Guest Post: My Life with the Society For Creative Anachronism, by RedHeadedGirl

I’ve always been a “make-believe” kind of girl. I started dabbling in table-top role-playing, and moved on to online text-based role playing, and went to Rennaisance Festival when ever I could (not easy when I didn’t have a driver’s license and tickets were expensive and my parents would only go once a year), and I heard about this “SCA” thing once or twice, but had no idea what it was.

Then a friend who I knew from the bad old days of AOL mentioned that she did this SCA thing, and then I went to college. There was a student SCA group, and my AOL friend informed me I was going to check them out and that was just shy of 18 years ago.

The Society for Creative Anachronism is a world-wide educational organization that focuses on researching and recreating (…kind of…) the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It started, as these things do, as a May Day party in Berkeley in 1966 hosted by author Diana Paxson. It was a Grand Tournament, with fighting (plywood swords were involved) and people kept having similar parties, which included Marion Zimmer Bradley and Poul Anderson, and here were are, in the 50th year with over 60,000 participants.

The world is divided into 20 Kingdoms, most of which are in the US and Canada, but there’s one that takes up Europe (they have events in REAL CASTLES) and there are groups in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Each kingdom has defined borders, and there are local groups usually corresponding with metropolitan areas or other regions (I’m in the Barony of Carolingia, which is the greater Boston metro area. The Barony of Smoking Rocks encompasses southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod. As two examples).

The main thing the SCA is focused around is events- a day, a weekend, or up to two weeks, where we get together and wear medieval clothes, fight, eat medieval food, sing, ride horses, learn arts- an event can be as focused as sitting around telling stories all day, or as universal as having just about every activity you can think of that relates to the Middle Ages (save, perhaps, dying of the plague or burning witches). You could go to an event every weekend of the year, depending on how far you’re willing to drive.

People participating pick a “persona,” a medieval name and idea fo when and where you’re from. How detailed a persona is ranges from just a name, and wearing clothing from many different times and places, or only wearing clothes from a very specific time and place, and having a detailed persona story. The great thing is, there’s no one true way. All that’s required to show up at an event is an attempt at pre-17th century garb, and most groups have a stash of loaner garb for new people.

In my barony, we have activies and practices that people can go to every week. We have a dance band and a choir, we have dance practices every other week. Storytellers get together every month to read period stories or poetry, or discuss which translation of an Arthurian legend is the best. The cooks guild meets every month to experiment with medieval recipes, while the Accademia D’ella Danza researches and recreates dances from period dance manuals. There are sewing groups, and embroidery groups, and people who weave and work leather and brew alcohol and make armor. We have a weekly fight practice and a weekly fencing practice, plus archery and thrown weapons (knives, axes, javelins). We have a Mummer’s Guild that puts on plays (not always Shakespeare!) Basically, if someone did an activity in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, we have people who do it in the SCA.

Oh fighting? Our fighting style is not period- our swords are made out of rattan and aren’t padded, and the armor has specific safety standards that don’t always apply to period construction, but some of the armor people use is gorgeous and as period as possible, and some of it is made out of pickle barrels.

Fighting with rattan (called “heavy fighting”) is so integral to the SCA that its how we choose our Royalty. Each kingdom has two or three tournaments a year that determines who the next King and Queen will be. Fighters fight for the honor of a consort, and the pair will become King and Queen (or King and King or Queen and Queen) for four to six months. We’ve had one woman become Queen by winning a Crown Tournament, and most do have at least one woman combatant.

Between the history, the pageantry, and the friends I’ve met through the SCA, I’ve become a better person. I have friends all over the world, and have developed people skills that you can’t buy with management training seminars. I’ve worked with volunteers on everything from planning a feast for 150 people to running a local group with many divergent interests. It’s been 18 years and I still love it.

Between the Lines Book Club: Orfeo, by Richard Powers

between the lines book club logo

Hello everyone! Watch this space on Fridays for Between the Lines Book Club. This is where we discuss one book a month in the comments. On the fourth Saturday of every month those of us in or near Sacramento, California meet at Arden Dimick Library to discuss the books. Arden Dimick is located at 891 Watt Avenue, Sacramento, CA, 95864. Our next meeting is on July 25 at 10:30 AM, where we will discussing Orfeo by Richard Powers.

As many of you know, I’m currently on vacation in San Diego madly racing around San Diego Comic Con with many children in tow, fervently hoping that soon I can retreat to the beach where I shall collapse on the sand until lifeguards drag me away. Fortunately, many better writers than I have written about Orfeo. Here are links to some reviews and commentary:

NPR

This link goes to an interview with the author. Sample quote:

My challenge as a writer was how to create descriptions not just of canonical 20th century pieces, but to create vivid descriptions of fictional pieces. Works for small ensemble, for voice, symphonic orchestra, operatic works that did not exist and yet describe them in a way that was vivid and compelling and re-created the internal drama of the composer as he was at work on them. So it was almost as if I had in my own head to write the music first and then produce a kind of prose that recaptured the music and the rhythm and the challenge and the transgression of these pieces.

New York Times

In this review, the reviewer talks about what he calls “The Richard Powers Problem”, i.e., is Powers too cerebral?  Sample quote:

Why, then, was I unable to resist the emotional pull of “Orfeo”? Why did I pick it up eagerly each day and find myself moist-eyed when I came to its last pages? That, I think, has everything to do with Powers’s skill at putting us into the mind of his protagonist. Peter Els is blessed (or cursed) with an almost painfully exquisite musical sensibility. Throughout “Orfeo” we experience tonal patterns of all kinds — from bird song to the overtone series of a single piano note to the “caldera of noise” at a John Cage happening and the “naked pain” in the Largo of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony — filtered through Peter’s lyrical consciousness. In one of the novel’s most virtuosic passages, which goes on for a dozen pages, Peter dilates on the transcendent beauties of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” composed and first performed in the brutal conditions of a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp. All of which heightens and makes unbearably poignant Peter’s own losing struggle to “recover a fugitive language” that might capture something of eternity.

The Washington Post

This reviewer cautions the reader that the book has dangerous side effects:

Be forewarned: Even if you check “Orfeo” out of the library, it will still cost you a fortune. (Why couldn’t this novel come with a set of CDs?) From Mozart’s “Jupiter” to George Rochberg’s “String Quartets” and Harry Partch’s “Barstow” and John Cage’s “Concerto for Prepared Piano,” I’ve never bought so many tracks in a single week. Admittedly, some of the pieces struck my unsophisticated ear as noise, but the money kept running out of me prestissimo.

Hope to see many book clubbers on July 25!

San Diego Comic Con or Bust!

Wow, this is actually a thing! A thing that is happening! In just 2 days I will be at San Diego Comic Con and for those who have followed me since last year, no, I will not camp overnight to try to get into Hall H again. That experience was a blast (Domino’s delivers pizza to the line!) but once was enough!

Last year I was really focused on panels, and they were wonderful. This year I have my daughter with me so I’m doing less standing in line and more looking at stuff, maybe getting some autographs, and basically just hanging out with my kid! I know it will be torture not to be going to all those panels but honestly it will also be a nice change of pace.

The one event I’m REALLY excited about is an off-site Clone Club party for fans of Orphan Black. My sestra Heather is attending with me this year and we’ll be cosplaying as Alison dressed as Alison and Cosima dressed as Alison. We are very excited about the party!

Will be back with plenty of pics! Sestra Heather, when not playing Alison, is going as one of the Vulvani from Mad Max: Fury Road, I have my Steampunk Jane Austen ensemble, and I also have an outfit that’s not so much “cosplay” as it “I put on all my Doctor Who apparel at once” outfit (villains dress, scarf pin, cute hat). Yet another trip in which I am likely to remember things like fascinators and fans and forget things like socks and underwear.

See you soon!

Wednesday Videos: How Harry Potter Should Have Ended

WednesdayVideoHey, I was on NPR! You can hear me at NPR.com.

I really busy packing for San Diego Comic Con so I’m turning over today’s post to Guest Blogger Cupcake, who is in sixth grade. Here she is:

Have you seen this? It’s “How Harry Potter Should Have Ended”, and it’s so funny! But there are spoilers. But it’s totally worth it. Try to watch it without laughing!