When You’re Wrong

Hi. My SCA name is Ouyang Yingzhao, pronounced OH-yawng YING-chow. OH like so, not OO like root.

Last summer, there was one of those “tell us about yourself” SCA memes bouncing around Facebook. This one included how to pronounce your name.

I filled it out and posted it, using the pronunciation that I had been using since about 2016, while the name was still in the process of being registered.

The thing is, I had been pronouncing it incorrectly, and by doing so, had perpetuated others in pronouncing it incorrectly. I was wrong, and because I didn’t know, other people who looked to me as an example were also wrong.

This post has been a long time coming – believe me, I know. Every time someone has said my name, either in greeting or introducing me, in the past year and change, I have cringed a little on the inside knowing it was incorrect, but also felt like it wasn’t the right time to correct them, due to some context or another.1 Since I was first corrected, I have wanted to do a longer “I was wrong” post, but I also wanted to tie it into a larger conversation about being wrong. But it kept getting put off, then forgotten, then remembered whenever someone said my name. And then I’d feel guilty about not having done it yet.2

That changes today. Hi. My SCA name is Ouyang Yingzhao, pronounced OH-yawng YING-chow. OH like so, not OO like root.

I should have written this sooner – not over a year after being corrected – and I’m sorry. It’s not the fault of the herald that helped me – they told me how to pronounce it correctly when we decided on the name. I can’t say for sure how the pronunciation got messed up in my head, but it did, and I am very, very sorry for making and perpetuating this mistake, and thereby not doing right by the Chinese language, its people, and their history.

Why is this such a big deal? It’s just a name, right? Names are words – words that are attached to people. And words are powerful. Names are powerful. And this name, this proper noun, is also from a language that I do not speak and a culture that I do not personal identify with. So getting it right matters a lot, and getting it wrong is bad.

All I can do now is acknowledge the mistake and point it out when my name is mispronounced. I am sorry for not doing this sooner. I will, as always, strive to do better.

<3

  1. I’ve tried to retrain my own voice to say it the correct way, and I’m doing better. 4 years of saying a word one way takes a conscious effort to correct.
  2. That happens a lot. It’s weird, and stupid, but it’s my brain. I’m working on it.
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On Expectations During the Unexpected

[Written on my phone while lying in bed, because reasons.]

I’m a very to-do list and goal-oriented person. I like crossing things off lists. I like checking boxes.

In mid-March, when everything locked down and I started working from home (which I am very blessed and thankful to be able to do), I made lots of plans. Things I would do with the extra time I gained by not having to be in my car running errands, commuting, etc. Some of them, I did. Some of them got put by the wayside as pandemic anxiety settled in and started to crush all my motivation and creativity.

In December 2019, I made a 2020 to-do list which I titled The Big List. It hss SCA projects, unfinished things, household goals, finanical milestones, etc. And I can easily divide it into thirds to make sure I’m on track as the year progresses.

I’m not on track.

The Big List, July 29, 2020. To be on track, I will need to fill in 10 more things before the end of August.

I could make a sub-list of 10 things to get done between now and the end of August so I can fill in that second third in the circle, but nothing bad will happen if I don’t. And in two weeks, my son starts first grade via remote learning. I’m still teleworking, but even though I agruably have more time, my creative energy is tapped. I’m lucky if I can finish a book, let alone find one that is capable of capturing my attention.

And it’s okay. I keep telling myself that it’s okay. This too shall pass, even if we have no idea when, or what the world will look like when it does.

The best I can do is tend to immediate needs – for myself and my family – and be kinder to myself as part of that.

And that means stop looking at this list. Or maybe making a new one with fewer items – like getting vigil and elevation fabric ironed and cut for sewing…

Hang in there, folks. It’ll be okay. We’ll get through this. Be kind. <3

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Ethics and Peer-like Qualities

“And do nothing that you would not like to see him do, ‘Cause that monster in the mirror, he just might be you.” – Grover

I started playing in the SCA in Northshield, and one of the pieces of the standard peerage ceremony there is the Peerage Admonishments/Admonitions – a listing of qualities that a peer should possess. Usually, these are read by members of the populace, popping up among the assemblage to read from a small slip of paper.

When the person who got me into the SCA, Mistress Orlaith, was elevated to the laurel, Master Ingus arranged them into a chant which still brings tears to my eyes.

Recorded by the most excellent Viscountess/Mistress Elashava bas Riva

A Peer must seek excellence in all endeavors, not for their own
good, but for the good of others.
A Peer must always seek justice, truth tempered with mercy.
A Peer must remain loyal to the people and the ideals they
choose to live by.
A Peer must always defend their kingdom, their family and
those who depend upon them.
A Peer must have the courage to sacrifice for the precepts and
people they value.
A Peer must have faith in their beliefs.
A Peer values the contributions of others and does not boast of
their own accomplishments.
A Peer must be generous as far as their resources allow.
A Peer recognizes that true nobility arises from the journey, not
the destination.

Northshield Boke of Ceremonies

There is no official “list” of peer-like qualities that any kingdom or peer can point to that I am aware of. My understanding is that, rooted in the concept of chivalric/medieval Christian virtues, these qualities are, for the most part, basic human decency – qualities that we see in numerous cultures, reflected in religious and and other ideological writings. It is the fact that these qualities transcend culture that I want to shed light on.

There are a number of lists of chivalric virtues, or virtues from the medieval Christian church, which we could hold up to the SCA’s nebulous list of peer-like qualities/virtues to find an analogue, but I want to go beyond the Christian Normative view of these and look at other faiths and teachings within period to find how the SCA virtues align with those philosophies.

I might, in future, write a series of posts looking at various concepts in Judaism (my religion), what commonalities can be found in the teachings of Confucius, and how PLQs are a reflection of both.

Rather than wax philosophical about this any further, I think I’ll just put gather up quotes and citations for us all to ruminate on.

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

Hillel the Elder (110 BCE – 10 CE), Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a.

“Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith 13

“What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.”

Confucius (551 BCE–479 BCE), The Analects, Section 15, No. 24

“Those acts that you consider good when done to you, do those to others, none else.”

Taittiriya Upanishad (Shikshavalli, Eleventh Anuvaka)

“And do nothing that you would not like to see him do,
‘Cause that monster in the mirror, he just might be you.”

Grover (1970 CE – ), The Monster in the Mirror, 1989
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May 2020

I have been trying to write at least one blog post a month for awhile now. I had played with several ideas for May 2020, including how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected me, my research, and my creative drive.

On May 17, I was invited into Their Meridian Majesties Boru and Fianna’s etheral court to be recognized as one of the Gulf Wars That Wasn’t A&S Champions, and then later was put on vigil for the Order of the Laurel. May has been a foggy cloud of love and list-making. I’m humbled and honored to be invited into the Laurelete (Laureate?).

I have a myriad of notes that need to be turned into posts – from how to draft three different necklines to make four different Tang patterns based on the shirt, to how to draft a yuanlingpao (圆领袍, “round-collared robe”). But I don’t have anything ready to post before the end of the month in *checks watch* thirteen hours and four minutes.

<3

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The Balance of Accuracy and Accessibility

Silk fabric during the Tang Dynasty was, to the best of my knowledge, 24″ wide. 1 2 This is not a common width – I have only found it once, and it was a very expensive reproduction of a period fabric. Because of this, we, as a community, accept that most people are going to make garments out of fabric that is either 45 or 58-60″ wide – the standard commercial widths. It is what is accessible, even if it isn’t accurate. The same is true for printed motifs as opposed to woven – while it may be more accurate to use a woven (jin) silk for a particular garment, accurate motifs are difficult to source (locating them, price point, international shipping, etc.). Better to block print a design that you know is accurate on a fiber/weave you know is correct than settle for an inaccurate woven design with questionable fiber.

I don’t use period cosmetics – I apply modern cosmetics in a period style. I have done research on what materials were used in Tang Dynasty cosmetics, and I am aware of similar research by other SCAdians. I choose to use modern cosmetics to achieve a period style due to the broader accessibility of modern cosmetics – literally anyone can go into a drugstore or grocery store and buy what I use, as opposed to struggling to source various ingredients and going through the arduous process of making the cosmetics in their kitchen, then storing them. When you only go to one event every few months or so, period cosmetics – which have to be made in batches and have a much shorter shelf life – aren’t a reasonable investment of money or time for practical use. I’m also married to a Metallurgist with a background in Chemical Engineering and who used to do FDA compliance work who makes lots of faces when I start doing stovetop experiments – and has vetoed some as Household Safety Officer.

There are still some choices that can be made here – like drugstore brand cosmetics vs. bare mineral/organic/etc., but affordability comes into play again. Cosmetics are the sort of thing where I wouldn’t expect someone to buy a separate set of products for the SCA when what they might use for modern life will do the trick just fine. A comparison might be interesting, but again – cosmetics, even modern ones, are an investment of not only the product itself but also tools and time to learn how to apply them.

One of my goals with sharing what I learn about Tang Dynasty material culture is to make it as accessible as possible. It’s more fun when other people play with you, after all. And the more people that are learning about a thing, the more brains are engaged, the higher the chances get that you figure out The Thing that has been eluding someone’s understanding.

Should we strive for authenticity? Of COURSE WE SHOULD – within the balance of accessibility. When I was sourcing stones for Lady Mi’s necklace, I couldn’t find turquoise for a price that was in my budget – I have a household to help upkeep and two small kids to help provide for, because I am a Responsible Adult. So I used glass, which is a reasonable substitute, and a material that artisans would have had access to in period.

The research element here is key – as it is with anything Tang Dynasty related, in my book, because it is not a culture I hold any personal identifying claim to – finding an appropriate, accessible alternative can require just as much research as finding out what was used in period. But that research is worth it, because you’re building your case and helping others down the path who come behind you. It’s work worth doing, and it’s work worth doing well.

This is why there is a section on most guided documentation forms (and why when we counsel people on how to write their documentation) to specifically address substitutes. It’s 100% okay if you can’t use exactly what they would have used in period – just explain what you used instead and why you made that choice. If it’s reasonable – find-ability, affordability, safety, etc.

There is a difference between pushing for accuracy and gatekeeping, just as there is a difference between thoughtfully using accessible materials and being lazy with your research.

As it is with so, so many things – it is about finding the proper balance.

Further Information:

  1. Burnham, D. K. (1997). Cut my cote. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum.
  2. Wilkinson, E. (Ed.). (2018). Chinese history: A new manual (5th ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard-Yenching Institute.
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Doing All The Things

I’m not a metalworker. I’m not a lapidarist.

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?

That’s okay.

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:

  1. I have limited finances.
  2. I have limited time.
  3. 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.”

Thank you for coming to my personal pep/TED talk.

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Knowing vs. Being Skilled – Go

As I have been making notes and brain maps and other such things on Chivalric/Christian virtues, Admonitions of Peerage, Judaic ethical concepts, and the Five Constants of Confucianism, I’ve been thinking a bit about peerages in general.

Remember this bit of Corpora?

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.

SCA Governing Documents, VIII.A.1.g. [Source]

See that! CHESS!

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.

And I’m not good at it.

There are some excellent videos out there that walk you through the basics of a Go game and can help you wrap your head around the concepts. But understanding how a game is played and being a “good player” are two very different things.

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.

There is also a free app that I have played now and again, but I’m still heavily reliant on the hint button. [Here is a list of iOS apps.]

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.

Throwing arrows at a pot is a different kind of fun, and totally a worthy and desirable skill in the upper echelons of the Tang Dynasty. (Psst. You can see a pot with its arrows in the back of a scene of scholars playing Go with Li Wei painted on a screen. But it’s a game of skill, not strategy. And involves more wine.

I’m working on some class notes for Tang Dynasty Games, which I’ll be teaching at Magna Faire – hope to see you there!

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Camp Kit Coverings – Part 3/7: Coolers

This is the third post in a series on improving your camping/dayshade kit. The first was about chairs, and the second was about tables.

Whether you’re just hanging out field-side for the day or camping for the weekend, coolers are necessary if you want to keep/serve cold beverages or food. But a standard blue/red Igloo/Coleman cooler can be unsightly in an SCA encampment.

Sure, you can make a box cushion/cover for it, but then every time you go to open the cooler, you have to take the cover off. You could paint it, but it’s still going to look like a cooler (though there are some really neat ones out there!)

I’ve seen boxes build around coolers, or boxes built and lined with polystyrene to act like coolers, but that takes a level of woodworking/crafting skill that, as I’ve said throughout this series of posts, might be outside the scope/skillset/resources of folk.

As I’ve readied for Meridian Grand Tournament this year, I stumbled on this idea – hiding your cooler inside a basket.

chest with styrofoam coolers
(Source)

That’s a BYHOLMA chest from Ikea, with two standard styrofoam coolers tucked inside. I didn’t want to use styrofoam, because styrofoam, and found that Igloo is now making a biodegradable cooler, and it’s gotten decent reviews (I got mine at Target for $8).

I already have a chest-type basket that I thought would be big enough, but it is too shallow by an inch or so. (The BYHOLMA measures 72 x 50 x 50 centimeters.) I’m not sure if I want to try and find a big enough chest (do I need another basket chest?), or if the cooler will be fine tucked under the table as is. I think eventually I’ll upgrade my basket, but given that the BYHOLMA (which is no longer available from IKEA) sold for $70, I think I might wait until baskets go on sale at Michaels or Home Goods.

I might go by Home Goods before this weekend to see what they have. Baskets are one of those things.

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Camp Kit Coverings – Part 2/7: Tables

This is the second post in a series on improving your camping/dayshade kit. The first was about chairs.

Second to chairs, tables are essential to your camping/dayshade presence. Just as you need a place to put your body, you need a place to put your stuff – like a cup, or lunch, or a project.

The Luttrell Family at Dinner, from the Luttrell Psalter (Brit. Lib. Add. 42130, fol. 208r), c. 1325-1340

There are all sorts of plans out there for trestle tables, but making one of these when you first get started might be a little outside your wheelhouse for various reasons – access to tools, skills to work with those tools/wood, etc.

But I bet you have a card table, or a folding table, or even one of those folding tray tables. Like a folding camp chair, these are easy to find to purchase, easy to transport, but also glaringly modern.

To fix this, we just need a tablecloth. And yes, you can just get a regular, run-of-the-mill tablecloth to slap on the table and call it good, but if you’re table is a weird shape (like the little folding tray tables) you might prefer a more tailored option than just a swath of fabric.

Enter the box corner.

Tablecloths with box corners won’t slip and slide off your table. You can still give them enough on the sides to cover the legs of your table (and create hidden storage space), or even make a slit for easier access.

Due to the width of my fabric, I had to add the side pieces like a skirt, but it assembles the same. This also allowed me to put a pleat in the middle of each long side, which allows me some give in the fabric if I need to get under the table – hey, storage!

Follow the instructions for a box cushion, but make the sides big enough to accomodate the height of your table, and instead of attaching a bottom piece and a zipper, hem the bottom edge of the sides. I’d suggest watching a few different tutorials, but the concept is the same across them all. Cut out a square from each corner equal to the depth of the side + seam allowance, then sew the 2 new sides together – basically a dart to make the corner.

My newly finished mattress and “skirt” cover for my cot, both constructed using box corners, turning it into a couch. Not ironed and probably still sporting a few errant dog hairs.

I used the same concept, with an envelope back, to cover the mattress for my cot, and again for what is essentially a bedskirt – all using a cotton sheet set (yes, just one Twin XL fitted sheet that I took the elastic out of and the corresponding flat sheet). That’s three very modern things in my day-camp that are now covered in fabric and look way less modern.

A lot of rectangular things can be covered this way – tables, cots, bins – but I’d not including coolers in this. Why? You need easy and convenient access to a cooler througout the day, and a fabric cover doesn’t allow for that.

Instead, my plan for my cooler at an event where I need it only during the day (fieldside at a tournament) is to use a recyclable cooler and hide it inside my large hinge-top basket. But I’ll talk more about that in another post in this series.

Until then, have fun with box corners!

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Camp Kit Coverings – Part 1/7: Chairs

It never fails. I go to an event that has either camping or daytime field-side pavilions where folks are lounging, or both, and I start to obsess about my own kit. And by “kit” I mean the various bits, bobs, and not-worn trappings that make an SCA experience magical.

Carpets. Chairs. Cups. Canvas. Candlesticks. Chests. Banners.

(I couldn’t think of a C-word for banners.)

I’ve bitten the bullet this fall and commissioned a friend to make some silk banners for me, and I have plans to make a canvas day-shade. My husband is making me a chair. I dipped my toes into research on glass in 8th century China to figure out what kind of pitcher to buy to decant Yuan Dynasty lemon bochet into. (Psst. I totally found one and I can’t wait until it gets here.)

Last year at Meridian Grand Tournament, I focused on getting the furnishing inside my pop-up canopy decent. I bought an outdoor rug with a passable pattern when it went on End-Of-Season clearance at Lowes, as well as some patio furniture cushions – both red. The cushions were big enough to work as floor cushions – and while most Tang Dynasty seating was, to the best of my knowledge, stools and other low-to-the-ground platforms, cushions were a quick and cheaper way to make my space inviting for others to come and sit with me. I also cut a high density foam mattress topper down to size to fit my army cot and swathed the whole thing in red sheets so that I could have a couch – not dissimilar to the platforms we see in various paintings throughout Chinese history. My husband made me a table. All in all, it was a decent set-up – and I’m still tweaking it.

One of the simplest, easiest things to do to make your surroundings feel more period is to cover the modern elements. Small stuff is easier than big stuff, like pouring your drink into a more period appropriate cup. But making/buying tables, chairs, or even those incredibly amazing wooden chest coolers takes a level of time, skill, or money that is scarce for a lot of SCAdians. But believe me – the people who have them didn’t go and get/make them all at once. Everyone is always tweaking their camp/day shade/indoor presence to be more comfortable – both in terms of use and in terms of aesthetic.

Do small things. You will gain confidence with these accomplishments, and be able to take on bigger and bigger tasks. It’s not quite “fake it ’til you make it” but it is in that same garden – only with a better root.

So what small things can you do? More importantly, how do you do them?

Continue reading “Camp Kit Coverings – Part 1/7: Chairs”
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