Monthly Archives: March 2013

Sure you could knock me over with a feather but they decided to use the whole bird!

(Note: My apologies to my non-SCA readers for this post.  This one would be extremely complicated for me to put into a non-SCA context.  If you read it and get it, you should join the organization.  If you read it and don’t get it that’s okay, we’re kind of complicated at times.)

Once again I have fallen behind on my posts, but once again I have a good reason.  So there.

The past three weekends has simply been one of those runs of SCA events that I had to be at for one reason or another.  This is perfectly fine, I wanted to be at all those events.  They were fun.  But it is tiring to plan for all of them and get through them and it doesn’t leave a lot of time to think or write about anything.

So the first weekend was The Perfectly Period Feast, an event designed around creating a medieval feast as authentically as possible.  I was involved by creating the website for the event which you should check out as there is a lot of fabulous information there.  I was also involved in that I arranged some of the entertainment, specifically three Commedia del’Arte scenes with myself and three other actors.

Then there was Whiteshield which was to be my last Baronial event as the ruling Baron of Darkwood.  I wrote about that already so no real need to go into much detail other than to say that it turned out to be a fabulous day with lots of great tourney fighting, a wonderful feast and the opportunity for us to give out a lot of awards and gifts to the people who made our four and half years wonderful.  My wife Rose and I maintained a perfect record of making sure that at least one person cried at every event we gave out awards at.  Cried in a good way because we got them and surprised them with the perfect things.

Rose was very proud of that.

And this past weekend was March Crown where we actually gave up the office to our successors.  The ceremony was simple but rather amazing.  The populace of Darkwood came into court behind us.  We knew they were walking in, and we knew there were a lot of them, but when we turned around they were kneeling in rows upon rows upon rows.  They filled the entire space and it was amazing to see them like that.

As Rose said “There are thousands of them!”  Which got a good laugh.

The party afterwards was wonderful.  Lots of people, lots of food, lots of fun.  We sat around the fire and told stories and made s’mores which we call Schmoes because we like to use fancy chocolates and because Rose remembers that joke from Toy Story.

I pride myself on being pretty hyper aware of the things that go on around me largely as a result of my magic studies which include reading people, their body language and so on.  So it was doubly amazing when the entire group of them got together and handed us presents which they had made and which I had no idea was being done at all.  We had no expectations of such generosity and they didn’t exactly surprise us with their generosity because they are a wonderful and generous barony.   But they had done something and managed to sneak it past us.  Me in particular so I have to give them props for that.

Rose and I received haversacks containing various goodies.  On Rose’s was the Darkwood Oak and when you opened it there was a flamingo embroidered on it.  Yeah, not exactly medieval but she loves her flamingos and everyone knows it.  Inside she got a jar of preserved lemons, some Peeps (which she also loves), and a handmade wire woven bracelet.

On mine was the Darkwood Castle and when you opened it there is a red dragon embroidered on it, a sort of totem creature for me.  Inside I also got a jar of preserved lemons (I love lemon), some homemade fudge from one of my friends who knows exactly how I like it and makes it perfectly, and another handmade wire woven bracelet.  We were also given a hand sculpted red dragon to go along with everything else.

It was a wonderful day, and a wonderful party.

And of course our successors have stepped up now and they are already planning and doing amazing things.  We couldn’t be more proud.

Everything could have stayed like that and I would have counted the weekend a total success.  But there was one more surprise to come for me.

After the Peerage meetings were over Their Majesties held me back.  This is, of course, giant clue #1 and all I really needed in order to know what was coming, especially in light of who was standing there to witness the events at hand.  I’ve heard of people being surprised by this but I don’t really know how.

His Majesty took off his Pelican Medallion.  Call this giant clue #2.  I could potentially see how someone might not catch this clue either.  For me it’s painfully obvious because I watch people’s hands all the time.  Hands give away a lot of clues, not just in what they are doing or holding, but in how they move.

This does not in any way diminish the fact that being offered admittance to The Order of The Pelican was still something that completely floored me.  Yes, I wasn’t kidding when I said you could have knocked me over with a feather.   I teared up immediately.  Hell I’m tearing up just a bit writing this.

This is one of those “long time in coming” sorts of moments that the SCA brings and drops in our laps every once in a while.  A perfect moment in time.

But I always knew that if I was ever to be offered this particular thing that before I could properly accept it I needed to ask a question.  My wife has been a member of this order for a long time.  And I know what kind of a standard she upholds.  So when I was offered I had to ask her if she thought that I was ready.

She said “yes.”

So here I am now making plans for how and when I am going to do the actual ceremony.  I have decided to do this at Beltane in the last court of Their Majesties Ob and Ascelin.  As the royals who made the offer I find it fitting.

I have reached out to a handful of people to be a part of the ceremony as part of my procession, people to stand and witness, and people to speak for me.  My plans moving along and that makes me happy.  It’s becoming real now.

Yeah, they could have knocked me over with a feather, but they did use a whole damn bird!

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And So It Has Come To This…….

BaronInReposeFour and a half years.

I have been the Baron of Darkwood for about four and a half years.  In all honesty I am counting the couple of months between finding out and stepping up since all my energy was being devoted in that direction.  That and it’s easier to say four and a half years than to say four years and three months.  Just flows better.

Regardless I’ve been at this for a little while now.  Not as long as some.  Longer than others.

I’ve been in the SCA for about twenty-five years now.  Again, not as long as some, but longer than others, and certainly long enough to know a thing or two, or at the very least have an opinion or two.  Which is really just a way of saying “hey, these are my credentials but you listen to me at your own risk.”

When I had been playing in the SCA for somewhere around five years or so I had learned enough to get a pretty good feeling for the structure of the organization.  Ranks and titles and awards.  I had a pretty good idea how it all fit together.  I knew the territories around me reasonably well and how the geography of the regular world mapped onto the geography or our medieval kingdom.

And in that process I learned about the nature of The Barony.  We have several within this kingdom.  I learned where they were and what area the encompassed.  I learned how most of them selected their Baron and Baroness.

And I really thought the title of Baron was cool.

The first time I really looked at the possibility of becoming a Baron I was just too damn young.  I knew that I didn’t have the years and the resources behind me to make it a reasonable thing to consider.  But I flirted with the idea nonetheless.  It was an area where no barony existed but there was a sufficiently large population base that they were considering the possibility of becoming a barony.

For those of you who know me, you may think you know where and when I’m speaking of but I can tell you in all honesty that this was many years before that time and many miles north of where I am now.  I’ll leave you to guess.

There were a lot of reasons why that wasn’t going to be a good idea overall.  To many things in my life were simply too unstable and really, in retrospect, I didn’t have anywhere near the kind of recognition or traction it would have taken to put my hat in the ring for a location that was already a barony let alone the force of character and strength it would have taken to try and weld the group together into a barony.

Nope, that time wasn’t going to work and that’s a good thing.

A few years later I moved into my current home Barony with my eventually to be wife.  Took us a while to get there but we did.  However for the first several years of our SCA participation after moving here we didn’t spend much time playing with the barony.  We never felt particularly welcomed and we weren’t particularly impressed by what we saw at the time.

Many can tell you that for a number of years our barony was split by a variety of political and social schisms that took their toll on the population.  My wife and I have always had an extreme allergy to politics so we contented ourselves with continuing to play on the Principality and Kingdom levels as we already had been.

So, about ‘that time.’  Well, that happened a while back when the idea was proposed that the local area I was in had sufficient population but also sufficient wound with regards to how it was outcast from the rest of the Barony it was part of, that it considered the possibility of becoming its own Barony.  There was a surprising amount of support for this idea both inside and outside the group in question, but the drivers behind the idea had little understanding of how things work in this Kingdom and so began proposing ideas on how to structure this ‘new barony’ which quickly became unpopular and the idea died before it ever gained enough traction.

In hindsight I realized that the idea wasn’t a bad one on its face but the direction was ill conceived and so it was never really going to make it.  More years passed.

Eventually we did start playing with the barony more and we were witness to the process which led to our predecessors.  They had a fresh take on the direction the barony needed to go.  They were a great deal more welcoming to us.  They were of interest to our future.

In the interest of fairness I must state that my wife and I both may have been a bit harsh on the barony as well prior to this.  Welcoming or not, we were very guarded and may have been prickly enough to keep people away from us as well.  I mention this because I can recall distinctly a conversation taking place where we said to ourselves “Selves, these are new people.  Perhaps we should venture forth and see what changes they will bring to the barony and shed our prickly exteriors and take a chance upon them.”

Or, you know, something like that.

In any case we do sort of mark this time as when we stepped up our participation locally, and for whatever reason found ourselves much more comfortable and welcome among the population as a whole.  We became extremely active.  We did a lot of stuff and helped a lot of people and generally just decided that we could participate with barony generally a lot more than we had.

More years go by and eventually our predecessors put the word out that they were looking for successors.  One couple made their intentions known early on.  A couple of other couples started to consider the same.  We began to consider it as well.

My wife and I had long discussions over the whole process.  How much time it would take.  How much of a commitment it would be.  How much of our focus and bandwidth would have to be devoted to the whole process and what we would need to do to take care of the details.

There was a lot.

But I remember at one point the conversation having turned to all the jobs my wife had held over the years in the SCA.  She has always been running something.  Offices at various levels.  Autocratting an event.  Cooking a feast.  Having multiple jobs at the same time even.  Occasionally I held a job or two as well, but for the most part it was always her.  In fact so much so that for some time we were commenting to each other that it didn’t matter what I did, she would still get the credit for it even if she wasn’t ever there simply because everyone assumed it was always her.

That actually became a turning point.  I expressed how much I had always wanted to do this job of landed Baron.  And I remember her saying “you have always supported me in every job I’ve done, even putting your own interests on hold.  It’s long overdue that I did the same thing for you.”

So we threw our hats into the ring.  I remember the conversation we had with our predecessors when we let them know that we were interested.  I felt like I was going to be tackled.  “We were hoping you would come in.  We think you are excellent candidates.”  Or, you know, words like that.

At the time one of our big concerns was that my wife was currently the Kingdom Seneschal.  We knew timing wise that if we were chosen she would still be in that office for at least several months before her successor was ready.  But we agreed that there would be a division of labor where she would continue to be Kingdom Seneschal while I handled the barony completely and in the end that worked out fine.

When it was finally time to start the process there were only two sets of candidates.  So it was going to be up to a choice between ourselves and a pair who had a long history with the Barony, much longer than ours.

As we spent the next few months answering questions from the populace of the barony and generally just putting ourselves on display we did, sadly, begin to hear reports that our competition was trash talking us to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen.  This was disappointing for us really.  We thought we had a decent relationship with them.  We expressed our dismay but we did not try and put a stop to it.  This was what they wanted to do as part of their ‘campaign’ for the position.

And when asked our opinions of our competition I remember that we made a concerted effort to stick to the facts we could point to directly and to not give in to any kind of second hand gossip or “he said, she said” finger pointing.  We knew it would not serve anyone, least of all us.  In fact we were somewhat disappointed to hear any of it at all since in several cases the ‘news’ of trash talking was brought to us in a way that suggested that certain people wanted us to get into the mudslinging and that hurt more than being trash talked in the first place.

When the day came for the populace to make its choice there was plenty of pomp and circumstance.  We went through the process.  I remember how it felt for my wife and I to be standing in the center of the room and trying to make sure that we could address our answers to everyone.  Good theater training paid off there.

One thing that happened, but I was unaware was a test at all was that two small children decided that running around in the hall around us while we were conducting our business would be great fun.  Later, well after we were selected, we found out from the parents of said children that it was a test to see how we would respond to being interrupted by kids.  My wife scooped one child up and played with the other while I smiled and continued to answer the question at hand.

We passed that test.

I remember that we genuinely enjoyed the process of answering all the questions that were put to us.  It gave us a chance to talk, to tell people more than answers but to give perspective and what we thought we would like to do going forward.  We had a vision and we were eager to share it.

Of all the questions that were asked only two remain in my memory.

The first remains because I found it so incongruously funny.  I am a rapier fighter and for many years the rapier community has been outside the mainstream of the Kingdom due in large part to the prejudices of just a few people.  This is okay in so far as the community survives and even thrives as popular opinion has been swayed by the steadfast behavior of those of us who continue to practice it.

During the questioning I was asked that because my preference for fighting is as a rapier fighter as opposed to heavy fighting if I would ‘marginalize’ (yes, that’s the word that was used)… if I would ‘marginalize’ the heavy fighters.

Given decades of marginalization of the rapier fighters *by* the heavy fighting community I was struck by how funny that was.

The second question that stuck with me was ‘what would we do if we didn’t become baron and baroness?’  That question stuck with me not because it was asked but because it tied directly in to what ended up happening in the end.

It seemed such an odd question because it certainly wasn’t going to be a situation of us picking up our toys and going home or something like that.  I recall saying that we would probably be disappointed for ten minutes or so and then we’d simply keep on doing what we wanted to do anyway.  Whether we won the vote of the populace or not wasn’t going to impact the fact that we were part of Darkwood now, and so much a part of Darkwood that the possibility existed that we could potentially become the baron and baroness.  Darkwood was our home and we were bound to do something to continue to contribute even if it wasn’t as baron and baroness.

When the questions were over we left the room and the populace asked all their questions of our competitors.  I know that they too were subjected to the ‘small playing child test’ and did not fare as well as we did according to the mother of the children.  I know that our competitors did not present as coherent a vision for the future of the barony, perhaps no real vision at all, but I know little else because such proceedings were secret from us and even to this day no one has really said much of how it all went.

After all was done, that evening court was held and the results were announced.  We had been selected.  And here is where things were driven home with regards to that second question.

I know that our competitors were there in the hall to hear the announcement.  A few minutes later my apprentice who was Baroness of another barony to the north at the time made an announcement in court and as she progressed out she threw candy chocolate coins to the audience, a show of ‘largess’ common to our game.  Without paying much attention she threw chocolate coins in the direction of the table where our competitors had been seated.  The coins landed with a resounding thud compared to everywhere else because during those few previous minutes they had packed up their things and left.

A few months later they moved entirely out of the barony.  We know in part at least that this was due to a work situation.  His job was many hours commute to the south and we knew that a part of their plan was to move closer to there regardless.  It was all to be a matter of timing; staying if they had won and having no reason to stay if they had not.

But we could not help but feel saddened by their quiet departure from the hall that evening.  We would not have done so.  We would have stayed to celebrate their good fortune and we were saddened that they did not feel the same way toward us.

Since that time we served the barony.  We represented it in many ways.  I fought wearing its colors.  I spoke not just to the barony in court but for the barony in Principality and Kingdom courts.  I solved many a problem and created a few along the way with my big mouth.

My wife stood by me as baroness and inspired the populace to try new things, to think differently about how things had always been done.  Sometimes she ‘moved the food bowl’ just to move it and get people out of their ruts.  And she always supported me as best she could in my dream of being a landed baron.

There were times when we thought no one really was paying attention.  There were times when we felt that no matter how hard we tried we couldn’t avoid having to step in and fix things we shouldn’t have had to fix.  We fought with our officers and then rewarded them for fighting back and standing up to us.

And we always made sure to ask “are you having fun?”  Because in the end, if it wasn’t fun then why were we doing it at all?

But this past weekend has shown me that people were paying attention all along.  That they cared enough to work as hard as they could and that they would do everything they could, whatever they could before they would trouble us for help because they wanted it just as right as we did.  We were reminded that people who fight for what they believe in are the most deserving of our respect.

And never once was anyone not having the fun they deserved to have.

Over and over again, for weeks now, but especially this past weekend we have been approached publically and privately with words of encouragement and praise for the Darkwood that has been for the past four and half years.  Many people came to us to tell us that we will be missed as baron and baroness even as they are excited to see what or successors will do.  Hearing those words, knowing that we have had such a positive impact is the greatest thing for us.  It is the greatest thing for me, to know that through it all I have served the barony well.

It is all I ever wanted.  And to see everyone stand and applaud us was the single most amazing thing I have ever experienced during this time.

We are proud of what we accomplished even though we know we didn’t accomplish everything we wanted to.  Does anyone ever really accomplish everything they set out do when it comes to this game?  I don’t think so.  Although my wife is proud to say that we accomplished the goal of making sure at least one person in every court received an award that made them cry.  You know, in a good way.

We are proud of what the barony has become under us.  And we are excited what it will become under our successors.

There is one question that everyone has asked which still needs an answer.

“Are you ready to be done?”

Time and time again, in a variety of ways, I have been asked this question.  Sometimes it’s been clearly asked as “have you had enough?”  Sometimes it’s been asked as “will you miss it?”  Sometimes it’s been asked as “you’re not leaving us are you?”

“Are you ready to be done?”

No.  I am not.

I could continue to be The Baron of Darkwood for many years to come.  But I won’t do that.  When we stepped up it was with a definite plan.  A timeline which we knew that we would stick to no matter how we felt about it.  We made that decision because at the time we thought it would be wise to not burn ourselves out or to run the risk of wearing out our welcome with the populace.

But now, in hindsight, I have found that there is a wiser reason for doing so.

In the short time since our successors were chosen I have already begun to see changes taking place, a clear direction they wish to go in.  And they have presented ideas which I have seen and thought to myself “why didn’t I think of that?”

There was a revelation.  I have been in this position long enough that I have begun to develop blind spots.  Avoiding the blind spots is what makes the barony grow.  Taking advantage of new opportunities is what makes people grow and enjoy the barony.

So it’s time to step down.  To let the barony progress in new hands.

“Are you ready to be done?”

No.  I am not.  But it’s time.  It’s the right time.  I’ll miss it.

And yes, in the future, if the conditions are right, we would consider throwing our hats into the ring once again.

In the meantime, if the barony needs us, we’ll be right here.  We aren’t going anywhere.  Darkwood is our home.  We will not abandon it.  We will always fight for it, care for it, protect it, stand up for it and represent it to the best of our abilities.

Because we’re Darkwood and it’s what we do.

Now Departing, Flight #1

I talked before about the concept of flight time, that idea that after a certain amount of practice and rehearsal the only way you are going to get better at what you do is simply by doing it.  For me this means always being ready to perform magic.

Years ago I didn’t have any particular problem with this.  I always had a few things on me and while I was working full time as a magician this was a good thing which got me the occasional gig.  But when I stopped working full time I started falling out of practice, which turned into a spiral of not wanting to perform because I haven’t been practicing, etc etc etc.  I’m sure you can see where that leads.

In the book The Show Doctor by Jeff McBride this concept of flight time is discussed a great deal as is the idea of “the commando act.”

The Commando Act described by Jeff is essentially a ‘ready to go’ bag with everything you need to be able to perform at a moment’s notice.  Now for me that’s not too difficult.  Most of the magic I perform is up close and personal which means I need only a few small props which fit into an easy to grab bag.  For other performers this might be a bit more difficult.

I’ve started carrying this around and it has helped.  I’ve performed in a few places now but after this past weekend I realized I was still playing it safe.  I had been performing for people who already knew me and were therefore safe.  They would be supportive no matter what.

This past weekend I attended a birthday party for my nephews, two very young kids.

No, I didn’t perform for the kids.  I generally don’t because most of the magic I do isn’t really designed for kids.  I performed for several of the parents and for friends of my brother whose kids they are.

I’d had a bit of an introduction in the sense that my mother started hyping me up to some of the other adults there.  But in essence I had to work myself up and approach someone and say “so you want to see a magic trick?”  Which is, by the way, one of the most lame ways to start to gather an audience.  I really need to work on my approaches.

In any case there I was approaching a person who was for all intents and purposes a complete stranger to me.  Heck, even though I asked her name at that point I honestly don’t recall what it is now.

Everything went perfectly.  I performed for about twenty minutes essentially holding court over my small gathering of parents grateful for a distraction.

It really isn’t a case of not believing that the concept of flight time would work.  I know that it does.  I’ve seen it in action plenty of times.  But taking the first hard push is the hurdle I needed to jumpstart myself and the results were completely worth it.  The magic flowed from my finger tips and I heard through the rest of the day “magic is real” from an especially appreciative spectator.

If you’ve been considering my words, if you’ve been considering engaging in this flight time concept to help motivate yourself and further develop mastery of your own artistic skills I can whole heartedly recommend it.  I felt accomplished and gratified and I certainly had no problem walking out of the house this morning to travel to my mundane daily grind with my commando bag in hand just on the off chance that an opportunity might present itself for me to show off just a little bit more.

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