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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.

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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

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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.

Peasant Perspective, Part the First

Ishiyamadera_engi_emaki_-_Scroll_3_Section_1
Life goals: an oxcart of my very own. From the Ishiyama-dera engi emaki 石山寺縁起絵巻, Roll 3, Section 1 (approx. 14th century). Picture credit Wikimedia commons.

About a month ago, the Peers in the Kingdom of Calontir had meetings to discuss certain aspects about peerage. Not specific persons, but of peerage itself. Calontir being Calontir, of course those of us not so graced also had things to say. Lord Hugo van Harlo wrote up a few topic questions which definitely made me think, and I wanted to discuss my thoughts here, being an Award Of Arms holder of long standing (my AOA having just celebrated its 24th anniversary. It is now out of university and looking for an honest living, bless its heart.)

TOPIC ONE: UPPING YOUR GAME AND FINDING SATISFACTION
The SCA is host to a wildly diverse range of activities and approaches. How do we find our place in it, find satisfaction in how we approach it, and do it without going broke–all amidst an uncertain sea of awards, recognition, student-teacher relationships, and peerage “tracks?”

This is a big and somewhat ambitious topic. For a little bit of background, I’ve been involved with the SCA since 1991 (about 27 years), have lived in three kingdoms and visited several others. I’ve been an armored fighter, an arts and sciences enthusiast, and a service junkie. Not all my time in the SCA has been terribly active, as life does happen. I’ve had to step away while taking care of a sick parent, getting married, moving several times, working a demanding job, and dealing with some serious health issues of my own. But I never completely quit the hobby, just went from very active to not very active and back again as needed.

The SCA is extremely diverse, and that diversity is one of its greatest strengths. There are some boundaries (which, interestingly, have changed over the time I’ve been in), but they are very flexible. The basic requirements as stated in Corpora (law) are these: Anyone may attend Society events provided he or she wears an attempt at pre-17th century clothing, conforms to the provisions in Corpora, and complies with any other requirements (including but not limited
to site fees or waivers) which may be imposed. At business meetings and informal classes, the requirement to wear pre-17th century dress may be waived. All participants are expected to behave as ladies or gentlemen.
Note that you do not even have to be a member to participate in many SCA activities (such requirements do vary by kingdom), although being a member does give one a small discount to events.

Many of us got our start in the SCA as young people, either as impoverished students or impoverished young adults. So having this diversity helps. A new member just needs to wear very basic garb (a tunic works great), and look around to see what of the many facets of the SCA catches their attention. The fact that there isn’t the same kind of rigorous authenticity standards found in many other living history groups allows a new person a chance to slowly build up skills and yet still participate. It’s really a wonderful way to get people started.

The wide range of time periods and localities allowed (any culture that had contact with Western Europe before the year 1600 is fair game) gives many people a chance to explore what is important to THEM. Some people, like myself, end up having more than one persona, exploring more than one time or culture. Others like to narrow in on a particular time and place and learn as much as they can about it. It’s all good. And that is delightful. I love seeing what other people find out as they explore the history that interests them.

So how does one find ones place in the SCA? There are a thousand answers, each one of them correct. One person may wish to explore their family’s heritage. Another person’s imagination may be caught by a time or place completely unrelated to their ethnic heritage. Some people just pick an appropriate-sounding name and bounce around from topic to topic. There is no one right way to do this.

ivanhoe_bryan_dubois_gilbert_vs_wilfred_of_ivanhoe_neal_andrews
The Ivanhoe movie from 1982, which started me on my Ivanhoe addiction. Sam Neill as Brian DuBois Gilbert with Anthony Andrews as the heroic Wilfred of Ivanhoe.

For myself, I started out doing 16th century Austrian. My senior thesis at University was on the relationship between the two Habsburg brothers who ruled much of Europe in the early 16th century, Charles and Ferdinand. I had also portrayed a Habsburg archduchess while working at a local renaissance fair while I was in high school and college, so I tweaked the name a little and continued with the same persona. Later, after I married and followed my Iowan husband back home to his native state, I decided to explore an Anglo-Saxon persona. My main inspiration was a 19th century work of historic fiction, the book Ivanhoe, one of my favorite works since my teenaged days. Then a few years later, I gave in to my passion for Japanese culture, and chose to have a Japanese persona, which is what I use today. However, you’re just as likely to find me in European garb as in Japanese clothing. I love costumes and like to wear a variety of outfits as the mood takes me. If anyone asks, I just tell them it’s my nindo (ninja way). 😉

Finding satisfaction is another very personal issue. From time to time, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What brings me the most joy?” The answer one hears from many people has to do with the people they meet and the friends they make through this hobby. That is certainly a large part of what keeps me going, but for me, the SCA offers me a venue in which I can explore history as I want, in the company of like-minded people who also share my passion for history.

The chatelaine in the Barony of the Flame (Louisville, KY) gave me some words of advice when I got started in the SCA. She told me, “This hobby will end up taking up much of your time, or your money, or even both.” At first, I thought that was a rather down-beat thing to say to a complete newbie, but the years have proven the truth of those words. There’s no getting around it–the SCA can be an expensive hobby and an intense one. There are ways to do this hobby on a budget (for many years, most of my garb was made from thrift store cotton sheets or things I could find from the clearance aisles at JoAnn’s or Hancock’s). It took me a long time to get my armor together–even though I had the use of someone’s shop and their teaching skills for free, the materials still cost and the construction took the better part of a year. We bought our bows used–they’re not the best, but they work.

That chatelaine was right in another way: the longer you are in, the more you may want to “up your game”, which means you fork out for better materials and spend more time doing research or construction. Usually, a person will want to give back to their local group in service, and devote time towards helping out at events.

I’ve really struggled with this issue. Budgeting becomes more complex as one gets older, maybe acquires a spouse or partner, a house, car, children, pets, the detritus of everyday life. Some jobs require weekend work. Sometimes, vacation time needs to be devoted to visiting family rather than going to events. How do you choose, especially if you’re trying to improve your SCA game?

There is no right answer. For me, my husband and family must come first, always. Neither of our parents live close-by, so we have to save vacation time/money to visit them, especially as they are growing older. My husband has other hobbies outside the SCA, and it’s only fair I support him as he has always supported me. You have to listen to your heart and do what you think is best for your situation (and never take flack from anyone who tells you differently! Only you know what is really going on in your life!)

For me, improving my game has been a very long process, and not everything has happened at once or on every level. I’ve tried very hard to make my garb look more authentic–I may machine-sew the inner seams, but every outer stitch is done by hand. I try to keep to period-looking footware. It passes the 10-foot rule, but there’s room to grow. I might take modern shortcuts for financial reasons, or if I’m in a hurry, but try to research the heck out of anything I present in a display or competition.

In my early years, authenticity just didn’t matter that much to me. I was just happy to be able to sew on my own, or any other art that came along. Mistress Bianca Rosamund, my first calligraphy teacher, taught me with modern tools and methods. Her belief (one I share) is that you learn the skill-set (calligraphy, painting) with modern tools so you don’t get frustrated, then progress to more period equipment as your skills improve and you can manage them better. My current shodo teacher feels much the same way. And thank goodness, the SCA is designed in a way that people can progress towards more authentic methods at their own pace.

It’s a road and we’re all always learning.

Finally, we come to awards. As someone who has been passed over many times for awards, I’m probably not the best to speak about how to navigate those waters. It was 3 years until I got my AOA, then 9 years and another kingdom until my next two awards (6 months apart). All of these were AOA-level awards. It has been over 14 years since my last award. And my husband is one of those legendary below-the-radar guys who waited 20 years before even getting an AOA. So obviously, I’m not a fan of the current award system.

However, if I try to think about it too much, I get bitter. So instead, I write in a list of people once or twice a year, and I make sure to attend court to cheer on those who have been recognized. Someone was there to cheer me on when the Midrealm’s King Jafar (of blessed memory) called me up in court to give me my Award of Arms. I feel it’s my duty to pass on that cheer to my AOA-siblings. I may not even know you in person, but well done, good job!

I will admit to some tears when I’ve been passed over yet again, but after so many years, I can safely say that no, awards and recognition are not what keep me in the SCA. The same can be said of my husband, who went right back below the radar and hasn’t been noticed by royalty since his AOA 15 years ago.

One thing I might add about awards, though–there are Baronial awards available for those who live in Baronies, but for those of us who reside out in the Shires, at least in Calontir, there is nothing. Maybe something can be done about that–perhaps the Baronages can spread out their awards among the Shires near them. Everyone could use a little pick-me-up.

I think I will address student-teacher relationships and peerage “tracks” in another post. This one is quite long on its own.

I would love to hear other SCAdian thoughts on these subjects, especially from other non-peers.

Nanowrimo and Poetry Thoughts

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Woman writing letter at desk (c.1940s). Henry Clive (Australian, 1882-1960).

I have decided to do Nanowrimo again this year, as I do every year. Even though I haven’t ever managed to hit the word count, Nanowrimo has helped me generate some good bases for stories or write a good stack of poems. I just seem to write short stories better than novels, but novels are what people want. And yes, I’ll miss a week, but I’m going to attend a few of the write-ins in the area and maybe meet some new folks.

Anyway, I have an idea and a name “Ephemeroptera”. It’s a horror story. That’s about all I’ll say for now.

Yes, I still plan to do the Tanka Challenge. I want to finish my first batch of 100 linked poems. I’ve done 83 so far. The Tanka Challenge should finish the batch. Hyakushu (100 poem linked sequence) is way more challenging than stand-alone tanka, and honestly, it’s been hard to tap into my inner elegant courtier when surrounded by the ugliness of our current government. Every day brings a new horror. But I’ve been reading a biography of the poet Fujiwara no Sadaie (Teika), as well as a biography of the poet Shinkei, who lived about 150 years after Teika. I also have access to some poetic treatises written by both these poets, as well as one from a disciple of Shotetsu.

What interests me about both of these men is that they lived during turbulent times. Teika lived and wrote during the end of the Heian period and the beginning of the Kamakura period. Shinkei lost his home during the Onin Wars. Yet they produced some of the most stirring poetry of the Japanese middle ages. I want to read their poems and their thoughts and see how they did what they did, and whether it can be accomplished in English.

This project will take time, since there is a wealth of source material available (in English!), but it’s an avenue I would like to explore.

Goodbye, Facebook

Hiroshige cat
Utagawa Hiroshige (Ando) (Japanese, 1797-1858). Asakusa Ricefields and Torinomachi Festival, No. 101 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 11th month of 1857. Woodblock print, Sheet: 14 3/16 x 9 1/4 in. (36 x 23.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum

For those of you who know me in real life, or who I have met in the various SCA Japanese communities on Facebook, I made the decision to delete my Facebook page today.

This decision has been a long time coming. I’ve taken a couple of “vacations” from FB in the past year, and I found my productivity goes way up during those times. I’ve never been comfortable about FB’s cavalier attitudes towards privacy, but lately, the atmosphere there has gotten toxic. I’m not talking about any one person or group of people–it’s all the ads, and the fact that I can’t control my newsfeed as I want. I kept telling myself that I stayed on Facebook to keep in contact with my family, but in the last couple of weeks, one of my cousins landed in the hospital and I had no idea until my mother mentioned it on the phone.

The whole Russian scandal is just icing on the cake. It bothered me that Facebook was getting rich on ads by selling my personal information, and it made me feel so helpless. Then I realized that there was something I could do: refuse to participate in their business model!

A lot of SCA things are coordinated on Facebook, and maybe I will miss out on some things by leaving FB. I’ll just have to learn to work around it. Time is a precious commodity, and I don’t want to waste it on something that I don’t like or believe in.

Ah, I feel so free!