Theft Isn’t Schtick

Let me just state up front for the record that I have zero problems with schtick for SCA events, provided that said schtick is agreed upon by all parties involved. Schtick is a great way to set up rivalries or the usual round of amusing bits leading to a “war”. (Okay, I’ll add the caveat that schtick actually needs to be funny. Far to often it’s boring and uninspired, but I digress.)

But note that I am saying that the schtick has to be agreed upon by ALL parties involved.

Here’s why I say that – a few years back when Rose and I were Baron and Baroness of Darkwood an individual who was returning something precious to Darkwood asked if he could play some schtick in one of our courts as part of the process. I asked what he had in mind and all he said was “trust me”. I took the chance.

It was a seriously big mistake.

His schtick was rude, insulting, humiliating, and made a mockery of things that the entire populace of Darkwood hold very dear to their hearts. Both Rose and I were furious. To this day I will have nothing to do with the jackass who perpetrated the insult. I actually ran in to him the other day and even though this incident was several years ago the moment I saw him my blood started to boil.

So, when it was discovered that the Darkwood Banner (painted by my lady so I have a certain amount of investment in it beyond it being Darkwood) had been stolen out of the Darkwood Castle, a giant wooden structure which boasts among other things a nice lock on the door in order to keep people out of it when no one is around to monitor for safety, and further discovered that not even our current Baron and Baroness had any notion about it, I became extremely angry.

We had already had enough problems with kids climbing up the tower despite the number of times we said “not without an adult”. We found teenagers hiding inside trying to be, well, teenagers. And we discovered that during the week some kids had torn up a part of the castle garden so they would have sticks to play with.

In general there was a certain amount of “taken for granted” attitude towards the work of a great many people.  (To be fair there was also a lot of awe and wonder at how awesome the Castle is and it was deeply appreciated by a lot of people as well.)

Now, it’s not my Barony anymore. Except in a way it is. In exactly the same way as it is for previous Barons, exactly the same way it is for a populace that is fiercely proud of it’s home and it’s people.

One of the people in my household is the primary architect of the castle, a person who is often so relaxed and easy going that one wonders what it takes to get his ire up at all, and he was pretty unamused by this mistreatment as well. He found it in himself to smile and laugh and shrug a lot of it off, but the theft of the banner, the violation of the castle it took to do that was enough to annoy him as well.

We already have enough issues with people stealing at events. Another person in Darkwood had two helms stolen as well. Taken all together these three thefts are three to many. Especially for an organization that places a premium on ideals like Chivalry and Honor.

We in Darkwood spent a solid day guessing and generally feeling a bit violated and insulted. Sure, we pretty much assumed that it was someone thinking they were “funny” and probably trying to find a way to start schtick for a war or something like that, but remember what I said about schtick being agreed upon?

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

We had no real idea until someone, the culprit I assume, dropped the banner off under a Darkwood sunshade on breakdown day, stuffed in to a plastic bag. And then, a pretty pathetic attempt at turning the situation around via an anonymous letter was the only clue left. The banner pole still has not been returned. Sure a pole is a minor detail in the whole scheme of things, but it’s still a theft.

Our current Baron and Baroness, despite their obvious frustrations, have opted to take the high road because they want to believe in the essential good will of others. The simple reality here is that a banner has no real resale value (unlike the stolen helms), and such things have taken place before in other groups for exactly the express purpose of inciting schtick. So for them to be willing to let go of the whole thing and let the game unfold without their express permission/knowledge is probably a safe bet.

Exactly like I thought it was a safe bet.

Though I do feel like they will have an overall better outcome than I did.

Am I over reacting? Entirely possible.

I still think it’s a crappy thing to do, involving someone in something without giving them a chance to, at the very least, participate in the schtick.

There were other banners up there as well, including my own. There was expensive equipment up there being used to light up the top of the castle. Other things could have been stolen. And what I mean by that is not “there were other choices”, but rather what if someone slightly less scrupulous had decided to come back and help themselves to the nice equipment? Someone would have been out some serious money.

And let me reiterate – the Castle was locked. As in a door with a latch and a keyed metal lock. As in a commonly recognized sign for “do not enter.” In the mundane world circumventing a locked door with the intent to steal is “breaking and entering to commit burglary.” If there is no intent to steal it is still illegal trespass. Just because we are all camping together doesn’t mean it’s one big home for everyone. Our individual camps are our homes and those boundaries need to be respected. (See my article “Why Are You In My Camp?”)

This might be the biggest deal to me. I wasn’t comfortable about leaving so much of my camp up and in place because I have been aware of far to many thefts over the past few years. But I decided to go ahead and do it anyway. Yes I took the really vital stuff home and yes there was someone who was in our camp all week long.

But this still disturbed me. Obviously. Still I took a chance and while I didn’t personally lose anything, clearly others did. Truly unfortunate.

One Week Later

Well, here we are a week later and the Mists/Cynagua War has taken place. Only problem is we still have no idea who the culprit was who stole the banner. The content of their note stated that they would reveal themselves at the war but this did not happen.

In the end our Baron and Baroness have elected to let the matter slide but should the culprit reveal themselves they will be told exactly how utterly unfunny this whole situation was. In particular I am disappointed to discover that His Excellency, in a panicked scramble, tried to arrange with the event staff an opportunity for this schtick to be played out so that something could still be recovered from the whole thing.

That didn’t happen.

Schtick isn’t schtick if it leaves one side out of it. In an organization where we generally try to value each other and value honor, this whole thing has left a terrible taste in my mouth. I know that our Baron and Baroness are disappointed, as well they should be.

We’re supposed to be better than this.

At this point all that we can hope is that whoever is responsible will take to heart what they have done and come forward with an apology at least.

I guess we’ll find out.

Those Guys…

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Bjorn and I at the top of The Darkwood Castle.  Waldorf and Statler finally got an SCA Balcony.

I am often struck by how frequently my life in the SCA intersects with my life in Performance Magic. Not just because I perform magic at SCA events, which is obvious, but because of how many of the sort of philosophical considerations that I bring with me from each world to the other end up resonating with others in both of those worlds.

The past 10 days have been the celebration of Golden Beltane, the 50th anniversary of the SCA itself. For me personally I have been playing in the SCA for 29 years…. Hold on a moment, I have to sit here and be shocked because I only just now did the math to write that sentence and I’m a little overwhelmed…..

Okay, enough of that.

So, there is a story I heard from a couple of magicians talking about “those guys.” They were referring to magicians that they looked up to, people who inspired them and made them want to get better as performers and artists. While having that discussion between themselves, a young performer walked up to them and asked for autographs and commented about how much they had influenced his magic and desires to be a better performer. Once this young magician walked away the two looked at each other and realized that they had become “those guys” to the next generation.

And it scared them just a little.

The responsibility of being a sort of custodian of inspiration for someone else, anyone else, was rather daunting.

I have long ago embraced the idea that for someone out there I will be the first Peer that they meet. And lately, several times over the past year actually, I have had some people tell me that I have long been an ideal that they would like to live up to, or that I have inspired them in some fashion. Words which came at me from out of the blue and made me feel pretty good about myself.

But, in a rather appropriate kind of way, I had my “those guys” moment on this 50th anniversary of the SCA.

My encampment was host to a good portion of the members of the College of St. Davids. We took care of them by making sure they got fed and had a place to be. They worked for us by doing chores around the camp. A perfectly equitable exchange and one that we have been more than happy to handle in the past.

But there were two moments in particular that made me realize that I really have become one of “those guys.”

On the first weekend one of the college students who had been doing chores for us tried to hand me a few dollars to help defray the cost of the food. I thanked him for it but insisted that he keep his money. For one thing I know that the college kids need to keep as much of their resources as they can. College isn’t cheap! For another, I am in a very nice job these days and between Rose and I, we can afford some generosity. Especially for something like this.

But it also dawned on me a while later that this gesture was one that was inspired by all the generosity and kindness that this young man was seeing around him. He wanted to be a part of that on some level and so he was ready to make the sacrifice he could make.

I’d like to think that we had some small part in inspiring that gesture. Knowing that he made it reassures me that he is well on the road to understanding the deeper lessons the SCA really has to offer.

The second thing that happened that made me realize I was becoming one of “those guys” was thanks in part to my one of my best friends in the SCA, and truthfully just in life, Bjorn. First you need to understand that Bjorn and I have known each other nearly all of that 29 years I’ve been playing this game. When we miss each other at events it is a serious disappointment. If he and I are both at the same event and I don’t get to spend time hanging out with him I don’t feel like I’ve had a good event. Our humor with each other is fast and furious, and many others pretty much need to be around when we’re going at it just because we become the show. We bond over a lot of things, including The Muppets, which has kind of become the best way to understand us in that we have become the Waldorf and Statler of The West Kingdom.

But with all of that in mind, we also have a significantly serious philosophical side. We care deeply about issues of the SCA, of Chivalry, Fealty, Art, and Education. We are endlessly fascinated by questions with no answers because it means we get to explore them, and when the setting is right, as it often is sitting around a camp fire, this is precisely what we do.

We found ourselves in just exactly that setting, surrounded by many of the college kids who were camping with us and we got on to the topic of Fealty. I’m not going to recount that discussion here, mainly because it would be far to difficult to do so. But I will say this much; it was a wonderful discussion and I think that everyone there got something out of it.

But there we were, and during that conversation I realized that I had become one of “those guys”. I had become someone others were listening to for their first real introduction to some of the deeper ideals of the SCA and what they might mean. And I think that Bjorn and I gave everyone there some things to think about and consider. Most importantly I think we gave everyone there an opportunity to realize that there are some questions in the SCA that will never be resolved entirely and that is, in fact, a good thing because then you will always have something to challenge yourself and others with.

You’ll certainly have something to think about and discuss around those late night camp fires. And someday all of those people we had sitting around listening to us explore these ideas will get to have their own opportunity to become “those guys” for another generation.

Isn’t that the way it should be?

Why Don’t You Smile?

Recently I had a conversation with a person whom I consider a good friend though we don’t typically see each other outside of the context of SCA events. When there the general camaraderie is such that we are all more relaxed and friendly with each other, but even so, there is a level of reservation that I keep with any number of people, and a select list of others who “get passed the walls” as it were.

You know how you can be having a perfectly ordinary conversation and all of the sudden you find yourself talking about something a little more “close to the vest” than you expected to find yourself discussing? Yeah, that happened. This person commented that they liked me but they never really understood why they liked me.

At least not until recently when they realized that more often than not they don’t see a smile on my face but they know that when they come and talk to me that they will get a smile out of me, and one that is genuine. So the question came up; “why don’t you smile?”

I’ve known inside myself most of my life why I don’t tend to smile all that much except around various people, but I never had to verbalize it to anyone before, so I struggled a bit to explain.

And then I got home and this was on my TV:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Se2MiSCTDZM

Now, I’m not going to say that I am nearly as hard assed as Sherlock Holmes or anything like that, but certain things he says in this scene rang true with me.

First, the simple acknowledgement of who and what he is. “I am not a nice man.” I don’t tend to think of myself as a nice man either. I am “acerbic” and cynical. I also have a sense of wonder and joy that I try to use to counter that. Not exactly a Holmesian trait but there you go.

Next, the acknowledgement that it is unlikely to every change. Yeah, I’m very set in my ways and although one of those ways is to try and embrace changes to make myself a better person I also realize that there are things that will probably always be out of my reach.

Then the acknowledgement that there will be fall out from the kind of person that he is. Yeah, I’ve said it all along that if I f*ck up I’ll do my best to accept responsibility for it and to try and make it right. Holmes has that ethic, we just have different sets of priorities for the things that we’ll take responsibility for.

All of this leads to the statement “I consider you to be exceptional. So I make an exceptional effort to accommodate you.”

Wow. What a powerful statement.

Again, I am not professing in any way to be as intense as Sherlock, but this phrase rang very strong with me and put all of these thoughts in to focus.

I am reserved until I am not. When I have let you in that is because I consider you “exceptional” and I am making that “exceptional effort” because I value you.

I have “resting bitchy face” or whatever you want to call it. I’ve been called out on it my whole life. As a kid I’ve gotten yelled at (and worse a time or two) for “giving looks” when all I was actually doing was sitting there thinking, even to the point of being utterly unaware of what was going on around me. My natural state is largely neutral and when I’m in neutral I often look blank, angry, or worse.

For me to show emotion does take an effort. For me to let you in does take an effort. If there is a smile on my face, if I am laughing with you, it’s because I am comfortable enough to be vulnerable, which in the end is what this is all about.

No, I am not as bad assed as Sherlock, but I can and do identify with what he is saying, and not saying in this speech. The implied compliment as well as the dire warning.

I wish this clip went for another few seconds because the next part is what lands the whole thing. Watson says to him “No one can continue to live with someone like that forever” (or words to that effect) and his response is “To thine ownself Watson….”

I Wonderground

wondergroundIn case you didn’t know this, I fancy myself a magician. I know, big secret.

One of my biggest influences is an incredible magician named Jeff McBride. Jeff is a world class entertainer, magician, and teacher. Teaching magic is a passion of his and he does it well. I have seen a great number of his students go on to become well recognized entertainers and magicians.

One of the things that Jeff does so amazingly well is not just create magic but create magical venues. He finds ways to create space for magic to happen. And that is what Wonderground is all about. Wonderground is a kind of hidden treasure in Las Vegas. You can go to the strip and you can see all kinds of shows, and entertainers of all kinds. You can see big names and get in to crowded spaces with entertainment of every kind including, obviously, magic.

But magic as an art is best served in a somewhat more intimate setting. As awesome as big stage illusions can be, you rarely walk out of a big venue show having experienced the truest level of appreciation for magic. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that I think you shouldn’t go. Far from it. The spectacle of a big stage show is amazing in it’s own right.

But imagine that you and a handful of your closest friends are no more than a couple of feet away from the magic happening right in front of you. Or that magic is happening right in your hands. The shear impossibility becomes that much more spectacular because of it’s intimacy.

That’s what Wonderground provides.

Every third Thursday of the month a little Mediterranean hookah bar and grill gets transformed into a venue where magic and art is all around. Four shows in the evening and every time it’s different because every time there are different performers. Never the same show twice.

So how did I get involved in this?

Well, as you all might remember I went out to Vegas to learn how to do stage hypnosis from Jeff and a professional hypnotist named Richard Nongard. I go out every so often because I need the recharge that being surrounded by these people gives me. It always gets me energized and enthused about my art. Every time I come back I am ready to tackle new challenges. (And yes, I’ve completed the courses in hypnotism. All I have to do is send in my test and get graded to get my certification. Very soon now.)

Well, after I came back from that adventure I got to thinking about Wonderground in general and so I reached out to Jeff and I asked “What caliber of magician are you looking for to be a part of Wonderground?” You see I had it in mind that I could use this opportunity to set the bar for myself. Give myself a training plan to help me get better.

I got a message back from Jeff saying “let’s talk.”

A few days later I’m on the phone with Jeff and 15 minutes later I’m signed up to come out and perform. Basically the conversation with him amounted to “You’re already good enough. When do you want to come out?”

Gulp.

Yeah, okay, I do think I’m pretty good at what I do. I certainly have plenty of people around me who love what I do and are always happy when I perform for them. I perform semi-regularly as part of my SCA activities, and I do take on gigs when I have the time and bandwidth to do it. I consider myself a professional in the sense that paid or not I am going to give the best show I can and always treat every performance as if I was, well, in Vegas.

BUT I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY BEEN A PERFORMER IN VEGAS BEFORE!

So, yeah, insta-nerves. Still, if Jeff thought I was already up to par then surely I was. He would know.

Wonderground works in a very vaudeville style. Multiple acts, every perform gets a set amount of time, and each performer fills their time accordingly. So it was decided that I would be ideally suited to be in the “Parlor” space, which is exactly right. I’m at my best when I can be up in front of an audience of thirty or so people. The material I like to do fills that size space and my voice carries well without the need of amplification thanks to a life time of theater experience. I was told to prepare material for a ten minute slot as the first act in that room.

The first thing I decided was how did I want to present myself. This is always my first consideration because depending on the venue I might be in medieval garb or I might be in modern dress. And lately I’ve been focused on recreating my modern look so it’s been something definitely on my mind.

But I also wanted to stand out from the other magicians and I knew that if I went with my medieval look and material than I would certainly achieve that. So medieval it was.

Next I spent time selecting from the material I do and carefully crafting the stories that I was going to tell. These were stories I already used, but I wanted to revisit them knowing that I was only going to have ten minutes of time. For some reason it never occurred to me that I could simply do less material. I had unconsciously decided that I was going to do three pieces because that was always the case when I knew I would be doing a short set. Usually I allow three to five minutes for each piece so that meant I could be between nine and fifteen minutes. That meant I needed to select carefully and to potentially rewrite my material to meet the ten minute limit.

So that is what I did. Two of the three stories I planned to tell got significant rewrites. The third (which was actually my opening piece) is actually a quote from Edgar Allen Poe, so I really felt that I couldn’t rewrite that, though it was already short enough not to be an issue either.

For months I have been rehearsing the stories in the shower, on my commute, and generally over and over in my head any time I found my thoughts wandering. Eventually I presented to the stories in front of a couple of test audiences and with one or two final tweaks I was ready to go.

Allow me a moment to digress while I wander in to an amusing side note. When I received the contract for this event there was a clause that caught my eye. The clause specified that it was necessary for me to bring a bag of M&M’s to the event. “Even a fun sized bag will do” according to the contract.

Naturally I became curious about this clause. I knew that occasionally some entertainers would slip things like this in their contracts in order to know that it had been read. So I assumed that this was the case and when I asked I was told that was precisely the reason and congratulations for spotting that, not everyone does.

Huh. Maybe it’s because I’m a software engineer in my regular life, or maybe it’s because my wife is a para-legal, but regardless from my perspective you read the contract.

But more amusing for me was to discover that when I arrived at Wonderground for my six o’clock call and handed over the bag of M&M’s to the wonderful young lady who was running things, she was actually startled and commented that no one had every actually done that before in the seven years Wonderground had been running!

Really? A bunch of entertainers, theater people, magicians, comedians, etc, and no one had ever brought the M&M’s? Well, happy to be the first!

From that point on the evening went very much as expected. There was some confusion about when and where I would be performing. There was a lot of energy and creativity and excitement. I got to meet some cool people and see some pretty great stuff.

Each of the two stage sessions were opened by belly dancers who were pretty fun. Belly dancing to some modern rock and roll was amusing. Belly dancing to The Monster Mash and the theme from The Munsters was hilarious.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the close up magic as it was happening at exactly the same time as I was performing in the parlor but I am told it was excellent.

As to the parlor, there were three of us, two of which were new comers to Wonderground. I opened with my stories and magic (video clip below), and was then followed by a young man named James who did some interesting stuff though to me at least I could see his nerves. Wonderground is a very welcoming crowd though and he was received well. Then a very definite pro named Chris Randel came in and he did some really wonderful and funny stuff.

I was complimented on my material. I was told that it was wonderful to see some classics of magic (read: stuff most magicians know how to do) done with an entirely new twist and very creative stories. I was appreciated for adding my own unique flair and style to the material. I was also complimented on the character I brought to the stage. One gentleman in particular commented that I surprised him quite a bit since he had met me earlier and didn’t expect such a complete transformation.

Jeff tells me that he too heard some great feedback regarding my act (he wasn’t there unfortunately, though being at The Magic Castle is a pretty damn good excuse, right? * smile *).

It was an amazing experience. How could it not be?

Will I do it again?

Yup.

After all –

Now, I’ve played Vegas.

Crapaud #1 and Fighting Titles

saluteUh oh, Santiago is on about titles again. (See: Your title doesn’t mean Jack Part 1, Part 2).

Relax. It’s not that bad. Not at all.

First I want to talk about Crapaud. If you aren’t from The West Kingdom then here is a quick description. Crapaud is a once a month tourney that has been running for a long time now. Last night was actually #237, but for me it was #1 as it was the first time I had fought in it. It’s geared towards being run in a tourney format when there are enough fighters on hand, and it’s meant to build a fellowship between fighters that goes a bit beyond the usual. It’s attractive in the sense that there is no real “prize” at the end other than the honor of having won. No job responsibility and every month there is a chance that there will be a new “Crapaud” (the previous winner is still fighting so can ‘defend’ the title).

Also, there is an acknowledgement that comes not from winning but just from being recognized for being in possession of qualities that make you stand out; honorable on the field, some behavior that catches the eye, some gesture of chivalry, things of this nature. And so someone is given that acknowledgement in the form of the title of “le fleur” – the flower of chivalry.

So, all the pomp and circumstance of a full on Crown or Coronet tourney without the responsibility of ruling. A great training ground for fighters, an opportunity to challenge a number of high level fighters, and receive training and feedback from them.

On to procedure. In a regular tourney you line up all the “belts” on one side and all the “unbelts” on the other. At Crapaud the “belts” line up on one side and the “unbelts” line up on the other but they set a precedence by arranging them first by the rank as a members of the Order of the Ash Leaf (and award based on fighting), then by squiring date, and finally by years fighting.

The procedure for ‘balancing the lines’ is to simply skim the top of the unbelts side for as many fighters as necessary and bring them over. Last night it was necessary to take the top three.

I didn’t know any of this last night when I entered the list. The only thing I knew was to line up by years fighting, and although I’ve been fighting for a long time as a rapier fighter, I’ve only got just under two years as a heavy fighter (and really less than half a dozen tournies under my belt). So based on that I put myself towards the end of the line. Seemed perfectly reasonable to me and I was perfectly happy there.

But here’s where things get complicated and this is where we get in to the whole idea about ‘fighting titles.’ The concept of ‘fighting titles’ bothers me on a certain level, but makes perfect sense on another.

You see, I have an Ash Leaf. Technically at Crapaud last night I should have been at the very head of the line as I outranked the person who was there, and as such I would have been immediately crossed over. But as my Ash Leaf was given to me as a rapier fighter I can certainly understand that where I was in line was probably much more correct.

I absolutely agree and support the idea that ‘fighting is fighting’ in the sense that fighters should treat each other as equals regardless of the forms of fighting they engage in. The heavy and rapier communities have been to separated from each other for to long and that has caused gaps in the way they treat each other. Even as I was gearing up to fight last night one person gave me a bit of an obnoxious comment (entirely unaware of how they sounded) that came from their attitude that one form of fighting is ‘superior’ to another.

But by the same token I am not going to insist that my years of experience as a rapier fighter make me ‘worthy’ of being at the head of that line either. Of course I defer to these fighters because they have the experience in these forms of fighting. If they came to me to learn to fight rapier then I would expect them to defer to me because I have the experience over them in that arena. It’s just practical that way.

However, there is a title issue on the field that I do have some problems with and it’s this – just because I pick up a sword (rattan or rapier), I haven’t stopped being a Baron, or a Laurel, or a Pelican. Having titles doesn’t come with a lot of benefits, mostly just responsibilities. But one of the few benefits is that I have a right to be called by the appropriate term – IF I CHOOSE.

On the rapier field I am a GuildMaster, a somewhat fading title these days but is treated as roughly equal to a Whitescarf but focused on the teaching of rapier more than the prowess of it. (And of course now with the Master of Defense peerage that changes things again as well.)

Most of the time on the heavy fighting field I really don’t care. I get that there is a certain inherent ‘ranking’ on the fighting field and that many of our awards are ‘fighting’ awards. As a person who holds an Ash Leaf my “heavy fighting title” is Lord. I haven’t been called that for 16 years.

The danger here is in letting a certain ‘minimization’ mess with your head while you’re fighting. Fighters talk about ‘the head game’ as a very important part of the fight, which is totally understandable. The amount of work I’ve done to earn my titles is not something I want to have dismissed. Understanding that it isn’t being dismissed simply because it isn’t being used in a specific context is key to that idea.

Nevertheless we do invest so much of our identities in what we have achieved in the SCA that sometimes we can be sensitive to the way things are done even when done so unintentionally. And more to the point, determining where in the line I might fit due to a ranking system that doesn’t treat our respective fighting styles equally is a confusing paradox.

For the moment I intend to return to Crapaud. I had a good time and I liked being in a situation where I could experience the tourney format without being concerned for the potential end responsibilities (even someone like my could have a good day and win). There is a lot to be learned here.

And just to round out everything, I want to say that fighting Sir Myric and Enoch Baily was great. I felt like my fights were good. I learned things. I watched the rest of the fights that evening and I think there was a lot of wonderful things to see and learn from that as well. (And as I am currently on The Mists Guard with a challenge to fight as many new people as I can I get to add Myric and Enoch to my list!)

But I’m going to have to come to a decision about where in that lineup I really deserve to be. I’m proud of my Ash Leaf. I was one of the very first people to get it for rapier. But I don’t know how I feel about putting myself in a position where I could be crossed over merely on precedence when there are far more experienced fighters than I.

The Self Esteem Battle

So, I haven’t written in a while. There is a reason for that. Haven’t had an ounce of time. I started a new job which entails a fairly long commute (but it’s a good job and I like what I’m doing so you take the good with the bad), and of course the holiday season has been upon us. Like a plague.

However I haven’t forgotten you people out here who read me and I’ve been thinking about what to write lately.

So I recently got back in touch with a friend of mine from many years ago. A wonderful lady who had a strong impact on me growing up. And apparently I had a pretty significant impact on her as well, so fair is fair.

We were talking not to long ago and she mentioned that she felt she had self esteem issues. Hmmm. Well, honestly in today’s society that is not to uncommon a problem. We are continuously inundated with messages about our relative value, attractiveness, intelligence, etc etc etc. Our news media spends more time focusing on the so called “beautiful people” than it does on the real issues of our day. Everywhere we look we are shown how someone else is more popular, more successful, more whatever, and so we mostly have a constant state of inferiority going.

Except for me.

Okay, so that is utter BS of course, but there are times when I am genuinely surprised by how often I am told by other people that I always seem to “have my shit together” as it were.

“You’re so smart.” “You’re so aware.” “You’re always in control of yourself.”

Uh, no.

Okay, I’m a pretty smart guy. But I know tons of people who are just as smart or smarter than I am. I also know a ton of people who are dumb as rocks.

I’m aware because I’m always watching out for the next thing that is going to come along and bite me in the ass. I’m in control of myself because I’m absolutely terrified of looking and being scared. I’m even more terrified of losing control of myself because I know the terrible things in my head and how much I could hurt someone with them if I wasn’t careful.

And I’m scared. All the damn time. Why? What if I’m not good enough? What if I’m not successful, happy, ‘beautiful’, smart enough?

Ever since I can remember I have always been one of those people that has gravitated to the lost soul. Many of my friendships over the years started out as being the person who other people just opened up to, or being the person who saw a lost soul and actually took the time to ask “what’s wrong?”

I really don’t mind being this person. I like to help people. I like to listen to people. It makes me think that in my own small way I am helping to make the world a little better. (At one time I seriously considered going in to psychology and becoming a therapist.)

You know when you have one of those moments where the absolute perfect phrase comes out of your mouth, and it hits you so hard that just roll it around in your head for days? I had that happen. And the thing is, it’s not particularly profound on the surface. It may not even be particularly profound in it’s first few layers. But still I found it interesting enough to want to explore it.

Here it is: Self Esteem is not about who you are, it’s about who you want to be.

This is what got me thinking; I am not satisfied with me right now. I like who I want to be. That’s why I am always working on being a better me. The better me who is my goal is a moving target. Every time I make today’s me better, tomorrows me gets a boost. Tomorrows me raises the bar just a little bit.

It’s about the journey, not the destination.

However most people (myself included) tend to be stuck on who they are right at the moment. It’s a bit of a trap. When we take a blow to our self esteem, it’s a blow to who we are right now, not the person we are trying to be. The person we are right now isn’t good enough, whatever that means. But it’s the shield of who we want to be in the future that can be used to protect us, to support ourselves through the current onslaught.

You have to be able to recognize what is really happening. Is it really an attack on us or just someone else lashing out at us from their own insecurities. If it’s just someone lashing out then that’s their issue and we can shrug it off. If it’s a real issue for us then we need to understand the nature of it.

If it’s a real issue we have to understand that who we are today isn’t a finished product. Who we are today is simply the next step in our evolution. If we take responsibility for ourselves, for our evolution then who we are tomorrow won’t be the same person who took a hit to their self esteem today.

Confession time; I’ve taken a lot of hits to my self esteem recently. This time of year is hard on me for a lot of different reasons. And yes, my life is getting better. Finding a good job is a thing that goes a long way towards helping with that. Spending the coming year on several things for myself that I know make me happy will go a long way towards that as well.

I’ve already begun making plans. Not “resolutions”. Making plans.

Because who I am today is not who I want to be. Who I am tomorrow is going to be better because I am going to make it that way.

Sorry, You Don’t Get To Tell Me How To Be A Peer

Facebook has a page or a group for damn near everything. And well it should. That’s pretty much the point. Connecting everyone to everyone and everything.

Most of the time I don’t have a problem with this, but today, well today is a little different.

There are a couple of Facebook groups that I am a part of that make me open to questions. That’s okay, if I wasn’t open to the questions I wouldn’t participate in the groups. Occasionally it makes me a target for someone’s ire because I am a part of “the standard”. I’m talking about the groups that are open to anyone asking questions of members of The Order of The Laurel and The Order of The Pelican.

As a member of both of these orders I am held up as one example among many of how to behave as a Peer, what a Peer is looking for, and how a Peer is supposed to act.

Obviously there is a wide range of possible answers to those questions, but even so Peers do generally have a standard to which we gravitate with a certain amount of standard deviation around that point.

So it never ceases to amaze me when someone who is clearly not a Peer comes swooping in and tries to question us and challenge us on our standards and behaviors. It’s one thing to not understand. It’s another to come in and tell me how I am supposed to act.

No.

Sorry, but unless you actually have some standing that makes you an authority on the subject you don’t actually get to tell me anything about this.

I’ve been a Peer for 16 years. What that means is that for some people I have been a Peer longer than they’ve been in the SCA and to others it means I’m still a young punk learning the ropes. However I will argue that at 16 years and 2 Peerages, I probably have at least some of this game figured out.

So I’m going to address some questions that I’ve seen floating around, including the ones I am particularly annoyed with at the moment and we’ll see if maybe I can clarify a couple of things at least enough so anyone who reads this knows where * I * specifically am coming from.

Is It Fair To Judge You?

Yup. Next question.

What? You want more? Okay…… The moment you put yourself on any Peerage track (either by becoming an associate or just by really stepping up your participation in a particular area) you are opening the door to being judged by the Peers of whatever order you are working towards.

That’s the process. And you might be surprised to discover that this process has been in place for something along the lines of 45 or 50 years now. I could go look up when each of the orders started but you get the point. So we kind of have it down to a system by now. A system that takes a lot of factors in to consideration.

Or were you thinking that we all just love each other’s company so much that we like to have meetings at events at really early hours or late in to the night where we talk about nothing in particular?

How Can I Judge Someone I Don’t Know?

Pretty easily really.

Listen, first off you have to remove the negative stigma in your head about the word “judge”. Usually when we people talk about judging one another what we’re really saying is “looking down” on someone. If you’re coming at this whole idea of the Peers judging people being a bad thing than you are insulting the Peers and you’re making yourself look bad.

Here’s what really happens.

“Hey, I’d like to talk about candidate X, they do Y and its really a good thing.”
“Yeah? Tell us about it!”
“Blah, blah X, blah, blah Y.”
“Anybody have anything else?”
“Yeah, I had a bad time with X at the Plumbers Guild meeting and they kinda came off like a dick.”
“Yeah? Tell us about it!”
“Blah, blah X, blah, blah dick.”
“Anybody know why that might have happened?”
“Yeah, turns out X was having this issue and it screwed them up pretty bad.”
“Ah. Okay, but what are they like generally? What is the consensus?”

And some kind of consensus gets reached, usually something like “Let’s keep an eye on them for a bit and see if they really are a dick or if this was just a one time thing.”

In other words, as a group, whether we directly know you or not, we do collectively find out about you. We pay attention. We take notes. We have people who do know you and we trust them and their judgment. Some of us will go off and meet you more directly to find out even more about you. If we have an issue with you we take the time to find out about that issue and get it resolved before we move forward.

Eventually enough information is compiled and enough people have watched you and paid attention to you that we figure out if you are a dick or if you are someone we want to be part of our little club within the club.

So yeah, we can judge you. As a body we defer to the people who have more direct knowledge of you, and those of us who don’t know you ask all the questions to find out enough that we can be comfortable making a decision about you.

Am I Making You Into A Conformist?

Nope. And no Peer in my entire experience has ever done that.

First off, unless you are my apprentice or protogee I have no reason to try and make you into something specific. Secondly, even if you are my apprentice or protogee I have no reason to try and make you into something specific other than a Peer.

My job as your Peer is to teach you and to guide you. Not break you and shove you into a cookie cutter mold.

I’ll brag on myself here a little bit. For many years I was unique in the SCA. My Laurel came about as a result of my studies in Period Performance Magic. To the best of my knowledge and research I was the first in the history of the SCA. Since then there have been a few others but still, to the best of my knowledge and research there are less than a handful of us.

I value unique and different. I want my apprentices to be unique and different. I want my protogee to be unique and different. I want my students to be unique and different.

But I know of no single Peer who has ever insisted that their associate give up what makes them special and try to conform to a group dictated standard. Why is that?

BECAUSE THERE IS NO GROUP DICTATED STANDARD!

And frankly when someone comes along and tries to insist that this is what we Peers are doing it pretty much pisses me off. It’s a pretty clear indicator that they have not been paying attention at all to what really goes on around them and I have a real problem with willful ignorance.

Why Isn’t There A Check List Of “What The Peers Want(tm)”?

Oh boy.

Short answer:

Because if there was a check list then someone would use it and when they completed said list to their satisfaction then they would loudly proclaim that all the Peers are evil because we won’t let them in to our club even though they have done “all the things!”

Longer answer:

The group at large is the check list. We all have a collective point of reference for each of our specific orders and we all have individual things that we are curious about. Generally speaking that list of things is more or less the same for each of us, but as individuals we weigh them differently.

Skill level, quality of work, etc etc. These things can be judged by a more or less objective standard. But chances are that if you are already a person we’re talking about then it was your relative skill level and quality of work that put you on our radar in the first place and thus you probably don’t have to worry about that. We’ll make judgments about “how close” they are to achieving the standard we agree on as being Peer worthy, and whatever work you are doing is likely either already “there” or about to be “there.” Nothing to concern yourself with.

Those elusive “Peer-Like Qualities” however, are another matter.

They are subjective. How do you determine whether or not someone has the right attitude, the right diplomacy, the right chivalry, the right honor, the right courtesy, etc etc etc.

If you are a Peer of any kind you already know the one overwhelming truth of Peerage discussions. If you aren’t a Peer then get ready because, to borrow a phrase, “I’m about to drop a knowledge on your ass”:

You will never know how to judge someone’s PLQ’s by a “standard.”

Sorry folks. A “standard” just doesn’t exist.

At best you can get to a level of understanding that makes you think “yeah, I want them in my club,” but you are never going to get to a place where you can explain that level of understanding to another human being. It’s fluid. It rises and falls. It changes with the tides of the Society as a whole. It changes with tides of an individual Kingdom’s culture.

We talk about there being a “bar” which is code for “standard”. Not a subtle code, but I never claimed that Peers where subtle. We have a pretty good idea of what we are looking for, and often it can be summed up with that grand and glorious phrase:

Don’t be a dick.

So, here’s my advice. It’s the same advice I give to everyone.

Be who you are and do what you want to be doing. If you are true to who you are, and you maintain a “personal standard” that you can live up to, the Peers will notice. If what you are doing in whatever your particular field of endeavor is powerful enough to be noticed then the Peers will notice it. We will pay attention. We will watch.

We will judge. We will talk about it. We will make decisions about whether or not we want you in our club.

But if you think we are going to give you a check list, or force you to conform to a group dictated standard of behavior then you are mistaken. It’s not our job to make you into something else.

It’s our job to figure out who you already are.

And if you think that it makes sense to try and tell us how to do our thing as Peers, you aren’t going to get very far or make a very good impression. That is just the way it is.

Supporting the West Kingdom Rapier Community

rapierportraitSo, first off, for my new readers in other Kingdoms, some of what I’m going to talk about here is probably not entirely clear. However, if you live in an SCA Kingdom that has a thriving rapier community I would very much appreciate hearing your ideas.

Backstory for Non-Westerners

Rapier in The West Kingdom has been through a whole lot of trouble. The very very short version is that when it first started we had people who played but didn’t really make a very good impression on “people in authority” so some of those people decided to ban rapier.

Eventually it came back, and over the course of roughly 15 years it has become a thriving community in The West until about the last three or so years. These last few years the community has started to lose itself and lose participation.

As a person who has been a pretty active part of the community over these last 15 or so years it is an issue that concerns me as well as many others. So now we want to address the issues and see what we need to do to bring it back up to speed.

Causes of Burn Out

So the reality of the situation is that many of the people who were most active in the community (myself included) have hit a significant level of burn out with the community. We’ve hit that for a variety of reasons, both SCA and mundane. But regardless we’re burned out. We’ve given our all and we got Whitescarves. And then we gave even more and eventually we got Masters of Defense.

Yay us!

But here we are now with some Whitescarve’s and some MoD’s, but a community that is worn out and tired.

Some areas have been identified as being sources of the problem. I am not sure I agree with them entirely as “sources” but I do consider them to be contributing factors. So I’m going to address them individually and see where that leads me.

Garb

I’m not really sure I agree with this one.

I understand some of the complaints, but from my perspective it isn’t just the rapier community that has suffered from snooty “garb” people (not using the term garb-Nazi, so please don’t use it in a reply, it’s offensive and non-productive).

We just have some people who are unfortunately unable to restrain themselves when it comes to being judgmental about garb.

We also have people who are to overly sensitive when it comes to having their garb critiqued. My experience tells me that more often than not the person who is saying something isn’t trying to be rude, they are trying to be helpful. They just suck at people skills. Like a lot of us.

By all means, we can and we should address the garb issues, and I’ve seen plenty of “garb as armor” type classes taught by a wide variety of people over the years. Teaching these is going to be a good thing in the long run no matter if it is an actual “source” of the problem or not.

Attendance

The SCA at large is experiencing attendance issues. There is no one cause of this. If events in general are experiencing less attendance then rapier is going to suffer from that as well.

However I think that there is a valuable observation to be made, and I’ve already seen it made by others. If there just aren’t that many rapier activities being offered up then the cost/benefit ratio of going to an event pretty much sucks. We need more opportunities for there to be rapier that is worth doing.

Most of the rapier fighting done at events right now is fighting for roses at Crown and Coronet level events. There are a couple of other places where rapier is a much more integral part of the event, but roses is the main stay of rapier in this Kingdom right now.

This needs to change. The question is how. There are a couple of other things that are sitting there and waiting to be more actively used but at the moment they aren’t. I’ll touch on those in just a little bit.

Cross Supporting

I see this as a big one.

Right now in my estimation there are only really four “big” rapier activities that are happening in this Kingdom; West Kingdom Championship (which has a really big problem in my opinion), Mists Rapier Champion, Cynagua Rapier Champion, and Falcon’s Treaty.

Falcon’s can be taken off the list in terms of cross supporting because it is an event entirely devoted to rapier and there isn’t much else going on with regards to other SCA activities for a reason. I will touch on this event more shortly.

The Mists and Cynaguan Rapier Champion tourney’s happen at regular SCA events and in those cases get turnouts according to the location of the event (how far do I have to drive to go to the event) as well as a somewhat better turnout because there are already enough other activities going on that the cost/benefit ratio to go is high enough.

West Kingdom Championship is the one that I think is suffering the most and is also, in part, a source of the problem. There are three different communities having their respective Kingdom level championship here, but the event draws little attention from anyone outside of those communities (Eq, Archery, Rapier). I have never gone (I’ll explain why shortly when I address all my other explanations together) but from everything I hear over and over again it sounds like even these three communities don’t really cross support each other. The Equestrians aren’t watching the Rapier fighters. The Rapier fighters aren’t supporting the Archers. The Archers don’t care about the Equestrians.

And please, that isn’t a judgment statement. It’s an observation from the outside.

What I think Is Going On Here

First a little history here.

Let’s start with Falcon’s Treaty. I am one of the people who founded the event and over the years it has pretty much been considered my event because I have been the one to run it for almost every year it has existed.

It’s purpose when we started it was to create a “rapier only” fighting event. There are a shit-ton of heavy fighting events and more seem to be happening all the time. There is only one rapier only event.

There used to be two. When Falcon’s came in to existence one of it’s goals was to be a Mist’s rapier event to stand with a sister Cynaguan rapier event called Della Spada. That event was run almost exclusively by my good friend Ximon. But when he ended up having to move out of Kingdom no one took up the mantle to run Della Spada. That’s unfortunate, but it is one of the early steps that lead to the decline of the Kingdom rapier community.

But there was still a lot of rapier that was happening regularly at Crown and Coronet events that had a greater purpose than roses. And before someone gets their knickers in a twist about the importance of fighting roses to honor your consort, etc etc etc, all I mean is that the “greater” purpose is something like Kingdom or Principality champion lists.

The heavy fighters go to Crown and Coronet because they are fighting to make their consort Queen or Princess. Which begs the question for the rapier community (a question I have been asking for * YEARS *) – What are we fighting for?

Somewhere in there we finally started getting Whitescarves in this Kingdom. And that created a goal for people to try and achieve, so there was a motivation to fight and push yourself and learn and grow.

Unfortunately due to geography and a few other factors we ended up with a disparity of Whitescarves in The Mists and a bulk of them in Cynagua. Geography being what is in The West it makes regular training and access to these upper level fighters difficult at best.

The general attendance problem is a problem of many fronts, but one of the most compelling of these problems is that of finance. Yes, even though we are a 501(c)(3) organization we still have to be concerned with money and events that don’t draw enough attendance eventually get canceled.

Equestrian runs in to a lot of danger in the financial area. After all a site that supports all the necessary infrastructure of an Equestrian event is often pretty expensive.

So we get the West Kingdom Championship. Not a bad idea on it’s face; combine Eq, Archery, and Rapier championships and you build a whole event with enough attendance to make it financially more workable. Unfortunately in my opinion this was also not a great idea.

Okay, so first off I did mention that I have never been and I would explain why – for me the cost/benefit ratio sucks. The event is always held in Lodi. It never moves. This is because of the available Eq facilities.

I have precisely zero interest in SCA Eq activities. For those of you who love doing Eq that’s great, but it’s not for me. My protogee does Eq stuff and it makes her deliriously happy. But as far as I know even she doesn’t go to West Kingdom Championship. I’ve ridden horses on a couple of occasions and it’s a reasonably fun past time, but SCA Eq is just not for me.

Archery is a more fun past time, but my interest in SCA archery is generally completely satisfied on a yearly basis by attending one event that happens practically in my backyard. So, again, West Kingdom Championship has a very low cost/benefit ratio for me.

The only thing that happens at the event that I might be interested in is the Kingdom Rapier Champion. So the question becomes “is it worth it to me to drive ~3.5 hours out, hang around all day, fight for maybe 2 hours, and then drive ~3.5 hours home?”

The answer for me is “no.” And sadly I know that is the same answer for a number of other people, and so rapier attendance drops.

When the Kingdom Rapier Championship occurred at other regular events I would enter or at the very least I would marshal. I was there and I would be supporting it. And having one more person to support meant that some other person would be able to fight or relax and not suffer as much burn out.

One of the other things that I am hearing from people with regards to West Kingdom Championship is that the fighting is taking place on an out of the way field. This statement rang bells with me.

One of the things that raised the general awareness of the rapier community to the rest of the Kingdom was it’s visibility at Crown and Coronet level events. We fought hard to have the right to have our tourney’s on the same fighting field as the heavy fighters. That still happens at the Coronet level events, but it’s not happening at Crown any more. That is a three-times a year loss of visibility.

Yes, the Kingdom Rapier Champion is a year long office, but before West Kingdom Championship the rapier community was constantly making sure we had Eric space and time at Kingdom level events specifically for our use, not just a corner of the field for roses.

What Can We Do?

I see a couple of really big opportunities here, but both of them are going to take some serious work.

First, Della Spada. Someone in Cynagua needs to take up the mantle and get that event back on it’s feet and back on the calendar. Falcon’s Treaty can not continue to be the only “rapier only” event on the calendar. We need another one. Falcon’s in The Mists. Della Spada in Cynagua. This worked in the past. It can work again. These two events are able to do all kinds of things because there is no hard fast rule about what has to take place.

With Falcon’s I always try to make sure that there is ample opportunity for anyone in the Guild to play a prize if they want to. I always want there to be The Ladies Tourney, because when we started that it proved to be a lot of fun. But we’ve done all kinds of things over the years.

Rapier games at Falcon’s are a good thing in general. Nytshaede’s Town Battle was a blast. The year I ran a Quest event was amazingly fun. Yes, even games of Blood of Hero’s would be worthwhile. (I’m not a fan but I know a lot of people enjoy it, so go for it!)

Della Spada had it’s own flavor and style, but also it was just as flexible and had many games and tourney’s that made it a destination event.

Second, either disengage Kingdom Rapier Championship and get it back on Crown Tourney fields, or find/create some other “high level” Championship that gets held on Crown Tourney fields so that we start being visible to the Kingdom at large.

The Queen’s Ring jumps immediately to mind.

Currently The Queen’s Ring can be fought for anywhere. Instead of that, make it an “official” tourney to be held at Crown, and start arranging with autocrats and Royals that The Queen’s Ring becomes something that regularly happens at Crown. That makes it possible to advertise and make more noise about rapier activities. It makes it possible to put meaningful rapier activities at Crown, and it puts rapier back in the public eye at Kingdom Level events that everyone is at.

That is what raises awareness. That is what raises attendance. That is what gets support growing again.

In my opinion anyway.

If other people have ideas I would dearly love to hear them.

Thanks!

Your Title Doesn’t Mean Jack, Part 2

I don’t know who this lady is but I know I like her!

Well, it seems I hit a nerve.

My blog was really never intended to be much more than my occasional ruminations and rants and wanderings with regards to my two main hobbies; performance magic and the SCA. I thought I was doing really well when I posted something that got 250 views that were mostly not me. On average I think I get about 20 views because my closest friends like to keep tabs on me.

As I sit and write this I have had just under 8000 unique visitors and just under 10500 views. I’ve heard both publicly and privately from people all over the country.

I am shocked, stunned, and truly humbled.

That being said, when I woke up this morning I had a few things I was thinking about that I wanted to further elaborate on with regards to this topic. But with all the comments I’ve received I think there are a few more things I’d like to address as well.

When To Use Your Titles

Now these are not, in any way, a hard and fast set of rules. Far from it. This is just my guiding principles.

I only use my most immediate titles (Baron and Master) when I am doing something official but not necessarily specific in nature. In most courts I am one or the other.

When I am fighting as a heavy fighter I use no title at all because I have no title that relates. I’m not a knight, viscount, count, duke, etc.

When I am fighting as a rapier fighter I use my Guildmaster title if it’s appropriate for me to do so.

I apply this to my regalia as well. I can always wear my baronial coronet and my Laurel/Pelican medallion. But I only wear my Golden Branch when I am operating as a former Bard of The Mists. Otherwise there is no point for me to do so really.

As you can see its really a process of careful selection based on circumstance. And certainly there are variations again. For example my apprentice, although she is a Peer in her own right as a Pelican, chooses instead to use her honorific of Madam from a lower ranked award as opposed to Mistress. And the Baroness of my local Barony chooses to use the title “hlaefdige” rather than Baroness, a term I am given to understand is closer to “lady of the household”.

And still they choose to use these titles only when acting in some official capacity.

There is a difference between using a title when it is appropriate and using a title to gain something over someone else. It seems an obvious point but clearly enough people have experienced problems that my words from my previous post resounded with more than 8000 people.

Peers Have Asses And You Have Feet

One of the things that seems to come up frequently is that people of “lesser rank” aren’t allowed to call out someone of “greater rank.” I’ve heard the complaints and occasionally I’ve actually heard that this is a “rule” in the SCA, a misconception I have gone out of my way to correct every time I’ve heard it. I’ve tried to encourage people to speak up no matter who they are and no matter who they have to speak up about, but the fear is understandable.

I recognize that it’s relatively easy for me to say the things that I am saying. After all, I am a Peer, and High Muckety Muck, and I have a bowl full of alphabet soup. But that hasn’t always been the case and I might even argue that one of the reasons why I have all these titles and awards is because I was willing to call out the bullshit around me when it needed to be called out.

We are trained to give respect automatically to people of high rank, and of course “The King’s Word is Law”™. But I can tell you, as an example, that at an event I was at when it got back to my lady that the King himself was saying something untrue about her and I she did not hesitate one moment to go and speak to him about it.  She is even more formidable than I when it comes to such things.

As I said in my previous post, no one is beyond being held accountable, no one is beyond noble behavior.  Not even the King.

Some people needed to have their asses kicked. And it does seem that people need to be reminded on occasion that ass kicking can go both ways. Peers have asses and you have feet. Don’t be afraid to use them.

Sometimes “Being Nice” Translates To Not Saying What Needs To Be Said And That’s A Problem

There are many people who are willing to say that they are blunt and don’t have a problem getting in people’s faces. Most of the time that’s just talk unfortunately. The number of people who will actually follow through is great deal smaller.

That isn’t a dig on any of us though really. I mean let’s face the facts here; we as an organization are largely made up of the school kids who weren’t always the most popular, the people who were often bullied because they were in to Dungeons & Dragons, or were more interested in science and history then they were in sports. We are as a group very non-confrontational.

It is hard to confront anyone. It is even harder to confront someone who “out ranks” you. We spend so much time playing this game and being invested in the identity that we create, that we forget sometimes that it is a game.

But it can be, and often is, one of the greatest games there is to play.

In the years I have been in the SCA it has impacted how I operate in the “mundane” world. I get strange looks from people for holding open doors; I’ve lost a job because my integrity didn’t allow me to do something my employer wanted me to do; I’ve been complimented on my manners.

Amusingly enough I have even been asked if I was gay because I was “so polite.” No joke! But imagine what must be going on for the person who asked me this question, that they associate polite with gay, and that in their world a straight male is expected to be less polite in general.

Frankly I consider all of these things to be good things. That the person I have become over the years because of the SCA is really the kind of person I want to be. I have often said that the point of this game is to discover how to be the best possible version of ourselves that we want to be.

However, in order to achieve that we have to be willing to protect and defend the environment that allows us to do these things. We have to be willing to step up and challenge the people with “ranks” and “titles” and remind them that just because they are Duke Sir Master IveDoneItAll, it doesn’t mean that they get to backslide into being jerks about it.

We don’t want to be confrontational. It’s against our nature for the most part. We want everyone to just get along and we certainly talk about how the SCA is one big happy family. But in a lot of ways we aren’t. In a lot of ways this family sometimes has a crazy aunt or uncle that needs to be reminded that they aren’t the be all, end all of all things SCA related.

We don’t want to be confrontational but sometimes we have to be willing to step up and be the ones who say “hey, this BS isn’t cool. It isn’t noble, it isn’t honorable, and you are being a jackass.”

That’s the price.

So What Do We Do? What Do Our Titles Actually Mean?

I want to make sure that I head off a potential misunderstanding.

I am not against awards, ranks, and titles. I mean, obviously I’m not. I have a nice tidy collection of them. More than a lot of people even realize. In fact I was told this morning by a friend that they had no idea how many awards I actually had until I wrote my previous post and shared my alphabet soup in it, which was to me a compliment.

First we have to remember that we are a meritocracy. Our awards and titles are not something to confer new respect or value to who you are. They are there an acknowledgement of what we have already achieved. Not every award is a Peerage, but a line from the Peerage ceremonies is a good one to remember regardless of the award; that you will “continue to do as you have done.”

Second, we have to remember that as we climb further up the award ladder, such as it is, that what we are doing is making ourselves more visible and thus more of a target, both of admiration and potential derision. We climb up and we become the model others might use to emulate. Or the example others might use to learn what not to be.

Somewhere I picked up a bit of wisdom that was directed at Peers specifically, but I think should apply to everyone –

“Remember that you are the first person(Peer) someone new to the SCA is going to meet.”

This is probably the last article I’m going to write on this topic for some time. I feel like I’ve pretty much said it all and my readers (all several thousand of you now apparently – * gulp *) are obviously pretty damn smart. You’ve listened to what I’ve had to say and you’ve been kind and generous in your response.

Thank you. I hope that I can continue to provide other words of interest in the future.

Yours in Service,
Baron Master Master Jua…. Ah screw it,

Santiago

Your Title Doesn’t Mean Jack

In the SCA we are all supposed to behave like nobles, whether we have a “title” or not. We earn our titles in a system that is basically a meritocracy; a system of reward via your efforts. We also, as a natural consequence of that, assume that people with “more” titles, or “more” awards are somehow “more” worthy of respect.

The math is simple; they clearly must be consistently doing good things to be rewarded for their efforts, and therefor we must be obligated to show them respect.

The problem with this is simple; if you’re acting like an ass then it doesn’t matter how many awards and titles you have, you’re still an ass.

Lately I’ve been running into this a lot more than I would have thought. It usually comes in two forms:

1 – I just got my first award and I need everyone to know it.
2 – I am a high muckety muck and therefor can act like an ass and no one can gainsay me.

There are variations on these themes, but fundamentally these are the ways it seems to break out.

And I know that different SCA Kingdoms handle their “title culture” differently than we do in The West. That’s cool. I’m still sure that these kinds of problems occur simply because people are still people and are therefor fully capable of being, well, stupid.

I Just Got My First Award

Virtually everyones first award is the “Award of Arms.” This comes along with ones first “title”; Lord or Lady. And let’s face it, this is generally a very cool recognition. It’s the first time that you get called up in court, and everyone cheers for you and applauds your efforts.

But if you aren’t thinking it through it can happen that you let it go to your head. You start putting emphasis on the “Lord” or “Lady” when you introduce yourself. You correct others when they forget it as they introduce you to someone else.

Or you try to browbeat people with your title even when you are making a simple request of them. “Hi, I’m LORD Vexorg, Destroyer of A Thousand Shields, and I need you to do this idiot simple thing for me because I am LORD Vexorg, Destroyer of A Thousand Shields.”

Sound stupid to you? Well, it certainly is, and yet I still hear people do this kind of thing.

An offshoot of this is also what I call “alphabet soup”. We shorthand Award of Arms as “AoA”. Well, you can do that with pretty much every award, and when you do that you get some pretty stupid looking stuff as your signature on the end of a letter or email.

For example here is mine –

Baron Master Master Juan Santiago, OL, OP, GMoD, PoG, ORL, OLM, OAL, CA, CV, CM, AoA

Is it any wonder that when I sign things I just write “Santiago”?

And believe me, it can and does get worse.

But here is reality; if I browbeat someone with all my titles and awards and whatever else I am only achieving one thing; telling them I’m a jackass. (And yes, I can hear my various detractors saying “you are a jackass.” If that’s you then I invite you to think about why you are so busy reading anything I have to say at all.)

If you want to give people the worst possible impression of you as quickly as possible then please, by all means, spend as much time as you possibly can dropping your “title” every chance you get.

I Am A High Muckety Muck

This one usually happens to two sets of people; either a “well established person” or an “Officer”.

“Hi, I’m the Kingdom Boot Licker, so I have to have my pavilion on the List Field.”

“I am the Lord High Privy Marshal and I have to meet with this person and that person and the other person. I’m very important.”

“I am the King of Anvilania so you have to do this illegal thing or else.”

Yes, I am aware of real world examples of all of these.

But what I find is the most egregious abuse of this category is the “well established person” (for example any long standing Peer or someone who has been a Royal) who tries to bully someone less established as they are into doing something they don’t want to do, or to “shut them up”, or to try and get away with making “outrageous statements” or even outright lies.

“I’m a Knight so I can say this terrible thing and no one can call me out on my honor for doing so.”

Bullshit. Yet I literally just ran in to this.

Does any of this sound like the behavior of a society of people who are supposed to try to live like nobles?

No one, no matter how many titles and awards they have in the SCA is above basic courtesy and noble behavior. No one, no matter how many titles and awards they have in the SCA can get away with behaving like a jackass without there being some kind of fallout; at the very least without doing damage to their own reputation.

So, who do you want to be? Do you want to be someone “important” or someone “respected”?

Awards and Titles in the SCA do not confer additional importance or respect. They are acknowledgements of the importance and respect you have already achieved. But if you use those titles and awards to browbeat people, mistreat people, or otherwise impose unreasonable requirements or restrictions on people then you undermine the importance and respect you had.

Do you know what your awards and titles are worth?

Take them to Starbucks and see if you can get a cup of coffee with them and you’ll find out.

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