Moving

It’s been an ongoing goal of mine for awhile now to write at least one blog post a month. Even during the pandemic, I did pretty well at keeping up with it.

Then this spring, there were whispers in my house about moving to a different state. It was a lot for me to process for a whole host of reasons, but as it became more inevitable, I eventually came to terms with the concept of, once again, moving to another state. I didn’t have a lot of time or energy to think about my blog, let alone write.

I know I have one more post to write about my elevation. I have several posts to write about camp kits. I have a jewelry project that’s been on hold for over a year now for various reasons, and I have scrolls I need to write about or at the very least upload to my gallery. Hopefully I can get settled quickly and get back into my regular posting routine in July.

Thank you for your patience. Moving is hard.

(ONWARD TO ATLANTIA!)

<3, Ouyang

On the Importance of Introductions

Say you’re about to teach a class or enter something into an Arts and Sciences competition or fair.

Can you safely assume that anyone coming to your class or reading your documentation knows anything at all about the culture, region, and time period that provide the context for whatever you are presenting?

Don’t answer quickly. Think about it. Sure, someone might be able to recognize the thing and its context by reading the class title or just looking at your entry, but what about folks for whom that isn’t their focus? What about people who are attending their first (or third) event?

Now, imagine if the topic/thing you’re working on is from a culture/region outside of Western Europe. Does your answer change?

Regardless of where your culture/region is, you should include a brief 150-400 word introduction either in your class handout or documentation that provides this necessary context. Do not assume that is known. Doing so implies that there is a “default” in our game, and while I enjoy my 14th century English fitted gown and bycocket on occasion, there is no default in the SCA. We are a glorious smorgasbord of interests.

So what do you say in this kind of introduction? Here are a couple of mine, to serve as examples.

The Tang Dynasty (唐朝, tăng) lasted from 618 to 907 CE and is widely considered the “golden age” of imperial China. The People’s Republic of China currently recognizes 56 different ethnic groups. The culture discussed here is that of the Han Chinese during the Tang Dynasty, but China has never been a monolith in terms of culture. During the Tang Dynasty, the Han majority’s tolerance for foreign influence created a cosmopolitan culture which included a stream of Chinese and Indian Buddhist monks, Turks from the northern steppes and Central Asia, Koreans, Japanese, Arabs, Persians, Malaysians, and other Southeast Asian cultures. Tang Dynasty China had cultural contact with Europe – via the Roman/Byzantine Empire. There are written as well as archaeological sources that show that China had contact with the Roman Empire from as early as the third century C.E. Unfortunately, there are elements in modern Han Chinese society that seek to oppress other Chinese ethnic groups, sometimes violently –  such as the Uighurs in Xinjiang.

This is the introduction from my Poetry of the Tang Dynasty class. It’s 168 words, and was one of the first slides in my deck. Key elements here are 1) what time period we’re talking about (618-907 CE), 2) what region (China), 3) and what culture (Han Chinese, while recognizing the variety of cultures present both in period and presently, as well as acknowledging the modern treatment of minorities by the Han Chinese).

In my Easy, Breezy, Beautiful: Tang Ladies Fashion for your Summer Needs handout, my introduction was a bit longer.

The Tang Dynasty (唐朝, tăng) lasted from 618 to 907 CE and is widely considered the “golden age” of imperial China. China today covers 9.596 million square miles and a variety of climates. Summer temperatures ranged from 115 degrees in Turpan, east of the Taklamakan Desert, 77 degrees on the Tibetan plateaus, 98 degrees in the southeast, and 95 degrees in the northeast and southwest. The People’s Republic of China currently recognizes 56 different ethnic groups. The majority ethnic group is the Han Chinese (91.10% in 2010) – a dominance that has been true throughout Chinese history so much that written accounts can really be read as a history of this ethnic group. The clothing and associated culture discussed here are those of the Han Chinese during the Tang Dynasty, but China has never been a monolith in terms of culture. During the Tang Dynasty, the Han majority’s tolerance for foreign influence created a cosmopolitan culture which included a stream of Chinese and Indian Buddhist monks, Turks from the northern steppes and central Asia, Koreans, Japanese, Arabs, Persians, Malaysians, and other Southeast Asian cultures. Buddhism grew in popularity during the Tang Dynasty, but foreign exchange and influence brought small pockets of Nestorian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism.

This is 209 words, and has all the same basic information as the Poetry introduction. I included geographic and weather information to point out not only how large China is but also the varied climates and therefore, responses to said climates in terms of clothing. I also noted the Han Chinese’s current dominance in China, though this was written before their oppression of the Uighurs had come to light. (This introduction has quite a number of references attached to it, which were scrubbed when I pulled it into this post – always cite your sources!)

In addition to the three basic points – when, where, who – include any other information that would provide additional context. For example, if I were to teach a class on the lives of women during the Tang Dynasty, I would likely note that the modern Hanfu movement has a history of supporting discrimination based on sex and other misogynistic and Han-supremacist ideas. The idea isn’t to go into a long discussion about these modern issues – that’s not the focus of the class or entry, or even our game – only to acknowledge that they exist and to bring some awareness to them. This is a culture that is living and breathing today – and understanding how the past links to the present is worth the 200 words or 5 minutes it takes to address it.

For example, if you’re presenting something to do with the Crusades, you would give some context as to the when, where, and who that is relevant to your specific topic. You might also also point out that extreme right political factions have co-opted this history in order to promote an ethnocentric and religiocentric agenda with violent rhetoric.

I encourage you to write your own introductory “boilerplate” that you can use in your handouts and documentation, tweaking as needed in order to provide the necessary amount of context for whatever you’re presenting. When, where, who will guide you well, as well as any additional what’s or why’s that you may deem necessary.

Post-Elevation/Holiday Break

Hey, everybody –

I’m allowing myself to take the month of December “off.” Since my elevation mid-November, I’ve shifted my focus to art for my kids and myself. With the holidays upon us (including a kiddo birthday), I’m going to put my energy into my family.

I will be teaching a survey of Tang Dynasty Poetry at Virtual Magna Faire, and I will eventually get the various posts re: my vigil and elevation clothing and details finished and published.

But now is the time for family, food, and (COVID appropriate) festivities.

May the lights shine warm and bright for you and yours.

-Ouyang

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.

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

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

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

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.

Sleeping Beauty

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).

Looking back, Sleeping Beauty is what hooked me on medievalism and fantasy. The style (especially the backgrounds) of Sleeping Beauty were inspired by medieval tapestries, and there’s an element of illuminated manuscripts to them as well. My very first forays into the SCA were scribal, with plans to pen and illustrate period fairytales, which would ultimately be bound together. I’m still a fan of the weird and rare static bardic art of books and stories.

I’m thinking about all this again recently because my birthday is coming up was yesterday, and I‘ll once again curled up on my couch, maybe this year with my kids to watch Sleeping Beauty.

In 2011, Shoomla created a digital art series reimagining Disney Princesses in “historical” clothing. Buzzfeed followed up a few years later in 2015 with an article doing the same with models. Both are… questionable at best. And since all the best/most fun projects are fueled by spite, I decided to try and try and create Period Princesses.

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.

A period Sleeping Beauty is a substantially messier, though [TW: SA, r*pe]. In the original stories, our heroine has even less agency than she does in the Disney film and is actively victimized. Still, it’s an opportunity to not only research 14th century clothing from the Low Countries (but maybe 15th century Burgundian because the origin is sketchy) but also to shed light on feminist issues in period stories.

Oh, and yeah, that dress is gonna be blue.

  1. I have a second version of this project which I will someday upload the documentation for – as soon as I find the digital copy of it on my laptop…

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.