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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A Call for Contributors

Greetings –

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.

Yours in Service,

The Honorable Ouyang Yingzhao
OVO, BF
Meridies


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On Being a Tricenarian and a SCAdian

tri-cen-ar-ian, n. (pl. tricenarians).
1. The highest rank and pay grade for prefectures in Ancient Rome.
2. A person in their thirties, a person aged between 30 and 39 years (inclusive). 

Wiktionary entry for “tricenarian.”

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.

Known World Cooks and Bards, 2014 (Northshield) – Me, at the back of court, with my 4 month-old son and my veil askew because that happens when you are at an event with a small child. Also this dress doesn’t fit me anymore, because babies make your arms buff. Also eesh, I’m so glad I have rimless wireframes for events now. Photo by Deonysia of Rye.

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.

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What it means…

amalie-of-beckenham:

Being Royalty in the SCA is more than just a fancy title.

It’s about making moments. You get the rare opportunity to make someone’s SCA history. To make someone’s day. To surprise them unexpectedly. 

The above photo was taken at Pennsic in the hair braiding shop just outside of MidRoyal. One of my staff noticed that someone we had on our award list was there and they weren’t staying for court. I was able to open court right there, with my herald, and give this young lady her AoA. 

This is one of my favorite moments in my time as Queen and I’m so thankful someone was able to take a picture of it.

If you are lucky enough to be in the same position I have been in, remember that it’s not about you, it’s about everyone else. Be the Queen/King in their story. It’s their story, you are just one of the many characters in it.

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