Sunday, 22 January 2017

Being Okay with Being Afraid - Twelfth Night 2017

About two and a half years ago, the king of An Tir came to Snoweaters down in Windwyrm. Myself and another gentle were about to vie to become Montengarde's bardic champion at Samhain, and so we were asked to perform in front of the assembled populace during feast.

I remember clearly the feeling of looking out over the crowd in my very first yellow linen kirtle, sick to my stomach, with the blood draining from my face. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. I chirped out some rendition of a song that I don't even remember now. All I can remember is telling the crowd how afraid I was to throw up in front of the king of An Tir!

"I'll never do this again," I said to myself, and I really believed it. I resolved to tell the current bardic champion the next day that I was dropping out of the competition.

I didn't. A few weeks later, I croaked my way through two entries and stepped up as bardic champion of Montengarde.

What followed was a very difficult year in which I had to overcome many internal and external challenges. I was sometimes stretched to my limit. I also realized the immense power of friendship and how essential it is to have a team - especially when you feel like you are "supposed" to go it alone. It's a lesson I haven't forgotten even to this day. When I stepped down, I told myself (very firmly) "I'll never do this again." I really believed it then, too.

As I have carried on through my SCA career, there have been many times when I have been pushed to and beyond my boundaries. I have been afraid, I have been badly hurt, I have been indignant and even in a full meltdown state over things I should have planned for or couldn't prevent. Every time, I have told myself that I would never try that thing again.

When it came time to declare my intention to vie for Arts & Sciences champion, I was afraid, too. I was afraid of being judged, of people noticing me, of people talking about me unkindly or thinking about me as stupid or immature or uninteresting. I was afraid of the bad feelings that might arise between myself and those who were vying with me. I started to say "I'll never do this again" before I'd even begun to put my entry together.

However, over these few years in the Society, I have learned how much more important it is to be brave than to let that fear win. I decided to vie because I was afraid. Fear can nail you to the floor, or it can give you the energy to fly.

This year, I was really honored to vie alongside three other talented and brave artisans. I was humbled by their skill and knowledge and I have learned - and will continue to learn - valuable lessons about my own future as an artisan and researcher from all of them.

The judges and Their Excellencies tasked me with the responsibility of being Montengarde's Arts & Sciences champion this year. Thank you for believing in me. This time, I'm excited for what will come next. I am excited to grow more. I will definitely, definitely, do this again.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Discretion is the Better Part of Valor on Facebook

"Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife."
-- Proverbs 26:20-21

It's honesty hour again, everyone!

I, like a lot of people, get really passionate when I debate. This is a particular scourge on social media, when people who I would never, ever debate passionately with face-to-face or have a conflict with in person suddenly feel very distant. It's easy to feel as though the internet is a personal and private debating arena.

Unfortunately, that can sometimes lead to an abundance of energy being spent on trying to convince people that I am a) correct and b) I have the most logical approach. I have spent entire evenings checking my phone for the next comment on a discussion thread, carefully crafting a cutting reply, and waiting anxiously for the approval of others instead of living in the moment and spending my limited free time with my family and friends. Has this ever, in the history of my time on Facebook, changed somebody's mind? Probably not.

This is a fault that I recognize in myself quite acutely, and can be a particular source of conflict when combined with my unfortunate tendency to resist admitting that I am wrong until I've had a lot of time to leave the situation and calm down. (Ask my husband about this sometime.)

I will, therefore, attempt to more rigorously follow this line of questioning before involving myself in future social media discussions:

1. Is what I am about to say an accurate representation of my own feelings on the subject, or I am I trying to rile somebody up/make somebody approve of me?

2. Is what I am about to say intended to be helpful, instructive or constructive, or is it a "cheap shot" that I hope will make me look like the "winner" of the argument? How is my comment meant to make the person on the receiving end feel about themselves and about the situation?

3. Has what I have to say been said already? Is it necessary that this position be restated, or am I just joining a "mob?" Can I maintain a balanced and fair position which considers both perspectives before making a conclusion?

4. Is there a way to more efficiently communicate my feelings through another avenue of communication - private message, email, face-to-face - if I'm really directing my comment at a specific person?

5. Does this discussion actually matter to me or impact me? Do I have something to say which will add useful information to this discussion, or an important counterpoint which has not yet been considered? Am I the best person to introduce this information?

6. Do my actions reflect well on my morals, ethics, and virtues? Do they reflect well on the people who are associated with me, formally or informally?

Social media is a fabulous invention, and it's a real blessing to be able to stay connected to so many people all around the world 24/7, but I think it has facilitated a lot of interpersonal problems which would have been resolved easily in person. It is my job to take accountability for what I put out on social media and the impact it has on myself and others, SCA or otherwise.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Yule Feast 2016 - "Noël"

Yule was, as always, pretty fantastic!

Andy had the weekend off, so decided to join me in my trip up to Borealis. He doesn't play at all, so this was a really special treat for me! We were kindly hosted on Friday night by my Pelican, Coryn, and her husband Dirk. They wined and dined us and we had an extremely good time chatting with them and Bronwyn and Peregrine well into the night - nobody does hospitality like the Vanderzees, and that's a fact!

The event itself was really busy for me. I had a wonderful opportunity to judge a single A&S entry, which was a real privilege and honor for me. I was really touched and inspired by the passion and enthusiasm the artisans in Borealis show for every aspect of A&S in the Society, and it left me feeling really positive about the A&S community in Avacal as a whole.

Phillipe, the outgoing champion, gifted me with a bag of felting wool for my new hobby as a thank you. It was one of the nicest and most personal thank-you gifts I have ever received from anyone in the SCA and I was really moved. (The other was a tiny whisk and some small containers from Baroness Una for my cosmetics experiments - I use them regularly!)

Yule was also Caterina &tc.'s post-vigil, which we were kindly given space for by the event team. It was lovely to see so many people stop by and congratulate her, and although the offerings in terms of food and drink were not as ambitious as I originally hoped, I was happy that we were able to provide some gluten and lactose-free pasties for everybody to enjoy.

The feast was really awesome, too! It was a really ambitious undertaking by Mel, for whom this was her first event as feast steward. I cherish every opportunity I get to see the Borealis Culinary Guild in action, because I always take away at least one very important pointer every time! Lots of extremely period dishes with good flavors, and I enjoyed the company of Bjar, Peter and Brangwayn, and Drifa and her beau at dinner. Andy felt very welcomed and really enjoyed all of the dishes, but we sadly had to leave a little bit before the end of the meal to drive home.

I always, always enjoy Yule - one of the highlights of the Avacal calendar for me. A massive thank-you to all of those involved in its organization in 2016!

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

SCA Resume

Public Events & Demonstration Service

Heritage Park – Ghoul’s Night Out, October 2013
Calgary Waldorf School – Grade 6 “knighting,” June 2014
Heritage Park – Ghoul’s Night Out, October 2014
F.E.O. Jr. High School – Renaissance Talk, Winter 2015
Heritage Park – Ghoul’s Night Out, October 2016

THUA/TUA Classes

Period Cooking & You: How to Get Started - Quad War, Quad Talks 2015
Introduction to Period Cosmetics - Yule, 2015

Gate Service

Snoweaters 2014 - 3 hours
Winter War 2014 - 1 hour
Avacal Crown 2015 - 2 hours
Avacal Coronation 2015 - 2 hours
Dragonslayer/Hidden Treasures 2015 - 2 hours
Quad War 2015 - 2 hours
Spring Grand TUA 2016 - 2 hours
Sergeantry Trials 2016 - 3 hours

Feast Stewardship/Service

The Feast of St. Cecilia - November 2014, feast coordinator
Newcomer’s Breakfast - Quad War 2015, prep assistance
Beltane - 2015, appetizer platters
Yule - 2015, serving assistance
Spring TUA - 2016, feast co-steward
Newcomer's Breakfast - Quad War 2016, prep assistance
Sergeantry Trials - 2016, prep assistance
Samhain - 2016, feast co-steward
November Coronation - 2016, pre-prep assistance

Event Stewardship/Organization

Beltane 2015 - co-steward
Twelfth Night 2016 - co-steward

Tournaments & Competitions

Montengarde Arts & Sciences Championship – Twelfth Night, January 2014
Entered Trotula’s hair powder and distilled rose water for comment.

Avacal Arts & Sciences Championship – Avacal Investiture, February 2014
Student judged the Principality Arts & Sciences competition.

Montengarde Bardic Championship – Samhain, November 2014
Completed with storytelling entry “Tam Lin” and song entry “The Shepherd & The Nymph.” Awarded bardic championship, served as Montengarde Wild Rose November 2014 - November 2015.

Avacal Arts & Sciences Championship - Winter Crown 2015
Judged the Kingdom Arts & Sciences championship.

Borealis Arts & Sciences Championship - Yule 2016
Judged a single project entry as part of the Arts & Sciences Championship.

Officer & Administrative Roles

Montengarde Family Activities Coordinator - September 2014 – September 2016
Responsible for organizing, coordinating, and encouraging activities for families with children at Montengarde events.

The Montengarde Culinary Group - 2014 – present 
Responsible for many aspects of organization, scheduling, and advertising for the Montengarde Culinary Group, a monthly non-hierarchical gathering of period food enthusiasts.

Formal Affiliations 

Protegee of Mistress Coryn of the Wode, OP - August 2016 – present 
House Sister of House Fines Lames - 2014 – present 

Informal Affiliations

Student of Mona Caterina &tc., OL - 2014 – present 

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Samhain Feast 2016

Falling asleep standing up in my court garb...
So, Samhain finally came and went, and the entire Culinary Group survived successfully! I'm really proud of the whole team. As stressed as we were leading up to the big day, I definitely feel like we pulled it off.

Caterina &tc. likes to do this "GBU" thing for post-event reports - Good, Bad, and Ugly - and so I think I will do the same. I think I will phrase it as "good, not-so-good, and bad," though. I'm really going to be mostly speaking to my experiences with the feast preparation and how I think that went, since that's basically what I did all day.

The Good:
- We were really organized in terms of our schedule, to-do list, our recipes, etc. and that definitely helped make sure that we were on time almost all day long.
- The food which we prepared for the feast was tested twice, so we were really confident in our recipes and I think they went over well for the most part.
- On the whole, I think we worked really excellently as a team and everyone was very good-natured and pleasant with one another. Even when things started to get a little stressful towards service, we stayed on top of it and got it together.
- It was so lovely to hear from people that they enjoyed the food we made. It can be really hard to know what's going on outside from inside the kitchen, so we really appreciate it when people take the time to come up and let us know how everything was. Her Highness Princess Nasheeta took the time at the end of the night to personally thank us for our service, and it was really touching and really appreciated.
- We were able to organize ourselves in such a way that some of us were able to be a part of Caterina's elevation ceremony, which I cried all the way through like the mature adult I am. It was a real blessing to be able to take part, and it's only thanks to the efforts of those who stepped up to stay behind that we were able to do so. I am so grateful.
- There were people over and above who I thought would come help who worked super hard all day long in the kitchen! So amazing!
- My Pelican, Mistress Coryn, was able to attend from Borealis. Her words of support and advice throughout the day were sincerely appreciated and helped keep me grounded when things got tough!
- Baron James was present all day long, and was absolutely the key factor in our success. He brought almost every piece of equipment we had, helped us prep efficiently all day long, kept us organized, and mentored us so we'll all know what we're doing better next time.
- After hearing that the kitchen crew didn't have enough food to eat, Sir Kirk and Sir Varrus's group very, very kindly delivered some of their own food to us. We were incredibly touched by this generosity! We also ordered in pizza, so all's well that ends well.

The Not-So-Good:
- The way the tables were going to be set up in our heads (8 to a table, 10 tables) was not the reality of how the hall was set up due to space limitations (long rows of tables, 6 to a table) so that fundamentally changed the way our food was distributed. Completely not anyone's fault at all and totally understandable given the size of the hall, but it was a going concern in the kitchen!
- The kitchen was SO HOT. So hot. Having 14 crockpots in there and three ovens on all day and very little ventilation meant it was a real sauna!
- There were a few small hiccups with portions (not enough for the kitchen crew, for example) and one of our recipes took a lot longer than we had predicted to prepare, which meant we had a few problems getting out the second remove in a timely fashion.

The Bad: 
- I am really aching today from my head to my toes!
- 8:00am to 12:30am is really much too long of a day for anyone to be working non-stop. Many of the kitchen staff only got breaks so they could fulfill other responsibilities; some only brief stops for the bathroom or a glass of water. I'm not really sure if it's possible to resolve that except through a lot more clean-up assistance, but honestly the kitchen crew are the only ones who know what belongs to whom and where it goes, so it's kind of important that we stick around. It might be helpful in the future to program in a forced 30-minute break during a lull in preparation which everyone has to obey.
- Regrettably, there were a very small number of folks who were not very gentle or kind to the kitchen/event staff at a few times throughout the day, which put some of the crew in a pretty sour mood about the whole thing. We finished strong and I know that 95% of the people in attendance were satisfied, but it can't help but hurt your feelings when you're in a 40C kitchen all day long or running off your feet as a volunteer and people aren't as kind as you know they can be. Please know that anyone working hard to serve the populace at an SCA event is doing so out of love, and we are really trying our very best.

So, that was that! I had fun being in the kitchen and despite my nerves, I know it won't be long until I'm in there again. There is something really satisfying about a job well done! I love watching a feast come together from the planning stages to the big night.

Friday, 4 November 2016

The Fear of Being Responsible

Welcome to honesty hour on Alice's blog!

The first time I ever co-stewarded an event was Beltane 2015. Brangwayn the Ever-Present was the chief event steward, and I marveled at how calm and collected she was through the whole process - no matter what anybody wanted, no matter who had something "constructive" to say about the event, she was as cool as a cucumber. Whenever anyone asked me a question or had a concern, I quickly pointed them her way and worried about it for hours.

That same event, the Culinary Group had its first big foray into feast prep. We made appetizer platters for eight tables of ten, and I was an absolute wreck. Coordinating all the different elements of the platters, arguing with folks who said they'd be involved and then decided not to be, and making sure everything was done on time and plated properly made me terribly anxious. Baron James had time to be in the kitchen that day, and calmly walked us through the afternoon. It was incredible to me how reassuring he was and how confidently he was able to assess the situation and help us out.

When I stewarded my first event in a leading role - Twelfth Night 2016 - everything went well until the mid-afternoon. There were no garbage cans, the feast was late due to communication issues, the entertainment I'd planned didn't go quite as planned, kids were getting into trouble, and all kinds of other details started going haywire. I spent over an hour hiding in a room upstairs in tears. Drifa and Rosaline talked me off the proverbial ledge and gave me the strength to finish the event, but I swore to myself that I'd never run another one again.

At Grand TUA in Spring 2016, I was one part of a two-person team with Asa. I was beside myself worrying about if we had enough of this or enough of that, how to put things together and plate things properly, but her enthusiasm and determination to succeed got us through everything. The guidance of two much more experience feast stewards - Mistress Coryn and Mistress Joan - calmed everything right down and I learned so much from their grace under pressure.

When it comes right down to it, I get really scared of being in a leadership position. Every time I'm responsible for a task which has to go right, I spend weeks and weeks agonizing over every little detail which might go wrong. I don't understand what it takes to not be constantly terrified of what might happen! I don't yet understand how all of these people who I rely on so much have come to a place in their lives where they are able to take on responsibilities so calmly and gracefully.

I think a lot of things which I struggle with in my life come down to my fear of being responsible for things, of exposing myself to criticism, and opening myself to the possibility of failure. I worry and worry and worry in the hopes that somehow I'll be able to think myself out of any potential problem that might come my way, instead of just trusting that either I'll be able to deal with it myself or there will be people around me (as there always are!) who will be able to lend me the support I need.

Anxiety is always going to be a cold hand on my shoulder, I know that. It's not something I can really help, but I hope one day it will be something I can better keep under control.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

"Thank you," "you're doing a good job," and other priceless awards

I was chatting to someone at an event recently, and the topic of longevity in the SCA came up. Since very shortly after I joined, I've been told that the average SCAdian lasts around 3-5 years before quitting. I've heard a few reasons for this - internal politics, failure to integrate into one group or another, event burnout, etc. - but this person had a slightly different perspective.

In your first 1-5 years in the Society, it's common to receive quite a lot of recognition fairly quickly for the things that you do. If you're active, you'll probably get an Award of Arms, maybe a baronial award for service, combat, and/or arts and sciences, and possibly even a kingdom-level award for the same. After that, there's quite a long gap. Everyone knows that you make beautiful clothes or run the best events around, and since you've been recognized for it, there's not much more to say - at least, unless you receive a peerage ten or fifteen years down the road for it. You start to feel forgotten or underappreciated after a while, which makes other small annoyances seem larger.

Now, I'm not sure that I totally agree with this person's perspective. (I'm not sure everyone is that bothered about how often they receive awards.) However, if people leaving the SCA is at least partially caused by feeling underappreciated by the community, it may be possible to fix it. It's good practice in general to express appreciation for the people around you.

At a recent meeting of the Montengarde Culinary Group, someone went out of their way to tell me that they thought I'd been doing a good job. I respect this person hugely, and that small comment was worth much more to me than any formal award I've received to this point. The simple courtesy of just saying "thank you," "you did a wonderful job," or even "I love how you do 'x'" in a meaningful, sincere way can be even more important than an award recommendation to someone whose energy is flagging.

Here are some of the ways I intend to show more gratitude and appreciation for others in the SCA in the future:
  1. After eating my meal, I will make a point of thanking at least one member of the feast team for taking dozens of hours out of their busy schedule to cook for the populace.
  2. When I check in at gate, I will thank whoever is sitting in the cold, wet, or blazing heat (the three seasons of Avacal) for taking the time out to check people in.
  3. When I notice people moving tables, thrones, erics, or other heavy items, especially on a regular basis, I will thank them for the hard physical work that they do so that we can all enjoy the event. We don't get to see their bruises, sore muscles, and stubbed toes the next day - but we can all appreciate the ability to sit and watch court or take shelter under the pavilions they put up!
  4. I will clean up after myself, and if possible, stay late to help the tear-down team. It's an incredibly difficult job, especially after a long day, and even one more set of hands makes it go so much faster. If I am unable to stay to clean up, I will thank the people tearing down for sacrificing their time to do it for the rest of us.
  5. I will make a note to thank royalty and landed barons/baronesses for their incredibly important service at some point during their reign. Even though I have only a very little experience on retinue for Her Majesty Queen Inga, I have had a small glimpse into how very difficult it is to do these duties and how much of a sacrifice it is to serve the entire kingdom as a royal or landed peer.
  6. I will thank officers as they step up and step down for their service. Their administrative work in the background makes it possible for us to organize ourselves and play this game. I promise to never say "poor you" or "what a sucker" when someone takes an office. I will not speak sarcastically about officer positions, complain about the fact that nobody has taken an office, or complain about an officer in a non-constructive fashion, and I will do my best to take on an office when time and energy allow.
  7. I will thank people who regularly host activities in their own home, and those who organize activities, championships, prize competitions, and tournaments with their own time and energy. Without them, we wouldn't have fight practice, A&S practice, Polyphonia, archery practice, dance practice, Culinary Group, tavern, and many more things besides!
  8. I will thank the event stewards every time I attend an event for all of the sleepless nights, hours planning, and stress around putting an event together. If I need to communicate with an event steward during the event planning process, I will speak to them with the kindness, gratefulness and respect that I would if someone was doing me a personal favor. They are doing everyone in the kingdom a personal favor by taking on the responsibility of hosting the event.
  9. I will speak about the research, arts, martial activities, or service which other people enjoy with the greatest respect and enthusiasm. I will not fool myself into thinking that the activities and tasks I like to do in the SCA are more important, essential, or interesting than anyone else's. I will not suggest that what I enjoy should take more precedence than what someone else enjoys.
  10. If I like what someone is doing, I will say so. If I appreciate what someone has done, I will say so. If someone has inspired me through their actions or words, I will tell them.
How do you show your appreciation for the people in your shire, barony, or kingdom?