This is not a post about how to recreate a complicated medieval meal, or a review of fancy heirloom stone-ground flours, or a story about doing something awesome and inspiring and historical. Rather, this is a post for anyone who is planning food for a vigil and who wants a great, crowd-pleasing spread that can be set up in a field or in a hotel room (so, when you don’t have access to a kitchen) with a minimum of misery while still maximizing the wow-factor. Basically, this is how to prepare vigil food that people will like and that is period-ish while relying almost exclusively on pre-made ingredients from Costco and Trader Joe’s. And now you know my shameful secret: I say I love cooking, but apparently if you ask me to do your vigil food I won’t actually cook a damn thing for you. (Okay, that’s not really true: I’ll probably bake some pies.) If that’s enough self-flagellation on my part, let’s begin.
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?
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!
I’ve had a lot to chew on since May Crown. The whole experience of the offer, the lead up, the vigil, and the elevation ceremony has been incredible. I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation for the Society and what it means to me, and come to see my place in it with much more clarity. I wanted to share a few of my thoughts here.
One: It’s not about me anymore. The night after my offer, I didn’t sleep a wink. I lay awake feeling “all the feels” and ruminating on what it all meant. Around sunrise, I left the tent (and my sweet snoring wife) and took the dog for a long walk. I looked around at all the tents, the banners, the physical trappings of this game that I love, and a that’s the thought that crystallized: It’s not about me. Being offered Peerage is about the people who believe in me, and being a Laurel will primarily be about building others up and making the Kingdom and the Society better. This shift from self to others exhilarates me. I love teaching, and mentoring, and talking about awesome people. My post-Laurel life is going to be amazing!
Two: I am enough. I am one of those people who believes that the relationships I have and the kindness other people give me is always conditional; I don’t really deserve friendship but can earn it if I work hard enough. I’m working on that. But the entire experience of being elevated was to realize that there are people in my life who like me for me. I felt like I floated into Court, buoyed by love. I will still strive to be a kind person, to live my life with honor, and to return the love that is given to me, obviously, but I don’t feel the same sense that I have to perform to gain friends; the doubting voice that snipes on me is a little quieter now, and that’s a good thing.
Three: Everyone’s path is different. I joined the SCA at 17, blossoming from an awkward teenager into an awk-dorable (so awkward it’s adorable) adult. Now I’m just shy of 15 years in the Society — college and grad school and work challenges have meant the SCA has been on the back burner many times, too. I have known people who were made Laurels faster or younger, and others who took a longer way around. I kinda always knew I wanted to be a Laurel, and I always knew why I wanted to be one: I wanted to feel like I had mastered a chosen art form, know that I was a research expert, be able to shape the Society in a larger way, and have the opportunity and encouragement to have students and apprentices. I also knew that wanting to be a Laurel was not the same as desperately pursuing the “cookie” of getting a Laurel. (You don’t get a Laurel, you are a Laurel; it’s a job, not an award.) It was important to me that my pursuit of this goal take the form of always working to make myself better. I did a huge amount of soul-searching over these last few years and I really did work on becoming my best self and learning to reflect the best parts of the SCA’s shared values. However, it was also very important to me that I never lose sight of who I am, and that I not sell my personality short or ever let myself get caught up in some mythical “things I should do so I’ll be a Laurel” checklist. I don’t mean PLQs, I mean, like, “If I cook twenty feasts, they’ll HAVE to make me a Laurel!” Don’t do that. Just don’t. While looking at the characteristics that Peers have in common and looking for ways to emulate those characteristics can be a powerful exercise, don’t get bogged down in comparing your journey to others (including me!) There is no such thing as the way to become a Laurel, or a standard timeline, or any of that, because it’s hugely individual.
Four: Be you. I am just a big, enthusiastic dweeb. I am like a golden retriever: I am excited about everything, I love everyone, life is so great, and I can’t really contain my (metaphorical) tail-wagging. And you know what? That’s okay. That zany, goofy, loving part of me is exactly WHY I’m able to research my interests with unwavering passion, and why I’m able to pontificate profusely on pies. Being a golden retriever of love has also been the driving force behind meeting people in the SCA, and those people I’ve met pushed me to get better and taught me incredible things — the genuine connections I’ve made with people are what got me here. This part of me is not going away now that I’m a Laurel (sorry not sorry!) Passion is what drives me, and while many (most? some?) Laurels are a little more serious than I am, they are all deeply passionate. Don’t be afraid to let your passionate dweeb flag fly.
Five: This is a big deal to me, and I think that’s okay. The SCA is a huge part of my life. Becoming a Peer is deeply meaningful to me. I find that I’m having a hard time articulating the experience and the meaning to non-SCAdians, actually. I’ve mostly defaulted to saying that I’ve been given a big recognition for my research and cooking/art, or to comparing it to (modern mundane) knighthood. I’m also struggling within the SCA, too: I feel like talking about what a big deal this is to me will come across as bragging, like I’m saying that I’M a big deal, but that’s not it at all. This is something that I honestly dreamed about, and having a dream come true is AWESOME. Even the way it all played out, like getting to have my vigil and ceremony at An Tir / West War with the Cooks’ Playdate folks was dreamy. I just feel so blessed and so happy, and I’m looking forward to what comes next. I feel like I was climbing a mountain, pushing myself harder and harder until I finally tipped over the summit, and when I did I discovered that there’s not just the top of the mountain, it’s like a huge plateau, and there’s a whole new world up here that I get to explore! Maybe I’ll even find new mountains to climb! It’s cliche, but my elevation doesn’t feel like a culmination but a commencement.
This has been quite an adventure, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.