Archives

The Alamo, a Poem

So while digging through bins in the garage, I came across this ancient treasure. My first epic poem (and illuminated book–although badly illustrated would probably be more accurate) from when I was 12 years old. Done on index cards and bound with glue and a black ribbon with yellow flowers. I give you–THE ALAMO!

The Alamo
A Poem by Maria Szabo

The Alamo was a Mission
A mission that was a success
In short, the Mission Alamo
Was the very best.

The Mexicans did not trust
The Americans, who were harrowed
Then the Decree of 1830
Added upon their sorrows

Sam Houston was a general
Who called the men together
So Houston said to his men “Give up?”
And the men replied “Never!”

General Houston appointed a man named Travis,
Who was told he had a job,
He took 183 men to the Alamo
To await the oncoming mob

With Travis was James Bowie,
Whose knife had his name,
Also Davy Crockett
About to go in his fame

At dawn came General Santa Anna
And 2000 men did he bring
The Texans looked on soberly
And didn’t say a thing

“Surrender to us!” said Santa Anna
“And we will let you go!”
Travis fired his largest cannon!
Clearly, the answer was NO!

The fight was on and started
Bloody and 13 days long
But the time was given to Sam Houston
To make his army strong

At the Battle of San Jacinto
The world was shocked to see
Texas win independence
With the death of 183

So wherever you are, whenever you are
Above earth or below
Remember the death of 183
And Remember the Alamo!

1_cover
Cover. Bound with black ribbon and yellow flowers (for the Yellow Rose of Texas). Death looms in the shadows of the Alamo.

2_title_page
Cover page.

3_pg1
Looking back, I’m impressed that I put little illuminated letters to start almost every page.

4_pg2
So of course, Mexicans meant sombrero and pinata. Hey, I was 12.

5_pg3
Historical fact: The Texans really had a flag with a cannon saying “Come and Take It!”

6_pg4
And there’s the Alamo. I’d been there on a family trip a few years before. There were actually more than 183 people in the Alamo, but I didn’t remember that at the time.

7_pg5
Bloody Bowie knife. I was a weird kid.

8_pg6
You can’t really see in the picture, but Santa Anna with his big hat is marching in on the very left bottom of the page. I didn’t take into account binding when I drew the pictures.

9_pg7
Okay, you can see Santa Anna and his big hat a little better here. I was a little obsessed with that hat of his.

10_pg8
The bloody battle. I somehow forgot to mention that the Texans lost the battle? But that the battle was important because it gave Houston time to organize his army. Still, how the heck did I forget to mention they lost?!

10_pg8
And a sudden jump to the Battle of San Jacinto. In the men’s thoughts (big faces on the right) are Davy Crockett (with his coonskin cap), James Bowie (with his muttonchop sideburns) and William Travis, who was boring looking and didn’t make much of an impression on me. The Mexicans are shouting “Me no Alamo!” and “Me no Goliad!”, which actually did happen. The Goliad Massacre on March 27, 1836, was overshadowed by the Battle of the Alamo, but twice as many men were killed there.

12_pg10
So the stick figures are shouting “Victory or Death!” Again, I forgot about margins when drawing this.

Okay, not an epic for the ages, but hey, I was 12! Also not great at drawing. This was a school assignment for my Texas History Class and I don’t remember what grade I got, but did remember getting points for creativity.

I only have bits and pieces of my poetry from that time, mainly things I published in the school newspaper. I stopped writing poetry for a long time after my 8th grade English teacher told me that my poems were “stupid.” She was a horrible teacher. You should never say that to a child. I didn’t start writing poetry again until I was in my 30’s.

Peasant Perspective- Participating when Life gets Busy

saigyo_kana_calligraphy_example
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.

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

utamaro_needlework

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

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.

Peasant Perspective, Part the Third

taira_no_kiyomori_deathbed_scene
Today’s random pictures are from the Japanese Taiga Drama “Taira no Kiyomori”. Deathbed scene–notice Kiyomori has his head shaven (having taken Buddhist vows) and his daughter is also showing that she took vows by wearing a zukin.

MAKING THE SCA BETTER AND BIGGER
More than 50 years of people have contributed to the SCA, but the world–and people’s social networks (and opportunities therein)- has shifted over the years. How do we leave the SCA a better place than we found it?

Of course the SCA has changed over the past 50 years. Having been involved now for 27 of those years, I’ve watched many of those changes myself. Times change, people change, so too does the Society.

I feel that ordinary rank-and-file SCA members like myself, non-peers, are the key to the Society’s future. So many people do not make it to peerage rank, and I’ve seen many who do burn out from the work it took to get there. I’m not calling them out on it: this is just a hobby and people have very legitimate reasons for deciding to stop participating after getting to peerage level that have nothing to do with the SCA.

But we non-peers play an important part in the Society. Not everyone can be or needs to be a leader. Sometimes a good follower is more valuable. Many hands make light work, so if everyone helps out just a little, a lot of progress can eventually be made.

How to do this? At events, maybe devote one or two hours to helping out somewhere. Is there something you are passionate about and know how to do? Teach someone. It doesn’t have to be a formal class–I’ve often learned plenty in informal situations where someone has taken the time to show me how to do something. Pass it along.

There is often talk of a push towards recruitment–“Bring a friend to Lilies!” sort of thing. That approach has never worked well with me. I showed up at the SCA’s door of my own account, not because someone dragged me along. What was important to me was that people helped out afterwards. New people aren’t the only ones who need a hand from time to time. Maybe you know someone who has moved into another group, maybe someone is coming back from a hiatus, maybe someone is feeling frustrated with a perceived wrong.

Reach out. Talk to these folks. Listen to their concerns. Sometimes, all that is needed is a sympathetic ear or a sign that someone cares that they are there.

It’s very easy to get caught up in our cliques and ignore others around us. I’ve been on the verge of rage-quitting a few times because I’ve been ignored when I needed help, and what has stopped me EVERY TIME is the action of ONE person, either by word or deed, reaching out to help or just to acknowledge my problem (even if they can’t solve it). And it doesn’t have to be a peer. Anyone can do this.

taira_no_kiyomori_Yoritomo_and_Higekiri
Also from “Taira no Kiyomori”: Minamoto no Yoritomo reaches for the future.

Social networks have definitely changed over time. Some people really have issues with online SCA activity, especially when people who haven’t been active for a long time pipe up on some topic. My advice here is also to reach out to these people. There are many reasons why people can’t make it to events–time conflicts, distance, and especially money issues.

I believe that once you are SCA, you stay SCA unless you actively decide the hobby is not for you. So reach out to those online acquaintances who haven’t been to an event in 5 years. Tell them they are still welcome, and ask them to come out and play again. If they work weekends, encourage them to come to a local meeting during the week. That is still participating. Local groups are the backbone of the SCA and anything that makes them stronger makes us all as a Society flourish.

There will be people who just can’t get out, for whatever reason. But perhaps they can still do research or make things, and eventually find the time or means to participate again. The internet has been a great gift in this manner.

Some would argue that internet involvement isn’t “real SCA”. I feel that view is short-sighted. Real SCA is what you make of it. Certainly, there is nothing like being out with a bunch of your fellow history-buffs having fun. But again, real life can get in the way. Don’t cut people out because they can’t get out to events often. Make them feel welcome, and maybe when they can manage to come out, they will. Especially if you post about the fun you are having!

Regarding trolls (and not of the Gate variety!)–treat them as you would any other troll you run into on the internet. Once you realize someone is just out to argue or cast negativity on every single thing anyone says, ignore them. You’ve got better things to do.

So in conclusion, the average non-peer SCAdian can actually do a lot towards growing and improving the SCA, at their own pace and in their own way. The key is to be open and welcoming.

Peasant Perspective, Part the Second

ivanhoe_templars
Another Ivanhoe picture, just because. This is from the 1997 mini-series, with extra servings of Knights Templar!

TOPIC TWO: STAY HEALTHY; AVOID BITTERNESS AND BURNOUT

The SCA is built around the mystique of a chivalry “Dream”. It’s also got a reputation for being an all-consuming devourer of time, money, and social lives. Yet many find the Society a richly rewarding experience. How do you position yourself to participate in a healthy way?

I actually touched on this topic some in my first Peasant Perspective post, but the topic is important and worth more time.

Something you see in all kinds of fandom related activities (not just SCA) is tension between the ideas of Fandom is a Way of Life vs Fandom is Just a G-ddamned Hobby. The SCA can be an intense hobby and some people like to approach it like a career, while others just like to come out occasionally and have fun.

This may be tied to personality–for example, my father likes to play bridge, and now that he’s retired, he plays it several days a week like it is his job. It keeps his mind sharp and he enjoys getting out to see people, so I try to think of that attitude as healthy. Some people can spend a few days a week on SCA activities, and then hit three events per month with no trouble.

But what works for some people doesn’t work for others. These people might be introverts, or maybe they have family obligations or perhaps they work evenings and/or weekends. Maybe they have other hobbies that they want to pursue.

The trick is to figure out how you want to participate in the Society and not feel guilty or pressured because you are playing one way and not another. There may be times when you are able to devote a lot of energy to the hobby, and times when Life Happens and you need to step back and deal with that.

The burnout that I’ve seen from others and experienced myself tends to happen when one is devoting more energy to the hobby than one has. Sometimes it is a tricky business, figuring out how much you can handle. A new job, a new relationship, a health issue, or an injury can affect your energy levels, and it’s hard to step back, especially if you are the type who approaches SCA as a Way of Life.

Avoiding burnout means learning to be aware of growing tension within yourself. If an activity that once brought you joy is feeling more and more like a burden, then it is time to step back. That doesn’t mean you have to quit! Just slow down and allow others to take the lead for awhile.

kingdom_of_heaven_hospitaller_web
Okay, NOT from Ivanhoe, but while we’re on a Crusader theme, here’s my favorite character from the film, Kingdom of Heaven: The Hospitaller!

Yeah, easier said than done! However, most of the people that I’ve known who have been in the SCA for a long time (2 decades or more) have stepped back on occasion, caught their breath, and then come back when they get their second wind.

However, one thing about stepping back is that you learn the SCA can go on without you, and people’s memories can be remarkably short. It can hurt when you come back after a hiatus and find that few people remember you or the things that you once poured your heart and soul into. How do you stop from being bitter?

I’ve had to struggle with that. For me, the answer is to go back to the beginning. You can do that by either exploring another facet of the Society (there are so many things to do!) or by getting to know new members, and helping them to experience the fun that can be found in this hobby. I love being able to point new members towards things that might interest them, or introducing them around to other experienced members who want to share what they know.

It isn’t easy to watch people who you saw come in as newbies advance by leaps and bounds while you are sidelined. My advice? Be happy for them. Sure, there are a few exceptions of people who got lucky (especially in the very early days of the SCA), but usually a peerage or high award is the result of hard work. The Society is built on courtesy, so give these people the courtesy of respect.

A few brief words about SCA politics here. I’ve gotten caught in the middle of some nasty political struggles over the years. In my earlier days, I couldn’t seem to avoid them. But what I found out was that many years later, most people either don’t remember or don’t care about something that happened way back when, except maybe as gossip. All the anger and frustration that I spent on certain situations was, for the most part, a complete waste of time.

As for the gossip, well. I recently ran into someone from my original Barony. I had moved away 20 years ago, but he had been a newbie just as I was leaving the area. We did have a few acquaintances in common, and as it turns out, he had heard of me, and not in a complimentary way. We both laughed about it when he realized who I was. He saw that I obviously was not anything like the person he’s heard about. The person most hurt by this was whoever had told him that story about me.

Another time, a person was telling a story about a group I was a part of, and mentioned me, not by name, but by action. It was also not complimentary, and I called him on it, because the story he was telling second-hand was completely different from what I had experienced in person. Awkward, but again, what did it matter in the long run? That group no longer exists, I’m not the same person I was 15 years ago, and besides an odd story or mention on a map, nobody much cares about what happened.

So if you find yourself in the middle of some SCA political drama, stop and step back and ask yourself what will it matter in 10 years. Now for some things (say, safety matters like marshalling or legal matters), yeah, stand your ground, do what you need to do. But otherwise? Don’t waste your happiness on something that is an illusion. Don’t become bitter over something that few people will even remember in 10 or 20 years.

Hopefully these hints will help people who are feeling frustrated in the hobby find a bit of peace and be able to continue playing. Remember, it’s your hobby, you play it at a pace that suits you.