Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ansteorrian Heraldic and Scribal Symposium

So where does one begin with a weekend quite like the one I just had? I suppose that if I am to retain any understandability I would start with the beginning, but the best parts are so much later on.

Friday, my wife, my son, Lady Liliana and her daughter loaded up and headed south for the Ansteorrian Heraldic and Scribal Symposium.  This would be part of my effort to get back  “into” heralding and something approaching my old activity levels in the SCA. The plan was to drive down to Elfsea and stay at the home of my Pelican and his wife, then finish the trip to site in the morning.

It was good to see Robert again. It’s been almost a year since we had a chance to see each other and so much has happened since then. Robert and I have been friends  for better than a decade, almost 15 years at this point, and the best part of the friendship is being able to just sit and talk with him, sometimes about the SCA, sometimes about writing, sometimes about books… sometimes about nothing at all, and just bounce ideas off of each other for no other reason than to see the other’s thoughts on a subject. A unique relationship, but a good one to be sure.

We were all up the next morning and on the road very early, the drive from Elfsea to Rosenfeld was another two hours, and classes started relatively early so we wanted to start off on top of things. We rolled into site around 8:30 and my wife signed us in.  His Excellency Tostig was there, and showed me my classroom for the morning. He even had the forethought to pick a room where (of I needed to) I would be able to go out on a back balcony and herald into a open grove of trees. While I hadn’t planned on a “lab” element to my class, this advent certainly was something I was ready to take care of.

Classes started around 9, and I was set up and ready to go just before the top of the hour. I had brought five copies of my handouts, and was planning for a class of two to four people for each of my list and site heraldry classes. About half an hour into the first block, I sort of came to terms with the fact that no one was going to make it to my “Road heraldry” class. I wasn’t devastated, but for a heraldically centered class like AHSS, I was disappointed.

Not long after this Mistress Adelaide de Beaumont more or less swept into the classroom, wanting to touch base with me on a number of levels about classes. Adelaide has long been a teacher of heraldry and voice, and I was able to attend her voice class during a previous AHSS down in in the deep south of the kingdom several years ago. I have to say, her technical expertise o the subject of breathing and projection are second to none that I have meat. Its not that she was or wasn’t able to teach people to project better, but her ability to break down the act of projection into component parts where a person could see each individual step was very beyond helpful when I took the class.

Today, however, she was wanting to talk with me about how much of my class covered breathing and the like.  Aside from the basics, I don’t deal with such items, so that part of the conversation was really only a few minutes of conversation. It did, however (and in true SCA fashion) lead to a hop-scotching conversation across a myriad of topics for the next half an hour.

I wound up following Adelaide to her next class, a basic introduction to book heraldry. While not a book herald myself, I had a number of good reasons to brush up on that part of heraldry. It was interesting listening to the class, Mistress Adelaide certainly has some specifics ideas about how to use each of the resources in the heraldic tool box, so to speak. One of the more telling items of conversation was bit of editorializing about the pictorial  Dictionary (or PicDic). Per Adelaide, showing such a reference to a newcomer who is interested in heraldry was tantamount to heraldic malpractice because it is (in condensed terms) is really only for heralds who know how to use it. Its interesting because I have heard others say, more or less the opposite.

To be clear, both sides are flat wrong on their face because of the use (or implication) of the words “never” or “always.”  While both sides certainly bring a huge number a valid points to the conversation, I would like to think that I can look at an individual myself and make a relatively accurate judgment about their maturity, intelligence and experience, and decide for myself if handing them a technical manual like the PicDic is a good idea or not.

Anyway, my second class was almost as much of  a flop  as the first, the only saving grace was I got to answer a list heraldry question for a friend involved in the youth combat movement. But other than that, no one came in to learn list heraldry.

Lunch was an amazing sideboard done my Mistress Rhiannon. It was here that I sat with a bunch of other and talked shop for a while. I got to swap stories with Danyell Lincoln (or however he spells it today, the man actually keeps a rotating list of alternate spellings for his e-mails).

After lunch, I got to attend a class that was a game changer for me. Master Etienne, another long time friend and fellow herald (and recently announced Golden Staff for Jean Paul and Gilyan), did a class called “court blocking.” I don’t even want to try and recount the whole class, I wouldn’t do it justice, but I do want to point out what he taught me.

Normally, a herald is given the court agenda, and then he maps out the order of things with direction/guidance/approval of the presiding noble. And then during court, he does his best to entertain the audience while court happens, mostly because it has to happen in order for these things to take place.

Etienne turned that completely on its head. He asked himself first “What do I want to have happen here?” and then works the agenda into that dynamic.

In slightly more specific terms, one example is he gave was to say “okay, I want to surprise the audience this time” so the whole court structure was centered on a slight of hand/misdirection that would hinge on a surprise. Then, using that surprise to keep their attention, he would give out the awards he wanted to right after that when most/all of the audience is engaged.

It's not that other heralds don’t use tricks to engage the audience, and its not that other heralds may not think this way (Etienne compared it to thinking like a stage director as opposed to a court clerk), but he is the first to teach it as theory at the academic level, and for me this theory is a game changer. I am seriously looking forward to see when/if I can use this in the future. He’s already given his class a theoretical model we can use to test ourselves. And the gears are ticking even now as I write this.

The afternoon brought the plenary meeting where all of the heralds on site collected and talk business for about an hour, if I recall correctly.

I wont pull any punches, I brought up that I felt (and still currently feel) like heraldry is getting short shrift in some areas. Participation is down, heraldic activities are smaller, fewer and farther between, and getting less respect in some extreme cases. That, not surprisingly set off some interesting conversations, with lots of opinions flying this way and that. I tried hard not to try and dominate, but I certainly will admit that I pushed the conversation as much as I could.

One item of note, just because I found it interesting, was a reaction to the question of largess. The starting point of that was giving out largess to heralds, which is certainly a good idea. Then someone (no names. And if you know who said it, keep quiet!  The “who” isn’t important here) expanded on that a little on that, more or less responding to me, but then stopped and said “Oh, wait, you don’t have a baron and baroness, you can’t do that.”

I frowned at said person really hard just then. “And why not? We give largess and recognition amongst ourselves all the time.”

“You don’t have hats.  Oh! Wait, I guess Jean Paul and Gilyan run your group, so they would be able to do it.”

Even before I could open my mouth to rebut that, about five other people (including one who I could have sworn was literally asleep in his chair) uniformly corrected that “little” isunderstanding.

The point to this isn’t that someone didn’t understand Mooneschadowe, that’s been the case for better than two decades. The only group in the north that didn’t go Barony when given the chance, the first to hold the King’s battle Ribbon (with Northkeep), the “little shire that could,” the shire that baronies went to for help when help was needed, trust me, we’re used to getting funny looks. That part of the comment didn’t bother me in the least.

What did bother me, however, was the idea that somehow there had to be someone ‘important” (read whatever you want into that) in order to give largess.

Just to clarify, largess is broadly defined as any gift given as a thank you and/or in recognition. Anyone can give largess. Now, does largess coming from a Baron or Baroness have some different implications than largess given by someone with only their ambiguity? Of course there are differences, I’m not blind. But the idea (or implication) that largess given from someone who isn’t noble, or royal, or “important” isn’t good enough to encourage or reward service is just…. odd. I’m really wondering if the mental transmission slipped a gear there and what was said wasn’t completely what the person meant.

In any event, the conversation moved on from there, and was finally brought to a close. I highlighted that part more to contemplative purposes than anything else. I value a good conversation, and this is a good talking point.

The afternoon bled into the evening, and the event closed it doors with the usual quiet fanfare of friends (old and new) budding farewell to each other.

The evening was another adventure all to itself. My party rolled back into the Elfsea area about two hours later, and pulled up to the home of Robin of Gilwell and his wife Serena. The plan was to stop buy, buy some books from Serena, and then head out to dinner. I knew that wasn’t going to happy; of all the times I have ever interacted with Robin, the man has been a fountain of good information, perspective and history. I’ve never walked away unhappy with a conversation, and I know few who even might say they have. What followed was a five hour discourse between me, Robin, Robert and Liliana (the rest were running around the house with Serena admiring the books, the comics and the conversation in their own right) that bounced from history to philosophy to politics to religion to mathematics to writing and back again. “Erudite" just doesn’t cover the quality of the overall conversation.

And it wasn’t just that time was well spent, time with people like Robin of Gilwell and Robert Fitzmorgan are an investment for those who are willing to sit down and learn from them, like I was. its more than just information, too. It’s perspective, its scope, it’s the idea that what is happening now is not only unique, but is also part of a trend that started many, many years ago. These are things that I just don’t think can be gotten from e-mail and books.

In fact at one point, our good host lightly apologized, “Sorry about that, you hit my auto lecture button there. Actually, you’ve done that a couple of times tonight.”

“Well, of course I have, Robin! And deliberately so.” I quipped back, meaning every word of it.
We stayed up and talked until well after midnight before fatigue got the better of me and I said my good buys. The family and friends loaded up, and we headed back to Robert’s place to get some needed sleep. The next morning was breakfast and conversation, the usual fanfare for the last day of a trip, and then the return home.

Lord Ivo Blackhawk
Protege to Master Robert Fitzmorgan
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"God save the King!"