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.