In Defense of A&S Competitions

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?

My hand-sewn Banbi at Magna Faire (2019), image courtesy of Mistress Ellen DeLacey

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.

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Songs I’ve Sung

To date, I have had a hand in writing three songs in the SCA. Two of them are silly. Two have corresponding illumination. One is based on a period poem and requires context. None of them get performed often, in part because I don’t attend many bardic circles, and within those circles, reading the tone of the circle to know what is best to present for the continued enjoyment of the participants/listeners is a challenge in regard to these songs.

So I’m presenting them here, if only so I keep a record of them in one spot.


The first was in answer to the Bard, Scribe, Illuminator challenge at the 2012 Northshield Bardic Madness. The theme was to do with animal puns, so Mistress Orlaith Ballach Inghean Fhlain, Larkin of Schattentor, and I wrote a filk of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic about the Great Bears of Northshield. I apologize for the lighting – this was in the last Fyte, which was the Feast Fyte, and I’d feel bad about doing a new recording without Larkin.

Illumination by me, based on an amalgamation of pages from the Taymouth Hours (February and March; f. 1v and 2r). I can’t recall who did the calligraphy, but it was probably Orlaith.
Chorus: (With the number lowering with each iteration)
Four Great Bears went out one day
To prove for good and all
Who was the Greatest of the Bears
To Grace a Northshield Hall

Fiskr [Fish] set out at a healthy pace
But then he began to flounder


Ia took a breath to prepare
But then she found that she lacked consonants

[consonance; there is an infamous CD of Ia singing filks]
Skjaldvør [called Wyndreth] had the breeze at her back
But the wind went out of her sails


Tarrach began to take the lead
But then he met up with a T-Rex

[Tarrach was Northshield's second King, and had previously
been King of the Middle - and would often sign T. Rex]

The second song is All Griffins Are Girls – A Heraldic Primer, which I wrote with Baroness Katerinka Lvovicha in either 2013 or 2014. She tells a story about helping someone at a Heraldic Consult table with fish heraldry, and to make a fish not look dead and hanging to dry, the attitude needs to be naiant. And, being Northshielders, we latched onto the conceit that Griffins are Girls. The words are here!

You might want to turn the sound up a bit on this one, or you can watch the video of us trying to remember the words and do the motions on the fly at a Bardic Madness post-revel.


That same year, for that same event, I answered a challenge for pieces based on period texts, etc. I chose Yehuda Halevi’s My Heart is in the East. (And I’ll eventually put my hands on the illumination again and upload the image.) I don’t have a recording from the event, but I do have something I recorded with my phone. This is the sad one. This is the one that requires context.

Yehuda Halevi was born c. 1075-1086 in Al-Andalus. He was a physician and philosopher and considered one of the greatest Hebrew poets. Halevi wrote The Kuzari, a pillar of Jewish philosophy, and was part of the “golden age” of Hispano-Jewish culture and life in Granada during the 11th century. He died in 1142, shortly after arriving in Israel. He lived during the entire First Crusade, and much of his poetry is marked by his longing to go to Israel. His text is below – I used several different translations to guide my own adaptation of his verse, in English, to music.

יהודה הלוי
לבי במזרח


לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב
אֵיךְ אֶטְעֲמָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר אֹכַל וְאֵיךְ יֶעֱרָב
אֵיכָה אֲשַׁלֵּם נְדָרַי וָאֱסָרַי, בְּעוֹד
צִיּוֹן בְּחֶבֶל אֱדוֹם וַאֲנִי בְּכֶבֶל עֲרָב
יֵקַל בְּעֵינַי עֲזֹב כָּל טוּב סְפָרַד, כְּמוֹ
יֵקַר בְּעֵינַי רְאוֹת עַפְרוֹת דְּבִיר נֶחֱרָב.

My heart is in the East
But I am at the end of the West.
How can I savor food, how can it be called pleasing -
How can I render my vows and my bonds
While Zion lies in fetters
And I am in Arab chains?

It would be too easy
To leave behind the bounty of Spain -
So precious is the dust
Of that desolate sanctuary.

Having been likely written at some point either during or after the First Crusade, Halevi’s poem carries a lot of emotional weight. What struck me was the intense, mournful longing, which I tried to bring into the music. Given the continued turmoil in the region, I opt not to sing this song unless asked, so that I can provide the proper context. And since I don’t go to many bardic circles due to having small children, I don’t get asked often at all. And honestly? That’s okay. It’s an emotional song for me, as much as it was good practice in taking existing words and figuring out a tune for them. It doesn’t need to be on any bardic circle “greatest hits” list.

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Citing SCAdians

The short answer is yes. An emphatic, eyes slightly wide with incredulity, yes.

YES, you should cite SCAdians, if you:

  • are basing your work off of theirs;
  • learned something from them and are using that in your work; and/or
  • they helped guide your process.

Let’s go backward through that list, shall we? But first – some rules.

  • For websites, handouts, etc., use modern names in your citations, with SCAdian names in [brackets], or however your citation method of choice handles screen names. But also be mindful that, depending on how you’re going to publish/disseminate your work, you should let the SCAdian know/get permission to cite them and let them approve the citation. This is for safety. If the SCAdian would rather you not use their modern name, abide by their wishes.
  • For SCAdian websites and handouts, use Wayback Machine URLS. You can save a page in the Wayback Machine really easily, and it ensures that when someone goes to the site in the future, via that URL, they’ll be able to see the content you’re referencing.
  • If you’re directly quoting, put what you’re quoting in QUOTES and cite where you took the quote from (blog, website, handout, etc). If it’s a paraphrase, still cite where the information came from.

Alright – on to that list!

If you reach out to someone for help with your project, this citation can be informal, but even as such should be included. Example:

I struggled with what sort of finish to use on the underarm seam given the curve. My previous research suggested that [redacted for length]. I reached out to my laurel, Mistress Una Barthsdottir, and she suggested I do a flat-felled seam and make the stitches smaller the nearer they were to the apex of the curve.

I didn’t make this decision on my own. And this is the sort of thing – conversations with others to get suggestions on how to proceed with a project – that you should note in your project journal. Which you have. And which you use. And which you consult when writing your documentation. As an apprentice, I speak with my laurel about most of my projects. You can cite personal communications (inline only, for APA, but you could adapt the citation to your reference list too if you felt rebellious – but check your citation manual of choice) if you feel like the citation needs to be a bit more formal. Example:

Mears, C. [Una Barthsdottir]. (2019, September 20). Phone conversation.

If you find a source via someone else’s research, it doesn’t make you look bad if you cite the other SCAdian as how you found it (such as a blog post or handout) – cite them right along with the source they pointed you to. Example:

I am very thankful to have found Hypatissa Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina’s [modernly Angela L. Costello] work on Roman clothing, and through her Sebesta and Bonfante’s compilation of essays on the topic (2001).

Costello, A. L. (n.d.) Ancient Mediterranean garb basics: Basic Roman clothing. Anna’s New Rome. Retrieved from https://annasrome.com/roman-garb-basics/#roman

Costello, A. L. [Anna Dokeianina Syrakousina]. (2013, February 13). Fundamentals of Roman dress [Video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/59611236

Sebesta, J. L. & Bonfante, L. (2001). The world of Roman costume. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Lastly, if you’re basing your work off of someone else’s research, cite their research. I recently tried to make Yuan Dynasty honey lemonade, using Þorfinnr Hróðgeirsson’s recipe and method that he derived from a poem and his knowledge of Chinese cooking. I did absolutely no research or reading on my own for this project, apart from looking at what he did and what he said he’d do differently the next time he made it. So I cited him. And then I reached out to him with questions. So I cited him again. Example:


Story, A. [Þorfinnr Hróðgeirsson]. (2018, April 29). Yuan Dynasty bochet lemonade [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://brewing.alecstory.org/2018/04/yuan-dynasty-bochet-lemonade.html

Story, A. (2019, September 18). Direct message interview.

So yes. Yes. YES. Cite SCAdians. It does not make you look silly. It does not make you look lesser. It makes you look like a member of a community that learns from one another as opposed to one in which people scrabble, scrounge, and steal from one another in an attempt to… I don’t even know what, honestly.

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What Not To Say To Volunteers

Master Thomas Paumer, current Meridies Parchment, and myself, a Former Meridies Parchment

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.

HEY.

YEAH, YOU.

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.

Managing Volunteers: A Good Practice Guide, by Citizens Information Board (2008) -PDF

Tipping the scale – Unconscious Barriers to Community Engagement, by Brett Powell at TEDxChemungRiver – YouTube

The Third-party Model: Enhancing Volunteering through Governments, Corporations and Educational Institutes, by Debbie Haski-Leventhal, Lucas C. P. M. Meijs, and Lesley Hustinx, (2009) – Journal article

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