"I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world." -Richard Dawkins

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Looking Back on Walking Out

The cathedral was cool- thank god- for even though it was October, the black velvet gown I had chosen to wear was as stifling as it was tight. From where I was seated in the stone sanctuary, I could see everything. The old Queen of the East had just stepped down, breathtakingly beautiful in dusky purple damask and an airy white silk veil, deep brown hair done up in a knot. Taking her place, the new Queen stepped up, resplendent in ivory and gold, her blond curls tumbling for miles down her back. It was every bit the picture of medieval beauty, from the intricate crowns on their heads and the stone sanctuary of the cathedral, to the hand carved wooden thrones they sat on; complete with fanciful needlepoint cushions bearing the Kingdom’s heraldry. In that magical moment I remembered what I loved- or should I say, what Alijna van den Oostenbrugge loved- about the SCA.

The Black Velvet gown for coronation.
Ahem. “The Society for Creative Anachronism is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to researching and recreating the middle ages, the way it should have been.” (They throw that last part in there to let you know there’s no feudalism, no plagues, and no dying for the crown.) The SCA is not a bunch of Rennies. We’re reenactors. At least, that’s what we claim. But reenactors have high standards, hard rules, and a sharp eye for things that are out of place in a small stretch of time and place, such as the American Revolution or the Civil War. In the SCA we “reenact” some several cultures over a span of a thousand years (600 to 1600 AD, to be precise). At any point in time a Viking from the 600’s, a Celt from the 900’s, an Englishwoman from the 1500’s and a tribal bellydancer from yesterday could all be hamming it up around the same fire. Not to mention the majority of us are still running around in sneakers and sunglasses with our not-even-remotely-accurate tunics and longbelts. In short? It’s a god-damned mess.

I found my home there, in the SCA, after a yearlong fight with myself about wanting to be a LARPer. At the time, my ex boyfriend in Atlanta and all of his friends played in a fantasy medieval LARP, and it screamed for me to be involved. Costuming, acting, like free-form DnD? Sign a girl up! The only problem was, there wasn’t a local chapter. Anywhere. I found out about the SCA through some friends of my then boyfriend’s. They encouraged me to attend the Barony’s dance practice at a local college, and I was hooked at once. 

After our first camping event, age 18.
I was just a dumb kid. Seventeen, clueless. I had just come off a stint of high school where I was the fat, greasy, poor kid. I did not like myself, and not many liked me. This statement is not intended to garner pity from you, dear reader, but simply to set you up for my next statement: in the SCA, I was pretty sure I was a goddess. Everyone adored me, gushed about how cute I was and what amazing garb I had for it being my first event and all. I knew how to sew? Amazing! I was making friends left and right (and up and down and back and forth and center and north by northwest and everywhere else.)
That was a ten years, two months ago.

I was involved with everything that was good and holy to my little nerdy heart. Sewing garb, renaissance dancing, camping, and alcohol. And in that order, too. I did stick my head in all over the place, though. Cooking, fencing, heavy weapons fighting, archery, helping a time or two with children’s activities… The whole mess was like a dream come true for me, to be honest. Running around in funny clothes and pretending to be someone else. (I’d spent the past five years sewing dresses out of sheets for my best friend and I so we could run around in the woods and pretend to be characters we’d read in books. This wasn’t much different.)

I went away, though. Is the thing. In 2005, after four years of hard love for this social circle, I moved to Arizona, where I knew no one in the local Barony, and was shaken up by how creepy and predatory everyone was. Had I never noticed it in my own group back home? Had I forgiven them as much by blissful ignorance? They say you can’t see the forest for the trees, but I think I wasn’t seeing the trees for the forest.

At my last event before moving away.

By way of the SCA I have met a lot of really horrible people. Manipulative sociopaths, rumored rapists, speculated pedophiles, people so socially awkward they have no boundaries, pathological liars, drama mongers and attention whores. (And somehow each and every one of them manages more clout than the dumb kid.) On top of that, I’m cursed to know a slew of folk who hold grudges, which in turn makes me continue to hold grudges, and the vicious, grudgey cycle goes on.

But please, do not for a moment let me scare you off the SCA. As with all subcultures, it is a sink for social deviants- a place where they are made to feel accepted and secure- but it’s my own responsibility to stay away from those I wish not to be associated with, or now, now that I’ve come home and tried re-integrating with my Barony, those I wish not to be associating with my daughter.

Me and Ro, age 3.
But I have met some amazing people, too. People so dedicated to their research in their crafts and arts that they turn out museum-quality pieces. People who cook a sumptuous and perfectly historically accurate feast. People who make their own beautiful armor in sweaty blacksmithing workshops, then study period ways of swordsmanship. I have met people who have hearts far too large for their own good. Who love and help and cherish each shining individual who comes their way, often whether they deserve it or not, (mea maxima culpa). I have met people who are excited to teach, who are excited that I came back sporting a daughter, who want her to come join the SCA, too, and learn, and grow. I have met people I consider sisters and best friends. I have met people that I look forward to. And that is the highest compliment of all.

But I am a coward, too. I don’t want to face the people I can’t stand, or worse still, I don’t want to face the people I can stand (would love to stand), but have disappointed too greatly to bear facing it. I have no idea who I am anymore, or what the SCA means to me. What I want it to mean to me. What purpose or role it has in my life. I have been back to several events since coming home from Arizona, and each one has been painful to say the most, awkward to say the least.

Ro and a friend, "making hay" at a camping event.
But it’s Memorial Day Weekend, and I know where my local SCA people are right now. Driving home through the farmcountry last night, I caught a deep whiff of woodsmoke and the sight of open, green fields in my headlights in the dark. And it tore at my heart and beat it up a little. I should be camping, right now. I should be with them, around a fire, wrapped in my cloak, leaning on a friend, laughing and passing a bottle of someone’s homemade cordial around and around. I should be hearing the stories I’ve heard a million times, singing songs I’ve sung a billion times. I should be at that event right now. It feels like home. But I went back to my flat instead, because it’s becoming a distant thing, a thing I know nothing about anymore. A thing that looks and tastes and feels and quacks like moving on. And for now, my sore heart is tucked into the top of my closet with the rest of my garb.

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