A Year Since the Offer: Looking Back

a laurel wreath with a squared symbol
Image by Cara Dea da Fortuna

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.

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Reflections on the whole Laurel thing

a laurel wreath with a squared symbol
Image by Cara Dea da Fortuna

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!

A photo of SCA royal court, many people in historical costumes.
That little white blob in front of Their Majesties is me; photo by Ignatius

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.

Myself and my Laurel hugging in SCA Royal Court.
My master, Refr, releasing me from fealty with a hug. Photo by Lisa Morello.

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.

Myself and my wife walking into SCA court, while the Order of the Laurel holds laurel branches over us in a tunnel.
The Laurels present made an arbor of laurel branches to welcome me (and my Lady) into Court. Photo by Sandra Linehan.

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.

My baron, my apprentice sister, and myself (and a crowd of Laurels and friends!) walking out of Court after my offer. I am crying so hard in this picture, and laughing so hard too. I wish I could bottle how I felt in this moment and open it for a little taste every so often. I can no longer find the name of the photographer.
My baron, my apprentice sister, and myself (and a crowd of Laurels and friends!) walking out of Court after my offer. I am crying so hard in this picture, and laughing so hard too. I wish I could bottle how I felt in this moment and open it for a little taste every so often. I can no longer find the name of the photographer.

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.

A car windshield with JUST LAURELED and a laurel wreath written in the dust
My car after War. It was hard to bring myself to get it washed!

This has been quite an adventure, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.