Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The importance of the journey and the destination

A lot of time, as a peer, the discussion comes up of "what do you do to become a peer?"  "What steps do you take?" "Are there jobs or goals?" "How long does it take?"

While the answer to all of that is - yes, there are certain tasks and jobs you can take on that will get you the recognition or experience that peerages look for, there's a far more important question to ask.

Why are you worrying?

Goal is setting is *fabulous* and I absolutely commend you if becoming a peer is something you want to do someday and you have that as one of your things you'd like to happen.  It's good to keep goals like that in mind as you make choices and, particularly, because peerage is a reflection (we hope) of a better self we hope to be in service to the Dream.  If you want to someday be a peer, acting like one is a good step - being chivalrous, discreet, working hard, and all those other qualities we discuss.

But a better question is are you enjoying your journey?  You see very often people seem to be fixated on who is a peer, who is not, when they will be one, when SOMEONE will be one.  The answer to those becomes consuming. The desire that they someday be recognized is the end all and be all of their choices and their events and their conversations in between.  Again, this is going to occasionally come up as it's the nature of the peeragey beast. But if it comes up too often, I start to wonder about if that individual has forgotten the point of the SCA, the Dream, and the Journey.

Yup, a big 'ol capital J on that journey. 

We are all on our own journeys and our own paths. For some of us, we joined the society to learn an art or a craft or to fight. Some of us found joy in service. Most of us CERTAINLY stuck around for the friendship and camaraderie.  Pretty much no one walked in the door and said "gee I want to stick around to get an award."

But for some folks - maybe not even all the time - that question becomes the forefront of their journey. The art, the fighting, the friends get momentarily forgotten because a shiny object is dangling in the future. I think it's human nature to want that thing so I don't necessarily even want to villify this sentiment. We all feel it sometimes but it's important that it not become our driving goal - and it is important that the consideration of it not taint all of our interactions and conversations and perceptions of those around us.

What I do wish to caution on is that even if you someday want that thing, enjoy your journey. Enjoy the projects it takes to get there. The art scis that don't go right. The jobs you enjoy doing because they build your skills and your confidence or because they simply make someone smile. Enjoy the friendships the most.  Not everyone will become a peer and - not shockingly - not everyone wants to. It's a specific type of person who not only receives a peerage but *enjoys* it as well, enjoys the responsibility and the role therein, and enjoyed the steps it took to get there.  For some people, that joy is elsewhere and they'd be miserable in meetings just as some of us are miserable trying to sit down and do "nothing" and relax.  Again, everyone's journey and even the destination is different and that doesn't - and shouldn't - matter as long as we are all receiving joy from our hobby and finding joy and inspiration in the Dream.

Remember that other people are on their own journey as well. If you think they deserve an award, write one in. If you think they don't, bite your tongue - because someone somewhere will always feel that someone doesn't deserve something; regardless of whether you are right or wrong the decision is (most likely) out of your hands and that person is having a good moment. The sun will still rise and set in the morning. The world will turn. You are not diminished from the success of others. You are not a lesser person because someone's journey is different than yours.  Be happy for those around you and let that joy color everyone's steps.

Someone once asked me if I was upset that a friend became a peer before I did. It's possible my sobbing was misconstrued as "upset" when in reality I was so happy I couldn't contain it.  No. And every peer that was announced before or after me has never made me feel upset. Every award that went to someone that wasn't me has never bothered me. Because those people have their own Dreams they bring to the table and I can't carry the Dream alone.

Besides, I've still got a long road I'm enjoying skipping down.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Growth mindset

This post is a two-fer, relevant to both the SCA and to my work as an educator.

We are reading a book called "Mindset" for our professional development book this year at our school. I'm at a new school this year and it was a book that was readily available and encouraged in my old school so this is actually my second read of this particular theory.  Really, I'm posting about it today because the subject of "panic!" came up in discussion.  I don't like panic. Panic shuts your brain down and stops you from making decisions. Panic doesn't help. Panic, really, just gets the heck in the way of getting things done in my life. Whenever possible, I try to not panic. It is, in general, much more beneficial for me to take a step back and instead of being upset, try to figure out how to fix whatever situation it is that is causing the upset.  Sometimes that is managing a tremendous amount of mentor activity at work. Sometimes that is trying to figure out why linseed oil varnish didn't dry.

In this way, I am growth mindset.

The basic gist of the aforementioned book is that people have two different mindsets. The first is a "fixed" mindset, where intelligence, ability, and possibility are all static and unchangeable.  The second mindset is a "growth" mindset where intelligence, ability, and possibility are all flexible and can be changed through work and over time.  People generally fall into one of the categories although they may change their overall mindset.  People may also be of one mindset on somethings and a different one on others. (For example, I am generally growth mindset but I tend to have a fixed mindset regarding my weight. Something I'm working on.)

Mindset is huge and can affect how you perceive yourself, how you perceive the world, and how you perceive others.  A fixed mindset person may feel that their worth is demonstrated only in the tangible and *successful* outcome of a project or task (for example, getting an A on a paper).  Generally, if they aren't good at it already, they don't want to do it.  Conversely, a growth mindset individual generally finds worthiness in stretching to meet the challenge even if the end result is not perfect.  This has nothing to do with actual intelligence or ability either. First, both of those are misnomers as they can be changed, but there are some naturally talented people out there with fixed mindsets who never become better or successful while their "average" counterparts excel because of pushing themselves.

There are two facets to this that really play into the SCA.  The first is very applicable to the arts. So many times, I hear artisans state how they could "never do that." Or are simply "not good" at a particular skill. The entire idea behind growth mindset is that this simply isn't true. You may not be *immediately* good or *immediately* good to the level you *want* to be, but through practice and work you can reach artistic prowess. Or any prowess. Think about how many times people say "I could never do that." or "I can't fight like they can." Or "I'm just not organized." Or "I'm awful at papers."  I've seen the fixed mindset ruin projects, stop folks from entering art-sci, and keep people from trying new things.  Generally, I tackle this as a laurel by "chunking" the pieces of whatever the task is. For example, a person who "can't draw" I will generally walk through geometric designs or let them paint a pre-drawn scroll. This provides the necessary ice breaker, as it were, to make people start to consider the skill differently. The short version of this: DaVinci wasn't DaVinci when he started. Relax, and give yourself room to grow. It's okay if you're terrible for a while - no one is actually judging you because you are, in fact, *learning.*

Growth mindset also applies to service and tasks, however. Fixed mindset people are far more likely to give up on difficult tasks, when they encounter challenges, or when they don't immediately know what to do. Their worth - or how they perceive it - is based on being successful and if they don't quickly see how to be successful at it, they generally would rather not attempt it.  Unfortunately for them, learning often means NOT being successful MANY times before you can ever BE successful at the end.  That means that failures, and what we learn from them, are as vital to becoming better at something as successes; I would argue that failures are actually MORE vital as they really teach you how to recover and what went wrong.  I'm a good reading coach. In a few years, I'll be an even better one because I've screwed up a lot in the interim.  The same applies to any task.

So what does this all mean?

It means you need to pay attention to your mindset. Whether in your career, life, or the SCA, it's important to try and go for a growth mindset. It's how we learn to be better, how we take on new challenges, and how we learn from our mistakes instead of being shut down by them.  You CAN change your mindset. Anyone who knew me in high school what with the crying over papers lower than an A will know that I am no longer like this. Thank goodness!  You may even find you switch back and forth but awareness of where you stand on things can help you alter that awareness and alter that mindset.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

On new apprentices

This weekend I am taking my first apprentices since having become a laurel about a year ago. The timing is marginally off as one of them is about to give birth so we bumped belting up a few weeks so I didn't have to orchestrate around birthing schedules. Good that.

This is a learning curve for me but one I'm enjoying.  I already work very well with all three of these ladies and they have been my students formally for several months now. They also get along with my existing household as I have not split off to form my own after my elevation.

The fun - and learning part - is learning to understand their backgrounds. It's very easy to assume that someone you are taking as a student knows less than you about "all the things." In truth, that's rarely true. Tatiana can school me in the general organizational finances of a group and knows more about Russian history than I ever will.  Toki has all of this incredible drawing skill and is an awesome and ever improving fencer. Adelina's drawing skills and emotional empathy far outrank my own.  None of this is precisely what I'm talking about however.  Part of the relationship I am forming with these three ladies is understanding their own strengths and weaknesses based off their experiences.  They are, without me, quite capable adults and human beings in their own right and so part of my job as their peer (and friend!) is figuring out where I can help them grow further - and, in truth - where they can help me grow as well.

Unlike children, we gain our students with lives of skills and experiences behind them that we need to take into account in interacting with them. It's easy to assume ignorance or lack of skill when knowledge and competence are present already, or to be unaware of past history that can make a student more capable in an area than their SCA experience (usually vastly shorter than their life experience) doesn't yet fully showcase. 

It's a challenge. But one I am looking greatly forward to experiencing as I grow with my new associates!

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Bonus generational points if you get the title reference.  Someone on the SCA scribes group recently asked what folks work spaces looked like so it's time for some studio pictures.  One of the requirements of buying our house was that my lord needed his own office and I needed my own studio space. Scribing is - by no means - the only art I work on and so having space where projects can get laid out, left out, and worked on without interference from furry felines or the rest of the world is extremely important for me.

 This first one is my main work space.  It's a little cluttered looking here but mostly that's poor lighting as it's late afternoon in these pictures. This is my central desk with light coming in from a side window, an overhead fan light, and a desk lamp. I also have an ott lite that isn't shown here. Love the rolling chair and the laminate wood flooring (great for spills).   The phoenix on the wall was painted by me and is a stylized design given to me by a good friend.

 A better view of the table. Glass - which was necessary as I ended up destroying a wooden desk I had over time A number of organizers are suspended on the wall for easy access to oft-used materials.  The photo on the upper right is my pelican and my protege-sister and I.

One of the scribal storage spots - as the supplies outgrew the original drawer.  there actually is a method of organization to the pile involving carefully stacked bottles of liquid and pigment.

 The studio's fabric and fiber shelving. Go Ikea!  The drawers hold smaller items and the rest is fabric generally organized by color range. the top of the shelf currently has a friend's sewing machine, my "tree of shiny items" with event tokens, and a blanket where the cats sleep when the are allowed in the room.
 Storage area (all labeled) for paper and small items. The oven is for polymer clay. There's also a pile of half completed miscellaneous projects on the floor here at any given time, all organized by individual bags or boxes.  We currently have guests staying with us for an extended period so there's far more clutter here than normal.
The masks are all ones I've made, some not period, some period.

 This chair is usually comfy and free of clutter but at the moment, see reference to guests.  I like to read here and sometimes the husband or a friend parks here when they want to keep me company. There is a plethora of phoenix and ferret plush animals on the back, including my very first stuffed dog from when I was a wee scribe.
 Some of my art sci awards

 Above the shelf - I like inspirational signs and art.

This is an idea stolen from a good friend - an art alter.  It has some inspirational cards on it that I try to look through before I start a project. The rest of the items are bits and bobs collected from travel (the dreamweaver on the wall has a stone from glastonbury tor and was a cherished gift from my protege sister.)  When I need a brain break I get up and play with the items on the alter, move them around, fiddle with them, and generally give myself a stretch and a chance to get some new perspective.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Happiness inside yourself

There's an interesting phenomenon I sometimes encounter in the SCA - and in the mundane world as well - wherein the idea of self-satisfaction has been completely removed from the individual and placed upon others. This sometimes plays off mildly with moments of cranky and sometimes seems to lead to intense dissatisfaction with almost everything.

There are two key facets to this I've been contemplating.  The first is that someone else doing something they enjoy does not reduce or depreciate the thing you enjoy.  We all have vastly different interests and its important that we give ourselves - and our populace - the opportunity to pursue those interests.   Events do better when they are open to any number of those interests and offer activities that hit more than one area. We've seen this again and again with "specific" events that cater to only one subsection which then do substantially better if other interest areas are pulled in in various ways (Art Sci and Scots Welsh being combined, for example.)  Not only does this offer more people a chance to be involved, but it does not in any way depreciate whatever the original focus was.  Essentially, just because everyone is not enjoying the exact same experience or moment doesn't make anyone's choices invalid.

The second facet is the nasty habit of comparing our own work or progress to others. This is, admittedly, human nature, but it leads to all sorts of dissatisfaction.  I'm not speaking of competitions here - that tends to be another kettle of fish - but the general self assessessment of your work and worth compared to others. This is so hard to stop - I still struggle with as do many Laurels I suppose - but its vital to actually being happy with yourself. Instead of going "that person is a better scribe" try focusing on "I did so much better on this scroll than the last."  Variations in style alone mean that comparing one person's work to another is difficult at best. 

It's possible - likely even - that we are *all* good scribes or artists and are all learning and none of us need to decide who is better than the other.  We can all belong to the artistic community without needing to best our fellows or continually compare ourselves to their speed, ability, or progress. Work for you. Work to improve and enjoy your art. The rest comes out in the wash.

Courtesy and Being a Peer

This one's a bit rambling but is something I'm contemplating.

Courtesy tends to be a double edged sword. We seek it as a laudable quality but the practitioners of it who value it the most are sometimes then caught by it as we try to maintain it around those are acting discourteously.

I have a pretty strong stance on addressing issues of rudeness or discourteous behavior. I am strongly in the camp of "if it's not addressed it will continue to happen" but I struggle with how best to do this, both as a person and as a peer.  There is, in the end, no one right answer I suppose which is why its something we always struggle with.

 I have realized I don't like the internet for these purposes - FB and email and other electronic forums lack the force of having a face to back an opinion and make it easy for arguments to spiral out of control with name calling and commentary, often from parties who have nothing to do with the original problem.  On the other hand, discourtesy is rampant online for that same factor and so I remain torn between calling it out and taking it off thread or in-person because that's more personally effective and provides a calmer scenario and image to everyone at large.

Similarly, not everyone sees the "behind the wall" conversations where rudeness is addressed and so many people think those conversations don't happen - even when they do.  I have no idea how to address this save that I wouldn't call out one of my students in the middle of class either, so I would be discourteous to address an adult in that manner as well, even though that is often my preferred method of telling someone they've been stomping on feelings.

In the end, there's a few important things to remember as we continue to work on this as people who come from a modern world that are trying to live up to an ideal of courtesy that has always been an ideal.

* Our job as peers - and populace - is to try and *always* be courteous, be that online or in person. When we slip - which we will - it behooves us to address those moments and make the necessary apologies and alterations to our actions.

*You should expect the best from people. People tend to live up to expectations and generally, if we set out the expectation of courtesy, it will rise to a more prominent position.

*Our job as peers, in particular, is to help address those who are not behaving well in a manner that is effective.  As noted above, I don't think this is always the same method or that all methods are equal. If I ever am brilliant enough to find a good answer to this, I will tell everyone.  At this time, all I have is that this is an intensely uncomfortable but necessary job but it does not need to be done cruelly or with embarrassment in mind, nor does it always need to be public.  Remember my epiphany of "help people be better"?

*Our job as peers and populace is to make things better, not tear things down. When we belittle ideas and efforts, when we tell people that their efforts are not enough, we don't help them be better - we pull the carpet out from under their feet and make them feel useless.  A person's efforts may not be enough to resolve or fix a situation - but they can be a start.  I'll use my students as an example here. We started a forty book reading challenge this year and for some of my students novels are a true challenge. They are starting with smaller books and that's fine and someday their confidence and ability - along with sound advice and teaching - will help them read longer things.  Everyone starts somewhere. Sometimes we *restart* somewhere and need a reminder to try to be better than we are. But each of those steps is vitally important and should not be belittled.

And lastly, my constant reminder to myself.

My job is to help people be better. In whatever way that better is aimed or that their happiness leads them.

In short, I wish I had more solid answers on all of this but I will continue to wrangle them in my life. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why I love period materials

I've been painting with period replicated materials (or as close to it) for the last few years now, not all the time, but certainly for various bits of research or commission work or what not.  I generally also try to extend that to other areas of interest; at the moment that happens to be embroidery but the extension applies to most of my crafts and arts at this point.

There's often a question of *why* I do this, particularly when I clearly have no aversion to modern materials and in fact get quite a kick out of using many of them (3-D plastic pens? awesome.)

The answer to this was never clear to me until recently.  Part of it is simply because I *should* as a re-enactor and studier of history and, more recently, as a laurel.  But that was never really what got me hooked on period materials, their complexity, the endless variations and books.

It didn't hit me really or really gel until recently when the husband and I took a trip to London. On a side trip to Glastonbury, there was a case of monk's artists tools in the abbey museum, among them an oyster shell filled with ground up verdis gris.  I felt tears spring to my eyes and then immediately had to explain to my poor, non-scribal husband why I was crying over an oyster shell and some ground up copper oxidization.  Poor man.

The simple truth is, period materials and the exploration process around them make me feel connected to the past in ways that even the artistic process does not.  Art styles change, even when replicating period style.  Formats of art change, even the rooms or spaces we create in change.  The materials, however, are one of the basic fundamental pieces that can get us closer to what our historical counterparts experienced than anything else.  I could feel that connection resonating, knew precisely what that monk did to make that pigment, what time it took and what he used it for. I knew precisely that he knew he couldn't paint it next to orpiment because the touch points would destroy the page - even if he didn't know why. I knew the soreness in his wrist and arm from the grinder and muller and the acid tang of oxidized copper.

Sometimes it seems like the search for period materials or to replicate what they used in period is  snobbery or elitism but its not.  It's a search for that connection, a suggestion that yes that goauche paint is great but if you want to get what the artist did - really did - you *gotta* try this.

And admittedly, it's always nice to add to your zombie apocalypse skill set.