In the November 2016 edition of the Dragon’s Tongue (my Barony’s newsletter), they ran an interview with me. You can find the file here if you want even more of my opinions on the SCA 🙂
Tullia has officially graduated from my student to my apprentice! We had a brief ceremony at Collegium, exchanging words (and gifts) and then signing a contract.
I’m really excited to see where Tullia takes her research next. In addition to her All The Roman Things! adventures, she’s also been doing lots of cool (okay, mostly Roman!) jewelry.
We stuck with my persona for our ceremony. We did a contract that I very loosely based on some period apprenticeship contract examples that I was able to find online, which we read and signed (and then invited witnesses to sign as well).
[This post is still in progress, I need to find my copy of our contract and post the language of it here.]
Striving to be a Peer helped me become a better version of myself. I became more introspective and got better at asking myself tough questions. Through all that, I came to some pretty good rules for living. There are some great guides already out there about working toward Peerage; I don’t think this is that, necessarily… but it also probably won’t hurt. But more than that, these rules pretty much sum up my life philosophy:
Rule Number 1: Quit whining or fix it.
Everyone’s a critic and we all love to complain, me especially. When things don’t go the way I think they should, I have a lot to say about that (as you have no doubt observed if you’ve read any of my previous posts here). But complaining is easy; actually doing something is hard. I often use this rule as a metric to gauge how much I really care about an issue: Am I willing to take any action? If I’m not, it’s time to shut my trap.
Rule Number 2: Volunteers are heroes.
Actually, this is kind of a corollary to that first one. Without getting too deep into the weeds, I have had my share of really unpleasant experiences as a volunteer in the SCA; if I were treated at work (where they pay me) the way I have been treated at events (where I was giving my time), I would not keep working there. As an organization, we have to do better. So, here’s my rule to live by: if someone is stepping up to do the work, you don’t get to criticize how they do it (unless you are, say, the branch seneschal or exchequer, and the way the volunteer is doing the thing is no good / very bad / omg stop). If you think something should be done differently, step up and do it.
Rule Number 3: Use your words.
This might seem like it contradicts the first two, but bear with me. Using your words doesn’t mean complaining or criticizing, but using direct, clear, effective communication to get your needs met. I will admit that I have shamelessly borrowed this guiding principle from Captain Awkward. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Advocate for your needs, and set boundaries; enforce those boundaries firmly and without drama when needed. When you have a problem with someone, speak to them directly or engage a formal dispute process by taking it to the appropriate people.
Rule Number 4: When in doubt, just be nice.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. I’m still working on it.
All of these rules stem from the same root: your words have power. Wield them carefully.
Bonus rule, just for those trying to become Peers: If you want to be a Peer, you probably shouldn’t badmouth Peers. This is really just a corollary of all the above rules, but I think it needs to be called out directly. Don’t tell everyone you know that [whatever Peerage order] is [a bunch of assholes, too stupid to see how great you are, not as awesome as they think they are, stuck-up, rude, out of touch, delusional, etc. etc. etc.] Listen, I get it: I know what it feels like to feel like no one sees you; but I also know that we do see you, and we hear you. I think that the hardest part of the quest for Peerage is that Peers are actually really good at making sure you don’t notice that they’re watching you. You are allowed to be human and you are allowed to get frustrated. But we are human too, and if a Peerage order’s strongest impression of you is something horrible you’ve said about them, that is not doing you any favors.
What about you, readers? What are your rules to live by? What guidelines would you give someone when it comes to the ill-defined parts of being a Peer?
As I ramp up my involvement in the work of being a Laurel, I’ve been really enjoying developing formal and informal mentoring relationships. I thought I would share some of what I do that might be helpful to both peers and those interested in working with peers.
Right now, I have a few people whom I think of as “associates” — we haven’t formalized our relationship, but I think they’re cool and I give them as much active help and advice as they’ll accept (and I have time for). (Conchobhar was strongly in this category, incidentally.) This might be help and advice around specific topics (how to do research, making pies, fire cooking) or it might be more general (demystifying the Laurels’ council, A&S competition coaching). Associates have no obligation to me, they’re just people I have taken a shine to.
I also have two students with whom I have entered into a more structured agreement. They get a bit more of my time and energy than my associates. Becoming my student entails some conversation to make sure it’s something we both want and a short ceremony (at an event) making some agreements to each other but not swearing fealty. I ask my students to set some kind of concrete goal, and I operate on a year-by-year “contract” with each student; at the end of that year, the student can opt to renew the contract and continue being a student, we can talk about them becoming an apprentice, or we can both go our separate ways.
While student can be a stepping stone to apprentice, it doesn’t have to be — if someone wants to learn from me and doesn’t want to do the fealty part, is already in fealty to another, has zero desire to be a Laurel, or whatever, student is a perfectly worthy thing to be. In all of this, I try to center the needs of the learner rather than myself. (Oh, uh, if you’re just joining us: I am modernly a teacher at an alternative high school, and I am passionate about the craft of teaching. Not surprisingly, this heavily informs my approach to being a Laurel.)
One of my students is about to “graduate up” to being an apprentice.In addition to requiring potential apprentices to spend a year being my student first, they also must complete a project of their choosing during that time. This approach serves several goals, like allowing us to get to know each other more formally to see if this is likely to be a productive relationship and helping me get a sense of their SCA work style and current level of skill. The main distinction I make between apprentice and student is fealty: an apprentice is in fealty to me, a student is not. An apprenticeship term will be for a year with the opportunity for as many renewals as desired; I believe in making the continued relationship opt-in rather than opt out, so if I drop off the face of the planet my apprentices are released from their bond.
As part of this, I have developed a short questionnaire for the apprentice to complete. It’s one more tool for me to know what this person hopes to get out of their association with me — this can help me choose what to focus on when giving advice and feedback, and I also genuinely like getting to know people. More critically, this is a tool to help the apprentice reflect on their own journey and goals. As a Laurel, I cannot walk the path for you. I can’t even tell you how to walk the path. I can show you where the mountain is, and I might be able to point you toward a path; while you walk the path, I can offer you advice as you encounter obstacles, but in the end your path will be your own. Apprenticeship is not magical. Laurels are not magical. We can help you see what work needs to be done, but you’ll have to do it yourself. I am interested in developing more reflective tools around this concept.
Because I think other peers might be interested in adapting this for their own needs, and non peers might be interested in this sort of self-evaluation, here’s a copy of the questions in my questionnaire. Blanket permission for personal use, including adapting/modifying. If you publish any or part of it, or a derivative work, please include a credit to me. Thanks and enjoy!
Eulalia’s Apprentice Questionnaire
Disclaimers: This isn’t a job application. There are no wrong answers. These questions are deliberately open-ended. Eulalia assumes no risk or liability.
Why do you want to be an apprentice? What do you hope to get out of the experience?
Describe 1-3 specific hopes or expectations you have about an apprentice-Laurel relationship.
Why do you want to be MY apprentice? What do you think that I can offer you that someone else couldn’t?
What are the three MOST important things that you want from me as your Laurel and why?
Describe your communication style and preferences. Include things like how you like to be contacted.
Describe 1 worry or concern that you have about being my apprentice (or being an apprentice generally).
What do you consider your “specialty”? What ONE discipline / research area is MOST important to you?
What’s one project / art form that you’ve always wanted to try that’s completely outside of your current comfort zone?
What are your SCA goals for the next…
What are some important parts of your life outside of the SCA?
What accomplishment are you most proud of…
In the SCA during the last year?
In the SCA overall?
In your personal life in the last year?
In your personal life overall?
List three specific commitments that you think you could make for yourself or to me for your first year of apprenticeship:
Over the last weekend, rather than go to a local event where the Crown would be in attendance and I’d get to see most of my usual peeps, I went rogue. I had previously accepted an invitation from one of my students to camp with his pirate household at Seadog Nights, a non-SCA weekend-long “immersion” event. I’ll be honest, I went based on his promise of snacks and a kiddie pool. It was actually a really cool experience to go hang out with new people, and to get to leave my SCA reputation at the door and just see things through the eyes of an outsider. I did in fact eat epic snacks and spent the hottest part of the day totally submerged (and mostly naked) in a pool (there were no kids, just adults! just to clarify!) and it was amazing. I also bought an elf fanny pack. No shame.
While there, I naturally found myself comparing the experience to an SCA event. For example, not surprisingly the attendees trended much younger than the typical SCA crowd, and the clothing trended more toward fantasy (including steampunk) than historical. There were also some similarities, like the idea of households and the overall concept of creating an experience somehow outside of everyday modern life.
But these aren’t the comparisons I want to talk about. The comparisons I want to talk about are quite a bit heavier. Y’all, it’s time to unpack some privilege.
Within about the first hour of being on site, I had seen more people of color, “visibly queer” people, and trans and gender nonconforming people than I have seen in the last 15 years in the SCA combined.
I sat with that thought smoldering all weekend, and it ignited my activist nature.
Although I am a white person, I do not tend to spend my time in majority-white spaces. The SCA is by far the whitest part of my life, and that has never sat well with me. I am an anti-racist activist, and when I see that an organization I am a part of is not appealing to people of color, I notice that and figure out what I can do to change it. The fact that PoC are participating in something that is broadly similar to the SCA was a wake-up call to me: what are the pirates doing right that we aren’t? I’m not sure I have a good answer to that, and while I have a few ideas I don’t think I’m versed enough in “pirate culture” to be able to say for sure. It’s also hard for me to sort out what the SCA is doing “wrong” since my own white privilege prevents me from seeing our organizational blind spots. Because I am white, it is not appropriate for me to speak for the PoC experience; I can say that I have personally heard some really disheartening stories from PoC about the SCA and other historical reenactment groups. For me it’s enough to know that there are PoC who are drawn to things very much like the SCA, but who are not choosing the SCA; that’s worth fixing.
I suspect that the knee-jerk reaction to all that is to try to deny that we have a problem, or to find reasons to explain away the lack of PoC participation in the SCA; again, though, that perspective comes from a place of privilege — as white people, it’s too easy to for us to accept mostly white (or all white) spaces as normal and acceptable.
Similarly, it’s easy for straight and cisgender people to accept heteronormative institutions. And oh, the SCA has some deeply entrenched heteronormative and trans-exclusionary norms. I am queer, and a cisgender pro-trans activist. Queer and trans people are a normal part of the fabric of my social life. Again, while I can’t speak to the trans experience, I have personally observed trans-exclusionary attitudes on full display in the SCA. Our language as an organization is highly gendered — we are all lords or ladies — and our concepts of chivalry rely heavily on very specific gender expectations; all of this leads to an environment where trans, nonbinary, agender, and gender nonconforming people are left out.
I can definitely speak to what it feels like to be a queer person in the SCA. It took me much longer to come out in the SCA than in any other context, and I’m not even sure I can explain why, just that it felt a lot harder to be gay in the SCA than to be gay in the rest of my life. Those same institutionalized gender expectations and gendered language mentioned above also marginalize queer people. Just look at the fight over Inspirational Equality — that Corpora used gendered language from the get-go shows that at the founding of this organization, not one person considered a queer or trans perspective. We had to ask for a seat at the table after the fact. And then when we asked for the rules to be changed to allow us to participate as equals, we were met with bitter resistance. In spite of the fact we do not actually have any explicit requirement for historical accuracy and we state that we are about recreating history “as it should have been,” suddenly people got really riled up about “authenticity” as a reason to exclude same-gender consorts. Yet I’m pretty sure I can actually make a much better historical case for queer monarchs than for monarchs chosen by rattan-sword combat.
That leads nicely to what I see as the way forward: we can choose which aspects of history we celebrate and look to for inspiration, and it’s time for us to align to a more diverse image of the past. The truth is, we have always been here. History was not white, cisgender, and straight. Even if we maintain the Eurocentric focus of the SCA, black and brown people absolutely lived in Europe during the medieval and renaissance periods. Are our images of the Middle Ages based more in reality, or in 19th and 20th century fantasy? There are numerous accounts of queer sexuality during our time period of study, and of people whom we would probably now describe as trans. Are we celebrating these stories? Through what lenses are we interpreting the past, and what do those lenses prevent us from seeing? Are we recreating the past, or are we recreating an idealized “past” as imagined by (mostly or all white and straight) college kids in 1966?
Perhaps you think I shouldn’t bring “modern politics” or “political correctness” into your dress up game. For marginalized groups, the personal is inherently political. White, cisgender, and heterosexual are not apolitical default options. If the idea of doing some work to make sure everyone feels welcome in our game bothers you, I would like to encourage you to sit with that discomfort and really examine it before reacting. The reality is, we make choices in reenactment; we pick and choose which parts of the past we will bring into the present. It’s time for us to choose inclusion. We say that we are rooted in “The Dream” — but whose dream is it, and who gets to take part?
As a Laurel, one of my responsibilities is to promote research and authenticity. I see now that I can use that as a pathway toward strengthening the Dream. I commit to seek out information about people of color, queer people, and trans people in medieval and renaissance Europe (ignoring for now the bigger problem of Eurocentrism) and to find ways to celebrate and publicize these stories. If you take only one thing from this rambling post, let it be this: queer, trans, black, and brown people lived in the same past that we say we are recreating — if ANYONE tries to use “authenticity” to justify bigotry or exclusion, you have my permission to say, as loudly as you can: ACTUALLY, THAT’S A COMMON MISCONCEPTION! You don’t have to be a Tumblr-discourse-certified SJW to be an ally, you actually just have to be a history lover.
I would like to issue a challenge to everyone who reads this: if you would like to help me build a better SCA, pick some part of this and take action. Here are some ideas:
- Use gender-neutral language. “Good gentle” as opposed to “My lord / my lady,” “the Coronets” instead of “Baron and Baroness”, etc.
- Include people of color in whatever images you create (metaphorically or literally) of history; you remember my favorite tumblr, right? MedievalPOC on Tumblr
- Unpack your own privilege; there are lots of resources online to help you do this.
Do you have other ideas for how to make the SCA more inclusive for marginalized groups, either those described here or others? I have totally overlooked the disability perspective, for example. I would love to hear your ideas in the comments. (Comments are moderated, by the way.)
Compare “The Dream” to “Mundane” — when we talk about the SCA, we often use language that emphasizes transcending reality. SCAdians set aside our everyday lives and come together to build a shared fantasy. It’s make-believe, really. We dress up and play make-believe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually not saying that as an insult — I think that make-believe and story-telling are two of the most important facets of being human. But I certainly have heard people critique the SCA as nothing but escapism, and I myself often talk about it as being not really real. When I start to get too bogged down in SCA politics, I remind myself that “it’s all just pretend anyway, we’re a bunch of dweebs in a field.”
Here’s the thing: that’s wrong, and I know it, and you know it. The truth is, the SCA is real.
Let me tell a story. A few weekends ago, during Royal Court, I listened to the speakers during Peerage elevations. I was deeply moved by their words — stories about the candidates, deep philosophical truths, calls to action, appeals to honor and accounts of glory. While I was listening, I was struck by the realization that this kind of public speaking is a dying art. While some of the speakers read from notes, a surprising number did not. How many people do you know who can confidently speak to an audience? I work with teenagers — getting them to even buy into the concept that speaking in front of a crowd is a valuable skill is an uphill battle. Yet in the SCA, this is something that we treasure and cultivate and regularly employ.
This got me thinking about all the skills I’ve learned in the SCA. Did you know I was painfully uncomfortable with the idea of teaching when I first joined the SCA? But a wonderful peer and mentor guided me into teaching a few classes. Now I teach for a living. My fealty relationships have taught me about mentorship, and about building up another person, and I’ve applied those lessons to working with my students and with student teachers. Having a blog, writing mostly for myself but also for my audience, has given me an outlet and the motivation to keep writing. Doing research and writing documentation has taught me academic skills that I think most people don’t get outside of a university setting. Learning to make garb helped me learn to shop for clothes, and gave me a unique personal style. Volunteering at events, especially in “management” positions, has helped me develop my own leadership style (and continues to challenge me by showing me my weaknesses). Sitting in the Laurels’ Council has taught me when to speak and when to keep silent.
Last weekend I took my first student. As is the custom among my household, I asked that we seal our bond with a Toast, a Boast, and and Oath. My toast was to this crazy game — I remarked that really we were all just at a historical dress cocktail party in a cow pasture. And yet think of the amazing acts of valor and honor you commit and witness at SCA events, the genuine bonds of friendship that are forged, and the inexhaustible pursuit of becoming our better selves. We make those cow pastures into palaces, war fields, and artists’ workshops. Now as I embark on the work of helping another person build themselves up, I am struck anew: the SCA is real, and it is incredible. I love my chosen family. Huzzah!
At July Coronation, I organized a “Laurel Petting Zoo.” Here’s the description I put out in advance:
Have you ever wondered why someone would be an apprentice, or what it takes to become an apprentice? Would you like to ask a Laurel a question about a project you’re working on or about how the Laurels’ council works? Are you a Laurel interested in meeting new people? Are you brand new to the SCA and interested in finding out what the heck a Laurel is? Would you like to find out if Laurels really do bite?
Come to the Laurels Petting Zoo* at July Coronation! Join us in the A&S pavilion at 5pm on Saturday. (Feel free to trickle in a little early to catch the Dirty Half Dozen largesse competition!) The idea behind the Laurels Petting Zoo is to allow Laurels and the general populace to mingle in a non intimidating, relaxed atmosphere. All are welcome, regardless or rank or affiliation or absence of either.
Bring a drink for yourself definitely, consider bringing a “lap project” to work on or a homemade snack to share (especially if its historical!)
Looking forward to seeing you (yes, YOU!) there,
*Please obtain consent prior to initiating petting.
This event was a smashing success (if I say so myself!) — lots of Laurels and non-Laurels came, there were snacks, there was mingling, and some musicians showed up toward the end for a live performance, which led to dancing! I felt like I got to use my superpower (being a golden retriever of love) for good. I am definitely going to put on more of these!
One of the things I did in advance of the event was prepare some conversation starters:
These were a series of questions designed to get people talking to each other. (Can you tell I’m a teacher? I think it’s the color coding that gives it away!) Sometimes I think it’s really hard to approach a stranger and just start talking to them, which is the problem something like a Laurel Petting Zoo is intended to alleviate, so I figured that having a few slips of paper with questions that ranged from silly (“Explain fealty in pig Latin”) to serious (“What’s the most important real lesson you’ve learned from the SCA?”) would help break the ice. They were a hit! I’ve put up a copy of the questions I wrote in the files section, feel free to use them yourself.
To help you organize an event like this yourself, here’s a quick checklist and some tips:
- Pick an event
- Contact the event steward; be prepared to have them hand you off to a member of their team, especially if someone is coordinating A&S activities
- Ask for space for mingling next to the main List Field — we used our Kingdom MoAS pavilion
- Decide on a good time; immediately after the Laurels’ meeting is a good one, or immediately after A&S classes finish. Opposite Court is not a good idea 🙂
- Publicize your event using Facebook, email lists, etc. If possible, try to get listed in the site copy
- Contact a few “ringers” — people who are always the life of the party — to make sure they’ll be there
- If you’re using them, print conversation starters
- Make some tasty period snacks to share
- Consider posting fliers in the privies, making an announcement during Court, or hiring a herald to spread the word
- Set out snacks and conversations starters
- Stand outside of the actual area where the mingle is happening and invite people in. I follow the Svava in Litla school of hospitality, which involves a lot of yelling at people to come eat snacks. You’d be surprised how well this works.
- Work the room! Scoop up non-Laurels and engage them in conversation by asking them what they’re interested in; if you know someone who specializes in an area they want to learn more about, or who lives near them, make an introduction! Pick up snacks and wander around. Smile a lot. Make sure to watch for Laurels clumping together and inspiring peer fear. If there’s just a group of a dozen Laurels sitting around talking to each other, no one will want to break into that, so keep an eye out. Have fun. Mingle. Be petted, if you’re into that.