddah, an it moved me. May I share this with my mundane family? Sometimes I don't think I explain very well what I have been doing these last 25+ years, and you do it so elegantly.

Kristen said...

Signy, you are welcome to share freely.

Donat0 del Giardinier said...

This was a well said posting.... but what if your entire group is badly behaved? I was a founding member and now have nothing to do with them, and play independently. After years of trying to lead by example I tired of attempting to get the group to try to find new members, and view recreation with an open mind.

I couldn't even get people to leave the "Comfort" of viewing the fighting to do other activities. All gatherings are as lazy and inexpensive as possible; the present leadership only wants to attend OTHER events where they don't have to work, only hobnob with royalty.

What does one do to create a local group that embraces new people and teaches them the ancient arts and sciences when those in control only want to do early period (cuz its easy) and literally discourage new acctivity.

Kristen said...

Sounds like you are in a tough spot. Previously I had a bit of a falling out with those in charge of my local group. I didn't feel welcome and in fact, I felt entirely unwelcome.

Rather than dealing with an uncomfortable situation I took a kingdom level deputy office, and then another, and then a kingdom office. I found stuff to do that didn't involve my local group and I helped to found the Trimaris College of Scribes. I involved myself in activities that I loved, met great new people and helped to found an artist community that is still thriving 10 years later.

Local groups can be great for those who are far removed from heavy areas of SCA concentration, but they are not the only way to play. It may take more work to play outside your local group, but you can do it.

Find a place where you fit in and feel comfortable and play there. Try to get in contact with some guilds on the Kingdom level, join some email groups and branch out beyond your local group. If they make you unhappy and you don't enjoy your local group, there is nothing wrong with finding another group, guild or portion of the kingdom to get involved with.

baublesnbags said...

Very well written. I confess, I am guilty of some of the ways we talk ourselves down.

Kristen said...

I'm just so insanely proud of the things we manage to do as a volunteer organization. We are our own best and worst marketing team.