Sunday, June 18, 2017

Congregation, Education, Fellowship (King's college 2017)

It was the type of journey that my wife and I have long ago accepted as part of the ritual pilgrimage owed by us to the kingdom. Perhaps that is a hair on the melodramatic side, but it is something of an accepted fact between us that the collegium events in our kingdom were benchmarks that we should make every effort to attend each year. This year was no different, and as such, we loaded up early the Thursday night before, and then set out Friday night from my place of work (thanks to a friend bringing my wife that far) for the five some-odd hour drive down to the home of a friend who was offering us lodgings for the night, allowing us a fresh start in the morning.

King's College was one of the events that I didn't get to make it down to as often as I would have liked. With it occasionally showing up in the southern region, there were times when it was one of the first casualties of time and fiscal responsibility. Not that I never make it, some of my favorite stories still come from one of my earlier ventures down.  Still, as come has passed, the focus of such trips has also changed from one of an exclusive student to one of teacher and comrade. Much like it's cousin Ansteorrian Heraldic & Scribal Symposium, King's College is as much a chance to network and socialize as it is anything else. And, to be fair, my goal this year was one of teaching, education, and networking.

The first class for me was my newest addition to my library: "Introduction to Ansteorra". This was my attempt to help give a framework of information to new members. As it happened class was scheduled for the main fellowship hall, and my collection of five students shared the space with about thirty people sitting and chatting. We were successful in holding the class, but I felt like the setting wasn't as conducive to conversation and interaction as it could have been. Still, I am not sorry I held it.

Afterwards, I chanced across a familiar face on her way into the same event. Less than a fortnight following her elevation, Deanna was walking in the door just as I was making my exit from the main hall. It wasn't just good to talk to her again, but it wad good to talk with her as a friend, and without the weight of a job to do hanging over my shoulders. Not to suggest for a second that I even slightly regretted accepted the request to herald her into her Laureling, but part of success is the ability to look back at it and enjoy it for the accomplishment it was.

Mistress Deanna de la Penna at her elevation, two weeks before.
Photo compliments of  Master Caelin on Andrede
With permission of Caelin and Deanna. 
Deanna has always been one of the "kind spirits" in my circle, a pleasant person with a pleasant outlook on life, the type of calm a chaos junky like me enjoys being around ever so often. We only spoke in passing, her on her way up a small flight of steps, I on my way down the same flight. It's not that there was anything momentous about the conversation, but I write about it here because I feel it's important that people understand the value of a "kind spirit". Is there any word, or sentence or even conversation in my friendship with Deanna that is somehow moments or epic? no. But would my life be a lesser story without her influence on its narrative? Yes, I wholeheartedly believe it would be.

The event broke for lunch at this point, and we all went our separate ways, my wife, myself and our host travelling to a local Italian eatery. The waitress there was fascinated with our garb, and we made sure to leave her with a SCA business card.

My next classes weren't for some hours after lunch's conclusion, so I set out to wander the halls and enjoy what conversation I could. I had looked over the class list already, and would continue to do so throughout the day, but for a myriad of reasons, and some questions of fatigue, I didn't feel up to attending any of the offered classes just then.

In something of a happy coincidence, the same length of steps from where I had spoken with Deanna was stage for another figure when I walked by some time later. Tall, and stately in a way truly unique to his six-foot-plus frame, Duke Adb al-Mahdi Jamal ibn Hakim, was dressed in his typical Moorish splendor, sharing a laugh with friends when I walked up to him that afternoon. if someone had a write a thesis statement about our resident Moorish duke, it would be that his cool confidence was perfectly counterbalanced by an inherent humility, and the whole package pivoted on an innate drive to make others happy. For all of his regal trappings, Mahdi was about as dignified as a high-school birthday boy, with an expressive face more likely to smile than anything else. Nearly every other sentence I have heard from the man is some empathetic recognition of something said to him a moment before, what has to be a reflexive pattern of engagement and encouragement at this point in his life. In every encounter with the man over my two decades here, each conversation was treated such that, regardless of our respective ranks, we were always met as equals, two men linked by a love of fun stories and lives that can only be called larger than the sum of their parts.

Duke Adb al-Mahdi Jamal ibn Hakim from spring coronation , 2017
Photo compliments of  Stephen Blakele
With permission of Stephen and Mahdi

The conversation that day was epic in its simplicity. Madhi was still very much coming down off of the unexpected high from his Lioning two weeks before, and even as he stood there, a lion's medallion handing off its mantling on his chest, the majority of his conversation revolved around illustrating how amazing his friends were, and how humbled he was for the ongoing recognition. A man of extraordinary energy and enthusiasm, nothing better defines him than his drive to lite others up with his good spirit. All that being said, he also brings an extraordinary career to any conversation, and the ability to talk about as many battles as he has been in, or camp fires that he has been around adds depth to any exchange.

This day we swapped stories about Ansteorrian 30th Year and some of the heraldic submissions Madhi and I had both seen, as well as bringing up some of the frequent ruminations about "the militant arm of the college of heralds". We shifted the conversation about membership numbers, and recruitment issues ever closer to the forefront of modern SCA policy. Every word out of his mouth punctuated with an expressive face that spelled out his thoughts on a subject before the words could be shaped by his mouth.

My second class of the day, held close to the end, was my Girdlebook class. I had discovered girdle books at Kings College some time ago when they were handed out as site tokens for instructors. The first was a slip cover for a small marble notebook. I later expanded on the idea, making a larger, more durable book for storing my cell phone. When that got stuck in a car door, I finally assembled another one, this one with a fake leather cover and metal hardware. My class is the product of historical research and some soap-boxing I have taken to doing lately about people pulling out their model phones while at events, and worse yet, while they are in court. The class was well attended, with, as I recall, over a dozen people attending, and paying close attention, asking questions and swapping stories and feedback.

The final class of the day, starting at four, wasn't a class at all. Rather it was a roundtable I described as "a chance for voice heralds to sit down and just talk for a few". More specifically, this was a chance for younger or prospective heralds to ask questions of the more experienced core of heralds.

Master ‎Brian O'hUilliam (left) and Master Alden Drake (right)
Both photos taken from Facebook (I *might* have asked permission)

I've known Brian and Alden for longer than I really care to try and remember. Though I think my first real interaction with Alden was when he was Star principle herald and I was interviewing for Northern Regional herald Brian, on the other hand, is a southern voice herald, and student to Master Modius (another personality I know well) whom I have crossed paths with on only a few occasions, though we sometimes meet like a pair of rams trying to see who's head in harder.

Alden has always been, at least in my conversations, the quit, reasonable voice in a room. The guy who puts his hand up and says "you know, that guy over there just said something interesting." I'd imagine he has as full a spectrum of emotions as any of us, but his demeanor in my presence has always been one of calm determination.

Brian, (again much like his mentor, Modius), is an intense, focused personality. His words are not just chosen, but sculpted, and if you listen to him talk, its clear that where many of us would tolerate, or perhaps just survive administrative settings, Brian thrives in them, much like my mundane self did in the chaos of an emergency situation. It's tempting at times to unflatteringly call him a policy wonk dismissively, but to do so ignores the fact that he doesn't talk to hear himself talk, he talks to accomplish things, and those things, more often than not, as real world with tangible consequences. He's a rare man, able to display the type of stoic determination at times that I would more often associate with a soldier or warrior.

As to the hour-long meeting, the conversation was well attended, with heralds and non-heralds, new and veteran in attendance. It was a good roundtable, actually, with some interesting questions being asked. One young herald asked is things overhear from other heralds has any sort of expectation of copyright, or the like. Another asked about the roles of the herald at an event, and who they work for, also who seeks out heralds for what activity. That lead to a fascinating (and expected) conversation about differences in how groups manage their own event. I really do want to call out Alden for reminding us that talk of what heralds are needed where is something that should be talked about earlier rather than later. I also pointed out that approaching a subject from the standpoint of "we need a herald" will play into the conversations of detractors who don't approve of voice heraldry at events. The subject of information flow, communication, and timeliness, things that do resonate with event stewards more often than not.

The interplay between seasoned heralds and the younger crowd (not to mention two non-heralds who also attended and contributed as well) was encouraging and educational for all of us I felt. It wasn't epic, or earth moving, but being a good herald isn't about being larger than life all the time. It can be about the little conversations, the hints, the tips, the words of reassurance between comrades.

I'm glad for the classes I taught at King's collect this year, but I'm more grateful for the chance to reconnect with friends, old and new, and the ability to build up the network of people, heralds and not, who help make my SCA career as extraordinary as it is. And also, I'd like to home that in turn, I am able to do the same to others as our paths cross each meetings and each event.
His Lordship Ivo Blackhawk
Kingdom of Ansteorra
"Long Live the King!"