I’m not a very good cook, or skilled embroiderer, or impactful bard, or a leatherworker, or a cobbler, or a butcher, or a candlestick maker. I can bake with a recipe and a reliable oven, and it’s usually edible.
I play with textiles and fiber, I can pattern something, I can sew something, I can make fabric do stuff if I stare and poke at it long enough.
But really – I’m a researcher and a crafter.
And you know what?
It’s okay to not be All The Things or Do All The Things in Arts and Sciences. I’m a dabbler, because I like to jump down rabbit holes and poke around for a little bit. Sometimes I go rather deep. Sometimes I just stick my head in. But lately, my “how far down” has been tempered by the following:
I have limited finances.
I have limited time.
I do not have the storage/workspace to acquire new sets of tools specifically for new materials.
You do not have to be a one-person workshop for all the things you want to have for your kit. Skilled artisans, guilds, and merchants existed throughout periods, regions, and cultures. It’s okay to buy the thing, or the pieces half-made, or whatever you’re comfortable with. It’s okay to have some aspects of your kit that are more modern in construction than others because you don’t have the resources/ability to make/ability to purchase 100% the real deal.
Case in point: Jewerly
Be it hair bits and bobs, bracelets, or necklaces – I’m not a jeweler. I’m not a lapidarist. I’m not a metalworker. But I can take bit A and bit B, both stamped out of copper and shined up to look like gold and either glue or wire them together. I can use resin to cast a cabochon that looks like a gemstone or agate, pop it in a bezel, and then glue that on. I can buy findings for a Sui Dynasty era necklace that is Bling with a Capital B and pop some real stones into it, but I can’t afford to spend over $100 on actual freshwater pearls to finish it off – so resin will do. And that’s okay.
You Do Not Need To Break The Bank To Have This Hobby.
You Do Not Need To Have Every Set Of Skills.
A particular set of skills will do just fine. The rest can be “store-bought.”
Every year on my birthday, I try to watch Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
I’m not sure exactly when I started doing this. I watched it a lot as a child, again, usually on or around my birthday. I was in love with the colors and images, the Foley art behind the hoofbeats, and pretty much everything about it. Aurora was secondary (though I did love her final dress – and yes, blue is best, and that’s not just because Merryweather is amazing, thank you). I adored Maleficent (haven’t seen the Jolie films and don’t really want to) and Samson (Prince Philip’s horse, who I contend is an ancestor of Maximus).
The plan is to track down the earliest written (because oral would be super difficult to nail down) versions of various tales that later became Disney princesses – to start with, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, and Cinderella.
This is the kind of research project that bubbles in the back of my brain like a pot roast in a crock pot. I occasionally check on it, spend an hour or so digging for more resources which I skim and save to a file, then go on about my day. The most work I’ve done on it was recreating a pair of Han Dynasty shoes1 which were inspired by Ye Xian’s story – arguably the earliest known/written version of Cinderella.
Every now and again in a discussion about A&S regarding how one can share their skills, be seen, passively teach, and get feedback, the subject of A&S Competitions arises. It always starts with something along the lines “oh, but I don’t like competitions,” followed by all the reasons why. The “competition” aspect of it. The “judging” aspect of it. In many cases, the person had a negative experience with a competition, and are now shy of every entering one again.
I’m not going to try and rebut all those things. Feelings are feelings. What I want to do here is share my own experience both as an entrant and a judge in A&S Competitions. I’ve entered in competitions in both Northshield and Meridies, and helped as a judge in the latter. I can’t speak to how A&S Competitions work in other kingdoms.
I’m writing this for people who aren’t sure if they should enter, but I’m also writing it for judges – because we need to always remember and keep in mind what it is like to sit on the other side of that table.
One more caveat regarding the “competition” aspect of things. Yes, some kingdoms (like Meridies) have “regional” and “kingdom” labels for their competitions, and rules about how often you can enter the same thing. Yes, there are competitions at big war-events (Gulf, Pennsic, etc.) which are used to determine War Points. In this context, an A&S Competition is a lot like a Science or County Fair. You enter your project in a lower level, then progress up until you get to State (Kingdom), then Nationals (War). But this is such a small sliver of what A&S Competitions are or can be, that I don’t really want to address it (nor do I have any real experience with it), so we’re going to acknowledge it (in this paragraph) and then set it to one side.
So, why do I like A&S Competitions?
For me, an A&S Competition is a framework in which I can get specific feedback about various aspects of a project – my research, execution, substitutions, and scope – without feeling like I am monopolizing someone’s time. It’s a way for me to get actionable comments on my work – things I can go and fix – as opposed to “oh, that’s neat!” Yes, there is a number associated with those categories, but personally, my reptile brain loves a number. If that’s not you, I still encourage you to put your work out as a display and try to arrange a time to meet with someone at the event to discuss it with you.
It’s also a way to passively teach. At Magna Faire (2019), I put my equipment for my Tang Dynasty Games class in for display, so that it wouldn’t just sit in a bag the rest of the event. Also, that way people got to learn about games even if they weren’t able to come to the class. Win-win!
Yes, anytime you put your stuff out there for someone else to view and comment on, it can be scary. But I promise you – the only person you are in competition with is yourself. And while that perfect score is something my reptile/completionist brain loves (and received at Menhir 2020! Eek!), it’s still just a number given by people on a day, subject to all sorts of variables.
When it comes to judging, as both a judge and an entrant, I 100% recommend sitting down with your judges during your time slot. You get the chance to talk to people about your entry, answer any questions, and offer clarification for confusing points. And take notes on this! Yes, the judges will write down comments for you on their form, but taking your own notes on things that come up (maybe that need a bit more clarification or fleshing out) can be very useful later once you’re out of the post-event haze.
Judges want to learn. We want to geek out with you about your project. We want to help you grab the next rung in the proverbial project ladder to make your Thing even cooler than it already is. We’re cheering you on! Are there scary, mean, or intimidating judges? Sure, because we’re people. But that’s also why I suggest face-to-face. And if that’s still scary, ask someone (your Laurel, if you have one, or a friend) to sit with you during judging to be some emotional support. If someone asks why they’re there, be honest. Sometimes someone who has a sharp edge doesn’t realize it is sharp until someone says “OW” loud enough for them to hear.
It’s also important to have a network of support for your A&S – people you know well and who know you well, who can give you honest feedback without being mean. People who want to see you do well, so they will let you know what you can do to improve. Sometimes this is a single person (your Laurel, perhaps) or a group of people standing in your corner and cheering you on while also helping you get better. These are the people who you can check in with before and after a judging session so that you’re not left gutted and raw.
That being said – JUDGES. Read documentation – and ask for it ahead of time if you want more time with it. Talk to the entrant – encourage face-to-face judging in your kingdom if you don’t do it already. Understand that even negative feedback can be given in such a way that it encourages and builds up the entrant rather than tearing them down and making them regret entering at all.
I encourage you to take the leap and enter a competition. It’s a great way not only to improve your work but to share it. Sure, they’re not for everyone, but neither do they deserve the bad wrap they often get.
They shall have made every effort to learn and practice those skills desirable at and worthy of a civilized court. To this end they should have some knowledge of a wide range of period forms, including but not limited to literature, dancing, music, heraldry, and chess, and they should have some familiarity with combat as practiced in the Society.
Nobody said you had to be good at chess. Just knowledgeable and, well, practiced. I’ve never been a good chess player. I’m bad at that sort of spatial reasoning, and I have a hard time thinking several moves ahead. I enjoy chess, but as a casual player.
But as someone who has spent the last four-ish years eye-deep in the Tang Dynasty, playing chess doesn’t really fit. But playing Go does! And Go is pretty much chess. It’s about territory control and capturing enemy pieces to score points.
We played Go in the Extra-European Salon at the Meridian Grand Tournament in September, and I was so very thankful that someone who was much more knowledgeable about the game helped me think through moves and played a few games with us. He recommended using puzzles to help hone your skill. I feel like I’d have to do a lot of puzzles to hammer the trickier concepts into my head, but hey – that’s Go.
This is one of those things that I’ll get better with in time, which means making an effort to play a bit on my phone every day, or carting around my 9×9/13×13 board and bags of stones. Maybe I’ll make a small 9×9 board on a piece of fabric and bug people at events to play with me. Maybe.
The SCA has a tendency to feel like you’re picking a “lane” to travel down – particularly when it comes to the Arts and Sciences vs. Fighting. If you do both, as several of my close friends do, and you seem to be paying more attention to one than the other, there are those who will interpret your split attention as not being “serious” about the pursuit of the thing you aren’t spending time on at that moment. Which, frankly, is a crock and a half. But that’s another post.
A&S and Fighting are like apples and oranges – they’re different, but they’re both fruit. Most groups hold a weekly fighter practice (sometimes more than once a week) that lasts anywhere from 1 1/2 to 4 hours. In my experience, groups that have an A&S or Project Night only hold them on a monthly basis.
I’ve talked about balance before on this blog, and how hard it can be to balance SCA projects, events, and goals with your modern life when you work, have small children, etc., and that the modern life always, always, always comes before the SCAdian stuff. This balance and my schedule makes it difficult for me to do things like the 100 Days of A&S Challenge – it just doesn’t work for me and my life at the moment.
While chatting with a friend who is prepping for war this week, it hit me that we don’t carve out time to “practice” our A&S the same way that fighters make a point to be at practice every week. So why not? How hard could it be to carve out 1 1/2-2 hours, once a week, to focus on your A&S? Read that book you just bought. Work on the project that’s collecting dust. Tell the people in your life that every Tuesday night from 6:30 – 8 PM, you’re doing this thing. If your local group has their A&S/Project Night monthly, consider making your “A&S Practice” the same day of the week and time, so you can join in.
Depending on your A&S, you could invite others to join you, as a weekly project night. A good chunk of my A&S time is me with my nose in a book taking notes, so that’s not really conducive to company or people chatting, so do what works best for you. The point is to practice. Practice your research. Practice your craft. Practice teaching (writing blog posts, articles for your newsletter, handouts to share, making videos etc.).
A&S is a skill – both the researching and the doing – that can be honed just like fighting.
This is an open invitation to SCAdians who have Non-Christian personas to aid me in an on-going project.
I hope to feature a series of articles here on my website – Ouyang’s Desk – regarding the portrayal of religion in SCA personas/research. This includes garments, accessories, names, bardic, and other outward active portrayals, as well as research that might be presented for display.
I am interested in showcasing what are modernly minority
religions, whether or not they were minorities in period or in a person’s
region of interest. The fact that they are minorities now means that the
majority of people do not have a good working knowledge of that religion and its
symbols and other indicators. I see this primarily with Islam, Judaism, Hinduism,
and Buddhism, but it could also be applied religions considered “pagan” by
period, Christian authorities.
For example – while interfaith marriage in Judaism was historically frowned upon (as it was in many religions), the concept of being “ethnically Jewish” is a Nazi concept, stemming from historic antisemitism (see the Nuremberg Race Laws). To assume that all Jews everywhere in period were the same is erroneous and problematic – Judaism in period, in terms of foods, dress, and culture, was not a monolith. Middle Eastern Jews, Spanish Jews, English Jews, even Jews in northwestern China had the same religion, but differed in terms of dress, music, food, and other aspects of culture that were informed by their ethnicity and region.
There is also thought and discussion to be had regarding the
portrayal of a culture wherein which the dominant religion is not one that the individual
personally practices or adheres to. Religious practice also changes over time –
so someone who identifies with the same religion as their persona is going to observe
differently than their persona would have.
Lastly, in terms of oppression and other issues, how do we balance
respect for history with recreating “only the best” of the middle ages, when events
and issues like pogroms, inquisitions, and the Crusades, mean something
entirely different for non-Christian personas?
Please consider this an open invitation for you to share your thoughts on this subject with a wider audience. I’d ask that you include information about your persona (SCA name with any titles, time period, region, etc.). Ideally, articles would be 500-2,000 words in length, and include citations if necessary. If you’re interested, I encourage you to reach out so we can start working together to make the SCA a more informed and inclusive experience for everyone.
If you have any questions or would like to contribute, I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m 34. Being 34 is pretty great, considering. I have a good job in my field of study, solid social groups orbiting my place of worship, hobbies, and workplace, a fantastic spouse, and two beautiful and intelligent children.
From an SCA perspective, I feel like I’m on track with the rest of my age group. I’ve served as a Greater Kingdom Officer (Parchment), helped foster community growth in both of my areas of interest (Sinology and scribal arts), teach every chance I get both at events and online via posts and PMs, been inducted into the GOA Order/Order of High Merit for Arts and Sciences (Bridgit’s Flame and Velvet Owl, respectively), etc. I’m not burning the candle at both ends in the “rising star” or “mover and shaker” style per se, but I think I’m carrying my weight in terms of the care and feeding of SCAdians.
The thing is? It’s hard.
It’s not hard in the sense that I have to exert a great amount of effort. It’s mostly little things here and there, or relatively short, frantic pushes toward a deadline. I don’t feel overburdened by the effort.
It’s not hard because people are hard to deal with. I am incredibly thankful to have an amazing support system, so that in the rare case where I come up against someone who breaks Wheaton’s Law, I have people I can turn to for help, even if it is just a hug.
It’s hard because I have to balance SCAdian-hood with Life. We always say “real life comes first.” Because it does. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t this overwhelming pressure to be involved and help direct the course of our community. Pressure to be active and present and available to new people. Pressure to volunteer to judge or teach, or to enter something in a faire, or to make progress on your project, or to donate something. Most of this pressure, at least for me, is an internal response to external stimuli. My apprentice contract stipulates that I need to teach, enter a faire, or “share my skills” with both my kingdom and the Known World at least four times a year. It also states:
Ouyang is required to find balance between studies and family life so that the former does not overtake the latter, as is virtuous.
It’s that balance that’s hard. It’s knowing that I need to have garb sewn for my daughter before the event that’s a week away, but that my son really wants me to play dinosaurs or legos with him.
It’s that balance of only going to one event a month, and then only if that event isn’t farther than 2 hours away so that I can easily day-trip – and if it is longer, making sure that my (incredibly capable and amazing partner and co-parent) husband doesn’t have something else on the schedule and is okay with me not taking the smallest child with me on an overnight.
It’s the balance between feeling like I am being generous or selfish with my time, depending on how I spend it.
It’s the balance of managing my finances so that I have enough to spend on the hobbies, projects, and interests that bring me joy (including event travel/costs) without shirking my financial responsibilities to my modern household.
It’s the balance of not letting myself get so mired in a research question, Thread of Drama, or other online interaction that I keep my nose buried in my phone while grocery shopping with the family.
It’s a balance of spending time at an event with my children who just want to run and play versus doing what I want to do – teach, attend a class, volunteer, etc.
Are these things that people younger and older than me deal with? Things that non-SCAdians deal with? Things that SCAdians who play as a family deal with? Probably. But I can’t speak to those experiences. All I know is that my age, the perceived expectations associated with my 8-year tenure in the SCA and my chosen journey, and the fact that my husband does not share this hobby makes this feel like a heavy weight.
And I wanted to say to others who also feel this weight – I see you. I don’t know what the answer or the fix is, but I see you.
Congratulations! You have just been entrusted with an office/official role related to the logistical workings of the SCA. Whether it is chatelaine, seneschal, signet, class coordinator, event steward, or any of the other sundry jobs or responsibilities, thanks! Good for you!
But I want to warn you.
Someone is going to come up to you during your tenure, probably toward the beginning of it, and you’re going to have a conversation along these lines:
Them: “So you’re the new Person Who Does This Job?” You: “That’s right!” Them: “I’m sorry.” You: “…”
I wish I knew what to tell you to say to people who do this, but I have no idea. Instead, I want to talk to the people who say this to people who volunteer to help make the SCA, you know, work.
Guess what? Volunteering for an organization is hard enough to manage when one has employment, family, and non-SCA obligations to fulfill. But when your reaction to volunteering is to pity a person for taking on a task or role, or to belittle volunteering and volunteers, you’re NOT HELPING.
We are an organization that, without volunteers, would not exist. Stuff would not get accomplished. Events would not happen. Even local get-togethers would not happen.
So please, please, please, stop being condescending, or trying to find dark humor in volunteering. I realize that some of this might come from you having had a negative experience when you held a similar role or responsibility, and I get that. And if that’s the case, by all means, share the wisdom of your experience without belittling the choice someone has made to volunteer. But that’s another issue we have – Information Transfer. Offer to help make the experience better for the people who do the job after you. There is no reason why a new officer/person with a responsibility should feel like they have to reinvent the wheel.
Instead of giving a volunteer your “pity,” try saying “Thank you for taking on this difficult job. I did this job a while ago, so if you need any help or advice, feel free to reach out.”
Or maybe, “I appreciate your service to our local group/kingdom/society. Thanks.”
I would say “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” but NO. Sorry. That’s not going to fly. Because volunteers need support. I’m not talking about cookies from the Crown, I’m talking about grassroots, local support. These people are your friends. A simple thank you from all your friends gives someone the edification and endorphins that they need to be able to keep going.
When you say “I’m sorry” and yet still want to have events to go to, feasts to eat, pretty scrolls for awards, tourneys to fight in, classes to take, or any number of the other things that we do in the SCA, you’re just being entitled and, frankly, whiny.
You can either do the work or support the people doing the work. You can’t not do the work and also disparage the people who are doing it.
Oh, you want some references and stuff? Here. Here’s some documentation.
I’m home, rested, and decompressed from Magna Faire this weekend, so I thought I’d take a moment and write down a few thoughts.
People in Meridies are amazingly warm and welcoming. I was able to put so many faces to names this weekend, and I met many many new people whose names I hope I can remember. I’m not sure if it is a southern thing, a Meridian thing, or both – it was truly awesome.
It is SO MUCH FUN to geek out with people about stuff. And I love finding the common ground between various regions/cultures/time periods that allows for that.
I entered the Western Han Dynasty silk shoes project I have been working on over the last month (has it really only been a month?) in the Stella Nova novice arts and sciences competition and recieved some great feedback. I need to tweak some things in my documentation, change my fabrics around, figure out a better way to stiffen fabric instead of using buckram, and investigate the prospects of weaving the sole so I can do the weirdly cool twisty thing it does.
I need to step up my Feast Gear game. Like whoa, self. You need a better tablecloth (read: an actual tablecloth), and just… better. Also candle holders + candles because those are neat.
Dip pens are a thing I need to just bite the bullet and do. I think what has given me issues in the past has been the fact that the dip pens I have had access too haven’t been really great. I’ve reached out for advice and help, and I am eager to get started learning and stepping up my game in that way.
You know when you get that feeling when you meet new people and see their work and you’re just in awe, and then you take a step back and breathe and can only say to yourself, “Wow, Self. You really need to step it up because damn.” You just get SO INSPIRED by the talent and abilities of others that you just want to keep pushing yourself to do more. To do better.
Stagnation is death. Never be comfortable. Keep climbing. Keep pushing. Do the thing.