In the news today are a bunch of obits for director George Romero. Pretty much all of them focus on Night of the Living Dead, and to be fair, it's the work he is best known for.
But let's pause a moment and remember his movie Knightriders -- the closest thing the SCA has to its own motion picture. Legend (maybe true, maybe not; I honestly don't know) has it that Romero happened to attend a particular SCA Crown Tournament, and was swept up by the drama he saw there; his producers weren't thrilled by the idea, and said, "Enh -- maybe if you add motorcycles and a good soundtrack, we'll think about it". So he did.
Knightriders has always been on my personal list of Movies Every SCAdian should see. Not because the club portrayed is the SCA, mind. It very much isn't: it's essentially a traveling RenFaire where they joust on motorcycles. But the feel of the group, I've always thought, reflects the SCA beautifully. You have the folks who are dead-serious about The Dream, who see something better in the ideals of their club. You have the stick-jocks who are here for the sport and the babes. You have the craftsmen who are making it all possible, and, yes, you have the folks who are just here to party. (There's even poor Patricia Tallman, better known for Babylon 5, in her first major role as the token mundane who is enamored by the whole thing but doesn't quite seem to get it.)
The movie gets a bit full of itself at times, and some people mock it mercilessly, but I love it -- not least for Ed Harris (in my favorite of his roles) as King Billy, who is trying desperately to keep his people both safe and united, and to pursue his dreams while everything around him is falling apart. He is a wonderful study in obsession, illustrating both the advantages and problems of having a strong leader.
If you haven't seen it, check it out. It's not the most brilliant movie ever, but it's wonderfully human. For pretty much every character in it, I can say, "Yeah, I know folks just like that". That's one of the higher compliments I can pay a director...
Those of you who know Niki know that her great passion is for historical medicine -- whether it's teaching SCA folks about bizarre period cures for the plague or her novella about life in the medical tents of the Revolutionary War, she's all about the topic, and has lots to say about it.
She's just begin a weekly blog, focused on Renaissance Medicine, Saltatio Medica. I've just set up a feed here on Dreamwidth for it, saltatiomedica_feed -- that should populate later today. Check it out!
Today's the 25th anniversary of my Laureling. That's kind of scary, a tad melancholy, and occasions a few random thoughts and a lot of feelings.
(Some very random, like the fact that so much of my life is dominated by the SCA and Scala. Fate has doomed me to ambiguous tag prompts.)
The most obvious thought is, of course, "Holy crap". I haven't quite been a Laurel for half my life, but it's getting close.
On the melacholy side, I have to say that I think the SCA has continued to steer somewhat off-course, albeit mostly in predictable directions. We've become much more regularized and consistent, at the cost of a lot of the distinctiveness that individual branches used to have. That's cut a bit of the wonder of the club for me: I used to enjoy travelling more, not least because the Society was so very different from place to place. It made things more interesting.
The award system continues its gradual slide into being an unmanageable and counter-productive mess, with ever-more awards proliferating and the Peerage getting pushed ever-further out of reach. I don't recall the exact statistics, but IIRC it now takes something like twice as long to get a Peerage as it used to. I find that both terribly sad, and deeply stupid.
It's sobering to realize that I probably wouldn't get a Laurel today. And I don't mean "me then wouldn't get a Laurel by today's standards" -- I mean that, the way the Laurelate talks, I'm a little skeptical that I would get voted in as I am now, even with 2.5 decades more experience.
More optimistically, the SCA has improved in some respects -- not least, we've largely found our feet as a "family" organization, which was emphatically not the case around here when I was starting out. I mourn the loss of nearly all of our college students (locally, at least), but at least it's no longer a Herculean challenge to have kids and stay active in the SCA. That gives me hope that the club still has a future.
Mostly, though, I am left with a bad case of, "what next?". I've stayed active in the Society for my entire adult life largely through finding new worlds to conquer every 5-10 years; for the first time, I'm having serious difficulty finding something that really grabs my attention and passion, and fires me up anew. Not sure why -- it's entirely possible that all those brain cells are so focused on Querki that they aren't available for other things -- but we'll see where I go from here...
I just came across this marvelous essay on the SCA fun/authenticity false dichotomy, and a different way of looking at it. It was written some years ago, but is still worthwhile reading for any SCAdian. (It's from Tibicen, who some of you might remember from days of yore.)
I totally agree with the philosophy here: while I'm pretty indisciplined about it, I'd say that "atmospherist" nicely describes where I think the Society is at its best, and I think we still hamstring ourselves by under-emphasizing it. Indeed, while I've often thought of myself as a "funnist", I've always been clear that the distinctive fun of the SCA -- what makes this club particularly fun -- is the atmosphere...
Okay, you know fireflies? How they can make a summer evening a bit more magical? Now imagine sitting in camp, looking into the trees over the creek next to it, watching something like a hundred fireflies blinking *per second*.
It was like nothing I've ever seen -- my only points of reference come from movies, frankly, the sort of glitteriness usually associated with fairies. On Sunday evening the bunch of us walked right up to the edge of the wood and watched for a few minutes, entirely rapt...
Being held at a 4-H Fairground, SCA 50th Year was just about the most animal-friendly event I've ever attended. It was interesting noting my own reactions: several times during the first couple of days, I found myself going something like, "Oh, come *on* -- you're not seriously telling me that's a service *goat*" before realizing that it wasn't relevant. (The "lap goat" was, in fact, quite popular.) There were animals all over the place -- indeed, Zeus the Cat (from Camelot) held court in the EK History Booth for much of a day, drumming up attendance as people walking past would have whiplash of, "Ooooh -- kitty!"
But the biggest difference was the horses. I suspect this was the biggest Equestrian event in SCA history: the site has a large Equestrian Arena and a *huge* barn, and there were dozens of horses in attendance. Opening Ceremonies were punctuated by several passes of real, no-shit *jousting*. (With breakaway lances to keep anybody from getting killed, but it was still spectacular.) I'll need to remember to update my usual SCA-demo spiel to reflect the fact that yes, there now *is* jousting at least occasionally. (Although it's still not exactly common around here.)
The most magical moment came one of the evenings, though, and drove home one of the big differences from Pennsic. At the War, you learn to tune out the constant but annoying sound of golf carts, from Security riding around. At this event, there was none of that. Instead, one evening just after dusk, Security came riding up *on horseback*. Countess Meggie was practically beside herself with squee at the sheer rightness of it...
They've got a reasonably nice UI for transcribing the period MSS, so while reading the sources can be challenging, the tech doesn't get in the way too much, and has lots of tools for precisely describing what you see.
Best of all, they are starting out focused on two topics -- one of which is "Recipes". So basically, this is carte blanche to get random recipe pages from period, and transcribe them. Which is kind of an SCA cooking researcher's dream. (They make a big deal about finding words that aren't yet in the OED, but I consider that a completely minor detail -- the neat opportunity is for finding period *recipes* we don't already have in the major cookbooks.)
It's a hoot. Try it out...
This month's stupid is unusually epic: the Board has "clarified" that the NMS applies to *all SCA activities that collect a site fee*. Including practices -- if you collect $3 from people to pay for your fencing site, you are now required to add a $5 NMS fee for all non-members.
I'm ripshit angry about the sheer cowardice of calling this a "clarification". I'm sure that, when the NMS happened, we asked whether it applied to practices and were told no -- that was one of the things that calmed us down from the rage that swept the Barony at the time. But it's been pointed out that, in the modern bureaucratic SCA, where "if it's not written down, it doesn't exist" is essentially a religion, the Board will probably just ignore the point unless I can find written documentation. (If anybody *has* a clear statement about this, I'd love to have it. I suspect something exists, and there's a good chance it's somewhere in my files, but finding it in time to be relevant isn't terribly likely. However many files you think I have, double it, and probably double it again.)
ETA: Tibor found a clear and at least moderately official statement on the subject from the time -- see his first link, below.
That entirely aside, though, I'm just jaw-dropped at the sheer idiocy of the move. I can think of few ways to more grossly harm retention in the club. Yes, we might get a tiny number of people who will buy memberships as a result, and yes, Corporate might get a tiny inflow of revenue from it. But both effects will be dwarfed by the number of people who will simply be driven away from the SCA because it's too expensive to even come to practices any more. Even more, by the number of practices that will shut down because this effectively makes their sites unaffordable.
(No, this doesn't currently affect Carolingia, thank heavens -- we have no current practices that require a site fee. But we certainly have done so in the past, for several different activities, and being unable to do so is going to limit our options.)
If this was a rare occurrence, that would be one thing -- but at this point, almost every time I come into contact with the Society officialdom, it's because *some* level of the bureaucracy has done something so remarkably stupid and destructive that it sends me into a rage. I think it's at least quarterly; sometimes, it feels like it's monthly.
That kind of anger isn't healthy; indeed, it isn't even productive. It's not as if I'm going to win all those arguments; at this point, winning *any* of them is pretty rare. (The Order of Valiance is one of the few cases where I think there's a chance that sanity might prevail -- but even there, it's merely the third-best option we had for dealing with the situation.)
All of which means I've got to disconnect -- the only question is how much. At this point, I feel like I'm in an abusive relationship: I care so deeply about the SCA, and I am constantly feeling *hurt* by it. I don't especially want a "divorce": too many of my friends are in the club, and I still enjoy many of the activities, so I don't want to drop out entirely.
But I need to figure out how to stop caring about its long-term survival. Because at this point, I really think the club is doomed in the long run, unless something major changes at the top. When you have a Board of Directors sneaking in idiotically destructive moves, so quietly under the cover of night that even those of us who *read* the notes of the Board meetings didn't realize it was happening (indeed, the only reason it came out was that it was announced to the *exchequers* list in the EK), you're pretty much screwed.
So I need to learn how to just play, as a participant, as one of a number of activities, rather than having it occupy the central role in my life it's had for the past 30+ years. Have the SCA just be another fun game, like LARP or fandom, that I do but I'm not utterly invested in. That's surprisingly hard.
Really, I think I'm in the middle of the stages of grief here (definitely feels goddamn familiar), and trying to figure out how to move on to acceptance. I sometimes say that the only mercy in Jane's death was that neither she nor I suffered terribly long -- she was only actively dying for about two (unbelievably horrible) months. With the Society, it's more like watching a loved one with a terribly lingering and protracted terminal illness, with no closure...
ETA2: Corporate has now issued a secondary "clarification" that goes back to more or less the status quo ante, fixing the stupid. So the immediate crisis is resolved, pretty much as I suspected it would be -- in the wake of a great deal of noise, they've quietly backed off. Which just leaves us with the general problem that we shouldn't have these firestorm-inducing idiocies that *require* an outcry to fix. And me with the specific problem, as stated above, of how to stop associating the SCA with these high-blood-pressure-inducing incidents...
OTOH, I suppose it's self-correcting: we're pretty much getting to the point where nobody has any ideas what the awards mean any more, so they're becoming irrelevant. (I mean, *I* can't remember a lot of them any more, and I'm a court junkie.) More and more people, far as I can tell, are coming to regard the award system as Just Plain Stupid, which does leave room to convince them to ignore the whole idiotic morass and concentrate on the game instead.
(Yes, I know -- I've lost this particular battle, and I have better things to do than beat the dead horse. But I'm going to allow myself one good grouse first...)
Note that this is SCA bardic in the classic sense -- more focused on our own songs than period music. But it's good stuff, and recommended to anybody who enjoys sitting around a Pennsic campfire...
For those who don't know it -- KotBP is a play by Beaumont and Fletcher, contemporaries of Shakespeare. It is funny and very, very strange: far more modern-seeing in some ways than most folks would consider possible. This is a story that not only breaks down the fourth wall, but gleefully jumps up and down all over it. It is not often performed -- indeed, the only time I've ever seen it was the performance that alexx_kay directed and I produced in Carolingia, many years ago. (Our college Shakespeare professor had declared it to be the funniest play ever written, and Alexx decided to take up the challenge of understanding it well enough to grok the humor. Having done so, he then decided he needed to put it on, so that others could share in the fun. It was a serious hoot.)
Anyway, you can find the key details in this post on DSLJ. Auditions are coming up soon, and they are still looking for musicians, if you want to get involved...
On the one hand, I think there should totally be a path to Peerage for those who have had a major impact through fencing; I think that's true of every activity.
OTOH, I think this is the *worst* way we can possibly deal with that. Rapier *ought* to be recognized through the Chivalry, and I'm still cranky that that doesn't have a snowball's chance in Hades of ever happening -- the armored fighters hold the levers of power, and by and large they won't allow it. Failing that, we ought to reinterpret the Laurel or Pelican to be more accepting, or at the *very* worst, have an Order that is designed to be welcoming of all martial activities. As it is, creating a Fencing-Only Peerage means that we are inevitably going to have to create more and more Peerage Orders in the name of fairness. If we're recognizing Fencing today, we should absolutely have one for Archery, and then, I don't know -- Equestrian? Thrown Weapons? (And God help us when someone points out that excellence in execution and behaviour isn't the sole province of the martial arts.)
From an organizational-design standpoint, it's idiotic and damaging: the rise of Zillions of Specialized Awards is one of the worst blights on the SCA today, and I utterly hate the idea of it spreading to the Peerage. We like to say that our awards aren't just "merit badges", but that is certainly what they're coming to look like, and they get steadily less meaningful as they get sliced-and-diced more finely.
All of which said, we have a cultural problem: we are deeply failing all of the martial communities other than heavy list, and that *does* need to be fixed. IMO, the only thing worse than the current proposal is the status quo, and the proposal on the table may be the only politically feasible way to fix it.
(I hate the name "Order of Defense" as well. Would anyone care to argue that "Order of Chivalry" is a name worth emulating? I've always felt that it was one of the more painfully mundane anachronisms we have. I wish someone would show the imagination and backbone to give this proposed Order a real name...)
Overall, the event was a solid success, IMO. The classes were diverse, and many of them fascinating. Among my favorites, I wound up in "Where/when medieval Jews fought" kind of by accident (I was the designated techie for it), but it turned out to be a really remarkable piece of scholarship: Lord Gideon has spent years collating a lot of what we know about the context of Jewish life in period, broken down by region and time, and uses that to quite effectively demolish the common assumption that Jews weren't part of armored combat in period. The most fun class was probably Naomi's "From Underwear to Gutenberg: the Rise of Moveable Type Printing": the second half of the class, in particular, is an experimental-archaeology exploration of why ink-making was considered such a dangerous profession in period; the photos of her experiments illustrate why quite vividly. (The word "conflagration" comes to mind.)
This was probably the most "un-event" event I've ever been to, but I think made a fine case that we should do stuff like this. It was resolutely modern in all its trappings: the lack of garb made that point, but it was really driven home by the burritos for lunch. And the thing is, by not *pretending* to be period, it let everyone be meta without worrying about it so much. I mean, at a typical "A&S" event, there's always this nagging sense that talking about period is so very not being *in* period; as a result, our displays often contribute to the "costumed cocktail party" effect. By having a not-in-garb event (technically a demo, to stay within the rules), we can talk frankly without that feeling of wrongness. By allowing ourselves such a very out-of-period space as an outlet for meta-discussion, I'd like to believe that we let ourselves be *in* period a little bit more at events.
Of course, I also came away from it going, "we *really* need to do Carolingian University one of these days", since the two events are lovely counterpoints to each other. But in and of itself, Voyages was an excellent and successful experiment, and probably deserves to be repeated periodically. My congratulations to the organizers...
Story of my life these days: when Lochleven recently re-org'ed, I volunteered for the newly-created job of Quartermaster -- keeping track of the Stuff. A fine application for Querki, but I quickly decided that easy photo import was critical for it -- if you're going to do inventory management well, you need to be able to take pictures of the stuff you're inventorying.
Yesterday was, blessedly, highly productive. With the aid of no less than three open-source libraries, I am now able to take a photo from the browser in my phone, upload it to Querki, reduce the size to Web resolution (my current contention is that most Querki use cases don't require more than 1 megapixel, so I'm clamping it to that size for now), and upload the results to Amazon S3 for long-term storage and web serving. It's actually rather neat: until recently, I had assumed I would need to write apps in order to do things like take pictures and geolocations, but HTML5 turns out to let me do a great deal in-browser.
Now to actually get all of this tied into Querki per se, so that you can simply treat a photo like any other property value. Still a lot of code to write, but once we're done, it should be one of Querki's cooler features: you'll be able to attach photos to Things quite easily, which turns out to be relevant to a lot of use cases.
But if you see me wandering around camp with my bloody cellphone out during Pennsic, that's why. It's going to be a bit of a working vacation for me, figuring out everything that we have and taking pictures of it all...
This morning, I happened to be thinking about a few past Monarchs who I think of as "Good Royalty". And it occurred to me to think about what I mean by that phrase.
It isn't about anything as simple as whether they give the best Court: it's a fine thing to have Monarchs with a sense of theater, but I've known some who I deeply respected despite being very shy up in front. It isn't about whether they spend a lot of effort on Law and Curia, or stay away from it (I find that the ideal is somewhere in the middle, making tweaks when necessary but not gratuitously). It certainly doesn't mean doing the job perfectly -- I don't think I know any Royals who haven't made at least *some* mistakes.
I think it mostly comes down to attitude, and specifically *why* someone fights in Crown Tourney. The best Monarchs, by and large, are the ones who are looking to serve the Kingdom in a big way. It's a subtle thing, distinguishing self-aggrandizement from that sort of service, but the ones who are really looking to serve show it in many ways: they pay more attention to the little details, they *listen* more than they talk, they find out what everyone else's priorities are and try to take them into account.
In short, the best Royal Peers, the ones who I seriously consider top-notch role models, are every bit as service-focused as any Pelican. It makes me happy to consider that I do know quite a number of examples of such...
Nothing fancy about this one -- he's not bothering with stretch goals or anything like this, it's a pure subscription deal where he'll put them into production if there is sufficient support; the cost is $20 for each one. So if you've been looking for something for your office, give it a look...
OTOH, the fact that you need a chart in order to remember all of the awards of the East (and really, you do -- I'm the Court Junkie's Court Junkie and *I* can't keep them all straight any more) makes me rather sad. It really underscores how horribly out of control the system has gotten...
To the Board of Directors, from Justin du Coeur, (Mark Waks), Greetings.
I've been pondering the "fourth peerage" -- specifically, the peerage for Rapier -- proposal for some months now, and I have to say, I think it's a bad idea in its current form. More precisely, I think the precedent is terrible. Making it easier for the Rapier community to achieve peerage is a good goal, but this is, IMO, the very worst way to go about it.
Honestly, I keep coming back to the horrible but apt metaphor of kids aping their parents' bad behaviour. The Chivalry has always been a screwed-up anomaly in our awards system. Where the Laurel and Pelican are given for very broad *concepts*, the Chivalry is given for a single specific *activity*. That was always unwise, but I've always accepted the exception, on the grounds that (a) the Armored Knight is so central to the mythologies that the SCA was built upon, and (b) it came first, so what are you gonna do?
But going and copying that model is a *dreadful* idea, primarily because of what will happen next. From what I have seen, the archery community is already resentful of the whole thing: there are more archers than fencers, and the activity is far older in the Society. The rapier community got more organized about it in substantial part because of the controversial origins of the activity (I still remember when fencing was very much an oppressed edge-case activity in many places, and it caused the community to get much more organized and cohesive), but it's pretty clear that archery is at least as *deserving*, as an activity, of that peerage. So if we give one for Rapier, we *will* wind up having to give one for Archery, probably sooner rather than later, as that resentment boils over.
At which point, the precedent will be locked down: every martial activity will know that The Goal Dammit is to get to the point of a separate peerage. Certainly the Thrown Weapons folks will have that in the back of their minds -- it is a long ways off, but they will be striving to create yet another damned separate peerage in the long run. And the missileers, and the equestrians, etc: when you put a gold ring in front of folks, they will eventually reach for it.
Frankly, I think it's madness. The result is fragmentation, just making the bloody system harder to understand, and making people *care* less and less. It will lead to less cohesion among the peers, and lessened respect for the whole bloody concept. It is already the case that relatively few members of the populace know what all the Kingdom-level awards are here (East), and most of them have simply given up on even trying; the prospect of the same thing gradually happening to the peerages saddens me immensely.
Which isn't to say that I'm opposed to all change -- I just think *this* change is the worst of all possible worlds. The *right* solution is to step back and recognize the *abstraction* of what the Chivalry is, the same way that the Laurel and Pelican work. We don't have a Peerage for Dance, a Peerage for Needlework and a Peerage for Cooking -- we have the Laurel. We don't have a Peerage for Kingdom Officers, a Peerage for Running Events, and a Peerage for Managing Money -- we have the Pelican. They recognize broad *concepts* rather than specific activities, and the result is a wonderful cross-pollination that strengthens all of those activities, instead of pigeonholing them.
A friend of mine once described the Peerages along these lines: the Laurel is given for *improving* the game; the Pelican is given for *running* the game; and the Chivalry is given for *playing* the game. I've always thought that that was a deep insight, and it ought to guide the right answer here.
Yes, there is room for a new peerage, but it shouldn't be for something nearly so limited as Rapier; instead, it should be a recognition of *Prowess*, as a general concept. I've often said that all peerages are ultimately given for leadership -- in this case, it should be an award for people who lead by inspiring others to greatness in their achievements. That should at least cover all of the martial arts of the Society. (Personally, I wouldn't limit it to the martial, but the lines between that and the Laurel begin to get subtle if you widen it further.)
Of course, we already have the right Order for recognizing this: the Chivalry. But I recognize that the politics of this are difficult, and I honestly think there is a snowball's chance in hell of the Chivalry uniting enough to make such a change.
So I find myself supporting a new peerage -- just not the current proposal. It would be much more sensible, and healthier for the Society in the long run, to craft a new peerage that is open to all of our martial endeavors (probably excepting armored tournament combat, since they already have one), and opening that Peerage with representatives from at least the Rapier and Archery communities, to set the right precedent. That would start us off on the right foot, and not build up trouble for later.
Justin du Coeur, OL, OP, etc
The show is "The Knight of the Burning Pestle", the only full-length non-Shakespeare period scripted play that Carolingia has ever put on. The production was directed by Alexx and produced by me, and grew out of our Elizabethan Theater class in college. The professor asserted that KotBP was the funniest play ever written, which kind of mystified us -- when you just read it on paper, that's not at all obvious. Eventually, Alexx threw himself into it, spent a fair while understanding the language and jokes well enough to grok *why* it is so funny, and wound up figuring out how to produce it properly.
It's quite a bit of fun, and much more modern than you might think. The fourth wall gets not just broken but stomped all over (within the first minute of the play), as the play gets warped and reshaped by the audience. It involves monstrous barbers, a magnificently ridiculous death soliloquy, a gratuitous maypole dance, the first known instance of the arrow-through-the-head gag, and the only Grocer Errant in theatrical history.
The recording is homebrew, and I'll warn that the sound quality isn't always the best, but it's reasonably followable. Recommended, both as a good play and as a neat piece of Baronial history -- y'all come by...