Friday, February 3, 2017

looking back, looking forward. (Winterkingdom 2017)

I remember my first Northkeep Winterkingdom. it was tucked into a one-room "community center" on the western outskirts of the Barony, a space rented between stores on a large strip mall. It was the fall of it would have been AS 33 or 34 (the spring of 1999). I was a mundane young college student travelling with his first girlfriend, taking new SCA classes and meeting new people. Of all the classes I recall, I think the one that sticks in my mind the most was Diarmait's (sp?) "The medieval mindset" class, where he unapologetically broke the romanticized ideas of people who's history was too little informed in class and too much so from fantasy novels and old movies.

That was, well, nearly two decades ago, and with a few exceptions owing to some unapologetic life situations, I've managed to attend most of the barony's wintertime educational offerings. Over time, the balance between the different factors of the event shifted, as well did the balance between people. In those early years, I was very much the young students who knew little and few, and had sadly outpaced ambitions. Time, information, perspective and people shifted those scales, as they always do. People with whom I attended those early classes have since moved on to lead that same barony in various roles, and others still came into the society years later, following the same path each of us took from new to elder, student to teacher, fresh face to long time friend.

I can say with some authority that the jokes are funnier when you know the people telling them, the classes are actually more informative when you've taken them a few times before, and the company is better then you aren't the new face, but there are new faces in the mix.

I rolled out of bed this past weekend tired and sore, compliments of mundane obligations (Brazilian JiuJitsu class) that was pushing my knees and legs more than they had been in a very long time. I won't say I limped into my garb, but the motions were more than of an old man that the springy teen I had been when I went to my first Winterkingdom. My wife, the same woman who had traveled with me to that first same event nearly two decades ago, shoveled our eleven-year-old son out of bed and poured him into his garb before collecting our things and loading up with our passenger for the day, a fellow Mooneschadeen and friend, Rosma.

The fairgrounds that host the event these days have memories to them now. Recollections of conversations had and friends made permeate the grounds around the buildings like the smell of cold dirt and disturbed gravel. We ducked in the front door, out of the cold blast of the morning wind.  In my usual fashion, I surveyed the room before I was two steps in, a habit born of my mundane past, and one I am not inclined to break. It didn't take but a moment for my eyes to track to the wiry, bubbly visage of another friend.

Aurelia  Ruhlander was the German ex-patriot who found herself with an English persona studying rapier out of the barony. Friend and confidant to myself and a mutual friend as well, Aurelia has taken the same jump this year I had two years before and set out to steward an event. My time at the helm of such an endeavor was a partnership with a longtime friend that culminated with the 2015 Ansteorra Heraldic and Scribal Symposium. Aurelia, who I had first met at Triumph three years before and really gotten acquainted with at Gulf Wars 23, was exactly the type of high spirited, fun loving, competitive figure that our fighting community likes to attract. Her work on the field reached a high point not long ago with her performance and rapier victories at Wiesenfeuer Baronial. I know first hand what it means to be good, or at least competitive in one field, and then to walk into something entirely new. Calling it intimidating doesn't do the emotions involved justice, yet here she was, doggedly following the path before her.

We met with a warm embrace, glad to see each other. "The day looks like it's off to a good start." I said reassuringly.

"Well, there is still plenty of time for that to change," I recall her saying by way of overly pragmatic level-headedness, something she is known for. we spoke briefly, but neither of us could really invest any time in the issue, I had class in less than an hour, and she was still running an event. In point of fact, the decision to end the talk was made for us when someone walked up with a question about trash.

My first class of the day was not one to attend, but rather one that I was teaching. I decided for myself a long time ago that the traditional "newcomers" class for the region at least was lacking in a great many things. I have watched a great many classes summarize first events and interactions with "if you see X, do Y" type explanations. This is effective in theory, but it really glosses over the foundations of the society, including when and where we started, why we have our own calendar, and even a rough idea of where awards sit in the social structure we have created more or less from scratch. I really wanted to lay out a good, solid, detailed breakdown of the kingdom's overall structure, leadership, and fundamental traditions. Not a comprehensive class, but something that would give the "its my first event" newcomer enough information to know what questions to ask, and who to ask them to when searching out their own path through the society. In my truest fashion, I started with my strengths and sat down to write a paper on the subject. While hardly a final product, I was glad to go in with what I had.

I had expected a class of two or three, which was typical of my new classes when In do them. As the top of the hour rolled around, you can image the look on my face as over a dozen people filed in, all of them new, either to the society or to the kingdom.

One truly stand-out figure in this class was a SCA first-timer named Sky, who sat immediately to my left during both of my morning classes and listened with wrapped attention.

For its first time "on the road", the class was a runaway success in that a lot of new people were nodding their heads, glad for the information, and eager to ask questions that were well beyond "what does this mean". This is what I was hoping for, and on that metric, I was glad for the success.

My second class of the day was another first-time lecture for me where I talked about my girdle-book mundanity cover. Working from memory for the first part, I went over the real world history of girdle books, and then segued into their use as modern mundanity covers for non-SCA items that we need to keep with us. One of the students in the class said she was a diabetic looking for a place to keep and have access to her testing equipment, and another was eager to make her husband an effective phone cover so he could check Facebook at events without having his phone out for all to see. The feedback from the group was amazing, and I had several "heavyweights" in the A&S community there offering outstanding practical feedback on materials, construction, displays, uses and other ideas.

It was good to See Mistress Talana front and center in the class as well, her feedback was outstanding and very useful for me as someone who wants to see these books become more popular and cover up the exploding mobile phone epidemic at events. As something of a side note, my first memory of Talana was almost as old as my time in the SCA, when she took The then lady Rhiannon Redwulf as an apprentice. The event was something of a benchmark for myself as it was one of my earliest exposures to the master-student relationship that typifies the SCA. Years later, I would watch Rhiannon eventually rise to the rank of laurel, a long and hard earned trek in itself. And years later still, I would find myself in regular conversations with Talana, trading the roles of advisor or student as we spoke between matters of heraldry or art, politics or etiquette. I at times track my growth in the society along such lines, seeing who's counsel I seek, and who seeks my counsel, and for what in each case.

Sitting no less eagerly in the class was Sky, listening to every word spoken. I watched her during the class, noticing the same type of 'kid-in-a-candy-store' emotions that were so very much part of my first months in the society.  Even before I talked with her at the end of class I knew she was a new member, and knew she was enraptured with every moment of the event.

The second class ended with glad salutations and best wishes, and we all headed to the main hall for lunch.

My wife and son met me near the back and we sat down for a quick lunch, joined by Thomas de Groet, a fellow herald, and one of the few in the procession in their kingdom who I have to physically look up to in order to make eye contact. The meal, a selection of bread, pickles, soup, cheese and lemonade provided by the local tavern, was enjoyed with casual conversation in a sedate setting. The hall was quiet by society standards, most of us resting between classes, or excitedly exchanging what he had learned so far.

My afternoon classes were underwhelming, but not unsurprisingly so. I have been teaching site heraldry for well over a decade now, and list heraldry for at least that long, and it would be an odd circumstance where I saw a flood of people.

The first class, my two-hour site heraldry for medium to large events, was attended by Thomas, who has been on a year old surge, soaking up as much heraldry as he could. The setting here was more conversational than not, but I was glad to hand him the textbook and have the chance to answer questions.

The second class, much to my surprise, was attending by non-other than a twelve-year-old girl. Obviously, I won't name someone else's child here, but in the girl's credit, she sat and took details notes as I went over the dynamics of the lyst and how to herald it. Arguably one of my more attentive students, I wish her well and hope she gets the chance to put to practice what she learned in that hour with me.

When the last of my classes complete, and a few hours left in the day before feast, I retreated to the main hall again for the opportunity to socialize. I more or less had some idea of who I was going t gravitate towards when it found the hall. Ekaterina Stepanova doch Novgorodskaia, called "Kitty" to those who know her, was someone I had known for more than half of her life. Even now I remember the precocious twelve-year-old whom I talked into following me into a bardic competition, only to have her and I both be named as two of the three finalists in the same competition. Not to worry, fate was every bit as much amusing at it was amused that day, we both got our heads handed to us by the ultimate winner in the competition.

But those interesting days aside, Kitty came of age in Ansteorra, and then moved abroad for her mundane studies, finding herself in Korea for several years before returning home. Having my adoptive little sister and heraldic compatriot back in the country is quite the joy and adventure.

But also in this mix, as Kitty and I caught up on times past, between us was the ever-grinning Sky, who was almost floating with glee at the very nature of the conversations Kitty and I were hopping between. Every so often I could hear her chirp with happiness and mutter "I've found my people!"

A Long time ago, one of my coworkers asked me "so, what is the SCA thing you're doing this weekend?"

I responded...

So, take about two hundred social rejects, put them in funny clothes together at a camp site, and divvy up evenly between them knitting needles, paint brushes and wooden swords, and you sort of get the general idea. 

That off-the-cuff comment from nine years ago was very much in the vein of what was happening in the hall that day. Sky, like so many of us, had probably never found a group of people who shared her interests, her passions, her fundamental ideas like those in the SCA so obviously did. By the end of the conversation, she was almost levitating with how happy she was just being there with us.

So many people use the phrase "child-like-wonder" to talk about a silent, awe-struck expressions from others. The fact of the matter is that when a child or even young adult really is 'awe-struck' about something, they are usually giggly, and bubbling over with energy end excitement that they were too scared to display before their peer groups in school or church or around the neighborhood. Finally being able to embrace who you are like that is usually both a joyous time, and an emotional one, and Sky's moment of realization was no less of "a moment" for her.

The afternoon transitioned into evening as we settled in for feast. Lillias and I shared our table in the hall with Sky's mother, who had brought her daughter after only being in for a few weeks herself. She and I shared quiet amusements at her daughter's personal revelry at her discovery.

In parallel to this, Thomas de Groet and I alternated heralding the removes, which is always a fun mashup of performance art and heraldry. I went first, and no sooner as I stood up than the oldest knight in the room popped up with his mug to being toasts.

There was a time when the toasts were spread out over the meal, one per remove, or the like, but lately, they have tended to be bunched up, often at the beginning of feast. I don't mean to sound unpatriotic about the whole affair, but as an eighteen-year player, I am of the opinion that doing all of them before the first course comes out is bordering on tacky.

in either event, as the last of the toasts sat down, I rose and quickly spoke up.

"If you will pardon one more item," I said loudly, "but I assure you, you'll need no cup or drink for this, for I bring word of food!"

And that got applause.

Thomas and I alternated through the courses, each calling his part ahead of the servers making their runs. the food was good as always from Northkeep, and the company was as well.

Something worth adding to the conversation is a bit of legacy from times past and I saw yet again this year. Many years ago during his excellency Ian Dun Gillian's time as the landed Baron, he started the "hero's portion", where a cut of venison was presented by the head table to someone the baron felt was a personal hero of his. That person, in turn would take a portion of the meat and then stand and present the cut to another they themselves called a hero. The process would repeat until the cut was gone, or until feast completed. It is a tradition that carried on each year since. And as a side note to that, the Honorable Lady Zubeydah Al-Badawiyyah has, in the past, also taken up the cause of this practice and carried it on across event sites in the past, going from person to person, and then tracking down the person that that individual names so that the acknowledgement of good deeds done would be had. In her case, she sweetened the deal by distributing chocolate and fudge, but the sentiment of the cerimony was no less touching, or important for those touched by it. The ceremony holds a special place in my heart because for many of us, often for reasons that range from social, to medical, to psychological, such positive appraisals reach our ears too rarely. There were, and continue to be times when the right kind words were just what was needed to carry rest of a day, a week, or an event through to the end with a smile. I feel that this, as much as anything else, if one of Ian's greatest gifts to the Northkeep legacy.

We transitioned to court quickly afterwards, with Sir Jeffery taking on the mantle of court herald for their excellence. For the sake of posterity, I'll let the good knight and herald recount his own antics, but needless to say, court was highly amusing as well as uplifting.

Winterkingdom's close was much as its opening this year; a quiet moment of warm embraces between friends new and old. We all gave a little, and the sum total of our effort was not only greater than the sum of its parts, but bountiful enough that each of us got to take some of its glory home.

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