Saturday, June 11, 2016

Thoughts between the cries (Northkeep's Castellan)

One of the things that site heraldry has afforded me over the years is a unparalleled chance to philosophize. I'm not joking, between cries, there is all of the walking I have to do, and in my case, that walking is a perfect mental laboratory for me to dissect and study thoughts of all different types.

I had made the decision to head out to site Friday earlier in the week. I already had off of work, so the option was worth taking advantage of. I went without garb, planning on both saying high to people and helping set up where I could.

Between all of the normal greetings, my first real 'contemplation' (to be dramatic about it) struck me.

It's no secret that the SCA is, in full, the vast majority of the social life. I make a very deliberate effort not to socialize with too many people I work with. And for all of the benefit I draw from my church, the feedback I need from my faith is not something that encourages me to just randomly call someone up and say "hey, lets hang out.". No, my chance to talk with, and interact with people that I share a common interest with comes almost completely through the SCA. Is this a good thing? I don't know. I'm not one to say it is a bad thing, but at the same time, its a decision made out of habit, reflex, and concussions action. I never set out to say "I only want to hang out with SCAers", but at the same time, here I am. That being said, am I really any different than the kid who hangs out with his football teammates, or the factory worker who hangs with his buddies after punching the clock? A social circle is a social circle, isn't it? 

While I chewed on this, I went through the critical steps of talking with the event steward and making sure my information was current. I had been specifically asked to come and herald, so me being who I am, I wanted to make sure I was at my level best and didn't leave anything to chance. One of the first rules of heraldry I learned (ages ago) was that understanding where your information was coming from was more important than knowing where it was going.

Not long after this, I ran into an old friend. Hellos transitioned into a conversation, and that turned into a foray into town for dinner.

Not for the first time, I considered that night how I had come full-circle in the SCA in many respects. its no secret that my entry into this world was loud, rude, and hurtful. I was  a brash kid who had no volume control and too big an opinion of himself. My one saving grace, and in many respects my biggest obstacle was my crushing sense of guilt when I was made aware of (after the fact) the actual results of my impetuous comments. That was nearly two decades ago, and while the transition from loudmouth to trusted confidant and friends was a steady conversation, its arch across my evolving autobiography is fascinating for me to consider. I don't say this because I'm melancholy about the past, or obsessed by it. Rather, if one looks at the past, and the "lines" it draws on our timelines, where do those lines point to going forward?  From a strictly academic perspective, where would my lines point to? Am I destine to be an officer, a leader, a peer, a noble? There's no way to know for sure, of course. And before anyone offers a speculation, just consider the unexpected, or unwanted. Within my own life, even within the past decade things have happened and choices made that no one, even me, could have predicted, even the day before. Still, its a fun conversation to have with myself. 

Friday night turned into the trip back home and  respectable, if short night's sleep. My family and I climbed out of bed early the next day, my wife and our friend were off to mundane obligations for the day while my son and niece would travel with me to the event.

The first cries of the day were morning court, or rather my telling people that it was pending. most people were up, but I saw a few groggy eyes clambering out of tents later than they had probably intended.

Learning how to herald, for me was a much about learning from others as it was falling on my own face and getting up again. As a walked between camps, I, for whatever reason, remembered watching Master Ulf cry a wake-up call one time, back at Camp Cimarron. He walked tent to tent, softly saying the words "oyes, oyes, I have coffee, if you want coffee too, you should head to the main hall." For a population used to tuning out the walking thunderclaps that were traditional heralds, his walking whisper approatch was surprisingly effectively at rousing the populace relatively early at that event. Ulf was one of the people who taught me that heraldry was as much a conversation with people as it was an announcement. Being loud was part of the skillset, but knowing what to say to get and hold their attention was the other part, and what set apart a medicare herald was a good one.

Morning court was brief, with the crown and their excellencies of Northkeep hitting a few strategic pieces of business before promising to do a 'roaming court" on order to keep recognition up throughout the day.

There really wasn't anything about the morning heralds that stood out for me. not that routine is boring, or the job not important for me, far from it. But in retrospect, listing off my announcements would be a tired repetition of what most people already know, or better yet remember. After the cluster of morning cries, I took a moment to sit and talk (and rest) in the main hall, hovering by the raffle table and talking with passers by.

An interesting conversation bloomed then, a stark contrast of thoughts, if you would. There was a time in the kingdom's history, a long time ago, when Northkeep didn't play with Namron, Mooneschadowe and Wiesenfuer weren't on the best of terms, and Eldern Hills wasn't exactly cozy with too many other groups. People, for the most part, fell in line with these factions, and the north of the kingdom, was composed of many very individual groups. Now, over a decade an a half later, we are (largely) northerners who happen to pay our taxes in different locations. Sure, its an oversimplification, but the interaction and social overlap between groups is ages beyond what it was. With this as the framework, the question posted to me was if people outside of Northkeep should be doing jobs at the event. More specifically, should those people have been given first access to sign up, next to Northkeepers. Its an interesting puzzle, and not one with an immediately clear answer, other than to say "it depends". On the one hand,  a group as large and Northkeep should be able to field its own site heralds (for example). On the other, the north didn't get where it was today by each groups giving blanket deference to its own people. But even then, those are two extremes on the scale. I don't think anyone wants to ignore skills help in any skill set at an event, and several of us there were not Northkeepers, but were, arguably some of the strongest players in the north in our fields. And just when you think the answer is simple, I'll throw in there that years ago, when I blogged about a canton that had managed handle all of its own heraldry internally for its event, I was accused of insulting the baronies. All told, the question of who should staff an event is sort of like choosing a date, the answer is a reflection of who you are (as a group) and what you want out of the situation. But be assured, it is a reliant question, and one that I am quite confident will come up again.

The day itself, not unlike a great many different events, from shaped by my making strategic, but mostly circular transits of site ever hour of so, and getting more announcements to make with each circle. Not surprisingly, I was able to stay on top of the inflow, however, keeping a good pace while managing the stream of rather dynamic information.

I don't know why, but as the afternoon bled into early evening, I was struck by the type of relationships I had formed in the SCA. People I would never have spoken to a decade before were now regular stops at my normal eventing plans. Adversaries of a time were now friends, and some of my early friends had drifted away from me, and some of those exists were with unapologetically cold shoulders between us both. I started the society as a fighter, discovered heraldry almost literally as an accident, and soon hung up my armor for good, trading in helmet for a notebook and pencil. The shift in role was reflective of, and in many ways symptomatic of my own shifts in life. As much as I say I don't mind losing a fair fight, chivalric combat had changed for me over the years, rather that being a source of fun and stress relief, it was the epicenter of increasing frustration and tension. I was starting to dread getting into armor, where I was looking forward to calling lists or fields instead. That type of shift changes who you meet and how they interact with you. Rather that trying ti beat someone senseless, or pretend to fit in at some of the "frat house" revels with the heavy community, I was forming increasingly stronger and stronger relationships in the heraldic community, and the people that community served. As a herald, you don't just meet heralds, you meet fighters, stewards, peers, newcomers, artisans, leaders, students... the list goes on and on, and only after I took my helmet did I feel like I really got to meet those people, and see who they really were. I don't know if this shift was caused by other changes in me as I matured, or if this change in SCA circumstances helped cause those changes and helped me to mature, but it is beyond debate that the two dynamics existed in parallel throughout that time in my life. 

Sitting at feast that night, My wife, who had managed to make it after her mundane appointment, joined some new and old friends at feast while my son ran around like the over energized ten year old he was with some other kids. The outside setting was pleasant, but because of the earlier than normal hour, it was a tad hotter than I was used to for feast.

Between removes of food, I contemplated some of the feasts I helped serve, or work in the kitchen. The one that I was head server for, and the few where I was wing-man for the same. Its hardly a spotless record, my younger side didn't lend itself well for leadership back then, and my tendency to direct things was equally unhelpful. I'm told (by sources I'm not completely sure I trust, depending on who they are, and when they said it) that I'm even responsible for a few people quitting the SCA. I really don't know for sure, but its one of those things that I don't forget easily. Maybe I'm overly sensitive to the accusation, I don't know, but I can say that I don't have the fondest of memories looking back at feast serving. 

Court was a momentous event for most people there, and maybe my heraldic pragmatism simply leads me to take things ins stride, but I really was sitting in the back, watching the while thing play out. First, two relatively new friends stepped down after a solid, and from all appearances good run as Landed hats of Northkeep. And then, two close friends  were elevated to the same, taking the mantle of leader and guide of a groups who's stubborn individuality was legendary.

Standing there, watching the ceremony, I at first thought of the whole thing as seeing a friend off on a grand voyage. There was no doubt that  Beorhtlic and Elisaveta had a grand adventure ahead of them, no mater what came of the seats while they were in them. Bu then, it dawned on me, this was far, far from a sending off, but rather a welcoming aboard, because this was an adventure I was relatively confident that I would be part of as well. Certantly not a central part, but something told me that I my part in their leadership would not be merely that of spectator. 

After court, my family and I went to the camp of some close friends, for a fresh serving of cobbler. I had know Liadan and her family, as Castianna and hers for as long as I can remember at this point, and all of the associated company was always appreciated.  in the dim light of the nighttime camp e sat and talked and walked around and ate cobbler.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing things about my situation is that I truly don't understand how different people see me. I have all the imposition of an ogre, looming tall and powerfully over anyone who's smaller than me, and at 6'3", that's a lot of people. And to be sure, there are  a lot of people who see me as intimidating, or aggressive. But at the same time, there was young girl there that night, not older than 6, as I recall. A stick-figured waif of a kid, springy and bouncy as only a child can be. We had met before, and she was been utterly terrified of me, hiding behind her friends every time I looked in her direction. Her mother has said she was like that with everyone.  I recalled wanting to at least leave her with  good impression of me, so I showed her my girdle-book, hoping that she at least wouldn't' think me scary. As she saw me work the latch on my small book, her eyes opened, and she had literally run at me and jumped into my lap, all fear gone in an instant. Now, a few weeks later, the same energy and glee was in her as she ran up to me and hugged me like a long-lost brother, a huge smile on her face, and joy in her eyes. I truly am a contradiction in that way. To some I am very much a looming ogre, power and vanity personified, framed in intimidation. But at the same time I'm also the person that scared little kids suddenly warm up to, and the person mothers can trust to protect their daughters. I understand that these two perceptions can coexist, and can both be true in their own way. Yet, even now I am not completely sure I do, or ever will fully understand all that goes into those perceptions of who I am. Maybe I never will, some things were not meant to be known by one person. But the dynamic is still a fascinating consideration for me. 

Driving home that night, with my wife and son both asleep in the late hour, one last thing came to my mind, a complex realization that had been percolating in my mind for some years now, but only recently had come together.

I've long wondered why it is that I so heavily fell into the SCA. What was it about this band of people that met my needs so much better than church, or the fire service, or even college and its inherent social structure. The answer for me, at least, was something rather simple. Rules. The inherent structure of teachers, students, leaders and subordinates, men-at-arms, apprentices, proteges... all of it may well have been a throwback to past times, but it was a formality of what I never had. Its no secret that I was a social outcast in school, alternately bullies, mocked and ignored by most. My self esteem was throughout beat up by the time I got to college, and much of my bravado was me convincing myself that I didn't care what the world thought about me, a backlash to when the opinions of others could be wielded like swords for the amusement of others.  The causality of all of this, or one of them, as it were, was the fact that I was blind to social ques and body language. Its not that I didn't see them, I saw them clear as day, I just never learned all of what they all meant. Socially, I was blind and deaf, but not mute in most situations, and nothing in modern society existed in my world to make up for what wasn't learned in school. Only the SCA and its makeshift formal structure of titles, ranks, rules, etiquette and customs gave me the groundwork I needed to relearn how to "fit in". of course, I recognized none of this at the time, I simply knew that compared to the rest of my life, the SCA was a better fit than most places, so I kept going. But looking back at it now, I see that it was for me what the Marines probably were for my father, a place where a lot of social questions were answered for you, and you could be left to do a job. I know this sounds dark and depressing, but trust me, even at my darkest days, my life still had joy and hope in it. Some days more than others, I admit, but this recollection isn't about pity of sympathy, two things I want no part of. Its about putting an academic, skeptical eye on my own past, and seeing what I wasn't seeing then. Believe me when I say that there are still lessons to be learned from those times. 

His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"

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