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.
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.
One year ago today I was put on vigil. It was and still is a big deal to me, and honestly I am trying to make sense of what it all means because I want it to mean something. Here are some of the more formed thoughts that have come from that. Welcome to… Musings from a Baby Laurel! Mostly experiences, a little philosophy, and just a sprinkling of advice. This is sure to be laughable to experienced Laurels and not particularly helpful to brand new or would-be Laurels. Let’s dive in.
One: From this side of it, this is a different game than the one I was playing.
My relationship to the SCA is different. Kingdom events now come with obligations, like meetings and keeping an eye out for certain candidates, that even someone very, very active won’t experience. Similarly, now it’s my default setting to go to Kingdom events; while I have been pretty active on a Kingdom level for a while, I have been struck by how different it feels to be thinking about Kingdom events in those terms. It’s not a negative thing to feel obligated, but it is different.
I’m also already starting to see that my time at events is largely more committed and scheduled than before. This has really opened my eyes to how we structure our Society and our events; I suspect in the long term I’m going to have some deep thoughts about this, because I actually think it’s a gigantic problem. But I haven’t completely figured out what I want to say quite yet.
Relatedly, I am starting to finally grasp just how much work Peers do. At the last feast I ran, another Laurel (who is also a Knight) said to a relatively new person who was helping out “Look around this kitchen. How many Peers are in here? How many peerages are represented?” It really stuck with me. In general, active Peers are very heavily invested in this game, and passionate about making it better. If I had advice for would-be Peers, that would be it: look around you, and really see what Peers are doing. Invest yourself in doing the work, not just when it’s fun or glamorous, and give your time and talents to making this game better than you found it.
Two: How people view me and treat me has absolutely changed, but not (I think) how people expect.
OH MY GODS the Peerage fishbowl is totally real. I knew that intellectually and people talked to me about it a lot but I don’t think there is a way to really prepare for it. Some great advice that I got at my vigil was along the lines of “You are already sort of ‘SCA famous’ but prepare for that to be much more noticeable.” It’s true; people come up and say hi to me all the time and I don’t always recognize them, and that kills me because then I feel like a huge jerk and the worst kind of snob. But it’s more than that — when you go to events as a Peer, you have to be “on” and your best self. PLQs are real (mine are… still bad, let’s not talk about that) because people look to you to be the example.
This also has helped me really understand why it sometimes seems like Peers can be cliquish; I’ve come to treasure time that I spend with the people closest to me (many of whom are also Peers, honestly, because of that time commitment thing) when I can let my hair down (literally and figuratively in this case) and be myself without having to worry so much about if me eating s’mores will undermine all the hard work I’ve done to spread the gospel of historical food.
Although it’s true that the Laurel thing can carry a little weight, it’s not as much as I think some people expect. People who respected what I had to say before still do, people who didn’t pretty much still don’t, and both of those are okay. I put my pants on one leg at a time, and sometimes I get stuck and fall over. No one gave me the key to all the world’s knowledge.
Three: How I think of myself has changed, and that’s okay.
I really am excited about all the stuff I think of as my “job” as a Laurel — encouraging people locally and in the Kingdom (and out of the Kingdom), teaching people, making my voice heard in Council (okay, not yet actually — not until July!), connecting people to each other for the greater good, and more. The concept of the fishbowl has been good for me, because I haven’t found myself thinking “This is great, everyone will do what I say now!” but instead “This is awful, people are actually going to listen to me so I kind of have to not be a tool.”
Being a Laurel didn’t magically change how much I knew, that work has to go before. I do like that my feeling of being an expert in something I care about has been validated. I spend less time qualifying everything I say, and often dive confidently right into leading with “My research says this” in conversation. That said, I realized a few months ago that there’s actually a TON that I still want to learn about medieval and renaissance pies, and that made me so stupidly excited. The learning actually never stops — I learned this much in 15 years in the Society, and I like to think about how much more I’ll know in another 15 years, and honestly that’s so awesome I can’t even handle it. New Laurels, I really hope you don’t think you’re done learning; I’m sure you don’t. People who want to be Laurels, don’t think of being Laureled as a culmination but a start. It’s a cliché because it’s true!
Four: Planning an elevation is kind of insane, but in a good way.
I have never experienced the level of love and excitement that everyone brought to planning my vigil and elevation. That was a magical evening and a magical day and everything was splendid. People compare it to a wedding, which is sort of accurate, but I found elevation planning to be much less stressful. I don’t think I was a vigil-zilla (I hope I wasn’t), because I just felt pretty “chill” about everything. I had great planners and wranglers and even if it all went sideways I would still be a Peer when it was done. The planning part is a little weird, because there are a LOT of details that actually go into it.
In the planning process, I made it my policy to “just say yes.” You want to play music at my vigil? Yes, thank you! You want to walk into Court with me? Yes, thank you! For me, the vigil and elevation were about those warm fuzzy feelings from the people around me, and accepting every offer of help contributed to that. Oh, and it really helps to have an extremely organized spouse, and to be okay with doing some of your own party planning if you want it to go a certain way. But mostly, I encourage the “just say yes” approach, it was super fun.
Serious advice, I was really glad I did the “sequestered vigil” thing with a sign up list and a time keeper. It really helped keep things moving along. Make sure you have scheduled potty breaks and a very comfy chair.
And make sure there’s plenty of beer.
Five: THE POST-ELEVATION SLUMP IS TOTALLY REAL AND YOU ARE OKAY AND GOOD ANYWAY
I put that in all caps because it’s so important. I hit the wall after my elevation. I had been in a period of stepping back and regrouping after going so hard for Kingdom Arts and Sciences, and was still feeling crabby and out of sorts when I was gearing up to go to May Crown two months later. Then I ended up going to Court at May Crown, and “SO THAT HAPPENED” as I reported on Facebook later that evening, and then I cried harder than I have ever cried in public in my entire life (and I am a grade A public crier) because I really, really was that surprised. I hadn’t really had time to sort through the post KASC slump, you see, but now I was in full on vigil and elevation planning mode!
After six weeks of sewing and planning and buzzing excitement, when my elevation was over I was just tired. I needed a little bit of rest, and I had earned it. So I kind of coasted.
Yeah, so it turns out my personality and “coasting” don’t go well together.
It’s time for this post to “get a little real.” I had a really rough winter this year. I was trying to figure out what being a Laurel meant to me. I was adjusting to some changes at work that required a lot of intellectual investment on my part. Some stuff went down in my home branch that wasn’t fun and that left me with some really bruised feelings. And I was tired! So tired! I liked going to events during that time and getting to still ride on some of the congratulations and get to start going to Laurel meetings, but I also felt tremendous pressure to be “up” when I wasn’t feeling it. Some of that pressure I put on myself — I kept wondering what I was going to do next, and I felt like I needed a project — and some of it I do think came from other people; when you’re known for being happy, it’s hard to be publicly subdued. I was open about how I was feeling with people close to me, but I wish I had been better able to articulate what was going on and what I needed. I also really wish I had given myself more permission to just take a break.
Many, many people feel this way. I am so thankful to everyone who warned me about it. I wish I could tell my past self that it didn’t really last that long and it was fine. It seems like anywhere from 6 months to a couple of years is totally normal. If you’ve just been elevated, it’s okay to take a step back and regroup. We’ll all still be here when you’re ready to dive back in.
I feel like I’m through my slump now. Some of that was working with a wonderful mental health care provider who has been remarkably open-minded about all of this. As an aside, I think everyone should do talk therapy because I think talk therapy is awesome. I also wish that I had talked about the SCA in talk therapy a long time ago. Having to explain what was going on in a way that someone outside the situation could understand it often was enough to help me see what the actual root of the issue was — once I phrased things for therapy, I managed to parse what the actual social / emotional challenge was, and usually had a much improved way of looking at it.
Oddly, though, the thing that really snapped me out of my slump was getting ready for Culinary Symposium and realizing how much more I want to learn about pie. Many people never want to touch the thing they were elevated for again. That’s also fine. But for me, being able to still find a spark of enthusiasm for pie was invigorating. That was when I realized that I didn’t have to change that much, I could still keep right on indulging myself by spending time with my research main squeeze. (I’ve hinted at this on Facebook, but I’m honestly thinking of writing a book about pie history. I have no idea if that will ever come to fruition or not, as writing a book seems like a phenomenal amount of work, but the fact that I’m even interested in that at all is a far cry from where I was a year ago.)
The point is, whatever well replenishes you, drink extra draughts from it after being elevated. For some people it’s completely no big deal, but if you struggle, you are not alone and you’re not bad.
More coming eventually?
I’m sure I’ll have more of these thoughts as time goes on. I suspect some more will have turned into some kind of mostly-congealed form by the time the anniversary of my actual elevation rolls around, so stay tuned, I suppose.