Every now and then, I go on a little rant about the SCA. Warning: Strong language.
Someone Left The Cake Out In The Rain.10/12-05
Crusades was *exceedingly* wet, but that wasn't the most disappointing thing about it. No, I can deal with wet weather - wool is good at shedding moisture. I don't mind wet feet, or even my splendid lunch plans being rained out.
What I minded was the lack of medieval. Crusades had way too many people with HFN chairs. And plastic pop-up dayshades. And visible modernities. And too few people who seemed to care at all.
I don't understand why people do that - I mean, they're supposed to be trying for at least the Victorian approximation of a medieval-oid event, so why the lack of period things? Even basic stuff wasn't in evidence.
When I started playing, most people still used blue plastic tarps and modern tents because there really wasn't anything else available to the average person with a limited budget. We used director's chairs, and we covered our coolers with scraps of fabric. Despite the unavailability of any actual period-style furniture, everyone made a real effort to cover and hide modern things.
These days, there's all sorts of stuff available at reasonable prices, and if you can't make it, you can almost certainly buy it. Wooden chests, and canvas tents/dayshades, nice tables and chairs, and all sorts of other goodies being made and/or sold by a wide range of people at affordable prices. We should be in hog heaven as far as period-oid items go - everyone can outfit themselves with at least the basics.
And yet, people seem to be going the other way - HFN chairs without covers, coolers sitting out in the open, cans of soda drunk straight from the can... All these things would have garnered shocked looks and a request to cover/decant/fix things so that the place looked more vaguely medieval (insofar as one can make a gymnasium/cattle barn/rec center look medieval) in the old days (which weren't better, just more motivated).
Crusades was wrong. It wasn't an event, not a medieval-style one. I looked around the hall at one point, and I grant you, it was crowded, and people had to do the best they could because of the rain, but it looked like some weird PTA-run craft show, not the SCA. People had set up willy-nilly, with their nylon chairs and their modern tote bags, and their coolers, and it looked sad, just lame and sad.
I don't understand, I really don't. I don't expect people to be perfect, but I thought they could at least make a little tiny effort, you know?
Nylon chairs are horrible (hence my name for them - Horrible Fucking Nylon chairs). Coolers and tote bags look completely modern. Soda cans and plastic water bottles look like what they are.
All these things can be veiled with minimum - really minimum! - effort. Throw a piece of thrift store fabric over the cooler. Pour your damn drink into a period-looking mug. Invest a teeny bit of money and at least get a chair that looks vaguely like it's made from natural materials.
I'm not thinking just of Crusades, though that's the most recent thing in my mind. In the past year, I've witnessed people walking around drinking out of soda cans, letting all their modern stuff sit out where everyone could see (and trip over) it, and setting up their HFN chairs around the field where everyone could admire them in all their nylony glory (and don't even get me started on the ones with footrests).
It's not nazi-like to ask for these things to be covered, it's the bare minimum anyone should expect from the attendees of the event. Okay, your T-tunic is a cotton-polyester blend, and you're wearing sweatpants. It's no big deal; everyone starts somewhere. I just want you to go one more step (like people used to do) and cover your chair/ pour your soda into a cheap aluminum tankard/ cover the cooler that's holding your soda nice and ice-cold.
I'll take care of the ultra-period stuff - I don't expect anyone else to match my level if they can't invest the time or the money - but at least make a teeny bit of effort, okay?
The tote bag - buy a cheap basket from a craft/dollar/thrift store.
The cooler - I can't say this enough: Get a piece of fabric, whether it's an old bedspread/throw/sheet or something cheap from your pal the thrift store, and COVER THE FUCKING THING. It's really cheap, and requires maybe two brain cells worth of thought.
The chair - more fabric, if you insist on the HFN chair. There are fewer people out there with genuine back problems than there are people who simply haven't made the effort to find a better-looking chair, so don't give me that excuse. You bought it because it was cheap and it's comfortable. Fine. COVER IT.
The drink - you have no excuse for wandering around with a can of soda in your hand, or leaving a plastic water bottle sitting in the cup holder of your HFN chair. Cups are so cheap, it's ridiculous. GET ONE AND USE IT.
Seriously - I'm not asking for anything outrageous. If you have that hard a time even covering your modern items, then maybe you need a hobby that doesn't require an attempt at pre-1600 stuff. Nascar, say. Everyone uses those HFN chairs there.
Yes, it makes me cranky. I'm not crushing your dream by asking that you make a tiny little effort. But if you don't want to make even that miniscule effort, then maybe you don't belong in this particular dream.
Hand sewing - What It All Means.8/26/03
Someone asked me, in essence, why do I bother with hand-sewing my historical clothing. He opined that people only seem to notice the flashy shiny stuff, not the really period details, so what's the point?
The short answer is that I know it's right. The long answer is a bit rambly, but here goes:
First of all, people don't just notice the flashy stuff, but it catches the eye immediately, so it's more likely to elicit a remark. But there's stuff going on here that isn't as obvious to the casual observer. Some say that people like "flashy" rather than "period". Not quite. There are an awful lot of people out there who think flashy *can't* be period, even though there are lots of paintings to refute this - the problem starts when people use the wrong kind of flash to decorate their clothes. Because there are people out there running around in frankly quite terrible outfits, there has developed a kind of reverse snobbery that says "period" is only period if it's dull and drab.
Case in point: For a couple of friends' coronation, I made them these beautiful satin Elizabethan outfits. The only thing not period about them was the blue colour I used, because I wanted them in Atlantian colours. Everything else was textbook Elizabethan, to the stained fleur-de-lys band on her dress to the white satin of his doublet. But because they were eye-catching, some people sneered and said that the outfits couldn't be period. In this case, flashy WAS period (after all, they were a King and Queen), but because of the existing hostility towards "flashy", people couldn't recognize period (and people don't bother to research properly - so they make pronouncements about what's period and what isn't, and make themselves look petty AND ill-informed at the same time). Flashy and period are not mutually exclusive, but you'll have a hard time convincing some rather close-minded people of that. And the people that do flashy without doing their research make it even harder. But it's not really my problem - I know it's right, so y'all will have to trust me. :P
But I digress.
Why do we bother with all the handwork when machines can do a passable job for us? Because that's what they did in period. While the difference between machine and hand work may not be visible from ten paces, you know it's there.
Never underestimate the boost wearing correct clothing can give your perception of "period". The feel, the look, the drape, the effect. It makes you stand straighter, move differently, respond to your surroundings in a more period way.
Yes, it's all in your head. That's where the re-creation starts. We can dress up in period clothes, eat and drink period foods, and sit in period furniture, but if we stick to our modern mindset, the illusion does not work. I've been doing this a long time - as B.B. King says, "The Thrill is Gone". I cannot simply go to an event and feel like I'm in another time - the modern intrusions, the modern conversations are all too present for me most of the time.
When I make an outfit by hand, I put myself in the place of an Elizabethan. I get a better understanding of how long it takes to make a new outfit (not as long as you'd think, at least, most of the time), and the feel of a garment taking shape under my hands affects everything I do with and in it from there on. I treasure the embroidered pieces I make, because they took a long time to create (a coif takes anywhere from six months to a year, and the larger pieces can take hundreds of hours). I mend and darn my clothes rather than discarding them for new outfits because I appreciate the value of a carefully made article of clothing. I don't have a new outfit for every event because making it right costs money and time, two considerations that also affected people in my chosen period.
Doing it by hand makes it feel right, and cutting corners means selling my dream short, I guess.
NOTE: Your mileage may vary - for a lot of people, the beautiful designs made by an embroidery machine enhance their perception of period.
But it's not for me. I'm old-fashioned, and getting more so. Yes, I have clothes that aren't quite right, and you may justly hit me over the head for my handwork snobbery, but I really get so much more out of the game by doing things this way. I like the way handwork looks; I like the way it feels when I run my fingers over it.
I like knowing it's unique, and I feel a real sense of accomplishment over my creations, from the simple couched pincushion I just finished, to the elaborate hand-appliqued doublet I made for Bob, to the fact that I finally got the couched sleeves finished on my green wool coat (and all 126 hand-made buttons). In the details, I find purpose.
And that's why it's worth doing it by hand.
Wino Wisdom -9/4/03
I was driving home from work a while ago, and I stopped to give a little bit of money to a homeless guy on the side of the road. I only had a moment, as the light was changing, but just before I drove away, he shoved a crumpled little piece of paper into my hand. I tossed it into my purse, and forgot all about it.
Now, I clean out my purse on a semi-annual basis (or when it gets too heavy to lift), and it gets rather filled up with little crumpled bits of paper, medical receipts, notes to myself, and such things. I carefully read all the bits before I throw them away, because I'm always afraid I'll throw out something important like my paycheck if I'm not careful.
So, I'm looking through all these random bits, sorting out the things I need to save, and lo and behold, I find this little crumpled bit of paper. I smoothed it out carefully, and this is what I read:
"I was once a prince among men, a king on the tourney field. All bowed to my majesty, all feared my power. I lived my life thoughtless of the people beneath me, and cared not whom I crushed to get my way. All was mine that I wanted; money, power, women.
"Alas, I did not know that soon the winds of change would come over my land, nor did I realize that those whom once I had dismissed without thought were now powerful in their own right, and had massed their strength and skill to bring me down.
"I once was great, but now am forced to beg from others to survive. If I had followed the advice I give here now, perhaps my fall would not have been so hard, or so far. To those that are kind, I press you to follow this wisdom. To those who think they are too good to acknowledge the people who are not as successful as they, or who would only fawn on those more powerful, not heeding the ones they tread upon in their quest for glory, I say this: A journey upward cannot continue forever. Sooner or later, you must tread upon the downward path. Those who are smarting from the injuries you inflicted on the way up will not be blamed for rejoicing in your fall.
"Heed my words, and take them to heart, as I wish I had done, for they will serve you well."
I was intrigued. Why did this guy give this to me? What *was* his wisdom? Was I missing a page? Or was I on the installment plan, and the next time I saw him and gave him money, would he give me the next bit?
This could get expensive.
...especially if there was a lot of wisdom.
But my questions were answered when I held the paper up to the light. Like a watermark, in the center of the paper was embossed a list of advice. I set it down here in the hopes that his wisdom may be known by all:
"Sneer not at those in poorer clothing, no matter how polyester they may be, for that person may be visiting royalty on their way to a keg party."
""Do not reply to insult, real or imagined, with like insult, for that is how Seneschals get involved, and before you know it, the entire damn BoD's breathing down your neck."
"Alway be graceful when you blow off someone who's wasting your time - if they don't feel like you've bestowed a great favour upon them for even noticing them, you haven't done it right, and when they're Queen, you'll pay for it."
"Never denigrate the love of learning, even if it doesn't float your boat, because if you change your mind, there will always be at least one Laurel who remembers what you once said, and will make you suffer for it. Especially if you insulted THEIR stuff."
"When asked to give opinions or take sides on contraversial subjects, dissemble. Even if you don't care about the thing that has everyone's knickers in a wad. ESPECIALLY if you don't care. Those things have a way of sucking in bystanders like a giant whirlpool; everyone gets wet and pissed."
"Find something nice and encouraging to say about every gift one receives, for then people will want to give you more. This is useful when you're trying to fill up yet another darn Kingdom gift basket."
"Always act as if everyone's reputation were spotless; even if it's not, they'll be grateful for your tact. If you humiliate them, it's guaranteed they'll win Crown, and you'll be hosed then, won't you?"
"Hide your steely strength under a velvet coat of grace. As a sword should not be unsheathed except in times of need, so should the ability to kick butt and take names only be used when there is no other alternative. That way, you have the element of surprise on your side."
There it was. I had been handed the wisdom of the ages, by a wino in ragged clothes and a greasy Redskins baseball cap. Who had he been? Where did he come from? How did he end up at the intersection of route 29 and University Boulevard? And most importantly,
Who did he piss off?
"For the least among us may find their way to the top one day, and if you are rude to those beneath you, don't be surprised when you don't get that cherry award you've had your eye on, my child."
Text and images copyright L. Mellin, 2000-2008, except where noted. All rights reserved.