SCA

I have an interesting hobby. I’m part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, an educational historical reenactment group.

I won’t post much on this blog about that group and my activities within it. But there is one important series of essays that needed a permanent home (it used to live on LiveJournal).

Here are Zsof’s Rules on Becoming a Peer:

These rules were posted on Facebook, starting on September 5, 2013. The final installment was posted on September 13, 2013. I’ve kept them in their original form, despite a major desire to edit (mostly for grammatical errors).

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(Current-ish pic of me, circa 2012)

Becoming a Peer, Zsof’s rules:

Welcome to what will be daily posts on what I had to learn on my quest to become a Peer. Not saying I have all the answers. I’m sharing the stumbling blocks I had to overcome. (I had a lot… *grin*)

RULE #1: BE DISCREET

Oh my goodness, this first rule was the hardest I had to learn. I have an opinion on everything and I love to share it! I was snarky and bitchy and gossipy and at times just plain mean. A Peer I greatly admire took me aside and gave me this wonderful bit of advice on discretion: “Pick 2 people. Two people you trust completely. Those are the people you gossip with or snark with. Everyone else sees the smiley, happy Zsof.”

*Addendum: I have since learned that when you snark/gossip to those two people, know where you are. There was a horrible incident involving much snarking and paper thin walls so everything we said was overheard. I now keep my snarking away from SCA meetings and events. Remember: “Bitch away from the SCA!” Phone calls, IM’s, meeting for coffee or lunch are your best bets.

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RULE #2: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU

This one is hard because we all want to be recognized in some way for what we do. When I would win a bardic competition or get recognition, I would jump up and down (sometimes literally) with excitement. That wasn’t always meant as a “look at me” because I was usually just really excited. But it certainly was viewed as a selfish moment by some people. And it sure as heck wasn’t peerlike.

How to make sure you still get the word out about your deeds without coming across as a narcissistic goober? Let’s lay it out.

1. If you win something (award, competition, place well at A&S, tourney, etc.) be gracious. Be humble. No jumping up and down like you just won Wheel of Fortune. Take a big breath, smile, and say simply “Thank You”.

2. Chances are if you won something then someone else DIDN’T. Find time after winning to go to some of the other gentles in the competition and compliment them. Don’t make this into a darn “teaching moment” though!!! This isn’t the time to say “Well, you did great, but have you tried…blah blah blah.” because then you come off as a pompous jerk. A simple “I loved your needlework entry!” or “I love how you got that leg shot in on Brannos!” Remember, even when you win: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.

3. I want to give credit for this next tip to Master Philip White: When someone comes up to you and compliments you on how you did, thank them and then tell them about someone else who inspired you. Example: “Wow, Zsof, I loved your performance!” Me: “Thank you so much! Did you get to see Bob’s performance too? He did such a great job. I loved his song!”

4. Find an advocate. Even if you are new chances are you know a peer that you trust or someone higher up the SCA food chain. When I was working on learning this rule, that person was the one I asked to help get word out for me. I won a pretty impressive bardic competition but didn’t want to post about it myself so that person got the word out for me. I know that can sound underhanded but it’s your advocate’s job to do that, to spread the word about your awesome (and let’s face it, we’re all awesome). I have 2 students currently and part of my job with them is to spread the word about the great stuff they are doing. I also try to post about other gentles who catch my eye.

5. Carry tokens of recognition to every SCA event. If you see someone do something you want to praise, go up to them and tell them. I try to do this for every aspect of the SCA. I may not be a fighter, for example, but I do know quite a few of them. And if someone does something impressive on the field, I want them to know I saw it. So I’ll go up to them and say “That was a wonderful point of honor you did (note: a example of a point of honor is if a fighter takes out someone’s leg in a tourney and then takes their own so they are now both on their knees to finish the bout).” Then I give them a token of some sort. I prefer beads but there are countless things you can make with your own hands or buy to give out as recognition to gentles who inspire you.

So let’s think about this. How many peers do you know who run around saying ME ME ME ME ME!?? Not many. But how many peers do you know who run around saying THIS PERSON, THAT PERSON, HIM, HER, YAY!

So why wouldn’t you start practicing that now, before you become a peer?
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RULE #3: DON’T ASSUME

This is rule covers a lot of territory (and dips it’s cute little toes into other rules) but it’s a very important one.

1. Don’t assume you know a person based on what you hear from others. Oh my we love to gossip in the SCA. I heard stuff about a lot of folks before I ever met them.

Unlike most people, however, I would go up to these people and say “I heard you’re a douche because of ‘x’. Care to comment and give me your side of the story?”

…………I really don’t recommend this as a course of action. Really. (see? see why I wrote these? Learn from my mistakes, young padawans!)

So when you hear all that garbage about how horrible a person is make up your own mind based on your interactions with them (and watching their interactions with other people).

2. Don’t assume when it comes to awards. Every kingdom I know of has their Order of Precedence online. If you think a person who has been in the SCA for 8 years already has to AoA I’ll bet ya $10 she doesn’t. CHECK THE OP. If that person isn’t listed, write them in. I know in the Midrealm, the online form is hella easy. It takes you step by step.

3. Don’t assume based on how a person looks. Just because a person is romping around dressed like a 17th century pirate doesn’t mean they don’t love the SCA and what it stands for. Just because they are wearing elf ears doesn’t mean they are mocking us. Maybe it just means they don’t understand what the SCA is about. There are times I’ll walk around at Pennsic and roll my eyes because “oh the newbies, aren’t they cute.” Then I’ll look at a pic of myself when I first joined wearing a skirt, top, leather bodice, cavalier hat, with a whip at my side……yeah, you get it, right? (and yes, that pic is in my photos here on FB if you are curious.) Most of us (with a few exceptions) didn’t know how to sew or what was period when we first joined. When you are using movies like “First Knight” or “Excalibur” as your intro to garb there are going to be serious mistakes.

BUT: And this is a big but…don’t correct them. Shut your trap about the mistakes they’ve made in their garb. Even if you think you are being kind and helpful, YOU AREN’T. Really. Chances are you will embarrass them AND hurt their feelings and they may leave and never come back. Strive to look your best and inspire them. If they come to you asking for help then help them and without any comments along the line of “oh thank goodness, you looked like a ratty nerf herder in that garb you were wearing, honey!” (ouch, that happened to me. And seriously, ouch.)

Photo of me at my first Pennsic:

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4. There are countless other ways we can assume about people. The best rule of thumb is: “When people make mistakes, assume ignorance, not malice.” Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. So when a person does something stupid, be kind. Don’t ASSUME anything about the mistake they made or about them based on it. (I’ve made some doozy mistakes in my time!) But if you sit back and Monday morning quarterback about the mistakes then you are assuming. Because chances are you don’t have all the information and even if you do? Remember Rule 1 and only kvetch about the issue to your 2 folks. But honestly, instead of dissing the person and the problem, see how you can help them. I know I wish others had done that for me when I messed up.
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RULE #4: DON’T SWEAR

As I stated at the beginning of this series, these are all stumbling blocks I had to overcome on my quest to be a peer. I didn’t come up with these rules for myself because I wanted to be a Laurel, in fact, when I came up with these I had given up on ever becoming one. I knew I needed to do something because I wasn’t happy with ME. Interestingly enough, my career and relationships across the board have changed for the better because I adopted these rules in my life.

So. Don’t swear.

I have a huge potty mouth. I could make sailors blush. I could drop an f-bomb any time and any place. It had become automatic with me and took a lot of work to stop. I’m not going to lie, this is still one issue I have. It’s HARD not to swear once you start. When you work in radio as I do….whoooeeee, we swear all the time! We’re dropping cuss words all over the place when we talk BUT not on air. I manage to filter myself rather well once the mic is on, so the question I asked myself was: “How do I apply that filter to everything that comes out of my mouth?”

More on that last sentence in a minute. First though, how I stopped using swear words.

My first step to stop swearing was to come up with other words to say. Such as fiddlesticks, poot, darnit, gosh darnit (for emphasis), shoot, etc. I had to come up with the list of alternate words so I could easily slip the correct term in when I started cussing.

The next step was a cuss jar. I think I have personally funded our trip to Disney World this year. Twenty five cents each time I cuss. It adds up!

I found myself cussing less and less. When I did slip up, I would immediately apologize and restate the sentence without a cuss word.

It takes practice. Once you start you will find it easier, trust me.

Rule #4’s subtext is: THINK BEFORE YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH. (this also ties in with Rule #7 so we won’t go too in depth today.)

I tell folks I’m a Pooh Bear with very little brain because I often pause and think before I speak. I’ve noticed some of the peers I admire do the same thing. It’s because words have weight. Even a throw away sentence can break someone’s heart. So think carefully when you are in social situations. And everything in the SCA is one huge social situation. (and work, and school, and…etc.) I only relax my guard when I’m with my 2 people and my family. Everything else gets the careful thinking Pooh Bear Zsof.

It isn’t easy. I know all too well. I have hurt many people with careless words and I can never take those words and that pain back. It’s something I regret to this day.

Let’s talk about Social Media & emails real quick:

1. If you are angry and write an email in response to a situation, DO NOT SEND IT. Sit and think for 24 hours. Ask yourself “is this email helpful or am I just making the situation worse?” If you are making the situation worse, don’t send it. Delete that puppy.
2. If you are having a bad day, you don’t need to post that on Facebook and Twitter. Especially not for everyone to see. Create a special filter on FB for your kvetch group (like Jack mentioned in rule #1’s comments). The rest of the word should see happy smiley you. (NOTE: this doesn’t apply to big suckage like: death, job loss, divorce, etc. That’s when you want everyone around you to envelop you with love and hugs.)

Remember the rule: DON’T SWEAR. And our subtext: THINK BEFORE YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH. More on that when we get to Rule 7.

Thanks for reading so far.
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RULE #5: IT’S OK TO SAY NO

When I was upwardly mobile in the SCA (I wanted that peerage so bad I could taste it!) I would take on any task, big or small, just to show everyone how amazingly awesomely wonderful I am. The problem? I was so overwhelmed by everything I was trying to do that I dropped a few balls, started burning out, and even had meltdowns at 2 events. All because I thought saying no to anyone (especially a peer) meant I would never get my Laurel.

Then I got over myself.

Part of that was realizing I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. Once I gave up my quest for a peerage and started coming up with these rules my life in (and out) of the SCA became a lot easier.

A large step for me was understanding that it is ok to say no to people.

But it’s hard to say no. I had major helium hand and then when I was overwhelmed didn’t know how to extricate myself from the mess I created. But I learned how and here are the steps I took.

1. Instead of saying NO right off the bat when asked to take on a project, respond with “Let me think about it”. This is such a lifesaver. That way you can step back, look at your calender, discuss the project with your spouse/significant other, Peer (if you have that relationship), and close friends. If it’s not right for you, it’s ok to then say no. But……

2. So you’re going to say no to the project. Yay you for realizing it’s a bit too much for you to handle right now. When you go back to the person who asked you to take it on – this is the big part so listen close – decline but then offer suggestions on others who may be interested in the project. NOTE: call folks before you offer their names for the job!!! Make sure they are interested. Yes, this means a little more leg work for you but that way you aren’t just saying no, you are OFFERING ALTERNATE SOLUTIONS. (side note pt. 2: this is a wonderful skill to hone for the modern world as well.)

Let’s say you really want to take on this project. You’ve looked over your schedule, talked to friends, this is the job for you.

Then life happens and you are overwhelmed and everything starts to go downhill. DO NOT IGNORE THE PROBLEM. It will not go away. Ignoring it hurts not only you but everyone who is depending on you. Call a friend (heck, call me, I’ll talk with you and help come up with solutions) and ask for help. Brainstorm for a way to fix the problem before it gets out of hand. If you realize you are in over your head before the problem gets too bad there are ways out. Explain to the person in charge of the project that it’s just too much for you to handle. Offer solutions if you can.

Trust me on this, I dropped a few balls in my time because I didn’t want to look like a doofus and was determined to see it through to the bitter bitter end. Which didn’t end well, let me tell you.

As someone who has both dropped the ball and had people drop the ball, it stinks to be in both positions. If you acknowledge there is an issue and take steps to fix it you will not look bad. Trust me, the person in charge will understand and respect you for knowing your own limitations.

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM:
If you are asked to do a job and are told “obi-wan, you’re our only hope” (aka, there’s no-one as awesomely amazing as you to do this!) but you really really don’t want to do it, DON’T. Don’t do it. Trust me. If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. Offer solutions. Offer to mentor another person. But if you don’t want to do a job and take it anyway, it will all end in tears. Trust me on this. Been there, done that, burnt the tee shirt. And seen it happen over and over and over in my 19 years in the SCA. (and yes, I’m old, hush children.) It’s nice to feel wanted and unique and special. But if you will be bringing no joy to a project then you really aren’t the right person for the job.

Be true to yourself. And a big part of that is learning that IT’S OK TO SAY NO.
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RULE #6: HAVING A BAD DAY? WALK AWAY.
Subtitle: Don’t be a drama llama

We’ve all seen them happen. The person who has a melt down at an event. You feel awkward and they look like a goob. I’ve had a few doozy melt downs. One was so huge I wanted to hide in a hole for about a year and never show my face in the Society again.

Today’s rule was one of the first I came up with for myself because of my melt down moment and witnessing others.

We all have bad days. All of us. The simple solution? If you are having a bad day don’t go to the event or meeting. I know you want to see your friends, maybe you’ve made commitments. But if you are on emotional thin ice, you’re just asking for trouble.

If you are at an event and start losing control, having a breakdown, freaking out, or even having a panic attack, walk away. The SCA is NOT the place for it. Go to your car, go find a quiet room, go for a walk. Calm down, take big deep breaths, and refocus. Losing it in the middle of an SCA event is a serious case of wrong time, wrong place.

The converse side of this is: If you see someone losing control, having a breakdown, freaking out, or even having a panic attack, help if you can. Without feeding into the drama, of course.

Note: There are some people you will meet who seem to thrive on being drama llamas. No matter what anyone says, no matter what anyone does. Your best bet with those folks is to ignore them. Enabling drama llamas just makes it worse.

Remember that this is supposed to be fun. If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
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RULE #7: THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK
Subtitle: Shut Up
Subtitle part 2: Be an active listener

I think most of you know me and know that I am a loud, brash New York gal. As I’ve stated before, I have opinions and love to share them. Then I was sitting with a peer I greatly respect and we were discussing a person I know whom I felt deserved a peerage. This peer said: “I like him*. A lot. But when we start talking and I ask his opinion, he is always too happy to share it. Loudly. Maybe if he started saying ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’ things would go better for him. Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you need to share it.”

*note: not necessarily a male. I am using “him” as a reference to the person, not to state their gender.

What that peer said floored me. Is this some kind of darn peer test?? I mean, come on! Why would you ask for an opinion and then get mad when you hear it???

Then I sat and thought, as a careful Pooh Bear Zsof should, about this. It took a while for me to process what the peer said and really understand what was being stated.

Sidebar: when I first started working in radio, I hosted a public affairs show. I would spend 30 minutes once a week talking with some really fascinating people. At first I would have a list of questions to ask them and stuck to those questions. Then I realized that was boring, that my guests were saying really cool stuff that I wanted to follow up on. So I threw away my list and worked on learning to LISTEN. As I would interview my guests I kept a sheet of paper and pen next to me so as questions came to me based on what they were saying I could take notes. That way I wasn’t holding onto that question. That way I could focus on what my guest was saying and really HEAR everything. Once I wrote my question down I wasn’t spending brain function trying to hold on to that thought. Instead I became an active listener. It’s a good skill to learn because it is invaluable to any conversation. Instead of spending time working out what you want to say next you are listening. With all your energy and focus. It can change every conversation you have once you learn to do it. (admission: I am great at doing this at work but have to remind myself to do it in every day conversations.)

I realized what that peer was telling me was that we all need to let go of our need to state our thoughts on everything there is.

If you feel there is a need for a truth to be spoken, pick the correct time, place, and person to talk to. Example: If I have an issue with Kingdom Law, talking with my friends will do nothing. Instead I should discuss it with the Kingdom Seneschal and perhaps Their Majesties or Highnesses and Curia members.

What that peer was telling me was that it’s just as, if not more, important to really listen to other people. It is more important to hear what other people say than to tell them your thoughts.

So I found myself speaking less and listening more. It changed a lot for me and taught me that silence is a good thing.

The next time you are at an event or meeting, sit and listen. Try to be an active listener. Think about what you are going to say before you say it. My rule of thumb? If I’m not sure that I’m going to add anything of value to a discussion, I shut up and listen.
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RULE #8: MY PATH IS NOT YOUR PATH

Big thanks to my SCA big brother, Sir Artair for this one. Talking with him over the years has been one of the blessings in my life. He and his wonderful wife Baroness Birna have helped me get my head on straight more than once.

My path is not your path. What does that mean exactly?

I was at an SCA event yesterday and spent some time sitting and talking with a friend. She looked lovely in her completely accurate-for-her-time-period garb. I looked pretty good in appropriate for a-time-that’s-not-mine-but-I-didn’t-want-to-iron-that-morning garb but it’s not an outfit that I made. A friend made it for me.

Confession time: I hate sewing. Hate with a passion. I can sew, if needed, but it brings me no joy at all.

So I look at those people who can sew and am jealous of how amazing they look. I’m jealous of how well they sew. Doubly jealous of my friend who is an incredible tailor. Me? I’m lucky if the hems are straight on my under dresses. And on my path to becoming a peer that jealousy came into play over and over.

My skill set (Theatre and Performing Arts) is not a tangible skill. You can’t touch what I do. My performances change every time. So I thought those with other skills had an easier job. Emrboidery, C&I, sewing, jewelry making, etc. etc. etc.

And it seemed to me that THOSE FOLKS got awards more readily than I or others in the performing arts did. I didn’t think about the fact that those who do those arts spent years getting to where they were. My friend who sews didn’t just pick up a needle one day and make a full Elizabethan. It took her a lot of time to learn to do that. We just get to see the results of years of study. The end product.

We all judge. All of us. We love to compare skill sets and looks. We want to pull out that yardstick and measure ourselves against other people. It’s human to want to do that, we want to compare ourselves to others to help us make feel better (or put ourselves down.)

DON’T DO IT.

You cannot know the path that any other person walked to get to where they are. It’s easy, oh so easy, to sit and judge them, especially when we see them called into court to receive awards that we feel they aren’t worthy of. I’ve done it myself. More times than I like to admit, to be honest. But I had to change that. It’s not my place to decide that an award someone received in the SCA isn’t fair. If Their Majesties feel a person is worthy, then they are worthy. END OF STORY.

Plus, you know what? It’s a waste of energy. To sit there and spend all that time and energy focusing on why “Bob” never should have gotten “x” award means we are missing out on other ways to do something postiive.

Focus on what you can control. Your own actions, your own deeds. Don’t worry so much about others and what they are doing. Your path is your own and no one else’s.
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Welcome to the final installment of Zsof’s Rules.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey. Before you scroll down to get to the final and most important rule, I want to state again for the record that following these rules won’t mean instant peerage. In fact, if I could go back I would change the title of these rules to Becoming a Chivalrous Person. But I can’t, so there ya go.

When I created most of these rules for myself I had given up on ever becoming a Laurel in the SCA. When I hit that wall I realized something had to change. And that was me. I HAD to change. I had to admit to myself that my behaviour was not chivalrous or peerlike in any way. I knew I was a master of my art, that was never in doubt. But as a person? A prospective Peer of the realm? I was a serious goob.

Implementing these rules set me on a journey that isn’t over yet. I will continue to strive to be a better person – both in and out of the SCA.

So, onto the final rule!

Becoming a Peer, Zsof’s rules:

RULE #9: BE A KNIGHT
Subtitle: Be a chivalrous person

After I gave up on ever becoming a peer, I sat down and thought as a good Pooh Bear Zsof should. Why wasn’t I a Laurel? I realized that I knew my art but I sure as heck wasn’t a Peer. And yeah, it hurt to realize that. Admitting our own flaws is not a fun process.

I thought of the peers I admired: Duke Eliahu ben Itzhak, Duke Ragnvaldr Jonsson. Sir Ephraim ben Shlomo, and Duke Edward Grey, to name a few. (Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t amazing Laurels and Pelicans around. I know quite a few. But for some reason the Knights and Masters at Arms in the SCA seemed to pop out to me when I was on this path.)

Well hoooboy howdy! I was certainly not anywhere close to being as Peerlike as those men.

What did those peers have that I didn’t have? I know that none of them were born instant peers. How did they do it? How did they learn to be that way? Having also interacted with these men outside of the SCA I knew they were like that in the modern world as well. You can’t be a chivalrous person in the SCA and a jerk the rest of the time.

So how did I get to be a knight? I’m not talking about an SCA Knight. I’m talking about the chivalric ideal we hold true in the SCA.

How do I get to be like that?

I read Sir Ephraim’s essay on the Midrealm Chivalric oath, located here.

Go read it now. I’ll wait, I promise. No really. You won’t get what I’m about to say until you go read it. so go.

*sips coffee, checks email*

Did you read it? Did you really really read every word that man wrote? Cause that’s it. That’s how you have to be EVERY SINGLE MOMENT for the rest of your life. Good. True. Reverent. Generous. Shield of the weak. Obedient. Foremost in battle. Courteous. Champion of the right and the good.

All that. Forever.

Can you do that? Can you take a big breath every morning and think of those and vow to do your best to follow them? Can you forgive yourself when you mess up and don’t follow those rules and try again (and again and again and again…)?

That’s a huge investment. But I would do it all again. I would take that challenge on gladly because I believe I am a better person today than I ever could have dreamed. My life – and most of my life stuff is NOT SCA – is incredible. I feel better about myself. I have more confidence. I’m so much happier. Becoming a Laurel just over a year after I started following the path was just the whipped cream on top of the awesome sundae because at that point it wasn’t important to me any longer. I wanted to be the best me I could be.

If being the best YOU is your goal, then you’ve started that path just by reading these rules. I know you can do it if you are ready to make the commitment. And if you stumble on this path? Forgive yourself and try again. It’s worth it. Every single minute of the path is completely worth it.