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Peasant Perspective- Participating when Life gets Busy

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Nakatsukasa-shu (Collected Works of Poet Sadayori) (Detail) Attributed to Saigyo. Japan. 12th Century. Important Cultural Property. 13.1 × 15.2cm. Idemitsu Museum of Arts.

Something that I’ve seen a number of my friends post about recently is being overwhelmed by their activities in the SCA, trying to fit that in with what is happening in their mundane lives, and the frustration of not being able to do so.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, because I have been there, more than once. SCA (and the sub-hobbies that come with it, whether that being martial arts, physical arts, or both) tends to be an encompassing activity, or as one person succinctly put it, “all-in”. As I have dealt with this before (and am currently having to deal with it now), I thought I might offer some advice.

First, if you want to avoid frustration, remember that the SCA is a hobby, not a career. I’ve heard many people complain about peers who tell them not to be ambitious, but the fact is, the peer is trying to save the person some pain. For good or for ill, the SCA Award structure is imperfect. Even if you do everything “right” (whatever that means), the fact of the matter is awards are given by the whim of the Crown, and with peerages, they are aided by the advice of the respective Orders (Chivalry, Laurel, Pelican, Defense). So a lot of the decision is out of a person’s control. So I would advise not to be so attached to the outcome of your labors. Instead, focus on the Doing of things, and find happiness in that.

The SCA is a social hobby (it does, after all, start with “Society”), and so getting out and going to events or even local meetings is an important part of it. And sometimes that can be very hard, especially when you are trying to balance work and family life with it. When I started in the SCA, I was in my mid-20’s, single, living in an apartment, and doing temp work that allowed me the flexibility to be very active. Now I’m in my mid-50’s, dealing with a chronic illness, a husband who prefers other hobbies, a house to take care of, and elderly parents who need more of my time and attention (my husband and I skipped the kids part, but several people have to work that responsibility in as well). And that makes a huge difference on how I am able to play SCA.

I often marvel at what I was able to accomplish back in my younger days, on a pitiful income. But I was young, had a lot of energy, and not much in the way of responsibilities. Nowadays, I do have to take better care with my health, as well as managing our money so that we can pay our mundane bills plus save up for retirement, which isn’t so far away anymore. So I’ve had to change how I play my SCA game, and frankly, ratchet back my ambitions somewhat.

And that’s hard, because there are so many interesting things out there I still want to do! I truly love this hobby that allows me to mingle with so many other history enthusiasts, even if we don’t all focus on the same time or place. There is that tangible enthusiasm for learning, not just from reading books (although yeah, I love that too), but by physically attempting to either recreate or adapt the material culture of the Medieval world, and by doing so, create a tie to those who lived in those times.

So what do you do, when faced with these circumstances? First, I would say, don’t quit. Even if you have to back-burner a lot of your SCA activity, try to get out to an event or local meeting once or twice a year. There are many robust online communities, which can be very helpful in many ways, but there’s nothing that replaces face-to-face interaction. Second, try not to focus so much on what you are missing out on than what you can do. Keep up with at least one of your interests. Remember that circumstances do change, and while you may not have the time or money to participate as fully as you would like right now, that doesn’t mean that will always be the case.

Encourage others on their journey. I’ve found I enjoy seeing the progress made by many of my fellow Shire members, even as they surpass me. I won’t lie, I do get a little jealous, but I see them putting in the work and they’ve earned their recognition.

Look forward to the time when you can participate again more fully. In the meantime, take joy in smaller things, and keep learning and exploring at a level you can manage. Don’t let the imagined glory of some nebulous tomorrow steal the enjoyment of your hobby today! In this way, you can still enjoy the SCA, and the Society in turn will not lose the gifts that you have to offer.

Arts and Sciences Streak–start over!

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Life happened and I had to start my 100 Days of Arts and Sciences from scratch. I’m on Day 6. Here’s what I’ve been doing so far:

Day 1: practiced Reisho style in Japanese calligraphy, sewing on kosode sloper (working on a new pattern), research on tanka poetry.
Day 2: tanka poetry research, hand sewing, recorder practice
Day 3: hand sewing
Day 4: hand sewing, garb research
Day 5: hand-sewing, kanji radical practice
Day 6: Tanka poetry research, started on new hyakushu (100 poem sequence) project, practiced soprano recorder, hand-sewing on kosode sloper

Art Streak, Days 13 and 14

Day 13: went to shodo lesson, took apart old meisen-silk haori. Not one of the better piece I have, although a nice black/grey pattern. It’s heavily patched, and I might keep those pieces as real-life examples of how patching works, since I seem to have fallen into a research hole regarding that subject.

Day 14: Worked on RUSH class outlines, exploring reisho files that my shodo teacher gave me to work with, went through a couple of fabric bins of old kimono I haven’t taken apart yet. Was shocked to find that some of them might fit me now that I’ve lost so much weight! However, doing proper kitsuke would be a challenge, as even thin I am tall, with broad shoulders and hips. Still, wondering how I might be able to adapt a few of the plainer (ie less obviously modern) kimono into kosode without having to take them completely apart? Obviously change the sleeves. Length isn’t a problem because of my height, but not sure about how the width would play out. May try one and see what happens. I never expected to be thin enough to have these come close to fitting.

Calon Lily

I dreamt that I knelt
Down amongst the Lilies fair
An autumn springtime
Yet I was awake, the sun
And the moon smiling upon me!

calon_lily_scroll_original_20180915

(Order of the Calon Lily, September 15th, 2018 scroll by HL Alessandra de Piro, text by HL Saito Takauji)

At the Queen’s Prize Tournament last Saturday, Their Royal Majesties Xerxis II and Belanna graciously invited me to join their Order of the Calon Lily, which is Calontir’s Grant of Arms Arts award (and a polling order). I’m sure pictures of me being completely gobsmacked by the whole thing will be turning up on the interwebs soon enough. As it happens, I wasn’t wearing Japanese garb that day–I was in my Norse boyclothes (stolen from my husband), because I’ve lost so much weight that I need to make new clothes!

It has been 15 years since I’ve received an award, so I definitely was not expecting it.

Anyway, still processing the whole thing. I’ll be making a post later about Queen’s Prize and sharing my own entry–the Kotori no Uta Hyakushu (100-linked-poem collection) soon.

Planning the Sewing Frenzy

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So we’ve decided to give Gulf Wars a try next year. My husband (Alfgeirr) and I are not great campers, but I have been to Pennsic twice (in my younger days), we’ve camped at Lilies, and at Armorgeddon, which tells you about how long it has been since we camped. (Since we moved near the KC area, we tend to day-trip Lilies when we go now.)

I measured my husband the other night for some new garb. Alfgeirr still fits some of his old garb, but his body shape has changed a bit, so it doesn’t fit as well as it did. It was funny, I grabbed the tunic worksheet that I had used the last time I had made him garb (3/15/2008–wow, it has been awhile!). He maybe hits one or two events a year due to his crazy work schedule, so I haven’t felt a need to make him anything new for awhile, but obviously he’ll need more for Gulf. He’d gained a lot of weight, then lost some of it, and really, the only big measurement difference was his abdomen (waist, hips). He’s one of those guys who carries his weight that way, whereas when I gain weight, it is distributed all over my body.

So it’s time to finally make the blasted Thorsbjerg trousers I’ve been promising him for the past 3 years. They’ll be a modified version–I’m adapting a pajama pants pattern and adding the crotch gussets which define the Thorsbjerg trousers. No footies, and he’d rather have a drawstring waistband than have to belt them, then belt the tunics above. I’ll do a trial pair from an old sheet and see how it goes, then use that as my pattern for the rest. Got everything out and ready, just doing my usual cutting procrastination!

He’ll also be getting some new tunics, but those are easy. I know I’ve got trim stashed around here–gotta dig through the stash. He has a Mongol-style hat if it gets cold, but he’ll need a 6-panel hat as well as a few hoods. He already has two pair of winningas, a variety of bags, two plain leather belts, and a torse if he feels fancy, so he’s good there. If I’m feeling ambitious, I might try to make a coat. Those look so awesome.

He doesn’t want to wear period shoes, due to some long-time foot issues. He’s had several surgeries on his left foot and his foot-shape is so odd that we have issues finding him modern shoes. Hey, whatever, he’s coming to the event with me. His plain black tennis shoes would blend, kinda. (Not really but I’m not pushing it.)

I’m in a quandary as to what to make for myself. I had bariatric surgery a few months ago. I’ve lost a lot of weight this past 6 months and I’m already where my old garb is way too big on me (and the stuff I outgrew years ago was donated to various groups’ Gold Key). I have 5 names registered (Austrian, Anglo-Saxon, Japanese, Magyar, and 16th century English), but my main focus has been on the Japanese for the last 15 years.

Apparently (according to a good friend), I confuse people because I so rarely wear Japanese garb, but instead usually don 10th-11th century Anglo-Norman stuff. I do that because it is fairly shapeless, easy to make, and I can wear wimples to hide my short hair. I actually took apart and remade two of my old tunics when they got too small for me, and still get compliments on the way I did it (added plain white linen strips down the sides–a very period solution). My friend suggested I go all-out Japanese, and then people might actually recognize me when they see me.

I guess I could. Certainly I’ve done the research (which for me is most of the fun!) and Japanese clothing is not fitted, plus it can be easily resized. I solved the hair issue with my zukin research. But damn, I’ve always wanted to look like I stepped out of a portrait, and I can’t do that with Japanese, my body shape is all wrong! Even in my skinny days, I couldn’t wear a kimono due to my broad shoulders and generous bosom.

But OTOH, for Gulf Wars, lower-class Japanese would be easy to do, with maybe one court outfit? Opinions, anyone?

The only stipulation is that I have to use what fabric I already own–a lot of various colors of linen, some pretty but polyester brocade, and the fabric from a bunch of vintage meisen silk kimono that I’ve been dissecting for the past couple of years for craft projects. I wonder if the meisen silk could be dyed over? It’s not painted–Meisen was stenciled on the loom, which is why it was so affordable. But I don’t know much about dye at all. As for the linen, I have a few stripes, but most of it is mono-colored (in a variety of shades). I could stencil or block-print it? Even lower-class Japanese loved their textures, that would really add a needed touch.

Shoes: I have a couple of pair of jika-tabi. Need to put in some inserts and test them for long-walk comfort. Zori will not do, when I wear them, my feet hurt the next day, and we’re looking at a week of walking around. I have a pair of geta (that I lent to somebody to wear and they ruined them), but again, not keen.

Hat: Zukin of course, plus I have a couple of straw kasa, one of which is wide enough to approximate an ichime-gasa (top shape is wrong, though). The other one would be better for a man, but I’ve seen pictures of women using those kinds of hats without the veils.

And I need to fit this sewing around my calligraphy stuff. Oh, well, Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playground, right?

*Photo: “A Woman and a Cat” print by Kitagawa Utamaro, approx. 1793-94

Something New to Play With

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Benkei (the most famous sōhei) from the NHK Taiga Drama, Yoshitsune.

So as I recover from a recent surgery, I have been thinking about getting into Cut and Thrust (Calontir’s version of rapier) after I heal up. Yesterday, the Kingdom marshal for C&T was putting together a group order for gauntlets (he could get a good price if he ordered over 10 pair) and I decided to go in for a pair. Evidently, the rules are changing and the Society is beginning to require rigid protection for the hands.

Yes, technically, I could make gauntlets, especially the hardened leather types, as I have made armor in the past. But the bulk price of $40 (plus a percentage of the group shipping) made it worthwhile to buy. A couple of people in Calontir already have these type of gauntlets, so the kingdom marshal has cleared them for use. (Might need some slight mods, not sure yet.)

Not five minutes after I posted to the interest thread than Ayisha (more properly, HE Baroness Ayisha bint Asad), a local scribe I know who is a C&T enthusiast, PM’d me asking if I was planning to get into C&T. I told her that I was interested, that I had tried rapier back in the Midrealm years ago, but as an armored fighter, I didn’t have the time/money to pursue both. She was thrilled, and said she could bring the Barony’s loaner gear to either one of the Shire meetings or Shire fighter practices (we’re actually starting to have our own, wonder of wonders) if I let her know in advance. She’d be happy to go over all the basics with me, etc. She knows I’m still healing up, so no rush. She just really was eager for a new recruit, LOL.

So yeah, taking that first step. Usually I’d wait on the armor, but since this was a chance to save money, I decided to spring for the gauntlets.

While I heal up, I was giving some thought to the type of kit I would like to have. I’ve admired West Kingdoms’s HE Baroness Saionji no Hana’s rapier get-up, but I was thinking more in the terms of sōhei, especially since I have been researching kato no kesa (their headgear) for awhile, and have been wanting to try to make one.

Sōhei wore typical monk’s garb: kosode, ( Jikitotsu, and kukuri-bakama. Not sure with the kukuri-bakama if I could add ties directly to hakama to get the effect, or make kyahan (leg wraps).

One advantage of this style is that I would not have to worry about being fancy with the fabric. This outfit was traditionally black and white (or brown and white).

I liked Saionji-kimi’s idea of a shitagi for body protection and will give that a try.

Obviously, geta are not a practical choice–the marshal wants closed-toe shoes. I have some jika-tabi that could work for that. Maybe for effect I could make some waraji to wear with them?

The process will take some time, both to make the outfit and also figure out what kind of sword, mask/helm, and gorget I would need. I can decided that after I go through some practices and talk more with Ayisha. But this is the general plan I have in mind. I don’t mind being patient, since it took me nearly a year to build my first suit of armor when I was heavy-weapons fighting. I borrowed armor at practice (everyone knew I was building a set, so I waited my turn and no one minded) in the meantime. I figure this process would be similar.

Anyway, it looks like it will be fun, and also good exercise!

How Trimaris’ Coronation is Giving Me a Persona Crisis

Me and My Zukin Examples
Me and my Zukin Examples, Queen’s Prize, Calontir, 2016. I’m actually wearing European garb in this photo, though! Photo credit: Vilhelm Lich.

So reenactment versus appropriation—where do we draw the line? I was a little surprised at my own reaction upon seeing a picture of some of the populace’s response for the recent coronation in Trimaris, because they were words used in the Mass. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Catholic. For the most part, I’m pretty liberal, but to see Mass responses from the populace to what I assume was a fake Archbishop (as most Archbishops I have met would be way too busy to have much to do with the SCA) for some reason twisted my gut. I’m not sure why. Heaven knows these phrases have often been co-opted by modern society for reasons of entertainment or protest or even mockery.

I think it bothered me because I actually really love participating in the ritual of the Mass. For me, Mass is a rich spiritual experience. It gives me the deep connection to God that I rarely felt during my Southern Baptist childhood. So it threw me off a bit to see these phrases co-opted for a Coronation.

Will I be baying for the blood of whoever had this bad idea? Probably not. My discomfort is my own issue that I will deal with. But it has made me take a hard look at the work I have been doing with my own persona, a Japanese noblewoman who has taken lay Buddhist vows. The lay Buddhist vows part came into play 10 years ago, when I first started researching zukin (literally “hood”, although it can mean “wimple” as well).

Medieval Japanese women tended to wear their hair long and uncovered, usually down or simply tied back. I have very short hair. I had issues with trying to wear a wig—my complexion doesn’t go well with black hair and wearing a colored wig with Japanese garb reeked of anime to me. So I found a solution—zukin. They are most often associated with Buddhist nuns, although later research showed that versions were worn by peasant women. Noble Japanese women would sometimes take “partial vows”, which had them living a religious life, but at home, not in community like a nun would. When these women took their vows, they would cut their hair, a deeply significant action in Japanese culture, and wear a zukin. They would wear their normal clothing otherwise, although they might also wear a kesa (a kind of surplice) as a sign of devotion.

So I thought, okay, I’ll just make my persona a lay Buddhist nun, a widow who had taken partial vows in her later years. I could wear my Japanese garb with the zukin and all would be well. I did sometimes wonder whether this was appropriation of some kind (usually a bad sign right there), but tried to counter that by studying about Japanese Buddhism, its practices and philosophies, and its impact on everyday culture. It’s been years, but I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in my research. This is a rich and incredible field of study.

But now, I’m definitely feeling guilty. I’m not Buddhist. Is it really respectful to be portraying someone who has taken sacred vows? Buddhism is still very much a living religion. Would a Buddhist seeing me at an event cringe the way I did when reading those words from the Trimaris coronation?

So I’m not sure what to do about this. Fortunately, I’m having to take a couple of months off anyway due to an upcoming surgery so there’s time to think about what I want to do going forward. I love my Japanese studies—the history, culture, literature, calligraphy, art. All of it! But I want to approach that from an area of respect.

Although, considering that I tend to wear European garb half the time, this may only be an issue between me and my conscience. I could keep my Japanese persona and just keeping wearing a variety of garb. It confuses people, but I’ve been doing that for years. But I am interested in wafuku (Japanese clothing), too.